Enlil Rides Zu, a Huge Storm-Bird, His Firebreathing “Servant”

The third member of the main triad of Sumerian gods — along with An and Enki — Enlil is the tutelary deity of Nippur. He was originally the most powerful Mesopotamian god, but his position was taken over by the Babylonian god Marduk (who also replaced Enki), and then by Ashur (his Assyrian version).

Enlil was the god of “breath, wind, loft and breadth (height and distance),” known for causing plants to grow and for inventing the mattock (an agricultural tool). He was also the god of weather, which came in handy: He helped create humans, then got fed up with all the noise and sent a deluge to polish everyone off.

His temple was named Ekur, “House of the Mountain.”[8]… As Enlil was the only god who could reach the heaven god An he held sway over the other gods who were assigned tasks by his agent and would travel to Nippur to draw in his power. He is thus seen as the model for kingship.[11] … Grouped around the main sanctuary, there arose temples and chapels to the gods and goddesses who formed his court, so that Ekur became the name for an entire sacred precinct in the city of Nippur. The name “mountain house” suggests a lofty structure and was perhaps the designation originally of the staged tower at Nippur, built in imitation of a mountain, with the sacred shrine of the god on the top. —http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enlil

Paraphrasing ancient tablets, [Samuel] Kramer [The Sumerians] noted that “it is Enlil who has given them kingship of the land, who has made the land prosperous for them, who gave them all the lands to conquer by his strength. It is Enlil who pronounces the king’s name and gives him his scepter and looks upon him with a favorable eye.”[footnote in orig] Enlil was believed to dwell in his temple in the city of Nippur, “the most important religious center of the Sumerians.”[footnote in orig] —Discovering God, Rodney Stark.

His servant is Zu (or Anzu, To Know Heaven), the huge storm-bird, sometimes shown as a lion-headed eagle, who can breathe fire and water and who guards Enlil’s throne in his sanctuary—ultimately stealing the Tablet of Destinies from him.


The story of Enlil’s romance with Sud is a classic.

[1-8.] The …… of the young girl [Sud] burgeoned, and she became full of flourishing beauty. …[A]t the gate of the E-zagin, …… she stood, the object of admiration, like a tall, beautifully shaped cow.

9-26. At that time Enlil had not yet been given a wife in the E-kur; Ninlil’s name was not yet famous in the Ki-ur. After travelling through Sumer and to the ends of the universe, he ……; in his search throughout the Land, Enlil, the Great Mountain, stopped at Erec.

He sees Sud and, overcome by her beauty, decides she will become his wife. She is not impressed and closes the door in his face. Enlil tells his vizier, Nuska, to intercede on his behalf.

Sud’s mother, Nanibgal (goddess of writing and learning) points out that they would be foolish to not accept this great honor and good fortune, and tells Sud to get the vizier a beer:

“Nuska is knowing and wise. …… to his presence and pour him beer.” According to the instructions of her mother, she washed his hands and placed a tankard in his hands. The minister opened his left hand and gave her the jewellery, …… everything …… and set it before her. She received the gifts …….

When Enlil got the good news, there was:

…great rejoicing in Enlil’s heart. He raised his head ……, and animals came running. …… herds of four-legged animals that graze together in the desert. He caught …… living in the mountains, he made wild bulls, red deer, elephants, fallow deer, gazelles, bears, wild sheep and rams, lynxes, foxes, wild cats, tigers, mountain sheep, water buffaloes, monkeys, and thick-horned fat cattle jostle together noisily. Cows and their calves, wild cattle with wide-spread horns, …… rope, {ewes and lambs, goats and kids, romping ……} {(1 later ms. from Susa has instead:) …… and fighting}, large kids with long beards, scratching with their hooves, lambs, ……, and majestic sheep were despatched by Enlil toward Erec.

Large cheeses, mustard-flavoured cheeses, small cheeses, ……, milk ……, the sweetest dry honey and white honey, ……, and thick and large …… were despatched by Enlil toward Erec.

……, dates, figs, large pomegranates, ……, jipar fruits, plums (?), halub nuts, almonds, acorns, Dilmun dates packed in baskets, dark-coloured date spadices, large pomegranates gathered from orchards, big clusters of grapes on high, …… trees in fruit, trees from orchards, …… grown in winter, and fruits from orchards were despatched by Enlil toward Erec.

Ores (?) from Harali, the faraway land, …… storehouses, ……, rock-crystal, gold, silver, ……, the yield of the uplands ……, heavy loads of them, were despatched by Enlil toward Erec. After the personal presents, the transported goods ……, Ninmah and the minister ……. The dust from their march reached high into the sky like rain clouds. Enormous marriage gifts were being brought for Nanibgal to Erec; the city was getting full inside and out….

Ashur (Assur, Aš), the head of the Assyrian pantheon, may have started out as the deification of the ancient city of Assur (pronounced Ashur). He eventually merged with Enlil, acquiring Enlil’s goddess wife, Ninlil (Assyrian Mullisu), and his sons Ninurta and Zababa. [See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ashur_%28god%29.]


From Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, by Donald A. Mackenzie (1915):

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