The turtle and the demon bird


Marduk tries to overtake Enki but learns that slow and steady wins the race

The gods of Mesopotamia panicked. It was not easy to upset the majority of the Mesopotamian pantheon all at once, but someone had clearly succeeded at it. A thief had stolen one of their most important artifacts: the Tablet of Destinies. This Tablet was a legal document, confirming its holder to be the King of the entire universe. Anu, the Supreme God, had once given this Tablet to Enki, to confirm his power to rule over all other beings.

It was only natural that Anu had selected Enki to be the ruler of the universe, given his role in the Mesopotamian pantheon. Enki was the Lord of the Abzu, the sweet water from which life sprang throughout Mesopotamia. His watery domain was therefore of great importance to all living beings. Yet the only legal document that confirmed him in his power was the Tablet of Destinies.

To catch a demon burglar

And now it had been stolen. Not just by anyone, but by the demon bird, Anzu. On this doomful day, Anzu decided to take the power to rule the universe for himself. He dove down into the Abzu and grabbed the Tablet from the sanctuary of Enki. Before anyone knew what was going on, he was flying off with it into the sky. And in doing so, he was beyond Enki’s influence.

When Enki found out, he became enraged. He created big waves, created pillars of water, and even made the water of the Abzu boil. Yet, it was all of no use. Anzu was high up in the sky, and could not be touched by the water.

So Enki sent for the other gods and asked for their help. They all tried to take down the bird, but it was to no avail. Anzu was simply too quick to be taken down by them. It was then that Ninurta, who was the son of Enlil, helped out the lord of the Abzu. He was a god of war, who had honed his warfare skills for centuries. With n t, he struck Anzu from the sky and took the Tablet from him.

When he returned the Tablet to his uncle, Enki expressed his eternal gratitude. He told his nephew that he would praise him to all of the other gods, and let them know how strong and brave Ninurta was. And Ninurta took pride in this appraisal, yet he longed for much more.

Making a play for the throne

You see, the gods of Mesopotamia had some nasty habits. One of these habits was that ruling gods would often be overthrown by their offspring, who would kill them and marry their mothers and sisters. Ninurta made a small exception, he targeted the throne of his uncle instead of the one of his father. He started to threaten Enki and grew ever more disrespectful towards his uncle.

Enki responded to his nephew’s threats in a way that should not surprise us by now. He was furious and made the Abzu boil again. Ninurta was not impressed. He decided that he would soon strike at his uncle and take over his rule. And Enki knew that he could not keep his nephew off with some mere display of power, so he started preparing a trap. He sat down on the bottom of the Abzu and took a lump of clay, from which he fashioned a giant turtle. When he was done, he turned the beast into a living being. The turtle used its claws to dig himself in deep and to lay in wait.

When Ninurta finally decided to press his claim, he foolishly did so in his uncle’s domain, at the bottom of the Abzu. As he approached Enki, his only thought was with the power that would soon be his. Yet suddenly the clay started moving below him, and he understood that he was trapped. The turtle appeared from the mud and wrapped his paws around Ninurta, refusing to let go.

Lust (for power) runs in the family

It was then that Enki started mocking his nephew. Did Ninurta really think he could become ruler of the universe if he could not even beat a simple turtle? As he was laughing, his fun was soon spoilt by his wife, Ninhursag. She scolded him and told him to release his nephew, reminding him of his own problems with lust.

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