Enki (Ea)

Enki (known in Akkadian as Ea) was the god who ruled over the Abzu, the vast freshwater ocean that, according to the system of Mesopotamian cosmology and belief, lay beneath the Earth. Apart from this primary role as lord of the subterranean domain, Enki / Ea was closely associated with wisdom, with arts and crafts and with the practice of the magical arts. Enki is also known by the names Ninšiku or Nudimmud, and by the title “Stag of the Abzu”. Enki, importantly, must be distinguished carefully from the Enki (“Lord Earth”) who – confusingly – was the ancestor of the god Enlil.

According to Mesopotamian mythology, Enki was the son of the god An/Anu and the twin brother of the god Iškur/Adad. His mother was identified as the primeval goddess Nammu, probably a personification of the Abzu itself, over which her son ruled as lord. The wife of Enki was identified as Damgalnuna/Damkina, their children including the gods Marduk, Enbililu, Asarluhi, the goddess Nanše, and the wise man Adapa. The minster of Enki was the twin-faced god Isimud/Usmû.

Iconographically, Enki/Ea was customarily depicted as a seated divinity wearing a long beard, a horned cap and a long pleated robe, wavy streams of water (sometimes with fish within them) flowing from his arms and shoulders to the ground. Enki is frequently represented as receiving lines of worshippers or offering bearers, introduced to him by other deities, but most commonly by his own ministering god, Isimud/Usmû. Also depicted appearing before Enki as a prisoner under guard is the bird-man, as is a lion-demon. Enki is sometimes shown within a low structure, the Abzu itself, or within his primary shrine in the Sumerian city of Eridu (the E.ABZU, “house of the Abzu”), surrounded by channels of water. The symbol of Enki/Ea in the Kassite, Assyrian and Babylonian periods was the goat-fish, other symbols of the god including the turtle and a curved rod finished with a ram’s head.

Enki/Ea seems always to have been considered as a beneficent god in relation to humanity, a characterisation springing from his role as master of fate and destiny – as depicted in the Sumerian poem Inana and Enki – as well as provider of fresh water streams and springs. Enki takes the part of mankind against the gods in the Sumerian epic tales of Gilgamesh and Atrahasis, and assists humanity to escape complete destruction in the Great Flood sent by the other gods. Enki’s omnipotence and omnipresence is further underscored in the tale Enki and the World Order, in which the god organises all aspects of the civilised world in intimate detail.

Akkadian period cylinder seal depicting Enki/Ea receiving the bird-man as a prisoner.(right) Engraved cylinder seal depicting the seated god Enki/Ea, streams of water issuing from his shoulders. Before him, the bird-man is brought as a prisoner. Akkadian period, c. 2300-2200 BCE.

British Museum, serpentinite, height: 3.9 cm, diameter 2.7 cm.

Select Bibliography

Alster, B.

1975 “On the Interpretation of the Sumerian Myth ‘Inanna and Enki'”, ZA 64 (1975), pp.20-34.

1978 “Enki and Ninhursag: The Creation of the First Woman”, UF 10 (1978) 15-27.

1983 “Dilmun, Bahrain, and the Alleged Paradise in Sumerian Myth and Literature,” in Potts, D.T. (ed.), Dilmun: New Studies in the Archaeology and Early History of Bahrain, Berlin, 1983, pp.39-74.

Attinger, P.

1984 “Enki et Ninhursaga”, ZA 74 (1984), pp.1-52.

Bernhardt, I. & Kramer, S.N.

“Enki und die Weltordnung”, Wissenschaftliche Zeitschrift der Friedrich-Schiller Universität Jena, Gesellschafts- und Sprachwissenschaftliche Reihe 9, 1/2 (1959-60), pp.231-256.

Benito, C. E.

1969 “Enki and Ninmah” and “Enki and the World Order”, University of Pennsylvania Dissertation, 1969.

Cooper, S. J.

1989 “Enki’s Member: Eros and Irrigation in Sumerian Literature”, in Sjöberg AV, Philadelphia, 1989, pp. 87-89.

Farber-Flügge, G.

1973 Der Mythos ‘Inanna und Enki’ mit besonderer Berücksichtigung der Liste der me, Rome, 1973.

Foster, B. R.

1977 “Ea and  Saltu”, in Finkelstein Memorial Volume, Hamden, CT, 1977, pp. 79-84.

Galter, H.D.

1983 Der Gott Ea/Enki in der akkadischen Überlieferung, Dissertationen der Karl-Franzens-Universität Graz, Graz, 1983.

Groneberg, B.

1991 “Atramhasis, Tafel II iv-v”, in Mélanges P. Garelli, Paris, 1991, pp.397-409.

Hallo, William W.

“Enki and the Theology of Eridu”, JAOS 116 (1996), pp.231-34.

Jacobsen, Thorkild

“The Descent of Enki”, in Hallo AV, Bethesda, 1993, pp.120-23.

Kikawada, I. M.

1982 “The Double Creation of Mankind in Enki and Ninmah, Atrahasis I 1-351, and Genesis 1-2”, Iraq 55 (1982), pp.43-45.

Kilmer, A. D.

1976 “Speculations on Umul, the First Baby,” in Kramer AV, 1976, pp.265-270.

Kramer, Samuel Noah

1970 “Enki and his Inferiority Complex”, orientalia NS 39 (1970), pp.103-110.

Kramer, S.N. & Maier, J.

1989 Myths of Enki, the Crafty God, Oxford, 1989.

Lambert, W. G.

1991a “Three New Pieces of Atra-hasis”, in Mélanges P. Garelli, Paris, 1991, pp.411-413.

1991b “Another Trick of Enki?”, in Mélanges  P. Garelli, Paris, 1991, pp.415-419.

1992 “The Relationship of Sumerian and Akkadian Myth as seen in Accounts of Creation”, in La circulation des biens, des personnes et des idées dans le Proche-Orient Ancien, CRAA 38, Paris, 1992, pp.129-135.

Lambert, W.G. & Millard, A.R.

1976 Atra-²asís: The Babylonian Story of the Flood, Oxford, 1976.

Limet, H.

1989 “Les fantaisies du dieu Enki: Essai sur les techniques de la narration dans les mythes”, in Sjöberg AV, Philadelphia, 1989, pp.357-365.

Mayer, W. R.

1987 “Ein Mythos von der Erschaffung des Menschen und des Königs”, Orientalia NS 56 (1987), pp.55-68.

Moran, William L.

1987 “Some Considerations of Form and Interpretation in Atra-hasis”, in Reiner AV, New Haven, 1987, pp.245-255.

Pettinato, G.

1971 Das altorientalische Menschenbild und die sumerischen und akkadischen Schöpfungsmythen, Heidelberg, 1971.

Sauern, H.

1993 “Nammu and Enki,” in Hallo AV, Bethesda, 1993, pp.198-203.

Vanstiphout, H.L.T.

“Why did Enki Organize the World?”, in Finkel, I.J. & Gelelr, M.J. (eds), Sumerian Gods and their Representations, Gröningen, pp.117-134.

Vogelsang, M. E.

1989-1990 “The Cunning of Ea and the Threat to Order”, JEOL 31 (1989-90), pp.66-76.

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