The underlying meaning of human life is a central theme in both tales of Enkidu and Adam. The Epic of Gilgamesh and the biblical story of Adam both depict men who face a challenge that tests their strength and fortitude. Through elements such as fear, shame, courage and repentance, each character descends or ascends from his original state. The humanizing qualities and circumstances that each man endures reveals his character and shapes his ideals about the world and civilization. Essentially, both Enkidu and Adam are involved in temptous situations that portray their qualities of vulnerability and failure. Essentially, the men vividly represent the imperfections and flaws in men, which humanizes their characters.
In the Epic of Gilgamesh, Enkidu is described as a wild man with animalistic characteristics and traits. Created by a woman, Enkidu was taught to value and love women above anything else. When he is brought to Uruk, a beautiful paradise where people are clothed, he becomes a civilized man. Thus, the Epic of Gilgamesh “draws together the many strands that make up the identity of Gilgamesh: man, hero, king, god. Gilgamesh must learn to live. He must find ways to express his tremendous personal energy but still act in a manner that accords with the limits and responsibilities imposed upon him by his society and universe” (Abusch, 614).
The origin of Adam, from the biblical story of Adam and Eve, differs slightly from Enkidu as Adam was created by God, presumably a male, and the woman was created from Adam. The creation of woman from Adam shows the dominant characteristic that Adam had over Eve, which differs from the high level of status in which Enkidu held women. Thus, their moral characteristics and ideals about women differed slightly as Enkidu held women as the highest of all love and Adam viewed women as beneath him and more as a follower.
Also, both characters emerge in the stories naked, Enkidu in the forest and Adam in the garden. Their nakedness is a representation of the pure nature and vulnerable state of men. The fall of grace is a perpetual theme in the stories as well as Adam experiences a fall from grace after taken a bite of the forbidden fruit. He is tempted by a woman, Eve, and he disobeys God’s will. According to Pretorius, the rise and fall of Adam explains “how the world and humankind came to be in their present form, or a traditional story of purportedly historical events, serving to unfold part of the worldview of a people, or explain a practice” (p. 164). Enkidu experiences a similar temptation from a prostitute, Shamhat and surrenders to temptation, but he actually makes an ascension into a more heroic position through his bond with Gigamesh. After both men are tempted by the women, they experience a change or formation in their lives and ideals. Adam’s eyes become open, and he realizes that he is naked and is ashamed of his nakedness. Thus, he is removed from the Garden due to his disobedience, and he descends to Earth. Similar to Adam, Enkidu experiences an awakening and gains knowledge after surrendering to temptation. Ultimately, both men gain a sense of awareness and knowledge as a result of their encounter with women, which can symbolize the power or the influence of womanhood and sexuality in their lives.
In both stories, the characters show the good and bad of human life. As Enkidu transforms from his primitive state to civilization, he is taught that clothing is a mark of beauty and civilized culture. Thus, similar to Enkidu, after Adam realizes he is naked, he seeks to clothe himself. The circumstances can represent a sense of vanity and appreciation for materialistic things. Clothing can be seen as a veil to cover up human qualities of shame and vulnerability, which each man exposes throughout their stories. Thus, through a sense of knowledge, the characters come to understand that clothes are a form of necessity and represent civilized human beings. But this can be viewed as materialistic desires, which is reflective of society that values wealth, fine clothes and expensive things to show status and class. Ultimately, the characters emerge from their naked and pure state to join a civilization and community that values materialism and superficial things.
Themes of shame and guilt are encompassed in the tale of Adam. As he gains a sense of awareness and knowledge, he becomes ashamed of who he is and seeks to clothe himself. Thus, this shame shows another aspect of the human qualities of man life. It leaves people to question who they are and their sense of identity. Thus, clothing becomes a cover up to hide flaws and imperfections of men and conceal their shame for themselves. Sense of identity is a central theme in Adam and Eve story as he begins to gain knowledge of identity, he falls from grace. This can also represent the distorted views and lack of true identity that people have for themselves. Also, the question of immortality is challenged in the story of Adam. After Adam bites into the forbidden fruit, as described in the bible, he begins to open up a whole new meaning of life, death and the mortality of men.
Essentially, both stories of Enkidu and Adam show the humanizing qualities of man. They reveal the vulnerabilities and failures that all men experience throughout their journey of life. Through the themes of shame, temptation and identity, the men embark on a journey to find themselves and knowledge of self. Enkidu ascends into a realm of heroism after his encounter with a woman, which shows his plight to gain courage and knowledge. On the other hand, Adam descends from paradise as a mortal man after his temptation from Eve. Each character finds knowledge and awareness of his community and civilization, which shows how men come to know who they are and reveal how humans adapt to civilization. Ultimately, the humanistic traits of each character are highlighted in the stories, and illustrate the vulnerabilities and triumphs of human life.
- Abusch, Tzvi. “The Development and Meaning of the Epic of Gilgamesh: An interpretative essay.” Journal of the American Oriental Society, 121.4 (2001), 614-645.
- Pretorius, Mark. “The Creation and the Fall of Adam and Eve: Literal, Symbolic or Myth?” Conspectus, 12 (2011): 161-184.
- Puchner, Martin, Akbari, Suzanne C., Denecke, Wiebke, et al. The Norton Anthology of World Literature. 3rd ed. Vol. A. New York: Norton, 2012. Print.