From 'Technicians of the Sacred Expanded': 'Genesis Three' (Enuma Elish), with commentary

Translation from Old Babylonian by Harris Lenowitz


When sky above had no name

          earth beneath no given name

   APSU       the first       their seeder



  Saltsea     their mother     who bore them

                                                                  mixed waters


Before pasture held together

            thicket be found

no gods being

no names for them

no plans


the gods were shaped inside them


LAHMU AND LAHAMU were brought out


while they grew

                 became great

ANSAR and KISAR were shaped

 Skyline       Earthline                  much greater


                                made the days long

                                added the years


ANU was their son

 Sky       their rival

ANSAR made his first son ANU his equal

Skyline                                 Sky

      ANU           NUDIMMUD

and Sky        got  Manmaker       equal




   (EA)          his fathers' boss

                                             wide wise

                                            full knowing

                      ANSAR         strong

stronger than Skyline his father

no equal among his brother gods


The godbrothers      together

stormed in TIAMAT

                   Salt sea

stirred up TIAMAT's guts


rushing at the walls



Not Deepwater hush their noise


 Salt sea struck dumb

They did bad things to her

          acted badly, childishly


until Deepwater             seeder of great gods

                           called up MUMMU



Speaker     messenger     makes my liver. happy

                                         come!                            TIAMAT

                                                             Let's go see Saltsea


They went                         TIAMAT  

           sat down in front of Saltsea

          (talk about plans for their first-born gods):



Deepwater     opened his mouth      said

to TIAMAT              said loud:


"The way they act makes me sick:

during the day               no rest

at night                          no sleep


I'll destroy them!

      stop their doings!

It'll be quiet again         we can sleep”



When Saltsea heard this

                                      she stormed

                                      yelled at her husband

                                      was sick


                "Wipe out what we made?!

                 The way they act is a pain

                                                           but let's wait"


 MUMMU                                   APSU

 Speaker answered     advising Deepwater:           MUMMU

                                                             bad advice Speaker's


"Go onl

               Put an end to their impertinence


rest              during the day

sleep            at night”


When APSU       heard him

        Deepwater               his face gleamed

                                                                      for the hurts planned

                                                                               against his godsons

                                           hugged MUMMU


                                           set him in his lap

                                           kissed him


What they planned in conference was repeated to their first born


They wept

         milled around     distressed

         kept silence




     Source: Translation from Enuma Elish by Harris Lenowitz, originally published in Acheringa/Ethnopoetics, new series, vol. 1, no. 1, 1975, pp. 31-33, & later in H. Lenowitz & Charles Doria: Origins: Creation Texts from the Ancient Mediterranean (Doubleday & Company, New York, 1975).


     (1) The god-world of Enuma Elish starts in turbulence & struggle: a universe the makers/poets knew or dreamed-into-life & felt the terror/horror at its heart.  It is this rush & crush of primal elements the poetry here translates into gods & monsters, reflecting as it does a natural & human world in chaos/turmoil.  The scene it leaves for us, replete with names of gods & powers, follows a story line encountered in many other times & places.  In the Babylonian Enuma Elish, tracing back to still earlier Sumerian sources, the two primeval forces are the god Apsu (Deepwater/Freshwater) & the goddess Tiamat (Saltsea), whose offspring will eventually destroy them both & lead the way for the triumphant reign of the new god Marduk, killing the goddess off at last & using her severed corpse to form the earth & sky, with humans coming in their wake.  The ferocity of word & image remains a key to poetic mind both then & now: the dark side of the joy & beauty that would be needed too to make their world & ours complete.

    (2)  “The Babylonian Creation Myth ... relates how the universe evolved from nothingness to an organized structure with the city of Babylon at its center. When the primordial sweet and salt waters – male Apsu and female Tiamat – mingled, two beings appeared, Lahmu and Lahamu, that is, mud and muddy. The image suits the southern Babylonian view over the Persian Gulf perfectly: when the sea recedes, mud arises. A chain reaction had started [...]” (Mark Van De Mieroop, Philosophy Before the Greeks: The Pursuit in Ancient Babylonia, 2016, p.4)

     And further: “The ancient Babylonians certainly were not humanists but deeply committed to a theocentric view of the world.  Yet, they believed that humans could have a firm knowledge of reality as the gods had created it, and continued to direct it, because at the time of creation the gods had provided the tools for understanding, as the Enūma Eliš shows. Creation in that myth was a work of organization: Marduk did not fashion the universe ex nihilo. Rather, he created by putting order into the chaos of Tiamat’s bodily parts. And just as he ordered the physical world, he organized knowledge and structured it through writing [...] the Babylonian theory of knowledge was [...] fundamentally rooted in a rationality that depended on an informed reading. Reality had to be read and interpreted as if it were a text. [...] ‘I read, therefore I am’ could be seen as the first principle of Babylonian epistemology.” (Ibid, p.10)

     (3) “What’s presented here, the Babylonian genesis retold, is the paramount interest, & the work of the ones who present it is an interest almost equal; & all of it crucial to the unfolding, changing recovery of cultures & civilizations that has now entered its latest phase.  To bring across this sense of myth as process & conflict, Harris Lenowitz & Charles Doria, working as both poets & scholars in Origins, make use of all those ‘advances in translation technique, notation, & sympathy’ developed over the last half century, from the methods of ‘projective verse’ to those of etymological translation or of that recovery of  the oral dimension of the poem that the present editor & others have, wisely or not, spoken of elsewhere as ‘total translation.’  The picture that emerges is one of richness, fecundity at every turning, from the first image of poem on page to the constantly new insights into the possibilities of ‘origin.’  And this allows that ‘clash of symbols’ which, those like Paul Ricoeur tell us, is both natural to mind & forms its one sure hedge against idolatry.”  (Adapted from J.R. in the pre-face to Origins, 1975)

     (4) “We live in an age in which inherited literature is being hit from two sides, from contemporary writers who are laying bases of new discourse at the same time that ... scholars ... are making available pre-Homeric and pre-Mosaic texts which are themselves eye-openers.” (Charles Olson, “Homer & Bible,” 1957)


N.B.  In the translation, above, god names are underlined throughout, with the English translation directly beneath.