The second most important character in the Epic of Gilgamesh, the beast-man Enkidu, has almost as much significance within the plot as the titular hero. The scene in Tablet VII, when delirious Enkidu laments his grave illness, not only invigorates Gilgamesh’s quest for immortality but also highlights Enkidu’s own journey to humanity. The curses that he throws at the cedar door illustrate the inescapable price of transiting from blissful savagery to human civilization and human ambition, which inevitably entails the consciousness of one’s death.
The symbolic significance of the cedar door is immense and, as such, should be viewed within the general context of doors as depicted in the Epic of Gilgamesh. One aspect that is particularly important to consider is that doors signify the passage from one state into another. The epic begins with Gilgamesh building walls for Uruk – that is, delineating the civilized space owned by humans from the wilderness outside the city. Thus, when Enkidu finally “[enters] the city of Uruk-the-Town-Square” in Tablet II, he completes his transformation from a man-beats to a civilized man (“Epic of Gilgamesh” P.177). The line “Enkidu with his foot blocked the door of the wedding house” immediately affirms this transformation and shows that, by that point, Enkidu had also internalized the norms of civilized conduct (“Epic of Gilgamesh” II.111). Among the animals, which he grew with together, there would be nothing wrong with the strongest male mating with a female first, but Enkidu understands that is inappropriate in human society. To summarize, doors – whether the city gate or the door to the newly-wed wife’s house – symbolize Enkidu’s passage from savagery to civilization.
Within this context, it becomes easier to understand why the dying Enkidu hurls curses at the inanimate object. His exasperated exclamation “Had I but known, o door, that so you would reward me, / I would have lifted my axe, I would have cut you down” is particularly noteworthy (“Epic of Gilgamesh” VII.48-49). The door is made of wood from the cedar forest, which is the most famous heroic feat that Gilgamesh and Enkidu achieved together. Gilgamesh’s motivation for the deed is gaining immortality through fame – “I will cut down the cedar, / I will establish forever a name eternal” (“Epic of Gilgamesh” Y.186-187). Becoming remembered and respected beyond one’s natural lifespan is a very human concern because only humans, as opposed to either gods or animals, are mortal yet conscious of their finite nature. The cedar door, thus, is the manifestation of Enkidu’s agreement to pursue glory, which is directly based on his human consciousness of death. Remembering the symbolical importance of doors outlined above, what Enkidu curses is not the door itself but his transition toward civilization that made him painfully aware of his mortality.
As one can see, Enkidu’s curses thrown at the cedar door are most likely a lament of his transition toward civilization and the disadvantages it brought along with the benefits. Doors symbolize Enkidu’s transformation from a beast to a proper civilized human, but this transformation also involves awareness of one’s inescapable mortality. Enkidu’s agreement with Gilgamesh regarding the importance of glory signifies that he thinks like a human and understands the inevitability of death in the war that the blissfully ignorant animals cannot. Yet, by becoming civilized, he also becomes acutely conscious of his own mortality, which, as he dies, haunts him in the ways that would never trouble him in his mindless days as a beast.