Enmerkar and the lord of Aratta (a selection)

1-37 The royal bull of life, the land of Kulaba is where destiny comes from. At its center rises the awesome splendor Uruk, the great mountain [the temple of Inana]. It stands near the place where the evening meal used to be set in the House of An [the temple of the father of the gods, god of the sky]. In those days, when the destinies were determined, the gods decided that the goddess of Uruk would hold her head high in Kulaba. They decided to bring plenty there. They decided to make fish ponds in Kulaba, and to bring more rains that grow the dappled barley.

All of these things happened even before the land of Dilmun existed, even before Uruk housed holy Inana, the silver goddess shining in the lode of mud-brick Kulaba. In those days no trade yet was practiced. It was before the import of gold, silver, copper, tin, gems, and stone. Inana’s spectacular inner sanctuary was not yet adorned in colorful sculpted lapis lazuli. It did not yet look like a white mes tree bearing fruits.

In those times, the lord of Aratta [in the Zagros Mountains] still kept the gold that would make Inana’s crown. She did not love him as she loved the lord of Kulaba.  The lord of Arrata had not built a house for her [i.e., the precious materials remained in the ground]. She longed for her sanctuary and court, her holy place, to be built in mud-brick Kulaba. Her sight now was set upon Enmerkar, son of Utu [the sun]. He proposed to his heavenly sister, holy Inana, the lady who grants wishes:

38-64"My sister, show your love to me. Let Aratta produce gold and silver for Uruk. Let Arrata take lapis lazuli in blocks from the ground, and cut the blocks to make them translucent and flawless for the holy mountain Uruk. Let Aratta’s temple be carried down from the high places to make Uruk. Here will be your mountain, your place of worship, your shrine. Let Aratta provide the decor for the outer court and the inner sanctuary. In the radiance of those places let me feel your embrace. For my love, let Aratta submit under the yoke for Uruk.”

She answered: “Let the people of Aratta carry down for me the stones from their high places. Let there be built for me here in Kulaba a great courtyard and sanctuary that will be as famous as the houses of the great gods. Let my image be adorned with wealth in the fresh waters of Kulaba, more than it was adorned in Eridu. May it shine as the gleaming silver in the lode. As you are blessed with fresh waters, when my image comes from Eridu, when the temple has been dedicated to me, and when I wear on my head the holy crown in Kulaba and Uruk, then you may enter the sanctuary and lead me into the courtyard, and then take me back from the courtyard into the sanctuary.”

He answered her: “May the people marvel admiringly, and may Utu witness it in joy."

65-68The splendid daughter of holy An [god of creation], the lady of temples, the shrewd goddess, she who is named for Ama-ucumgal-ana, the lady of the lands, Inana spoke to Enmerkar, son of Utu:

69-104"May the people marvel admiringly, and may Utu witness it in joy. Rise like the sun over my holy heart! Become the jewel of my necklace! Praise be to you, son of Utu!"

105-107The lord heeded every word spoken to him by holy Inana, and so he chose from the troops a messenger who was best with words and strongest in endurance. 

 108-133He said: “Messenger, cross the Zubi Mountains [Zagros] with a message from Inana, for in the high ranges multitudes of workers must mine the ground for her. Deliver this message of hers to the lord of Aratta: ‘Enlil’s servant in Sumer is making a new mountain to house my shining image.  Aratta must send kumea ore with nuggets of gold packed into leather sacks.  Aratta must pack up precious metals, and load them on donkeys of the mountains.  The people must fly like wild birds building nests to do this work for me. I will pay them for their work at the standard rate, but if they refuse to work for me, Arrata will be turned into dust, like the city doomed by Enki [the waterless city of Eridu from which the cult statue of Inana has been taken]. I destroyed that city with my war cry. I brought devastation everywhere. I am the goddess beloved by Nudimmud [Enki]. I am used to a body as lush as a boxwood tree.  I will wear a crown that beams as bright as when Utu rises from his bed. Even the doorposts of my new house must gleam.’ . . .  Messenger, by night, drive on late like the south wind! By day, rise up early like the dew!"

160-175The messenger understood the words. He traveled swiftly both under Utu by day and by the light of the stars. Where and to whom would he carry Inana’s threat? He took it up and down the Zubis. He crossed five mountains, six mountains, seven mountains. Then he looked up and saw Aratta ahead. Happily he had reached the court. He made known the authority of his king. He opened the words held in his heart. He told the message of his master to the lord of Aratta:

176-178"The lord of Uruk and Kulaba sends me to you."

"What message to me has your master spoken? What is it to me that he says?"

179-217"My king who was born for lordship, born to be the lord of Uruk, is the sajkal snake of Sumer who glides over mountains as if they were flour. His princely horns are those of mountain stag, for the bull was born right here in the heart of these mountains. Here he learned to paw the holy soapwort. Enmerkar, son of Utu, sends me to you. Heed the message that he has been told: ‘Enlil’s servant in Sumer is making a new mountain to house my shining image.  Aratta must send kumea ore with nuggets of gold packed into leather sacks.  Aratta must pack up precious metals, and load them on donkeys of the mountains.  The people must fly like wild birds building nests to do this work for me. I will pay them for their work at the standard rate, but if they refuse to work for me, Arrata will be turned into dust, like the city doomed by Enki. I destroyed that city with my war cry. I brought devastation everywhere. I am the goddess beloved by Nudimmud. I am used to a body as lush as a boxwood tree.  I will wear a crown that beams as bright as when Utu rises from his bed. Even the doorposts of my new house must gleam.’ This is the message that is sent to you.  Therefore say whatever you will say to me, and I will take that good news to the lord of Uruk and Kulaba, Enmerkar, son of Utu with the shining hair, the one who awakens in the shining mountains.  To the one who once lived here in Aratta on the milk of the moon, to the rightful lord of Kulaba who houses the goddess, I will deliver your words. I will speak to him in his courtyard which is adorned as a fruitful mes tree."

218-226When the messager had spoken, the lord of Aratta answered: "Messenger, tell your king in Kulaba that the queen of heaven and earth, the goddess of all images, established me as lord of Aratta. I am her lord! For her I bar the door to the mountains! She has made me her gatekeeper! How then can Aratta submit? Aratta's submission is impossible! Say that to him!"

227-235When the lord of Aratta had spoken, the messenger replied to him: "My lord and master serves a great queen. She hovers over images in bright mountains everywhere [i.e., temples], and in brick-built Kulaba she is queen. She has told my lord and master thus: ‘Aratta shall bow in absolute submission!’"

236-241At this, the lord of Aratta bellowed like a bull.

242-280"Messenger! Tell your lord of Kulaba: The greatest mes tree flies high in the sky over these mountains.  Its roots are here, forming nets. Its branches are snares to intruders. It is not the perch of a sparrow! It is the nest of the Anzud bird with eagle claws that draw the blood of his enemies! The barrier of these mountains cannot be crossed! Proper sacrifices and prayers are offered here! Will Uruk march against the Zubi Mountains with five or ten men? If your king challenges me, I will be eager to contest with him . . .  Repeat this to your lord of Kulaba.  He should rest on his paws when a bull bellows within his courtyard! If he comes for the gems of Aratta in the bright crown of heaven, I will make my superiority clear to him.  He does not need to pour barley into sacks, or bring it here in carts. He does not need to hire collectors to keep his slaves from stealing it!"

He then stared at his feet to find the further words to say. When he found them, he continued:

281-293"If he does come here with barley in sacks, loaded on packasses with reserve donkeys at their sides, he can pile up the grain in the courtyard of Aratta, and the holy one will judge between us. She who is the beauty of the grain pile, the ornament of the seven walled cities, the fearless lady ready for battle, the battle leader, she who makes the troops dance with her – she will decide between us. If Aratta is cast from favor like dead prey in the mouth of a dog, then of course Arrata will submit. If I know that I must admit your lord’s preeminence, then I will admit it. So say to him."

294-307After he had spoken thus to him, the lord of Aratta made the messenger repeat the message. Then the messenger spun around like a wild cow, and he went off on his way like a sand fly in the morning calm. Happily he arrived back in brick-built Kulaba. He rushed to the outer courtyard of the throne room, and there he repeated the message to his master word for word. He even bellowed the words that had been bellowed at him. 

Enmerkar listened like a patient ox driver. Then he had the messenger come near and sit down beside him, at his right side. He turned his left side to the messenger and said to him: "Does Aratta know what he wants?"

308-338On the next day, after Utu had risen … Enmerkar, son of Utu, lord of Uruk, lord of Kubala, opened his great storehouse. He layed his long lidga measure on the ground. He divided his old barley from the other barley, and he soaked the greenmalt all through with water . . . He narrowed the meshes of the carrying nets. He measured out all of the grain needed for a granary, adding extra for consumption by locusts. He had all of it loaded on packasses, and he placed reserve donkeys at their sides. Then he dispatched the whole train to go straight to Aratta.  To go with them volunteers lined up like ants out of crevices. Again the lord instructed the messenger to go into the mountains:

339-346"Messenger, speak to the lord of Aratta and say this from me: ‘My power is rooted in divine power. Its crown protects Kulaba. The shade of its broad branches is the sanctuary where holy Inana wants to refresh herself. If the lord of Arrata breaks off even one of those brances, and withholds it in his hand like a string of gems, he himself will bring it here and set it down before me!’ So say to him."

347-365These words having been spoken, the messenger went back to Aratta. Along the way his feet raised the dust of the road, and the little pebbles rolled away. He was unopposed on his journey like a dragon prowling the desert . . . 


Lugalbanda in the Mountain Cave (selection)

54-58   Once long ago, Enmerkar son of Utu [the sun] sent an expedition to Aratta. It was led by seven princes in their prime. All of them had been born in Kulaba. A younger one Lugalbanda [Little Big Man] made an eighth. He went along quietly with the marching troops.

In the high mountains, when they had covered half of the journey, head sickness took hold of Lugalbanda. It writhed him like a snake on a snake hook. It jerked him to the ground like a gazelle felled by a snare. He ate dust. He no longer had strength in his arms. He no longer had strength in his legs. Nobody could help him up. No king could have raised him.  They crowded over him like a dustcloud swirling over the land.  They said: "Let someone take him back to Kulaba!" But they did not know the way.  His teeth chattered.  The mountains were cold. They looked for some warm place where they could leave him.

59-62   They left him in a mountain cave. They made him a bed like a bird's nest. They dressed it with dates, figs, cheeses, and sweetmeats suitable for the sick. They brought in the milks of cows and sheep, oils, and hard-boiled eggs, and they set these things on a table like offerings.  Near his head they left leather skins full of water, dark beer, light emmer beer, and good tasting wine. Then they suspended pots over him, and they filled the pots with incense, aromatic resin, ligidba resin, the best quality resin. At his side they placed an axe made with tin from the Zubi Mountains and a dagger of black iron from the Gig Mountains.

His eyes were open and seemed to stare at them, but when they lifted his neck, there was no breath. They left him with many tears, moans, and laments.  Lugalbanda's brothers grieved and then went on through the mountains.

63-64   Two days passed and on the third day Utu [the sun] arose like a gleaming body shield coming out from a dark treasury to be viewed by the young watchmen. The bull of heaven rose as if from a cypress forest on the far horizon. He climbed and turned until he looked again toward the place where he rests. Now Utu sent his rays from heaven to Lugalbanda in the cave. The body was anointed.

65-68   Holy Lugalbanda arose and came out.  He brought out life-saving food and water and provisions that had been left for him. It was dark. He sat down for a time beside the burnt embers of an old fire. He picked up the smooth flintstones there and struck them together. They made a spark that briefly flaired out in the wilderness like a sun burst. . .  He could see that he was alone. Nobody was there. He was in the country of oppression, sleep.  It is like a towering flood that washes all away, a mighty hand that tears down all the walls, a flowing syrup that sticks to everything, a stupor of Ninkasi [the beer keg]. No king commands it, but sleep conquers all . . .


Lugalbanda and the Anzud bird (selection)

1-27. Lugalbanda lay still in the mountains far away, the mountains of Zabu [Zagros]. No mother was there to guide him. No father was there to teach him. Nobody he trusted or knew was there to confide in. He was by himself, so in his heart he spoke to himself: "The Anzud bird can help me to find my brothers. I will show respect to him. I will flatter him. I will speak to his wife also with affection. I will bring them a baby. I will hold a feast for them. An [god of creation] has brought me Ninguena [goddess of brewing]. Her fermenting-vats are green lapis lazuli, and her kegs are silver and of gold. Where she makes beer there is joy. Where she pours it out there is happiness. She never stops bringing the cup and pouring. At her side on her hip she always carries Ninkasi, the keg. She is the life of the party!  When the Anzud bird drinks and is happy, he will show me where the warriors of Uruk have gone."

28-49. Now Enki’s giant roost looks vague when it is distant. It rises way above the colorful carnelian mountains of Inana [her temples]. It towers over everything on earth. It shades the highest peaks like a cloak, and covers the lower mountains like a tunic. Its roots hide like saĝkal snakes in the seven-mouthed river of Utu [the course of the sun in the sky]. Up there, no cypress grows, no real snake slithers, and no real scorpion stings, but that is home to the Anzud. That is where it has its nest of bright twigs of juniper and box wood.  When he rises the day breaks.  When he cries out, his screech can shake the mountains in Lullubum [across the Zagros in western Iran]. He has shark teeth and eagle claws. In terror of him wild bulls and stags run for the hills.

50-89. Lugalbanda made heavenly cakes for the feast. He kneaded the dough with care, and then he carefully added honey. He offered the sweet cakes to the beak of the nestling chick. He had painted its eyes with kohl and dabbed white cedar scent on its head. He left at its side a twisted roll of salted mutton suet before he withdrew from the nest and waited for the Anzud to come.

For the bird had been away hunting wild bulls. He had herded them up into the mountains where he had taken a live bull in his talons, and now he came back to his nest carrying the carcase. His mouth was watering. He called to the nest, for he saw a fledgling in it, but there was no answer. He called a second time, but still there was no answer. The bird gave a cry of grief so loud that it was heard all over heaven. His wife cried "Woe!" from the abzu [the primeval sea under the earth]. The two cries made the gods of the mountains, the Anuna, hide like little ants in crevices.

The Anzud said to his wife, "What happens down among the rivers is my father Enlil's business, but I control the mountains up here. Nobody comes up here when I shut the gate. Yet now fear has been here as in a cattle-pen of Nanna [the Moon worshipped by Akkadians]. Terror has been been here as when wild lions tear each other apart. Who killed the chick? Who killed the Anzud in the nest?"

90-110. But when he reached the nest, the Anzud saw that it had been painted and scented as the house of a god. He saw his image settled there in the nest. Its eyes were painted with kohl, and sprigs of white cedar were fixed on its head. A twisted piece of mutton suet hung beside it.

The bird was overjoyed: "Who glorified my nest?  If you are a god, I will speak with you and be your friend. If you are human, I will arrange things so that you will have no enemies up here. Nobody will be able to change that fate or change my words. You will have the power of the Anzud!"

111-131. Lugalbanda was thrilled and frightened. He knew it was time to praise the Anzud. "Bird with sparkling eyes, born way up here, may you frolic in this pool. Your grandfather, the creator, gave you the whole sky, and he placed the world at your feet. Your wings stretch like a net across the wide heavens! Your talons strike wild bulls and cows in the mountains! You are always peeking down like a scribe!  Under your belly, as you fly, you clutch Niraḫ, the coiled one that parts the seas [i.e., waters below the earth from waters above]! Your feathers are as lovely as a green garden full of palms. Yesterday I escaped the mountains but found myself up here.  Here I have waited to surrender myself to you. I hope that your wife will be my mother now and that now you will be my father. I hope that your little ones will be as brothers to me. And so I greet you, and your wife also. I will let you decide my fate."

132-141. The Anzud was very happy with Lugalbanda. Soon he offered a blessing to him, saying: "My young prince, go with your head held high back to brick-built Kulaba and bring with you a boat load of precious metals, loaded up like a grain barge, or a boat full of apples, or a boat piled so high with cucumbers that it casts a shade, or make it a boat of anything loaded with abundance at the place of harvest!" -- Lugalbanda poured a toast but desired something else.

142-148. The Anzud offered another blessing. He said:  "Like Šara, Inana's beloved son, you will shoot barbed arrows like sunbeams in the day, and reed-arrows like moonbeams in the night! They will be horned vipers to those they hit! They will strike like magic, like a clever chops fish!  You will gather up the pieces like logs chopped with the axe!" -- Lugalbanda poured a toast but desired something else.

149-154. The Anzud offered another blessing. "Enlil’s son Ninurta will set the helmet Lion of Battle upon your head, and he will strap the armor No Retreat over your heart! And so you will succeed when you cast the battle-net against the enemy! -- Lugalbanda poured a toast but desired something else.

155-159. "You will have the blessing of Dumuzi's holy butter churn, the source of all the butter and milk in the world. It will be yours." -- Lugalbanda poured a toast but desired something else.

160-166. The bird listened and he said, "Now look, my young prince, eventually even the most wilful plough-ox must get back on the track.  Even the most stubborn ass must keep going. Tell me the blessing that you want. You name it and I will give it to you."

167-183. Blessed Lugalbanda answered: "Let running be in my legs so that they never grow tired! Let strength be in my arms, so that they never grow weak, and let my arms stretch as wide as I please! Let me leap like a flame, blaze like lightning, move as quick as sunlight, like Inana or the seven storms of Iškur! Let me stride as fast as sight and set my foot on anything that I can see. Let me reach any place that my heart desires and remain in any place where my heart wants to stay!  When Utu brings me to Kulaba, let anyone who curses me be accursed; let no opponent ever challenge me. Grant me these things, and I will have the woodcarvers make images of you, and they will be marvelous to see. Your name will become famous in Sumer. You will be seen in all of the temples of the great gods."

184-202. So Anzud gave the blessing to Lugalbanda: "Running will be in your legs so that you never grow tired! Strength will be in your arms, so that you never will grow weak, and your arms will stretch as wide as you please!  You will leap like a flame, blaze like lightning, move as fast as sunlight, like Inana or the seven storms of Iškur!  You will stride as fast as sight and you will set your foot on anything that you can see. You will reach any place that your heart desires and remain in any place where my heart wants to stay!  When Utu brings you to Kulaba, anyone who curses you will be accursed; no opponent ever will challenge you."

203-219. Anzud then finished the remains of the feast, and he picked up his weapons. He flew on high, and Lugalbanda kept up with him on the ground down below. Quickly they found the dust where the marchers were stirring and then they saw the warriors in the dust cloud.

The bird said to Lugalbanda, "Come now, my young prince. Listen to me and take my advice. Remember my words. Do not tell your comrades what I have told you. Do not tell them the fate that I have pronounced for you. Do not explain it to your brothers. Good fortune may turn into misfortune: I have seen it happen!  Leave me now to my nest: you go with the troops."

The bird was gone, and Lugalbanda instantly found himself in the midst of his brothers, the chosen troops.

220-237. He was like a sacred bird emerging from a bed of reeds, a god rising out of the ground or stepping down from the sky. His brothers chattered away and wearied him with their questions: "Lugalbanda, is that you? Are you really back with us?  Where have you been? The army abandoned you as one slain in battle. You had no meat or cheese!  How did you cross the high mountains, where those who go alone never return? The banks of the mountain rivers, mothers of plenty, are far apart. How did you pass over the waters? – Did you drink them up?"

238-250. Blessed Lugalbanda answered them, "The banks of the mountain rivers, mothers of plenty, are far apart. With my legs I stepped over them, I drank them like water from a waterskin. I snarled like a wolf, I grazed the water-meadows, I pecked at the ground like a wild pigeon.  I ate the mountain acorns . . . " 

They believed everything that he told them. All day long they were like little birds flocking together to embrace him and kiss him. They fed him and gave him drink as if he were a gamgam chick in its nest, and so his illness ended.

251-283. The soldiers followed him as he wound his way through the hills like a snake over piles of grain. In a few hours they made camp just beyond the ramparts and ditches that surrounded Aratta . . .


Enheduana’s prayer to Inana
(Akkadian “Inana B” selection)


60-65. Great queen among queens, issue of the holy womb of righteousness, wise lady of all these foreign lands, life-force of their teeming peoples, good woman with the radiant heart, I will sing your holy songs for they are splendid! They are magnificant! I will praise all of your divine powers. They are very very many!

66-73. I am she who clothes the Moon [that is, she serves the idol of Nanna, the moon god of Akkad]. When I entered the holy sanctuary in your service, I carried the ritual basket, and sang the song of joy. But funeral offerings were given to me, as if I had died. I came into the light and burned with heat. I went into the shade and was dark with storm. The sweet words in my mouth turned bitter. I lost control of my moods.

74-80. O Moon, tell Heaven [the Sumerian god An who shares the temple] what has been happening! If only he knew, Heaven would change my fate and turn Lady Fortune against Lugal-An-Mundu [the chief of Adab, a former ally and now enemy of Akkad]!  That Lady’s heart controls the storms and armies that destroy whole cities, and it has grown cold to me.

81-90. I, En-ḫedu-ana, pray to you, holy Inana. I must offer my flowing tears in place of sweet beer! I say ‘Do not listen to Ašimbabbar [apparently a rival priest, the choice of An-Mundu to lead Uruk’s temple]. It was An-Mundu who stopped the purification rites of Heaven and robbed An [Heaven, Inana’s father, the adorned idol] in Uruk’s sanctuary. An-Mundu has no fear of Heaven. He is the one who destroyed Uruk’s temple, where the treasures were inexhaustible, where the beauty was eternal. He entered there like a friend but he came in envy as a fiend. What standing in the temple now is there for me?

91-108. My good divine wild cow, drive out that man, seize him!  May Heaven defeat all who rebel against your Moon! May Heaven crush Adab! May Enlil curse it! May its mothers never pacify their children! Lady, do not let me drown in my tears! Do not adandon me here crying in the wilds. Must I die because of my holy songs? Let the Moon decide. Ašimbabbar must not judge me. He will destroy me. What he says about me has nothing to do with me. He stood there in triumph when he drove me out of the temple. He stripped me of the headdress of the en priestess. He gave me a knife and a dagger, and he said "These will look good on you." He made me fly like a swallow from the window. Because of him, I now exhaust my life strength in flight through the thorn  brush of these mountains.

109-121. Most precious lady, beloved daughter of Heaven, your great heart is holy. May it not be angry toward me! You are the great queen through all of the horizon and zenith of the sky. At birth you were a queen in low country but how supreme you are now over the great mountain gods! They kiss the ground with their lips before you. But my own trial is not over. A hostile judgment closes in upon me as if it were the truth about me. It’s not true. I did not touch the flowered bed. I did not tell the queen’s secrets to anybody. I am the enlightened priestess of Nanna. Lady, beloved of Heaven, may your heart be calmed toward me!



The Tower of Babel

(Genesis 11 from the Hebrew Bible, King James Version)


 [1] And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.
[2] And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there.
[3] And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them throughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter.
[4] And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.
[5] And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded.
[6] And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.
[7] Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech.
[8] So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city.
[9] Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.

Commentary on High Places, Questions for reflection, Further readings