Minor and Marginal(ized)? Rethinking Women as Minor Characters in the Epic of Gilgamesh

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Karen Sonik



Alexander Woloch, in a pioneering 2003 study on literary characters and characterization, observed that narrative meaning emerges in the dynamic attention to and neglect of the characters, major and minor, who inhabit the same story but occupy different positions therein. This essay draws on Woloch’s theory and methods to analyze the Standard Babylonian (SB) Epic of Gilgamesh, taking the women of the narrative as its case study. Aruru, Ninsun, Shamhat, Aya, Ishtar, the scorpion-man’s woman, Shiduri, and Uta-napishti’s wife are here examined not as flat or stock characters but rather as individual personalities who often transcend both their constrained narrative spaces and the gendered (mis)characterizations applied to them in the scholarship of recent decades. In paying the women of the SB Epic of Gilgamesh the attention they deserve, this study sheds new light not only on the composition’s minor characters but also on its narrative structure and meaning.

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