The Atrahasis Epic

Atrahasis_001

The Epic of Atrahasis on a tablet from the British Museum, London (Britain). © British Museum

The Atrahasis Epic, named after its human hero, is a story from Mesopotamia that includes both a creation and a flood account. It was composed as early as the nineteenth century B.C.E. In its cosmology, heaven is ruled by the god Anu, earth by Enlil, and the freshwater ocean by Enki. Enlil set the lesser gods to work farming the land and maintaining the irrigation canals. After forty years they refused to work any longer. Enki, also the wise counselor to the gods, proposed that humans be created to assume the work. The goddess Mami made humans by shaping clay mixed with saliva and the blood of the under-god We, who was slain for this purpose.

The human population worked and grew, but so did the noise they made. Because it disturbed Enlil’s sleep, he decided to destroy the human race. First he sent a plague, then a famine followed by a drought, and lastly a flood. Each time Enki forewarned Atrahasis, enabling him to survive the disaster. He gave Atrahasis seven days warning of the flood and told him to build a boat. Atrahasis loaded it with animals and birds and his own possessions. Though the rest of humanity perished, he survived. When the gods realized they had destroyed the labor force that had produced food for their offerings they regretted their actions. The story breaks off at this point, so we learn nothing of the boat’s landing or the later Atrahasis.

The account has similarities to the Primeval History, including the creation of humans out of clay (see Genesis 2:7), a flood, and boat-building hero. For the text of the Atrahasis Epic see Pritchard (1969: 104-106). For a detailed study see W. G. Lambert and A. R. Millard, Atrahasis (Oxford: Clarendon Lambert, 1969).


Atrahasis & Human Creation
When the Gods did the work they grew weary and decided to create human beings.

This later Akkadian version of the flood story and the creation of humanity and fits between the Sumerian version and the Babylonian version in the Epic of Gilgamesh. The following excerpt is taken from Myths From Mesopotamia: Gilgamesh, The Flood, and Others, translated by Stephanie Dalley. It is related here for educational purposes only.

Another translation by B.R. Foster is available on this site here: Atrahasis: Mesopotamian account of the Great Flood


When the gods instead of man
Did the work, bore the loads,
The gods’ load was too great,
The work too hard, the trouble too much,
The great Anunnaki made the Igigi
Carry the workload sevenfold.
Anu their father was king,

Their counselor warrior Ellil,
Their Chamberlain was Ninurta,
Their canal-controller Ennugi.
They took the box of lots
Cast the lots; the gods made the division.

Anu went up to the sky,

And Ellil took the earth for his people.
The bolt which bars the sea
Was assigned to far-sighted Enki.
When Anu had gone up to the sky,
And the gods of the Apsu had gone below,
The Annunaki of the sky
Made the Igigi bear the workload.

The gods had to dig out canals,
Had to clear channels, the lifelines of the land.
The gods dug out the Tigris river
And then dug out the Euphrates.
…in the deep
…they set up
…the Apsu
…of the land
…inside it
…raised its top
…of all the mountains
They were counting the years of loads
…the great marsh,

They were counting the years of loads.
For 3,600 years they bore the excess,
Hard work, night and day.
They groaned and blamed each other,
Grumbled over the masses of excavated soil:

Let us confront our Chamberlain
And get him to relieve us of our hard work!
Come, let us carry the Lord
The counselor of the gods, the warrior from his dwelling.

Then…made his voice heard
And spoke to the gods, his brothers:

Come, let us carry
The counselor of the gods, the warrior, from his dwelling.
Come, let us carry Ellil,
The counselor of the gods, the warrior, from his dwelling.
Now, cry battle!
Let us mix fight with battle!

The gods listened to his speech,
Set fire to their tools,
Put aside their spades for fire,
Their loads for the fire-god.
They flared up.

When they reached the gate of warrior Ellil’s dwelling,
It was night, the middle watch,
The house was surrounded, the god had not realized.
When they reached the gate of warrior Ellil’s dwelling,
It was night, the middle watch,
Ekur was surrounded, Ellil had not realized.
 
Yet Kalkal was attentive, and had it closed,
He held the lock and watched the gate.
Kalkal roused Nusku.
They listened to the noise of the Igigi.
Then Nusku roused his master,
Made him get out of bed:

My lord, your house is surrounded,
A rabble is running around your door!
Ellil, your house is surrounded,

A rabble is running around your door!
Ellil had weapons brought to his dwelling.
Ellil made his voice heard
And spoke to the vizier Nusku,

Nusku, bar your door,
Take up your weapons and stand in front of me.

Nusku barred his door
Took up his weapons and stood in front of Ellil.
Nusku made his voice heard
And spoke to the warrior Ellil,
‘O my lord, your face is sallow as Tamarisk!
Why do you fear your own sons?
‘O Ellil, you face is sallow as Tamarisk!
Why do you fear your own sons?
Send for Anu to be brought down to you
Have Enki fetched into your presence.
He sent for Anu to be brought down to him,
Enki was fetched into his presence,
Anu, king of the sky was present,
Enki, king of the Apsu attended.
The great Anunnaki were present.
Ellil got up and the case was put.
Ellil made his voice heard
And spoke to the great gods:

Is it against me that they have risen?
Shall I do battle…?
What did I see with my own eyes?
A rabble was running around my door!

Anu made his voice heard
And spoke to the warrior Ellil

Let Nusku go out
And find out the word of the Igigi
Who have surrounded your door.
A command…
To…

Ellil made his voice heard
And spoke to the vizier Nusku,

Nusku, open your door,
Take up your weapons and stand before me!
In the assembly of all the gods,
Bow, then stand and tell them,
“Your father Anu,
Your counselor, warrior Ellil,
Your chamberlain Ninurta
And your canal-controller Ennugi
Have sent me to say,
Who is in charge of the rabble?
Who is in charge of the fighting?
Who declared war?
Who ran to the door of Ellil?”

Nusku opened his door,
Took up his weapons, went before Ellil
In the assembly of all the gods
He bowed, then stood and told the message.

Your father Anu,
You counselor warrior Ellil,
Your chamberlain Ninurta,
And your canal controller Ennugi
Have sent me to say
“Who is in charge of the rabble?
Who is in charge of the fighting?
Who declared war?
Who ran to the door of Ellil?”

Ellil…

Every single one of us declared war!
We have put a stop to the digging.
The load is excessive, it is killing us!
Our work is too hard, the trouble too much!
So every single one of us gods
Has agreed to complain to Ellil

Nusku took his weapons
Went and returned to Ellil

My lord, you sent me to…
I went…
I explained…

Saying “every single one of us gods
Declared war
We have put a stop to the digging.
The load is excessive, it is killing us!
Our work is too hard, the trouble too much,
So every single one of us gods
Has agreed to complain to Ellil!”

Ellil listened to that speech.
His tears flowed.
Ellil spoke guardedly,
Addressed the warrior Anu,

Noble one, take a decree
With you to the sky, show your strength-
While the Anunnaki are sitting before you
Call up one god and let them cast him for destruction

Anu made his voice heard
And spoke to the gods his brothers,

What are we complaining of?
Their work was indeed too hard, their trouble was too much.
Every day the Earth resounded.
The warning signal was loud enough, we kept hearing the noise.
…do
…tasks

While the Anunnaki are sitting before you
And while Belet-Ili the womb goddess is present,
Call up one and cast him for destruction!

Anu made his voice heard and spoke to Nusku

Nusku, open your door, take up your weapons,
Bow in the assembly of the great gods, then stand
And tell them…
“Your father Anu, your counselor warrior Ellil,
Your chamberlain Ninurta and your canal controller Ennugi
Have sent me to say
“Who is in charge of the rabble? Who will be in charge of battle?
Which god started the war?
A rabble was running around my door!

When Nusku heard this,
He took up his weapons,
Bowed in the assembly of the great gods, then stood
And told them

Your father Anu, your counselor warrior Ellil,
Have sent me to say,
“Who is in charge of the rabble? Who is in charge of the fighting?
Which god started the war?A rabble was running around Ellil’s door!


Ea made his voice heard
And spoke to the gods his brothers,

Why are we blaming them?
Their work was too hard, their trouble was too much.
Every day the earth resounded.
The warning signal was loud enough, we kept hearing the noise.
There is…
Belet-ili the womb goddess is present-
Let her create a mortal man
So that he may bear the yoke…
So that he may bear the yoke, the work of Ellil,
Let man bear the load of the gods!
Belet-ili the womb goddess is present,
Let the womb goddess create offspring,
And let them bear the load of the gods!

They called up the goddess, asked
The midwife of the gods, wise Mami,

You are the womb-goddess, to be the creator of Mankind!
Create a mortal, that he may bear the yoke!
Let him bear the yoke, the work of Ellil
Let him bear the load of the gods!

Nintu made her voice heard
And spoke to the great gods,

On the first, seventh, and fifteenth of the month
I shall make a purification by washing.
Then one god should be slaughtered.
And the gods can be purified by immersion.
Nintu shall mix the clay
With his flesh and blood.
Then a god and a man
Will be mixed together in clay.
Let us hear the drumbeat forever after,
Let a ghost come into existence from the god’s flesh,
Let her proclaim it as her living sign,
And let the ghost exist so as not to forget the slain god.

They answered “yes” in the assembly,
The great Anunnaki who assign the fates

On the first, seventh, and fifteenth of the month
He made a purification by washing.
Geshtu-E, a god who had intelligence,
They slaughtered in their assembly.
Nintu mixed clay
with his flesh and blood.
They heard the drumbeat forever after.
A ghost came into existence from the god’s flesh,
and she proclaimed it as his living sign.
The ghost existed so as not to forget the slain god.
After she had mixed that clay,
She called up the Anunnaki, the great gods.
The Igigi, the great gods,
Spat spittle upon the clay
Mami made her voice heard
And spoke to the great gods,

I have carried out perfectly
The work that you ordered of me.
You have slaughtered a god together with his intelligence.
I have relieved you of your hard work,
I have imposed your load on man.
You have bestowed noise on man,
You have bestowed noise on mankind.
I have undone the fetter and granted freedom.

They listened to the speech of hers,
And were freed from anxiety, and kissed her feet:

We used to call you Mami,
But now your name shall be Mistress of All Gods.

Far sighted Enki and wise Mami
Went into the room of fate.
The womb-goddesses were assembled.
He trod the clay in her presence;
She kept reciting an incantation,
For Enki, staying in her presence, made her recite it
When she had finished her incantation,
She pinched off fourteen pieces of clay,
And set seven pieces on the right,
Seven on the left.
Between them she put down a mud brick.
She made use of a reed, opened it to cut the umbilical cord,
Called up the wise and knowledgeable
Womb goddesses, seven and seven.
Seven created males,
Seven created females,
For the womb goddess is creator of fate.
He…them two by two,
…them two by two in her presence.

Mami made these rules for people:

In the house of a woman who is giving birth
The mud brick shall be put down for seven days.
Belet-ili, wise Mami shall be honored.
The midwife shall rejoice in the house of the woman who gives birth
And when the woman gives birth to the baby,
The mother of the baby shall sever herself.
A man to a girl…
…her bosom
A beard can be seen
On a young man’s cheek.
In gardens and waysides
A wife and her husband choose each other.

The womb goddesses were assembled
And Nintu was present. They counted the months,
Called up the Tenth month as the term of fates.
When the Tenth month came,
She slipped in a staff and opened the womb.
Her face was glad and joyful.
She covered her head,
Performed the midwifery,
Put on her belt, said a blessing.
She made a drawing in flour and put down a mud brick:

I myself created it, my hands made it.
he midwife shall rejoice in the house of the qadistu-priestess.
Whenever a woman gives birth
And the baby’s mother severs herself,
The mud brick shall be put down for nine days.
Nintu the womb goddess shall be honored.
She shall call their …”Mami”
She shall … the womb goddess,
Lay down the linen cloth.
When the bed is laid out in their house,
A wife and her husband shall choose each other.
Inanna shall rejoice in the wife-husband relationship
In the father-in-law’s house.
Celebration shall last for nine days,
And they shall call Inanna (Ishtar) “Ishhara”.
On the fifteenth day, the fixed time of fate
She shall call…


A man…
Clean the home…
The son to his father…

They sat and…
He was carrying…
He saw…
Ellil…
They took hold of…
Made new picks and spades,
Made big canals,
To feed people and sustain the gods.

600 years, less than 600, passed,????
And the country was as noisy as a bellowing bull.
The god grew restless at their racket,
Ellil had to listen to their noise.
He addressed the great gods,

The noise of mankind has become too much,
I am losing sleep over their racket.
Give the order that suruppu-disease shall break out,

Now there was one Atrahasis
Whose ear was open to his god Enki.
He would speak with his god
And his god would speak with him.
Atrahasis made his voice heard
And spoke to his lord,

How long will the gods make us suffer?
Will they make us suffer illness forever?

Enki made his voice heard
And spoke to his servant:

Call the elders, the senior men!
Start an uprising in your own house,
Let the heralds proclaim…
Let them make a loud noise in the land:
Do not revere your gods,
Do not pray to your goddesses,
But search out the door of Namtara.
Bring as baked loaf into his presence.
May he be shamed by the presents
And wipe away his hand.

Atrahasis took the order,
Gathered the elders to his door.
Atrahasis made his voice heard
And spoke to the elders:

I have called the elders, the senior men!
Start an uprising in your own house,
Let the heralds proclaim…
Let them make a loud noise in the land:
Do not revere your gods,
Do not pray to your goddesses,
But search out the door of Namtara.
Bring as baked loaf into his presence.
May the flour offerings reach him.
May he be shamed by the presents
And wipe away his hand.

The elders listened to his speech;
They built a temple for Namtara in the city.
Heralds proclaimed…
They made a loud noise in the land.
They did not revere their god,
they did not pray to their goddess,
But searched out the door of Namtara,
Brought a baked loaf into his presence
The flour offerings reached him.
And he was shamed by the presents.
And wiped away his hand.
The suruppu-disease left them.
The gods went back to their regular offerings.

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