Fury of Yig: Ninurta and Ningiszida

This is one of the first pieces I wrote for Fury of Yig, and, as is so often the case, it won’t make its way into the final book.  I’m presenting it here for your entertainment.  Of course, the book described, the author, and the reviewer are entirely fictional.

Scheible, Nathan. Ninurta and Ningiŝzida: A Transliteration and Translation from Stone Library 358. Original Sources from the Ancient World 16. Arkham, MA: Miskatonic University Press. 2002 xlii+135 pp. $129.95.

Then did Sharar say to Ninurta, “The Serpent of the Underworld comes, O Lord! The skies darken with his poison, The animals die beneath his breath, The ground roils with his children, The crescent-headed ones come forth. Trees crash and the cattle fall, Women are left sterile in his wake. Prepare for battle, and call to Enlil!… – Scheible, stanzas 323-334

Many of the deeds of the warrior-god Ninurta, patron of Nippur, have been lost to modern scholars. A list given in the Lugal-e mentions among his defeated opponents such fantastic names as “The Kulianna, the Basilisk, the Gypsum / the ‘Strong Copper,’ the warrior ‘Six-Headed Buck,’ / Magilum, the lord ‘Heaven’s Hobble,’ / the Bison, King Datepalm, / the Thunderbird, and the ‘Seven-Headed Serpent’” (Jacobsen 1987:243) – a fantastic lot, to be sure. Now, from the Stone collection of Miskatonic University appears a previously unknown work describing the god’s conquests, this time against the serpent Ningiŝzida, translated by Nathan Scheible of the school’s Ancient History department.

Ningiŝzida had been known in previous texts as the guardian of the gates of the underworld in the Descent of Inanna, but here he takes on the role of a lord of the serpents, or “crescent-headed ones” – most likely a reference to the horned viper (Cerastes cerastes) endemic to the region. Sharar, Ninurta’s intelligent mace, tells him of Ningiŝzida’s arrival from the underworld and how his children bring death among both Ninurta’s livestock and subjects. Ninurta goes forth with two mighty lions, often depicted upon his standards, to do battle, and after fighting a mighty battle with the aid of his father Enki, subdues the crafty serpent and his brood. When Ninurta attempts to slay his foe, Ereshkigal, lady of the underworld, intervenes and promises that tribute will be paid. Ninurta claims the epithet “Dragon” for himself, heals the land and his people, and returns triumphantly to his capital, where he receives a lengthy accolade from his grateful ministers.

Scheible’s translation is on strong ground at every point; even at points where the exact reading might be under dispute, his choice of phrasing is rarely questionable. On more uncertain ground are his statements on the Jungian unconscious, which authors on popular spirituality are likely to turn into endorsements of a “universal serpent-god” or other such nonsense. It is much more likely that this, as with the parallel myth “Lugal-e,” describes the process by which a wild and unpredictable nature is tamed by civilization. Nonetheless, this is an impressive and important work that should occupy the shelves of all serious students of Mesopotamian mythology. – Arthur Townsend

Published in: on April 18, 2009 at 11:56 am  Comments (1)  

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  1. Nahash (Hebrew) “[winged/footed] serpent/[hisser], magus/enchanter, whisperer/[hisser], shining one, [he who knows brass/secrets], [Satan], seduced Eve, brazen serpent” = NINGISH.zida (Sumer) “horned snake/dragon/hydra/serpent with human head, son/identified-with Damu, lord of good tree of life, gate-keeper (Adapa encountered), fertility, magic” = Nahusha (India) “intellect, sensuality, appropriate Indra’s power, blinded by pride, discussion authenticity of Vedas, touches one with foot, Agastya curses, sentenced to wander earth in guise of serpent”

    Nimrod (Hebrew) “mighty hunter, 1st world leader, founded 1st civilisation [= agriculture]” = NINURTA (Sumer) “horned helmet, hero of pantheon, [chase], warrior, plough/farmer/cultivation of crops, ningirsu/nimirud” = Numitorem (Samoyed/Vogul) “animals, culture hero, growing crops saving deluge survivors from starvation” ~ Nemquetcha (Muyscaya) “culture hero/leader [after flood]”?

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