Atrakhasis

 
THE COSMOGONY OF SIPPAR
The Epic of Atrakhasis

The Rebellion of the Gods
BV*             *(Old Babylonian Version)
1.1    When gods instead of humans* carried out work and endured toil, *(awilum, locative, in place of)
the toil of the gods was great, the work was heavy, the hardship severe.
The seven great Anunnaki divinities were making the Igigi deities carry out the work.
Anu their father was the king;  their governor* was the stalwart Enlil; *(maliku: counsellor; king?)
their chamberlain was Ninurta; and their commissioner* was Ennugi.  *(or: canal-controller)
The gods had clasped hands together, cast lots, and allotted departments:
Anu had gone up to heaven; [Enlil took] the earth to rule over*;     *(?)   
the bolt and bar of the sea  they had given to Enki the artful*.    *(or: the prince)
After Anu had ascended to the heavens and Enki had descended to the watery abyss*, *(Apsu),
[the seven great divinities imposed labour on the other deities. . . .]
They dug the Tigris and Euphrates rivers,  [to supply life-giving water to the land] . . . .
They raised up all the mountains. . . .
For forty long years they toiled night and day.
They were complaining, making accusations, grumbling over the excavating:
Let us confront our [overseer] the chamberlain, to get relief from our heavy work;
and Enlil the stalwart, the governor of the gods, let us go and shake him up in his residence.
[One of them*] spoke up and addressed the gods, his brothers *(the god who is sacrificed later? 1.4-5)

1.2    The governor of the gods, the stalwart,  let us go and shake him up in his residence,
Enlil, the governor of the gods, the stalwart, let us go and shake him up in his residence.
So then, let us declare war* and stir up struggle and strife.     *(that is, go on strike)
The gods paid heed to his words and set their tools on fire;
they set fire to their spades and likewise ignited their hods*.     *or: workbaskets
They grasped them as they wended their way to the temple-gate of stalwart Enlil.
It was night, the middle watch, the house was surrounded, but the god did not know;
it was night, the middle watch,  Ekur was surrounded, but Enlil did not know;
But Kalkal (the doorman) noticed it and was disturbed; he slid the bolt and watched them.
Kalkal awakened Nusku, and they listened to the noise.
Nusku then awakened his lord, and got him up out of his bed.
My lord, your house is surrounded, strife has come right to your gate;
Enlil, your house is surrounded, strife has come right to your gate. . . .
Enlil sent for Anu, and he was brought down; Enki was also brought before him.
Thus Anu, the king of heaven, was present;
the king of the Apsu, Enki, was also in attendance.
The great divinities being present, when Enlil arose they bowed to him.
Enlil opened his mouth and addressed the great gods:
Is it to me this is happening? Must I be in conflict [with my own kin]?
What do I see with my own eyes? Strife has come right to my gate.
Anu opened his mouth and spoke thus to stalwart Enlil:
1.3    For the reason why the deities have surrounded your gate, let Nusku go out and inquire. . . .
So Nusku went to the assembly of all the gods, and ... delivered his message:
Anu, your father, your governor the stalwart Enlil,
your chamberlain Ninurta,  and your commissioner* Ennugi have sent me. *(or: canal-controller)
Who is the instigator of strife?  Who is the provoker of conflict?
Who was it that declared war?. ..
Every single one of us gods has declared war . . . .
Excessive toil is killing us, our work is heavy and the hardship is severe. . . .
When Enlil heard the message, tears ran from his eyes.
Enlil ... then addressed the stalwart Anu:
1.4    August one, when you return to heaven, bearing your authority and taking your power,
and when the divinities are in your presence,  summon one god and have him put to death.
Anu opened his mouth and addressed the gods his brothers:
What are we accusing them of?  Their work was heavy, their hardship was severe. . . .
The complaining was heavy, we could hear the noise of it. . . .
So bring in Belet-ili*,  the birth goddess;     *(Mistress-of-the-Gods)
let the birth-goddess create Lullu, a human; 
let humankind carry out the toil of the gods. . . .

The Creation of Humankind
They summoned and asked the goddess, the midwife of the gods, wise Mami:
You are the birth-goddess, creatress of humankind, create Lullu then, to bear the yoke;
let him bear the yoke assigned by Enlil, let humankind carry out the toil of the gods.
Nintu* opened her mouth and addressed the great gods: *(Belet-ili, Mami)
I am not able to do it, unless Enki, the one who has the skill,
who can purify everything, supplies the clay for me to do it.
Enki opened his mouth and addressed the great gods:
On the first, seventh, and fifteenth day of the month  I will make a purifying bath.
Let one god be slaughtered so that all gods may be purified by dipping.
From his flesh and blood let Nintu mix clay;
let divine and human be mixed together in the clay;
so that we may ever more hear the drum* *(of service? or the drumming of the heart?)
let there be a spirit from the god's flesh, let it proclaim the living one  as its sign;
so that this may not be forgotten, let there be a spirit.*  *(this sentence is obscure and ambiguous)
In the assembly they answered Yes, the great divinities who administer destinies.
On the first, seventh, and fifteenth day of the month Enki made a purifying bath.
Then Geshtu-e*, who had spirit**, *(geshtu=hasîsu, ear, wisdom; e=qabû, speak; or We-ilu, cp. awilu 'man')
was slaughtered in their assembly. **(têmu: taste, intelligence, initiative, personality)
From his flesh and blood the goddess Nintu mixed clay.
For evermore they would hear the drum,
1.5    from the flesh of the god there was a spirit*;
it proclaimed the living one (man) as its sign,
and so that this would not be forgotten, there was a spirit.
After she had mixed that clay, she summoned the Anunnaki, the great gods;
the Igigi, the great gods put spittle on the clay.
Mami opened her mouth and spoke to the great gods:
The task you commanded, I have completed;
you have slaughtered a god together with his spirit*; *(personality, intelligence)
your heavy work I have now removed, your toil I have now imposed on humans.
You made a noise about wanting humankind*, *(or: have bestowed noise on humankind; cp. 1.7, irony?)
and so I have untied the yoke and set you free.
They listened to this speech of hers, then ran together and kissed her feet:
Formerly we called you Mami, now let your name be Belet-kala-ili (Mistress-of-all-the-gods).
They entered the house of destiny,  the artful Ea* and the sagacious Mami.    *(Enki) 

AV*    With the birth-goddesses assembled he trod the clay in front of her.     *(Assyrian Version)
Then, while she kept reciting the spell, Ea sat there prompting her.
After completing her incantation she nipped off fourteen pieces of clay.
Seven she put on the right  and seven she put on the left;
between them she set the brick*. . . .    *(some form of birthing-bed?)
BV    She invoked the wise and learned birth-goddesses, twice seven of them.
Seven produced males, seven produced females. . . .
They completed them in pairs, they completed them in pairs in her presence,
Mami, the birth-goddess, creatress of destiny, who drew up the plans for humanity. . . .
The birth-goddesses were assembled, and Nintu* sat counting the months.   *(Mami)
As the destined time, the tenth month was determined;
1.6    and when the tenth month came, the passing of the term opened the womb.
With her face radiant and joyous and her head covered, she performed the midwifery.
She girded her loins and pronounced the blessing;
she drew a plan in some flour and set the brick in place:
I have created, my hands have produced.
Let the midwife rejoice in the house of the holy woman*. *(qadishtu, 'holy woman': prostitute-priestess? or mother
taboo after birth?)
Where the pregnant woman gives birth, and the mother of the child severs herself,
for nine days let the brick be in place, so the birth-goddess Nintu may be honoured.
Keep on proclaiming Mami their [mother?], praising the birth-goddess and praising Kesh*.    *city of the mother-goddess
When the marriage-bed is laid, let wife and husband lie together.
When wife and husband are joined in wedlock
and they come to know Ishtar in the house of the father-in-law,
for nine whole days let joy be generated,
and let them call Ishtar (by her nuptial name) Ishkhara* *(goddess of love).
So men and women became the slaves of the gods. Fathers and sons were now the workmen of Enlil.
1.7    With pick and shovel they erected shrines, and built up great canal banks.
They produced food for people and sustenance for gods. . . .

The Plague from the Gods
Twelve hundred years had not gone by; the land had expanded and the people had multiplied.
The land was bellowing like wild oxen, and the god was disturbed by their uproar.
Enlil heard their noise and addressed the great gods:
The noise of humankind is too loud for me; with all their uproar I cannot go to sleep.
AV*    Command that there be a plague, let Namtar lessen their noise.     *(Assyrian Version)
Let sickness and disease, plague and pestilence, blast them like a tornado. . . .
The man Atrakhasis, a person of discernment, was in communication with his god Ea*, *(Enki)
he conversed with his god, and his god conversed with him,
Atrakhasis opened his mouth  and addressed Ea his lord:
Lord, humanity is groaning; this disease of yours is consuming the land;
Ea, lord, humanity is groaning; the disease from the gods is consuming the land.
It was you who created us, will you stop the sickness and disease, the plague and pestilence?
BV*    Enki opened his mouth and addressed his slave: . . .     *(Old Babylonian Version)
Command that heralds proclaim and noise it abroad in the land:
Do not worship your gods, do not pray to your goddesses,
but seek out the gate of Namtara* and set down a cake before it.
*(god of doom)
The sesame-meal offering may please him; he will be abashed at the gift and lift his hand.
Atrakhasis received the command  and gathered the elders to his gate.
Atrakhasis opened his mouth and addressed the elders: . . .
1.8    Command that heralds proclaim and noise it abroad in the land:
Do not worship your gods, do not pray to your goddesses,
but seek out the gate of Namtara and set down a cake before it. 
The sesame-seed offering may please him;  he will be abashed at the gift and lift his hand.
The elders paid heed to his words, and built a temple for Namtara in the city.
They commanded, and heralds proclaimed and noised it abroad in the land.
They did not worship their gods  and did not pray to their goddesses,
but visited the gate of Namtara and offered a cake before it.
The sesame-meal offering pleased him; he was abashed at the gift and lifted his hand.
The plague left them. . . .

The Famine from the Gods
2.1    Twelve hundred years had not gone by; the land had expanded  and the people had multiplied.
The land was bellowing like wild oxen,  and the god was disturbed by their uproar.
Enlil heard their noise and addressed the great gods:
The noise of humankind is too loud for me, with all their uproar I cannot go to sleep.
Cut off food supplies to the people, let plant-life to feed them be scarce;
let Adad above withhold his rain, and below let the flood not rise from the deep;
let the wind blow and parch the ground; let the clouds thicken but only drop drips;
let the fields lessen their yields, let Nisaba* seal up her breast. . . .   *(the grain-goddess)

2.2    In the ensuing famine Atrakhasis again entreated Enki, who repeated his previous advice.
They built a temple for Adad in the city.
They commanded, and heralds proclaimed and noised it abroad in the land.
They did not worship their gods and did not pray to their goddesses,
but visited the gate of Adad and offered a cake before it.
The offering of sesame-meal pleased him, he was abashed at the gift and lifted his hand.
In the morning he rained down a mist, and furtively rained down a dew in the night.
The fields furtively bore grain, [the famine] left them.

The  Renewal of the Drought
The clay tablets are badly damaged at this point but it seems that Enlil now begins to suspect that some god is deliberately frustrating his plans.
He orders a resumption of the drought and sets guards at each level of the world to ensure that no water escapes.


2.3    The noise of humankind has become too loud for me, with their uproar I can not go to sleep.
Command that Anu and Adad guard the upper realm, Sin and Nergal guard the middle earth,
and that Ea may guard, together with his plants, the bolt and bar of the sea
Thus no water or food escaped,. and the rigours of famine returned:
2.4    Above, Adad withheld his rain; below, the flood did not rise from the deep.
The womb of earth did not bear, plant-life did not sprout.
People were nowhere to be seen.
The black fields became white*, the broad plain was smothered in salt. *(irrigation salination)
For one year they ate grass*; for the second year they depleted the storehouse. *(or: the old grain)
The third year came and their features were distorted by hunger.
AV    On the arrival of the fourth year their long legs became short,
their broad shoulders became narrow, and they walked hunched up in the street.
On the arrival of the fifth year the daughter watched the mother go inside,
but the mother would not open her door to the daughter.
The daughter watched the scales (at the sale) of the mother,
the mother watched the scales (at the sale) of the daughter.
On the arrival of the sixth year they served up the daughter for dinner,
they served up the son for food. . . .

2.5    Again Enki accedes to the pleas of Atrakhasis and somehow the bolt barring the sea is broken and hoards of fish (one shar, 3600) are released to starving humanity. Enlil accuses him:
BV    I ordered that Anu and Adad should guard the upper regions,
that Sin and Nergal should guard the middle earth,
while I myself guard the earth below,
and that you should guard, together with your plants, the bolt and bar of the sea.
But you released an abundance to the people. . . .

The Deluge from the Gods
Enlil opened his mouth to speak and addressed the assembly of all the gods:
Come now, let us all take an oath to bring a flood.
Anu swore first, Enlil swore, his sons swore with him. . . .
Enki opened his mouth  and addressed the gods his brothers:
Why will you bind me with an oath? Am I to lay hands on my own people?. . . .
Am I to give birth to a flood? That is the task of Enlil. . . .
2.8    The gods commanded total destruction; Enlil committed an evil act against the people.

Enki now has to find a way around his oath of secrecy, and his subterfuge is to speak not directly to Atrakhasis but to the reed wall of his house, and it is thus the wall that is passing on the message.

3.1    Enki opened his mouth and addressed his servant:
You say, What am I to seek? Heed then the message I will speak to you:
Wall, listen now to me, reed wall, heed all my words:
Demolish the house, build a boat; spurn property and save life.
The boat that you are to build ... shall be roofed with sturdy covering like the Apsu;
to prevent Shamash* seeing inside it, have it roofed both over and under.*(the sun)
The tackle must be very strong, and the pitch tough to impart strength.
Soon I will rain down upon you an abundance of fowl, a profusion of fish*. *(a rain of fish does happen!)
[Observe the appointed time that I tell you;
enter the boat and close the door of the boat.
Send up into it your grain, goods and chattels,
your wife and family, your kinsfolk, and the master-craftsmen.
Creatures of the plains, all the wild creatures that eat grass,
I will send to you and they will wait at your door.]    (Babylonian fragment)
He opened the clock and filled it*;  *(with water or sand?)
he told him that the coming* of the flood would be on the seventh night.     *(or: sand)
Atrakhasis, having received the command, assembled his elders to his gate.
Atrakhasis opened his mouth and addressed the elders:
My god does not agree with your god; Enki and Enlil are angry with each other.
They have cast me out of [my house].
Since I am a worshipper of Enki, he told me of this matter.
I cannot live in [your country any more]; I cannot set my foot on the land of Enlil now. . . .
The people helped him build his boat.
The wood-worker carried his ax; the reed-worker carried his flattener made of stone;
the child carried the bitumen, the poor man brought what was needed. . . .
Lean animals and fat animals he stowed in it.
He caught and put on board the winged birds of the heavens. . . .
The moon disappeared. . . .
He invited his people . . . to a banquet.
He sent his family on board; they ate and they drank;
but he himself kept going in and out, he could neither sit nor squat,
because his heart was broken and he was spewing bile.
The aspect of the weather altered, as Adad roared in the clouds.
When he heard the noise made by Adad, pitch was brought for him to caulk his door.
After he had barred his door, Adad was roaring in the clouds;
the winds became ferocious as he rose to sever the hawser and set the boat adrift.
AV    The chariot of the gods ... was ravaging, slaughtering, threshing.
Ninurta caused the dykes to overflow, Errakal tore up the posts.
3.3    Anzu with his talons rent the heavens apart, shattering the land noisily like a pot.
BV    The flood set in . . ., its force came upon the people like an army.
People could not see one another; they could not be recognized in the disaster.
The flood bellowed like a wild ox, while the wind howled like a whinnying wild ass.
The darkness was thick, the sun* was gone. . . .  *(or: the god Shamash)
The noise of the flood caused the gods to tremble. . . .
[Enki] was beside himself, as his children were thrown down before him.
The lips of Nintu, the great lady, were overcome with feverishness*.*(or: N gnawed her lips
in anguish)
The Anunnaki, the great gods, sat hungering and thirsting.  
The goddess saw it as she wept, the midwife of the gods, wise Mami:
Let the day become dark, let it return to gloom.
In the assembly of the gods, how could I have joined them in commanding annihilation?
Enlil is sated with commanding abomination, like that vile Tiruru, he uttered abomination.
By my own deliberate choice, and to my own hurt, I listened to their noise.
My offspring have become like flies around me,
and I, like a dweller in a house of lamentation, my crying has ceased.
Shall I go up to heaven, as if to dwell in a treasure house*?    *(secluded? cloistered?)
Where has Anu the president gone, whose commands his divine sons obeyed,
he who without consideration brought on a flood and consigned the people to destruction? . . .
3.4    What? Have they given birth to the sea? (covered as it is with their bodies?)
They have filled the river like dragon flies.
Now like a raft they have put in to the edge,
like a raft landing (?) they have put in to the bank.
I have seen it and wept over them; I have exhausted my lamenting over them.
She wept and gave relief to her heart; Nintu wailed and quelled her emotion.
The gods wept with her for the land; she was sated with grief, and she thirsted for beer.
Where she sat, they sat also, weeping, like sheep crowded in a trough. (waiting for a drink)
Their lips suffered unquenched thirst, they endured cramp from hunger.
For seven days and seven nights the deluge, storm, and flood went on. . . .

[The description of the end of the flood is lost. Presumably, Atrakhasis (like Noah in Genesis and Utnapishtim in the  Gilgamesh Epic) sent birds out to test whether the waters had subsided. The story resumes where the hero has emerged from the  ship and is making an offering to the gods.]

3.5    The gods sniffed the fragrance and gathered like flies over the offering.
After they had eaten up the offering, Nintu arose to inveigh against  them all:
Where has Anu the president been? Did Enlil go to the incense too?
They who without consideration brought  a flood and consigned the people to destruction?
You decided on annihilation, and now their clear faces have become clouded.
Then she approached the large flies that Anu had made and was carrying:
His grief is mine! How determine my fate!
Let him get me out of this distress and open my face again. . . . (with 3.6 cp. Gilgamesh 11.4)
3.6    Let these flies be lapis lazuli jewels around my neck that I may remember [for evermore].
The stalwart Enlil saw the ship and was filled with anger against the deities*  *(Igigi):
All we great divinities* decided on an oath together.   *(Anunnaki)
Where did life make its escape? How did any human survive the destruction?
Anu opened his mouth and addressed the stalwart Enlil:
Who but Enki could have done this? . . .
Enki opened his mouth and addressed the great gods:
Indeed I did it in front of you, to preserve life. . . . (the lives of gods as well as humans?)
[The rest of Enki's statement is damaged or entirely lost (cp. Ea's words in Gilgamesh 11.4).]
Then Enlil opened his mouth and addressed Enki the artful:
Come then, summon Nintu, the birth-goddess, you and she shall confer in the assembly.
Enki opened his mouth and addressed Nintu, the birth-goddess:
You, the birth-goddess, creatress of destinies . . . .
[Enki's utterance is damaged, but apparently he is announcing a divine program of birth control]

3.7    Let only a third among the people come into being(?)
Let there be women who bear and women who do not bear.
Let there be among the people the pashittu-demon*,  *('she who wipes out')
to snatch the infant from the knees of the woman who gives birth.
Establish women in certain religious orders*  *(ugbabtu, entu, igisîtu)
and let it be taboo for them to bear children . . . .      (some 35 lines missing)
3.8    We sent the flood but a human survived the destruction.
You* are the governor of the gods; on your orders I* created strife. *(Enlil? cp. 1.1) *(Enki?)
For your praise let the Igigi deities hear this song and extol your greatness together.
To all peoples I sing of the flood. Listen now.

The end, third tablet, inuma ilu awilum (when the gods instead of humans), 300 lines,
total 1245 for the three tablets, by the hand of Nur-Aya, junior scribe,
month Ayyar, day [ ], year Ammi-saduqa was king. A statue of himself . . . .

NOTES

This narrative poem, conventionally known as The Epic of Atrakhasis, is an Akkadian composition from the seventeenth century B.C.E.. This date is derived from the fact that the scribe Nur-Aya, who produced the three clay tablets on which it is inscribed, lived in the time of King Ammisadduqa of Babylon (who reigned around 1700 B.C.E.). Nur-Aya probably lived in Sippar (between Babylon and Baghdad), from which the tablets almost certainly originated (1 and 3 are in the British Museum, and 2 is in New York) . Accordingly we may tentatively label the poem as the Cosmogony of Sippar. The patron deity of Sippar was the sun-god Shamash. Nur-Aya's name (which can also be read as Ku-Aya and various other possibilities) is made up of a word meaning "light, brightness" and Aya, the name of the consort of Shamash, so he was presumably a worshipper of this divine couple. Surprisingly, Shamash plays little part in the story (see 3.1 and 3.3, where translaters usually say 'the sun', impersonally). Shamash was the god of justice, and was involved in punishing offenders, but he is not specifically named as taking part in the 'evils' that the gods inflict on humans in this case (their offence is making too much noise and disturbing Enlil). The hero Atrakhasis is a devotee of Enki-Ea, god of wisdom and patron of the city Eridu.

Each of Nur-Aya's three tablets is divided into eight columns, four on the front and four on the back. As with the Gilgamesh epic, there is also a later Assyrian version which changes words and details.

The two main themes are the creation of humankind, and the attempted annihilation of the human race by the gods. The section on the creation of humans (as slaves to carry on the heavy work originally endured by the gods) seems to be modelled on the Sumerian myth of Enki and Ninmah: the Creation of Humankind ). By order of Enlil, whose sleep is disturbed by the noise of the teeming multitudes on the earth, the gods send a series of disasters to exterminate the noisy creatures. However, neither plague nor famine, nor drought, nor flood can eradicate the nuisance, because Enki-Ea always arranges for a devotee of his to survive with enough people to continue propagating the race. The survivor of each catastrophe bears the name Atrakhasis (atra-hasis, ultra-wise). In the epic of Gilgamesh the name is initially Uta-na’ishtim, and in the later version Ut-napishtim rûqu, apparently meaning 'the distant one (rûqu) who found (ûta) life (napishtim)', but at one point  he is called Atrakhasis (and here the writer of the later version apparently confesses the source of this part of his story). In a Sumerian account of the Deluge, the hero is is Ziusudra (zi-u-sud-ra, 'life of long days'), an ancient king of Shuruppak. In the third century B.C.E. a Babylonian priest with the Greek name Berossos wrote a book (in Greek) on Babylonian lore: he called the flood-hero Xisuthros, corresponding to Sumerian Ziusudra. In the Bible it is a man named Noah who is saved from the deluge sent by Yahweh (Genesis 5-9).

The final point of the Atrakhasis poem seems to be that the gods will in future seek to control human population numbers by such means as demons snatching new-born babies, a proportion of women being infertile, and some classes of priestesses being forbidden to bear children (for example, the entu or enetu, as in the case of Sargon of Agade, whose mother was an entu priestess who gave birth to him in secret).

Editions and Translations

W.G. Lambert and A.R. Millard, Atra-Hasis: The Babylonian Story of the Flood (Oxford 1969) 
 (transliterated Akkadian text of various Babylonian and Assyrian tablets, with introduction and translation).
Stephanie Dalley, Myths from Mesopotamia (Oxford 1991) 9-38.
Benjamin R. Foster, Before the Muses (Maryland 1993) I, 158-201.
 
 

Shamash the sun-god in his shrine at Sippar

 King Nabu-Polassar of Babylon (7th century BCE) escorted by a priest and a goddess. Note the symbol for Sun.