The world’s oldest known love poem. According to the Sumerian belief, it was a sacred duty for the king to marry every year a priestess instead of Inanna, the goddess of fertility and sexual love, in order to make the soil and women fertile. This poem was most probably written by a bride chosen for Shu-Sin in order to be sung at the New Year festival and it was sung at banquets and festivals accompanied by music and dance.
Bridegroom, dear to my heart,
Goodly is your beauty, honeysweet,
Lion, dear to my heart,
Goodly is your beauty, honeysweet.
Bridegroom, let me caress you,
My precious caress is more savory than honey,
In the bedchamber, honey-filled, In the bedchamber, honey-filled,
Detail of a striding lion made from polychrome glazed bricks, one of dozens that decorated the walls of the Processional Street and the royal palaces of Babylon. The relief dates back to the era of king Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon (605-562 BCE). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, NY.
The figure could be an aspect of the goddess Ishtar, Mesopotamian goddess of sexual love and war, or Ishtar’s sister and rival, the goddess Ereshkigal who ruled over the Underworld, or the demoness Lilitu, known in the Bible as Lilith. The plaque probably stood in a shrine.
Old Babylonian era, 1800-1750 BCE, from southern Iraq (place of excavation is unknown), Mesopotamia, Iraq. (The British Museum, London).
TIAMAT Mesopotamian Dragon Goddess of Primordial Chaos and the Sea
In the Enûma Elish, the Babylonian epic of creation, she gives birth to the first generation of deities; she later makes war upon them and is killed by the storm-god Marduk. The heavens and the earth are formed from her divided body.
Ummu-Hubur [Tiamat], who formed all things, Hath made in addition weapons invincible; she hath spawned monster-serpents, Sharp of tooth, and merciless of fang. With poison, instead of blood, she hath filled their bodies. Fierce monster-vipers she hath clothed with terror, With splendor she hath decked them; she hath made them of lofty stature. Whoever beholdeth them is overcome by terror, Their bodies rear up and none can withstand their attack. She hath set up vipers, and dragons, and the monster Lahamu, And hurricanes and raging hounds, and scorpion-men, And mighty tempests, and fish-men and rams; They bear cruel weapons, without fear of the fight.
Neo-Assyrian Head of Pazuzu, Circa 8th-7th Century BC
Pazuzu was an Assyrian and Babylonian demonic god of the 1st millennium BC. He normally has a dog-like face like here, and where his body is depicted he has a scaly torso, a snake-headed penis, the talons of a bird and usually wings.
Although Pazuzu was a malevolent force, his image was used on amulets to ward off his enemy Lamashtu, a female demon that preyed on newborn babies and their mothers. The amulet was either worn by the mother or child and larger ones were placed above their bed on a wall.
His legend was adapted and used in TheExorcist films.
Cuneiform tablet with the Atrahasis Epic. Babylonian, about 17th century BC, from Sippar, southern Iraq.
A version of the Flood story
The story outlines the structure of the universe according to Babylonian beliefs. Heaven is ruled by the god Anu, the earth by Enlil and the subterranean sweet water by Enki. The text then explains how the minor gods work in the fields but then rebel. As a result, humans are made from clay, saliva and divine blood to act as servants of the gods.
This does not prove a perfect solution, as the humans reproduce and their noise disturbs Enlil’s sleep. He decides to destroy them with plague, famine, drought and finally a flood. However, each time Enki instructs one of the humans, Atrahasis, to survive the disasters. The god gives Atrahasis seven days warning of the flood, and he builds a boat, loads it with his possessions, animals and birds. He is subsequently saved while the rest of humankind is destroyed. However, the gods are unhappy as they no longer receive the offerings they used to. There is a gap in the text at this point but it does end with Atrahasis making an offering and Enlil accepting the existence and usefulness of humans.
Copies of this story have survived from the seventeenth to the seventh century BC showing that it was copied and re-copied over the centuries. This is the most complete version. There are clear similarities between this Flood story and others known in Mesopotamian literature, for example, the Epic of Gilgamesh. (BM)