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Summary of the Epic of Atrahasis

The conditions immediately after the Creation:


The translation offered here is adapted from the one by B.R. Foster. Translation:

Complaints of the Lower Gods
[1] When the gods were man
they did forced labour, they bore drudgery.
Great indeed was the drudgery of the gods,
the forced labour was heavy, the misery too much:

[5] the seven great Anunna-gods were burdening
the Igigi-godsnote with forced labour.
[21] The gods were digging watercourses,
canals they opened, the life of the land.
The Igigi-gods were digging watercourses
canals they opened, the life of the land.
[25] The Igigi-gods dug the Tigris river
and the Euphrates thereafter.
Springs they opened from the depths,
wells ... they established.
They heaped up all the mountains.
[Several lines missing]
[34]  ... years of drudgery.
[35] ... the vast marsh.
They counted years of drudgery,
... and forty years, too much!
... forced labour they bore night and day.
They were complaining, denouncing,
[40] muttering down in the ditch:
"Let us face up to our foreman the prefect,
he must take off our heavy burden upon us!
Enlil, counsellor of the gods, the warrior,
come, let us remove him from his dwelling;
[45] Enlil, counsellor of the gods, the warrior,
come, let us remove him from his dwelling!"
[Several lines missing]
[61] "Now them, call for battle,
battle let us join, warfare!"
The gods heard his words:
they set fire to their tools,
[65] they put fire to their spaces,
and flame to their workbaskets.
Off they went, one and all,
to the gate of the warrior Enlil's abode.
Insurrection of the Lower Gods
[70] It was night, half-way through the watch,
the house was surrounded, but the god did not know.
It was night, half-way through the watch,
Ekur was surrounded, but Enlil did not know!
[Several lines missing; the great gods send a messenger]
The Great Gods Send a Messenger
[132] Nusku opened his gate,
took his weapons and went ... Enlil.
In the assembly of all the gods,
[135] he knelt, stood up, expounded the command,
"Anu, your father,
your counsellor, the warrior Enlil,
your prefect, Ninurta,
and your bailiff Ennugi have sent me to say:
[140] 'Who is the instigator of this battle?
Who is the instigator of these hostilities?
Who declared war,
that battle has run up to the gate of Enlil?
In ...
[145] he transgressed the command of Enlil.'"
Reply by the Lower Gods
"Everyone of us gods has declared war;
We have set ... un the excavation,
excessive drudgery has killed us,
[150] our forced labour was heavy, the misery too much!
Now, everyone of us gods
has resolved on a reckoning with Enlil."
[The great gods decide to create man, to relieve the lower gods from their misery.]
Proposals by Ea, Belet-ili, and Enki
[a1] Ea made ready to speak,
and said to the gods, his brothers:
"What calumny do we lay to their charge?
Their forced labour was heavy, their misery too much!
[a5] Every day ...
the outcry was loud, we could hear the clamour.
There is ...

Belet-ili, the midwife, is present.
Let her create, then, a human, a man,
[a10] Let him bear the yoke!
Let him bear the yoke!
Let man assume the drudgery of the god."
Belet-ili, the midwife, is present.
[190] Let the midwife create a human being!
Let man assume the drudgery of the god."
They summoned and asked the goddess
the midwife of the gods, wise Mami
"Will you be the birth goddess, creatress of mankind?
[195] Create a human being, that he bear the yoke,
let him bear the yoke, the task of Enlil,
let man assume the drudgery of the god."
Nintu made ready to speak, note
and said to the great gods:
[200] "It is not for me to do it,
the task is Enki's.
He it is that cleanses all,
let him provide me the clay so I can do the making."
Enki made ready to speak,
[205] and said to the great gods:
"On the first, seventh, and fifteenth days of the month,
let me establish a purification, a bath.
Let one god be slaughtered,
then let the gods be cleansed by immersion.
[210] Let Nintu mix clay with his flesh and blood.
Let that same god and man be thoroughly mixed in the clay.
Let us hear the drum for the rest of the time.
[215] From the flesh of the god let a spirit remain,
let it make the living know its sign,
lest he be allowed to be forgotten, let the spirit remain."
The great Anunna-gods, who administer destinies,
[220] answered "yes!" in the assembly.

The Creation of Man
On the first, seventh, and fifteenth days of the month, note
he established a purification, a bath.
They slaughtered Aw-ilu, who had the inspiration, in their assembly.
[225] Nintu mixed clay with his flesh and blood.
That same god and man were thoroughly mixed in the clay.

For the rest of the time they would hear the drum.
From the flesh of the god the spirit remained.
It would make the living know its sign.
[230] Lest he be allowed to be forgotten, the spirit remained.
After she had mixed the clay,
she summoned the Anunna, the great gods.
The Igigi, the great gods, spat upon the clay.
[235] Mami made rady to speak,
and said to the great gods:
"You ordered me the task and I have completed it!
You have slaughtered the god, along with his inspiration.
[240] I have done away with your heavy forced labour,
I have imposed your drudgery on man.
You have bestowed clamor upon mankind.

I have released the yoke, I have made restoration."
They heard this speech of hers,
[245] they ran, free of care, and kissed her feet, saying:
"Formerly we used to call you Mami,
now let your name be Belet-kala-ili:"note

[The human population increases and their noise disturbs the gods, who decide to wipe out mankind. The god Enki, however, sends a dream to Atrahasis. When the text resumes, Enki is still speaking.]

Enki explains Atra?asis' dream
[i.b35] "Enlil committed an evil deed against the people."
[i.c11] Atra?asis made ready to speak,
and said to his lord:
"Make me know the meaning of the dream.
let me know, that I may look out for its consequence."
[i.c15] Enki made ready to speak,
and said to his servant:
"You might say, 'Am I to be looking out while in the bedroom?'
Do you pay attention to message that I speak for your:
[i.c20] 'Wall, listen to me!
Reed wall, pay attention to all my words!
Flee the house, build a boat,
forsake possessions, and save life.
[i.c25] The boat which you build
... be equal ...
Roof her over like the depth,
[i.c30] so that the sun shall not see inside her.
Let her be roofed over fore and aft.
The gear should be very strong,
the pitch should be firm, and so give the boat strength.
I will shower down upon you later
[i.c35] a windfall of birds, a spate of fishes.'"
He opened the water clock and filled it,
he told it of the coming of the seven-day deluge.

Atra?asis and the Elders
Atra?asis received the command.
He assembled the Elders at his gate.
[i.c40] Atra?asis made ready to speak,
and said to the Elders:
"My god does not agree with your god,
Enki and Enlil are constantly angry with each other.
They have expelled me from the land.
[i.c45] Since I have always reverenced Enki,
he told me this.
I can not live in ...
Nor can I set my feet on the earth of Enlil.
I will dwell with my god in the depths.
[i.c50] This he told me: ..."
Construction of the Ark
[ii.10] The Elders ...
The carpenter carried his axe,
the reedworker carried his stone,
the rich man carried the pitch,
the poor man brought the materials needed.

[Lacuna of about fifteen lines; the word Atra?asis can be discerned.]

Boarding of the Ark
[ii.29] Bringing ...
[ii.30] whatever he had ...
Whatever he had ...
Pure animals he slaughtered, cattle ...
Fat animals he killed. Sheep ...
he choose and and brought on board.
[ii.35] The birds flying in the heavens,
the cattle and the ... of the cattle god,
the creatures of the steppe,
... he brought on board

[ii.40] he invited his people
... to a feast
... his family was brought on board.
While one was eating an another was drinking,
[ii.45] he went in and out; he could not sit, could not kneel,
for his heart was broken, he was retching gall.

The outlook of the weather changed.
Adadnote began to roar in the clouds.
[ii.50] The god they heard, his clamor.
He brought pitch to seal his door.
By the time he had bolted his door,
Adad was roaring in the clouds.
The winds were furious as he set forth,

[ii.55] He cut the mooring rope and released the boat.

The Great Flood
[iii.5] ... the storm
... were yoked
Anzu rent the sky with his talons,
He ... the land
[iii.10] and broke its clamor like a pot.
... the flood came forth.
Its power came upn the peoples like a battle,
one person did not see another,
they could not recognize each other in the catastrophe.
[iii.15] The deluge bellowed like a bull,
The wind resounded like a screaming eagle.
The darkness was dense, the sun was gone,
... like flies.
[iii.20] the clamor of the deluge.

[Lacuna. The gods find themselves hungry because there are no farmers left and sacrifices are no longer brought. When they discover that Atrahasis has survived, they make a plan to make sure that the noise will remain within limits: they invent childbirth, infant mortality, and celibacy.]
Mankind Punished
[iii.45] Enki made ready to speak,
and said to Nintu the birth goddess:
"You, birth goddess, creatress of destinies,
establish death for all peoples!
[iii.d1] "Now then, let there be a third woman among the people,
among the people are the woman who has borne
and the woman who has not borne.
Let there be also among the people the pasittu (she-demon):
[iii.d5] Let her snatch the baby from the lap who bore it.
And establish high priestesses and priestesses,
let them be taboo,note and so cut down childbirth."

Atrahasis I: Creation of Humans
This story we have of the Epic of Atrahasis comes from an early Babylonian version of about 1700 BC, but it certainly dates back to Sumerian times. It combines the basic Sumerian ideas on the creation of mankind and on the subsequent flood – the Great Deluge.
On one of the Sumerian king-lists, Atrahasis is listed as king of Shuruppak in the years before the flood. The name Atrahasis means "Extra-wise.” The narrative begins before the time of Atrahasis with the gods digging ditches. (Men do not exist yet).

The gods had to dig out the canals
Had to clear channels, the lifelines of the land,
The gods dug out the Tigris River bed
And then they dug out the Euphrates.

After all this work, the gods finally begin to complain. They decide to go on strike, burning their tools and surrounding the chief god Enlil's "dwelling" (his temple).

Enlil's vizier Nusku gets Enlil out of bed and alerts him to the angry mob outside. Enlil is scared. (His face is described as being "sallow as a tamarisk.") The vizier Nusku advises Enlil to summon the other great gods, especially Anu (sky-god) and Enki (the clever god of the fresh waters). Anu advises Enlil to ascertain who is the ringleader of the rebellion. They send Nusku out to ask the mob of gods who is their leader. The mob answers, "Every single one of us gods has declared war!"

The gods in charge realise that the work of the lower-class gods “was too hard”, so they decide to sacrifice one of the rebels as a “stem cell donor” and to make mankind by mixing the gods flesh and blood with clay.

Belit-ili the womb-goddess is present,
Let the womb-goddess create offspring,
And let man bear the load of the gods! (Dalley 14-15)
After Enki instructs them on purification rituals for the first, seventh and fifteenth of every month, the gods slaughter Geshtu-e, "a god who had intelligence" (his name means "ear" or "wisdom") and form mankind from his blood and some clay.
After the birth goddess mixes the clay, all the gods troop by and spit on it. Then Enki and the womb-goddess take the clay into "the room of fate," where
The womb-goddesses were assembled
He [Enki] 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.

The creation of man seems to be described here as being analogous or similar to the process of making bricks: tread (knead) the clay and then pinch off pieces that will become bricks. Here, the seven pieces on the right become males and the seven pieces on the left become females. The brick between the two may be a symbol of the foetus, for when the little pieces of clay are ready to be "born," their birth is described like this:
When the tenth month came,
She [birth-goddess] slipped in a staff and opened the womb.
Just as you put a wooden spatula into a beehive-shaped brick oven to remove the bricks (like getting the pizza out when it's done), the womb-goddess or midwife uses a staff to check to see if the womb has dilated enough for birth. After the seven men and seven women are born, the birth-goddess gives rules for celebrations at birth: they should last for nine days during which a mud brick should be put down. After nine days, the husband and wife could resume conjugal relations.

Atrahasis II: Disease, Famine, and Flood
The gods' solution to their difficulties works well: men make new picks and spades and dig bigger canals to feed both themselves and the gods. But after 1200 years the population has increased so much that Enlil has trouble sleeping:
The country was as noisy as a bellowing bull
The God grew restless at their racket,
Enlil 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 surrupu-disease shall break out.'

The plague breaks out, but the wise Atrahasis appeals to his god Enki for help. Enki advises Atrahasis to have the people stop praying to their personal gods and to start praying and offering sacrifices the plague god, Namtar. Namtar is so shamed by this show of attention that he wipes "away his hand" and the plague ends.

After another 1200 years, mankind has again multiplied to the point where they are violating Enlil's noise ordinances. This time Enlil decides on a drought to reduce their numbers, and gets Adad, the thunder-rain god, to hold back the rains. Again Atrahasis appeals to Enki, and again he advises concentrating worship on the one god responsible. Adad is also embarrassed, and releases his rain.

Another 1200 years goes by and the noise becomes tremendous. This time, Enlil wants to make sure that no one god can weaken his/her resolve, so he declares "a general embargo of all nature's gifts. Anu and Adad were to guard heaven, Enlil the earth, and Enki the waters, to see that no means of nourishment reach the human race”. In addition, Enlil decrees infertility: "Let the womb be too tight to let the baby out".

When the second year arrived
They had depleted the storehouse.
When the third year arrived
The people's looks were changed by starvation.
When the fourth year arrived
Their upstanding bearing bowed,
Their well-set shoulders slouched,
The people went out in public hunched over.
When the fifth year arrived,
A daughter would eye her mother coming in;
A mother would not even open her door to her daughter. . . .
When the sixth year arrived
They served up a daughter for a meal,
Served up a son for food. (Dalley 25-26)

Though the tablets are broken and the text is fragmentary here, it seems that Enki foils the complete starvation plan by letting loose large quantities of fish to feed the starving people. Enlil is furious with Enki for breaking ranks with the rest of the gods and going against a plan that all had agreed to.

Determined to wipe out mankind, Enlil decides on two things: Enki will create a flood to wipe them out and he will be forced to swear an oath not to interfere with the destruction. Enki resists creating the flood ("Why should I use my power against my people? . . . / This is Enlil's kind of work!", but apparently he does take the oath.

After another break, the text resumes with Enki addressing Atrahasis) to warn him of the impending flood. Actually, Enki speaks to the walls of Atrahasis' reed hut so as not break the letter of his oath:

Wall, listen constantly to me!
Reed hut, make sure you attend to all my words!
Dismantle the house, build a boat, . . .
Roof it like the Apsu
So the sun cannot see inside it!
Make upper decks and lower decks,
The tackle must be very strong,
The bitumen [a kind of tar] strong . .

Atrahasis gathers the elders of Shuruppak and makes up an excuse to leave town: he says that Enki and Enlil are angry with each other and that Enki has commanded him to go down to the water's edge. Which he does, and there he builds his boat and fills it with every type of animal and his family.
Adad begins to thunder, and sick with impending doom ("his heart was breaking and he was vomiting bile"), Atrahasis seals up the door of the boat with bitumen. The storm and flood turn out to be more than the gods bargained for:

Like a wild ass screaming the winds howled
The darkness was total, there was no sun. . . .
As for Nintu the Great Mistress,
Her lips became encrusted with rime.
The great gods, the Annuna,
Stayed parched and famished.
The goddess watched and wept . .

The great mother goddess complains bitterly about Enlil and Anu's shortcomings as decision-makers, and she weeps for the dead humans who "clog the river like dragonflies."

Also, "she longed for beer (in vain)." Now it is the gods' turn to go hungry: "like sheep, they could only fill their windpipes with bleating. / Thirsty as they were, their lips / Discharged only the rime of famine”.

After seven days and nights of rain, the flood subsides, and Atrahasis disembarks and offers a sacrifice. The hungry gods smell the fragrance and gather "like flies over the offering." In a mutilated passage, the great goddess swears by the flies in her necklace that she will remember the flood.
Enlil spots the boat and is furious, knowing that only Enki could have been clever enough to come up with this new trick. Enki admits that he warned Atrahasis, "in defiance" of Enlil: "I made sure life was preserved”.

Then apparently Enki persuades Enlil to adopt a more humane plan for dealing with the population and noise problem. Enki and the womb-goddess Nintu decide that henceforth one-third of the women will not give birth successfully: a pasittu demon will "snatch the baby from its mother's lap”. They also create several classes of temple women who are not allowed to have children.