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Collections | Ancient Near Eastern Seals & Tablets

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Tablet Inscribed in Akkadian with a Fragment of the Epic of Etana
Mesopotamia, First Dynasty of Babylon (ca.1895–1595 B.C.); clay
MLC 1363
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Etana was according to the legend, the first king after the Flood. In the Epic, Etana is childless; meanwhile an eagle has ignored his own children's advice and eaten the children of his friend, a serpent. All three pray to Shamash (the sun god) for help. Shamash helps the serpent avenge his loss but sends Etana to help the eagle, who helps him in return. The scene in which the eagle carries Etana to heaven in search of a magical fertility plant is famous for being the only episode in Mesopotamian literature identifiable in ancient illustrations (Seal no. 30).

Translation:
Etana...spoke to the eagle,
"O my friend give me the plant of birth,
Show me the plant of birth!
Remove my shame and provide me with a son!..."
The eagle hunted around (in the mountains)
But (the plant of birth) was not (to be found there).
"Come, my friend, let me carry you up...
(Let us meet) with Ishtar, the mistress (of birth)... "
(The eagle) took him upwards for a mile.
"My friend, look at he country! How does it seem?"
"The affairs of the country buzz (?) (like flies?)
And the wide sea is no bigger than a sheepfold!..."


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Background images: Photography by Todd Eberle unless otherwise noted. © 2006 Todd Eberle.