Mesopotamian Myths, 3 Famous Gods and Legends

The Mesopotamians were very religious, and their civilizations shared the same deities with different Mesopotamian identities, names and myths.

Mesopotamia mythology
Mesopotamia Mythology

Mesopotamian Myths

Sumerian mythology refers to Mesopotamian myths, religious texts, and other literature that come from the region of ancient Mesopotamia in modern western Asia. In particular, the societies of Sumer, Akkad and Assyria, all of which existed shortly after 3000 B.C. and mostly disappeared by A.D. 400.

Mesopotamia map
Map of Mesopotamian influence

These works were preserved mainly on stone or clay tablets and were written in cuneiform script by scribes. Several long pieces have survived, some of which are considered the oldest histories in the world, and have given historians insight into Mesopotamian ideology and cosmology.

To shed some light on Mesopotamian mythology, here we will show you 3 famous Mesopotamian myths and their goddesses from the Mesopotamian pantheon.

1.  Ereshkigal or Irkalla, the Goddess of the Underworld

In Mesopotamian myths, Ereshkigal or Irkalla was considered the queen of the land of the dead. Her name Irkalla is the equivalent of Hades in Greek mythology. Both Irkalla and Hades are the names of the territory of the underworld and its gods. In literature, she is known as Ninkigal, meaning “Lady of the Great Earth“. She was the unsurpassed lady who spread statutes or presented judgments in the world of the dead.

The decline of the goddess Inanna to the world of the dead (underworld) is one of the two Mesopotamian myths that follow the Irkalla stories. Inanna travels to the underworld in order to extend her powers. When the water god Enki, is informed about it, he orders the gatekeeper named Neti to close all the gates and open them one at a time, while Inanna takes off her garments.

Neti follows these instructions, and when Inanna arrives at the throne, she is naked and helpless. Inanna is found guilty by the seven judges and sentenced to death, her corpse to be hung on a hook for all to see. When Ninshubur, Inanna’s second-in-command, pleads with Ereshkigal, she agrees to help Inanna.

Relief of Ereshkigal

According to Mesopotamian myths, She sends two sexless creatures to revive her younger sister with food and water. As they attempt to bring her out of the underworld, two demons come and ask for someone else as her replacement. When Inanna discovers that her husband did not mourn her death, she tells the demons to take him instead. Ereshkigal brings Inanna back to life.

Another Mesopotamian myth tells of her marriage to Nergal, who was the god of plague. Being the goddess of the underworld, she sent her messenger Namtar, who was treated well by all the gods and goddesses except Nergal. As a result, Nergal was rejected by the other goddesses and the only goddess left for him to marry was Ereshkigal. He later married her and they ruled the underworld together.

2. Marduk

According to Mesopotamian myths it is said that Marduk was not always the main god. There was a time when all the gods were equal. But there was strife among them. One in particular, known as Tiamat, was evil and hated the rest of the gods. This evil god was very powerful and the other gods were afraid of him.

One of the other gods developed a plan. Ea, the god of water, knew that Marduk could defeat Tiamut. So Ea went to Marduk and asked him if he would be willing to fight Tiamut.

Marduk thought about it and asked himself what if something went wrong? What if she captured him or even killed him? It had to be worth his efforts. So Marduk returned to Ea with a deal. He would fight Taimat if the rest of the gods would make him the chief god forever.

Then the goddess Ea gathered the other gods and feasted them with many delights, after the other gods were satisfied Ea proposed to them the idea that Marduk would be the main god after defeating Tiamut. They agreed. Then Ea returned to Marduk and let him know that if Marduk defeated Tiamat, he would be the chief god forever.

Marduk took a bow and arrows, his thunder mallet, his storm net and his trademark lightning dagger and set out to defeat Tiamat. The fight that followed was stupendous. The battle raged for days with Marduk slaying monsters and demons left and right. Finally he got close enough to Tiamat to be able to cast his net over her. Trapped, Tiamat turned to destroy Marduk with a magical killing scream.

Mesopotamian Myths
God Marduk

The god Marduk was quicker and shot an arrow down her throat killing her. He then cut her body in half and placed it in the heavens guarded by the twinkling lights we call stars and made sure the moon was there to watch over her. The rest he turned into the earth.

It is interesting to note in this Mesopotamian myth that Marduk had to get the consent of the assembly of gods to confront Tiamat. This is a reflection of how the people of Babylon were ruled in Mesopotamian mythology.

According to Mesopotamian myths, the government of the gods was organized in the same way as the government of the people. All the gods reported to Marduk just as all the nobles reported to the king. And Marduk had to listen to the assembly of gods just as the king had to listen to the assembly of people.

3. Legend of Gilgamesh

One of the greatest cities of ancient Sumer was the city of Uruk from Mesopotamian mythology. Legend has it that once upon a time, on the banks of the Euphrates, in the great city of Uruk, there lived a king named Gilgamesh. He was a great hero who strove for eternal life.

The Mesopotamian myths tell the many adventures of this hero, the story begins when the gods send a wild man named Enkidu, to challenge Gilgamesh. At first this wild man lived in the rural jungle, dwelling with animals.

He was partially civilized by a temple priestess named Shamhat, who took care of him. This woman seduces him and teaches him to eat like a human being. Enkidu then goes to Uruk and meets Gilgamesh and they fight. During the fight these two opponents become best friends.

Mesopotamian Myths
King Gilgamesh

The first half of the Mesopotamian myths and epics concern the adventures of Gilgamesh and Enkidu. They conquer and kill the monster Humbaba, which the gods had placed over the Cedar Forest.

The second half of Mesopotamian myths and epics expose Gilgamesh seeking immortality as he deeply mourns the death of his friend Enkidu and worries about his own. He searches for Utnapishtim, an immortal man who survived the Great Flood, a precursor to the biblical Noah or deucalion. Gilgamesh eventually finds Utnapishtim, who tells him to accept his mortality since he cannot change it. Gilgamesh then returns to Uruk and becomes a good king.

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