Middle Eastern Mythologies

Sumerian Gods and Heroes

What deities made up the Sumerian pantheon?

The gods and goddesses of the Sumerians represented the elements of nature and the cosmos. In the beginning, the goddess Nammu, the primordial waters, produced An, the original sky god, and Ki, the original earth goddess. An and Ki mated to produce the primary pantheon, the Anunnaki (literally the result of An Ki). There are many versions of the specific parentage of the members of the Sumerian pantheon. Each city-state had its point of view, as particular deities were patrons of particular cities. Essentially, however, the following deities are the descendants of the An-Ki union and some of the most important of six thousand or so deities:

Enlil—the god of Air (Lil = air). He was the chief god, the Odin or Zeus of the Sumerians, responsible for order in the cosmos and in earthly civilization.

Ninlil—the goddess of Air. She and Enlil produced the sun god Utu and the greatest of the Sumerian goddesses, Inanna. An amusing myth tells how Ninlil first fell in love with Enlil but did not know how to attract his attention. It is her mother who tells her to “wash yourself in the pure river” and then to walk in the area where Enlil lived, thus attracting his attention. The flirting worked and Enlil “kissed” the maid who would become his wife.

Nanna—the Moon god. Some say it was Nanna who fathered Inanna with his wife Ningal.

Inanna—goddess of Love and Fertility, “queen of Heaven and Earth.” Inanna’s mate was Dumuzi. Both play important roles in Inanna’s central myth, that of her descent into the Underworld.

Ereshkigal—goddess of the Underworld, the sister of Inanna. Ereshkigal represents the infertile opposite of the fertile Inanna.

Enki—a sometimes trickster god, god of male fertility and holder of the me, the essential laws and offices of civilization stemming from Nammu, the original great mother herself. The me include such aspects of life as kingship, power, marriage, sexuality, and writing. During a drinking bout Inanna tricks Enki into releasing control of the me to her.

Ninhursag—goddess of the Earth. Ninhursag was a sister of Enlil.

The Great Ziggurat, originally constructed four thousand years ago in the Sumerian city of Ur (now in southern Iraq), was dedicated to the moon god Nanna.


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