In Part 1 of the Epic of Gilgamesh we discover these basic plot elements:
- The city of Uruk is established and ruled by an Apollonian and imperialist young man named Gilgamesh.
- Gilgamesh is perceived, by at least some of his subjects, as an unjust ruler. He, for example, overworks the city dwellers of Uruk and takes into his bed the newleywed brides of the city before passing them off to their husbands.
- The gods, worried at Gilgamesh’s unbridled Apollonian and imperial power, fashion a Dionysian wild-man of equal strength to match Gilgamesh, and name him Enkidu.
- Enkidu, as an innocent and uncultivated Tarzan-like figure, does not stay in the wilderness, but undergoes a process of civilizing. The process begins by encountering a woman, followed by adopting the manners of shepherds, such as drinking from a cup. Enkidu’s adoption of ever more civilized ways, however, diminishes his native born wild power.
- Enkidu, on hearing of the injustices in Uruk, becomes the young rural revolutionary who is determined to go to the big city and set the political order right:
I will go to the place where Gilgamesh lords it over people, I will challenge him boldly, and I will cry aloud in Uruk, ‘I have come to change the old order, for I am the strongest here.’
It is at this point, at the end of Part One, that one of the great scenes in the Gilgamesh Epic occurs. Like Jacob at night, wrestling the angel of the Lord in the book of Genesis, so Enkidu, in a night clash, wrestles with Gilgamesh.
This wrestling scene possesses all the elements of a contemporary arena-staged World Wrestling Federation (WWF) match today. Following, for example, is how the Epic of Gilgamesh describes Enkidu entering the city. Notice that he is an outsized persona who, as it were, struts onto the city stage. He is even trailed by a sexy woman (though not here, elsewhere in the Epic the woman is described as a temple prostitute and someone who did it with Enkidu for six days and seven nights nonstop). Also notice that the crowd is abuzz in Enkidu’s presence, sizing him up, and trying to decide whether he is a match for his opponent, Gilgamesh. Enkidu, from the vantage of the people in the street, is the good guy:
Now Enkidu strode in front and the woman followed behind. He entered Uruk, that great market, and all the fold thronged round him where he stood in the street in strong-walled Uruk. The people jostled; speaking of him they said, ‘He is the spit of Gilgamesh.’ ‘He is shorter.’ ‘He is bigger of bone.’ ‘This is the one who was reared on the milk of wild beasts. His is the greatest strength.’ The men rejoiced, ‘Gilgamesh has met his match. This great one, this hero whose beauty is like a god, he is a match even for Gilgamesh.’
Like any good wrestling match, the challenger (in this case, Enkidu) must offer a provocation to the reigning champion (in this case, Gilgamesh). Enkidu does this by blocking Gilgamesh’s way to the evening’s latest virgin newleywed, waiting for her husband in the bridal chamber:
In Uruk the bridal bed was made, fit for the goddess of love. The bride waited for the bridegroom, but in the night Gilgamesh got up and came to the house. Then Enkidu stepped out, he stood in the street and blocked the way. Mighty Gilgamesh came on and Enkidu met him at the gate. He put out his foot and prevented Gilgamesh from entering the house, so they grappled, holding each other like bulls. They broke the doorposts and the walls shook, they snorted like bulls locked together. They shattered the doorposts and the walls shook. Gilgamesh bent his knee with his foot planted on the ground and with a turn Enkidu was thrown.
On being thrown, Enkidu declares:
[Y]ou are raised above all men, and Enlil has given you the kingship, for your strength surpasses the strength of men.
The Epic then states:
So Enkidu and Gilgamesh embraced and their friendship was sealed.
Dionysian Enkidu and Apollonian Gilgamesh were now a fearsome tag team with still more powerful opponents, later in the Epic, to come.