Middle Eastern Mythologies

Inanna’s Descent

Who were the heroes of Sumerian mythology?

The Sumerian mythology that we know of deals primarily with deities rather than with human heroes. The best known of the Sumerian hero figures are Gilgamesh and his friend Enkidu. Sumerian fragments tell us of Gilgamesh’s heroic assistance to Inanna in the Huluppu Tree tale. With his heavy armor and giant axe as described in that myth, he has been seen as a forerunner of the Herakles (Hercules) type. A tenderer Gilgamesh appears in the fragment about Enkidu and the Underworld. It seems that Inanna had given Gilgamesh two presents made out of the Huluppu Tree as a reward for his help. These were a pukku and a mikku (the Sumerian scholar Samuel Noah Kramer suggests that these were probably a drum and a drumstick). Somehow Gilgamesh loses his gifts in a hole in the ground and they fall out of his reach into the netherworld. Gilgamesh weeps by the hole in despair. His friend Enkidu volunteers to descend below to retrieve the gifts, but once there is unable to return. Again in despair, Gilgamesh turns to the great god Enlil for help in retrieving his friend, but Enlil refuses. Enki is more helpful, arranging for Enkidu’s shade to return. Gilgamesh questions the ghost of his friend about the Underworld, receiving ambiguous answers.


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