The enslavement of men: Enkidu and Shamhat.

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The cities of Sumer had been established for over a thousand years by the time the Epic of Gilgamesh was written, circa 2500BC, but they did not control all of the land. Most of it remained uncultivated and taming the wilderness, to make more commercially productive farmland, became important to the cities. That required an ever-increasing labour force, which could only be achieved through the enslavement of men.

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Civilisation depends on the enslavement of men.

Many early civilisations were built on the enslavement of men, in the sense that we now understand it, but others were either not slave states or were only partially so. So how could the enslavement of men be effected, other than by force?

One answer is illustrated in two great tales: The Epic of Gilgamesh and  Genesis. The enslavement of men to the city was brought about not through violence, but through love, or at least, lust.

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After the settlement

After the etablishment of sedentary living there remained many groups of semi-nomadic and nomadic people, both herders, often represented by shepherds, and the hunters. These were not the same. Shepherds had higher status, from the city’s — ie the ‘civilised’ point — of view. They were not civilised but were not wild beasts either. That is why, in Gilgamesh,  they lived on the pastures closer to the cities which had not been turned over to arable farming. The hunters were wild and untamed and lived in the deepest, most remote, wilderness.

The animals in the story of Enkidu and Gilgamesh are a metaphor for the hunter groups who had to be persuaded to give up their freedom to come to the city, in order to work there. Again and again, in the mythology, the hunters are protrayed as being rough and savage, more like animals than men.

The hunters themselves seem to have taken a similar view, regarding themselves as brothers to the animals they hunted, and not like the people of the cities at all. This, of course, still persists, where traditional lifestyles have not been completely stamped out.

enslavement of men
Pic: Rod Fleming

Men and boys

An underlying theme of Gilgamesh is that the men and boys who live in the outland are no different from the animals who live there; so when Enkidu has sex, it is as likely to be with other males as with animals, since there is no difference. But by remaining independent and having sex with each other, wild men like Enkidu were defying the city, which needed them. The enslavement of men became a cntral plank of the civilising process.

Only a fool would suggest that civilisation is without benefit, but, as with Inanna’s Mes, there is good and evil. In becoming civilised, we must accept both. So the splendour of early Uruk, a city that must surely have been a delight, was built upon the lives of men who were no longer free. To build the cities required the enslavement of men.

There are many versions of the Epic of Gilgamesh but in all, he refuses the Goddess’ hand in marriage. In early versions, this is Inanna and in later, Ishtar. He refuses her — an insult of the gravest order and a bold statement of his independence — because of the way she treated her first husband, Dumuzi (Tammuz).

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Inanna/Ishtar represents the old order, the matrifocal, originally matriarchal society of the ancestors, where the Great Mother was the only power within the settlements and then the cities. Gilgamesh is not rejecting Inanna’s beauty or sexual charm, but subordination to her. He is attesting that he will not be subject to the domination of a female deity. By implication, this means that men will no longer be subject to female authority. He replaces the priest-king – essentially a puppet of the High Priestess – with the powerful, masculine warrior.

So Gilgamesh, in turning his back on the older manifestation of kingship, which were largely honorary, is instead displaying the most prominent characteristic of all subsequent civilisations. He sets out, in mythological terms, something that had never been seen before: the warrior-king.

 

There had been kings in Sumer for hundreds of years. But we know little about them. They are mysterious, largely faceless, although their cocks are frequently portrayed. Gilgamesh has a face and a character, things that were, previously, the attributes of the gods. Yet Gilgamesh is not a god, though he is greater than other men; he is Hero, a kind of demi-god. A Great Man who could dare to deny the Goddess — and survive.

enslavement of men
Early Sumerian priest-kings, ca 3000 bc. In this era and up until recently, male virility was see as being just as important as female fertility; that is why their penises are prominently displayed.

Gods of Field and Forest

The gods of field and forest do not sit amongst the great deities of the pantheon, in Sumer, Akkad or any successor culture. They are independent, solitary, and deeply enigmatic. Yet they lived on in folk history for centuries after, at least in the West, the Goddess had been tied down and indeed had literally become the Catholic Church.

Gilgamesh was not originally a warrior but a hunter. He therefore bridges the gap between men and the gods of field and forest. These are illustrated by the Greek god Pan. This deity had evolved for as long as the Goddess but was somewhat aside; he was a rough and uncultured.

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Pan’s relationship tp Apollo was remarkably similar to Enkidu’s to Gilgamesh. From Encyclopedia Brittanica

Pan, in Greek mythology, a fertility deity, more or less bestial in form. He was associated by the Romans with Faunus. Originally an Arcadian deity, his name is a Doric contraction of paon (“pasturer”) but was commonly supposed in antiquity to be connected with pan (“all”). His father was usually said to be Hermes, but a comic invention held that he was the product of an orgy of Odysseus’s wife Penelope with her many suitors. Plutarch wrote that during the reign of Tiberius the crew of a ship sailing near Greece heard a voice calling out “The great Pan is dead.” Christians took this episode to be simultaneous with the death of Christ.

Pan was generally represented as a vigorous and lustful figure having the horns, legs, and ears of a goat; in later art the human parts of his form were much more emphasized. He haunted the high hills, and his chief concern was with flocks and herds, not with agriculture; hence he can make humans, like cattle, stampede in “panic” terror. Like a shepherd, he was a piper and he rested at noon. Pan was insignificant in literature, aside from Hellenistic bucolic, but he was a very common subject in ancient art. His rough figure was antithetical to, for example, that of Apollo, who represented culture and sophistication.

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The story of Enkidu and Shamhat: the enslavement of men in metaphor.

Enkidu was just such a wild man, half-beast, half-human. He lived with the animals on the uncultivated steppe, which was called ‘eden’ (no coincidence.) He spoiled the traps a hunter laid and guided the animals away from his ambushes. In frustration, the hunter asked the king for help. Gilgamesh consulted the high priestess of the temple of Inanna — who was also almost certainly the Queen — and she devised a plan. She would send a young and beautiful priestess, Shamhat, out into the steppe to locate Enkidu and seduce him. Then she was to bring him back to the city to become civilised. This is the honey-trap that brought about the enslavement of men.

In a touching exchange, Shamhat, who is only fifteen and has just had her first menstruation,  asked how she might go about seducing a wild man, who had no knowledge of women; a worrisome prospect, though perhaps rather thrilling. Certainly Shamhat showed no hesitation, just confusion.

Her superior instructed her to wait till Enkidu was asleep then disrobe and lie down beside him naked. Her beauty was such that as soon as he woke, he must be overcome with lust and have sex with her.

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Which, of course, is exactly what happened. Shamhat found Enkidu lying asleep by a pool, took off her clothes and lay down beside him. When he woke, there she was, tinkling her lapis-lazuli earrings (all that remained to adorn her loveliness) and making eyes, her perfumed body warm and inviting; he had her on the spot. They spent a week together, repeatedly coupling.

At the end of the week, Enkidu was troubled; he had not visited his friends the animals. Leaving Shamhat to recover, he sought them out to tell them the news, but they smelled the woman on him and realised he was not one of them. They saw him now as a man and ran away in fear. Abject, Enkidu returned to Shamhat, who comforted him. She told him he must return to the city with her, where he would see wonders such as he had never imagined and  be the friend of the king.

This is how the enslavement of men was effected: not by military power, but by the soft flesh and perfumed body of a nubile young girl. Enkidu was enslaved to Shamhat, who represents the city and civilisation, just as men have been, ever since.

After another week of passionate lovemaking — the Sumerians were an earthy lot — Shamhat lends Enkidu her robes and leads him back towards the city. So he leaves eden dressed as a woman and more; following Shamhat. This symbolises the final surrender of his manhood. The enslavement of men was thereby complete.

On the way back to Uruk, they met some shepherds, who gave them food and water. Shamhat asked them to give Enkidu clothes befitting a man and they did. Then she led him to the city.

enslavement of men

Meanings

The similarity with the Biblical story of the Garden of Eden should escape no-one. There are many allegorical meanings expressed in both.

In Genesis, Jahweh gives Adam a wife but she disappeared, which has led to a deal of speculation. Adam is left free to wander the garden of Eden, where his friends — and certainly lovers —  are the wild animals. Jahweh thought Adam should have a companion and so, for inexplicable reasins, created another woman, Eve; but this time he used one of Adam’s ribs. This was to establish a hierarchy with men being superior to women, since the latter were made from the former.

All these machinations were in vain, however, because Eve, in disobeyance of Jahweh’s specific orders, persuades Adam to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. When Jahweh finds out, he banishes both of them from Eden, and they leave to establish a new life outside.

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Free hunters

Men were once the free hunters, who wandered wide. They were also the protectors, but their pleasure was in the hunt. They were individuals; although humans do hunt in teams, each individual gains his own merit.

With the coming of settlement and then civilisation, which means, ‘living in cities’, men lost all of that. Hunting became the jealously-guarded preserve of elite men. Ordinary men were shackled to the mundane tedium of urban life. They had exchanged the freedom of the hunt for the drudgery of work. And why?

So that they could have sex with women. It was Enkidu’s desire for Shamhat that ruined his life just as men’s desire for sex with women ruins theirs. Why was Adam so easily persuaded to defy his Lord? Because Eve tempted him with her most powerful weapon: her vagina.

The enslavement of men, in either case, was complete. From then on they would serve the machinery of the city and, just like a beehive, the city was focussed on the queen and run by women — because they formed the bureaucracy.

This is the great metaphor for the lives of men: in gaining that which they most desire, they lose everything. It is the truth of the Forbidden Fruit. If a holy command was broken in the Garden of Eden, it was this: stay away from women and remain independent, for if you do not, you will be cast out  and have to live out your life in miserable toil for the city.

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‘Homosexuality’

Until the nineteenth century, there was no concept of ‘homosexuality’. Indeed, for centuries, even millennia, men were expected to find both adolescent youths and young women attractive and, particularly, to pursue sex with boys, because unmarried women were strictly off-limits. This was repeated all across the world and persists, albeit more discreetly, today.

enslavement of men

The Bible does not mention homosexuality at all. No ‘identity’ is given to the people of Sodom, except that they are wicked in God’s eyes.

The sin was not, when it became one, love between men or even lust for comely boys. It was what became known as buggery. This originally meant all non-procreative sex, including masturbation and in the USA, the home of the most repressive sexual attitudes in the world, this developed into a veritable litany of proscribed acts, even between men and women who were married. Men were literally imprisoned for licking their wives’ genitalia; a nice measure of USican sanity.

Today, we have come to see buggery as anal penetration and this was how the English ‘Buggery Laws’ were framed. But in fact, the term was originally much broader and specifically included bestiality. Note that: sex with men, boys and with animals are taboo.

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Enkidu

Consider Enkidu again. He obviously knew how to have sex. He repeatedly coupled with a frisky young woman for a whole week, took a day off and then did it again. You try that some time, you’ll end up in traction. Even given the legendary sexual talents of a Sumerian temple harlot, that must tell us something. So how did he gain sexual experience prior to Shamhat’s arrival? Who else was there?

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The answer is, ‘the animals’. So the animals are not just Enkidu’s friends, they are his lovers. In Genesis, Adam ‘runs with the wild things’ — but were those wild things all four-legged?  Enkidu is part-beast himself; he is a wild man, not fully human – because he is not ‘civilised’. He is not ‘of the city’. He has not allowed himself to be broken on the rack of enslavement to women — yet.

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The band of beasts and lovers

So he and the band of beasts he played, ate and made love with were actually the same, at least metaphorically. To be uncivilised is to be ‘beastly’, to be ‘savage’ – and these attitudes were to persist. So from the point of the civilised Sumerian, the denizen of Uruk, as Shamhat was, Enkidu and the animals were one; they were all beasts. It was sex with a woman that changed Enkidu, caused him to be reborn as a man of the city: civilised, but also enslaved.

So if Enkidu was at least part-human, what about the beasts? Were they like him, part-human too? Or maybe they were completely human, but not civilised: they had not experienced the love of a woman either. So whom might they represent?

The animals in the story, the wild beasts, might represent the men and boys who lived outside the city. They are beastly because they have not been civilised. In this metaphor the animals are actually a band of untamed men and youths. And before they can be tamed, they must submit to the sexual advances of a woman. The enslavement of men is through the goddess’ holy cunt.

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.Civilised and savage

This attitude remains with us today; in recent decades the enslavement of men has become, if anything, an even greater priority for those who run civilisation than before. . Those who inhabit cities are ‘civilised’ and those outwith them ‘savages’ – originally from Latin silvaticus ‘of the woods’, which is to say, not of the city. Or the outsiders were ‘paganes’, which gave us ‘pagans’, or ‘barbarians’, because their speech sounded like babble to the refined Roman ear. They are ‘hicks’, ‘bumpkins’, ‘rednecks’, ‘deplorables’ – and therefore, inferior, to we the civilised.

Without exception, in all the history of humanity, ‘civilised’ people have taken it upon themselves to show those they consider ‘savage’ how to live. They ‘know better’ and ‘savages’ must fall into line; and all too frequently, this has been at point of gun. This is why the utterly despicable Hillary Clinton was able to condemn those who voted for Trump in 2016 as ‘deplorables’, instead of respecting their expression of their democratic rights.

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For Clinton, as a ‘civilised’ person, there was no need to apologise for her outrageous comments. The people she demeaned were not, in her view, as civilised as she but worse: they were not as human as she. This, in her privileged mind, gave her the right to insult them in this way. Why? Because they did not espouse the same ideas that she did. They did not toe the ‘civilised’ line. They rejected the enslavement of men that she represents.

My thanks to Nat, the model for these pictures.

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