Shambat - A Woman Apart

Shambat the Harlot is the name I have given to lines taken from the first great work of literature, The Epic of Gilgamesh. The ancient tales of Paradise lost that survive today in mainly religious text, probably found their inspiration in the following words carved into stone more than four thousand years ago.

Shambat the Harlot

Shambat loosened her undergarments, opened

     her legs and he took in her attractions.

She did not pull away. She took wind of him.

Spread open her garments, and he lay upon her.

She did for him, the primitive man, as women


His love-making he lavished upon her.

For six days and seven nights Enkidu was

     aroused and poured himself into


When he was sated with her charms,

He set his face towards the open country of his


The gazelles saw Enkidu and scattered.

The cattle of open country kept away from his


For Enkidu had become smooth; his body was

     too clean.

His legs, which used to keep pace with his

     cattle, were at a standstill.

Enkidu had been diminished, he could not run

    as before.

Yet he had acquired judgment, had become


(from a translation by Stephanie Dalley)

For the Sumerians, who ruled when Gilgamesh was imagined, it was the goddess Aruru, the mother goddess, who created Enkidu from clay – the Bible and the Koran would give that role to a man. For the Sumerians, women were a civilizing influence, for the illiterate desert tribesmen who would usurp her role in the creation accounts, she became the seductress, the harlot who caused mankind to be expelled from Paradise.

For the men and women of Sumer (ancient Sumeria) their cities were Paradise; and it was the women of Sumer as life givers, homemakers and lovers who made this sedentary, civilized lifestyle possible, desirable and enjoyable.

For the tribesmen of the desert, trapped and fighting for survival beneath a monotonous, unchanging blue sky and a blaring scorching sun on a sea of dust and sand, the cities of Sumer would have been seen as Paradise.

For the people of Sumer being civilized meant acquiring wisdom; becoming capable of exercising judgment, of assessing situations or circumstances shrewdly and logically and drawing your own reasonable conclusions.

For the illiterate, fatalistic tribesmen of the deserts of the Middle East whose very existence was constantly being tested by elements over which they had no control, which they believed was God’s way of trying their faith, this had to appear like blasphemy. Paradise was to be denied mankind because a woman was foolish enough to endow a man with god-like qualities. For their jealous, vengeful god this had to be unacceptable.

The Koran, in particular, with its meticulous instructions as to what a believer may or may not do; what a believer may think or say was perhaps the primitive tribesman’s way of using the invention of writing to establish eternal, unchanging limits on mankind’s imagination and freewill in the hope of convincing God to let man back into Sumer, back into Paradise.

Bernard Payeur