Myths from Mesopotamia: Creation, the Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others Characters

Stephanie Dalley
This Study Guide consists of approximately 33 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of Myths from Mesopotamia.
This section contains 1,671 words
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As the god of Uruk and the father of the older generation of gods, Anu plays a vital role in several Mesopotamian myths. In "Atrahasis", Anu tells the other gods who to look for in order to create mankind. In "Anzu", it is Anu who calls for the death of the thief of the Tablet of Destiny. In "Erra and Ishum", it is Anu who gives the seven terrors to Erra as destroyers of mankind. Further, Anu is father to Ellil, Adad, Gerra, Shara, and in some areas, Ishtar. Without Anu, many of these stories would not have characters, nor a "father" figure for the gods. Anu is the son of Anshar and Kishar.


Also known as Ut-napishtim in the myth of "Gilgamesh", Atrahasis is the savior of mankind. Atrahasis, through his relationship with his god Ea, saves the population of the earth several times prior to the Flood. Following Ellil's final blow against humanity, Atrahasis builds a boat, and upon it places animals and humans so they may survive the Floods. In "Gilgamesh", Atrahasis is the keeper of the secret to immortality. He is often seen as the Mesopotamian version of Noah.


Also known as Enki and Nudimmud, Ea is the god of fresh water, wisdom, and incantations, as well as a helper of mankind. Ea sent the seven sages to earth to help man build civilization. Ea lived within the Apsu, named after one of the first gods. In Atrahasis, it is Enki who tells the gods to slay Ilawela to make man, and it is Ea who speaks to Atrahasis to help save mankind from the disease, famine, and Flood Ellil sends down. During the decent of Ishtar to the Underworld, Ea creates Good-Looks in an effort to save Ishtar from permanent residence in the Underworld. In "Nergal and Ereshkigal", Ea helps Nergal escape the Underworld as well by giving him instructions on how to avoid Ereshkigal's grasp. In "Adapa", it is Ea who, depending on translation, either tricks his own sage into not accepting eternal life, or attempts to help him by instructing him how to avoid death. Ea also instructs Ninurta how to kill Anzu after his theft of the Tablet of Destinies. Perhaps most importantly, it is Ea who slays Apsu, the father god, during the Epic of Creation, starting a war between the gods that results in the rise of Marduk.


Ellil, also called Illil, is often believed to be the king of the younger generation of gods, and is the father of Ninurta, the god who returns the Tablet of Destiny. Ellil shows throughout the myths his power, as well as his instability as a god. Perhaps most importantly, it is Ellil who orders the destruction of mankind several times in the myth of "Atrahasis". Ellil also chooses Enkidu as the one to die following his and Gilgamesh's destruction of the Bull of Heaven. Ellil is also the holder of the Tablet of Destinies that Anzu steals.


As the mother goddess, Belet-ili is also known as Aruru, Mami, Ninhursag, Ninmah, Nintu, Mamma, Mammitum, and other names. She was also the wife of Nergal in later myth. In "Atrahasis", it is Belet-ili who creates mankind from clay and the blood of a god. She is also the creator of Gilgamesh's rival and then friend, Enkidu, as well as the creator of Gilgamesh's form. As a mother figure, she is a highly powerful image in most of Mesopotamian mythology in a variety of forms.


As the hero of one of the most known literary works of all time, Gilgamesh is a highly popular character in Mesopotamian mythology. As the son of the wild cow Ninsun and king Lugalbanda, he is one third mortal and two thirds divine. He is described as superior to all other kings, a warrior of great stature, and as a protector of men with a body made perfect by Belet-ili, and a mind that allowed him to be powerful, superb, knowledgeable, and an expert of all things. The life of Gilgamesh is the legend that spawned many myths. In the myth in this book, it is the friendship between Gilgamesh and Enkidu, as well as their killing of Humbaba and the Bull of Heaven, that make the rise of Gilgamesh. The fall of Gilgamesh occurs with his fear of death following his friend's passing, as well as his loss of immortality due to neglect and carelessness. In the end, however, Gilgamesh does prevail, and arrives back in Uruk safely to become one of their most prized kings in all of history.


As the partner of Gilgamesh, Enkidu's place in Mesopotamian myth is secondary, but still vital to the storyline. Beginning his life as a primitive man, Enkidu is tamed by a harlot and taken to Uruk to rival Gilgamesh. The two befriend one another, and travel to kill the King of the Pine Forest, Humbaba. He also takes part in the killing of the Bull of Heaven. However, he is stricken with illness after the gods declare someone must die for these acts. Gilgamesh mourns Enkidu's death by searching for immortality, only to discover his own strengths. He is often associated with the lammu-hero within other Mesopotamian myths, as well.

Nergal (Erra)

Also called Erakal, Erra, Ninurta, and Herakles in Greek mythology, Nergal is the chief God of the Underworld following his decent into Ereshkigal's realm, and their passionate affair. Nergal does not bow to Ereshkigal's vizier during a banquet, and is thus punished by being sent to assist her in the Underworld. The two have a passionate affair, after which Nergal escapes. He returns, however, later in the story to claim the throne of the Underworld. As Erra, the god of war, he ravishes Babylon to prove he is as powerful as Ea, only to be calmed by Ishum. However, his release of the seven terrors into the lands destroys much of creation. As Ninurta, he is the avenger of Ellil, killing Anzu following his theft of the Tablet of Destiny.


Adapa is the first of the seven sages sent by Ea to bring civilization to mankind. 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. However, after cursing the South Wind, he is called before the gods, who fool him into rejecting immortality.


Etana is the twelfth king of Kish. However, he is unable to sire an heir, and requests the assistance of Shamash. Shamash leads Etana to a pit where an eagle lies broken, telling him if he assists the eagle, he will fly him to find the birth plant. Etana helps heal the eagle, and after several tries, flies with the eagle to heaven to speak with the gods. Soon after, his son, Balih, is born.


Anzu is the lion-headed eagle whom Ellil chooses as doorkeeper for his temple. In the "Anzu" myth, he is portrayed as a thief who steals the Tablet of Destinies and wrecks havoc, only to be stopped by Ninurta. However, the author notes Anzu is portrayed as benevolent and good in other Mesopotamian mythology.


Also known as Innin, Inninna, and Inanna, Ishtar is the goddess of love and war. In some traditions she is the daughter of Sin, the moon god, while in others, the daughter of Anu. Ishtar travels to the Underworld to confront her sister, only the be saved by Good-Looks, sent by her father Anu. She is also responsible for the partial destruction of Uruk, after she attempts to kill Gilgamesh with the Bull of Heaven after his refusal to her marriage proposal.


As the mistress of the Underworld, Ereshkigal is the daughter of Anu, sister to Ishtar, and wife to Nergal. She is also the mother of Ninazu. Ereshkigal attempts to kill her sister after she angers her, but relents when her father sends a man to trick her. She also attempts to kill Nergal following his secret escape from the Underworld, only to marry him when he returns.


Tiamat is the sea goddess, personified as one of the primeval gods of creation. She is the epitome of chaos and the wife of Apsu. With Apsu, she creates the first generation of Gods, but is unhappy when they kill Apsu, who planned to kill his children. She, along with her lover, wage war against Marduk and his army. She is slaughtered, and her body is used to create the Earth.


Apsu is the father of the primeval gods, and the wife of Tiamat. Unhappy with their noise, Apsu decides to kill the gods, only to be slaughtered by his own grandson, Ea. This prompts a war between Tiamat and the younger gods, in which Tiamat is slaughtered and used to make the Earth.


As the patron god of Babylon, Marduk is a vital part of Mesopotamian myth. Born to Ea and Damkina, Marduk is the most powerful god. He is described as perfect in build, fire breathing, with four eyes and four ears. Anu creates the four winds and gives them to Marduk, but his use of them upsets Tiamat and the older gods, who request that she kill the younger gods and avenge her husband's death. Marduk is made a ruler of the gods and is sent to kill Tiamat. Following his successful slaughter of Tiamat, he creates the Earth, shrines and stands for the gods, constellations, the moon, and dictates its rise and fall, as well as creating clouds, fog, springs, mountains, the sky, and the earth. In other words, Marduk creates the world from Tiamat. He is hailed as the king of the Gods, and is given seven names by gods Anshar, Lahmu, and Lahamu in respect of his achievements, those of Marduk, Asarluhl, Marukka, Marutukku, Lugal-Dimmer-Anika, Nari-Lugal-Dimmer-Ankia, and Asarluhi. He is given another fifty names by the council of the gods.

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