Etana Epic

Ancient Mesopotamian myth concerning dynastic succession.

The gods chose Etana as the first king, but his wife, though pregnant, could not give birth, and thus Etana had no heir. The god Shamash answered Etana's prayers by directing him to rescue a maimed eagle, which rewarded Etana by carrying him high up in the sky, near heaven, where Etana could obtain the birth plant to help his wife. Surviving texts are incomplete and divergent: in one version Etana makes it to heaven (but the text then breaks off); in another he falls to earth. A king named Etana ruled Kish in southern Mesopotamia sometime in the 3rd millennium BC.

* * *

      ancient Mesopotamian tale concerned with the question of dynastic succession. In the beginning, according to the epic, there was no king on the earth; the gods thus set out to find one and apparently chose Etana, who proved to be an able ruler until he discovered that his wife, though pregnant, was unable to give birth, and thus he had no heir to the throne. The one known remedy was the birth plant, which Etana was required to bring down personally from heaven. Etana, therefore, prayed to the god Shamash, who heard his request and directed him to a mountain where a maimed eagle, languishing in a pit (into which it had been thrown as punishment for breaking a sacred pact), would help him obtain the special plant. Etana rescued the eagle, and as a reward it carried him high up into the sky.

      The result of Etana's quest is uncertain because of the incomplete state of the texts. According to one fragment, Etana reached heaven and prostrated himself before the gods. There the text breaks off. According to another fragment, however, Etana either became dizzy or lost his nerve before reaching heaven and crashed to the ground. If, as many scholars believe, Etana was successful, the myth may have been used to support early dynastic claims.

      Etana of the myth is probably the Etana who ruled Kish in southern Mesopotamia sometime in the first half of the 3rd millennium BC, although there is no historical evidence laying claim to the exploits recorded in the epic. His flight is depicted on several cylinder seals of the period.

* * *


Universalium. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • epic — epically, adv. epiclike, adj. /ep ik/, adj. Also, epical. 1. noting or pertaining to a long poetic composition, usually centered upon a hero, in which a series of great achievements or events is narrated in elevated style: Homer s Iliad is an… …   Universalium

  • Etana —    A Mesopotamian myth and epic poem that follows the adventures of a human hero, Etana, who seeks to acquire from the gods the secret of having children. The story also features elements of animal fables similar to those of the legendary Greek… …   Ancient Mesopotamia dictioary

  • Etana —    Babylonian king of the earliest Kish dynasty who subsequently became a god. He became merged with Etana, the hero of an early myth, who was taken to heaven on the back of an eagle to obtain a herb needed for the safe birth of his son. Etana… …   Who’s Who in non-classical mythology

  • epic poetry —    In ancient Mesopotamia, epic poetry consisted of literary works that were generally long, explored major myths or heroic legends, and dealt thematically with weighty issues such as the origins of the world and humanity, the relationship of… …   Ancient Mesopotamia dictioary

  • MESOPOTAMIA — The original article in the first edition of the Encyclopaedia Judaica traced Mesopotamian history to its earliest beginnings and provided a detailed survey of Mesopotamian literature and institutions. With the availability of such tools as J.… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • Mesopotamian religion — Introduction  beliefs and practices of the Sumerians and Akkadians, and their successors, the Babylonians and Assyrians, who inhabited ancient Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) in the millennia before the Christian era. These religious beliefs and… …   Universalium

  • epigraphy — epigraphist, epigrapher, n. /i pig reuh fee/, n. 1. the study or science of epigraphs or inscriptions, esp. of ancient inscriptions. 2. inscriptions collectively. [1850 55; EPIGRAPH + Y3] * * * ▪ historiography Introduction  the study of written… …   Universalium

  • Mesopotamian mythology —       the myths, epics, hymns, lamentations, penitential psalms, incantations, wisdom literature, and handbooks dealing with rituals and omens of ancient Mesopotamia.       A brief treatment of Mesopotamian mythology follows. For full treatment,… …   Universalium

  • Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project — In the Neo Assyrian Text Corpus Project, the following works are published: Contents 1 State archives of Assyria cuneiform texts 2 State archives of Assyria studies 3 See also 4 Reference …   Wikipedia

  • Alan F. Alford — Alan F. Alford, B. Com, FCA, MBA is a British writer and lecturer on the subjects of ancient religion, mythology, and Egyptology.His first book Gods of the New Millennium (1996) drew on the ancient astronaut theory of Zecharia Sitchin and became… …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.