4 The Mythology of Sumer

Dumuzi and Enkimdu: The Wooing of Inanna


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Dumuzi and Enkimdu: The Wooing of Inanna


Utu, the brother of Inanna, urges her to marry the shepherd Dumuzi rather than the farmer Enkimdu, but Inanna has eyes only for the latter. Dumuzi is upset by this rejection, especially as a mere farmer is the preferred one. To soothe his pride he indulges in a long consideration of the many ways in which the products of the shepherd are to be preferred to those of the farmer. Becoming overexcited he drives his sheep to the river bank where he sees Inanna and Enkimdu. Ashamed, he runs off into the unsown land but Inanna and Enkimdu both rush to follow him, and Inanna calls out to let him know that he is not despised.


This tale, though it deals with the gods is just barely a myth. In fact its preservation has been achieved as an example of a popular literary form known as a ‘Disputation’.172 We see here a record of the rivalry very often found between the incompatible land uses of the pastoralist and the agriculturalist. The same competition is behind the ‘Disputation between Cattle and Grain’173 and can be seen also in the Hebrew myth of Cain and Abel.174 In the Sumerian case, however, the two sides came to an amicable understanding.

Inanna in this reading of the tale remains married to the farmer, but in some readings she changes her mind and marries the shepherd.175 This is more consistent with the widespread tradition of a marriage of Dumuzi and Inanna. Indeed, the disputation may have been inspired by the fact of her acceptance of the shepherd-god.

The Marriage of Dumuzi and Inanna


176Inanna adorned herself with precious metals and stones, aromatic woods and other ornaments. She met Dumuzi in the gipar in the Eanna of Enlil. She, singing, sent a message to her father asking him to make her house ‘long’. There she would take her beloved Amaušumgalanna and they would make love therein.

177Inanna was dancing and singing and shining bright when she was met by Dumuzi who took her hand and embraced her. Inanna protests that she must return home for she knows not how to deceive her mother Ningal. Dumuzi suggests that she tell her mother that she was with a girlfriend in the public square[a], thus they spend the night together. Sometime later they arrive at Ningal’s gate and Inanna is joyful because Dumuzi has come to ‘say the word’[b]. Sweet will be his increase and tasty his plants and herbs[c].

178Dumuzi presents himself at Inanna’s home and asks to be admitted. Ningal advises her to bathe and anoint herself and to make herself beautiful for her suitor. This done, Inanna opens the door to Dumuzi and they embrace.


The marriage of Dumuzi and Inanna was a central feature of the ritual aspect of Sumerian religion.179 It was intended to symbolise the recurring fertility of the land and was reenacted by the king and a priestess each year. The myth or the ritual has left its mark in Mesopotamian art in very many seal engravings and the Alabaster Vase, where the presentation of marriage gifts and the journey of the husband to Inanna’s house are pictured. This popularity probably accounts for the existence of several different tales. In each of these there is emphasis on Inanna’s beautification for Dumuzi and this suggests that they were all variants of an original (and that this preparation of the bride was part of the ritual.)

  1. This, and much other evidence, suggests that women were rather less restricted than may have been imagined.180

  2. Presumably, propose marriage.

  3. This statement reflects the revegetation rituals with which the worship of Dumuzi was involved.

Inanna and Bilulu


As this myth begins Dumuzi is away tending to his flocks. Inanna misses her lover and seeks the permission of her mother Ninlil to visit him. It is granted, but before she can meet him a messenger, perhaps a partridge, brings news that Dumuzi is dead. He has been killed by the old woman Bilulu and her son Girgire. Inanna, upon hearing this, sings the praises of her good shepherd and resolves to avenge him. She pursues and destroys Bilulu and Girgire and turns Bilulu into a water skin[a]. The two become spirits of the desert, but their servant remains to supervise the offerings of flour to them[b]. The myth ends with a lament by Inanna and Geštinanna for Dumuzi.


The interpretation of this myth which Jacobsen proposes relies upon an identification of Dumuzi and ‘Milk’. The identification is supported by the facts that one of his titles is ‘Mother Milk’, and that in ‘Dumuzi’s Dream’ one of the signs of his doom is the overturning of the milk churn. (‘Dumuzi’s Dream’ is a myth fragment which has been incorporated for our collection as a prologue to the myth ‘The Death of Dumuzi’ (supra and see note [f] there].) From other sources we know that Bilulu is a thunderstorm deity and Girgire is a lightning flash. The myth links symbols of milk and thunderstorm because in Mesopotamia the milking season of Spring is also the period when thunderstorms are most frequent. Bilulu and Girgire kill Dumuzi because thunder tends to curdle milk and Inanna kills thunder and lightning because, although they are victorious enemies of milk, they do not persist past the milking season, which is Inanna’s season of fertility.

As Kirk points out, however, the form of the myth as an allegory is far from providing any sort of explanation of the natural phenomenon, for Bilulu and Girgire are given no motive for the murder of Dumuzi. In fact this myth looks more like a thin framework of narrative upon which is hung a heavy fabric of hymnal, lamentation and ritualistic material. We note in the text, for example, the inordinate length and thoroughness of the description of Inanna’s pursuit, of the recitation of her intended transformations of the malefactors and their ritual purposes, and their final enactment. Thus, whereas Jacobsen assigns this text on stylistic grounds to a genre of ancient Dumuzi myths connected with Bad-tibira, Kirk believes it may be a ‘learned cult-hymn’ with low real mythical content.

  1. The waterskin resembles the stormcloud which is Bilulu in its shape and in its ability to sprinkle water.

  2. Possibly represents some ritual behaviour which this myth was meant to explain.

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