Before Shamhat

The following poem was written by Ariella, one of our 9th graders. Ariella decided that, as an independent project, she wanted to read an epic poem. After some discussion, Ariella and I decided to read The Epic of Gilgamesh, which is one of the earliest works of literature in human history.

Gilgamesh was an Uruk king circa 2500 BCE, and the epic concerns his friendship with Enkidu, a man created by the gods to soothe Gilgamesh’s aggression. At the beginning of the poem, Enkidu lives among the animals, running with them, eating with them, and freeing them from the traps of hunters. One hunter complains to Gilgamesh about this wild man, and Gilgamesh sends a priestess, Shamhat, out to the woods to find Enkidu and tame him through her “love arts.”

The poem itself doesn’t talk much about Enkidu’s time in the wilderness, and what it does say comes from either the hunter’s or Shamhat’s perspectives. To help Ariella get inside the poem, I asked her to write a few lines in the style of the epic that imagine what Enkidu’s life is like before Shamhat came to tame him. This is what she wrote.

Before Shamhat

Enkidu ran with the gazelles and zebras
He grazed alongside all of the other animals
He went to the water to satisfy his thirst with the other animals
Enkidu could outrun the swiftest gazelle
He ran without growing tired
And he could win a fight with the largest of lions
He had the strength and agility of a leopard
Enkidu was as tall as a hippopotamus is wide
And had muscles like rock
Enkidu slept alongside the other grassland animals
He saw different animals sometimes
He saw sheep and goats come and go
Enkidu freed his animal friends from traps
He had fingers and they did not
They were there to help Enkidu too
When he was young the gazelles fed him their sweet milk
The animals taught Enkidu where to find water
The animals taught Enkidu where to go during cold nights
The gazelles raced Enkidu in the tall grass
The lions and leopards wrestled Enkidu to prove their strength
Enkidu learned from the animals and they learned from him