Adapa. In Babylonian tradition, Adapa was known as a wise man or sage from the early Sumerian city of Eridu. The myth of Adapa, a Babylonian composition, explores the topic of humankind’s mortality, explaining mankind’s limited life span as well as commenting on human anger and rage. The myth opens with a description of Adapa as a wise, ritually observant servant of the god Ea. One day while Adapa is out fishing, a south wind comes up and capsizes his boat. He is thrown overboard and spends the day “in the home of the fish.” Wet and angry, he curses the wind, and the power of his spell breaks its wings. The wind is incapacitated; for seven days there is no wind over the land. Annoyed, the supreme god Anu summons Adapa to appear before him. When he arrives for his audience with Anu, Adapa declines an offer of food and drink, a rite of hospitality reserved for visiting deities, not realizing that accepting Anu’s offering would give him eternal life. Anu laughs at the sage’s naiveté and asks him why he does not eat or drink. Adapa answers that Ea has advised him in the ways of heaven and that he is merely following that god’s instructions. Anu then explains that he had offered eternal life and that by refusing Adapa will be returned to earth to live as a mortal.
Etana. Another Babylonian myth tells of an episode in the life of Etana, a legendary king who ruled in the Sumerian city of Kish after the flood. The story revolves around a folktale about the interaction among an eagle, a serpent, and Etana. Etana comes to the aid of the eagle,
which is imprisoned in a pit for killing the serpent’s offspring. In return for his assistance the eagle promises to help the childless king find the mythical plant of fertility. Etana mounts the bird, and they ascend to the heavens. The preserved part of the story ends with Etana’s return from his flight. The tablet is broken in key spots, and it is not known if Etana’s quest for the plant of birth is successful. Another text, however, refers to a son who succeeds him as king of Kish.
Benjamin R. Foster, Before the Muses: An Anthology of Akkadian Literature, 2 volumes (Bethesda, Md.: CDL Press, 1993).
Michael Haul, Das Etana-Epos: Ein Mythos von der Himmelfahrt des Königs von Kiš, Göttinger Arbeitshefte zur altorientalischen Literatur, 1 (Göttingen: Seminar für Keilschriftforschung, 2000).
Shlomo Izre’el, Adapa and the South Wind: Language Has the Power of Life and Death, Mesopotamian Civilizations, 10 (Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2001).