Myths: Ninurta, Imdugud, and the Tablet

Ninurta, Imdugud, and the Tablet: Part 1

1 The heroic storm god Ninurta was well known for his deeds even before this. He was a leader among the Anunna gods. Like Inanna, Ninurta flowed over warriors in battle giving them strength and ferocity. Even Gallu demons, a form of demon that never tired, feared his attacks.

2 Our story begins in the early days. The rivers had long been flowing across the land, but some parts of the order of the universe were still being organized. A storm had just raged across the land.

3 It was at this time that the Igigi gods gathered before Enlil, leader of the gods. They had seen something that their lord needed to know about in the aftermath of the storm.

4 “On the mountain of Hehe, a wooded mountain in the lap of the Anunna gods, there is a fearsome creature. This is the Imdugud bird, and it was born of the recent great flood that swept across the land and down the mountain.”

5 Enlil immediately took action based upon the information that had been presented by the Igigi gods. He traveled to the mountain to inspect the creature. With him was Enki, the wise and clever god of fresh waters.

6 The creature had the head of a lion and the wings of an eagle. His very form suggested aggression on earth and in the heavens. He had a roar like thunder and his talons were as strong as those of a lion.

7 “Where has this creature come from? What god or force gave birth to a creature of this ferocity?” Enlil was amazed at the raw power of the creature.

8 “No doubt the flood had brought up the pure waters deep under the earth.” Enki answered Enlil easily. “This is what gave birth to him. He was born in the rocks of the earth and his name is Imdugud.”

9 “And what should be done with him?” Enlil asked Enki to decide upon the destiny of the creature.

10 “Let him serve you ceaselessly, guarding your throne in your inner most chamber.” Enki could see how the Imdugud would make a natural guardian. For thousands of years after this, Imdugud would serve as a guardian for the people of the land. He and others like him would use Imdugud statues over door ways as vessels protecting the chambers within.

11 Enlil took the lion headed bird as a guardian. He reminded the bird every day of his duty. The Imdugud guarded the entrance to his inner chambers.

12 The bird enjoyed bathing in the pure waters of Enlil’s holy water basin. As he did this he enjoyed gazing at the finery of power. He gazed upon Enlil’s crown, robes, and particularly upon the Tablet of Destinies in Enlil’s hands.

13 Imdugud decided that he would take the trappings of power. In days gone by Enki had been instructed to set up the order of the universe. He recorded this order upon tablets and gave them to the gods who decreed fate. The mere possession of this tablet would give one the power of the gods who decreed fate. It was this power that Imdugud coveted. It would give him the power to predict and shape the future.

14 “I will take the Tablet of Destinies myself. I will gather the responsibilities of the gods for myself. I will have the throne for myself and with it I will have lordship over each and every one of the Igigi gods.”

15 Imdugud patiently waited for his opportunity to strike. He watched Enlil’s actions day after day and thought about how he would make off with the Tablet of Destinies. His opportunity finally came when Enlil was bathing in his holy water basin.

16 Enlil was not wearing his crown or robes, and he was not holding his tablet of destiny. His attention was focused upon making himself physically and ritually clean in the baptismal waters of his holy water basin.

17 Moving quickly Imdugud stole the Tablet of Destinies belonging to Enlil. this one action reversed the order of the universe. Imdugud now had the power of one of the gods who decreed fate. He soared off to his mountain where he determined to make his home.

18 Silence spread within Enlil’s chambers. Enlil was speechless. What had just happened was unthinkable. His inner most sanctum was stripped of its divine splendor.

19 All of the gods of the land gathered. What had happened was not just unthinkable, but it was also unacceptable. They needed to come up with a plan to reestablish the proper order of the universe as it had been decreed by the wise god Enki.

20 “Who will be the one to slay Imdugud and take back the Tablet of Destinies?” An, god of heaven and father to both Enlil and Enki, asked of the assembled gods. “Whoever does this will have his name spoken in every home.”

21 The first to be called was Ishkur the lord of irrigation. He was a powerful storm god, and his heroic exploits were well known among the shepherds through all of Sumer. Ishkur was one of An’s own children. He wielded lightning as a weapon, and he was master of the lion dragons.

22 The assembled gods addressed the god. “Ishkur, you are truly mighty. You have been victorious many times in the past. Would you now attack Imdugud with your weapon?”

23 “Father,” Ishkur addressed An as chief among the gods, “I am not so foolish as to attack a remote mountain. This Imdugud bird is more than a monster. He took the tablet of destiny from Enlil. His words are now holy and powerful. If he could turn anyone who went up against him to clay if he simply uttered the correct words.”

24 The gods were more than a little disappointed that this powerful god would not go up against the Imdugud bird. There were however other gods. There were many powerful warriors among the assembly of the gods.

25 The one that they turned to next was the fire god Gibil. He was a powerful destroyer, but he was more known for his talents at building. It was him that made the baking of both bread and bricks possible. He transported burnt offerings to the gods. It was by his fire that some of the strongest weapons in all of Sumer were forged.

26 “Will you use your weapon against the Imdugud bird? If you do, then your name will be known through the land.” The assembly asked him knowing that he was a mighty warrior, but fearing that he might say no.

27 He answered just as Ishkur had. He likened the Imdugud bird to a remote mountain. He told, as Ishkur had, that possession of the tablet of destinies would make the bird untouchable.

28 They then called to Shara who was An’s personal warrior. He was beloved of Inanna, and was called her son by some. It would explain his affinity for both the war goddess and the arts of war. More than this though, he was Inanna’s singer, manicurist and even her hairdresser. He was a perfect compliment to Inanna’s finer tastes as well as her warrior disposition.

29 Unfortunately, like Gibil and Ishkur before him, Shara would not lift his weapons up against the fearsome bird with a lion’s head and lion’s claws. He answered exactly as they had and the gods were forced to look to another hero.

30 The problem was that these were three of the greatest heroes. The Igigi gods held a council to discuss the problem. They debated the problem and, as is often the case with well crafted councils, the wisest one present came up with some of the most important thoughts. Enki, lord of wisdom who made his home deep within the Apsu, pondered the problem. He took his thoughts to the lord of heaven, An, his father, and Dagan, one of Enlil’s attendants.

31 “I believe I can find the hero you are seeking. Let me appoint the one who will be the conquerer of the Imdugud bird in the assembly.”

32 Hearing that Enki had an idea, the Igigi praised him. They knew how clever Enki was and knew that if he thought that there was a way that there actually was. Their spirits were raised.

33 Enki requested that An and Dagan bring a particular goddess to the front of the council. This goddess was named Ninmena. She was a goddess of motherhood who already was well respected among the gods. Enki had her brought forward so that all of the gods could honor her.

34 “Ninmena, you are a respected counselor among the gods,” Enki began praising her for her past accomplishments and for who she was. “You are one of our most respected sisters. We have known you as Ninmena, now we will also know you as mistress of all the gods.”

35 This statement recognized her ability to give good advice and teaching. It was now important to seek one who had benefited from that teaching. Ninmena had raised a singular warrior.

36 “We humbly request that you give us the warrior Ninurta and his weapon Sharur. He will be given a place as an adviser to this council and he will be given a central place of honor in many of the festivals of the great cities of Sumer.”

37 Ninmena consented to give her son over to this challenging quest. The assembled gods were true to their word. Ninurta had not yet returned the tablet to Enlil, but it had given hope to the gods.

38 When all was decided Ninmena spoke words of encouragement and advice to her son. Ninurta and Imdugud were both gods of storm. They were closely matched in many ways.

39 “Strike as hard as you can, but choose your moment carefully. You will need to strike him with your most brutal winds. Flood the land where he was born in order to bring chaos to his home. Attack him with poisoned arrows. Strike him with whirl winds and use a mist to obscure your features. Shroud him in darkness by building up the storms above him.”

40 She outlined several tactics that could be used against the thunder bird. Ninurta was a storm god, and most of the tactics that Ninmena suggested reflected this. Flashes of lightning mists and resounding darkness could be used to blind his opponent. Whirl winds and strikes of lightning were attacks that could move quickly to strike at an enemy.

41 Not all of the strategic advice had to do with storms. They were definitely a part of it, but it was more about knowing how to use them to the greatest advantage. Ninurta had a powerful sickle sword named Sharur who would give more tactical advice during the actual fight.

42 Ninurta headed out to the Hehe mountain to meet the Imdugud bird in battle. He took with him seven ill whirl winds. He was shaking with fury and was filled with anger.

43 Ninurta met Imdugud on the side of the mountain, but the Imdugud bird was ready. The bird covered the entire mountain with his aura. He roared like a lion as he did this. His fury knew no bounds.

44 “I have carried off the tablet of destiny. I have the power to change the duties of the gods.” Imdugud roared with the sound of a cyclone. “Who are you to come and challenge me? Explain yourself!”

45 “I am the upholder of the land of Kur as established by Enki the lord of destinies. I am here to avenge Enlil, and I am here to crush you.”

46 At this Imdugud shrieked from his mountain. The entire land grew dark under the clashing storms. The mountain was hidden from the light of Utu the sun god. Ishkur’s lightning struck here and there within the terrible storm, and he roared in the thunder cracks.

47 Within the clash of storms Ninurta clashed with Imdugud. Armor bathed in blood shoved. Within the storm of death a deluge of arrows fell down with the pouring rain. At this point the confusion of battle was at its greatest.

48 Ninurta chose this moment to knocked a single arrow into his bow. He was a mighty warrior and the hopes of An and Dagan were upon his shoulders. He loosed this arrow at Imdugud. The arrow did not strike Imdugud. It did not even come close. Instead, the arrow turned back and returned to Ninurta.

49 “Shaft, return to your thicket. Bow string return to your sheep. Bow return to the forest. Feather return to your bird.” Imdugud was able to make good his command because he held the tablet of destinies. He was like one of the seven and his decrees were carried out. Battle quickly begun to die down at this point. The charge was held back and Imdugud held his mountain.

50 Ninurta now needed to find out what had gone wrong and how to deal with it. Enki who was the most clever of the gods would be the one to ask. He drew forth Sharur, his sickle sword, and gave it a task.

51 “Tell Enki what you saw here. Tell him particularly of how Imdugud turned back the arrows.”

52 The sword Sharur praised the greatness of his master as was tradition and then did as he was told. He reported quickly to Enki what he had seen.

53 “My lord Ninurta and his forces had surrounded Imdugud. When the moment was right he launched an arrow against the bird.” Sharur told the exact phrase that the Imdugud bird had used and gave all of the details surrounding it.

54 Enki listened and thought the matter over. He then gave instructions and told Sharur to remember his words exactly. There was a major flaw in Imdugud’s tactic and the lord of fresh water saw it.

55 “Don’t over exert yourself as you will need to tire him out. Once he tires his wing tips will begin to drop. Cut off his wing tips and throw them in every direction. He will be distressed by the sight and will be momentarily speechless. Launch your arrows at this point making sure to use Imdugud’s feathers in one.”

56 Ninurta engaged in battle with Imdugud in an effort to tire his enemy out. Once the great bird’s wings dipped low enough, Ninurta took Sharur and cut off his wing tips. He let the feathers fly everywhere and prepared an arrow at this time.

57 Imdugud saw the arrow and commanded it as he had before. The arrow however did not fly back to it’s quiver. The arrow made with Imdugud’s own feathers returned to the bird taking the shaft along with it. It was at this point that Ninurta struck with his sword.

58 The tablet was returned to the gods. Enlil was restored to his place at the top of the pantheon. Ninurta was praised and given a place of honor among the gods for his heroic deeds. He set up his places of worship through the land of Sumer.

59 The order of the universe was restored, but the story did not end there. Imdugud had not been the only one to covet the tablet of destinies. He had simply been the most aggressive.

Ninurta, Imdugud, and the Tablet: Part 2

1 Sharur, Ninurta’s sickle sword, swung upwards. It struck the Imdugud bird soundly and caused him to drop the tablet of destinies. The tablet fell from the talons of the great thunder bird and it fell into the deep. All of the great hopes for power that the mighty bird had were taken from him and replaced with a feeling of bitter failure.

2 As master of the deep Enki took hold of it. He had originally crafted the tablet at the order of Enlil and he had been the one who had placed it in his hands. Enki stood to gain nothing from keeping power from his brother Enlil.

3 Imdugud fell to the ground and power fell from him. Ninurta and his sword were there when he fell. The great bird of aggression mourned for his own loss of power. He had come so close to greatness only to lose it.

4 “When you struck me on the orders of your mother, your weapon stripped me of the hopes that I had for power. The tablet of destinies fell from my hand into the great deep of the Absu. I lost everything.” Ninurta was taken aback by the words of the bird that he had defeated.

5 “You lost everything? What about me?” Ninmena asked. “When you were struck the tablet didn’t fall into my hands. I will not be one of those who decree destinies. I wont live luxuriously in a palace in the Absu like Enki.” Ninmena, the lady of the crown, was just as bitter even though she didn’t truly know the power that had never been hers.

6 The bitterness abounded. Enki was an expert at determining destinies, and he knew the sorts of plans that this bitterness would cause. A plot was afoot, and Enki knew about it instantly.

7 The Imdugud bird and Ninurta went to the palace of Enki in the Absu. Enki knew that the great hero was coming and greeted him as befitted a hero. Enki may have known was was being plotted, but the great gods judged people on what they had done and not what they might do in the future.

8 “Well done Ninurta. You are truly a hero. None of your brother gods could have accomplished what you managed to do easily with your mighty weapon.” Turning to the matter of the Imdugud bird that had stolen the great tablet of destinies, Enki decreed a terrible destiny. “As for the bird that your mighty weapon has struck from the sky, I decree that from now to the end of time you will always have your foot upon its neck. You will be able to defeat the Imdugud bird at any time.”

9 Ninurta had was gracious in his acceptance of these lavish decrees, but he wanted more. He was not content with a hero’s due. He wanted the tablet of destines and all of the power that it could grant him.

10 “The great gods should give you your strength and heroism its due as well,”Enki continued. He heaped praise on Ninurta just as he heaped decrees. “Enlil will grant you whatever you wish. You are so great a champion that Ninmena will never fashion your equal. Let your glory never be equaled, and let no god surpass your heroism.”

11 Ninurta acted graciously, but he was not happy with what was being promised to him. Enki had crafted the tablet of destiny. Enlil had commissioned it to govern the lives of the gods and man. Ninurta wanted this power for himself.

12 Envy turned to greed, and greed turned to rebellion. Ninurta set his sights on the four quarters of the world. Even he, with his sword and an army of demons, would not be able to take it by force, but clever rebellion might do the trick.

13 He told nobody of his plans as he wanted nobody to interfere with them. Enki was able to see the plan shaping in the future from within his home in the Apsu. There he gathered to him a deluge that would cause a flood.

14 Ninurta returned to Enki’s home, but was confronted by Enki’s minister Isimud. Ninurta would not submit to Isimud and so he raised his hand against him. Unhindered the storm god continued into Enki’s house in the Apsu.

15 Enki had crafted a turtle from clay that he had found in the deep. He placed him near the threshold of his home as a trap. When Ninurta entered the house the turtle bit him in the tendon.

16 “Explain this!” Enki demanded.

17 Ninurta being a powerful warrior was able to push back the turtle, but the turtle still had hold of his tendon. Enki commanded the turtle to dig a hole and pull the both of them in. Ninurta was unable to escape from the pit, and the turtle kept biting and clawing with its feet.

18 “You set out to kill me.” Enki told the storm god. “You’ve shot too high this time. You were granted a high position among the gods, but what has this brought you? You were given great strength and heroism. You wrought great destruction in the mountain, but how are you going to get out of this pit?”

19 Ninmena learned of her son’s plight promptly. She prostrated herself before Enki and begged him for her son’s freedom. She begged him to spare her son from his prison in the pit and offered many potential servants to him.


1 Ninurta did not lose his place among the gods. He was not held prisoner forever by Enki. We do not know what sort of bargain Ninmena and Enki struck, but Enki was always the protector of order. It would have been customary for some reasonable exchange.

2 Imdugud, the bird who stole destiny, was always seen over Enki’s shoulders here after. His kind of bird can also be seen on his own over door ways as a protector of the home. A mother Imdugud and her nest appeared later in the Gilgamesh myths.

3 Enlil and Enki continued in their place at the head of the pantheon.