True friendship is egalitarian. Everything is shared, loyalty to the friendship is equal, and the basis of the camaraderie is wholly altruistic. The friendship between the king Gilgamesh and the man of the steppe, Enkidu, was not a true and equal friendship. Loyalties and sacrifices to that friendship were disproportionate.
Friendship is conveyed in more than one way in Gilgamesh. The companionship between Enkidu and the animals of the steppe is the first example of friendship. Enkidu lived with the animals, as one of them:
He freed them from the traps / The hunters set. / A hunter’s son one day /
Saw Enkidu opening a trap: / The creature was all covered with hair /
And yet his hands had the dexterity of men’s; / He ran beside the freed gazelle /
Like a brother / And they drank together at a pool / Like two friends /
Sharing some common journey / Not needing to speak but just continue. (p. 16)
Enkidu’s friendship with the animals was one of equivalence. Neither Enkidu nor the animals knew that he was any different from them. Enkidu’s appearance was that of an animal, and he knew nothing of the world of man. In this sense, Enkidu was an animal, not a man. It was only until he slept with a prostitute, shaved his body, and went into a civilized town that he became a man. This companionship between Enkidu and the animals seems more genuine, as it was cultivated over Enkidu’s lifetime on the steppe.
Neither Gilgamesh nor Enkidu had ever had a friend that was a man before. Enkidu knew only of the steppe animals, and Gilgamesh, a tyrannical king, had never treated anyone as his equal. Both men had been informed of the future friendship from the prostitute and Ninsun, respectively. When Gilgamesh heard this premonition from his mother, he was taken aback.
In the beginning Enkidu was created out of nature (clay). The Gods created him so that Gilgamesh would not be so powerful. The Goddess created Enkidu to be exactly like Gilgamesh. This made it easy for them to become friends. Enkidu used to live with the animals and he also ate grass, but because of the woman Enkidu becomes civilized. When Enkidu enters the civilized society to confront Gilgamesh, ...
It will be a person, she continued / Speaking in her somber monotone, /
A companion who is your equal / In strength, a person loyal to a friend, /
Who will not forsake you and whom you / Will never wish to leave. /
Gilgamesh was quiet at this interpretation / Of his dream. (p. 19)
Ninsun was right, and the friendship between Gilgamesh and Enkidu was one of great loyalty and trust. The formation of the friendship between Gilgamesh and Enkidu was very abrupt. Upon meeting, they fought fiercely, stopped, and embraced. This pithiness gives an air of ingenuity to the relationship, but that is later shattered by their loyalty to one another in following scenes.
And they were friends: / They had embraced and made their vow /
To stay together always, / No matter what the obstacle. (p. 27)
The most supporting aspect of their companionship was their encouragement to one another. When one of the friends faltered or showed weakness, the other reinforced fearlessness and reminded them of their friendship.
No, Enkidu cried; it is the journey / That will take away our life. /
Don’t be afraid, said Gilgamesh /
We are together. There is nothing / We should fear……
Suddenly it was Gilgamesh who was afraid
/ Enkidu who reminded him to be fearless. (p. 28, 34)
Enkidu’s devotion to Gilgamesh is shown in their battles with both Humbaba and the Bull of Heaven. By partaking in these battles with Gilgamesh, Enkidu is expressing his friendship. The conquests aren’t his idea, and he initially protests them, but gives in to his friend’s will. Enkidu dies for Gilgamesh, in essence. If not for Gilgamesh, Enkidu would not have been wounded in the battle with Humbaba, and would not have died later on. His death was a voluntary one in the sense that he died carrying out his friend’s mission.
Gilgamesh’s own loyalty to the friendship seems questionable until Enkidu dies. During the battle with Humaba, Enkidu did most of the work, got hurt, and then Gilgamesh got the glory of the fatal blow. The Bull of Heaven’s death, however, fell on Enkidu, and it was he who faced Ishtar’s curse. As Enkidu became ill, Gilgamesh was worried that his friend would die, but seemed preoccupied with his own impending loneliness.
... and that friendship is a necessity. When Enkidu dies Gilgamesh cant deal with it, he starts to think that if his friend can die that he ... turns into fear, he realizes if Enkidu can die that Gilgamesh can too. He sets out on a journey to see a man named ... can make you younger. On the way home from this journey Gilgamesh encounters a serpent who steal the plant from him. ...
Gilgamesh’s fear at the thought of his own solitude: /
I can’t imagine being left alone, / I’m less a man without my friend. /
Gilgamesh did not let himself believe / The gods had chosen one of them to die.
Gilgamesh clearly mourns his friend’s death. It is with this mourning that his true attachment to Enkidu is expressed. He goes on a journey to find the key to immortality, trying to bring his friend back. Again we see his sadness at losing Enkidu, but it seems self-serving in essence. Gilgamesh himself is crushed by the loss, and his journey may be more for himself. He hated to be lonely, and wanted nothing more than his companion back. He recognizes Enkidu’s own loyalty, but immediately turns to his own sadness again. With this, the motives for the journey become questionable.
My younger brother who saved me from / The Bull of Heaven and Humbaba, /
Who listened to my dreams, / Who shared my pain. / Why did he have to die? /
He would have stayed with me in death. / He would not have let me die alone. /
He was a friend. / He stopped, realizing / He had not come this far to hear himself / Recall the failure of his grief to save / But to find an end to his despair.
The concept of friendship sheds new light on the epic Gilgamesh. Enkidu, a true friend to the animals and a true friend to Gilgamesh, is wholly pure and good. Gilgamesh, although seemingly changed by his companionship with Enkidu, is still self-serving. Focused on his own loneliness and journey, Gilgamesh contributes far less to the companionship and therefore causes the essence of the relationship to be tarnished.