By Professor Tikva Frymer-Kensky, extracted from her work "In the Wake of the Goddesses: Women, Culture and the Biblical Transformation of Pagan Myth", 1992, Fawcett Columbine, New York


The average wife [in Sumer - Lishtar´s addition] was no queen. Far from participating in the literary or political life, she was fully occupied with the rearing of children and the multiple economic functions that women performed for their households. She was not insignificant, for her contributions were essential for the survival and well-being of her family, But her activities were all in the private sphere; she wielded little or no power outside her family.

The myth Enki and Ninhursag presents one view of the origin of marital relationships, of the domestication of male and female. In this myth, Enki has copulated freely first with Ninhursag, then with the daughter of that union (Ninnisiga), the daughter of the second union (Ninkurra), and the daughter of the third union (Ninimma). Things begin to change with Ninimma´s daughter Uttu. As Uttu reaches puberty, Ninhursag intervenes to give Uttu the advice that when Enki wishes to sleep with her, she should ask first for the gifts of fruits. Enki gets these fruits, which in this context represent the gifts that a husband gives his bride, and comes formally bearing the gifts to Uttu´s house. Uttu thereupon opens the door (a formal act of marriage), Enki comes in, gives her the gifts and consummates their marriage.In this myth, as in so many myths of origins, social reality is given a history, by which institutions of society are shown to have evolved from an earlier, unsatisfactory state. In the myth Enki and Ninhursag, marriage has come because of sexual reticence, and Uttu is now a properly married woman. But marriage is not a simple institution.

For this reason, the myth presents one unexpected and unpleasant consequence of domestication. Enki´s partners before Uttu, from Ninhursag through Ninimma, had all being instantly responsive to Enki´s sexual overtures. They had Sex readily, conceived easily, underwent pregnancies which lasted nine days rather than nine months, and then gave birth effortlessly ("like sweet butter and juniper oil"). Easy in, easy out, no part of their reproduction had any hesitation, delay or difficulty. By contrast, Uttu, who was not instantly available,has difficulty in pregnancy. Enki has to woo her, first bringing bride gifts and coming to her home, then making her ready for the marriage act by plying her with beer before having Sex with her. Uttu then has trouble bearing a child. Quite unlike her predecessors among Enki´s sexual partners, this first "properly married" woan is in such agony early in her pregnancy that Ninhursag had to intervene to remove the see from her womb.

The story of Uttu connects marriage and domestication with difficulty in childbirth. This combination might seem strange, but a similar juxtaposition of marriage and domesticity with difficulty in childbearing is known to us from the story of Adam and Eve. In Genesis, after the expulsion from the garden, the lot of Eve is twofold: to be subordinate to the husband she desires, and to have great difficulty in childbirth. The very human and civilized institution of marriage is part of the differentiation of humans from animals, which also give birth so much more easily than human women. In the Enki and Ninhursag myth, the contrast between Uttu and the premarital sexual partners of Enki may also represent a belief, found also in the Bible (Exodus 1:19), and some of our own folk belief, that cultural, civilized women do not give birth with the same ease as "natural" women. The domestication of women makes them more "civilized", farther removed from animals and nature, and as a result they no longer are able to perform the "natural" function of childbirth with ease.In this myth, the goddess Uttu is the first wife, the paradigm of a married woman. In other myths, She appears as the Divine Weaver. In the myth Enki and the World Order, Enki organizes the cosmos and gives Uttu charge over "everything pertaining to women", specifically the weaving of clothing. Uttu also appears as the weaver in another composition, the philosophical disputation Lahar and Ashnan, "Ewe and Grain". This dispute begins with a glimpse of proto-time, a time when Ewe (the archetype of wool-bearing animals) and Wheat had not yet been created, and Uttu herself had not yet been born. As a result, there was no cloth to wear, and people went around naked and eating grass. The gods acted to better the condition of humanity, and by so doind make humans more able to feed and clothe the gods. They created Ewe and Wheat and gave them to humanity. Then, in a dinner altercation, Ewe boasts that she possesses all the yearns of Uttu. Uttu, according to this composition, is the weaver of the cloth of royalty.

A bilingual Sumerian and Akkadian book of incantations and rituals for the release of problems, Surpu, contains a ritual for the first tying and then releasing the sufferer. The incantation for this act invokes Uttu as the spinner who spins the great multicolored thread. Uttu´s prowess in spinning and weaving gives her the title of Skillful Woman and Faithful Woman.Uttu´s role as a divine weaver is not separate from her role as a paradigm of wife. In producing cloth, she shared with human wives their creative function. The importance of women´s spinning and weaving in early economic life cannot be overestimated....

There is yet another way in which Uttu mirrors and models the life of a Sumerian wife. Nothing is known of her beyond her marriage, her difficulty in childbirth and her cloth making. She is not a major figure in the pantheon; she takes no part in any adventures or deliberations of the gods. Uttu appears in the literature only as a weaver or as first wife. But her nonparticipation in the public activities of the gods is not mere absence. The silence screems out at us, for her nonpresence in public life is essential to her modeling of wifehood. Invisibility and anonymity are precisely the attributes of nonroyal wives, for they had little role to play in the public sphere. In that which she does not do as well as in that which she does, Uttu is the model of a Sumerian wife.


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