Guide to the Sumerian Texts

© Ian Lawton 2000


Sumerian Myths
The Eridu Genesis (The Flood Myth)
Enki and Ninmah (Ninhursag): The Birth of Man
Enki and Ninki/Ninhursag (A Sumerian Paradise Myth)
Inanna and Enki: The Transfer of the Arts of Civilisation from Eridu to Uruk
Enki and the World Order: The Organisation of Earth and its Cultural Processes
Inanna's Descent to the Netherworld
Dumuzi Texts
Enlil and Ninlil: The Birth of the Moon God
The Ninurta Myth (Lugal-e, The Deeds and Exploits of Ninurta)
Other Myths
Sumerian Epics
Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta
Enmerkar and Ensukushsiranna
Lugalbanda Epics
Gilgamesh Epics
Gilgamesh and the Land of the Living
Gilgamesh, Enkidu and the Netherworld
Gilgamesh and Aka of Kish
Sumerian Divine Hymns
Hymn to Enlil
Hymn to Inanna as Warrior, Star and Bride
Hymn to Nanshe
Other Divine Hymns
Miscellaneous Sumerian Texts
The Babel Story
The Gudea Temple Inscriptions
The Cursing of Akkad: The Ekur Avenged
Royal Love Songs


When I started my research into Ancient Mesopotamia I found it hard to establish comprehensive listings of Mesopotamian literary compositions, especially the older Sumerian texts. Although Samuel Kramer makes a pretty good effort I have found that his lists1 are hard to follow, and not entirely up-to-date. Perhaps surprisingly the number of well-known Sumerian texts turns out to be considerably larger than their Akkadian counterparts: having combined the texts described by Kramer and Thorkild Jacobsen I have assembled a list of over 40 major Sumerian literary works, compared to only of the order of 10 major Akkadian ones.

I have not been able to locate English translations for all the works listed, but those I have used are taken primarily from Thorkild Jacobsen’s The Harps that Once… Sumerian Poetry in Translation. Published in 1987, this set of translations is as far as I am aware the most up-to-date available (although it is inevitable that academics have done more work on these texts since then, I believe this is the most up to date work available to the general public without trawling through specialist publications.) Only where Jacobsen’s anthology omits important works have I then turned to Kramer’s earlier The Sumerians. As far as I can ascertain this has allowed me to cover all the major texts, and ensured that any summaries and extracts used are the most current and informed available. Furthermore the naming of texts has varied considerably from author to author and over the decades, so I have attempted to use full (non-abbreviated) versions of the most recent titles, occasionally with alternative or older names in brackets, in order to aid recognition should the reader wish to consult the source works.

This chapter follows the approach adopted by professional Sumerologists in splitting the literary works into three categories: myths, epics and divine hymns. The difference between the myths and epics is that the former have gods as their central characters while the latter have mere mortals. There are other literary genres - for example royal lovesongs and hymns, hymns to or laments for temples, admonitory histories, satirical edubba texts, debates, proverbs, and wisdom literature - but most of these tend to be less interesting for general purposes.

The earliest of these texts date to the Early Dynastic period, that is the middle of the 3rd millennium BC. However the bulk date to the 3rd Dynasty of Ur and Isin-Larsa period, that is the late 3rd and early 2nd millennia BC.

The aim of this paper and the one following is to provide a primarily objective summary of the contents of each text. The only exception to this is that occasionally I highlight particular aspects that may have an esoteric significance and that will form the subject of a separate work.

Sumerian Myths

The Eridu Genesis (The Flood Myth) 2

One of the most interesting of the Sumerian texts from the point of view of direct biblical parallels, unfortunately this text is largely incomplete, with only the bottom third of one six-column tablet so far retrieved - although it is possible to surmise the contents of the missing portions from other similar texts. It dates to the early part of the 2nd millennium BC, and was excavated at Nippur. It describes the creation of men and other living creatures by An, Enlil, Enki and Ninhursag; the antediluvian cities and their rulers; and the Deluge itself. It is highly likely that this text had some and possibly a major influence on the equivalent stories in Genesis. Certainly the story is picked up later, albeit with some modification, in the Akkadian epic Atra-Hasis, and also in the introduction to the Babylonian Chronicle.

There are inconsistencies between the versions: This text opens with Nintu (Ninhursag) taking pity on 'her forgotten mankind', as if another race had existed previously and been destroyed even before the Deluge. In this text the gods create animals at the same time as mankind, which is consistent with Genesis but not with most of the other Mesopotamian creation stories. The Flood aspect of this story shows many consistencies with other versions, but there are also many inconsistencies: as always in the name of the hero - here Ziusudra ('the far distant') of Shuruppak; in the length of the Flood - here only seven days and nights; in the location in which the boat or ark comes to rest - which here remains unspecified; and in whether or not the hero is deified and granted everlasting life - here he is.

Enki and Ninmah (Ninhursag): The Birth of Man 3

There is little doubt that this text originally comprised two separate stories: The first deals with how Enki and his mother Namma create mankind as a slave after the gods had rebelled against their heavy workload, this process involving a mysterious 'clay'. The second describes how Enki and Ninhursag test each other by performing experiments in which deformed or disabled humans are created, for whom the other must find work. The combination of the two texts leads to a number of inconsistencies: First, the juxtaposition of Namma and Ninhursag in the role of 'birth goddess' between the two parts, although Ninhursag does assist in the first part and there is no doubt that it is she who is most often credited with this role. Second, the party at which Enki and Ninhursag test each other 'having drunk beer' is presented in the combined text as a celebration of the initial creation of man; however various references to the disabled creations being put to work in the courts of existing, presumably mortal, kings and queens would tend to indicate that man must already have been very much in existence. These inconsistencies are a regular feature of Sumerian poetry in which the integration of originally separate texts often appears somewhat careless.

Orthodox opinion suggests that this text can be interpreted as a polemic on two fronts: First, since the being created by Enki to test Ninhursag is revealed to be deformed only because it was not created by a full union between male and female and was somehow 'aborted', it can be seen as a study of the importance of both man and woman in the reproduction process. Second, it can be interpreted as championing the rights of the disabled - indeed an early form of political correctness. However neither of these explanations strike me as particularly compelling as an overall explanation for the creation themes included not only in this text but also in the Akkadian texts Atra-Hasis, Epic of Creation and Epic of Gilgamesh. It seems highly likely that a more esoteric interpretation is appropriate.

Enki and Ninki/Ninhursag (A Sumerian Paradise Myth) 4

This tale is once again clearly made up of two parts which have been merged by the scribes, with similarly minimal effort at continuity. The entire piece in its present form was undoubtedly written to entertain visitors from the trading centre of Dilmun (identified usually, and definitely here, with Bahrein). The first part especially records how the island was provided with its fresh waters by Enki at the request of his consort Ninsikila (Ninki), who is presented here as both his spouse and his daughter - although as we have seen this is not rare for a Sumerian deity. This allowed it to become a rich and verdant land, with a fine harbour to support its excellent trading connections.

The second part abruptly takes us back to the marsh land of lower Mesopotamia, and begins with Enki attempting to copulate with, this time, Nintu (Ninhursag) - which she only allows him to do once he accepts her as his spouse. There then follows a series of conquests in which Enki ravishes four successive generations of daughters sired by him, and it must be said that his 'I must have that' behaviour is reminiscent of a child in a sweetshop - which, if we accept that the Sumerians did not find incest distasteful, has the comic effect desired by the author. When he takes the final daughter, Uttu, with some force, her cries are heard by Ninhursag to whom, already tired of her husband’s philandering, this is the last straw. She removes Enki’s seed from Uttu’s body, plants it, and eight new plants grow up. Enki, once more the curious child who must try everything, eats the new plants and falls dangerously ill, at which point Ninhursag curses him and vows to never set eyes on him again. A fox comes to help him, and is dispatched to fetch Ninhursag, who accepts his pleas and has the curse removed by the Anunnaki in Nippur. She hurries on to Enki, and after she places him in her vulva, cures each of the eight parts of his body which are troubling him by giving birth to a deity from it.

The multitude of confusion of deities and their identities in this text is typical of the problems, already discussed, engendered by the tendency of the gods to have multiple liaisons, especially with members of their own family across generations, and of the scribes to alter their roles and names over the centuries - even to the extent of adjusting syllables to make plays on words.

The only real link in these two stories is that Enki is the main character in both, and even then Jacobsen argues that he may not have been the original subject of the first part. Nevertheless in his much earlier work Kramer5 takes the analysis further and links the combined text to the biblical 'Garden of Eden' story, on three counts: First, he emphasises the description in the first part of the 'paradise' created by Enki in Dilmun. Second, he likens Enki’s eating of the new plants to Adam and Eve’s eating of the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge. Third, he suggests that the name of seventh deity engendered by Ninhursag, in this case from Enki’s rib and called Ninti, can be translated both as 'lady of the rib' and as 'lady who makes live' - and argues that this is the source of the curiosity of Eve being created from Adam’s rib.

On the other hand I would suggest that the highlighting of eight different parts of Enki's body which need curing has parallels with the Egyptian myth of Osiris being dismembered by Seth and then reintegrated by Isis. Again an esoteric explanation may well be the most appropriate for elements of this text.

Inanna and Enki: The Transfer of the Arts of Civilisation from Eridu to Uruk 6

Although I have found no original translation of this text, Kramer does provide an outline of the story. Inanna, acting in her role as tutelary goddess of Erech (later known as Uruk), wishes to enhance her city’s reputation as the centre of Sumerian civilisation. She decides that the answer is for her to obtain, by fair means or foul, the 'me’s' (see below) which are guarded by Enki in his city of Eridu. This turns out to be rather easy, since they get drunk together and Enki - here described as her father, but we may assume this is poetic licence - simply hands them over. When he sobers up and realises they are gone he is distraught, and dispatches his messenger and a group of sea monsters to intercept and retrieve Inanna’s 'boat of heaven' at the first of the seven stopping points between Eridu and Uruk. However Inanna’s vizier prevents the capture on this occasion, and then repeatedly thereafter, until eventually she triumphantly reaches Uruk with her prize.

Given their metaphysical nature no clear translation of the word me’s is likely to be achieved. Kramer calls them 'divine laws', and in the title of the text they are 'the arts of civilisation'. We should also recall that Enki is notorious as the deity who introduced civilisation to mankind, a theme replicated in many other texts from around the world. Fortunately in this text the scribe lists of the order of a hundred me’s, and although only the first 68 are intelligible (with one small gap) this still gives us a fair idea of at least the author’s view of what they were. Accepting that the words are often obscure and sometimes untranslatable, Kramer’s attempted translation of the list is as follows:7

1: en-ship 2: godship 3: the exalted and enduring crown 4: the throne of kingship 5: the exalted sceptre 6: the royal insignia 7: the exalted shrine 8: sheperdship 9: kingship 10: lasting ladyship 11: [the priestly office] 'divine lady' 12: [the priestly office] ishib 13: [the priestly office] lumah 14: [the priestly office] guda 15: truth 16: descent into the netherworld 17: ascent from the netherworld 18: [the eunuch] kurgarra 19: [the eunuch] girbadara 20: [the eunuch] sagursag 21: the [battle] standard 22: the flood 23: weapons (?) 24: sexual intercourse 25: prostitution 26: law [?] 27: libel [?] 28: art 29: the cult chamber 30: 'hierodule of heaven' 31: [the musical instrument] gusilim 32: music 33: eldership 34: heroship 35: power 36: enmity 37: straightforwardness 38: the destruction of cities 39: lamentation 40: rejoicing of the heart 41: falsehood 42: art of metalworking … [43 to 46 missing] … 47: scribeship 48: craft of the smith 49: craft of the leather worker 50: craft of the builder 51: craft of the basket weaver 52: wisdom 53: attention 54: holy purification 55: fear 56: terror 57: strife 58: peace 59: weariness 60: victory 61: counsel 62: the troubled heart 63: judgement 64: decision 65: [the musical instrument] lilis 66: [the musical instrument] ub 67: [the musical instrument] mesi 68: [the musical instrument] ala.

From this list we can see that these 'laws' consisted of, to use Kramer's words, 'various institutions, priestly offices, ritualistic paraphernalia, mental and emotional attitudes, and sundry beliefs and dogmas'. It is also clear that they included both positive and negative aspects of life. Yet again, in my view these are likely to be best understood, at least in part, in an esoteric context.

Enki and the World Order: The Organisation of Earth and its Cultural Processes 8

This text, translated by Kramer, records how Enki went about setting up civilisation on Earth. After much introductory self-praise by Enki, the text describes how he blessed the various lands in and surrounding Mesopotamia with their respective natural resources, and how he ensured their fertility and productivity by appointing gods to look after the various aspects. At the end, Inanna complains she has not been allocated any real responsibility, but is pacified by Enki.

This text is interesting from two aspects: First, it is clear that it is primarily mythopoetic, that is it was written to clarify the roles of the various gods in ensuring primarily agricultural prosperity; as such it tends to support the orthodox view that the gods were created by the Sumerians as simple metaphysical constructs which controlled the varying natural phenomena, including weather, climatic conditions, and natural resources which were evidently outside of their own human control. However it I am of the opinion that, just because one story is clearly written in this context, it does not invalidate the possibility of alternative non-mythical contexts being used in other, perhaps originally far older, stories. For this reason I tend to avoid using the term myth, and only use the term mythopoetic for those texts, or parts of texts, where I believe it fully justified - as here. Second, there are once again some interesting references to the me’s.

Inanna’s Descent to the Netherworld 9

The Sumerian version of this text again forms two distinct parts, although on this occasion their merging by the scribe is more accomplished. The first relates how Inanna attempts to usurp the rule of the netherworld from her sister Ereshkigal. The second contains elements of separate Dumuzi stories, telling of his capture and recapture by a detachment of military police after Inanna, in a jealous rage, had handed him over to act as a substitute for her in the netherworld as a condition of her release.

Dumuzi Texts 10

There exists a proliferation of texts dealing with Dumuzi, who was often referred to as 'the shepherd', many of which involve his consort Inanna. Their titles appear to be more than usually inconsistent amongst the work of modern scholars, but they include stories about their courtship, their marriage, Dumuzi’s unfaithfulness, his dream of death, and his actual death. In the main these texts touchingly describe many of the joys and pitfalls of love with which we are all familiar.

Enlil and Ninlil: The Birth of the Moon God 11

This text describes how Enlil met and wooed Ninlil in Nippur, there union engendering the moon god Suen (Sin or Nanna). Enlil is then banished from the city by a council of gods because he is deemed to have raped her. There follow three instances of somewhat confusing trickery in which Ninlil, who is following him, is apparently persuaded to sleep with three different people each of whom are under Enlil’s instruction - although in the dark they are replaced each time by Enlil himself. In this way three further sons are born to the pair.

The Ninurta Myth (Lugal-e, The Deeds and Exploits of Ninurta) 12

Yet again we find this text composed of originally separate stories, this time three. Part one describes Ninurta’s battle with an uncertain 'creature' called Azag which rules the mountains. It is referred to throughout as an object, not a person or animal, its leading soldiers are 'stones' (this mystery is partly clarified in part three), and although Jacobsen uses a number of references in the text to argue that it is a plant or tree of some sort, his logic is to me not entirely convincing - either in the context of the story itself, or of any mythopoetic message that the scribe might be trying to put across. Similarly enigmatic is Ninurta’s weapon called Sharur, which despite being an object speaks to him throughout and acts as a trusted friend. The gist of the story is that in his familiar guise of 'storm-god' Ninurta launches a pre-emptive strike against Azag, contrary to wise Sharur’s advice, which threatens to end in defeat when Azag sends up a dust cloud which blinds Ninurta and his troops. Sharur seeks Enlil’s help to extract his son, victory is achieved, and Azag is dismembered.

Parts two and three have an entirely different feel, clearly adopting a mythopoetic style in attributing various natural occurrences to Ninurta’s handiwork. On the one hand he facilitates the proper irrigation of the plain by ensuring that the waters of the mountains successfully flow down, and on the other he assigns various practical roles to the stones which supported Azag in battle - good or bad according to the vehemence with which each fought against him.

What can we draw from this? First, it demonstrates clearly the extent to which combination and editing of earlier texts can cause nightmares for attempts at interpretation; for example, it may be that in original versions of the battle story, Azag’s followers were not stones at all but something else - but the author has inserted them because it fits in with the final story of assigning roles to them. This in turn makes it difficult to shed light on who or what Azag is supposed to be.

Second, and following the same line of thought, it is highly likely - indeed both Kramer and Jacobsen make reference to this but from a different perspective - that some of these stories had been around for so long that by the time the versions which we are studying were being written the original context was entirely forgotten. In many cases it is possible to argue that this is of no great significance for the work in hand, but there are a few - and I would regard this as a good example - where this factor plays a vital role. Time and again in this text and others we come across sections which could easily be describing the devastation wrought by, for example, cometary impact, polar shifts or volcanic activity. The problem lies in evaluating the extent to which this interpretation fits the overall context, given the editing process and the fact that the scribes may be describing something from long ago which they have never witnessed, and which they do not therefore understand.

Other Myths

Kramer lists a number of other myths13 for which neither he nor Jacobsen provides a translation: these are Enki and Eridu; Inanna and the Subjugation of Mount Ebih; Inanna and Shukalletuda: The Gardener’s Mortal Sin; Inanna and Bilulu; Enlil and the Creation of the Pickax; The Return of Ninurta to Nippur; and The Journey of Nanna to Nippur.

Sumerian Epics

All the major works classed as epics which have been recovered to date involve three rulers from the 1st Dynasty of Uruk (c. 2750-2660 BC), all of whom are listed in the King List. They are, in chronological order of reign, Enmerkar, Lugalbanda, and Gilgamesh.14

Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta 15

This epic deals with the feud between Enmerkar and an anonymous ruler of neighbouring Aratta, located in the mountains to the east of Uruk and in modern terms placed by Kramer16 in north-western Iran, in the vicinity of lake Urmia and the Caspian Sea. Both men are described as spouses of Inanna, which was the norm for any ruler of a city of which she was the patron goddess, but the tale recounts that she loved Enmerkar best. For his part he was anxious that her temple in Uruk should be of the highest quality, and accordingly he beseeched her to forsake her husband in Aratta, and by blighting his city with drought force him into subservience to Uruk. The 'corvee' work traditionally due to the conqueror would then involve the transportation to Uruk of stone and precious metals and minerals which - unlike the Sumerian plain - Aratta had in abundance; and the building of the temple in Uruk by the subjugated Arattans.

Inanna agrees to the plan, and with military means ruled out by the relatively impregnable location of Aratta, the remainder of the tale is a lengthy account of the trial of wits between the two rulers, both anxious to prove their superiority in protecting their citizens. After a good deal of inventiveness, resourcefulness and wisdom is displayed on both sides, the situation is eventually resolved in an amicable solution in which there is agreement to trade grain and livestock for the required building materials.

This essentially moral tale has one particularly interesting aspect in that it includes a passage which parallels the biblical Babel story, which we will discuss separately below.

Enmerkar and Ensukushsiranna 17

This epic is reviewed briefly by Kramer, and is similar in that again it deals with conflict between Enmerkar and the ruler of Aratta, this time named as Ensukushsiranna. Although the details of their conflict appear entirely different, since I have located no translation of this work I will make no further comment.

Lugalbanda Epics 18

According to Jacobsen there appear to be three epics involving Lugalbanda, who somewhat enigmatically was originally deified but whose status gradually declined to mere mortal ruler - although when he is incidentally mentioned in other tales his status as a deity tends to survive. It is interesting to note that the first and second of these epics once again involve Enmerkar’s campaigns in Aratta, and in these Lugalbanda is merely an officer in Enmerkar’s army. One must therefore assume that they relate to a time before he succeeded to the en-ship of Uruk - indeed, since he is not mentioned as Enmerkar’s son in the King List we might assume that it was his very bravery in the campaigns which subsequently bestowed the succession on him.

The first of his epics, Lugalbanda in the Mountain Cave (Lugalbanda and Mount Hurrum per Kramer), describes how he and his brothers led Enmerkar’s army across the mountains to subdue Aratta, and how he fell ill on the way, forcing his brothers to leave him in a cave with plentiful provisions. I have however located no full translation of this text.

The second, Lugalbanda and the Thunderbird (Lugalbanda and Enmerkar per Kramer), follows on from the first. Having recovered, he roams the mountains aimlessly trying to find his way to Aratta when he comes across the nest of the mighty Thunderbird, which is endowed with magical powers. After caring for its young, he is granted a wish on the Thunderbird’s return, and - given that this version of the story appears to have been written to entertain visiting envoys and messengers - he requests and is given speed and endurance. He rejoins the army, much to his comrades surprise after he had been given up for dead, but the campaign is not going well. Enmerkar wishes to get a message back to Inanna in Uruk, requesting permission to call off the siege, but can find no envoy to cross the dangerous mountains until Lugalbanda volunteers. His new gifts allow him to make the journey easily, and on arrival Inanna tells him of an obscure way to defeat Aratta which involves the capture and eating of a special fish. Thereafter the text becomes highly fragmented. The main point of interest here, apart from the adding of substance to the Enmerkar epics, is the Thunderbird itself. It is somewhat enigmatic, and it is not easy to interpret what it might represent - although of course it may be that it is nothing more than a mythopoetic invention.

The third epic, Lugalbanda and Ninsun, tells how he married his goddess wife in the eastern mountains and brought her back to Uruk. Again I have been unable to locate a full translation of this text.

Gilgamesh Epics

Kramer lists five Sumerian epics19 in which Gilgamesh, the most famous of the Sumerian heroes, is the central figure. Also known as Izdubar, he is regarded by some as the role-model for the epic heroes of many other cultures - including, for example, Buluqiya in Arabian Nights. Some other Sumerian texts refer to Gilgamesh as fully deified, while others still have him at least semi-deified (on account of his mother being the deity Ninsun, and in some texts his father being the former deity Lugalbanda). Given that the King List refers to Gilgamesh’s father as an anonymous 'nomad', and that Lugalbanda comes two before him in the list, Lugalbanda may perhaps be regarded as his adopted father - and certainly if Gilgamesh took over the 'en-ship' of Uruk as an outsider he might well have followed the custom of selecting an illustrious former ruler to refer to as his father.

Four of the five Sumerian epics are undoubtedly incorporated, with varying degrees of faithfulness to the originals, into the later composite Akkadian Epic of Gilgamesh. The bulk of the Sumerian Gilgamesh tablets were found at Nippur, Kish and Ur, and with respect to two of the epics, Gilgamesh and the Bull of Heaven and The Death of Gilgamesh, those found to date are so fragmented that Kramer provides no further details of their content. The other three are translated by him, and are dealt with separately below.

Gilgamesh and the Land of the Living 20

This epic may be regarded on a simplistic level as the forerunner of all 'George and the Dragon' tales in as much as Gilgamesh takes on and, with the help of his ever-present friend Enkidu, slays the fearsome Huwawa. However it is in other ways a complex story which is hard to interpret. Conventional commentators insist that it revolves around Gilgamesh’s concern about his own mortality, and it is clear that early on he laments to Utu about 'man perishing' and 'dead bodies floating in the river’s waters, as for me, I too will be served thus'. He also wishes to 'raise up a name' for himself by building a monument using the cedar from the 'land of the living'. Meanwhile Huwawa’s somewhat enigmatic role is to protect 'the land', and the ending sees Enlil rage at the latter's slaughter. Despite the fact that some aspects of this text are difficult to interpret, it would appear that Gilgamesh's preoccupation with immortality and the tribulations he endures to achieve it may have an esoteric significance in terms of discovering the immortality of the soul.

The composite Akkadian Epic of Gilgamesh fleshes this story out considerably in Tablets II to V (see next paper).

Gilgamesh, Enkidu and the Netherworld 21

This epic is split into several parts: The introduction deals with a highly abbreviated and therefore not particularly instructive version of the creation. This is followed by a description of a tree cultivated by Inanna which turns out to harbour various demons - again a possible esoteric angle - which Gilgamesh routs for her. She in turn makes a 'pukku' (Kramer suggests this is a form of drum) and a 'mikku' (similarly a drumstick) for him from the wood. The ensuing part of this epic, which deals with their falling into the netherworld and Enkidu’s attempts to retrieve them, is incorporated almost verbatim into the later composite Epic of Gilgamesh in Tablet XII, and as such we will discuss it in the next paper.

Gilgamesh and Aka of Kish

Both Kramer22 and Jacobsen23 provide a translation of this relatively short tale, which finds Gilgamesh installed as ruler of Uruk which is at this time subjugated to the city-state of Kish, and its ruler Aka (Agga). Gilgamesh resents this overlordship, engages Aka and his troops when they besiege Uruk, and is eventually victorious with the help of his warrior Enkidu. But we can infer that other epics not yet discovered described how Aka had at one time given shelter to Gilgamesh in Kish, and this tale ends with him swearing allegiance to Aka and Kish despite his victory, so as not to be ungrateful for past favours. In effect he has acted so as to restore his pride but maintain his integrity, and so this text can be regarded as an essentially moral as well as a historiographical one which unusually involved no deities at all. Perhaps because of this distinction it is the only Sumerian Gilgamesh story which and is not incorporated in any way into the later Epic of Gilgamesh.

Sumerian Divine Hymns

Hymn to Enlil 24

As we would expect, this hymn is one of unreserved praise for Enlil. It describes him as the leader of all the gods, and a benefactor to mankind with superhuman and all-embracing powers without which nothing could take place. It is also noteworthy for describing how he chose the city of Nippur as his abode, and how his temple - the Ekur, translated by orthodox scholars as 'mountain house' - was built in the sacred region of the 'Duranki', translated similarly as 'bond heaven-earth'. Enlil himself is also described repeatedly as 'great mountain', an epithet whose origins Jacobsen admits are unknown.

Hymn to Inanna as Warrior, Star and Bride 25

This represents a compilation by Jacobsen of hymns to Inanna which it appears were previously regarded as separate texts. Its various parts celebrate her in her different guises: as the goddess of war; as Venus, the morning and evening star; and as the goddess of love, here represented by her acting as a bride. Kramer reports another Hymn to Inanna written by Enheduanna, daughter of Sargon the Great of Akkad, but I cannot be certain whether or not this is included in Jacobsen’s compilation.

Hymn to Nanshe 26

There is little of general interest in this hymn.

Other Divine Hymns

Kramer lists a number of other divine hymns27 for which neither he nor Jacobsen provides a translation: these are Hymn to Ninurta; Hymn to Utu; Hymn to Nungal (the daughter of Ereshkigal); Hymn to Hendursag (Nanshe’s vizier); Hymn to Ninisinna ('the great physician of the black-headed ones'); Hymn to Ninkasi (goddess of drink); and Hymn to Nidaba (goddess of writing, accounting and wisdom).

Miscellaneous Sumerian Texts

The Babel Story

While reading George Smith’s Chaldean Genesis I came across a reference28 to a fragmented Assyrian tablet which supposedly mirrored the biblical 'confusion of tongues' story of Babel.29 Smith himself does not elaborate further, and I can find no other reference to it as a separate text except in as much as there is an interesting passage in Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta (see above) referred to as 'Nudimmud’s (Enki’s) spell'. Jacobsen suggests that this is an abbreviated version of a probably separate and independent myth which was gratuitously grafted into the epic by the scribe, but which appears somewhat out of context.30 Nevertheless the passage clearly describes how at one time mankind could 'address Enlil in a single tongue', but that for an undisclosed reason Enki 'estranged the tongues in their mouths'.31 Jacobsen suggests that, since Enki is regarded as a protector of mankind, this act must have been intended to placate Enlil - perhaps the implication being that the unilingual prayers and appeals to him by a proliferating mankind were becoming too much for him to bear. In this respect we find parallels in the Akkadian text Atra-Hasis, in which the ever-increasing 'noise of mankind' so exasperates Enlil that he sends the Deluge in order to get some peace.

Smith and other scholars suggest two possible locations for the Tower of Babel: either Birs Nimrud near Babylon - where a seven stage, 154 feet high tower has been excavated; or the Temple of Bel in the ruins of Babylon itself.

The Gudea Temple Inscriptions 32

Classed by Jacobsen as a 'hymn to a temple', this text is known to be comprised of three cylinders although the first ('cylinder X') has never been recovered, leaving only cylinders A and B. Written around the time of the Gutian invasion which ended the Dynasty of Akkad, it deals with the building of a new temple by Gudea, the ensi of Lagash, c. 2125 BC. The temple, called Eninnu, is in fact a reworking of an earlier structure and is situated in the capital of the region, Girsu. It describes in great detail the traditional processes for such an undertaking: how permission must initially be granted by Enlil; how the ensi is then commissioned to build it by the patron god of the city, in this case Ninurta; how the temple is designed, built and administered; and finally how Gudea hosts a housewarming party for Ninurta and his guests, the great gods themselves, including An, Enlil, Enki and Ninhursag.

The Cursing of Akkad: The Ekur Avenged 33

Categorised by Jacobsen as an 'admonitory history', this text records how the 4th ruler of the Dynasty of Akkad c. 2250 BC, Naram-Sin, attempted to rebuild Enlil’s temple in Nippur, the Ekur, without permission (that is without going through the proper channels as described above). His actions in demolishing it without respect, and in uncovering its most secret chambers, desecrated it to such an extent that Enlil was enraged. He sent the barbarous Gutians from the east to attack and invade the whole area, while in sympathy the other great gods visited devastation on Akkad, the capital city. The supremacy of this short-lived dynasty was thus ended forever.

Royal Love Songs 34

On a more light-hearted note, Jacobsen includes in his book a collection of seven royal love songs mainly penned for the fourth ruler of the 3rd Dynasty of Ur c. 2030 BC, Shu-Suen (Shu-Sin). While they have little weighty significance, their often bawdy nature does serve to remind us that the Sumerians were just as preoccupied with sex as any other society, ancient or modern - they did not devote all their time to worship of their deities and other lofty matters. Two of these in particular, My Wool being Lettuce (wool being a metaphor for pubic hair) and Vigorously he Sprouted, are in fact downright crude.

This completes our review of the Sumerian texts.


Source References

1. Kramer, The Sumerians (University of Chicago Press, 1963), Chapter 5.

2. Jacobsen, The Harps that Once… (Yale University Press, 1987), pp. 145-150.

3. Ibid., pp. 151-166.

4. Ibid., pp. 181-204.

5. Kramer, op. cit., Chapter 4, pp. 148-9.

6. Ibid., Chapter 4, pp. 160-162.

7. Ibid., Chapter 4, p. 116.

8. Ibid., Chapter 5, pp. 171-183.

9. Jacobsen, op. cit., pp. 205-232.

10. Ibid., pp. 3-84.

11. Ibid., pp. 167-180.

12. Ibid., pp. 233-272.

13. Kramer, op. cit., Chapter 5, p. 171.

14. Note that according to the King List, Dumuzi reigned as part of this dynasty between Lugalbanda and Gilgamesh. However since he was so extensively deified the works in which he appears are classed as myths.

15. Jacobsen, op. cit., pp. 275-319.

16. Kramer, op. cit., Chapter 8, p. 275.

17. Ibid., Chapter 8, pp. 272-3.

18. Jacobsen, op. cit., pp. 320-344.

19. Kramer, op. cit., Chapter 5, p. 185.

20. Ibid., Chapter 5, pp. 190-7.

21. Ibid., Chapter 5, pp. 197-205.

22. Ibid., Chapter 5, pp. 186-190.

23. Jacobsen, op. cit., pp. 345-355.

24. Ibid., pp. 101-111.

25. Ibid., pp. 112-124.

26. Ibid., pp. 125-142.

27. Kramer, op. cit., Chapter 5, pp. 205-6.

28. George Smith, The Chaldean Account of Genesis (London, 1876), Chapter 10, pp. 160-2.

29. Genesis 11:2-7.

30. Jacobsen, op. cit., pp. 288-9, Note 25.

31. Ibid., p. 290.

32. Ibid., pp. 386-444.

33. Ibid., pp. 359-374.

34. Ibid., pp. 88-98.