Mircea Eliade "From Primitives to Zen":
ENKI, A SUMERIAN HIGH GOD


'Enki and the World Order' is one of the longest and best preserved of the extant Sumerian narrative poems. The poem begins with a hymn of praise addressed to Enki; some of it is destroyed and unintelligible, but generally speaking, it seems to exalt Enki as the god who watches over the universe and is responsible for the fertility of field and farm, flock and herd. It continues to follow the same motif at some length, with Enki now praising himself, now being praised by the gods. Next, a badly damaged passage seems to describe the various rites and rituals performed by some of the more important priests and spiritual leaders of Sumer in Enki's Abzu-shrine. The scene shifts again to reveal Enki in his boat, passing from city to city to 'decree the fates' and render proper exaltation to each. Two inimical lands are not so fortunate; he destroys them and carries off their wealth.

Enki now turns from the fates of the various lands which made up the Sumerian inhabited world and performs a whole series of acts vital to the earth's fertility and productiveness. He fills the Tigris with life-giving water, then appoints the god Enbilulu, the 'canal inspector,' to make sure that the Tigris and Euphrates function properly. He 'calls' the marshland and the canebrake, supplies them with fish and reeds, and again appoints a deity for them. He erects his own shrine by the sea and places the goddess Nanshe in charge of it. Similarly, he 'calls' the earth's plow, yoke, and furrow, the cultivated field, the pickaxes and brick Mould; be turns to the high plain, covers it with vegetation and cattle, stall and sheepfolds; he fixes the borders and cities and states; finally he attends to 'woman's task,' particularly the weaving of cloth. For each realm a deity is appointed.

The poem comes to an end in yet another key as the ambitious and aggressive Inanna complains that she has been slighted and left without any special powers and prerogatives. Enki reassures her with a recitation of her own insignia and provinces.


Enki, the king of the Abzu, overpowering in his majesty, speaks up with authority:

'My father, the king of the universe,

Brought me into existence in the universe,

My ancestor, the king of all the lands,

Gathered together all the, me's, placed the me's in my hand.

From the Ekur, the house of Enlil,

I brought craftsmanship to my Abzu of Eridu.

I am the fecund seed, engendered by the great wild ox, I am the f irst born son of An,

I am the "great storm" who goes forth out of the "great below," I am the lord of the Land,

I am the gugal of the chieftains, I am the father of all the lands,

I am the "big brother" of the gods, I am he who brings full prosperity,

I am the record keeper of heaven and earth,

I am the car and the mind of all the lands,

I am he who directs justice with the king An on An's dais,

I am he who decrees the fates with Enlil in the "mountain of wisdom," He placed in my hand the decreeing of the fates of the "place where the sun rises,"

I am he to whom Nintu pays due homage,

I am he who has been called a good name by Ninhursag,

I am the leader of the Anunnaki,

I am he who has been born as the first son of the holy An.

After the lord had uttered (his) exaltedness,

After the great Prince had himself pronounced his praise,

The Anunnaki came before him in prayer and supplication:

'Lord who directs craftsmanship,

Who makes decisions, the glorified; Enki priase!'

For a second time, because of his great joy,:

Enki, the king of the Abzu, in his majesty, speaks up with authority

'I am the lord, I am one whose command is unquestioned, I am the

foremost in all things,

At my command the stalls have been built, the sheepfolds have been

enclosed,

When I approached heaven a rain of prosperity poured down from

heaven,

When I approached the earth, there was a high flood,

When I approached its green meadows,

The heaps and mounds were piled up at my word.

[After the almost unintelligible description of Enki's rites, Enki proceeds

to decree the fates of a number of cities. Ur is one example.]

He proceeded to the shrine Ur,

Enki, the ki-ng of the Abzu decrees its fate:

City possessing all that is appropriate, water-washed, ftrm-standing ox,

Dais of abundance of the highland, knees open, green like a mountain,

Hashur-grove, wide of shade-he who is lordly because of his might

Has directed your perfect me's,

Enlil, the "great mountain," has pronounced your lofty -name in the universe.

City whose fate has been decreed by Enlil,

Shrine Ur, may you rise heaven high

[Enki next stocks the land with various items of prosperity: A deity

is placed in charge of each. For example:]

He directed the plow and the . . . yoke,

The great prince Enki put the 'horned oxen' in the . . . Opened the holy furrows,

Made grow the grain in the cultivated field.

The lord who do-ns the diadem, the ornament of the high plain, The robust,,the farmer of Enlil,

Enkimdu, the man of the ditch and dike, Enki placed in charge of them.

The lord called the cultivated field, put there the checkered grain, Heaped up its . . . grain, the checkered grain, the innuba-grain into piles,

Enki multiplied the heaps and mounds,

With Enlil he spread wide the abundance in the Land,

Her whose head and side are dappled, whose face is honey-covered, The Lady, the procreatress, the vigour of the Land, the 'life' of the black-heads,

Ashnan, the nourishing bread, the bread of all,

Enki placed in charge of them.

He built stalls, directed the purification rites,

Erected sheepfolds, put there the best fat and milk,

Brought joy to the dining halls of the gods,

In the vegetation-like plain he made prosperity prevail.

..........................................

He filled the Ehur, the house of Enlil, with possessions,

Enlil rejoiced with Enki, Nippur was joyous,

He fixed the borders, demarcated them with boundary stones,

Enki, for the Anunnaki,

Erected dwelling places in the cities,

Set up kids for them in the countryside,

The hero, the bull who comes forth out of the hashur (forest), who roars lion-like,

The valiant Utu, the bull who stands secure, who proudly displays his power,

The father of the great city, the place where the sun rises, the great herald of holy An,

The judge, the decision-maker of the gods,

Who wears a lapis lazuli beard, who comes forth from the holy heaven,

the .. . heaven,

Utu, the son born of Ningal,

Enki placed in charge of the entire universe.


[The remainder of the extant text is devoted to Inanna's challenge and Enki's response.]


Translation by Samuel Noah Kramer, in his The Sumerians. Their History, Culture and Character (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963), PP. 17483; introductory material paraphrased and summarized by M. Eliade from Kramer, OP. Cit., PP. 171-4

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