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 /
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...