Enki and Ninhursag: A Sumerian Paradise Myth


The spark that kindled the author's desire for composing the myth "Enki and Ninhursag: A Sumerian Paradise Myth" was his conviction that he could explain the reason for the somewhat surprising theological tenet that the god who was in charge of Dilmun, a great commercial center in his day, was a rather minor deity by the name of Enshag. It must have been Enshag's father, the all-wise Enki, the god responsible for Dilmun's prosperity, brilliance, and purity, who made him lord of Dilmun. Just how, and under what circumstances Enshag's appointment by Enki came about is the central theme of this rather complicated tale, which includes some motifs, incidents, and episodes that are as yet enigmatic and obscure. Let us start with the theological credos and tenets that, as evidenced by various extant literary sources, were current and at the disposal of the author for constructing the plot of the tale. These include first the belief that Enshag, the god in charge of Dilmun, was the son of Enki and Ninhursag. A priori, therefore, it was not unlikely that these two deities play a major role in their son's appointment to this rather important position. Secondly, it was the current belief that Enki and Ninhursag were the parents of seven more deities: Abu, Nintula, Ninsutu, Ninkasi, Nazi, Azimua, and Ninti. These names, when analyzed closely, revealed to our author a rather curious and remarkable coincidence: each contained a one-syllable word designating an organ of the body -- the su of Ninsutu, for example, means "tooth," the ka of Ninkasi means "mouth," the zi of Nazi means "throat," and the ti of Ninti means "rib." Inasmuch as these deities were all children of Enki and Ninhursag, it was not unreasonable to conclude that the organs that these names included belonged to one or the other of their parents. Thirdly, it was well known to our author that, theologically speaking, Enki and Ninhursag were bitter rivals. Each, for example, claimed third place -- that is, the spot following An and Enlil, in the hierarchy of the pantheon. It would not be at all surprising, therefore, if this struggle led to some serious injury of one or the other. Given these theological credos relating to the genealogy of the gods, and the anthropomorphic views concerning their behavior, the author's train of thought when constructing the plot-scenario of the second half of the myth, the part beginning with Enki's self-indulgent consuming of the eight plants generated by Ninhursag, can be followed with a fair degree of certainty.

It is his rationale for Enki's sexual exploits depicted in the first half of the myth that is enigmatic and obscure. None of the extant Sumerian literary works help to clarify and illuminate the reasons for the author's factitious description of the birth of the three goddesses Ninmu, Ninkurra, and Uttu. Very little is known about these deities, and what is known seems quite irrelevant to their role in the plot of the myth. It is not unreasonable to assume, however, that our mythographer knew what he was doing, and that he had his reasons for introducing these partic- ular deities into his plot structure, but as of today they are totally out of our ken No scholar has yet come up with an explanation that is reasonable and credible although several have tried.

The text of "Enki and Ninhursag: A Sumerian Paradise Myth" is based pri- marily on a fairly well preserved tablet excavated at Nippur and now in the Uni- versity Museum; it was copied and published by Stephen Langdon under the title The Sumerian Epic of Paradise, the Flood, and the Fall of Man in PBS 10, part 1 (1915). Since then a fragment of unknown provenience has been published by Henn de Genouillac in TRS 62, but the nature of its contents was first recognized by Edward Chiera (see JAOS 54, 417); a careful, helpful collation of the text of the fragments was made available to Kramer by Jean-Marie Durand of the Ecole Practique des Hautes Etudes. A new edition of the text consisting of a transliteration translation, and commentary was published by Kramer in 1945 in BASOR No. 1; a translation of the text was published later by him in ANET, pp. 37-41 in 1963 Gadd and Kramer published a duplicating fragment of the myth excavated by Leonard Woolley at Ur that helped fill in several gaps in the text and introduced a number of significant variants (see UETV1, pt. 1, no. 1, and the relevant comment m the introduction to that volume). P. Attinger has now reedited the text "Enki et Nmhursaga," in ZA 74. The translation and interpretation of the myth presented in this volume therefore differs to some extent from Kramer's earlier ones.

The Myth

"Enki and Ninhursag: A Sumerian Paradise Myth"' is one of the more interesting, intricate, and imaginative myths in the Sumerian repertoire, but also one of the most enigmatic and frustrating. To judge from the end of the tale-and it is the end of a Sumerian composition that usually reveals the author's intent-the poet-priest who had originally composed it was primarily interested in explaining how and why the god Ensag had become "the Lord of Dilmun," the land where the action of the myth took place. According to our author, Ensag was presented by a grateful Enki with the lordship of Dilmun because he was one of a group of eight deities who had been engendered by the mother-goddess Ninhursag for the purpose of healing Enki's eight ailing organs, all of whom had been blessed by Enki in one way or another. As for what had inspired our author with the conviction that these particular eight gods had been procreated for the purpose of healing the sick Enki- this was his observation of a superficial linguistic phenomenon that he evidently deemed highly significant: the name of each of these deities corresponded in part to the name of one of Enki's ailing organs.

Our author also believed that he knew how and why Enki's eight organs had become sick in the first place-Enki had eaten eight plants that Ninhursag had generated from his semen that overflowed on the loins of the goddess Uttu, an act that so angered the goddess that she pronounced upon him the curse of death, and had a change of heart only after the mourning Anunna-gods had entreated and beseeched her to bring Enki back to life. As for Enki's sexual intercourse with the goddess Uttu that well-nigh caused his death, this, as the author imagined it, was the last of a series of sexual exploits that began with his impregnating first Ninhur- sag herself, who then gave birth to the goddess Ninmu; this was followed by his impregnating his daughter Ninmu who then gave birth to the goddess Nmkurra; this in turn was followed by his impregnating his granddaughter Ninkurra, who then gave birth to his great-granddaughter Uttu.

To some extent, therefore, we can follow the plot of the myth step by step, as imagined by the author. But there are several motifs that are especially enigmatic and tantalizing. Thus it would be quite interesting to know why of all the plants known to him, the author chose the particular eight plants for his tale; or why he decided that it was Enki's intercourse with the goddess Uttu, rather than with some other goddess, that generated the sprouting of the plants; or what had impelled him to imagine that the birth of Uttu was preceded by that of the goddess Ninmu and Ninkurra. It seems reasonable to assume that the author had his reasons for his choices and options, but as of today, these cannot be identified or even surmised. None of the currently known Sumerian theological credos or mythopoeic inven- tions shed any light on these questions.

The myth begins with a well-preserved introductory passage whose literal rendering is relatively assured but whose real meaning and implications are obscure and elusive. It depicts Dilmun as a land that is holy, pure, and radiant; a land where there are no birds to disturb its peace; where there are no wild animals preying on their victims; a land unfamiliar with sickness, aging, or (perhaps) death. As the poet puts it:

Holy the city.... 		The land Dilmun is holy.
Sumer is holy.... The land Dilmun is holy.
The land Dilmun is holy, the land Dilmun is pure,
the land Dilmun is pure, the land Dilmun is bright.
After she lay in Dilmun with the one who is alone,
the place -- after Enki had slept with his wife --
that place is pure, that place is bright.
After she lay in Dilmun with the one who is alone,
the place-after Enki had slept with Ninsikila --
that place is pure, that place is bright.

In Dilmun the raven screaks no croaking sounds,
the dar-bird sounds not the dar-bird's cry.

The lion kills not,
the wolf snatches not the lamb.
Unknown the wild dog that makes the kid bend low.
Unknown the grain-devouring pig.

The widow spread malt on the roof:
birds above do not eat it.
The dove droops not the head.

The sick-eyed says not, "I am sick-eyed."
The sick-headed says not, "I am sick-headed."

Its old woman does not say, "I am an old woman."
The old man does not sav. "I am an old man."

Unbathed is the girl: no flowing water fills the city;
whatever crosses the river utters not....

On his side the crier does not turn round;
the singer makes no wail;
beside the city he utters no lament.

There now follows an address by the goddess Ninsikilla, Dilmun's tutelary deity. She complains that the land Dilmun, which he had given her, lacked sweet water and crop-bearing fields and farms.8 Enki responds by blessing Dilmun with an abundance of water brought out of the earth by the sun-god Utu-the text of part of Enki's response is destroyed, but it can be restored from the passage that follows, which depicts Utu's performance of the propitious acts promised by Enki in his blessing, thus (53-64):

Utu, standing in heaven... .

from the mouth that pours out the earth's water
he brought her sweet water from the earth.

He pumps the water into her large cisterns.

From them her city drinks the wealth of water;
Dilmun drinks from them the waters overflowing.

Her well of bitter water is now a well of sweet water.
Her crop-yielding fields and farms turn out heaps of grain.
Her city is now the floodgate of the land,

Dilmun is the floodgate of the land."

Now by Utu. on this day, it has become just that.

The main action of the myth now begins with a depiction of Enki's sexual exploits, the first of which relates to his impregnation of the goddess Ninhursag and the birth of Ninmu, thus (65-88):

The one who was alone, the cunning one, in front of Nintu, mother
of the land,
Enki, the cunning one, in front of Nintu, mother of the land,
has his phallus fill the ditches full with semen,
has his phallus glut the reeds with an overflow of sperm,
has his phallus tear away the noble cloth that covers the lap.

He spoke out: "No one walks in the marshland."
Enki said: "No one walks in the marshland."
He swore by the life of An.

His semen that belonged to the one lying in the marshland,
lying in the marshland,

Enki directed his semen owed to Damgalnunna,
poured that semen into the womb, Enki's semen,
poured that semen into the womb of Ninhursag.

One day being her one month,
two days being her two months,
three days being her three months,
four days being her four months,
five days being her five months,
six days being her six months,
seven days being her seven months,
eight days being her eight months,
nine days being her nine months, the Months of Womanhood,
like fine oil, like fine oil, like precious oil,
Nintu, mother of the land, like fine oil, like fine oil,
like precious oil,
gave birth to Ninmu.

Enki now proceeds to impregnate Ninmu, who after nine days of gestation gives birth to the goddess Ninkurra, thus (89-108):

Ninmu came out to the bank of the river.
Out of the marshland Enki reaches out, reaches out.
He says to his sukkal Isimud:
"Should I kiss the young one, the beauty?
Should I kiss Ninmu, the beauty?"

His sukkal Isimud answers him:
"Kiss the young one, the beauty.
Kiss Ninmu, the beauty.
For my king I will blow up a vigorous wind.
I will blow up a vigorous wind."

Alone he set foot in the boat.
Then he lodged it on dry land.

He took her, kissed her,
Enki poured the semen into the womb.

She drew the semen into the womb, Enki's semen.
One day being her one month,
two days being her two months,
nine days being her nine months, the Months of Womanhood,
like fine oil, like fine oil, like precious oil,
Ninmu like fine oil, like fine oil, like precious oil,
gave birth to Ninkurra.

Enki now proceeds to impregnate Ninkurra, who after nine days of gestation gives birth to the goddess Uttu, thus (109-27):

Ninkurra came out to the bank of the river.
Out of the marshland Enki reaches out, reaches out.
He says to his sukkal Isimud:
"Should I kiss the young one, the beauty?
Should I kiss Ninkurra the fair?"

His sukkal Isimud answers him:
"Kiss the young one, the beauty.
Kiss Ninkurra, the beauty.
For my king I will blow up a vigorous wind,
I will blow up a vigorous wind."

Alone he set foot in the boat.
Then he lodged it on dry land.

He took her, kissed her,
Enki poured the semen into the womb.

She drew the semen into the womb, Enki's semen.
One day being her one month,
nine days being her nine months, the Months of Womanhood,
like fine oil, like fine oil, like precious oil,
Ninkurra like fine oil, like fine oil, like precious oil
gave birth to Uttu, the voluptuous woman.

Uttu would no doubt have gone forth to the bank of the river as did her mother Ninkurra and her grandmother Ninmu, and like them would have been impregnated by the sex-craving Enki, were it not for her great grandmother who counseled against it. Unfortunately the relevant passage is almost entirely destroyed, but to judge from what follows, Ninhursag had instructed her to stay in her house and have nothing to do with Enki unless and until he brought her a gift of cucumbers, apples, and grapes. In any case when the text becomes intelligible, we find Enki in the process of obtaining products from a grateful gardener, thus H53-67):

Filling with water a second time,
he filled the ditches with water,
he filled the canals with water,
he filled the unsown lands with water.

In his joy ... the gardener
hugs him, [says to him]:
"Who are you who [have watered] my garden?"

Enki answers the gardener:
".... [line destroyed]
[Bring me the cucumbers in their [?]... ].
[Bring me the apples in their ... ].
[Bring me the grapes on their vine(?)]."

[He brought him the cucumbers in their(?)]....
He brought him the apples in their ....
He brought him the grapes on their vine[?],
he heaped them up in his lap.

Having obtained these products, Enki brings them as gifts to Uttu, who now receives him joyfully and permits him to fondle and penetrate her (168-87):

Enki-his face turned green-grabbed the staff,
and headed for Uttu.

"You who make demands[?] in her house: open up!
open up!"
"You -- who are you?"

"I am the gardener who will give you cucumbers, apples, and
grapes as a reward."

Her heart leapt as Uttu opened the door of the house.

Enki to Uttu, the voluptuous woman[?],
gives the cucumbers in their[?]...,
gives the apples in their ....
gives the grapes on their vine[?].

Uttu the voluptuous woman[?] strikes [her] kab,
claps [her] hands.

Enki aroused Uttu,
took her, lay in [her] lap,
strokes and massages [her] body,
took her, lay in [her] lap.
He pierced the young one, kissed her.
Enki poured the semen into the womb.

She drew the semen into the womb, Enki's semen.
Uttu the seductive woman says: "Oh, the power [in my] body!"
says: "Oh, the power inside!
Oh, my power on the outside!"

Ninhursag wiped[?] the semen from her body.

It was from this semen of Enki that Ninhursag in some way generated the sprouting of eight plants: the tree-plant, the honey-plant, the roadweed-plant, the apasar-plant, the thorn-plant, the caper-plant, a plant whose name is destroyed, and the amharu-plant But now Enki and his sukkal Isimud appear once again on the scene. For Enki decides to decree the fate of these plants, which meant that he would first have to eat them. Enki's activity of decreeing the fates spells disaster for the plants and, ironically, for Enki himself, since he falls gravely ill in the pro- cess. Or as the poet put it (196-216):

Out of the marshland Enki reaches out, reaches out.
He says to his sukkal Isimud:
"Of the plants I have not [yet] decreed[?] the fate,
what in the world is this? What in the world is this?"

His sukkal Isimud answers him:
"My king, the tree-plant," he says to him.
He cuts it down for him. He eats it.
"My king, the honey-plant," he says to him.
He picks it for him. He eats it.
"My king, the roadweed-plant," he says to him.
He cuts it down for him. He eats it.
"My king, the apasar-plant," he says to him.
He picks it for him. He eats it.
"My king, the thorn-plant," he says to him.
He cuts it down for him. He eats it.
"My king, the caper-plant," he says to him.
He picks it for him. He eats it.
"My king, the ... -plant," he says to him.
He cuts it down for him. He eats it.
"My king, the amharu-plant," he says to him.
He picks it for him. He eats it.

Now comes the denouement of the plot of the myth. Enki's eating of the eight plants generated by Ninhursag so angered the goddess that she pronounced a curse upon him, asserting that she would not look upon him with the "eye of life" until he is dead. Fearing Enki's imminent demise, and not knowing what to do about it now that Ninhursag has vanished, the Anunna-gods "sit in the dust." Whereupon the fox comes to the rescue. He speaks up before Enlil, the leading deity of the pantheon, claiming that he knows how to make Ninhursag return to the gods, but demanding a reward for doing so. Enlil promises him a reward, and the fox does succeed in bringing Ninhursag back to the Anunna, who now seize her garments and perform several other acts that must have caused the goddess to have a change of heart. For we now find her seating the ailing Enki in her vulva and asking him where he feels pain. Enki names one by one the eight organs that hurt him, and Ninhursag proceeds to give birth to a corresponding healing deity. Finally, Enki, perhaps because he was grateful to Ninhursag for bringing him back to life, as it were, proceeds to bless the eight newly born deities, the last of whom, Ensag by name, he destines to be "the lord of Dilmun." Here now are the two concluding passages of the composition: the Ninhursag-Enki dialogue and Enki's blessing of the healing deities (250-78):

Ninhursag fixed Enki in her vulva:

"Brother, what hurts you?"
"My skull hurts me."
"I have caused Abu to be born for you."

"Brother, what hurts you?"
"My jaw hurts me."
"I have caused Nintulla to be born for you."

"Brother, what hurts you?"
"My tooth hurts me."
"I have caused Ninsutu to be born for you."

"Brother, what hurts you?"
"My mouth hurts me."
"I have caused Ninkasi to be born for you."

"Brother, what hurts you?"
"My throat hurts me."
"I have caused Nazi to be born for you."

"Brother, what hurts you?"
"My arm hurts me."
"I have caused Azimua to be born for you."

"Brother, what hurts you?"
"My rib hurts me."
"I have caused Ninti to be born for you."

"Brother, what hurts you?"
"My ag hurts me."
"I have caused Ensag to be born for you."

For the little ones which you have caused to be bom ...,
Let Abu be the king of plants.
Let Nintulla be the lord of Magan.
Let Ninsutu marry Ninazu.
Let Ninkasi be the one who satisfies desire.
Let Nazi marry Nindara.
Let Azimua marry Ningiszida.
Let Ninti be the queen of months.
Let Ensag be the lord of Dilmun.

Oh Father Enki, praise!

Enki and Ninmah: The Creation of Humankind


The bitter rivalry between Enki and the goddess known by the the names Ninmah or Ninhursag is also the dominating motif in the myth "Enki and Ninmah- The Creation of Humankind" (chapter 2, below). Moreover, this myth, too may be divided into two sections, the second of which relates to the fashioning of the badly crippled umul (a weak or handicapped person; see chapter 2, n. 2) and the first to the creation of the model -- humankind. In both sections it is quite possible to follow the author's thinking and reasoning as he invented the scenes and episodes that constitute the plot of the tale.

In the second section, for example, the author's prime purpose is to provide an answer to a twofold problem that must have been on the minds of many a Sumerian: the origin and existence of a whole group of crippled humans who, despite their handicap, had found useful employment in society. Convinced that this must have involved in some way the rivalry between Enki and Ninmah, the two deities theologically endowed with the powers essential for the creation of humans he envisaged the following scenario in his imagination. To celebrate the creation of the perfect human being, the model human prototype, Enki arranged a sumptuous feast for the great gods, in the course of which he was acclaimed and exalted as the god of wide understanding and great deeds. At this, the resentful Ninmah, flushed with drink and eager to humble Enki and discredit his handiwork, capriciously and arbitrarily created six crippled humans. But though he, too, was flushed with drink, Enki rose to the challenge and found useful and suitable work for all of them despite their handicap. But then, angered by Ninmah's persistent and belligerent rivalry, he proceeded to create a fatally defective umul, and demanded that she find useful employment for him just as he had done for the six damaged humans she had fashioned. Ninmah was unable to do so, and in some obscure way, this impotent umul helped to bring about the humiliation of the goddess, who finally had to admit Enki's superiority.

The creation of the perfect human prototype, the event that motivated the unfortunate and fateful banquet scene, is the theme of the first section of the myth. Availing himself of the relevant current theological tenets, and transplanting human actions and emotions to the divine plane, our mythographer evolved the following scenario. In "those days," after heaven had been separated from the earth and the gods had been formed by Enki and the mother goddess Nammu, the gods complain of the work they are forced to perform, digging canals and constructing buildings. Nammu takes their complaint to the resting Enki. It is Enki, then, who invents a plan to relieve the gods of their hard work by fashioning a new creature, humankind, to do the work. Since the process involves Ninmah, who will establish the destiny of this new creature, the story very quickly involves the interaction of god and goddess -- and leads to the contest between Enki and Ninmah that is at the heart of the myth.

A sketch of the contents of this myth, based on two tablets, one in the University Museum and the other in the Louvre, appeared in Sumerian Mythology (pp. 68-72). In 1969 Carios Benito published a valuable edition of the composition in his dissertation in the University Museum (pp. 20-76), which utilized four additional tablets and fragments, three of which are bilinguals. The translation and interpretation here presented are based on Benito's edition, but differ significantly from it in a number of instances.

The Myth

"Enki and Ninmah: The Creation of Humankind,"' is another imaginative, tan- talizing myth whose meaning and interpretation are enigmatic and elusive. Primarily this is due to the numerous breaks and gaps in the text, as well as the obscurity of some of the key words and phrases. Especially disappointing and disheartening are the breaks in the concluding thirty lines of the text: it prevents us from grasping and comprehending the intent and purpose of the author in creating mythic tales. To judge from what can be gleaned from the extant fragmentary text, he was interested primarily in explaining and validating the superiority of Enki and his city Eridu over the goddess Ninmah and her city Kes. In some obscure way, this involved the crippled, impotent umul, created by Enki, and for whom Ninmah could not find suitable employment in civilized society. The creation of a wretched creature such as umul, which the author must have deemed essential for the ensurance of Enki's superiority over Ninmah, could hardly be conceived as a rational act by so wise and beneficent a deity as Enki. And so the author attributed it to a drunken contest between the two deities after they had become "high" on beer during a banquet of the gods. Rather ironically, this banquet, fraught with disastrous consequence for humans, was arranged by Enki to celebrate the creation of humankind in order to free the gods from the need of laboring for their food, an intricate feat involving primarily Enki, his mother Nammu, and the resentful, contentious Ninmah. Human creation is depicted in the introductory section of the myth as follows (lines 1-37):

In those days
once heaven and earth [were split apart],
in those nights
once heaven and earth [were severed],
in those years,
the years after the fates had been decreed,
once the Anunna were born,
once the goddesses were joined in wedlock,
once the goddesses had been allotted their shares
of heaven and earth,
after the goddesses ... had been impregnated!?],
had given birth,
after the gods had been forced to ... their food
... for their own dining halls,
the great gods labor,
the young gods carry baskets,
the gods dig canals,
heap up their dirt harali,
the gods grind away,
grumble about their life:
In those days, the one with the cunning grasp,
fashioner of all the gods that exist,
Enki, in the deep billowing sea-
into whose midst no one dares to gaze-
is lolling in his bed,
will not stir from sleep,
[while] the gods wail [and] mutter.

To the one who is lying in the deep,
to the one who will not stir from his bed,10
Nammu, primeval mother,
who had given birth to all the great gods,
carried the wailing of the gods-to her son:
"You who are lying about,
you who are sleeping,"
you who will not stir from your sleep:
the gods-my handiwork-are beating their...

Rise up, my son, from your bed,
practice your skill perceptively.
Create servants[?] for the gods.
Let them throw their baskets away."
Enki, at the word of his mother, rose up from his bed.

The god, once he examined a fattened holy kid ... ,'7
the cunning (and) perceptive one,
the one who guides the seeker,
the skilled one who fashions the form of things,
turned out the sigensigdu,
Enki had them stand at his side, looks at them intently.

After Enki, form-fashioner, had, by himself,
put sense in their head,
he says to his mother, Nammu:

"My mother, the creature whose name you fixed-it exists.
The corvee of the gods has been forced on it.
Knead the 'heart' of the clay that is over the abzu.
The sigensigdu will nip off this clay.
You give it form.
Let Ninmah act as your helper.

Let Ninimma,


serve you as you form it.

My mother, you decree its fate.
Let Ninmah force upon it the corvee of the gods."

Following another very fragmentary six lines from which one can glean only a few significant words such as "man" and "birth," the poet introduces the banquet of the gods. It began joyously enough with the harmonious glorification by all the gods of Enki (called Nudimmud) and his wise deeds, but ended disastrously in the creation of a sad collection of human misfits (lines 38-109):

Enki looked on their ... work with favor. Their hearts rejoiced.

He set up a feast for his mother Nammu and Ninmah.
He makes Namtar, leader[?] of the lordly sigensigdu,
eat gi-sag as bread;
for An and Enlil, lord Nudimmud roasted holy kids.

All the great gods exalt him:
"0 lord of deep insight: who else is given your insight!
0 Enki, great noble: who can do what you do!
You-like a fathering father-are the one who takes care of
the me, the ... of all the lands."

Enki and Ninmah drink plenty of beer; their hearts race.
Ninmah says to Enki:
"On the form of a man, good or bad,
I will decree a fate that is good or bad,
as I feel like it."

Enki answers Ninmah:
"The fate that comes to you, whether it is good or bad-I
will counter."

Ninmah took the clay that covers the abzu.

The first one she made into a man who when reaching could
not bend his rigid[?] hands.

Enki, seeing the first man, who when reaching could not
bend his rigid[?] hands,
decreed fate for him, named him a servant of the king.

The second she made into a man who could see though blind.

Enki, seeing the man who could see though blind,
decreed his fate, gave him the art of song,
named him chief [musician] of the usumgal-lyre before the king.

The third she made into a man with ... paralyzed feet.

Enki, seeing the man with ... paralyzed feet,
gave him his melam, like a silver... ,

The fourth she made into a man who kept dripping semen.

Enki, seeing the man who kept dripping semen,
bathed him with "incantation" water,....

The fifth she made into a woman who could not give birth.

Enki, seeing the woman who could not give birth,
decreed a fate for her, built her a harem.

The sixth she made into something without a phallus or a
vulva on his body.

Enki, seeing something without a phallus or a vulva on his

to serve the one Enlil had called by name over the great
the king-decreed as his fate.

Enki threw the brazier to the ground,
acted most deceitfully.

The great lord Enki says to Ninmah:

"For every one you have formed, I have decreed their fate,
have given them bread.

Now I will make some for you-and you decree the fate
of the newborn!"

Enki made a form with a head ... a mouth[?] in its

Says to Ninmah:

"The phallus-made semen poured into the woman's womb had
made that woman give birth in her womb."

Ninmah ... stood by at its birth.
That woman brought forth... a mouth[?] in its center[?].

The second one he made into an umul -- its head sick, and sick
its... -place,

sick its eyes, sick its neck,
breath at an end, ribs shaky, lungs sick, heart sick, bowels

The hand that supported[?] his head could not put bread in
its mouth, its splintered[?] spine in pain,
shoulders drooping, feet shaky, it could not walk[?] to[?]
the field.

Enki says to Ninmah:
"For every one you formed, I decreed its fate,
have given it bread.
Now you decree the fate of the one I formed.
Give him bread."

Ninmah, when she saw umul, turned to him.
She approaches umul, questions him -- but he cannot speak.
She brought him bread to eat.
He cannot reach for it.
He cannot....
Having stood up, he cannot sit down,
cannot lie down,
cannot build a house,
cannot eat bread."

Ninmah answers Enki:
"The one you made is neither alive nor dead.
It cannot lift a thing."

Enki answers Ninmah:
"For the man with the rigid hands, I decreed his fate,
gave him bread;
for the man who was blind, I decreed his fate,
gave him bread;
for the man with paralyzed feet, I decreed his fate,
gave him bread;
for the man who kept dripping semen, I decreed his fate,
gave him bread;
for the woman who could not give birth, I decreed her fate,
gave her bread;
for the one without phallus or vulva, I decreed the fate,
gave him bread.
My sister, [now you decree the fate of umul,
give him bread]."

There are two more lines to Enki's speech, but they are almost completely destroyed. Now follows Ninmah's reproachful, accusatory answer to Enki consisting of sixteen lines, of which only the last six are fairly well preserved, but even these present numerous grammatical and lexical difficulties that make their translation and interpretation quite uncertain. As we tentatively understand their contents, Ninmah denigrates Enki as one who (presumably because he lives in the Abzu, far from heaven and earth) has paid no heed to what happens in "the land" (that is, Sumer), and accuses him of not coming to her aid and (perhaps) of even betraying her when, presumably at the command of Enlil, her city was attacked, her temple destroyed, her son (the king) carried off into captivity, so that she fled Enlil's Ekur and became a refugee. And if all that is not enough, she protests that Enki is now trying to domineer her. Here now is a tentative translation of the passage (lines 123-28):

"See, you did not dwell in heaven,
you did not dwell on earth,
you did not bring your 'lifted face,' to the land.

You did not dwell on earth.
Your word was not heard in the house built for me.

You did not live on the earth.
You betray me in the city built for me:

my city attacked,
my house destroyed,
my son taken captive.

And here I am a refugee,
one who had fled the Ekur.
And now I have not freed myself from your hand."

There follows Enki's answer, which provides the denouement of the myth in which the existence of the umul seemed to play some role, but many of the crucial words and phrases are either broken or of uncertain meaning, and the interpretation and implication of the passage are tantalizingly ambiguous and obscure. Enki begins his speech with an attempt to soothe Ninmah's resentment by talking up her power and authority and playing down his own, and by suggesting that she remove the wretched umul from her lap and perform two other actions (which are, however, unintelligible at the moment) thus (lines 129-33):]

Enki answers Ninmah:
"A word comes out of your mouth-who can alter it?
Umul, the crippled [?] [creature(?)]-
take him off your lap.

... has surely looked with favor upon your work.
He has given[?] me an imperfect hand --
who can oppose him!

Take my ... for[?] its[?] back[?],
put your hand on its mouth."

There follows a line (134), which may be rendered, literally, "Now may my phallus be acclaimed, may it become a 'wisdom-endower.'" Its significance and implication in the context are difficult to fathom. It may be related in some way to the following two lines, which read (lines 135-36): "May the enkum (and) the ninkum exalt the... ."

The next three lines are also quite fragmentary; as I understand their contents, Enki is pleading with Ninmah, whom he addresses as his sister, and says (lines 137-39):

"0 my sister, [do you extol my] heroic strength?
[Do you utter] songs ... ?
The gods who hear them will...
the umul, let him build my house."

The poet concludes his tale with these words (lines 140-41): "Ninmah could not rival the great lord Enki. 0 Father Enki, sweet is your praise."

The Nam-shub of Enki


The nam-shub is a speech with magical force. This one is in the form of a highly compact story. Something like the mythical Golden Age-an age when human beings lived at peace in nature and with one another-is linked in the story with what looks like a version of the Tower of Babel. All of the known world spoke the same tongue, worshiping the powerful Enlil. It is Enki who, for reasons that are not made entirely clear, sets up "contention" in the speech of humankind and brings the Golden Age to an end. He is the "contender," the great rival to Enlil in the story.

The story offers a glimpse of the Sumerian world view. To judge from lines 6-10, the poet conceived of the universe as four major land divisions. His own country, Sumer, formed the southern boundary and consisted, roughly, of the territory between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. North of Sumer was Uri, probably consisting of territory between the two rivers, the land later ofAkkad and Assyria. East of Sumer and Uri was Shubur-Hamazi, which no doubt included much of western Iran. To the west and southwest of Sumer was Martu, a vast area between the Euphrates River and the Mediterranean Sea, an area mainly of desert, including Arabia. In short, the world imagined by the Sumerian poet extended from the Armenian highlands in the north to the Arabian Gulf in the south, east to the Med- iterranean Sea.

The nam-shub is a story within a story, lines 136-55 of the epic "Enmerkar and the Lord ofAratta." In the epic, Enmerkar, the rule of the city-state ofUruk, is determined to make a vassal state of the mineral-rich Aratta, now part of Iran. It is Enki who aids Enmerkar in his plan, instructing him to send a herald with the magical spell. The end of the epic is difficult to follow, but it appears that the people of Aratta did indeed bring gold, silver, and lapis lazuli to Enmerkar's city of Uruk.

The Nam-shub of Enki

Once, then, there was no snake,
there was no scorpion,
there was no hyena,
there was no lion,
there was no wild dog,
no wolf,
there was no fear,
no terror:
human had no rival.
Once, then, the lands Shubur-Hamazi,
polyglot Sumer,
that land great with the me of overlordship,
the land with everything just so,
the land Martu,
resting securely,

the whole world --
the people as one --
to Enlil in one tongue gave voice.
Then did the contender -- the en
the contender -- the master
the contender -- the king
Enki, the contender -- the en
the contender -- the master
the contender -- the king
the contender -- the en
the contender -- the master
the contender -- the king
Enki, en of hegal,
the one with the unfailing words,
en of cunning,
the shrewd one of the land,
sage of the gods,
gifted in thinking,
the en of Eridu,
change the speech of their mouths,
he having set up contention in it,
in the human speech that had been one.

[Excerpted and adapted from Myths of Enki, The Crafty God, edited by Samual Noah Kramer and John Maier (New York, Oxford: Oxford UP, 1989).]