The epic’s prelude offers a general introduction to Gilgamesh , king of Uruk, who was two-thirds god and one-third man. He built magnificent ziggurats, or temple towers, surrounded his city with high walls, and laid out its orchards and fields. He was physically beautiful, immensely strong, and very wise. Although Gilgamesh was godlike in body and mind, he began his kingship as a cruel despot. He lorded over his subjects, raping any woman who struck his fancy, whether she was the wife of one of his warriors or the daughter of a nobleman. He accomplished his building projects with forced labor, and his exhausted subjects groaned under his oppression. The gods heard his subjects’ pleas and decided to keep Gilgamesh in check by creating a wild man named Enkidu , who was as magnificent as Gilgamesh. Enkidu became Gilgamesh’s great friend, and Gilgamesh’s heart was shattered when Enkidu died of an illness inflicted by the gods. Gilgamesh then traveled to the edge of the world and learned about the days before the deluge and other secrets of the gods, and he recorded them on stone tablets.
The epic begins with Enkidu. He lives with the animals, suckling at their breasts, grazing in the meadows, and drinking at their watering places. A hunter discovers him and sends a temple prostitute into the wilderness to tame him. In that time, people considered women and sex calming forces that could domesticate wild men like Enkidu and bring them into the civilized world. When Enkidu sleeps with the woman, the animals reject him since he is no longer one of them. Now, he is part of the human world. Then the harlot teaches him everything he needs to know to be a man. Enkidu is outraged by what he hears about Gilgamesh’s excesses, so he travels to Uruk to challenge him. When he arrives, Gilgamesh is about to force his way into a bride’s wedding chamber. Enkidu steps into the doorway and blocks his passage. The two men wrestle fiercely for a long time, and Gilgamesh finally prevails. After that, they become friends and set about looking for an adventure to share.