Twins

by Esteban

“The close association of Enkidu and Gilgamesh which becomes one of the striking features in the combination of the tales of these two heroes naturally recalls the “Heavenly Twins” motif, which has been so fully and so suggestively treated by Professor J. Rendell Harris in his Cult of the Heavenly Twins, (London, 1906).

Professor Harris has conclusively shown how widespread the tendency is to associate two divine or semi-divine beings in myths and legends as inseparable companions or twins, like Castor and Pollux, Romulus and Remus, the Acvins in the Rig-Veda, Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau in the Old Testament, the Kabiri of the Phoenicians, Herakles and Iphikles in Greek mythology, Ambrica and Fidelio in Teutonic mythology, Patollo and Potrimpo in old Prussian mythology, Cautes and Cautopates in Mithraism, Jesus and Thomas (according to the Syriac Acts of Thomas), and the various illustrations of “Dioscuri in Christian Legends,” set forth by Dr. Harris in his work under this title, which carries the motif far down into the period of legends about Christian Saints who appear in pairs, including the reference to such a pair in Shakespeare’s Henry V:

“And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by

From that day to the ending of the world.”

–(Act, IV, 3, 57-58.)

There are indeed certain parallels which suggest that Enkidu-Gilgamesh may represent a Babylonian counterpart to the “Heavenly Twins.” In the Indo-Iranian, Greek and Roman mythology, the twins almost invariably act together. In unison they proceed on expeditions to punish enemies.

But after all, the parallels are of too general a character to be of much moment; and moreover the parallels stop short at the critical point, for Gilgamesh though worsted is not killed by Enkidu, whereas one of the “Heavenly Twins” is always killed by the brother, as Abel is by Cain, and Iphikles by his twin brother Herakles.

Even the trait which is frequent in the earliest forms of the “Heavenly Twins,” according to which one is immortal and the other is mortal, though applying in a measure to Enkidu who is killed by Ishtar, while Gilgamesh the offspring of a divine pair is only smitten with disease, is too unsubstantial to warrant more than a general comparison between the Enkidu-Gilgamesh pair and the various forms of the “twin” motif found throughout the ancient world.

For all that, the point is of some interest that in the Gilgamesh Epic we should encounter two figures who are portrayed as possessing the same traits and accomplishing feats in common, which suggest a partial parallel to the various forms in which the twin-motif appears in the mythologies, folk-lore and legends of many nations; and it may be that in some of these instances the duplication is due, as in the case of Enkidu and Gilgamesh, to an actual transfer of the traits of one figure to another who usurped his place.”

Morris Jastrow (ed.), Albert T. Clay (trans.), An Old Babylonian Version of the Gilgamesh Epic on the Basis of Recently Discovered Texts, 1920, pp. 22-3.