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[SETTING] On Marduk and Tiamat

June 23, 2010

Marduk vs. Tiamat; Or, Bel and the Dragon

The priests of Bab-Ilani tell how in those far-off Antediluvian days Tiamat with Apsu were First. Tiamat brewed the great gods in her womb but disturbed by their noise Apsu plotted the murder of their sons.  They tell that Enki slew the old god Apsu and raised on his body his shrine and therein begat Marduk, the champion.  These priests say that Tiamat, prodded to anger, birthed monsters, and raised an army, and waged war on the gods to their destruction.  Marduk, granted all power on behalf of the gods, marched against this oldest goddess and slew Tiamat; and from her body he created the world that is, mountains of her udders and the sky and plains of her body and the mighty rivers Tigris and Euphrates of the effluvia of her eyes. Then Marduk oversaw the creation of all the races of Men; he ordained time and decreed fates.  The gods in assembly granted Marduk the Enlilship, the kingship of the gods, and they call him Greatest, and Creator, and Lugal-Dimmer-Ankia, King of Kings, and fifty pure names of power.  They lie.

In the Tablet House ordained by undying Shulgi in Ur is archived a fragmentary tablet.  In pure signs it tells of the reign of Sumu-la-el of Bab-Ilani, an ensi of Bab-Ilani claiming the Kingship of Kish, calling himself King of the Four Quarters, lugal of all Sumer and Akkad. At his courts harpers harped and singers sang his praises unceasing and Sumu-la-el reckoned his city secure and sat at his ease and the debauchery of his court was very great.

Then shining Tiamat crawled from the mountains and in her train a brood of monsters.  Luminous Tiamat coiled at the gates of Bab-Ilani, a poison, an ill-wind, a plague. Sumu-la-el, the warriors of Sumu-la-el quailed, they stuffed their mouths with their cloaks, they were weak with fear.  Sumu-la-el cowered against the wall like a dog, the warriors of Sumu-la-el cowered against the wall like dogs. Who will save Bab-Ilani, he cried, who will save the Gate of the Gods? Enlil was silent, Enlil did not open his mouth.  Inanna-Ishtar was silent; by night, Ishtar left the city.  Father Enki did not speak, Enki did not open his mouth; far-seeing Enki remained silent.

Then sorcerers came to the court of Samu-la-el and in secret rooms whispered with his ministers, in hidden chambers conferred with the king Samu-la-el. They departed with promises of the king written in clay and sealed with his seal. In secret places these sorcerers then made a weapon, they constructed for themselves an instrument of war, they, like gods, molded a warrior, fashioned something like a man. Into this hollow violent shell they poured a dim intelligence and they dressed it and gave it weapons and they called it Marduk.  This they sent out to the plains before the Gates of Bab-Ilani, they sent it out to fight coiling Tiamat before the Gates.  To it her poisons were like honey; her enchantments like the evening breeze.  She fell before the thing Marduk.

With great rejoicing the men of Bab-Ilani took Marduk within their walls and they washed the dust from it and poured libations and dressed it in shining clothes and they called it a god.  Samu-la-el built a new shrine, hallowed a new temple, raised the Esagil and installed Marduk in it and decreed new songs sung and new tablets writ, and priest-scribes wrote, beginning Enuma Elish, When skies above were not yet named… But Samu-la-el in his heart feared Marduk and decreed also the forging of chains as his garland and his restraint, burning fragrant offerings of thanks for every day Marduk remained motionless in the Esagil’s inmost chamber.

Witless Marduk (Bash-Chelek by Kay Nielsen)

Thus the witless golem Marduk sits chained in the cella of his temple.  An ancient and troublesome solution to a local difficulty. If his priests knew in full the incantations for his obedient reanimation the temptations to send him out to war against the Assyrians, the nomadic plagues of Amurru tribes or the very city-states of Sumer and Akkad itself would be stronger perhaps than they could bear. To rouse the god! And have it pliant on the end of a chain… The boldest have experimented with the priestly incantations of the opening of the mouth; their fates are unrecorded but Marduk does not move. Ever haunting the desires and plots of the chief priest of Marduk are the tablets, surely in existence, rendering to the bearer absolute control.

The account in Shulgi’s Tablet House gives no indications of the names, fate or provenance of the sorcerers who so saved Bab-Ilani, nor the promises vouchsafed them by Samu-la-el, long dead King of Kings.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Norrin permalink
    June 22, 2011 7:33 pm


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