Enki and the embodied world.
The Sumerian mythic narrative now generally known as "Enki and Ninhursag" (EN) offers a hitherto unexplored instance of a similar but still quite distinct typology at play outside the IE tradition. (4) I have recently argued that the myth, far from being an archetype of the story of the Fall in the Hebrew Genesis tradition, as scholars in the early decades of the last century were understandably all too eager to assume, falls squarely instead into the category of trickster-tales. (5) Its concern is chiefly to map the effects wrought by the passage of Enki, trickster god of sweet subterranean waters, through one after another of a series of natural and cultural sites Sumerian civilization marked out in the process of organizing its world. Both as a creative force and no less--perhaps even especially--as an agent of transgression, Enki successively either makes anew or else transforms City, Marsh, Riverbank, Garden, House, and Temple into habitable spaces; in turn, he is himself ultimately transformed into the creator and guarantor of an ordered realm--the "paradise" of Dilmun (6)--that comprises those and other significant venues. He does this principally through exercise of his sexual potency in the form of predatory encounters with a number of females, including (thus incestuously) his own offspring. (7) Through the course of his activities, physical landscapes are radically altered. The blank and arid scape of Dilmun ab origine, for example, becomes a rich and highly cosmopolitan mercantile center, while previously uncultivatable land becomes fertile. Moreover, the structures of various social institutions (economic trade), technologies (agriculture, herbal medicine), and behaviors (courtship) are also either created or at least delineated and confirmed.
The myth focuses (as does the present study) on two episodes in which those transformations culminate: (8)
(E1) (EN 197-217). In a parody of earlier scenes in which Enki prowls the border between marsh and dry land to stalk his female prey, the trickster turns his attention to eight plants that have just sprouted on the riverbank from his own semen spilled in a previous assault. (9) Predation is again his modus operandi, but here the narrative switches from a sexual to a culinary code as Enki now expresses his desire to "know the hearts" and "fix the destinies" of those plants. (10) Here too is parody, of course, since these terms more properly belong to the solemnity of generically more elevated "sacred myth," not the folktale burlesque of Enki's incestuous romp through the marsh. In the case of the plants in EN, this "knowing" and "fixing" come to pass as his sukkal Isimud names each plant in turn, plucks or cuts it from the ground, and hands it to Enki, who proceeds to devour it. The success of his aim is textually acknowledged: the anonymous narrator confirms that by these means Enki indeed comes to know and determine their essential natures. At the same time, however, the trickster's meal also makes him mortally ill--as at one and the same time the (overdetermined) result of bellyache, ridiculous male pregnancy, and a curse laid on him subsequent to his eating the plants. His imminent death threatens the stability of both human and divine worlds, since he is after all the source of vital water, and the gods are strongly moved to seek a cure.
(E2) (EN 250-278). The remedy takes the form of Enki's placement within the vulva of the naked birth-goddess Ninhursag, herself a primal source of life. (11) There then follows a punning set of verbal exchanges between Ninhursag and the incorporated trickster, a dialogue in which Enki names in descending order each of the eight body parts--head, hair, nose, mouth, throat, arm, ribs, and sides--in which he is afflicted with lethal pain, and Ninhursag (somehow) produces an offspring whose name puns with that specific part. The result is an octet of minor deities that presumably embody or at least hold sway over the curative powers of the eight plants Enki earlier swallowed in E1, and with which he was (self-)impregnated. The text of the myth does not expressly say as much, but its narrative structure strongly implies that it is precisely those same eight ingested as plants that are miraculously turned into gods within Enki's male belly/womb, itself embedded in the female womb of Ninhursag. (12) The ensuing network of correspondences thus implicitly links each (divinized) plant to a specific ailment in each of eight parts of the body. Ninhursag and Enki then cooperate again in assigning a function and social place to each newborn god, thereby "fixing the destiny" of each, just as the trickster earlier did for the eight plants. The story as a whole reaches closure with formulaic praise of Enki, who emerges last from Ninhursag's vulva as (somehow) restored to health--and along with him, the world as such--by this peculiar therapeutic intervention.
The narrative clearly aims at the establishment of what Lincoln calls "homologic alloforms" involving specific things--plant, body part, ailment, divinity--whose correspondences implicitly underwrite a magico-medical pharmacopeia. (13) will deal with these shortly. First, however, and perhaps even more significantly, attention needs to be focused on the acts whereby those homologies are determined. These are acts of naming; the narrative of EN as a whole in fact is chiefly organized by means of the rhetorical trope of enumeration. (14) Moreover, its overall structure suggests that those acts themselves are also meant to be homologous: the naming of body parts and nascent gods in the second episode (E2) responds directly with the naming of plants in the first (E1). In that initial passage, Enki questions his minister before proceeding to eat each plant--just as in a series of earlier episodes (EN 92-97; 112-17; c7-10), for that matter, he asks him about each of the females (his own offspring) he will subsequently rape on the same site (15)--and Isimud responds in each instance by pronouncing its name. A brief excerpt (EN 199-208) captures something of the formulaic archaism of the scene:
"Which is this one, which is this one?" "Master, the wood-plant," he says. He plucks it and he (Enki) eats. "Master, the honey-plant," he says. He pulls it for him and he (Enki) eats. "Master, the <...> plant," he says. He plucks it and he (Enki) eats. "Master, the plant anumun," he says. He pulls it for him and he (Enki) eats.
This exchange takes place pursuant to Enki's stated desire to "know the hearts" and "fix the destinies" of the plants he has (somehow) fathered (EN 198, 217). While a pair of distinct acts attributed to separate individuals--naming (Isimud) and eating (Enki)--are involved here, it is most likely the case that the resultant "knowing and fixing" are meant to be understood as a hendiadys rather than as two different actions. (16) This is especially the case insofar as "knowing" in such contexts as these is generally an act that issues in verbal expression, specifically in the naming of the thing at issue. Elsewhere in the literature, the link between naming/knowing and fate is a common one, as is the centrality of both to narratives of the creation and organization of the world. The most familiar linkage of ideas of course appears in the opening lines of the Enuma Elish (EE), which designate the time before cosmogony as a time "when yet no gods were manifest, / nor names pronounced, nor destinies decreed" (Dalley 1989: 233); (17) the cosmogonic work that fills the last two tablets of the poem also directly confirms their association. Enki's eating of the plants in EN as a means of "knowing hearts" and "fixing destinies" may well be tricksterish parody, as some have argued, (18) but it should not be allowed to conceal the genuinely serious character of the act it evokes. The background to Enki's play in the marsh is the "high" narrative in which worlds brought forth from chaos are subjected to divine organization by means of the word in order to endow them with meaning and perdurance.
The god's own direct involvement in cosmogonic "knowing and fixing" of the more solemn type is perhaps clearest in the celebratory text "Enki and the World Order" (EWO), (19) which narrates (among other acts) his triumphal journey by barge throughout Sumer and also the outlying lands of the Indus Valley, Bahrain, and the nomadic wilderness. Along the way, Enki--"the lord who determines the fates" (EWO 218), "the lord of the destinies" (EWO 221)--assigns to each its proper nature and role in the new cosmic order (EWO 217; 220):
"My father (An), the king of heaven and earth, made me famous in heaven and earth. My elder brother (Enlil), the king of all the lands, gathered up all the divine powers and placed them in my hand ... With Enlil, looking out over the lands, I decree good destinies. He has placed in my hands the decreeing of fates ..." Then he proceeded to the sanctuary of Urim. Enki, lord of the Abzu, decreed its fate: "City which possesses all that is fitting, bathed by water! Sturdy bull, altar of abundance that strides across the mountains, rising like the hills, forest of hashur cypresses with broad shade, self- confident! May your perfect powers be well directed. The Great Mountain Enlil has pronounced your name great in heaven and on earth. City whose fate Enki has decreed, sanctuary of Urim, you shall rise high to heaven!" Then he proceeded to the land of Meluha. Enki, lord of Abzu, decreed its fate: "Black land, may your trees be great trees, may your forests be forests of highland mes trees! Chairs made from them will grace royal palaces!... May your bulls be great bulls, may they be bulls of the mountains! May their bellowing be the bellowing of wild bulls of the mountains! The great powers of the gods shall be made perfect for you! May the francolins of the mountains wear cornelian beards! May your birds all be peacocks! May their cries grace the royal palaces! May all your silver be gold! May all your copper be tin-bronze! May all you possess be plentiful!..."
It is evident from these and other passages that the "fixing of destiny" is closely bound up with acts of descriptive nomination. Urim (Ur), "bathed by water," with its mercantile abundance and shady hashur cypress groves, is to all appearances first identified as such before its destiny "in heaven and on earth" is pronounced by Enki. That destiny is of course precisely what has already been named--water, abundance, hashur groves--in the opening lines; description and destination therefore coincide. This is even clearer in the case of Meluha (the Harappan Indus), where the coincidence is a direct one: what Enki decrees for it once and for all in fact defines the character and status it has therefore enjoyed ab origine in the eyes of the myth's intended audience. Chairs made of wood from its mes trees are indeed among the furniture in royal palaces. Its essential nature is identical with the destiny that has been fixed for it, inasmuch as its nature is at one and the same time the expression and also the effect of that destination; other decrees in EWO are similarly structured. (20) These notions in turn stand closely related to the meaning of the Sumerian term me, often translated as "privileges" or "powers," which not only identify and encharter the spheres of influence assigned to various deities, but also designate what is most essential about each of the realms into which the civilized world as a whole is divided. (21) As Bottero (1989: 183) notes
non seulement il a quelque chose d'ontologique, mais il s'entend tout d'abord de <<secrets>>, apanage mysterieux des dieux et mis au point par eux, et qui sont correlatifs aux <<destins>>, concernant pareillement ... la nature des choses: ce qui les constitue, les distingue et les definit, ce qui donne un sens original a leur existence a chacune et conditionne son emploi particulier dans l'ordre aussi bien culturel que naturel ...
As these remarks imply, Mesopotamian "fixing of destiny" entails not simply a god's evocative bestowal of political or cultic authority on various sites, along with the demarcation of their natural features--what can be called the sacralization of space, perhaps one of the most original functions of myths--but also the pronouncement and establishment of cultural institutions and technologies. The latter too is formulaic. It generally begins with reference to an invention and culminates in the installation of a named deity (likewise first descriptively introduced) to oversee its operation (EWO 222): (22)
He organized ploughs, yokes, and teams ... he opened up the holy furrows, and made the barley grow on the cultivated fields. Enki placed in charge of them the lord who wears the diadem, the ornament of the high plain, him of the implements, the farmer of Enlil- Enkimdu, responsible for ditches and dykes. He tied down the strings and coordinated them with the foundations,... planned a house and performed the purification rituals. The great prince put down the foundations and laid the bricks. Enki placed in charge of all this him whose foundations once laid do not sag, whose good houses once built do not collapse (?), whose vaults reach up into the heart of the heavens like a rainbow--Mushdama, Enlil's master builder.
Knowing/naming and the "fixing of destiny" are thus fundamentally cosmogonic and cosmological movements. Together they constitute a foundational act that serves to identify a thing's true nature, its "essential character," (23) and thereby formally determines forever its place and function in a definitive world order. Especially (but not exclusively) in the case of myths that concern the origin of technologies and ritual behaviors, the "fixing" usually entails the formal placement of the invention within a hierarchy of empowered deities that control, represent, and indeed often literally embody the craft or practice at issue. (24)
These representations are generally iconic ones, planned (or "discovered") resemblances: (25) Enkimdu is "he of the implements," presumably in reference to how he is visualized no less than to the tools that metonymically identify his function. In a more striking example, the goddess Ezina is herself the image of the barley over whose growth she exercises influence (EWO 222):
The lord called the cultivated fields, and bestowed on them mottled barley. Enki made chickpeas, lentils, and <...> grow. He heaped up into piles the early, mottled, and innuha varieties of barley.... Enki placed in charge of this her whose head and body are dappled, whose face is covered in syrup, the mistress who causes sexual intercourse, the power of the Land, the life of the black-headed Ezina, the good bread of the whole world.
It is within this broad, cosmogonic framework of newly-named powers iconically linked to the parts of the emergent world whose essence they express and over which they hold sway that Enki's behavior in EN must be placed. Despite clear elements of parody and burlesque in the myth--the signature of the trickster, after all, but in this case all too often misread (26)--the sequence of acts that stretch from Isimud's naming and Enki's eating of the plants to Enki's bellyache "pregnancy" (E1) and the (re)birth of those same plants as deities whose names correspond to the afflicted parts of his body (E2) is entirely consistent with the narrative pattern of cosmogony. This is especially the case given the stable order that emerges at the end of the story, by contrast with the state of aboriginal Dilmun before Enki's sexual and appetitive escapades. At the beginning of the narrative, Dilmun is characterized as "bright" and "pure," but at the same time also empty and arid, a merely virtual space "qui n'existe vraiment"; (27) by its close, it has been transformed into a flourishing agricultural and commercial center over which a new hierarchy of gods presides. Even more significant, given the terms in which Lincoln has argued his case, is the fact that the institution of order in EN coincides with a restoration of health by means of a kind of recombinant treatment of the body. The procedure itself now warrants closer attention.
The myth at the very least and in what is probably its most pragmatic reference celebrates the collaborative production by Ninhursag and Enki of a pharmacopeia of herbal remedies. (28) Their medical efficacy is ensured by the links that associate eight plants, eight pains, eight body parts, and eight deities in a homologous system partially underwritten by the proposal of etymological connections. Language is perhaps the principal therapeutic instrument in use here. That is to say, the pharmacopeia whose origin the myth relates is in all likelihood a magico-medical one, the materia of a therapy that proceeds at least as much (if not more) by means of the word as by the application of simples and herbs. Studies of "traditional medicine" show that what determines the identification of a certain material as medically effective is often no less semiotic than empirical, inasmuch as it rests on some indication of a perceived "natural" correspondence between it and either the symptomatology of the disease or the part of the body the disease afflicts. (29) That correspondence may be schematic and visual--the homuncular shape of mandrake comes to mind, for instance (30)--or else, as in the case of Enki's recovery in EN, a "merely" verbal one, a link discovered through the similarity of names. We recall here that language is likewise the instrument of choice in many traditional cosmogonies, where the creation and organization of the world proceed by means of acts of naming. I will return to these issues shortly.
As in the earlier exchange (EN 199-217) between Isimud and Enki about names of the plants he will eat in order to "know their hearts" and "fix their destinies" (E1), the scene that describes Enki's final healing (E2) unfolds as a formulaic and highly ritualized pattern of question and response, this time between Ninhursag and the ailing Enki. Moreover, its focus is once again on nomination (EN 251-67):
"My brother, what part hurts you?" "The top of my head (ugu-dili) hurts me." She brought Aba-U into the world. "My brother, what part hurts you?" "My hair (pa--siki) hurts me." She brought Ninsikila into the world. "My brother, what part hurts you?" "My nose (kiri) hurts me." She brought Ninkiriutu into the world. "My brother, what part hurts you?" "My mouth (ka) hurts me." She brought Ninkasi into the world. "My brother, what part hurts you?" "My throat (zi) hurts me." She brought Nazi into the world. "My brother, what part hurts you?" "My arm (a) hurts me." She brought Azimua into the world. "My brother, what part hurts you?" "My rib (ti) hurts me." She brought Ninti into the world. "My brother, what part hurts you?" "My side (zag) hurts me." She brought Ensag into the world.
Strictly speaking, of course, this etymological play serves to establish only the homology between the last two terms in the series of correspondences, namely body parts and deities, as the following table (adapted from Attinger) shows: (31)
PLANT BODY PART DEITY 1 u-gish (wood-plant) ugu-dili (head) Aba-U ("Father of Plants"?) 2 u-lal (honey-plant) pa-siki (hair) Nin-siki-la ("God of Hair") 3 ?-plant kiri (nose) Nin-kiri-utu ("Goddess Who Creates the Nose") 4 A.NUMUN-plant ka (mouth) Nin-ka-si ("Goddess Who Fills the Mouth"), ("Goddess of Beer" [kas]) 5 a-tu-tu (spiny zi (throat) Na-zi ("Throat") plant?) 6 as-tal-tal plant a (arm) A-zi-mu-a ("One Who Creates a Good Arm") 7 ?-plant ti (rib) Nin-ti ("Goddess of the Rib") 8 A m-ha-ru zag (side) En-sa-ag ("Lord of Good Things"), ("Lord of the Side" [en-zag])
The fragmentary character of the tablets on which EN is preserved makes it impossible to determine the names of two of the plants (3, 7) Enki eats. In any case, it is clear from those of the six that have survived that whatever connection exists between plant and body part, plant and deity, is not etymologically underwritten; lacking further evidence, it is impossible to determine whether morphological analogies might also have linked these plants with body parts. The puns themselves instead directly link only each afflicted body part with one of the newly born gods: Nin-ka-si (4), for instance, is "She Who Fills the Mouth" (ka) with beer (kas), precisely because she was somehow born "from"--or perhaps "for," or at any rate in some sense correspondent with--Enki's own mouth (ka). Further etymological play (EN 259f.) also identifies her (thanks to her beverage) as the one "Who Satisfies Desire" (nig-sa si), (32) but in neither case does this play extend to the name of the plant (A.NUMUN) eaten fourth by Enki. If the link between body and god is forged by acts of naming--however stretched a modern audience might find those etymologies (33)--the other links (plant to body, plant to god) instead depend entirely on associations based on the myth's narrative sequence and the analogical reasoning that structures it. Eight plants go in, eight gods come out; swallowing eight plants causes pains in eight parts, which the birth of eight deities named after those parts somehow cures.
That reasoning can be understood propositionally, since the analogies that hold between the middle and extreme terms in the sequence are in fact expressly stated. That is to say, the plants Enki eats subsequently (in a causal sense) first "become" the eight deadly pains he suffers (A:B); and those afflicted parts in turn then (etymologically) "become" eight gods (B:C) whose respective births are coincident (also in a causal sense) with the healing of each of Enki's localized pains. The implicit conclusion "therefore" (A:C) connects and identifies plants with deities as agents that hypostatize, express, and thereby ex post facto guarantee each herb's intrinsic healing power, its "secret" or "intimate nature" (Castellino 1972: 168)--that is, its "destiny" within a working, effective pharmacopeia.
This overall process unfolds in three steps, according to which what seems to be food becomes poison and then (somehow) becomes medicine that cures what damage the poison has done. What initially promised to nourish but in fact threatened to kill after going in undergoes miraculous transformation into its opposite-namely, something that heals and sustains life--after coming out. This tripartition in fact reflects the broader narrative schema that emerges over the course of E1 and E2, with the embedded body of the trickster acting as both logical and physical mediator between the vegetable world and the divine world of gods into whom the plants miraculously achieve apotheosis. This mediation--plants : Enki : deities--has several reflexes. The inherently ambiguous nature of the plants (food or poison?) first recalls fairly widespread narratives of the trickster who wisely or stupidly endangers his own health and even runs risk of death by poisoning in order to determine the medicinal powers of herbs. (34) The Huainanzi (Book of Master Huainan), for example, a mythography compiled during the second century B.C.E. but possibly incorporating material as much as three centuries older, notes with reference to the Chinese culture-hero Shen Nong that: (35)
... in ancient times the people ate plants and drank from rivers, and they picked fruit from trees and ate the flesh of shellfish or crickets. At that time there was much suffering due to illness and injury from poisoning. So Shen Nong taught the people for the first time how to sow the five grains and about the quality of the soil--which soils were prone to be arid or wetland, which were fertile or barren, which were highland and lowland. He tasted the flavor of every single plant and determined which rivers and springs were sweet or brackish, and he let the people know how to avoid certain things. At that time he himself suffered from poisoning seventy times in one day.
The later Sou shen ji (Record of Researches into Spirits) also relates that Shen Nong "thrashed every single plant with a rust-colored whip. In the end he learned their characteristics--the bland, the toxic, the cool, and the hot, taking their smell and taste as a guide." (36) True, EN presents Enki as a far more complex and deeply ambiguous figure, whose gifts to humankind are made as it were accidentally and even despite himself rather than as a result of any virtuous concern or deliberate self-sacrifice. Conversely, precious little of the trickster informs the characterization of Shen Nong--like so many in the Chinese pantheon, a Confucian make-over (37)--apart from the untoward effects that he suffers and that any true god in "sacred myth" could have certainly foreseen and circumvented. Despite that, the same basic motif seems to structure both narratives. Their themes significantly intersect at three critical points: (1) both Enki and Shen Nong, divine figures, eat or taste plants and thereby determine their previously occult properties, with Enki coming to "know their hearts" and Shen Nong learning their "characteristics"; (2) both suffer sickness as a consequence--whether from poisoning or else (in Enki's emphatically overdetermined case) from a combination of poisoning, pregnancy, and magical curse; and (3) both give rise by their efforts (intentionally or otherwise) to a body of herbal lore that has eminently practical, medical use in their respective communities.
Still, the differences are arguably perhaps even more significant than these resemblances. While both myths focus (albeit to unequal degrees) on the culture-hero/trickster as a suffering figure, and therefore on the travails of his body as the site of culturally significant pain, the main emphasis in EN falls on that body not as a merely passive object, but instead as a fundamentally transformative space. In go plants, out come gods; in goes toxin, out comes medicine. By contrast, Shen Nong is at best the heroic victim of poisoning, and thereby a virtuous barometer of what is wholesome and what is unhealthy, the nutritious and the noxious. His suffering registers facts about myriad plants whose natures have already (somehow) earlier been "fixed." By contrast, Enki is engaged in his world far more primordially than this, as is clearly reflected in the overdetermination that marks his condition after eating the plants. The trickster-god not only suffers a bellyache--as does Shen Nong--but also undergoes something like impregnation as a result. More than just suffer, furthermore, he somehow also transforms. His male womb--itself weirdly enwombed in Ninhursag's--acts as a kind of alembic in which deadly plants are concocted and thereafter magically emerge as divine medicinal agents whose powers to heal are thereby "fixed" in the permanent order of things.
The motif of Enki's pregnancy of course resonates with motifs found in other myths of male gods similarly (in)disposed much closer to home, namely elsewhere in the ancient Near East and Mediterranean. The most striking comparanda include (1) the impregnation of Kumarbi after swallowing his father Anu's penis in the Hittite myth Kingship in Heaven (38); (2) the self-uterization of the cannibal Kronos in the version recounted in Hesiod's Theogony, whereby his belly temporarily becomes a womb filled with his own offspring in an unsuccessful attempt to suppress their birth; (39) and (3) the permanent incorporation by Zeus of his pregnant Titan aunt Metis in the same narrative, she the mother--but only indirectly, so the myth would have us believe--of the goddess Athene. (40)
The latter two parallels have indeed often been invoked--though just as often only in passing--in scholarship on the myth of EN. (41) Critical differences are apparent here too, all centering on the status of the body. While Enki's "cannibalism" (E1) clearly evokes that of Kronos, neither the Greek god's motive nor the violently induced delivery forced upon him has any strict parallel in the Sumerian myth. Unless we discount Enki's (textually-affirmed) aim in eating the plants as pretext or mere parody, his desire to "know hearts" and "fix destinies" does not match Kronos' intention to deny his own offspring their birth. The abortifacient stone Kronos is tricked into swallowing likewise finds no counterpart in the gentle (albeit mysterious) maieusis to which Enki is subjected by Ninhursag. This may well be a function of the absence from the Hesiodic tale of any notion that Kronos' pregnancy is painful--a central issue in EN, with respect both to Enki himself and also to the last victim of his sexual hunger, his great-great-granddaughter Uttu (EN 186) (42)--and so too the absence of any claim that the delivery of the first generation of Olympian gods is somehow therapeutic, either for Kronos or the world at large.
A suggestively stronger parallel to the narrative of pregnant Zeus and Metis, however, is the motif in EN (E2) of birth from the body of one character being as it were rechannelled through the body of another before the offspring actually enter the world. On this procedure rests much of the miraculous quality of the transformation of plants into deities, as well as of Enki's own healing. In both instances, birth involves "unnatural" surrogation and doubling. (43) That in both the detour also involves a switch in the gender of the enclosing body--female (Metis) to male (Zeus) in Greek, male (Enki) to female (Ninhursag) in Sumerian--additionally makes for intriguing symmetry, and at the same time possibly also hints at inverse aims in the respective stories. Finally, the specific route taken in the course of birthing-the possibility that Enki's placement within the vagina of Ninhursag may be driven to some extent by his lack of a suitable (female) orifice through which the octet of new gods can come out--might be distantly echoed in the Hurro-Hittite Teshub's soliloquy in the myth Kingship in Heaven over how exactly (by the anus, by the penis, by the mouth?) to exit the body of the pregnant Kumarbi. (44) In one sense, Enki may simply need to borrow a vulva.
In both Hittite and Greek accounts, the bodies of the protagonist gods are sites of violently polarized conflict that comes to expression in acts of homicide, cannibalism, abortion, castration, and rape. This in turn involves a politics that is predominantly either intergenerational--as in the series of royal usurpations that motivate the Hittite myth, sons ousting fathers from the throne--or else deeply gendered, inasmuch as the Theogony narrative focuses chiefly on tactics employed through the course of an arduous (but ultimately successful) male ascendancy to power over reproductively dominant female deities. (45) The first of these issues is undeniably absent from the myth of EN, leaving Enki's body unscathed by bloody struggles for political succession. The conflict of gender in the Greek myth likewise seems relatively muted here, (46) since the birth of the eight gods instead takes the form of an apparently cooperative effort between the trickster and Ninhursag. For that matter, and most significantly, those births unfold in the course of a narrative whose motive is apparently not to establish lines of power and justify domination but rather to depict cosmic order as the result of therapeutic activity. (47)
The exact details of how that healing maieusis occurs remain unclear. This is partly due to the fragmentary nature of the text and to various lexical ambiguities. (48) It is presumably also because the story is simply content to mark the whole process as unworldly; narratives--and myths in particular--as a rule do not provide answers to questions they do not see fit to ask. As already noted, the strong analogy with the Hesiodic myth of Zeus and Metis, in which credit for Athene's birth is transferred by sleight of hand from goddess to god as an index of triumphant male parthenogenesis, might suggest mutatis mutandis a similar (though inverse) aim in EN, namely affirmation of Ninhursag's female reproductive power. (49) Without her direct intervention, after all--which she in fact at first withholds (EN 218f.)--Enki is certainly fated to die of poisoning/in the act of childbirth/through the action of a curse. Her authority is certainly confirmed thereby, as is Enki's dependency. As the goddess who has power either to grant or to withdraw the "eye of life" (EN 219), Ninhursag is indeed the primal matrix, and the trickster himself no less than the offspring he bears come into life only by virtue of their implantation in and later (re)emergence from her womb. Yet for all that, the birthing of these eight new deities is represented as a remarkably collaborative affair. Ninhursag asks, Enki names, and together they somehow bring forth--Enki from within his belly, in which the plants-become-poison are held; Ninhursag from within her vulva, which in its turn contains the pregnant Enki.
The merger between goddess and trickster, however temporary, is nonetheless complete enough that questions about the specific division of their labor--in both senses of the word--may well be moot. Does Ninhursag wield the greater power? Enki's moribund condition before she intervenes, sickness unto death, might certainly suggest as much. Does the physical displacement of the plants (food/poison) from Enki's belly into her vulva therefore coincide somehow with their metamorphosis into deities (medicine)? Or has the transformation already taken place before the trickster's own incorporation by Ninhursag, so that Enki just needs use of her anatomy to give them a passageway out into the world? Is he dying from the effect of what he has eaten or else from obstructed delivery? The narrative provides no answers, for the simple reason that it does not raise these questions. Their illegitimacy is in fact salutary: it forces us to focus instead on those answers the myth actually offers. The therapeutic procedure is ritually structured: (50) Ninhursag asks, Enki names, and together they somehow bring forth. What does she ask? The parts of Enki's body in which he feels pain. What does he answer with? Their names. And from their naming come forth gods who are associated (hypostatically) with the plants Enki swallowed and (etymologically) with the body parts thus afflicted.
All but one of the nine basic "homologic alloforms" that so prominently figure in the traditional IE cosmogonic accounts at the center of Lincoln's study rest on what he designates (1986: 18) "substantive, morphologic, or positional" resemblances. The homology bone : stone, for example, has its basis in a direct, substantive likeness, as does eye : sun in a morphologic and hair : plants in a more or less positional (but also morphologic) one. The only instance Lincoln notes (1986: 8, 18) of a homology differently underwritten, namely by the kind of phonological similarity that clearly drives the tale in EN, is found in the Vedic association between mind (manas-) and moon (mas-). While undoubtedly ancient "folk etymology," the connection is for just that reason an "extremely fragile" one, incapable of negotiating passage over time and across linguistic borders; this accounts for its relative rarity and its lack of wide cross-cultural support within the IE community.
By contrast, it is precisely on such etymological--not "substantive, morphologic, or positional"--ground that the homologies between body parts and deities in EN are established. Instead of their material, shape, or placement, their sound alone links each two entities and allows somehow magically for the transformation of the poisonous plants Enki has swallowed into medicinal gods. However much the puns may be intended to be "laughter-provoking" (Alster 1978: 19), or to represent what Jacobsen (1987: 185) somewhat dismissively terms "a brilliant jeu d'esprit," we have seen first that these acts of naming unfold against the background of genuinely cosmogonic nomination ("knowing the heart") and the determination ("fixing") of destiny. They should therefore be understood as instances of precisely the same creative activities (albeit on a smaller scale) as are evidenced by such texts as the EE and EWO. The main obstacle to such an understanding, for that matter, may simply be one of prejudgment by way of classification by genre. The generic status of the myth of Enki's escapades--its coarseness and "low" burlesque vulgarity in comparison with the "high" narratives that lay claim to the more respectable title of "sacred myths"--should by no means justify dismissing this tale out of hand as "mere" folktale. Among the "sacred" hallmarks of the trickster are in fact precisely his violations of canon, his inversions of orthodoxy, his trespass on hallowed ground. (51) If the ritual of question and response between
Ninhursag and the embedded Enki sounds like mere sound-play, it is nonetheless an authentically theogonic play that in turn supports the cosmological order of the emergent Dilmun.
In the myths Lincoln advances as evidence, substantive bodily material--hair (trees), bone (stones), blood (waters), eyes (sun)--circulates back and forth between microcosm and macrocosm to confirm an ultimate, practical identity between them. Among other things, this is an eminently manipulable identity, such as allows for the efficient working of therapeutic procedures that apply macrocosmic stone to bone, for instance, in order to heal a break, or grass to the scalp (hair : plants) as a cure for baldness. (52) Conversely, the sacrificial act negotiates the movement of microcosmic stuff (bone, hair) into the macrocosm as a form of therapy whose aim is to restore and maintain the order of the world as such. In EN these correlative movements differ simply in being indirect and principally symbolic ones, namely transformations mediated by language. First, the dismembering, sacrificial act that grounds most of the IE cosmogonies here instead takes the form of an enumeration of afflicted body parts. In itself, this amounts to a kind of verbal dismemberment of Enki. Language is the scalpel. (53) What part of you hurts? asks Ninhursag each time, and somehow by means of the names he speaks in reply, each part of his suffering body is separated off, as it were, and undergoes translation into a deity whose function it is to alleviate that localized pain. (54) It is as if these names by the sheer act of their enunciation somehow miraculously imprint their "essential characters" (Castellino 1972: 164) or "destinies"--"ce qui les constitue,... ce qui donne un sens original a leur existence a chacune et conditionne son emploi particulier dans l'ordre" (Bottero 1989: 183)--on the ingested plants whose toxic matter then consequently emerges in the form of eight beneficent gods from Enki's belly and Ninhursag's womb. If A:B and B:C, then A:C.
The relationship between body part and deity is no less homologic for being etymologically constructed, and the displacement from physical material to name as the medium of correspondence is not even an especially unusual one. (55) From the perspective of the community for which the myth is told--and in which there is presumably more openness to the kinds of phonological associations the myth promotes--the similarity in names has the status of an aboriginal and therefore natural resemblance. (56) Uttered by Ninhursag and Enki in the very dawn of Dilmun, each name fuses the innate character and the "destiny" of the thing that is named, then fuses name and thing in such a way that to speak the one is also to invoke the other. The relation between the goddess Ninkasi and the mouth (ka), for instance, is by this reasoning no less a part of the essential, divinely-given order of things than are the implements of Enkimdu, the vaults of Mushdama, or the mottled face of Ezina, goddess of barley--the hypostatized image of grains. Homologies based on likeness of sound therefore carry no less weight than homologies that rest on the ultimately visual bases found here and in all but one of Lincoln's IE examples. In all cases, the given order of the world remains a fundamentally significant one, namely an order made up of networks of corresponding signs, (57) regardless whether the signifying stuff is a piece of bone, an herb, or a spoken word. The gods and plants in EN participate in just such a significant order bound together by language. The octet that Ninhursag and Enki together bring into being bear in their names the mark of a phonological correspondence linking them to the names of specific bodily ailments for which equally specific herbs and simples are prescribed in the Sumerian pharmacopeia, and as deities they guarantee the efficacy of that materia in the practical context of healing. Ninkasi is good for what ails the mouth (ka), just as Ninti works for pain in the rib (ti) and Nazi for the throat (zi).
As noted earlier, the process of transformation from plants into gods is tripartite and mediated, with Enki's body--specifically, his moribund and suffering body--positioned at the center. For if the apotheosis of the eight plants comes about somehow by means of acts of naming, that naming itself issues from and gives expression to the trickster's own bodily pain. (58) What part of you hurts? The nomination of his pain part by part-head, hair, nose, mouth, throat, arm, ribs, and sides--marks this penultimate episode in the narrative (E2) as no less sacrificial than therapeutic; in terms of Lincoln's argument, these are of course two aspects of one and the same process. As "a ritual of cosmic maintenance that (1) repeats the cosmogony [namely, the primordial sacrifice], and (2) translates matter from the microcosm to the macrocosm via a system of homologic alloforms" (1986: 56), sacrifice inflicts suffering only to transmogrify it, transforming pain and bodily dismemberment into cosmic wholeness. That wholeness, moreover, takes the form of an orderly world whose significant features and functions remain forever "fixed" by means of their direct lines of affiliation with the victimized body--a homologically embodied world, in short. The procedure is a circular one, perpetuated through the reciprocal play of sacrifice and healing. Through sacrifice of the body, the world at large is restored from chaos; by manipulation of worldly matter "known" and organized as a pharmacopeia, it returns the body to health. (59) Natural or "found" resemblance reputedly underwrites the correspondences through which both kinds of wholeness are achieved, and at the center-both physical and iconic--of this world the body in pain clearly mediates both movements. By the close of the myth in EN, the previously arid, vacant space of Dilmun has become a stable realm constituted by language, a matrix of signifiers now rooted firmly in the trickster's body. Insofar as it lends the names of its parts to the eight new gods, his body is the guarantor of that realm's stability. Its status as an embodied world is reflected in the image of the series of incorporations in which the myth culminates: eight divinized plants within Enki, Enki within Ninhursag, and Ninhursag herself within the nascent Dilmun--whose own emergent order in turn reflects the weird alchemy of the transformation from poison into medicine, mortal stuff into god.
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1. Lincoln 1986; see also Lincoln 1991: 167-87.
2. See Sayers 1985 for a review of earlier literature on IE cosmogonies, and for its Celtic application; and especially Lincoln 1986: 141-71.
3. Lincoln 1991: 167-87.
4. The standard translations are those of Attinger 1984, Jacobsen 1987: 181-204, Kramer and Maier 1989: 22-30, Bottero and Kramer 1989: 152-80, and Romer 1993; online text available at the Electronic Corpus of Sumerian Literature (http://etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk). For scholarship, in addition to the works just cited, see also Kramer 1945, Lambert and Tournay 1949, Kirk 1970: 84-107, Rosengarten 1971: 7-38, Alster 1978, and Evers 1995: 33-45.
5. Dickson 2007.
6. On the questionable notion of Dilmun as a "paradise," along with a broader study of distinctly Mesopotamian views of utopia, see Alster 1983.
7. On erotic cosmogony in Mesopotamia, see Cooper 1989 and Leick 1994.
8. Line numbers and text follow the edition of Attinger 1984.
9. The scene bears a striking resemblance to the Greek myth of the birth of Erikhthonios; see Dickson 2007: 19-21 and Peradotto 1977.
10. On structural coding in the EN myth, see Evers 1995: 35-37.
11. On the issue of the actual placement of Enki within Ninhursag's body, see Kirk 1970: 92, Alster 1978: 19 and 1994: 223, Evers 1995: 37, and the commentary by Attinger 1984: 45.
12. Kramer 1972: 59 makes the same assumption.
13. Lincoln 1986: 4f. On pharmacopoeia, see Kramer 1989: 29, Bottero and Kramer 1989: 162f. For traditional folk medicine, see Scarborough 1987, with extensive references.
14. Dickson 2007: 30.
15. Kirk 1970 argues for a strong analogy between rape and cannibalism in this passage, based on the illicit nature of both activities. From incestuous rape to cannibalism of offspring is not so great a step considering that both represent prohibitively close relationships with kin; see Leach 1963.
16. Elsewhere in the literature the phrase (Sum. sa zu) translated as "knowing the heart" is used in contexts that suggest apprehension of a thing's true nature--the essential character of an instrument, for example, by someone with an intuitive, natural gift for music; see Castellino 1972: 164, 168f., with references.
17. The standard translations are those of E. A. Speiser in Pritchard 1958: 31-39 (excerpt), Jacobsen 1976: 167-91, and Dalley 1989: 228-77. For scholarship, see especially Jacobsen 1949: 182-99 and 1989, and Penglase 1994, with references.
18. Alster 1978: 18 finds the reference to Enki's determination of their destiny "ironic." Bottero and Kramer 1989: 157 likewise see a contrast: "Enki veut les leur assigner en <<arretant leur destin>>. Mais, auparavant, il entend les gouter."
19. For translations and scholarship, see Bernhard and Kramer 1959, Bottero and Kramer 1989: 165-88, Leick 1994: 11-20, Vanstiphout 1997, and Black 2005: 215-24, with references. The following quotations from EWO are referenced by page number in Black's translation.
20. See the text in Black 2005: 220-23 for examples. On the intersection of "inner nature" and "destiny," compare the remarks of Conte 1986: 141-52 on "internal" and "external motivation" as narrative techniques in myth-making.
21. On the multivalent concept of me, see Rosengarten 1977 and Cavigneaux 1978, with extensive references.
22. See Jacobsen 1949: 148-64 and 1976: 77-91, also Leick 2001, on the theme of cosmos as polity in Mesopotamian myth.
23. See Castellino 1972: 164, 168f.
24. See Jacobsen 1949: 148-50 and 1976: 84-86.
25. On iconic representation, see Leach 1976: 9-16.
26. On tricksters in general, see Brown 1947, Radin 1956, Hynes and Doty 1993, Erdoes and Ortiz 1998, Doty 2000: 360-67, with extensive references. On Enki as trickster, see Kramer and Maier 1989, Leick 1994: 40. Lambert and Tournay 1949: 124 and Jacobsen 1987: 183, however, find the Enki of EN out of keeping with his role in other, generically 'higher' myths.
27. Lambert and Tournay 1949: 123.
28. Bottero and Kramer 1989: 162f.
29. See Scarborough 1987 and references. On magic and magical healing, see Kiev 1964 and Tambiah 1990.
30. On the "doctrine of signatures," see, e.g., Foucault 1973: 125-65 and Vickery 1995.
31. Attinger 1982: 48. In the absence of anything like a complete Sumerian pharmacopeia, the nature of these plants and their properties is far from determinable. Only the eighth and last plant in the list has with any certainty been identified as medicinal. On etymological issues, see Civil 1973 and CAD A/2, 45, s.v. amhara; 522 s.v. atutu. On ancient Mesopotamian medicine, see Oppenheim 1962, Biggs 1969, Powell 1993, and Avalos 1995.
32. See Attinger 1982: 47 ad loc.
33. Lambert and Tournay 1948: 132 speak of "etymologies bizarres." Kramer 1972: 59 perhaps summarizes the position best: "... the superficiality and barren artificiality of the concepts implied in this closing passage of our myth ... are brought out quite clearly by the Sumerian original. For the fact is that the actual relationship between each of the "healing" deities and the sickness which it is supposed to cure, is verbal and nominal only; this relationship manifests itself in the fact that the name of the deity contains in it part or all of the word signifying the corresponding aching part of Enki's body. In brief, it is only because the name of the deity sounded like the sick body-member that the makers of this myth were induced to associate the two; actually there is no organic relationship between them." See also Bottero and Kramer 1989: 163. On language and myth, see Cassirer 1946 and 1953: 44-62, Csapo 2005.
34. See in particular Thompson 1955-58, types J2134 (trickster healed by eating), along with the related types T511 (conception from eating), T578 (pregnant man), and T572 (abortion by eating).
35. See Ting 1978 and Birrell 1993: 47-50 for this and other sources for the myth of Shen Nong.
36. Birrell 1993: 48.
37. Birrell 1993: 17f.
38. See Guterbock 1948 and 1961: 157f., Kirk 1970: 95f., Hoffner 1998: 42-45; Penglase 1994: 185ff., and Csapo 2005: 67-79.
39. For the text, see Hesiod, Theogony 156-206, 453-500 (Athanassakis 1983: 17f., 24f.). On Near Eastern influence on Hesiod, see Harmatta 1968, Duchemin 1979, Mondi 1990, and Penglase 1994.
40. Hesiod, Theogony 886-926 (Athanassakis 1983: 35f.). See Arthur 1982, Vernant 1982: 102-18.
41. Lambert and Tournay 1948: 130, Kirk 1970: 95f., Alster 1978, Cooper 1989: 20f.
42. On Uttu's pain, see Dickson 2007: 18-20 and below, notes 54 and 58.
43. On the "caractere non-naturel" of the procedure in EN, see Attinger 1984: 46 ad loc.
44. Guterbock 1961: 155-65.
45. On "sexual politics" in Hesiod, see Brown 1953: 15-26, Penglase 1994.
46. Pace Alster 1978; see Dickson 2007: 21.
47. This implicit claim that the (therapeutic) establishment of order is distinct from the delineation of power is of course a naive one; see Foucault 1978, Lincoln 1986: 141-71 and 1989.
48. Attinger 1984: 44-46, and especially the note on line 253.
49. Alster 1978 finds the issue of gender rivalry central to the myth, though much of his argument seems unsupported by the text; see Dickson 2007.
50. In particular, note the strong parallel structure of Question-Response-Action in EN 198-217, in the dialogue between Enki and Isimud (E1), and in EN 251-67, involving Enki and Ninhursag (E2). These structural analogies also emphasize differences in the two scenes between eating and birth, consumption and production, mouth and vulva.
51. See Hynes and Doty 1993: 33-45, Makarius 1993, Hyde 1998, and Doty 2000: 360-64, 401-4.
52. Lincoln 1991: 87-118.
53. See Hyde 1998: 252-80 on Trickster as the master of articulation, both in carving the body and also in delineating the terms of "jointed" speech. Here one might also wish to compare the Celtic myth of Miach, murdered son of the Tuatha De Danann physician Dian Cecht, from the joints and sinews of whose body grow 365 medicinal herbs. On the myth, preserved in Cath Mag Tuired 33-35 (Gray 1982), see Sayer 1985, Lincoln 1986: 107-10 and 1991: 181-82.
54. On the link between pain and language in EN, see Dickson 2007: 24.
55. On language in magic, see the discussion in Tambiah 1990: 42-83; on language as itself a physical medium in "sympathetic" magic, see Dickson 1994, with references.
56. See Cassirer 1955: 29-70, Barthes 1972: 109-37, Leach 1976: 9-16, and Csapo 2005: 276-79.
57. See Levi-Strauss 1966 and the remarks by Schwartz 1985: 350-82 on "correlative cosmology." See also Barthes 1972: 109-59; and Foucault 1973 on the European Renaissance "doctrine of signatures."
58. Uttu, Enki's great-great-granddaughter and the last female victim of his predatory lust (EN 128-95) also cries out--Ah! my thighs! Ah! my body! Ah! my belly/womb! (EN 186)--when she is raped by him; see Dickson 2007: 18-24. Her enunciation of bodily pain prefigures Enki's in the final scene (E2) of the myth.
59. Lincoln 1986: 63 remarks: "The action of sacrifice is thus seen to be one of expansion or amplification, taking matter from the microcosm of the victim's body, and expanding it to macrocosmic form and dimensions. Not merely a consecrated slaughter, it is understood as the maintenance of the cosmos, the repetition of creation, and the celebration of the indestructibility and infinite mutability of all matter." See also Lincoln 1991: 167-87.
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|Title Annotation:||Enki and Ninhursag|
|Publication:||The Journal of the American Oriental Society|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Oct 1, 2005|
|Previous Article:||M. B. Emeneau, 1904-2005, President of the Society, 1954-51, Editor-in-Chief of the Journal, 1949-51.|
|Next Article:||Media and its discontents.|