The Women of Gilgamesh
A STORYTELLING IN ARABIC
15th October 2022, P21 Gallery, London
This world premiere by distinguished Iraqi actress Badia Obaid was a telling of the ancient Babylonian poem Gilgamesh which concentrated on the Epic’s female voices – Shamhat, Shiduri, Ninsun, and others.
Obaid’s performance showed that female characters were allotted crucial roles, upon whom the overall storyline depends at key junctures. Moreover, they display a special wisdom which transcends that of men, and each contributes in their own way to the texture of the narrative and its thought-world.
Indeed, the performance highlighted the ways in which women ‘bookend’ the narrative. It is the womenfolk of the city of Uruk who, through their protests to the gods at Gilgamesh’s behaviour, ignite the train of events that forms the main arc of the story. Equally, Gilgamesh’s reason for returning home at the end of the story is that he is following the advice given to him by the ale-wife Shiduri (in the Old Babylonian version).
Overall, the performance constituted a piece of artistry in its own right, as well as a window onto the sociocultural history of women in the Mesopotamian world, and also a contribution to the interpretation of the poem’s literary artistry.