I got a lot of reading done this week because I was looking at a lot of short pieces, and two of those were ‘The History of the Tummal’ and the Myths of Etana.
‘The History of the Tummal,’ another tidbit from the Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature is a very very short piece, chronicling the improvements kings made to the temple to Enlil in the city of Tummal. It’s quick, it’s to the point, and with little embellishment. The main thing that’s noteworthy is that Gilgamesh is mentioned in the text. We’ll be reading about him pretty soon actually.
However, the Myths of Etana are a bit of a fiddly thing, because they come from a whole lot of different fragments that tell the same story from a bunch of different city states around the same area. As a result, Inana is also referred to as Ishtar in the Babylonian versions and her name in other city states in others. The titular character, Etana is the antidiluvian (that’s your word for the day and means prior-to-the-flood for you logophiles out there) king of Kesh. His story is a redemption story, as it is centered around his search for a means to produce an heir for his kingdom, and in order to do so he has to involve himself with a snake and an eagle in order to fly up into the heavens to get the solution to his problem from Inana. Most of the places I’ve found this story have divided it up into two parts (I don’t know why because they clearly go together, in my opinion.) There’s the Myth of Etana portion, which discusses his problem and a long aside about the quarrel between the snake and the eagle, and then there’s the ‘Etana and the Goddess‘ portion where the eagle finally gets Etana to the heavens and he talks to Inana about his issues.
Overall, it’s quite sweet and a little sad. While it would be all too easy to portray the eagle as the villain of the piece, he’s actually a bit more complex for an older story like this. After eating the snake’s young in a long aside about their relationship where the eagle broke his oath despite his youngest chick begging him not to, the snake retaliates by causing the eagle to have it’s wings clipped, and then Etana comes along and rescues him, training him to fly again, and in return the eagle makes several attempts to take him to the heavens. They actually fail a couple of times, and in the end, when they make it, the eagle will not enter the city of the heavens with Etana because he’s lost his worthiness from breaking his oath. When Etana speaks to the goddess, it really spoke to me for some reason. Perhaps just how Etana in the story was trying to figure things out and not sure he got it and feeling like a fool the whole way through. Perhaps the myth of Etana is a story about a king, but it seems to me like something anyone could relate to. Perhaps that was why the fragments were found all over Sumeria.