Myths: Enlil and Ninlil

Enlil and Ninlil

1 The city of Nibru was prosperous and well developed. Its holy river was Id-sala. In this the city were wells, canals, and river quays, and there was much cultivated land. Enlil The lord of the wind was one of its young men. Ninlil was one of its young women, and Nisaba the goddess of grain was her wise mother.

2 “The river is holy, don’t bathe in it. Don’t walk along the canal bank.” Ningal’s mother advised her from the heart. “Enlil will look at you, his eye is sharp. He will want to have intercourse, he will want to kiss. He would be happy to get you pregnant, and when he is done he will simply leave you!”

3 But Ninlil bathed in the river, and as she walked along the canal bank Enlil looked at her. Enlil, the great mountain, noticed her and said “I want to have sex with you, I want to kiss you!”

4 He tried his best to convince her, but she would not submit. Ninlil was still worried about what her mother had told her. At the very least she did not want to get in trouble.

5 ” I am to small, I am to young,” She argued. “If my mother learned of it I would be punished. But right now, no one will stop me from telling this to my girlfriend!” Ninlil used this excuse to run and tell her friends.

6 After she departed Enlil summoned his capable minister Nuska and spoke to him regarding the young and beautiful Ninlil “Has anyone had intercourse, has anyone kissed her? She is so beautiful, so radiant.”

7 Nuska told Enlil all that he knew about the young woman. With the help of his loyal minister, Enlil came up with a plan that would allow Enlil to have sex with the woman.

8 Enlil, overcome by lust, entered his boat and Nuska directed them downstream toward Ninlil. They floated closer, and when Enlil saw her and he grabbed her. They took Ninlil in the boat some distance away.

9 Enlil got out of the boat and took Ninlil with him. Laying her on the bank he kissed her, caressed her and had intercourse with her. It was there on the bank at that moment that Nanna the mood god was conceived.

10 Later Enlil returned to the city, but as he was walking in the city he was confronted, and placed under arrest by the authority of his fellow gods. They shouted at him, �Enlil, you are unclean, get out of the city. We do not want people like you here.”

11 In accordance with the demands of the gods Enlil left the city, but he knew was not alone, as Ninlil was following him. Knowing she was close by, he could not resist his temptation, and he formed an idea.

12 “Gatekeeper,” he called to the man at the city gates, “if you should see a young women pass by, and if she should ask for me, you will tell her nothing.” The gatekeeper readily agreed, and that point Enlil reached out to his loyal servent who became an instrument of his will.

13 When shortly thereafter, Ninlil came along, she addressed the man standing quietly at the gate “Gatekeeper! Have seen your lord Enlil? When did he go by?”

14 “My lord Enlil has not talked to me lovely one.” Enlil’s words flowed through the mans mouth.

15 “I am carrying the child of the lord Enlil, your advances wont get you far.” Ninlil could see the intention of this one, and could hear the lust in his voice. “Enlil has just had sex with me, and as he is your lord so am I your lady!”

16 Upon hearing this Enlil was pleased, and he wanted to have her again. She resisted but he was determined. “My master’s seed can go to the heavens! I shall have you now, and it will be my son you will carry.”

17 When she saw a little of Enlil’s spirit in the eyes of this gate keeper she agreed, and in the chamber they lay down together. Here Nergal was conceived, he who would control access to the underworld, and for a time be a gatekeeper at one of its gates.

18 Again Enlil left and Ninlil followed. It seemed she could no more deny her need for him, then he could escape his lust for her. Enlil came to the Id-Kura, the river of the Underworld.

19 At the shore of this great river he met the boatman.* He reached out to the man of the river, he merged their wills when the boatman agreed to the suggestion. As Ninlil caught up she saw this solemn figure and approached.

20 “Man of the river,” she asked, “have you seen your lord Enlil? When did he go by?”

21 “My lord has not talked to me lovely one.” Enlil replied through the boatman’s mouth.

22 ” I am carrying the child of the lord Enlil, your advances wont get you far.” Ninlil replied again. Enlil has just had sex with me, and as he is your lord so am I your lady!”

23 “My lady?” Enlil as the man of the river smiled suggestively. “If you’re my lady then come over here so that I may caress you.” He laid her down by the river and it was here that the great lord who stretches measuring lines over the fields, was conceived.

24 Once more he would leave her, once more she would follow, and he would have her one more time. This time Silu-igi, the ferry boat man was chosen to conceive Enbilulu inspector of the canals. And so four sons were born to the young maid Ninlil. Ever after Ninlil would speak the praises of Enlil, and Enlil would return them.

What was Enlil’s crime?

Despite the modern literary fixation on rape, that wasn’t a major theme in Sumerian myth and literature. It wasn’t a taboo subject as it did show up in text from time to time, but it wasn’t a dominant theme like we see elsewhere.

What about this case? Did Enlil force himself on his bride to be? No. Simply put he did not. Further more Ninlil has seemed to be a devoted wife, and Enlil a faithful husband. Ninlil even acted to rescue her husband after he was sentenced to death for his crimes.

What exactly was his crime? There are a few possibilities. The first is that, being an arranged marriage, having sex outside of marriage was more than just a minor impropriety. An arranged marriage is something of a contract between the husband’s family and the wife’s family. Imagine if two rival nations had signed a landmark trade agreement, but before the agreement could be put into effect one major company from one nation took advantage of another from the other company. It could be seen as an act of war in some lights, and the only recourse would be to harshly punish the offending company.

Another possibility was that he was being punished for hurting a child. Again, being an arranged marriage, the most likely reason to wait for marriage is that one of them was not of age to be wed. That is to say that she wasn’t old enough. How old was she then? Well being a goddess it doesn’t translate to human years, but marriages in the Torah, the Christian Testament, and the Koran all have brides that are quite young, on the order of the early teens. On the flip side of the coin she might also be older than you think. Due to nutrition and other factors puberty happened in the late teen years.

Ninlil or Sud?

The Sumerian naming convention is fantastic when you think about it. When a king, Lugalbanda for example, takes office they often take a new name that tells you quite a lot about them. Lugal indicates his kingship, and Banda tells you something about his character. In other words, even gods we know little about can give us lots of information just from their names.

Ninlil means lady of the wind or “Queen of the Wind. In context we can probably discount “Prince of the Wind”. This speaks to her being the devoted wife of Enlil and a wind goddess in her own right.

What does Sud mean then? Well from the Halloran Lexicon:

sud, sù; su: v., to be/make remote, far away, lasting; to stretch; to wag (a tail); to rejoice, feel delight; to sip; to sprinkle; to strew; to furnish, provide; to immerse; to sink; to drown (reduplication class) (regularly followed by rá) (su4, ‘to grow up, multiply’, + éd, ‘to go out’).

adj., distant, remote; long (duration).

That name has a lot going on. Is she a youth waiting to become who she would come to be? Does the translation “Sink / Drown” have to do with the events at the man eating river? What about the translations “To Rejoice” and “To sprinkle”? As with many names, they are all relivant to greater or lesser extents, and they all tell just a little bit about her character. Wat is more, this is a myth that was meant to be spoken aloud. The specific symbol doesn’t matter so much as the word, and the Sumerians adored literary puns. This means that the other forms of Sud might also be relevant to her character.