Akkadian Myths and Epics, E.A.Speiser




The material here offered is intended to be representative rather than exhaustive. It is not always possible to draw a sharp line between Akkadian compositions devoted to myths and related material, and those that concern other types of religious literature, not to mention special categories of historical nature. Furthermore, considerations of space and time have tended to exclude sundry literary remains whose bearing on the purpose of this work is not immediately apparent. It is hoped, however, that nothing of genuine relevance has been omitted.

As regards the order of the individual subjects, it was deemed advisable to present in succession the two major survivals of this group of texts, namely, The Creation Epic and The Epic of Gilgamesh. The alternative procedure would have been to group some of the minor subjects with the one epic, and some with the other. The present arrangement has a sound biblical precedent in the order of the books of the Prophets.


In translating material which has come down to us in poetic form, there arises the inevitable conflict between adherence to the force and flavor of the original idiom-as that idiom is understood-and adherence to the given poetic form. In the present instance, preference was given to the demands of meaning, whenever necessary. Elsewhere slight exceptions have been made in an effort to reflect the measures of the Akkadian versenormally a unit of two distinct halves with two beats in each half. Where the text presents an overlong line as a result of a mechanical combination of two verses, the added verse has been indented in the translation so as not to alter the line count of the text. In lines grown unwieldy for other reasons-such as theological addition in the original, or the helplessness of the translator when confronted with the economy or the elusiveness of the Akkadian idiom-indentation has likewise proved to be a convenient device.

The strong temptation to indicate logical transitions in the context by means of paragraphing has been resisted on the ground that such divisions might be regarded as arbitrary. Where, however, the text suggests paragraphing by means of horizontal lines (as in The Epic of Gilgamesh), the translation has followed suit by resorting to added spacing.

Virtually all of the material included under this heading has had the benefit of painstaking study over a period of many years. The principal editions of the texts and the latest discussions and translations arc listed in the respective introductions to the individual subjects. Each revision is indebted to some extent to its various predecessors. My own debt to my colleagues, past-and present, is too great to be acknowledged in detail. I have tried, however, to note explicitly such appropriated improvements and observations as may not as yet have become the common property of Assyriological scholarship. In fairness to others, it was necessary also to call attention to the occasional departures for which I alone must bear the responsibility. The existing gaps in the texts, at any rate, and the lacunae in our understanding of what is extant, are still much too formidable for anything like a definitive translation.




The Creation Epic


The struggle between cosmic order and chaos was to the ancient Mesopotamians a fateful drama that was renewed at the turn of each new year. The epic which deals with these events was therefore the most significant expression of the religious


literature of Mesopotamia. The work, consisting of seven tablets, was known in Akkadian as Enfima elil "When on high," after its opening words. It was recited with due solemnity on the fourth day of the New Year's festival.

Portions of this work were first made available in modern times by George Smith, in The Chaldean 4ccount of Genesis (i876). The flow of material has continued intermittently ever since. We owe these texts to three main sources: (a) The British excavations at Nineveh; the relevant texts have been published in CT, xiii (iooi) and in L. W. King's The Seven Tablets of Creation (2 V@S.,'1902). (b) Ile German excavations at Ashur; texts in E. Ebeling's Keilschrifttexte aus 4ssur religibsen Inhalts (1915 ff-)- (c) 'Me British-American excavations at Kish; texts in S. Lang@o'n's Oxford Editions of Cuneiform Texts (1923 ff-; Vol. vi). Scattered fragments have appeared in the periodical publications. A convenient compilation of the texts has been given by A. Deimcl in his Enuma Elil (2nd ed., 1936). This book contains a useful textual apparatus, but it does not altogether eliminate the need for comparison with the basic publications. In recent years, large gaps in Tablet VIT have been filled by E. Ebeling in M,40G, xit (1939), part 4, and these additions have been supplemented and elucidated by W. von Soden in Z,4, xlvii (i942), 1-26. The only part that still is largely unknown is Tablet V.

The various studies and translations of this epic are too numerous for a complete survey. The more recent ones include: S. Langdon, The Babylonian Epic of Creation (1923); E. Ebeling, 40T, io8 ff.; R. Labat, Le po@me babylonien de la creation (1935); and A. Heidel, The Babylonian Genesis (1942). For the sake of ready reference, I have retained the line count employed by Labat. Heidel's careful translation could scarcely be overestimated in its usefulness. Except for the portions of Tablet VII, which have appeared since, it constituted the fullest rendering possible at the time of its publication. Attention should also be called to W. von Soden's grammatical study, Der hymnischepische Dialckt des Akkadischen, ZA, XL-XLI (1932 f.), and to A. L Oppcnheim's notes on Mesopotamian Mythology 1, Orient-


alia, xvi (I947), 207-38.

There is as yet no general agreement as regards the date of composition. None of the extant texts antedates the first millennium B.C. On the internal evidence, however, of the context and the linguistic criteria, the majority of the scholars would assign the epic to the Old Babylonian period, i.e. the early part of the second millennium B.C. 'Mere does not appear to be any convincing reason against this earlier dating.

The poem is cast in metric form. One seventh-century copy of Tablet IV, for instance, still shows plainlv the division of lines into halves, thus bringing out the two beats of each half. Theological, political, and exegetical considerations have led to various chanies and additions, but these are readily recognized for the most part thanks to the underlying metric framework.' Unfortunately, a translation cannot make use of this type of evidence, however obvious it may be. In general, the successive revisions have marred the poetic effect of the whole. Nevertheless, enough passages have come down intact to bear witness to a genuine literary inspiration in many instances.




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