Inanna and Ebih is a Sumerian/Akkadian poem attributed to Enheduanna (l. 2285-2250 BCE), daughter of Sargon of Akkad. The work's original title is Inninmehusa ("Goddess of the Fearsome Powers") and tells the story of the goddess Inanna's victory over the mountain god Ebih after he fails to show her proper respect.
The poem (sometimes referenced as Inanna's Battle with the Mountain) is usually listed as the third of Enheduanna's major works after Inninsagurra ("The Great-Hearted Mistress") and Ninmesarra ("The Exaltation of Inanna") and features Inanna in her role as a goddess of war. The popularity of the work is attested by at least 80 copies found in the ruins of Nippur and other ancient cities throughout modern-day Iraq and is known to have been used in the edubba ("House of Tablets") the scribal school, as part of the curriculum known as the Decad, complex texts a student needed to master prior to graduation.
There have been more interpretations offered for this poem than the other two, ranging from an allegory of ecological disaster to a proto-feminist vision of the myth of the Fall of Man to a work in honor of Akkadian victories over the people of the mountainous north, among many others. A simple reading of the text, however, shows it is very much in line with other works featuring Inanna as a central character where she is depicted as proud, determined, and independent, doing as she pleases regardless of consequences.
It is more likely, therefore, that the work was originally composed in honor of the divine feminine – as Enheduanna's other poems were – showcasing Inanna as a young woman who refuses to accept the disrespect of a man or the patriarchal system enabling it. This reading is supported, not only by the text, but the life of the work's author; though it may be interpreted the same way even if written by another.
Commentary & Summary
Enheduanna, the first author in the world known by name, was a highly educated princess of the Akkadian Empire. Her father, Sargon of Akkad (the Great, r. 2334-2279 BCE), sent her to the edubba to become a scribe and then to the city of Ur where she served as high priestess at the temple of the moon god Nanna. She wrote over 40 poems, most drawing on aspects of her life, and reflecting the times she lived in.
Among the many other interpretations of Inanna and Ebih (a modern-day title), is the claim that it is an allegory of a successful coup at Ur by one Lugal-Ane that sent Enheduanna into exile, and of her return to power, for which she credited Inanna. This reading fits the text better than other interpretations, but it is also possible the work is simply a poetic narrative on feminine power generally having nothing to do with Enheduanna's life experience.
The poem begins with praise for Inanna (lines 1-24) before beginning the story of how, when walking in the mountains, Inanna is insulted by Ebih – personified by the mountain landscape – who refuses to show her proper respect. Inanna then swears revenge (lines 25-52). She brings her grievance before the great sky god An (Anu), asking for his blessing and assistance in punishing Ebih (lines 53-111), but he refuses, pointing out that Ebih is more powerful than she is and she should think twice before challenging him (lines 112-130). Inanna rejects his counsel, arms herself, and attacks Ebih, destroying him (lines 131-159), and then announces her victory (lines 160-181). The poem ends with praise for Inanna's triumph and concludes, as many works of Mesopotamian literature do, with praise for Nisaba, goddess of writing, in thanks for her inspiration and guidance in writing the piece.
The following passage is taken from The Literature of Ancient Sumer, translated by Jeremy Black et al., and from The Electronic Corpus of Sumerian Literature, translated by the same. Ellipses signify missing words or lines, and question marks indicate an alternate translation for a word or phrase.
1-6: Goddess of the fearsome divine powers, clad in terror, riding on the great divine powers, Inanna, made complete by the strength of the holy ankar weapon, drenched in blood, rushing around in great battles, with shield resting on the ground (?), covered in storm and flood, great lady Inanna, knowing well how to plan conflicts, you destroy mighty lands with arrow and strength and overpower lands.
7-9: In heaven and on earth you roar like a lion and devastate the people. Like a huge wild bull, you triumph over lands which are hostile. Like a fearsome lion you pacify the insubordinate and unsubmissive with your gall.
10-22: My lady, on your acquiring the stature of heaven, maiden Inanna, on your becoming as magnificent as the earth, on your coming forth like Utu the king and stretching your arms wide, on your walking in heaven and wearing fearsome terror, on your wearing daylight and brilliance on earth, on your walking in the mountain ranges and bringing forth beaming rays, on your bathing the girin plants of the mountains (in light), on your giving birth to the bright mountain, the mountain, the holy place, on your ..., on your being strong with the mace like a joyful lord, like an enthusiastic (?) lord, on your exulting in such battle like a destructive weapon – the black-headed people ring out in song and all the lands sing their song sweetly.
23-24: I shall praise the lady of battle, the great child of Suen, maiden Inanna.
25-32: (Inanna announced:) "When I, the goddess, was walking around in heaven, walking around on earth, when I, Inanna, was walking around in heaven, walking around on earth, when I was walking around in Elam and Subir, when I was walking around in the Lulubi mountains, when I turned towards the centre of the mountains, as I, the goddess, approached the mountain it showed me no respect, as I, Inanna, approached the mountain it showed me no respect, as I approached the mountain range of Ebih it showed me no respect."
33-36: "Since they showed me no respect, since they did not put their noses to the ground for me, since they did not rub their lips in the dust for me, I shall personally fill the soaring mountain range with my terror."
37-40: "Against its magnificent sides I shall place magnificent battering-rams, against its small sides I shall place small battering-rams. I shall storm it and start the 'game' of holy Inanna. In the mountain range I shall start battles and prepare conflicts."
41-44: "I shall prepare arrows in the quiver. I shall ... slingstones with the rope. I shall begin the polishing of my lance. I shall prepare the throwstick and the shield."
45-48: "I shall set fire to its thick forests. I shall take an axe to its evil-doing. I shall make Gibil, the purifier, bare his holy teeth at its watercourses. I shall spread this terror through the inaccessible mountain range Aratta."
49-52: "Like a city which An has cursed, may it never be restored. Like a city at which Enlil has frowned, may it never again lift its neck up. May the mountain tremble when I approach. May Ebih give me honour and praise me."
53-58: Inanna, the child of Suen, put on the garment of royalty and girded herself in joy. She bedecked her forehead with terror and fearsome radiance. She arranged cornelian rosettes around her holy throat. She brandished the seven-headed cita weapon vigorously to her right and placed straps of lapis lazuli on her feet.
59-61: At dusk she came forth regally and followed the path to the Gate of Wonder. She made an offering to An and addressed a prayer to him.
62-64: An, in delight at Inanna, stepped forward and took his place. He filled the seat of honour of heaven.
65-69: (Inanna announced:) "An, my father, I greet you! Lend your ear to my words. You have made me terrifying among the deities in heaven. Owing to you my word has no rival in heaven or on earth. You have given me the ... and the cilig weapon, the antibal and mansium emblems."
70-79: "To set the socle in position and make the throne and foundation firm, to carry the might of the cita weapon which bends like a mubum tree, to hold the ground with the sixfold yoke, to extend the thighs with the fourfold yoke, to pursue murderous raids and widespread military campaigns, to appear to those kings in the ... of heaven like moonlight, to shoot the arrow from the arm and fall on fields, orchards and forests like the tooth of the locust, to take the harrow to rebel lands, to remove the locks from their city gates so the doors stand open – King An, you have indeed given me all this, and ..."
80-82: "You have placed me at the right hand of the king in order to destroy rebel lands: may he, with my aid, smash heads like a falcon in the foothills of the mountain, King An, and may I ... your name throughout the land like a thread."
83-88: "May he destroy the lands as a snake in a crevice. May he make them slither around like a sajkal snake coming down from a mountain. May he establish control over the mountain, examine it and know its length. May he go out on the holy campaign of An and know its depth. The gods ..., since the Anuna deities have ..."
89-95: "How can it be that the mountain did not fear me in heaven and on earth, that the mountain did not fear me, Inanna, in heaven and on earth, that the mountain range of Ebih, the mountain, did not fear me in heaven and on earth? Because it showed me no respect, because it did not put its nose to the ground, because it did not rub its lips in the dust, may I fill my hand with the soaring mountain range and hand it over to my terror."
96-99: "Against its magnificent sides let me place magnificent battering rams, against its small sides let me place small battering rams. Let me storm it and start the 'game' of holy Inanna. In the mountain range let me set up battle and prepare conflicts.
100-103: "Let me prepare arrows in the quiver. Let me ... slingstones with the rope. Let me begin the polishing of my lance. Let me prepare the throwstick and the shield."
104-107: "Let me set fire to its thick forests. Let me take an axe to its evil-doing. Let me make Gibil, the purifier, bare his holy teeth at its watercourses. Let me spread this terror through the inaccessible mountain range Aratta."
108-111: "Like a city which An has cursed, may it never be restored. Like a city at which Enlil has frowned, may it never again lift its neck up. May the mountain tremble when I approach. May Ebih give me honour and praise me."
112-115: An, the king of the deities, answered her: "My little one demands the destruction of this mountain – what is she taking on? Inanna demands the destruction of this mountain – what is she taking on? She demands the destruction of this mountain – what is she taking on?"
116-120: "It has poured fearsome terror on the abodes of the gods. It has spread fear among the holy dwellings of the Anuna deities. It has poured its terror and ferocity over this land. It has poured the mountain range's radiance and fear over all the lands. Its arrogance extends grandly to the centre of heaven."
121-126: "Fruit hangs in its flourishing gardens and luxuriance spreads forth. Its magnificent trees are themselves a source of wonder to the roots of heaven. In Ebih ... lions are abundant under the canopy of trees and bright branches. It makes wild rams and stags freely abundant. It stands wild bulls in flourishing grass. Deer couple among the cypress trees of the mountain range."
127-130: "You cannot pass through its terror and fear. The mountain range's radiance is fearsome. Maiden Inanna, you cannot oppose it." Thus he spoke.
131-137: The mistress, in her rage and anger, opened the arsenal and pushed on the lapis lazuli gate. She brought out magnificent battle and called up a great storm. Holy Inanna reached for the quiver. She raised a towering flood with evil silt. She stirred up an evil raging wind with potsherds.
138-143: My lady confronted the mountain range. She advanced step by step. She sharpened both edges of her dagger. She grabbed Ebih's neck as if ripping up esparto grass. She pressed the dagger's teeth into its interior. She roared like thunder.
144-151: The rocks forming the body of Ebih clattered down its flanks. From its sides and crevices great serpents spat venom. She damned its forests and cursed its trees. She killed its oak trees with drought. She poured fire on its flanks and made its smoke dense. The goddess established authority over the mountain. Holy Inanna did as she wished.
152-159: She went to the mountain range of Ebih and addressed it: "Mountain range, because of your elevation, because of your height, because of your attractiveness, because of your beauty, because of your wearing a holy garment, because of your reaching up to heaven, because you did not put your nose to the ground, because you did not rub your lips in the dust, I have killed you and brought you low."
160-165: "As with an elephant I have seized your tusks. As with a great wild bull I have brought you to the ground by your thick horns. As with a bull I have forced your great strength to the ground and pursued you savagely. I have made tears the norm in your eyes. I have placed laments in your heart. Birds of sorrow are building nests on these flanks."
166-170: For a second time, rejoicing in her fearsome terror, she spoke out righteously: "My father Enlil has poured my great terror over the centre of the mountains. On my right side he has placed a weapon. On my left side a ... is placed. My anger, a harrow with great teeth, has torn the mountain apart."
171-175: "I have built a palace and done much more. I have put a throne in place and made its foundation firm. I have given the kurjara cult performers a dagger and prod. I have given the gala cult performers ub and lilis drums. I have changed the headgear of the pilipili cult performers."
176-181: "In my victory I rushed towards the mountain. In my victory I rushed towards Ebih, the mountain range. I went forward like a surging flood, and like rising water I overflowed the dam. I imposed my victory on the mountain. I imposed my victory on Ebih."
182-183: For destroying Ebih, great child of Suen, maiden Inanna, be praised.
184: Nisaba be praised.
Although the poem is generally understood as Enheduanna's work, there are some scholars who have challenged this claim and so reject the interpretation of it as reflecting Enheduanna's conflict with Lugal-Ane. The coup of Lugal-Ane as source material, however, has nothing to do with the text itself – nor is it even necessary to link Enheduanna with the piece – as the poem could have been written by anyone interested in encouraging female empowerment.
Whoever wrote it, the work can be interpreted as showing how women in general are not given proper respect and how it is within their rights to respond with defiance of the patriarchal system instead of acceptance. A later work, Inanna and Su-kale-tuda (c. 1800 BCE) explores this same theme through a story in which Inanna is raped by a gardener and, instead of suffering in silence after the assault, hunts the man down and kills him. The author of that work may have had Inanna and Ebih in mind as, in both, Inanna refuses to submit to the expectations of the patriarchy and demands justice for herself on her own terms.