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POEMS IN POSTHUMAN AKKADIAN
written by General Totleben
© Ivan Stanev, executor testamentarius
Read ANZU KLEPTOMANIAC h e r e
Ninurta, Sharur, Anzû, talking mace, Tablet of Destinies, arrow of time
Zu, also known as Anzû and Imdugud in Persian and Sumerian (from An “heaven” and Zu “far”, in the Sumerian language) is a lesser divinity of Akkadian mythology, and the son of the bird goddess Siris. He is also said to be conceived by the pure waters of the Apsu-gods and the wide Earth. Both Zu and Siris are seen as massive birds who can breathe fire and water, although Zu is alternately seen as a lion-headed eagle (like a reversed griffin).
Anzû was a servant of the chief sky god Enlil, guard of the throne in Enlil’s sanctuary, (possibly previously a symbol of Anu), from whom Anzû stole the Tablet of Destinies, so hoping to determine the fate of all things. In one version of the legend, the gods sent Lugalbanda to retrieve the tablets, who in turn, killed Anzû. In another, Ea and Belet-Ili conceived Ninurta for the purpose of retrieving the tablets. In a third legend, found in The Hymn of Ashurbanipal, Marduk is said to have killed Anzu.
In Sumero-Akkadian mythology, Anzû is a divine storm-bird and the personification of the southern wind and the thunder clouds. This demon, half man and half bird, stole the “Tablets of Destinies” from Enlil and hid them on a mountaintop. Anu ordered the other gods to retrieve the tablets, even though they all feared the demon.
Tablet of Destinies
In Mesopotamian mythology, the Tablet of Destinies was envisaged as a clay tablet inscribed with cuneiform writing, also impressed with cylinder seals, which, as a permanent legal document, conferred upon the god Enlil his supreme authority as ruler of the universe.
In the Sumerian poem ‘Ninurta and the Turtle‘ it is the god Enki, rather than Enlil, who holds the tablet. Both this poem and the Akkadian Anzû poem concern the theft of the tablet by the bird Imdugud (Sumerian) or Anzû (Akkadian). Supposedly, whoever possessed the tablet ruled the universe.
Ninurta, Sharur, Anzû
Ninurta (Nin Ur: Lord of the Earth/Plough) in Sumerian and Akkadian mythology was the god of Lagash, identified with Ningirsu with whom he may always have been identical. In older transliteration the name is rendered Ninib and in early commentary he was sometimes portrayed as a solar deity.
Ninurta often appears holding a bow and arrow, a sickle sword, or a mace named Sharur. Sharur is capable of speech in the Sumerian legend “Deeds and Exploits of Ninurta” and can take the form of a winged lion and may represent an archetype for the later Shedu.
Ninurta, god of victory
Ninurta, god of victory, occupied a splendid temple right next to the royal palace. It was one of the first of Kalhu’s buildings to be completed, reflecting this deity’s importance for Assyrian kingship. But as mythical rescuer of the Tablet of Destinies from the evil Anzu bird, he also had a link to scholarly life. Ninurta may also be the origin of the modern site-name Nimrud.
Mythical hero, conquerer of chaos: Ninurta and the Tablet of Destinies
In Babylonia, people had worshipped Ninurta since at least the mid-third millennium BC. His main temple, Ešumeša, was in the Babylonian city of Nippur. There in the south he was primarily a deity of agriculture and son of the great god Ellil. Many myths and hymns described how he overcame forces of chaos to bring order, and farming, to the natural world.
Three of them were widely copied in Assyria too:
Ninurta’s Exploits (Lugale)
Ninurta’s Return to Nippur (Angim dimma)
The Myth of Anzû
Anzû, the eagle with a lion’s head who is the incarnation of chaos, is one of the most frequently occurring Mesopotamian monsters in both written and visual sources. He appears in many epics, written in both Sumerian and Akkadian.
The Myth of Anzû is the most widespread, and is also frequently referred to in other epics, such as Erra and Išum. It is written in Akkadian and belongs to a series of tales usually known by modern scholars as the “Ninurta Cycle”, whose main protagonist is the warrior god, son of Ellil.
The first version of the Anzû myth probably dates from the early second millennium BC, but many copies, including the Huzirina manuscripts, date from the Neo-Assyrian period, i.e., the 8th and 7th centuries BC. This late version covers three Tablets and runs to approximately 550 lines.
Tablet 1 portrays Anzû watching at Ellil. He steals the “Tablet of Destinies”, on which the nature and fate of all living beings is written, while Ellil is having a bath. Anzu then flees to the mountains, where he lives, and silence falls upon the world.
In Tablet 2, Ninurta is eventually sent against Anzû. But he and his companions have the greatest difficulties in fighting Anzû. Thanks to Anzû’s knowledge of the nature of all things and living beings, he uses incantations to turn back time and make the arrows revert to their constituent parts (see STT 1, 19). Ninurta then seeks Ea’s advice, who suggests cutting Anzû’s wings. Anzû will then utter an incantation to bring back his wings and feathers, but will fail because the wings are stuck to the ground with the arrows.
Tablet 3 shows how Ninurta kills Anzu, following Ea’s guidance, and reclaims the “Tablet of Destinies”. But at this point, it seems that he refuses to give it back to Ellil. Unfortunately the passage is very fragmentary in all surviving manuscripts. However, when the story starts again, Ninurta is back with Ellil and has returned the Tablet. He is then celebrated by the other gods and he is called by different names referring to his life, deeds and powers, just as the god Marduk is in the final Tablet of Enūma Eliš.
Anzû in particular resonated with Assyrian court scholars as it accounted for the fundamentally negotiable nature of the divinely determined future. Omens were not predictors of a fixed fate but an advance warning system of the gods’ intentions for Assyria. A well judged supplication or lamentation ritual could persuade them to rewrite the Tablet of Destinies in the empire’s favour. Conversely, if events did not turn out as predicted, then that was because the Tablet had been altered meanwhile.
Languages / scripts used: Sumerian, Akkadian, Ancient Greek, Russian, German, French, English
archive.org; freesound.org; oracc.museum.upenn.edu; cdli.ucla.edu; The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature (ETCSL); Encylopaedia Britannica, Throat-Singing