4 The Mythology of Sumer

The Return of Ninurta to Nippur

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The Return of Ninurta to Nippur


Ninurta has conquered the hostile ‘mountains’. He brings forth his battle trophies[a]: the six-headed ram from the lofty house, the dragon from the mountains, Magilum[b] from the depths, the bison from the battle dust, the Kulianna from the ends of the world, gypsum and copper from the mountains, Anzu from the halubHARran-tree, the seven-headed serpent from the mountains. He speaks to them of his discontents and thereupon uses them as decoration on his chariot!

On the apparent invitation of Enlil he sets off for Nippur accompanied by his retinue. Before he reaches the Ekur, however, Nusku, the chancellor of Enlil, comes forth to him. His approach is fearsome he says, and he begs Ninurta to moderate his fearsomeness and to accept the gifts of Enlil. Ninurta then lays aside his whip, his goad and his mace and enters the Ekur driving his captive bulls and cows[c] before him. The other gods – the Anunna, Enlil, Ašimbabbar, Ninlil – were amazed. Now Ninurta makes a great boast of his victories listing his many arms[d]. He demands that he should be worshipped in the Ekur. Hearing this Ninkarnunna[e] suggests that when Ninurta and Ninnibru[f], his wife, return to Ešumeša they should pray for the king. This is pleasing to Ninurta who does what has been suggested.


This tale is given in the well known text an-gim dím-ma which, like the lugal-e, seems to be an exaltation of Ninurta. The final emphasis on the Kingship suggests a composition in about the Ur III period though it incorporates much older mythic material. For a general comment on the Journey-of-the-God genre see the commentary to ‘Nanna’s Journey to Nippur’. In this case the ‘journey’ is a little forced since Ninurta’s shrine, the Ešumeša, was also located in Nippur.

  1. Of the trophies listed here only the Anzu-bird is certainly known from myths, although the Hydra may be Asag. The lists differ in different tellings; in the lugal-e for example, there are also the Palm Tree King, and the Lord Samananna.128 There is evidence that those two and the six-headed ram and copper were worshipped at an early date, and their conquest may be the mythological record of their incorporation into Ninurta/Ningirsu. Note that Gudea had them propitiated at the Eninnu.129 (Note on that, that Gudea’s list does not include Lord Saman-ana.)

  2. magilum: gišmagilum is known as a ship but it is hard to understand this as an enemy of Ninurta so perhaps the word is referring to something else.

  3. The ‘captive wild bulls’ and ‘captive wild cows’ may be metaphors for conquered things.

  4. The weapons were the Šarur, the Šargaz, the heavenly mace Udzuninnu, the mountain man Udbanuila, the corpse devouring agašilig-axe, the mountain-destroying heavenly mace, the mountain-defeating seven-bladed cutlass, the allukhapu-net of rebellious lands, the šušgal-net, the seven-fanged serpent, the seven-headed mace, the heavenly dagger, the fifty-headed mace, the Deluge-bow, the throwing stick and shield, the spear, the kurašu’rur, the erimiabinušub, the giskimtila, the fifty-headed mace. Of these Šarur (who is a protagonist in the battle against Asag) and Šargaz are the essential weapons. They became deities themselves in later periods.
  5. nin-kar-nun-na is the ‘Lord of the Princely Dock’. In the lugal-e Ninurta’s ship is called the (giš)má-kar-nun-ta-è-a, the ‘Ship which leaves from the Princely Dock’. Presumably the Princely Dock is the point from which Ninurta’s processional barge departed.130

  6. nin-nibru is ‘Queen of Nippur’ and may be a title of Ba’u who is known elsewhere as Ninurta’s (and Ningirsu’s) wife.

Enki and Eridu: The Journey of the Water God to Nippur


The myth is set in a time when ‘the water of creation’ has been decreed[a] and plant life has covered the land. Enki builds himself a house of silver and lapis lazuli in the Apsu. ‘The creatures of bright countenance and wise’[b] emerge from the Apsu to observe the building, standing about Nudimmud[c]. The house is like an ox roaring, uttering oracles[d], and Isimud sings the praises of the house. Enki then raises up the house from the Apsu so that it floats above the water like a mountain[e]. Finally he fills its fruit-filled gardens with birds and its waters with fishes.

To obtain Enlil’s blessing for the new house and its city he decides to visit Nippur[f]. Rising from the deep he seats himself in his boat and begins his pilgrimage. He stops first in Eridu itself and slaughters many oxen and sheep[g]. He then proceeds to Nippur where upon arrival he prepares a great drinking session for the gods who are there[h]. At the feast he seats An first of all, then Enlil, then Nintu[i] is seated on ‘the big side’. The Anunnaki take their places[j]. After sufficient feasting their hearts become ‘good’ and Enlil accordingly blesses ‘Eridu, the clean place, where none may enter’[k], and its house ‘directed by the seven lyre-songs’[l].


For a general comment on the Journey-of-the-God genre see the commentary to ‘Nanna’s Journey to Nippur’

  1. Fresh or sweet water, Enki’s element, which can be used for irrigation.

  2. Gods probably, but the ‘bright countenances’ may refer to fishes (as in the later verse ‘when Enki arises, the fish ... rise’) and wisdom may be associated with fish via Enki.132

  3. A title of Enki.

  4. Not a particularly marked feature of Enki’s cult.

  5. Presumably this is an image of the temple standing above the bay of the see upon which other sources claim Eridu was built.

  6. Note that according to the Sumerian King List133 Eridu is older than Nippur.

  7. There is no obvious reason for Enki to do this. Presumably it simply records the actions which accompanied later ritual reenactments.

  8. Apparently it was quite accepted for major events and decisions to be made after such a drinking bout. The same procedure is described in the (Old Babylonian) Enúma Eliš.134

  9. Nintu means the ‘lady who gives birth’, and the use of this title emphasises her fertility role which may reflect the purpose of the reenacted pilgrimages.

  10. The order of seating is odd. An is Enlil’s father, and originally superior, but Nintu is Enlil’s mother Ninhursag and should also precede him. Perhaps that is the meaning of being on the ‘big side’. It is not clear whether ‘the Anunnaki’ is supposed to include the three named gods. If not it is difficult to know what group of divinities is intended.

  11. In this context ‘Eridu’ doubtless refers to the sacred centre of the city, Enki’s Eengur, the ‘sea house’, his Apsu, the ‘abyss’. Presumably no one except a select few clergy acting for the god could enter the inner cell of the temple.

  12. Another obscure reference, possibly to liturgical music associated with Enki’s rites.

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