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The Epic of Atrahasis


The Epic of Atrahasis on a tablet from the British Museum, London (Britain). (c) British Museum
The Epic of Atrahasis (British Museum; ©!!!)

The Epic of Atrahasis is the fullest Mesopotamian account of the Great Flood, but it offers more.

The text is known from several versions: two were written by Assyrian scribes (one in the Assyrian, one in the Babylonian dialect), a third one (on three tablets) was written during the reign of king Ammi-saduqa of Babylonia (1647-1626 BCE). Parts are quoted in Tablet XI of the Epic of Gilgameš; other influences are in the Babylonian History by Berossus (quote).

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

Complaints of the Lower Gods

[1] When the gods were man
they did forced labor, they bore drudgery.
Great indeed was the drudgery of the gods,
the forced labor was heavy, the misery too much:
[5] the seven great Anunna-gods were burdening
the [lesser] Igigi-gods with forced labor.

[Lacuna]

[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]

... years of drudgery.
[35] ... the vast marsh.
They counted years of drudgery,
... and forty years, too much!
... forced labor 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 excvation,
excessive drudgery has killed us,
[150] our forced labor 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 labor was heavy, their misery too much!
[a5] Every day ...
the outcry was loud, we could hear the clamor.
There is ...
Belet-ili, the midwife, is present.[1]
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:[1]
"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,[1]
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 immerson.
[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,
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 labor,
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 (Mistress of all the gods)!"

[The population increases and their noise disturbs the gods, who decide to wipe out mankind. The god Enki, however, sends a dream to Atrahasis.]

Atrahasis' Dream Explained

[i.b35] Enlil committed an evil deed against the people.

[i.c.11] Atrahasis 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.

Atrahasis and the Elders

Atrahasis received the command.
He assembled the Elders at his gate.
[i.c.40] Atrahasis 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 Atrahasis can be discerned.]

Boarding of the Ark

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 wat retching gall.

Departure

The outlook of the weather changed.
[The storm god] Adad 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.

[Lacuna]

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 belowed 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 etablish high priestesses and priestesses,
let them be taboo [celibate], and so cut down childbirth.

Note 1:
Belet-ili ('mistress of the gods'), Nin-tu ('birth-giver'), and Mami  different names for  the same goddess.

Online at
Livius.Org, 2007
Revision:11 May 2007
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