from 'Sumerian Mythology' by Samuel Noah Kramer

from SacredTexts Website

Spanish version




This magnificent myth with its particularly charming story involves Inanna, the queen of heaven, and Enki, the lord of wisdom.


Its contents are of profound significance for the study of the history and progress of civilization, since it contains a list of over one hundred divine decrees governing all those cultural achievements which, according to the more or less superficial analysis of the Sumerian scribes and thinkers, made up the warp and woof of Sumerian civilization.


As early as 1911 a fragment belonging to this myth and located in the University Museum at Philadelphia was published by David W. Myhrman. Three years later, Arno Poebel published another Philadelphia tablet inscribed with part of the composition; this is a large, well-preserved six-column tablet whose upper left corner was broken off.


This broken corner piece I was fortunate enough to discover in 1937, twenty-three years later, in the Museum of the Ancient Orient at Istanbul. 63 As early as 1914, therefore, a large part of the myth had been copied and published.


However, no translation was attempted in all these years since the story seemed to make no connected sense; and what could be made out, seemed to lack intelligent motivation.


In 1937 I located and copied in Istanbul a small piece 64 which supplied the missing clue, and as a result, this tale of the all too human Sumerian gods can now be told.








Plate XV is the obverse of a large six-column tablet (15283 in the Nippur collection of the University Museum) published by Poebel in 1914; 61 its upper left corner is broken away.


Plate XVI illustrates three fragments belonging to the same poem. The large fragment (13571 in the Nippur collection of the University Museum) was published by Myhrman in 1911.


Below the large fragment, on the left, are the obverse and reverse of a small fragment (4151 in the Nippur collection of the Museum of the Ancient Orient) copied by the author in Istanbul and hitherto unpublished.


In all probability it is the very comer piece broken away from the Philadelphia tablet illustrated on plate XV. To the right are the obverse and reverse of another small fragment (2724 in the Nippur collection of the Museum of the Ancient Orient) copied by the author in Istanbul and hitherto unpublished.


Small as it is, this piece proved instrumental in supplying the motivating link to the story. For the translation and the transliteration of the first eight lines of the passage in which Enki presents the arts of civilization to the goddess Inanna.

Another significant verse in this passage reads:

"O name of my power, O name of my power,
To the bright Inanna, my daughter, I shall present . . .
The arts of woodworking, metalworking, writing, toolmaking, leatherworking...

building, basketweaving."

Pure Inanna took them.









Inanna, queen of heaven, and tutelary goddess of Erech, is anxious to increase the welfare and prosperity of her city, to make it the center of Sumerian civilization, and thus to exalt her own name and fame.


She therefore decides to go to Eridu, the ancient and hoary seat of Sumerian culture where Enki, the Lord of Wisdom, who "knows the very heart of the gods," dwells in his watery abyss, the Abzu.


For Enki has under his charge all the divine decrees that are fundamental to civilization. And if she can obtain them, by fair means or foul, and bring them to her beloved city Erech, its glory and her own will indeed be unsurpassed.


As she approaches the Abzu of Eridu, Enki, no doubt taken in by her charms, calls his messenger Isimud and thus addresses him:

"Come, my messenger, Isimud, give ear to my instructions,
A word I will say to thee, take my word.
The maid, all alone, has directed her step to the Abzu,
Inanna, all alone, has directed her step to the Abzu,
Have the maid enter the Abzu of Eridu,
Have Inanna enter the Abzu of Eridu,
Give her to eat barley cake with butter,
Pour for her cold water that freshens the heart,
Give her to drink date-wine in the 'face of the lion,'
. . . for her . . . . make for her . . .,
At the pure table, the table of heaven,
Speak to Inanna words of greeting."

Isimud does exactly as bidden by his master, and Inanna and Enki sit down to feast and banquet.


After their hearts had become happy with drink, Enki exclaims:

"O name of My power, O name of my power,
To the pure Inanna, my daughter, I shall present . . ..
Lordship, . . .-ship, godship, the tiara exalted and enduring, the throne of kingship."

Pure Inanna took them.

"O name of my power, O name of my power,
To the pure Inanna, my daughter, I shall present . . . .
The exalted scepter, staffs, the exalted shrine, shepherdship, kingship."

Pure Inanna took them.

He thus presents, several at a time, over one hundred divine decrees which are the basis of the culture pattern of Sumerian civilization. And when it is realized that this myth was inscribed as early as 2000 B. C. and that the concepts involved were no doubt current centuries earlier, it is no exaggeration to state that no other civilization, outside of the Egyptian, can at all compare in age and quality with that developed by the Sumerians.


Among these divine decrees presented by Enki to Inanna are those referring to lordship, godship, the exalted and enduring crown, the throne of kingship, the exalted scepter, the exalted shrine, shepherdship, kingship, the numerous priestly offices, truth, descent into the nether world and ascent from it, the "standard," the flood, sexual intercourse and prostitution, the legal tongue and the libelous tongue, art, the holy cult chambers, the "hierodule of heaven," music, eldership, heroship and power, enmity, straightforwardness, the destruction of cities and lamentation, rejoicing of the heart, falsehood, the rebel land, goodness and justice, the craft of the carpenter, metal worker, scribe, smith, leather worker, mason, and basket weaver, wisdom and understanding, purification, fear and outcry, the kindling flame and the consuming flame, weariness, the shout of victory, counsel, the troubled heart, judgment and decision, exuberance, musical instruments.

Inanna is only too happy to accept the gifts offered her by the drunken Enki. She takes them, loads them on her "boat of heaven," and makes off for Erech with her precious cargo.


But after the effects of the banquet had worn off, Enki noticed that the divine decrees were gone from their usual place. He turns to Isimud and the latter informs him that he, Enki himself, had presented them to his daughter Inanna.


The upset Enki greatly rues his munificence and decides to prevent the "boat of heaven" from reaching Erech at all costs.


He therefore dispatches his messenger Isimud together with a group of sea monsters to follow Inanna and her boat to the first of the seven stopping stations that are situated between the Abzu of Eridu and Erech.


Here the sea monsters are to seize the "boat of heaven" from Inanna; Inanna, herself, however, must be permitted to continue her journey to Erech afoot.


The passage covering Enki's instructions to Isimud and Isimud's conversation with Inanna, who reproaches her father Enki as an "Indian-giver," will undoubtedly go down as a classic poetic gem.


It runs as follows:

The prince calls his messenger Isimud,
The prince calls his messenger Isimud,
Enki gives the word to the "good name of heaven":
"Oh my messenger Isimud, 'my good name of heaven'."
"Oh my king Enki, here I stand, forever is praise."
"The 'boat of heaven,' where now has it arrived?"
"At the quay Idal it has arrived."
"Go, and let the sea monsters seize it from her."

Isimud does as bidden, overtakes the "boat of heaven," and says to Inanna:

"Oh my queen, thy father has sent me to thee,
Oh Inanna, thy father has sent me to thee,
Thy father, exalted is his speech,
Enki, exalted is his utterance,
His great words are not to go unheeded."

Holy Inanna answers him:

"My father, what has he spoken to thee, what has he said to thee?
His great words that are not to go unheeded, what pray are they?"

"My king has spoken to me,
Enki has said to me:
'Let Inanna go to Erech,
But thou, bring me back the "boat of heaven" to Eridu'."

Holy Inanna says to the messenger Isimud:

"My father, why pray has he changed his word to me,
Why has he broken his righteous word to me,
Why has he defiled his great words to me?
My father has spoken to me falsehood, has spoken to me falsehood,
Falsely has he uttered the name of his power, the name of the Abzu."

Barely had she uttered these words,
The sea monsters seized the "boat of heaven."
Inanna says to her messenger Ninshubur:
"Come, my true messenger of Eanna,
My messenger of favorable words,
My carrier of true words,
Whose hand never falters, whose foot never falters,
Save the 'boat of heaven,' and Inanna's presented decrees."

This Ninshubur does. But Enki is persistent.


He sends Isimud accompanied by various sea monsters to seize the "boat of heaven" at each of the seven stopping points between Eridu and Erech. And each time Ninshubur comes to Inanna's rescue.


Finally Inanna and her boat arrive safe and sound at Erech, where amidst jubilation and feasting on the part of its delighted inhabitants, she unloads the divine decrees one at a time.


The poem ends with a speech addressed by Enki to Inanna, but the text is seriously damaged and it is not clear whether it is reconciliatory or retaliatory in character.