Myth / Mesopotamian Mythology

The term "Mesopotamian mythology" covers the ancient religions of Sumer, the Akkadian Empire, Assyria, and Babylon. Obviously, Mesopotamia figures heavily in the Bible; Abraham and his kin were, mostly likely, natives of the Sumerian city of Ur.

Sumer, as you might have learned in your World History classes, is probably the oldest human civilization. It flourished from the 5th to the 3rd millennia BCE. Sumer began and ended as a collection of city-states in what is now Iraq. It's usually assumed that Sumerians were responsible for the invention of year-round agriculture, writing, the wheel, irrigation, and beer. Since the Sumerian language has no known cognates, it's anyone's guess where they came from. Some writers take this a step further and argue that the Sumerians were either assisted by aliens or aliens themselves.

Sumer began to decline in the 3rd millennium BCE. Like the collapse of any superpower, there were a lot of reasons for this, but the primary cause, it seems, is that they were displaced by Akkadians and various other Semitic people. After Sumer's decline, there arose the Akkadian Empire, who "borrowed" the Sumerian gods in a similar fashion to the way the Romans borrowed the Greek gods. The Akkadian Empire was not as fortunate as Sumer had been, though, and its rule collapsed after about a century. But the Akkadians proved to be a plucky lot and managed to regroup and build new cities (only to be continually reconquered by their neighbors, restarting the whole process). They kept this up until they were all conquered in 539 BCE by the Persians, which rendered the whole thing pretty moot.

Studying Mesopotamian mythology, in general, is a little bit easier than studying most Indo-European mythologies because the Mesopotamians were literate. Even so, there's a lot of conflicting information. The most likely reason is an evolution of their religion over time.

Major characters of Mesopotamian Mythology include:
  • Anu, god of heaven and the stars.
  • Enlil (Ellil) The god of the wind and the sky. Often identified with Jupiter.
  • Enki (Ea) The god of water and wisdom. Enki was much more fond of humanity than most other gods and was generally a pretty groovy guy. Often identified with Mercury.
  • Ishkur (Adad), god of storms. He is either the brother of Enki or a son of Nanna and Ningal.
  • Nammu, (Tiamat) goddess of the primeval waters.
  • Ki, goddess of the earth.
  • Ninhursag (Ninmah, Nintu, Mamma, Aruru, Belet-Ili), goddess of nature and earth, and the wife of Enki. May or may not be the same as Ki, above.
  • Ninlil (Sud, Mulittu), the wife of Enlil and usually the mother of Nanna, Nergal, Ninazu, Ninurta and Enbilulu.
  • Nanna (Suen, Sin), god of the moon. His wife is Ningal, goddess of the reeds.
  • Nergal, god of fire, destruction, war, plagues, and occasionally, the sun. Often identified with Mars.
  • Ninurta, god of agriculture, healing, and destruction. Often identified with Saturn.
  • Ereshkigal (Allatu, Irkalla), the ruler of the underworld, older sister of Inanna and wife of Nergal. They're the daughters of either Anu or Nanna. Often identified with Hecate.
  • Inanna (Ishtar, Inana), goddess of warfare, love, and fertility. Often identified with Venus.
  • Utu (Shamash), god of justice and the sun, son of Nanna and Ningal.
  • Marduk, water, vegetation, judgment, and magic; son of Enki and Damkina. As the patron deity of Babylon who was created to justify the Babylonians' dominance, you could call him an Ur-Example of a Marty Stu.

Works on the wiki that constitute Mesopotamian Mythology:

Tropes found in Mesopotamian mythology:

  • Always Chaotic Evil: The Allu, Asakku, Gallu and Rabisu
  • Back from the Dead: Dumuzi, Inanna's husband, in a "Just So" Story about the origin of the seasons.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: The courtship of Ereshkigal and Nergal. Ironically, when they finally liberate their tension, it only complicates their story even more.
  • Big Good: Enki is the main benevolent deity.
  • Blow You Away: Enlil, god of wind and air. Also Ishkur, god of storms.
  • Canon Immigrant: Many religious scholars believe that Inanna, due to the difficulty in deciphering the origin of her name, her constantly changing parentage, and the fact that she explicitly had no responsibilities at first, was originally a Proto-Euphratean goddess incorporated into the Sumerian pantheon.
  • Chickification: Can be observed from looking at the oldest Sumerian myths to its later derivatives. One example is Nammu, who went from the sole creator goddess in Sumerian myths to her more well-known Babylonian version Tiamat, a co-creator who after the death of her husband became a tyrant who is probably the Ur-Example of God Save Us from the Queen! Sumerian Ereshkigal was the sole ruler of the underworld, but in later Assyro-Babylonian myths she was subdued by Nergal, or at least shared her power with him. Several other goddesses are known to us mainly as Shallow Love Interests are also believed to have held more prominent roles in prehistory.
  • Child Eater: Dimme and Dimme-kur (Akhkhazu). Sometimes Lilitu as well.
  • The Coup: When the younger gods (led by Marduk in the Babylonian version) overthrow Tiamat and Apsu.
  • Crapsack World: Humans were created to be slaves to the gods and when they died, they all went to the same gloomy underworld. Any wonder why their scribes wrote stuff like this:
    "Tears, lament, anguish and depression are within me. Suffering overwhelms me. Evil fate holds me and carries off my life. Malignant sickness bathes me."
  • Dark Is Not Evil: Though moody and demanding, most of the gods of the Netherworld weren't really evil per se.
  • Death by Sex: Happens to all of Inanna's lovers eventually. This is why Gilgamesh turns her down.
  • Divine Conflict: The Babylonian creation myth Enma Eli is likely the Ur-Example. It deals with the conflict between the primordial divine couple Apsu and Tiamat, and their descendants the Annunaki.
  • Divine Parentage: The only humans who figure at all in the myths have this.
  • Dragons Are Divine: Tiamat, the primordial goddess of the ocean, is often depicted as a dragon.
  • Dragons Prefer Princesses: In one myth, a dragon named Kur kidnaps the beautiful goddess Ereshkigal and takes her to the Netherworld, forcing her to become the queen of the plane for the eternity. In a twist, although the dragon is defeated by Enki and she later gains some heroic development with Nergal, she is technically never rescued from her prison.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Though often described as dragons, Tiamat, Apsu, Kingu and Mummu fit this trope much better.
  • Evil Versus Evil: The demon Pazuzu was often invoked to ward off Dimme.
  • Expy:
    • Inverted. The Greek goddess, Aphrodite, is usually assumed to an expy of Astarte, a Canaanite version of Inanna.
    • Ereshkigal herself appears to be an underworld expy of her twin, Inanna (and some believe they may have even been the same goddess at one point!)
  • Femme Fatale: Inanna, of course.
  • Gender-Blender Name: A decent number of obviously-male gods have names that start with "Nin" (like Ninurta above)—translated as "lord" when it applies to them, this word is otherwise exclusively feminine, meaning "lady" and "sister". Then you have the issue with the priestess Ninshubur mentioned below, and it makes you wonder...
  • Giant Corpse World: Marduk slew the goddess Tiamat, and he created the world from her corpse.
  • The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry: Inanna and Ereshkigal had quite of one.
  • The Great Flood: Possibly the Trope Maker
  • Guile Hero: Enki uses his wisdom and knowledge to move things around for good.
  • Hard-Drinking Party Girl: Ninkasi, Siris, and Siduri, goddesses of beer.
  • Hermaphrodite: Depending on the writer, the supreme god, Anu, was sometimes portrayed as this.
  • Hero Antagonist: The monsters slain by Ninurta in his travels receive the interesting collective name of the Slain Heroes. It's unknown why are they supposed to receive this appellative.
  • Horny Devils: Lilitu, Dimme, and Dimme-kur were sometimes portrayed this way.
  • Human Mom Non Human Dad: Inverted: Inanna was married and had two sons (Lulal and Shara) with the human Dumuzi. Gilgamesh was the son of the goddess Ninsun and Lugalbanda, who was either a human deified after death or a demi-god himself (in which case it's played straight for him, as those myths depict him as the son of the sun god Shamash and a human woman).
  • I Have Many Names: Nearly all of the gods, which was somewhat inevitable when their worshipers spoke a variety of languages.
  • I'm a Man; I Can't Help It: In his forced travel to the underworld, Nergal is warned by Enki not to eat, drink, wash or have sex there, as he would cause unspecified troubles by doing so. He resists successfully except the last, as he succumbs when he sees Ereshkigal naked while taking a bath (in other versions, she was a bit naughtier and actually allowed him to see her knowing he would fall for it). They end up sharing a bed for six days.
  • Jerkass Gods: Indeed.
  • Kung Fu-Proof Mook: Enki created two eunuchs or sexless beings out of clay and sent them to rescue Inanna from the Underworld. As the plane is ruled by a seductive goddess and apparently you cannot have sex there without some danger, it's very probable that Enki made them that way in order to prevent them from screwing things further.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: There were about six main gods and hundreds of minor, local deities.
  • Lovable Sex Maniac: Enki had the rather disturbing habit of seducing his own (grand)daughters, but was usually one of the friendlier, wiser and more good-natured gods.
  • Love Redeems: Ereshkigal is first portrayed as a quite callous goddess (possibly due to having been put in the Underworld against her will), but she notably warms up after meeting Nergal and falling in love with him, to the point she breaks down when he escapes from her kingdom after their six-day idyll. It goes in the other direction as well, as Nergal is at first willing to dethrone her to prevent the troubles she threatened to cause if the gods didn't send Nergal to her again, but at the end, he accepts their love and marries her.
  • Making a Splash: Enki, god of rivers and lakes, uses the ability to control water more than once. Also his daughter, Nanshe.
  • Mr. Seahorse: In the myth of Enki and Ninhursag, Enki becomes pregnant after consuming his own semen.
  • Mix-and-Match Critters: Aqrabuamelu (scorpion men), Shedu (winged lions and bulls), Sirrush (dragon-like creatures with eagle talons and the forelegs of a cat), Zu (eagles with lion heads).
  • Offing the Offspring: Apsu and later Tiamat attempt this in the Enma Eli. It doesn't work out.
  • Our Demons Are Different: Most Middle Eastern demons, in general, are flat-out nasty, though they can Pet the Dog now and then.
  • Our Ghosts are Different: Classified as Alû, Edimmu or Gidim; they were usually not very nice.
  • Our Giants Are Bigger: Humbaba, among others.
  • Our Mermaids Are Different: A mermaid called Kulianna is believed to have fought and been slayed by Ninurta. Given that we don't know what the ancient Sumerians exactly meant with the term mermaid, it is unknown how different she was or even if she was different at all to the classic archetype.
  • Parental Incest: A bit of that, yes.
  • Satellite Love Interest: Many goddesses (Aya, Sarpanit, etc.) have little-to-no roles outside of being some god's wife.
  • Scales of Justice: Shamash a god of justice was affiliated with scales.
  • Servant Race: Humanity were explicitly created to be slaves to the gods.
  • She's a Man in Japan: Inverted. Inanna's second-in-command, Ninshubur, is female in the Sumerian myths but was turned into a male in the later Assyro-Babylonian versions.
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: Among others, Utu and Nergal.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: The Courtship of Inanna and Dumuzi.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Inanna and Dumuzi.
  • To Hell and Back: Inanna's Descent to the Netherworld is an Ur-Example, if not the Trope Maker.
  • Token Good Teammate: Enki, who is the only god who was against the plan to exterminate humanity, and rescued humanity multiple times. He is also said to protect anyone who seeks his help.
  • Tsundere: Inanna was usually Type A. She also seems to cross over into Yandere territory.
  • Unholy Matrimony: Thematically speaking, the matrimony of Ereshkigal and Nergal united the queen of the Netherworld with the god of plagues and war. Subverted otherwise, however, because none of the two was actually evil and their union put a Happy Ending to a cosmic conflict.
  • The Vamp: Lilitu, who was ordered by the gods to attempt to lead men astray. Ereshkigal as well, according to one version.

Works that reference and/or derive from Mesopotamian mythology

  • Cthulhu Mythos (sort of)
  • Fate/stay night and its wider franchise; Fate/Grand Order's seventh chapter, in particular, draws heavily on all three extant major myths for story themes, plots beats, and characters.
  • Storm Constantine's Grigori Trilogy
  • Snow Crash
  • Catherine
  • Clive Barker's Jericho, in which you battle Ninlil, Ki, Inanna, Enlil, Nanna and Utu
  • Anything mentioning Adonis; originally, the tale of Venus and Adonis (which English-speakers know primarily from the Narrative Poem by Shakespeare) was a Semitic tale about a young shepherd named Tammuz/Dumuzi, also called "Adon", ("Adonis" is derived from this term, meaning "Lord"; cf. "Adonai", "The LORD" in Jewish usage) and the goddess Ishtar. The Greeks liked the story enough to run off with it.
  • Input Output has many characters take online handles from Mesopotamian mythology, usually calling it Babylonian mythology (which make sense, given that a decent lot of story is focused on an in-story MMORPG called Babylon.) There are plenty of references to the actual mythology as well.
  • In The Order of the Stick (set in a Dungeons & Dragons RPG-Mechanics Verse) Babylonian deities are one of the three pantheons of gods who created the world, their worshippers mostly found on the Western Continent. Tiamat is a five-headed dragon and Queen of the Underworld, Nergal a lion-headed god of "death and destruction". Ereshkhagal, Ishtar, and Marduk have also been mentioned in passing.
  • A supplement to The Dresden Files RPG includes a cult of Ishtar fighting human trafficking in Las Vegas.
  • In Anatolia Story, after proving good skills at war and "mystical knowledge" (which is stuff that's basic stuff in modern times), Yuri is believed to be either a gift from or an incarnation of Ishtar. Eventually, almost everyone takes to calling her "Yuri Ishtar" or simply "Ishtar".
  • Many songs by Melechesh.
  • ABZ, as implied by the title.
  • Carmilla the Series