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This myth 51 is the closest extant Sumerian parallel to the Biblical Cain-Abel story, although it ends with a reconciliation rather than a murder. It consists of over three hundred lines, only about half of which are complete; because of the numerous breaks, the meaning of the text is therefore often difficult to penetrate. Tentatively the contents of the poem may be reconstructed as follows:

Enlil, the air-god, has set his mind to bring forth trees and grain and to establish abundance and prosperity in the land. For this purpose two cultural beings, the brothers Emesh and Enten, are created, and Enlil assigns to each specific duties. The text is so badly damaged at this point that it is impossible to make out the exact nature of these duties; the following very brief intelligible passages will at least indicate their general direction:

Enten caused the ewe to give birth to the lamb, the goat to give birth to the kid,
Cow and calf he caused to multiply, much fat and milk he caused to be produced,
In the plain, the heart of the wild goat, the sheep, and the donkey he made to rejoice,
The birds of the heaven, in the wide earth he had them set up their nests.
The fish of the sea, in the swampland he had them lay their eggs,
In the palm-grove and vineyard he made to abound honey and wine,
The trees, wherever planted, he caused to bear fruit,
The furrows . . .,
Grain and crops he caused to multiply,
Like Ashnan (the grain goddess), the kindly maid, he caused strength to appear.
Emesh brought into existence the trees and the fields, he made wide the stables and sheepfolds,
In the farms he multiplied the produce,
The . . . he caused to cover the earth,
The abundant harvest he caused to be brought into the houses, he caused the granaries to be heaped high.

But whatever the nature of their original duties, a violent quarrel breaks out between the two brothers. Several arguments ensue, and finally Emesh challenges Enten’s claim to the position of "farmer of the gods." And so they betake themselves to Nippur where each states his case before Enlil.


Thus Enten complains to Enlil:

Three of the designs depict a deity in close relation with a plow. In the upper design two gods are guiding a plow, which is perhaps drawn by a lion and a wormlike dragon. In the second, a seated god is holding a plow in front of him. Behind him is a mountain from which sprouts a plant and on which an ibex is ascending; in front of him a deity leads a worshipper carrying a gazelle in his arms. In the lower design an unidentified deity holding a plow is travelling in a boat whose stern ends in a snake and whose prow ends in the body of a god who is propelling the boat.

The third design seems to depict an offering scene to the right of the inscription. A worshipper carrying a gazelle is followed by a goddess holding a vase, from which flow two streams of water. The worshipper stands before another goddess who may perhaps be identified as Inanna in the role of the goddess of war. But it is the two deities to the left of the inscriptions which interest us here mostly. Both seem to have ears of grain sprouting from their shoulders, but the male god is equipped with club and bow, while a ram frolics at his feet. He may perhaps be identified as Lahar, the cattle-god, while the goddess facing him may be Ashnan, the grain goddess.

(Reproduced, by permission of the Macmillan Company,

from Henri Frankfort, Cylinder Seals, plates XXa, d, e, and XIXe.)


"O father Enlil, knowledge thou hast given me, I brought the water of abundance,
Farm I made touch farm, I heaped high the granaries,
Like Ashnan, the kindly maid, I caused strength to appear;
Now Emesh, the . . . . the irreverent, who knows not the heart of the fields,
On my first strength, on my first power, is encroaching;
At the palace of the king . . ."


Emesh’s version of the quarrel, which begins with several flattering phrases cunningly directed to win Enlil’s favor, is brief but as yet unintelligible. Then:


Enlil answers Emesh and Enten:
"The life-producing water of all the lands, Enten is its ’knower,’
As farmer of the gods he has produced everything,
Emesh, my son, how dost thou compare thyself with Eaten, thy brother?"
The exalted word of Enlil whose meaning is profound,
The decision taken, is unalterable, who dares transgress it!

Emesh bent the knees before Enten,
Into his house he brought . . ., the wine of the grape and the date,
Emesh presents Enten with gold, silver, and lapis lazuli,
In brotherhood and friendship, happily, they pour out libations,
Together to act wisely and well they determined.
In the struggle between Emesh and Enten,
Enten, the steadfast farmer of the gods, having proved greater than Emesh,
. . . O father Enlil, praise!

51. The poem consists of approximately 308 lines of text reconstructed from the following tablets and fragments: BBI 7; CBS 3167, 10431, 13857, 29.13.464, 29.16.142, 29.16.232, 29. 16.417, 29.16.427, 29.16.446, 29.16.448; Ni 2705, 3167, 4004; SEM 46; SRT 41; STVC 125. The following groups form "joins": BBI 7 + 29.16.142; 13857 + 29.16.427 +29.16.446 + 29.16.448.