By Lishtar

1. Introduction
2. Historical Evidence
3. Structure and Content
4. The Intention for Enki's Organisation of the World




The composition known as Enki and the World Order has been referred to as one of the most complex of Sumerian narratives with mythical content. Enki, the Sumerian God of the Sweet Fertilising Waters of the Deep, of Crafts, Magick and Wisdom is the son of Anu, the Skyfather, and Nammu, the Primeval Waters, and one of the most importan Mesopotamian gods, later known by the Babylonians and Assyrians as Ea. Unfortunately, in-depth analyses of Enki and the World Order are scarce, so the impetus for the present essay, which we hope will contribute for a better understanding of some features of this great myth. The first translation of the myth was accomplished by Kramer in Sumerian Mythology (first edition in 1961 and revised editions1972 and 1988); C. A. Benito in 1969 translated Enki and the World Order together with Enki and Ninmah for his thesis at the University of Pennsylvania, USA. Herman L.J. Vantiphout (1997) attempted to analyse this composition in full, and it is the intention of the present article to expand on Vantiphout´s analysis, covering aspects which we believe deserve a closer investigation in the light of our understanding of Mesopotamian myth, religion and recent sources, especially involving the question of goddesses and their civilising role in Mesopotamia (as shown by Professor Tikva Frymer-Kensky), the function of intelligence for the effective exercise of power (according to Professor Jean Bottéro), and Enki´s response to Inanna´s demand for more power for HerSelf in the myth. The present article invites further discussion of such themes for an improved understanding of Mesopotamian worldview and the designs of civilisation in the Ancient Near East.



Basically, the composition is a Sumerian text preserved on Old Babylonian tablets, and many of its traits take us back to the end of the 3rd Millennium, because not only Enki´s temple in Eridu is in full activity, and let´s not forget that Eridu, or Enki´s city, is a very old settlement, where "kingship descended to Earth from the Heavens", but also shows that trade was becoming intense with the countries of the Persian Gulf, with Ur as the capital and the most important trading centre. Moreover, the region of Martu is shown an ally and not an enemy, as shown in the annals of the Third Dynasty of Ur. Meluhha, a city located at the Indian Peninsula (West coast) is mentioned as well, showing that the strength of Sumer was great and that she had allies in all civilised quarters of the known world. Historically therefore, the composition may have been inscribed at the time of the Third Dynasty of Ur, a time of triumph for ancient Mesopotamia in all levels of human endeavour (refer to Lorsque les dieux faisaient l´homme by Professor Jean Bottéro and Samuel Noah Kramer, 1993, Ed. Gallimard, Paris) .

However, we would like to point out that the composition may have been known in oral form from earlier times, because this fact perhaps would shed a light upon the last and more obscure part of the poem, or Inanna´s complaint to Enki, who, after having organised the world, gave functions to gods and goddesses, but did not assign the young goddess a specific role in his world order. At the time the first written documents begin to yield some coherent sense (c. 3,200 Before Common Era, according to Kuhrt (1995), Mesopotamia had been inhabited for well 2,000 years, i.e. from circa 5,000 Before Common Era. The rich mythology and worldview of the region must have been part of an oral tradition which may have well started with the sages of Eridu, thus predating 3,200 Before Common Era by 2,000 years, when power seems to shift towards Uruk also in South Mesopotamia but North to Eridu. Although it is impossible to reconstruct such assumption on the basis of actual historical records, we can justify this hypothesis based on the following data:

a) Eridu, Enki´s city in the marshes of South Mesopotamia, is one of oldest settlement known in Mesopotamia according to archaeological records. If we look at another ancient myth, The Genesis of Eridu, we will see that it was there that the gods descended from heaven to bestow kingship to the leaders of the land, i.e. the foundation of the justified Mesopotamian state before the Flood seems to have come from Eridu, as well as the sages or apkallu who thought the arts of civilisation to the people. The apkallu were also known as the priests of Enki, the most famous of them being Adapa. Thus, although the centre of religious power later moves from Eridu to Nippur, the city of Enlil, the Air Lord and leading deity of Sumer, remaining there to witness the rise of Babylon and Assyria. Eridu is reported in myth The Genesis of Eridu as the the cradle of civilised and religious life in Sumer. From 6,000 Before Common Era, the marshes of the South provided abundant reeds for housing, furniture, fruits which ripened at Spring and crops at autumn. It is therefore only natural that civilised life started in the South around 6,000-5,000 Before Common Era. Kuhrt (1995) noted that at Eridu a sequence of sanctuaries underlies the large, later sacred precinct of 2,100-2000 BCE, providing a record of continuity of temple building in the same spot from the high times of Eridu, also known as Ubaid I (because of a series of early sites demonstrating the same use of pottery and cultural development, among them Eridu), right through into the historical period, which is going to be addressed next, and

b) The first records of writing are found further North of Eridu, in Uruk, attesting that around 3,500 Before Common Era there was a power shift from Eridu to Uruk. This is a cultural phase known as the Uruk Period, starting with the Early Uruk in 3,500 and going up to Uruk IV or Late Uruk, which is normally called Early Dynastic Period, and shown to have started around 2,900 Before Common Era, where the first city complexes as we know them started to be built. The Uruk phase is determined by the creation of writing, the use of wheel, increased metal production and the development of stone-working for vessels. Uruk is the city of the goddess Inanna and of the Skyfather Anu. At the same time there appear immense ceremonial complexes at the sanctuary sites of Eanna, dedicated to Anu and Inanna in Uruk.

It seems therefore logical to suppose that the myth Enki and the World Order has its origins in the earliest times of the Ubaid I or Eridu Phase, where the power was centered upon Eridu as part of an oral tradition. Writing is only created around 3,500 Before Common Era, in the Uruk Period, which succeeds the Eridu Era. Thus, Enki and the World Order was probably re-worked and inscribed as we know it now at the time of the Third Dynasty of Ur, as demonstrated by Professor Jean Bottéro (1992).


The composition is divided into three parts:


3.1 PART I

The first part consists of a hymnal address to Enki, extolling his beneficience for the earth in general and for the civilized earth, clearly identified as Sumer. Enki is described and the "lord, who walks nobly on heaven and earth, self-reliant", beloved by Anu the Skyfather, prized by Enlil, Lord Air, the leading god of the younger generation of Mesopotamian deities and Enki´s older brother. Enki´s home, set up in Eridu, is a noble house described as the mast of heaven and earth, a place of stability and beauty, His is the power of fertility that comes from the sweet underground waters, and it was Him who taught how food should be properly served at the table of the gods and the people, a clear allusion to the apkallu, the sages of Enki and Eridu who taught humanity the arts of civilisation, including mathematics, referred to in the myth as computing the numbers of the stars. More importantly, it is clearly stated that Enki deserves the great trust of Enlil to bring joy to the rulers of the land, i.e. Enki receives full approval of Enlil to organise the world for the common good of rulers, explained in the myth,

Lords and rulers
to thrill their hearts, to bring them joy.
Enlil, the great Kur, has empowered you

And that Enki has also

... given the people a place to live.
...you have looked after them,
you have made sure they follow their shepherd...

... you kept the people safe in their homes

This shows without doubt that Enki´s actions are also put into practice for the common good of the land and humanity as a whole.

Enki then proceeds to praise his actions, tell us that Enlil, the leading deity of Sumer, has gathered all the ME, the measures of Earthly and Heavenly power, and placed them in Enki´s hands, and that once in possession of the Heavenly and Earthly powers, Enki passed them on from his home in Eridu to humanity, mostly as arts and crafts. The actual words of the myth are the following:

My great brother, ruler of all the lands,
gathered all the me together,
placed the me in my hands.
From the Ekur, house of Enlil,
I passed on the arts and crafts to my Abzu, Eridu.

However, although Enki is told by Enlil that he should organize the world for the greatest good of the rulers and inhabitants of the land, Vantiphout (1997) points out quite clearly that Enki does not merely do what he is told, but acts in full control of his abilities, for a) He was given the Sacred Measures of Heavenly and Earthly Powers to do so, and b) Enlil´s request was a general one, meaning that Enki had space to act independently and delegate powers,as far as He worked for the good of rulers and inhabitants of Sumer. In other words, Enki´s main role in the organisation of the world is firmly based on the application of intelligence for the optimal use of resources available, which are then entrusted to the gods and goddesses of the land in Part Two. Enki´s is therefore the organising intelligence that sets the pattern so that the deities of the land can work for the land´s good as a harmonious whole. Thus, Enki is given power (or force) by Enlil, Lord Air and the leader of the younger generation of Mesopotamian gods, to set up the pattern whereby the gods and goddesses, the cities and neighbouring regions of Sumer will work in harmony for the delight of kings and princes and the common good of the land.

These lines show a great mystery which underlines the success of Sumerian civilisation. Enki is shown as the great ally of Enlil, i.e. Enki´s intelligence and optimal use of force to achieve the best results is acknowledged by Enlil, the leading deity of Sumer. I have already explored the close bond between the two brothers as the Spirit of Sumer elsewhere in Gateways (Enlil and Enki, Soul Brothers and Spirit of Sumer in Enduring Partnerships). Why so?

Fundamentally, the bond between Enki and Enlil is profound because Enlil stands for the Outer Manifestation of Power, the impetus to establish a common vision based on the leadership, whereas Enki is the Inner Manifestation of Power, the One who Knows, gives Meaning and Finds Solutions to all impossibilites based on sheer practical or mystical insight.

While we know that Enlil rules over the land and that from Nippur He legitimizes secular power for all Mesopotamia, we also know that Enki personifies the Living Spiritual Force of Civilisation who stands by Enlil and the whole of Sumer, a Bright and Alert Torch always ready to to help when there is a need. This way one brother sustains the other, and to the question "Who comes first?" the answer is "Both, although seniority is always given to Enlil".

This is the reason why allmighty Enlil gives all the Sacred Measures to Enki and always has to concede surrender to Enki´s insights and deeds, even when these deeds go frontally against Enlil´s first intentions. However, there is no sense of Enlil being the loser, humiliated or degraded by Enki. The impression we get is of balance, commonsense and hope.

I have come to experience the deep bond between Enlil and Enki as the manifestations of secular power and inner power in the land. Both are intrinsically linked to each other. They represent a vision of harmony that kept the legacy of Sumer intact in Mesopotamia, as put so well in the myth Enki and the World Order. Therefore, to the outer power of Enlil to command, initiate, affect or stop actions, as well as to safeguard them, corresponds in equal measure Enki´s understanding of the mechanics of Form and use of Intelligence in Proportion, whereby such acts, influences and outcomes should take better effects, be assessed and improved upon.

In terms of form, clearly, the first part of the myth shows a liturgical character, and may well have been recited in rites and chanted in ceremonies of the cult of Enki. The last lines of the first part stress the fact that Enki is praised by all the gods of Sumer as one of the Great Gods of the land:

The great prince who had drawn near to his land,
the Anunna-gods speak with affection:

Lord who rides the great me,
the pure me,
who stands watch over the great me,
the myriad me,
who is foremost everywhere above and below,
at Eridu, the pure place,
the most precious place
where the noble me have been taken in -
'O Enki, lord above and below, praise!


3.2. PART II

In the second part of the myth, Enki goes on a journey by barge, visiting several cities and locations. A recurrent pattern in Sumerian mythology consists of the journeys of the gods by barge, especially to Nippur, the religious capital of Mesopotamia. We have accounts of the the journeys of Nanna (the Moon God) and Ninurta (the Farmer-Warrior-Metallurgist god) to Nippur, as well as Enki´s journey both to Eridu, where he builds his temple to Nippur to visit and praise Enlil, the leading deity of Sumer. The New Year´s Festival both at Ur and Babylon included a triumphant arrival of the city god or goddess by barge and a procession as part of the festivities´ scheduled events.

Enki´s journey in this myth has a triumphant character, for He first blesses the whole land of Sumer:

Sumer, great Kur,
mada of what is above and below,
robed in enduring light,
settling the me upon the people
from sunrise to sunset,
your me are lofty me,
your heart is a maze,
your life-giving womb,
the place where the gods give birth: like heaven
it cannot be touched.
It gives birth to kings who fasten the lasting diadem.
It gives birth to the high priests who put crown to head.
Your lord, the honored lord, sits with king An,
on the dais of An. ...

The Anunna-gods, the great gods,
have taken up dwelling in your midst,
consume their food in your giguna
among your rare trees.

House, Sumer,
have your many stalls built,
have your cows multiply,
have your many sheepfolds set up,
have your sheep be many,
have your giguna reach the sky,
have your lasting shrine lift hand to heaven!

Next, He visits and blesses the cities of Nippur, "the place where the gods are born", Ur, Meluhha (in the Indus Valley), Magan, Elam Mahashi, Martu, Dilmun, bestowing upon them gifts such as abundant crops, flocks, precious metals and success in war. Then he lends power to the sea, rivers, clouds and rain, turning the barren hills into fields and lending extra power to the rivers Tigris and Euphrates by filling their beds with a stream of his own semen. Enki also makes the sheep, cattle and crops multiply and establishes the skills of building and weaving. As each specific domain is named, Enki appoints a god or goddess to supervise it.

Now, it is frequently overlooked in the analyses of this myth that Enki assigns tasks for the gods and goddesses of the land which were already within Their domain of expertise. In other words, a closer examination of Mesopotamian mythology, religion and literature will prove that all deities quoted performed their functions already previous to Enki´s managerial designs for them. Nevertheless, by formally setting up specific tasks and domains for gods and goddesses in the organisation of Sumer, Enki establishes a harmonic whole, and it is this harmonious whole that Enki is in charge of overseeing and empowered to do so by Enlil, the Air god, for the delight of kings and princes of the land for the common good.

Previous analyses of this myth center on the figure of Enki only, with little or no importance attributed to the other gods and goddesses in special. As shown by Professor Tikva Frymer-Kensky (1992), the Sumerian pantheon included the worship of goddesses and gods, who were an integral part of Sumerian religion and thought. Extant analyses of Enki and the World Order also do not take into account that these gods and goddesses already existed and performed their duties before Enki assigns the specificity of their domains, and that both genders, i.e. gods and goddesses, are fundamental for the smooth and precise running of Enki´s orderly world. In page 12 of her masterwork In the Wake of the Goddess (1992, ibid. ), we quote Professor Frymer-Kensky in full:

"In their control of cities, goddesses and gods play equivalent roles. The god of the city could be either male or female. In most cases, this deity also had a spouse who was less important to the wellbeing fo the city thatn the deity itself. It was not always the male partner who was the major god. Either configuration was possible: the goddess could be the major deity, with her male spouse less significant than she; the male god could be chief deity, with a wife secondary to him."

Professor Frymer-Kensky goes further to affirm that in most conceptual realms, the Sex division in the Sumerian divine world was not incidental. The Sex of a god was crucial to that god´s role and function in the thought system, and that many of the goddesses of Sumer represented the arts of civilisation. Nisaba is the goddess of grain the the scribe of the gods, Uttu, the weaver goddess, the one who bestowed the people the art of clothmaking, an essential aspect of civilised life for the Sumerians, who saw the use of skins as garment as a sign of uncivilised behaviour.

On the other hand, Enki specifically entrusts the twin rivers to the god Enbilulu, the marshes to an unknown god, the sea to Nanshe (goddess), the rains to Ishkur (a god), agricultural construction to the god Enkimdu, the growing of plants to the goddess Ashnan, clay works to the goddess Kulla, architecture to the goddess Mushdama, animal life on the plains to the god Shakan, herding to the god Dumuzi, demarcation and judgement to the god Utu/Shamash, and weaving to the goddess Uttu.

We turn therefore to Professor Bottéro (1992) who says that Enki´s strengths are in terms of organisation, control and the promotion of life, and, to that goal, of intelligence and technical and practical success in the supreme interests of the divine and human society. There is, nevertheless, an extra factor mentioned by Dion Fortune and Gareth Knight (1998), who defined the precise application of force as "strength in proportion", i.e. from a lion, it is going to be required the strength of a lion, from an ant, it is going to be asked the strength of an ant, no more no less. So this is the true nature of Enki´s power: strength in proportion, planning, strategy and harmonisation of powers. For all these reasons Enki in this myth is chosen to be the Patron of all the gods and goddesses of Sumer because of his dynamism, insight and his leadership qualities exercised by empowerment.


The third and final part of the myth is damaged, but basically consists of Inanna´s complaint that She did not receive any specific office in the running of the universe; while five goddesses did receive worthy functions: Aruru, Ninisina, Ninmug, Nisaba and Nanshe. Only the first half of Enki´s reply is preserved, but it seems that He states clearly that after all, Inanna does stand for a number of properties or competences, especially those belonging to war and strife. Because the very end of the composition is missing, we do not know the full extent of Enki´s reply to Inanna.

As damaged and broken as the text of Enki´s response to Inanna is, the text is what we got and we should try and understand its deeper meaning. We propose here that perhaps we can find a better way to understand this myth if we look at the historical context as demonstrated in section 1. Historical Evidence of this essay, and add some notes on the development of the mighty figure of Inanna/Ishtar through Her own cycle. May I kindly remind you that Inanna is always referred to in this myth by Enki as a young goddess, and Her words and tearful behaviour towards Her authority shows that Inanna had not come into Her full powers as yet. Quoting from the myth:

Inanna: ...Me, the woman, why did you treat in a different way?
I, the holy Inanna: where are my functions?

Enki answers his daughter, the holy Inanna:

What did I keep from you?
Innin, what did I keep from you?
What more could we add to you?

Young Inanna, what did I keep from you?
What more could we add to you?

Let´s examine the evolution of the image of Inanna. Previous to the writings of Enheduanna, the High Priestess, royal princess and daughter of Sargon of Akkad, the emperor who unified South and Central Mesopotamia in an empire for the first time, Inanna´s cult was not that widespread. The image of the goddess and a figure of strength is one of the striking features of the poetry of Enheduanna, the first author in world literature, because Inanna was tha patron goddess of the Sargon and of the Sargonid dynasty. Therefore, previous to 2,300 Before Common Era, Inanna´s image had not as yet fully matured in the minds and soul history of Sumer. However, She had some of Her powers already centered on Love and War, which were acknowledged by Enki. We have mentioned in our Historical Evidence that the origin of Enki and the World Order may be well older than 3,000 Before Common Era as part of the oral tradition stating the power of Eridu over the land, which was then inscribed during the Third Dynasty of Ur and reworked to symbolise the success story of the legacy of that Era to the world as known until then. By 3,000 Before Common Era the figure of Inanna was still of a young immature goddess, who had yet to conquer the Sacred Measures from Enki, as stated in the myth Inanna and Enki, the god of Wisdom. In this myth, a further development surely from Enki and the World Order, Inanna conquers the Sacred Measures or ME from Enki and take them back with Her to Uruk. Far from being defeated, Enki at the end of this myth declares Eridu and Uruk allies and friends, great in power unto themselves.

Therefore, it seems to be logical to suppose that the myth Enki and the World Order belongs to an earlier phase, when the young goddess Inanna had not as yet conquered the Sacred Measures or ME from Enki, as She does in a myth of Her cycle. This assumption can be substantiated because the figure of Inanna raises in strength and power with the coming of the Uruk Period, the creation of writing and is definetly grounded by the writings of Enheduanna, which come much after the Eridu Period, as presented in the section of Historical Evidence. We believe that this is a context that may well explain better the final dialogue of Enki and the World Order, which could be interpreted as previous to the shift of power between Eridu and Uruk.

Finally, still on the dialogue of Inanna and Enki and how it has been interpreted in the literature so far, we would like to say that authors usually concentrate on Inanna´s polar qualities of strife and war for example, not mentioning that Enki himself referred to Her as the goddess who makes kings and whose allure is unmatched. Inanna, after all, is the Joy of Sumer and the delight of kings and humankind, a fact that is totally ignored by those who attempted to analyse this myth. It is important to point out that Enki always appears in myth as the ally and friend of Inanna in many myths, so it would be illogical to suppose a radical change of mind on his side towards the young goddess on the make. as well and the Great Goddess of Love and War of the Land. It would therefore be expected that once the negative aspects of the goddess are mentioned, the positive would also follow as a natural sequence in the mythical narrative. This point is never raised in extant analyses of this myth. Enki helped to bring Inanna from the Underworld to the Land of Living in the Descent of Inanna and healed the goddess who had been raped in Inanna and Shukalletuda, bestowing upon Her the Sacred Measures in the myth Inanna and Enki. There is no reason to believe his response to the young goddess in Enki and the World Order would be totally negative as implied in the modern analyses of this myth until now.



Based on the above, we can say that Enki´s intention for the organisation of the world consists firstly of setting up the bonds between Sumer, its cities and neighbouring regions so that they all work together for the common good, Ur especially because of its importance as the main port, together with its trading partners.

Secondly, there is a strong administrative element in Enki´s organised world, because several areas and/or activities are entrusted to the responsibilities of gods and goddesses. In this fashion, production and results can be regulated with the ultimate goal of creating the conditions in which wealth can be brought to the Land as a whole.

Thirdly, it can be said that Enki´s achievement is not so much in the material goods themselves produced, for these goods were already in existence by the gods and goddesses. What is unique though is the way Enki establishes the pattern whereupon all gods work together in harmony, with Enki in charge of overseeing results.

The most significant point seems to be that Enki proceeds truly by efficient management, not hard labour. He entrusts the most important branches of infrastructure to those best equipped to deal with them in a practical way and on a daily basis, he also cuts out overlaps and appoints only one general manager best placed to oversee everything, and thus to guard all demarcations and disallow infringements, in the figure of the sun God Utu, the all-seeing eye of Justice.

Summing up, rarely in world mythology there is a myth of creation from the standpoint on an ensemble. Normally, the pattern is the world being created by one or two mighty deities either out of nothing or chaos. The highlights of Enki and the World Order are creation from concerted efforts, joint work, empowerment and partnership, as well as the other cities and neighbouring lands for the success of Enki´s programme. Furthermore, it is expressly said that Enki acts at the behest of the great gods. There is no hint of a feeling of inferiority on Enki´s part: his self-praise is already enough to refute this idea.

The final aspect embedded in the myth is Enki´s love and care for humankind. Enki and the World Order is a living legacy of the conditions for the good life on earth, which is taken to be identifical to the idealized Sumerian way of public life. These conditions consist of a well-ordered organization, of the fixation and demarcation of responsibilities for the common good,and are still today an example to be followed to the letter. Life is no more no less than the fruit of the efforts we put to make it be. Some choose denial and negativity. I choose consciously and live by the truth of making everything I do a song of love to existence, an exercise in fruition and joy, creativity and inspiration in all levels and spheres. This is the way of Sumer, the ways of Enki first, and then Inanna´s. Thus, the final words of this essay are the final words of the myth itself:

"Father Enki, praise!"


Lishtar, October 2nd 2000




Benito, C. A. (1969) Enki and Ninmah and Enki and the World Order (Microfilm). Ann Arbor, 1969.

Bottéro, Jean (1992) Mesopotamia: writing, reasoning and the Gods. Chicago, London, University of Chicago Press. First published in French by Gallimard in 1987.

Bottéro, Jean and Kramer, Samuel Noah (1993) Lorsque les dieux faisaient l´homme: mythologie mésopotamienne. Ed. Gallimard, Paris.

Fortune, Dion and Knight, Gareth (1998) Concerning the Use of the Weapons of Gebuhra. In: The Magical Battle of Britain. London, Society of Inner Light.

Frymer-Kensky, Tikva (1992) In the Wake of the Goddesses: Women, Culture and the Biblical Tansformation of Pagan Myth. Fawcet Columbine, New York.

Kramer, Samuel Noah (1972) Sumerian Mythology: a study of Spiritual and Literary Achievement in the Third Millennium BC (revised edition). Greenwood Press, Connecticut.

Kuhrt, Amélie (1995) The Ancient Near East, c. 3,000-330 BC. New York, London, Routledge. Volume I.

Vantiphout, Hermann L. J. (1997) Why did Enki organize the World? In: Finkel, I.L. and Geller, M.J. (editors) Sumerian Gods and Their Representations. Styx Publications, Groningen. Vol. #7 of the Series Cuneiform Monographs.



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