‘Enki and Ninhursag’ in a wider perspective
After ending my career I studied ancient history. Three years later my interest shifted to subjects not corresponding to the curriculum. Soon I came across some very old Sumerian stories and was transported by a world which could have been forgotten. I discovered that the translations and commentaries on the myth ‘Enki and Ninhursag‘ varied widely, apart from some notable exceptions. Almost 75 years after the first legible publication of the story by Samuel Noah Kramer the idea that the author of the myth failed to combine two or more different stories still enjoys wide support. However, the effect on the interpretations is, to say the least, far-reaching. I don’t endorse – for instance – the opinion about the issue of venues. During my research I came to the conclusion that Dilmun, the place where the action is supposed to take place, cannot be equated with the island of Bahrain in the Persian Gulf.
And there is more. In short, I am of the opinion that scholars well versed in transcribing and translating Sumerian texts should have interpreted the myth by looking at it from a wider perspective. I had to get acquainted with a variety of texts relating directly or indirectly to the mind-set of the author in the hope of seeing the world through his eyes. It resulted in the comprehensive study ‘Enki’s omzwervingen’ (Dutch), centred on the myth and followed by the article mentioned above.
Why the digital highway? On the supposition that the results of my research shed light on the myth as a whole, I wrote the article – ‘Enki and Ninhursag’: A Rehabilitation’ – that was submitted to a renowned magazine dealing with ancient Near Eastern literature. The editor advised me to submit my article to “an interdisciplinary journal or to a general publication about comparative religion or gender studies (-).” The main point was that the interpretation was based on the translation of different specialists. It is my opinion, however, that it is important to look at different translations and to contribute to a broader understanding of the literary heritage of the Sumerians on other than purely linguistic grounds. That is why I choose the digital short cut to the intended as well as to the non-specialized readership interested in this under-appreciated ancient literary masterpiece of human civilization.
Nico W. Visser