Myths from Mesopotamia: Creation, the Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others - Nergal and Ereshkigal, Babylonian Version and Amarna Version Summary & Analysis

Stephanie Dalley
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Nergal and Ereshkigal, Babylonian Version and Amarna Version Summary and Analysis

The author notes this version is a longer version that those found previously, and that it serves to record a change in the rule of the underworld from a single deity, Ereshkigal, to a joint rule between Ereshkigal and Nergal. She also mentions the myth may be related to the Phoenician god Melqart, in that it is believed Melqart was resurrected, much like Nergal is in this myth. Further, the author notes that there are vast difference between the two myths.

The myth begins with Anu telling Kakka to travel to the underworld and tell Ereshkigal to send a messenger up for a feast the gods are having so that she can be given a portion. Ereshkigal gratefully accepts the invitation and sends Namtar, her vizier. There are several lines of missing text, after which readers find Ea asking Nergal why he did not bow to the vizier Namtar, as the rites of the gods command. Clearly, when Namtar arrived, the other gods knelt respectfully, but Nergal, also called Erra later in the myth, did not. After a few more missing lines, Nergal speaks to Ea, who offers to make amends. Ea tells him to go chop trees. The Uruk version of the story notes here that Nergal made a throne from these trees, and the author explains that when traveling to the underworld, one should always take a chair to offer to the ghost of the gods during an offering, in order to escape. Ea tells him not to accept any chair offered to him in the underworld, nor any bread, meat, beer, or bath. Also, he is not to sleep with Ereshkigal. The myth takes Nergal to the underworld, using a similar description to that used during Ishtar's journey in her decent, showing the same literary style. Namtar goes to view the visitor. He is enraged, and explains to Ereshkigal that Nergal was the god who disrespected him at the feast. She explains sarcastically to Namtar that all gods have their own area to govern, and asks for Nergal to be let in. He explains to Ereshkigal that he was sent by Ea to judge the cases of the gods as punishment, but when they offer him a chair, bread, meat, beer, and bath, he refuses. However, he gives in to temptation, and the two make love for six days. On the seventh day, Nergal leaves Ereshkigal sleeping, and flees back to the above world. When the gods see him, they order him to be disfigured, as they know Ereshkigal will send Namtar to fetch him. In the underworld, Namtar tells Ereshkigal of Nergal's escape. Ereshkigal, furious at losing her lover before she was finished with him, sends Namtar up to the gods to demand Nergal's return. In her speech, she mentions she has been denied pleasure from birth as the watcher of the underworld, and that Nergal has impregnated her. She makes the same threat, that of allowing the dead to eat the living, that her sister Ishtar made during her decent into the underworld. However, when Namtar arrives at the place of the gods, he is unable to locate Nergal, as his appearance has been changed. When Namtar returns to Ereshkigal, however, she sends him back, recognizing the trick Ea has played in disguising Nergal. Namtar again, however, cannot locate Nergal. However, soon after, Nergal returns to the underworld by himself, strikes down the seven doormen, seizes Ereshkigal, and the two embrace and go to bed for seven days. On the seventh day, Anu sends Kakka to Ereshkigal to inform her Nergal will remain in the underworld.

In the much shorter Amarna version of this story, Ereshkigal sends Namtar to the gods following his disrespect at the banquet. She seeks him to kill him, but he, as in the previous version, hides his face and is unrecognized. While Namtar reports to his mistress, Nergal pleas to his father to help him, to which Ea replies he will send fourteen demons with Nergal to the underworld. When Nergal arrives in the underworld, Ereshkigal plans to kill him. At each door into the underworld, however, Nergal releases a demon, and following the final door, seals Namtar into the forecourt. He rushes to Ereshkigal and plans to behead her, but relents when she promises him her hand in marriage as well as partial rule over the underworld.

Clearly, these two versions of the same story tell the same tale, that of the rise to power over the underworld of Nergal. However, in the first tale, Nergal appears almost to grow emotionally throughout the story, whereas in the second version, he appears to gain power through the help of his father alone. Both, however, show a clear passion between the two main characters, and a clear desire for one another, making this tale primarily a love story.

This section contains 829 words
(approx. 3 pages at 400 words per page)
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