views updated May 29 2018


ENLIL , the "wind god," was the principal god of the Sumerian pantheon and poliad god of Nippur, the religious center of the country. Enlil was also guardian god of the temple Ekur ("mountain house") and the husband of Ninlil, or Sud. Together with An and Enki, Enlil was the third member of the great triad of the Sumerian pantheon and a permanent member of the assembly of the gods. When the cosmos was divided, Enlil took the earth for himself, while An ruled the sky and Ereshkigal was given the underworld. Enlil is the elder brother of Enki, whom he entrusted with the task of putting the world in order. After the great Flood, Enlil and An gave Ziusudra (the hero of the flood) "life, like (that of) a god." The Moon god (Nanna-Sin, Ashimbabbar), Nergal, Ninazu, and Enbilulu were born from Enlil's union with Ninlil. In the myth The Assault of the Demons on the Moon, when the demons besiege heaven and black out the moon, Enlil deals with the situation by having Enki, the god of magic, intervene.

Piotr Steinkeller (1999) and Piotr Michalowski (1998) have cast doubt upon the Sumerian nature of the god Enlil. They discuss the actual meaning of the name, equating the Eblaite I-li-lu with Enlil. Just how at variance this is with other Sumerian myths has been shown by Manfred Krebernik and M. P. Streck, and the epithet of Enlil in Sumerian literature is kur-gal (great mountain), suggesting origins in eastern Mesopotamia.

The myth of Enlil and Ninlil, who in Mesopotamian religious tradition were seen as the principal gods of Nippur, is both a sacred marriage text (or hierogamy), as well as a theogony, since it narrates not only the marriage but also the birth of four heavenly gods, one of them the Moon god. The story begins with an introduction praising Nippur, setting the scene where the action unfolds, and a description of the two main characters, Enlil and Ninlil. Well aware of the hot-blooded nature of the youth of the city, Ninlil's wise mother, Nunbarshegunu, advises her daughter not to bathe in the river because she could tempt one of the young men. When Ninlil disobeys her mother and bathes in the river, Enlil spots her and immediately makes advances to her, which Ninlil rejects. Enlil then sails on the river with the help of his herald Nusku, and renews his advances. This time the young woman is unable to resist, so the god has intercourse with her and impregnates her with Sin-Ashimbabbar. Enlil's scandalous behavior causes the gods to banish him from the city. When he leaves the city, Ninlil follows him and finds where he is hiding, having intercourse with him three more times and producing three more gods: Nergal, Ninazu, and Enbilulu. The text concludes with a doxology praising both divinities, after a hymn in honor of Enlil.

In contrast to the preceding myth, where the circumstances in which Enlil and Ninlil marry are somewhat perplexing, another version of the myth faithfully reflects the custom and practice of Sumerian society. The story begins by introducing the characters and establishing that Enlil is not yet married. On a journey through the land of Sumer, Enlil reaches Eresh, where he meets the young Sud. He engages in conversation with her, making clear his intentions, but the god has scarcely begun to approach her when Sud proudly slams the door in his face. Enlil, already enamored, turns to Nusku and entrusts him with the task of going to Eresh to ask Sud's mother Nidaba for the hand of her daughter. Nidaba consents, but on the condition of a journey by Aruru, Enlil's sister, to Eresh, followed by her journey to Nippur. When the messenger returns to Nippur and brings back the message, Enlil prepares lavish gifts, which are taken by caravan to Eresh. The gifts are received graciously, and preparations begin for the marriage and the actual ceremony. Enlil then blesses his wife and gives her the name Ninlil.

A series of documents tell of the Journeys of the Gods to obtain blessings and prosperity for the cities under their protection. The first of these journeys is undertaken by the Moon god Nanna, the poliad god of Ur and son of Enlil and Ninlil, who goes to the city of his birth, Nippur. After a eulogy of his city, in which he praises its antiquity, the god Nanna sends messengers throughout the country and also to other distant countries to collect the required materials so that he can build a boat. When he has constructed the boat, there is an inventory of the goods loaded upon it, and then begins the long journey to carry the god to the city of Nippur. The boat makes several stops en route, first at Ennegi, where the goddess Ningirida, hoping to receive Nanna's precious cargo, welcomes him, but he refuses her. The same thing happens at Larsa, the home of the goddess Sherida; at Uruk, home of the goddess Inanna; at Shuruppak, home of the goddess Ninunu; and at Tummal, home of Ninlil.

The boat finally reaches Nippur, where Nanna asks for and is granted permission to enter, and he sets down the gifts he has brought. His father Enlil joyfully welcomes his son and serves a sumptuous feast for him, which ends with a request for a general blessing for the city under his protection. A special request is then put to the sovereign, but his response is ambiguous. Two other journeys concern the guardian divinities of the city of Isin, the god Pabilsag and the goddess Nininsina; both of them travel to Nippur to beg for a blessing for themselves and their adopted city.

Enlil's active involvement with humankind is shown in various documents. In The Song of the Hoe, Enlil, after separating heaven and earth so that humans can cultivate the earth, makes an opening in the floor of the earth. He then creates a hoe, establishes the various kinds of labor, describes the qualities of the hoe in detail, and sets it in the place where the first human being will appear. When the human race springs from mold that had been placed in the hole, and when grass grows, Enlil gives the humans the hoe, while the gods express their wholehearted approval. It is interesting to note the writer's belief, already clear from these lines, that the first human being was Sumerian.

Another document, which dates to after 1100 bce, is the only one in which blood is necessary for the creation of humans, an element completely absent in the Sumerian creation myths and probably derived from a Semitic tradition. The story links the creation of the human race to the very beginnings of the world, when the gods had come into being, heaven and earth had been separated, and the basis for life on earth had been established by digging rivers and channels so water could flow. At a meeting involving the three main gods and the Anunna (all the great gods), Enlil poses the question as to whether or not they want him to carry on with the act of creation. Their unanimous response is to let humankind emerge in the temple of Enlil by mixing clay with the blood of the god Alla. The new creatures, called Ullegarra and Annegarra, are given the task of manual labor, and they are to make the land rich in plenty, holding sumptuous feasts for the world of the gods. This is the law laid down by Aruru, the sister of Enlil, and the goddess Nisaba ensured that it was duly observed.

The prologue of the Debate between Sheep and Grain contains a cosmogonic allusion to the birth of two gods that were essential for human life, Ashnan (grain) and Uttu (the spinning of wool). The god An had not created them in the beginning, so the earth did not have grain, sheep, or goats, and human beings did not have bread or clothes and were living like animals. The gods put right the forgetfulness of An by making grain and sheep appear in their house on the sacred hill, and they ate and drank plentifully, but were not sated. At this point the gods decide to bestow their new creation on humankind, and Enki advises Enlil to give sheep and grain to humans as a gift. Thus, via the intervention of these two supreme gods, sheep and grain are brought from the sacred hill to the earth for the use of human beings.

Enlil, though, is not always beneficent to humans, and the negative aspects of divine behavior towards the human race are described in the myth of Atrahasis, as well as the myth of the Sumerian flood and the Epic of Gilgamesh. In the Epic of Atrahasis, Enlil is portrayed as one who, alarmed by the rapid growth of the human race (whose noise disturbs his sleep), attempts to reduce and eventually destroy humankind by plague, by drought, and finally by flood. In the Lament for Ur, the destruction of the city Ur is attributed to Enlil's storm "that annihilated the land." One petitioner bemoans in a prayer the fact that Enlil is "the storm destroying the cattle pen, uprooting the sheepfold; my roots are torn up, my forests denuded."

Commencing with the Old Babylonian period, Enlil occupied a less exalted position in the pantheon. Many of his attributes were assumed by Marduk in Babylonia and by Ashur in Assyria. Indeed, it is likely that Marduk's and Ashur's prominent roles in the great Mesopotamian national epic, Enuma elish (in the extant Babylonian and Assyrian recensions, respectively), originally belonged to Enlil.

See Also

Ashur; Marduk; Mesopotamian Religion, overview article.


Behrens, Hermann. Enlil und Ninlil: Ein sumerischer Mythos aus Nippur. Rome, 1978.

Civil, Miguel. "Enlil and Ninlil: The Marriage of Sud." Journal of American Oriental Society 103 (1983): 4366.

Kramer, Samuel Noah. "BM 23631: Bread for Enlil, Sex for Inanna" Orientalia 54 (1985): 117132.

Krebernik, Manfred. "Ninlil (Mulliltu, Mullisu), Göttin, Gemahlin Enlils." Reallexikon der Assyriologie 9 (19982001): 453461.

Michalowski, Piotr. "The Unbearable Lightness of Enlil." Comptes rendues de la Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale 43 (1998): 237247.

Pettinato, Giovanni. Mitologia sumerica. Turin, 2001.

Pettinato, Giovanni. "Enlil: La parola immutabile." In Parole, parola: Alle origini della comunicazione, pp. 732. Milan, 2001.

Steinkeller, Piotr. "On Rulers and Officials in the Ancient Near East." In Priests and Officials in the Ancient Near East, edited by Kazuko Watanabe, pp. 103137. Heidelberg, Germany, 1999.

Streck, Michael P. "Ninurta/Ningirsu. A. I. In Mesopotamien" Reallexikon der Assyriologi e 9 (19982001): 512522.

Such-Gutierrez, Marcos. Beiträge zum Pantheon von Nippur im 3. Jahtausend, Teil I and II (Materiali per i Vocabolario Sumerico) 9, nos. 12 (2003): 31108.

David Marcus (1987)

Giovanni Pettinato (2005)

Translated from Italian by Paul Ellis


views updated May 17 2018


In the mythology of ancient Mesopotamia*, Enlil ("lord of the wind") was the storm god and the god of earth and air. He was one of a trio of major gods that included Anu and Ea, the gods of heaven and water. Enlil played an important role in creation, separating heaven from earth, causing seeds to grow on the land, and bringing order and harmony to the universe.

A complex deity who destroyed as well as created, Enlil appeared in many Mesopotamian myths. In one story he was sent to the underworld as punishment for raping the goddess Ninlil. She followed him there and gave birth to their son, the moon god Nanna. Because Nanna would die in the underworld, Enlil devised a scheme that allowed his son to escape and return to the heavens so that he could light up the night sky.

Another well-known myth revealed Enlil's destructive nature. According to this tale, the other gods rebelled against Enlil because he made them work too hard. As a solution, the gods decided to create humans to labor for them. This seemed fine for a while, but as the human population increased, their noise kept Enlil awake at night. Angered by this disruption, Enlil sent disease, drought, and a great flood to reduce the number of people on the earth.

deity god or goddess

underworld land of the dead

Enlil also appeared in stories in the role of preserver and creator. As the source of rain, he nourished fields and crops. He also introduced humans to the pickax and taught them how to use it to build cities. In some myths, Enlil was associated with agriculture, fertility, and the seasons.

See also Anu; Floods; Semitic Mythology.

* See Names and Places at the end of this volume for further information.