Etana and the eagle


Why you shouldn’t eat your friends…

The story of Etana starts with a dispute between two members of the animal kingdom.

The eagle and the snake

Imagine a towering tree that serves as the shared home for both an eagle and a snake. Both are natural-born enemies, locked in an eternal cycle of predator and prey. And yet, these two mortal foes have somehow put aside their differences, drawn together by their mutual love for this hallowed tree.

How, you ask? Well, the gods themselves have intervened! The mighty Utu, the revered sun deity, stepped in as a mediator. He brokereed a sacred pact between the eagle and the snake. With Utu as their witness, the two adversaries swear a solemn oath of peace. This allowed them to coexist in the tree they both loved.

For years, the eagle and the snake live in harmony, even finding mates and producing offspring of their own. But alas, the natural order cannot be denied forever! One fateful day, the eagle’s primal hunger overcomes its restraint, and the raptor betrays the pact, devouring the snake’s helpless young.

Never eat your friends

Outraged at this heinous breach of trust, the snake calls upon Utu once more, demanding justice for this grievous wrong. And the sun god, in his infinite wisdom, devises a clever trap to ensnare the treacherous eagle!

Instructing the snake to hide within a rotting carcass, Utu lured the unsuspecting eagle to its doom, where the serpent pounced with savage fury, stripping the once-proud raptor of its mighty wings and talons. The eagle was now trapped in the pit and sentenced to die from thirst and famine.

Aside from settling animal disputes, Utu is asked for assistance by Etana, who is the king of Kish. Just like any Mesopotamian king, Etana is an extraordinary human, who is rumored to have ruled over Kish for 1560 years. But even extraordinary kings need the help of the gods sometimes. The need of Etana? A son and heir to continue his dynastic legacy.

The plant of fertility

Utu listens to Etana’s plea for help and decides to make a deal with the King. He explains that if the king can brave the treacherous descent into the eagle’s prison and free the once-mighty raptor, the bird will serve as Etana’s guide to the fabled “Plant of Birth” hidden in the heavens of Anu. Most likely, this plant would have special properties to help him get his son.

With not a moment to lose, the determined king plunges into the shadowed pit and liberates the eagle from its confinement. Overjoyed at his freedom, the reborn raptor claps its mighty wings and bears Etana into the sky, carrying him on a dizzying ascent up through the clouds.

But after descending again back to the surface of the Earth, Etana falls asleep and dreams of the heavens of Anu. He dreams of many different places out there, as the heavens are divided into different regions for the different gods that live up there. He sees himself bowing for the gods, together with his new friend, the eagle.

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Unfortunately, this is where the story ends. The rest of the story has been lost as the tablets on which this story was written down have been severely damaged.

We imagine that Etana most likely got back on the eagle after waking up. He must have had a legendary journey through the heavens, maybe even encountering a couple of the Annunaki. They must have succeeded at finding the Plant of Birth together. And probably, after making a sacrifice to Utu, the eagle must have taken off to become a vegetarian, swearing to never eat his friends’ kids again.

Why do we think that this is the most likely outcome of the story? For the simple reason that Etana did end up having a son. After ruling for 1560 years, he was succeeded by this son, Balih, who ended up ruling for 400 years.

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