4 The Mythology of Sumer


Inanna and Mount Ebih Paraphrase182

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Inanna and Mount Ebih

Paraphrase182

The poem begins with a hymn of praise to Inanna, but this is followed by a long complaint by Inanna to An concerning Mount Ebih[a]. The meaning is not always clear but the gist of it seems to be that Inanna feels that Kur is not properly acknowledging her might and power, and unless it does submit and praise her she will punish it. She will direct her throw-stick against it, burn its forests, dry its waters like Gibil[b]. Like Aratta[c], like a city cursed by An, it will be overthrown. An sympathises and tells Inanna of the wrongs which Mount Ebih has done to the gods. In particular ‘the mountain, its dreadful rays of fire it has directed against the land’. But Kur is powerful and rich and so An cautions Inanna against attacking it. Inanna is not daunted. She opens the ‘house of battle’, leads out her weapons and aids and attacks and destroys Mount Ebih. From atop the vanquished mountain she pronounces a great boast.

Commentary

There is a tradition of tales of battles against Kur of which the myth of the Deeds and Exploits of Ninurta and this one are the best formed. This tale is unusual in that Kur here is identified with the mountain Ebih[a] rather than with the sea. With respect to this we may note that there are rock and mountain motives in the other tales whose connection with a sea monster is problematic but which fit perfectly comfortably here. A further point to note is that Ebih/Kur is treated at many points as a particular this-worldly location, or even as a city. Noting the reference in the text to Aratta it might be plausible to see this as a tale of war against another mountain people similar to the tale of war against Aratta told by the Enmerkar epic. This association of Kur with the mountain lands also makes the use of the word kur to mean (foreign) lands more comprehensible. Against this it has to be admitted that Sumerian references to the mountain barbarians are not usually so obscure. Moreover we would then be faced with the problem of explaining how Kur could then have come to be associated with the sea and the underworld.

It has been proposed183 to read this myth (and the other Kur-combat myths) as referring to a catastrophic earthquake in the general area of Jebel Hamrin resulting in a huge landslide and outbreaks of oil and natural gas fires. The scarring of the Saidmarreh river area indicates a date of ca. 9500BC for this event which would make it one of the earliest events known to be recorded. Only a few Australian aboriginal myths would rival it. This interpretation explains the connection of Kur with rocks and mountains and fires; and the fact that as the fires died out and the oil rivers were exhausted all that would remain would be the holes in the ground into which the demons could be thought to have retreated would explain the association of the Kur and the underworld. The problem would still remain, however, of explaining the later(?) connection of Kur and sea.


  1. Mount Ebih is the Jebel Hamrin, a range of mountains extending from east of Aššur to the Diyala.

  2. A fire demon.

  3. A city in south western Iran which features in the early Sumerian epic of ‘Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta’ [infra pp. 6.2 ff.]

Inanna’s Descent to the Nether World (and the Death of Dumuzi)

Paraphrase184

For some reason Inanna decides to descend to the nether world, therefore she gathers the appropriate laws and royal adornments for the journey. Inanna suspects the ill-will of her sister Ereškigal, Queen of the Nether World, so she leaves instructions with her vizier Ninšubur in case she does not return within three days. He is to set up a lament by the ruins in the assembly hall of the gods; he is to plead with Enlil in Nippur; to plead with Nanna in Ur if that fails; and to plead, finally, with Enki in Eridu.

Inanna descends to the Nether World. At the gate of Ereškigal’s lapis lazuli temple Neti the gatekeeper questions her and she lies to him. Nevertheless, Ereškigal has instructed that she be brought within. The gatekeeper, therefore, guides her to each of the seven gates of the nether world. At each gate she must remove an article of clothing until finally she is brought naked and kneeling before Ereškigal. With the Queen are the Anunnaki[a] who turn Inanna into a corpse and hang her from a stake.

After three days have passed Ninšubur pleads with the gods as he has been instructed, but, as Inanna had expected, only Enki will help. He creates the two sexless[b] beings kurgarra and kalaturra and gives them the ‘food of life’ and the ‘water of life’. He instructs them and sends them to the Nether World where Ereškigal, ‘the birth-giving mother’, is sick ‘because of her children’[c]. She is crying ‘Woe my inside’ and ‘Woe my outside’. The kurgarra and kalaturra make that cry with her and say also ‘From my inside to your inside. From my outside to your outside’[d]. They are offered water and grain[e] but, following Enki’s instructions, they refuse them. They say to her ‘Give us the corpse hanging upon a nail’ and when they have it they sprinkle upon it the food and water of life which revives Inanna[f].

By the rules of the Nether World Inanna must now provide a substitute before she is allowed to escape permanently. To do this she returns to the upper world accompanied by demons who will fetch her below if she fails. Inanna travels to Umma where Šara grovels before her. She is pleased by his humility and does not allow the demons to carry him off. The same thing happens when she sees Latarak at Badtibira.

Inanna travels to Uruk where Dumuzi, Inanna’s husband, is king. He has not been mourning her but has ‘put on a noble robe, sat high on a throne’. Inanna is upset at this behaviour and hands him over to her demon companions. Dumuzi weeps and cries out for Utu to help him by changing his hand into the hand of a snake and his foot into the foot of a snake[g] ...




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