Myths from Mesopotamia: Creation, the Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others - Adapa and Etana Summary & Analysis

Stephanie Dalley
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Adapa and Etana Summary and Analysis

The author begins by explaining that Adapa was a sage sent by Ea, god of the first city, that of Eridu, to show mankind how to build a civilization. Adapa was responsible for showing man religious rites, but angered Ea, and thus lost his right to immortality. The author also notes this story is severely fragmented. The myth begins, after a few missing lines, by explaining that Ea gave Adapa wisdom, but not eternal life. Adapa is described as higher than man, much like Atrahasis in the Flood story, and as a holy and pure man, responsible for tending the rites, baking with bakers of the town, and fishing for Eridu. On one journey, however, he sets sail without a rudder, with a strong South Wind, and is blown over. Angered, he curses the South Wind, and the wing of the wind is broken. For seven days, the South Wind fails to blow, alerting Anu that something is amiss. Iiabrat, his vizier, tells him of Adapa's angry words, and Anu angrily commands Adapa to appear before him. Ea instructs Adapa to appear unkempt in mourning clothing, and to win the favor of the door guards Gizzida and Damuzi by telling them he is mourning for their disappearance from the land. Ea tells him the guards will then put in a favorable word with Anu, but that Adapa must not eat the bread of death or drink the water of death they will offer him, and should put on the garment and oil they give him. When Adapa appears to Anu, all goes according to plan, except that Anu offers "the bread of life" and "the drink of life". It appears, based on the text, that Anu is attempting to make up for Ea's disclosure of the ways of the gods, but that Adapa, following Ea's instructions, misses the point. Conversely, the text could be interpreted as Ea's intentional misleading of Adapa to prevent him from attaining immortality. Regardless of one's interpretation, Adapa does not eat or drink, but does put on the garment and oil, as instructed. Anu laughs at his folly, and, after telling him he has missed his opportunity for eternal life, sends him back to Earth.

The author begins Etana by noting the story is based on a king of Kish, and originates in Kish, although she notes only the god of Shamash is involved in the story. The text is derived from three sets of partials, those of the Old Babylonian version, the Middle Assyrian version, and the standard version. The basic premise, that of a man riding to heaven on an eagle, is used in Greek mythology as well as Alexander romance and in Iranian myth. The concept of a tree inhabited by a snake can be seen in the Old Testament, as well. The myth begins with noting that the Igigi, or the gods, built Kish. Etana is made king of Kish. After a very long break in the text, it is clear that Etana builds a fort by which a poplar grows. An eagle resides in the leaves and a serpent lived at the base. The two make a pact in the presence of Shamash, the sun god, that neither will cross the limits set by Shamash. The two help one another and allow each other's children access to slain animals for food. One day, however, the eagle eats the snake's young. The snake begs Shamash for revenge, and Shamash instructs him to hide inside a slain bull so that he can attack the eagle as he comes to feed. The serpent obeys, and attacks the eagle, cutting his wings, plucking it, and throwing it in a pit to die. When the eagle begs for help from Shamash, he sends Etana to the eagle. He instructs the eagle that he is to help the man find the plant of birth so his wife may bear a child, in exchange for his help in saving the eagle's life. Shamash tells Etana where to find the eagle, and for several months, Etana feeds and trains the eagle. In the eighth month, the eagle is able to rise from the pit. The eagle searches for the plant he has promised, and when he cannot find it, offers to carry Etana to the skies to find Ishtar. The man climbs onto the eagle, but as they reach higher and higher, Etana becomes afraid and asks to return to Earth. The man has a series of three dreams that lead him to make a second attempt. This time, they reach the heaven of Anu, and greet the gods. The text ends here, but in the Sumerian king list, Etana was succeeded by his son, Balih, implying their quest for the birth plant was successful.

This section contains 808 words
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