Sumerian Mists (Part 1 of 3)

The Epic of Gilgamesh is one of the most ancient mythological poems we have the possibility to read, it is part of the Sumerian mythology and, as we know, the Sumerians were biologically Europeans. The poem is a collection of originally independent stories, putted together by the Babylonians without changes of any sort.

Gilgamesh is a prototype of archaic Sacred King, and only by understanding this we will be able to get something from the figure of Enkidu, a character who becomes very soon the best friend of Gilgamesh and will follow him during most of the events described in the poem: we’ll return later to discuss the bond between these two characters.

To note that the poem refers to the multiple sexual relationships of Gilgamesh, possibly since in the past the men who proved to be the best had the possibility to have more than one woman, so that they could have many children and as a result a wide spread of their genes:

“For Gilgamesh,
The king of Uruk with crossroads,
Is open the tent
(that distances) the others,
In favor
Of the groom (only):
The legitimate wife,
He lies with her,
Him first,
And the husband afterwards.
(Such is) the order
(Wanted) by the divine will,
And, since his birth,
(This privilege) is granted to him!”.

-The Epic of Gilgamesh

An interesting fact about Enkidu is that he is described as a sort of savage and indomitable man who lives harmoniously with animals in the woods. What happens later in the poem can make us think that Enkidu represents the prototype of human being that lived in harmony with nature, still unaware of civilization and the sedentary and agricultural way of life. The people of Uruk send a whore to approach and corrupt him, and then bring him in front of Gilgamesh. The whore (note that whores have never existed amongst hunter-gatherers, i.e. during 99% of our time on this planet) represents instead the civilization (i.e. domestication) of man, a dramatic turn for our existence in this planet. That’s why, after Enkidu has an intercourse with her, the inhabitants of the woods refuse to still live with him. Enkidu has been corrupted by civilization, there is no more place for him in the savage world of the woods: passed to civilization, he feels physically weaker and the poem states that the whore took him to shepherds who offered him bread and beer, two typical products of the sedentary and agricultural way of life:

“The bread (that) they offered (him)
He refused it;
The beer (that) they presented him,
He refused it:
Without eating this bread,
Enkidu examined it with suspect;
Without drinking this beer,
He examined it with suspect…”.

-The Epic of Gilgamesh

Now, returning to the relation between Gilgamesh and Enkidu, the poem suggests that the latter is, most probably in relation to sympathetic sorcery, a double of Gilgamesh:

“He looks like Gilgamesh,
In profile!
In size,
(But equally) vigorously

-The Epic of Gilgamesh

“To Gilgamesh (, it was said),
(Although) similar to a god,
Has been (therefore) given
a double!”.

-The Epic of Gilgamesh

What I think is that Enkidu is the substitute of the Sacred King at the time when the annual function of this one comes to an end. You see, we have good reasons to think that at least some of our European ancestors, at least for some time, at least in certain areas of Europe (yes, we don’t know much about this) had not the custom to kill the Sacred King at the end of his annual function, nor organized competitions to confirm or replace him; instead, during that last day, they pretended that the real King was dead – for example confining him in an isolated place that symbolized a grave – while a substitute obtained the title of King for the duration of that last day, with all the functions, duties, honours and privileges of the role (it is possible that this “reversal of roles” is at the origin of festivities such as the Saturnalia and Carnival, both characterized by a temporary abolition or overturning of the normal hierarchy of social roles). They achieved this purpose by means of sympathetic sorcery (“the similar generates the similar”): giving him all the kingly attributes (the prehistoric forms of the crown, sword and scepter) he became the King. However, at the end of the day he was ritually murdered and then the real King returned from his isolation (i.e. from his symbolic death), resurrected, the new Sun ready to regain his function for another year.


Possibly they did this to avoid the killing of their best man, or maybe because the King at a certain point refused to accept his destiny and imposed this variation of the ritual: we don’t know for sure. Regarding the substitute, for what we know he could have been a criminal whose destiny was in any case to be executed, or he could have been a healthy and honourable man ready to do an act worthy of being remembered, i.e. dying as a King: indeed, as we know, our ancestors had a vision of life and death that contemplated the rebirth of the honourables, death in itself was not a problem, even less if it was considered an honourable death. I tend for the second interpretation but, again, we don’t know for sure.

A King’s death:

The death of Enkidu was celebrated with a ritual lament and Gilgamesh points out how all living creatures mourn for him, event comparable to what happens after the death of Baldr – another Solar God that is reborn after the Winter Solstice – in the Norse mythology, when all living creatures mourn his death so that Hel will return him among the living: the same goes for Enkidu, which in that moment was effectively the Sacred King, ritually killed and ceremonially cried.

We can observe the same identical process in some episodes of the Greek mythology, for example when Phaeton takes possession of the chariot and the distinctive attributes of Helios – in this way becoming Helios – but shortly after starting to perform the role of his father he dies; another episode is the one in which Achilles, the Sacred King, pretends to be dead, remaining isolated in his ship until the time when Patroclus, his substitute, dies shortly after having become himself Achilles, through the use of his armour and weapons: both the factions are sure to have Achilles in front of their eyes when Patroclus comes, and the latter is convinced that by using the armour and weapons of Achilles he will obtain the same strength and valour for which the son of Peleus was famous on the battlefield. Patroclus then dies and, finally, Achilles ends his isolation: the true King came back to life!



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