Myth: Mesopotamian Mythology
aka: Sumerian 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-around 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 evolution of their religion over time.
Major characters of Mesopotamian Mythology include:
- Anu, god of heaven and the stars.
- Enlil (Ellil) The god of 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.
- 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, Queen of the Netherworld and Nergal, god of plagues and fire.
- 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-creatrix 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 and forced to cede her power to him. Several other goddesses 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.
- Copy Cat Stu: In the lost Sumerian version of Enuma Elish, Enlil was probably responsible for vanquishing Nammu/Tiamat. In the Babylonian version, this honor was given to Marduk.
- 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 Enuma Elish 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.
- 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...
- The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry: Inanna and Ereshkigal
- The Great Flood: Possibly the Trope Maker
- 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.
- Horny Devils: Lilitu, Dimme and Dimme-kur were sometimes portrayed this way as well.
- 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.
- Jerkass Gods: Indeed.
- Les Yay: Inanna and Ninshubur, full stop.
- 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 and more good-natured gods.
- Making a Splash: Enki, god of rivers and lakes. 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 creature 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 Enuma Elish. 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 Alū, Edimmu or Gidim; they were usually not very nice.
- Our Giants Are Bigger: Humbaba, among others.
- 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.
- 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.
- Tsundere: Inanna was usually Type A.
- She also seems to cross over into Yandere territory
- The Vamp: Lilitu, who was ordered by the gods to attempt to lead men astray.
Works that reference and/or derive from Mesopotamian mythology
- Cthulhu Mythos (sort of)
- Fate/stay night and its franchise.
- Storm Constantine's Grigori Trilogy
- Snow Crash
- 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.