The River God

River GodThree days and three nights after Inanna’s death, her fellow warrior and closest advisor Ninshubur set up a lament.

She beat the drum for her in the assembly places.
She circled the houses of the gods.
She tore at her eyes; she tore at her mouth; she tore at her thighs.
She dressed herself in a single garment like beggar.
Alone she set out for Nippur and the temple of Enlil.

Enlil was the Air God and Ninshubur pleaded eloquently with him to rescue Inanna:

“O Father Enlil, do not let your daughter
Be put to death in the underworld.
Do not let your bright silver
Be covered with the dust of the underworld.
Do not let your precious lapis
Be broken into stone for the stoneworker.
Do not let your fragrant boxwood
But cut into wood for the woodworker.”

Ninshubur’s plea, however, made Enlil angry and he refused to help. Next she traveled to Ur and delivered the same plead to the Moon God who also refused to help.  “She who goes to the Dark City stays there,” he declared angrily. Finally Ninshubar went to the Water God Enki and begged him to save Inanna from her death.

Father Enki said:

“What has happened?
What has my daughter done?
Inanna! Queen of All the Lands! Holy Priestess of Heaven!
What has happened?
I am troubled. I am grieved.”

The other Father Gods were angry that Inanna had defied “the rules” in her descent. In effect they were saying, “She asked for it!” Enki, however, was dismayed when he heard the news. He understood Inanna’s determination to visit to the Underworld. In a Sumerian hymn about the “First Days”, he himself set had sail for The Great Below in the Boat of Heaven. Ereshkigal, Queen of the Underworld, had attacked his boat with violent storms. Their raging battle swamped the banks of the Euphrates and uprooted a tree – the mythic huluppu-tree that Inanna brought to her holy garden and tended with her own hand.

Enki understood the pull of the Underworld. Which perhaps is why he was also the God of Wisdom. On the other hand, in another story, Enki, drunk on beer, gave Inanna all the gifts of civilization – the “me”. Not so wise. Inanna promptly sailed away with them in his Boat of Heaven. When Enki awoke from his beery stupor, he ordered fifty flying giants and fifty sea monsters to bring her back but it was too late. Inanna unloaded the me at the Lapis Lazuli Quay and presented them to the people of Sumer. Enki, instead of going to war with her, forgave her.

Hence my image of the River God as a heart pouring out the waters of life. I was pleased with myself for having come up with the image and as I carved away, it occurred to me that perhaps the seat of wisdom is in the heart, not the head. I had almost finished the block when this illustration in my paperback edition of the poems caught my eye.

A scholarly note describes “flowing vases” on a fragment from a 2144-2124 BC relief:

“The flowing vase is a symbol of Enki and also of abundance, like the cornucopia. The two streams may represent the two major rivers of Mesopotamia, the Euphrates and the Tigris.”1

Well, okay. I was thinking of Blue Ridge waterfalls and the S curves of the Shenandoah, not the Tigris and Euphrates. My life-giving waters flow from a heart, not a vase. What boggles my mind is that a stone carver in 2144 BC imagined the God Enki in very same shape as I did here in 2016 AD!


1Wolkstein and Kramer,  Inanna Queen of Heaven and Earth