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Enki and Ninhursag : The Creation of Dilmun

Posted on MARCH 1, 2018 Written by BRANDON WEST

The myth of Enki and Ninhursag is a true Sumerian myth (as opposed to the Enuma Elish which was only founded on Sumerian tradition).  The title really should read “Enki and Ninhursag: The Creation of Dilmun (and Other Travails)”, as it deals not just with the creation of Dilmun, but with some severe infidelity on Enki’s behalf, as well as the birth of nine of Enki and Ninhursag’s children, as well as acts of botanical creation carried out by Ninhursag.

This myth is one of the few sources for any information on the Sumerian’s conception of the land of Dilmun, the home of the gods on Earth. It features two of the leading deities of the Sumerian pantheon: Enki who was the prototype of Poseidon (Roman Neptune), and Ninhursag who was the original “mother goddess” figure known as Damkina to the Babylonians, and within the original form of this text is called by her other names Damgalnuna, Ninsikila and Nintu. Enlil also has a cameo appearance, who comprised a third of the Sumerian trinity along with Enki and Anu.

This myth is curious in that some of it seems to contain information of genuine intrigue, while other passages are superficial and nonsensical. Moreover the Sumerians were suprisingly explicit in their sexual description. Direct, certainly, but not necessarily lewd. With that being said, it is an important myth in the corpus of Sumerian literature known to us.

The Myth of Enki and Ninhursag

Enki and Ninhursag’s Pure Land of Dilmun

“Pure are the cities — and you are the ones to whom they are allotted. Pure is Dilmun land. Pure is Sumer — and you are the ones to whom it is allotted. Pure is Dilmun land. Pure is Dilmun land. Virginal is Dilmun land. Virginal is Dilmun land. Pristine is Dilmun land.” [1]

Enki laid Damkina down all alone in Dilmun. It was here that Enki and Ninhursag had lain together. [When they conceived Marduk?] Yet the land was still virginal and pristine, as was the nature of their union. The place where he had lain down with Ninsikila was pristine.

“In Dilmun the raven uttered no cries,
The kite uttered not the cry of the kite,
the lion killed not,
The wolf snatched not the lamb,
Unknown was the [child]-killing dog,
Unknown was the grain devouring boar.” [2]

The people of this pristine land did not suffer from diseases. The people of Dilmun suffered not afflictions of the eye, nor even did they suffer from headaches. [In Kramer’s translation: “The sick-eyed says not “I am sick-eyed,” The sick-headed say’s not “I am sick-headed”] Though, while I do not know if the people of this land were immortal, they did not age like we do. A woman or a man may be old by our standards of today, yet they would not have considered themselves as such. For their vitality was undiminished with age, their youth preserved. Unclean and unwashed women did not go into the cities. There were no overseers necessary, because the place knew peace. The singers did not sing laments, nor were the city walls used for wailing. [3]

Yet Ninsikila was not at peace. Although Enki had given her a city, day and night she asked him again and again how it benefited her. For the city that Enki had created had no docks running out to the river to support trade. It had no fields, nor any furrows running through it to grow life-giving grains and vegetables, to adorn their tables richly, to feed the populace, and to make all who lived in her land wealthy.

So as Enki and Ninhursag sat one evening, he finally answered his wife:

“When Utu steps up into heaven, fresh waters shall run out of the ground for you from the standing vessels (?) on Ezen’s (?) shore, from Nanna’s radiant high temple, from the mouth of the waters running underground.” [1]

He continued, “May the fresh and pure waters rise up from the ground into the basins that you’ve set aside for water. May the city never want for water again, and may fresh water replace the pools of salt water that mark your land. To make you and this land wealthy, a dock on the river and a port will be constructed to load and anchor those “large ships” for voyages to distant lands, so that we may transform your Dilmun into a thriving center of commerce and trade.”

“May the land of Tukriš hand over to you gold from Ḫarali, lapis lazuli and ……. May the land of Meluḫa load precious desirable cornelian, meš wood of Magan and the best abba wood into large ships for you. May the land of Marḫaši yield you precious stones, topazes. May the land of Magan offer you strong, powerful copper, dolerite, u stone and šumin stone. May the Sea-land offer you its own ebony wood, …… of a king. May the ‘Tent’-lands offer you fine multicoloured wools. May the land of Elam hand over to you choice wools, its tribute. May the manor of Urim, the royal throne dais, the city ……, load up into large ships for you sesame, august raiment, and fine cloth. May the wide sea yield you its wealth.” [1]

The Adda Seal :: A close up of Enki with his characteristic streams flowing from his shoulders due to his association with water.

After this pronouncement, Dilmun became a truly blessed place. The dwellings of Dilmun where sturdy and homely, the grains were small and fine, of a high quality. Their dates large and sweet, the wood strong and supply, perfect for building ships. Moreover their harvests were abundant, a sight to see with the newly planted crops overflowing the plots they were planted in with all manner of produce.

The very next morning after Enki had made his pronouncement, when Utu rose into heaven from Nanna’s radiant temple and from the underground rivers criss-crossing the land, fresh waters rose in abundance from the deep for the “true wife” Damkina. The waters filled her basins, and she saw that the people of her city had their thirst sated. These waters pouring up from the deep were diverted into the fields with clever irrigation (that was long ago devised and taught by Enki), resulting in the land bearing plenty in her fertile womb. On that day under the Sun, everything changed, and the pure land of Dilmun emerged to be echoed in legend through the ages.

The Travails of Enki and Ninhursag

“All alone the wise one, toward Nintur, the country’s mother, Enki, the wise one, toward Nintur, the country’s mother, was digging his phallus into the dykes, plunging his phallus into the reed-beds. The august one pulled his phallus aside and cried out: “No man take me in the marsh.”” [1]

[lol, what?! A perfect beginning for the section I can make little sense of. I do not have any clue what to do with the passage above, so I shall leave it as is.]

After plunging his penis into the dykes and reed-beds, Enki, apparently aroused for the pleasure of a woman’s touch instead of that of the land, called out to his Damkina, “My dearest, my heart would be overfilled with joy if you would lie down for me in the marsh!” And so, Damgalnuna made her way secretly to her lover in the dark of night, and lay herself bare for Enki. They made love until Enki “poured semen into Ninhursaga’s womb” [1] and conceived a child.

“Upon Ninhursag he caused to flow the “water of the heart,”
She received the “water of the heart,” the water of Enki.” [2]

Yet her birth process was not like that of mortal women. Each month of the normal process took only a day for her, and after 9 days she gave birth to a daughter.

“In the month of womanhood, like fine … oil of abundance,
Nintur, mother of the country,
like fine (?) oil, gave birth to Ninnisig.” [1]

Ninhursag raised young Ninnisig well, and she soon grew into a beautiful, radiant woman. One day she set out alone to the riverbank where she liked to walk in the sun. However, Enki, from his vantage point in the marsh saw this nubile young woman, and became enthralled by her beauty. Enki turned to his two-faced minister Isimud and asked:

“Is this nice youngster not to be kissed? Is this nice Ninnisig not to be kissed?” His minister Isimud answered him: “Is this nice youngster not to be kissed? Is this nice Ninnisig not to be kissed? My master will sail, let me navigate. He will sail, let me navigate.” [1]

This, apparently convinced Enki that this young woman was indeed to be kissed, for Enki promptly boarded his ship with his trusted Isimud as navigator and sailed to the banks where he had seen Ninnisig walking. He leapt from his boat landing softly on the dry land of the riverbank right in front of Ninnisig. Startled by his sudden arrival, and by the radiance of his appearance, she had barely a moment to compose herself, let alone to say a word. And in that space, there on dry land, he clasped young Ninnisig to his bosom, kissed her, and “poured semen into [her] womb” where she conceived a child, and bore that child in 9 days just like her mother, giving birth to Ninkura.

In the text, this pattern goes on two more times. When Ninkura grows older she also goes alone to the riverbank, where Enki appears after having the same question and answer discussion with Isimud, and proceeds to clasp her to his bosom, kiss her, and promptly impregnate her. She gives birth in 9 days time to Ninimma. Ninkura the raised Ninimma and “made her flourish”, until the day that she walks alone to the riverbank once again catching Enki’s eye. Ninimma in the same pattern is impregnated by Enki and gave birth to the “beautiful” Uttu, the “exalted … woman”.×280&!8&btvi=3&fsb=1&xpc=9CO7Inmi6Z&p=http%3A//

This time, however, the story changes. This time, Nintur (Ninhursag), advises Uttu that Enki, who is down in the marshes, can see all the way up to where they are (presumably in their palace or home) and that Enki will set his eyes upon her one day. What exactly Nintu advises her is unclear because the text is broken here. Nonetheless, when the story becomes legible again…

One evening, Enki arrives to the door of Uttu’s home. He spoke to her softly, attempting to enchant and seduce her with words of love and with his natural charm. [Which, I might add, he is at least doing with words this time because in other myths he “enchants” his mortal lovers with naught by the prodigious size of his penis.] However, Uttu had not forgotten the instructions of her ancestress Ninhursag. So (presumably) following them, she tells Enki that she will not sleep with him. Not unless he goes out to the garden and fetches for her cucumbers, delicious “apples with their stems sticking out”, and “grapes in their clusters”. Only then, once he has done this for her, will she give herself to him. (Literally that she would let him “have hold of my halter”.)

While Enki is in the garden fetching what Uttu requested, and filling the land with water as he had done before, a gardener stands up and asks Enki what he is doing in the garden, before embracing him. (A quick thanks to Enki from the gardeners of ancient Sumer for the work they believed he had done for them.)×280&!9&btvi=5&fsb=1&xpc=TUKIvQDLpS&p=http%3A//

But Enki and his lust was not to be deterred for long. After graciously – yet perhaps distractedly – accepting the thanks of the gardener, Enki rushed back to the home of Uttu. When he arrived he pounded loudly on her door, demanding that she open it for him. Uttu walked to the door from her room, pressing herself against it gently, and asked “Who are you that is banging on my door in such a manner?”

“Exalted Uttu, I am a humble gardener, one who has brought cucumbers, apples with their stems, and grapes for your consent.” At which point she joyfully opens the door to him. Enki’s heart pounds as he takes in the sensual figure of Uttu barely concealed beneath her light summer garment of fine linen. He extends his arms, offering to her the basket laden with the fruits he had just gathered with a whispered “for you…” She takes them graciously, turning her face quickly as she moves aside to let him in so that he cannot see her smile, or blush. Enki walked into the hut, and moved directly to the beer cask, ladling out Uttu a generous measure of beer. True to her word, Uttu gave Enki consent.

Uttu, the exalted (?) woman, …… to the left for him, waved the hands for him. Enki aroused Uttu. He clasped her to the bosom, lying in her crotch, fondled her thighs, fondled her with the hand. He clasped her to the bosom, lying in her crotch, made love to the youngster and kissed her. Enki poured semen into Uttu’s womb and she conceived the semen in the womb, the semen of Enki.

Uttu, the beautiful woman, cried out: “Woe, my thighs.” She cried out: “Woe, my body. Woe, my heart.” Ninḫursaĝa removed the semen from the thighs.

Then with this semen, Ninhursag grew 8 plants, which were apparently the first of their kind, or perhaps the first plants grown. From Enki’s semen that she surreptitiously collected from the thighs of Uttu, which she apparently didn’t notice after their passionate lovemaking, Ninhursag she grew the ‘tree’plant, the ‘honey’ plant, ‘vegetable’ plant, esparto grass, atutu plant, aštaltal plant, [some other illegible kind of plant], and the amharu plant.

Ninhursag’s Healing of Enki

Enki, however, from where he was resting in the marsh, was able to see the plants that his spouse had grown and, recognizing that they were new plants, realized that their destinies had not been decreed as it was his duty to determine the destinies of all things. So, one by one he asks of his two-faced messenger Isimud: “What is this one?” and “What is that one?” To which Isimud, who knew each by name, responded:

“”My master, the ‘tree’ plant,” he said to him, cut it off for him and Enki ate it. “My master, the ‘honey’ plant,” he said to him, pulled it up for him and Enki ate it. “My master, the ‘vegetable’ plant,” he said to him, cut it off for him and Enki ate it.” [1]

One by one Enki proceeded to eat these plants that were unique and precious to Ninhursag who had labored over them, tending to them with care. When Ninhursag had found out what her spouse had done, she was furious, and she cursed his name: “Until the day that you die, Enki, I will never again look upon you with the ‘life-giving eye’!”

When the Anuna [short for Anunnaki, the other gods] heard this pronouncement they “sat down in the dust.” But luckily there was a fox who was both brave and persuasive enough to speak with Enlil, the leader of the gods. The fox spoke to Enlil and asked: “If I bring Ninḫursaĝa to you, what will be my reward?” Enlil answered the fox: “If you bring Ninḫursaĝa to me, I shall erect two birch (?) trees for you in my city and you will be renowned.” [1] So, the fox set out on his journey after first observing the necessary preparations of anointing his body (with oil?), shaking out his fur, and putting “kohl” on his eyes.

[The next few lines are broken and illegible.]

What exactly the fox did is unclear, but it appears that before he journeyed to Ninhursag, he had first journeyed to Nibru to see Enlil, but Enlil [said or did something, or could not say or do something, presumably], so instead he went to Urim to see Nanna/Sin, with the same result, and then to Unug to see Inanna, but apparently she still could not aid the fox in whatever the purpose of his mission was.

All of this he relayed to Ninhursag when he finally sought a meeting with her, finishing with the statement that he was “seeking refuge with one who is…” but the rest is unclear and the next 7 lines are illegible. Maybe it is possible that he was seeking out one with medical or botanical knowledge of some sort to heal Enki, which the others did not possess it, so he came at last to Ninhursag, but that is pure conjecture.

Whatever the fox said to Ninhursag, it made her realize that, at the very least, she did not want her lover to die. So she rushed to the temple, and as she pushed her way through the great doors that barred the entranced, parting with an ancient, heavy, groan, even through the dim light she saw Enki’s feeble figure limp against the dias at the end of the hall. Even as she strode down the hall the glorious “Anuna [goddess] slipped off her garment” which caught in the wind of the suddenly open door which carried it towards where Enki lay. As she approached she fashioned some tool and determined its destiny [purpose?], and sat down, leaning against the dias which was cool on her soft skin and, with her legs spread wide, instructed Enki to sit by her vagina.

Thereupon she asked Enki one after the other, “My brother, what part of you hurts you?” And Enki responded:

“The top of my head (ugu-dili) hurts me.” She gave birth to Ab-u out of it. “My brother, what part of you hurts you?” “The locks of my hair (siki) hurt me.” She gave birth to Ninsikila out of it. “My brother, what part of you hurts you?” “My nose (giri) hurts me.” She gave birth to Ningiriutud out of it. “My brother, what part of you hurts you?” “My mouth (ka) hurts me.” She gave birth to Ninkasi out of it.

“My brother, what part of you hurts you?” “My throat (zi) hurts me.” She gave birth to Nazi out of it. “My brother, what part of you hurts you?” “My arm (a) hurts me.” She gave birth to Azimua out of it. “My brother, what part of you hurts you?” “My ribs (ti) hurt me.” She gave birth to Ninti out of it. “My brother, what part of you hurts you?” “My sides (zag) hurt me.” She gave birth to Ensag out of it. [1]

Eight times she asked her lover what ailed him, and eight times he responded. Each time she [I believe] took his illness into herself, healing Enki, and as a byproduct giving birth to eight Anuna [deities]. Upon their entering this world, Enki decreed their destinies:

[Ninhursag:] “For the little ones to whom I have given birth may rewards not be lacking.”
[Enki:] Ab-u shall become king of the grasses,
Ninsikila shall become lord of Magan,
Ningiriutud shall marry Ninazu,
Ninkasi shall be what satisfies the heart,
Nazi shall marry Nindara,
Azimua shall marry Ninĝišzida,
Ninti shall become the lady of the month,
and Ensag shall become lord of Dilmun.”

Praise be to Father Enki. [2]

So goes the Myth of Enki and Ninhursag. To read the myth in a literal translation far closer to its original form, you can find an oline translation by following the link to source 1.

Figure 2 :: An Akkadian cylinder seal (c.2350 – 2130 BCE) possibly depicting Ninhursag seated, holding grain, being greeted by three other deities.


  1. “Enki and Ninhursag” | The Electronic Corpus of Sumerian Literature – A project of Oxford University | Accessed February 15th, 2018 [Myth can be found here.]
  2. “Enki and Ninhursag: The Affairs of the Water God” | Sumerian Mythology: A Study of Spiritual and Literary Achievement in the Third Millenium B. C. (Revised Edition), p.54-59 | Written by Samuel Noah Kramer.
  3. The original text for this section was translated by the ECSL as: “No maiden in her unwashed state …… in the city. No man dredging a river said there: “It is getting dark.” No herald made the rounds in his border district.” Although Kramer translated it differently, talking about a singer who sings no laments and such. He chose the word overseer over herald.

Enki and Ninhursag and the Creation of Life and Sickness

Enki and Ninhursag is the name of a Sumerian creation myth concerned with fertility and the creation of plants. It also seems to serve as something of an agricultural guide in the form of a myth. There are also many correlations between many elements of this story, and the story of Eve in the Garden of Eden. Both of these themes will be explored in the following sections.

The Creation of Plants

The narrative begins with a description of a place called Dilmun, a garden of paradise which is very similar to the Garden of Eden in the Bible. It’s a pure land without suffering and without people, but occupied by the gods. In some versions of the tale, Dilmun is a place referred to as “eastward in Eden.” The story begins in a time before duality, when there was not a world for men to speak of and no life. Dilmun is experiencing winter and is without freshwater when Ninhursag, also known as Ninmah, the patron goddess of Dilmun, pleads with Enki, the god of water, to moisturize the land of the gods. Enki thus instructs Utu the sun god to bring water up from the ground when he rises in the sky. This is highly reminiscent of Genesis 2:6, “But there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground.

Ninhursag, one of several Earth Mothers to be found in Mesopotamian literature, is pleased with Enki’s work, and they lay together, which can be thought of as symbolizing water penetrating sand. Their coupling can be thought of as representing how the water, Enki, intimately interacts with the earth. Childbirth in Dilmun is painless, which calls to mind the punishment of Eve in the form of intense labor. After 9 days Ninhursag gave birth to Ninsar, also known as Ninnisig, or Lady Greenery; when water and earth meet, after the arrival of the sun, plants are produced, and at a much swifter pace than humans. Spring thus arrived in Dilmun.

With the arrival of spring, Ninhursag the Earth Mother must leave to create other parts of the world. Ninsar grows to a full adult in nine days, again referring to the growth rate of plants. Enki sailing down the Euphrateswith his minister, the two-faced Isimud. Enki, who misses his consort Ninhursag, sees Ninsar on the riverbed. She’s described in some versions of the tale as “curious and eager,” which can be taken to indicate the desire plants have for water; he seduces her, and Ninsar gives birth to Ninkura, or Lady Pasture, after nine days, and after nine more days Ninkura reaches adulthood. Just as with Ninsar, Enki sees Ninkura on the riverbed, seduces or rapes her, and she gives birth to the fertility goddess and goddess of female genitalia, Ninimma after nine days. Again the goddess reached adulthood in nine days, and again she is seduced or raped by Enki, and after nine days gives birth to Uttu, the spider goddess of weaving. Much like in the Genesis narrative, water and earth lead to plant life which leads to animal life. Spiders also weave webs which connect plants, her matrilineal ancestry. The image of a spider, of eight legs going outwards, could be conceptualized as a representation of various forms of life branching out in different directions.

Ninhursag returns to Delmun to warn Uttu of Enki’s lusty ways. Enki later goes to Uttu and asks if he can do anything for her, to which she replies with a desire for cucumbers, apples with stems, and clusters of grapes. These fruits have a certain sexual connotation; cucumbers are phallic, the way a stem meets an apple looks somewhat sexual, and grapes look similar to clusters of eggs. This is the first time apples are mentioned in Paradise, a theme that would be revisited by Milton’s Paradise Lost in 1967, and the taboo nature of Enki’s actions in association with fruit recalls Eve’s eating of the fruit. These are examples of Joseph Campbell’s “one forbidden thing,” as all humans are tempted to do the one thing that they’re told not to do.

Enki retrieves the fruits for Uttu from “the gardener” and brings them to her. Upon receiving the fruits, Uttu is raped by Enki. Uttu goes to Ninhursag in distress and the Earth Mother then helps to remove Enki’s semen from Uttu’s body, and it is cast upon the dirt. In nine days, eight plants emerge from the soil: the tree-plant, the honey plant, the vegetable plant, the alfalfa grass, the atutu plant, the actaltal plant, the du plant, and the anharu plant; these are the first plants.

Enki’s Affliction

Enki spies the plants from his boat, and he and Isimud investigate. Enki does not know the plants, nor has he ordained their destinies. One by one, he asks Isimud what the plants, made from Enki’s seed, are called, and his messenger tells him their names. As the names are listed, Enki eats the plants and finds them delicious. Ninhursag finds that he’s eaten the plants, curses Enki, and leaves Dilmun. Enki falls very ill and begins to die. None of the gods can save him save for the absent Ninhursag.

A kindly fox appears, an intermediary between Enki and Ninhursag, and volunteers to seek out the Earth Mother and return her to Dilmun at the request of Enlil, the Supreme God and brother of Enki. Foxes are known for being sly, sneaky, and crafty; a crafty and sneaky creature can be found in the Garden of Eden in the form of the serpent. Enki, too, shows elements of a trickster in some myths. The fox brings back the goddess, who is remorseful. She embraces the dying god, places Enki next to her vagina, in alignment with Campbell’s idea of the “twice born,” so he can be born again, healed of his afflictions; it’s a symbol of the birthing posture. She kisses him and asks where his pain is. Every time he responds, she takes the pain into her body and gives birth (as Eve does after the Fall) to a god: from the top of his head came Abu, god of plants and growth; from a lock of his hair, Nintulla; from his nose, the goddess of healing Ningiriudu otherwise known as Ninsutu or Ninsitu; from his mouth (or his ka, which is also the Egyptian word for one of the three parts of the soul), Ninkasi, the goddess of beer; from his throat, Nanshe or Nazi, the goddess of social justice and divination; from his arm, Azimua, another goddess of healing; from his sides, Ensag or Emshag, the fertility god and Lord of Dilmun; and from his rib, Ninti, the goddess of life. The creation of a woman from a rib may have served as a basis for the similar creation of Eve in Genesis. The names of the gods are best understood in their original language, in which they sounds very much like the body part they are responsible for healing; this is the primary reason for the correlation.

The Earth Mother then determines the destinies of the eight new gods. Abu was made king of the grasses; Nintulla, lord of Magan; Ninsutu married Ninazu; Ninkasi was assigned to be what satisfies the heart; Nanshe marries Nindara, Azimua marries Ningishzida; Ensag, lord of Delmun; and Ninti becomes the lady of the month. After the destinies were ordained, Enki ceased to feel pain and repented his deeds, for which he is forgiven; Ninhursag is then given a seat of honor at a feast in Nippur celebrating Enki’s new home in Eridu. From an agricultural perspective, this story could be read as a cautionary tale about the over-irrigation of crops.


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