Following those of Nergal, and Adad, the next piece I created was for Ninurta. Ninurta, also known as Ning̃irsu — the latter’s name meaning “The Lord of G̃irsu” (Modern Ṭalʿah, in the Dhi Qar Governorate of Iraq), a city which was attached to the greater city of Lagaš — was a very important God throughout all periods of Ancient Mesopotamian history. Ninurta and Ning̃irsu were initially regarded as separate deities, but between the Old Babylonian Period and the Third Dynasty of Ur, They had gradually come to be considered the self-same deity, both on account of Their mutual “Warrior-God” status and Their presiding-over of agriculture and the making/maintenance of canals. (Black and Green, 138) Ninurta is featured prominently in both Sumerian language literature and Akkadian language literature, with Ning̃irsu’s titles and tales being attributed to Ninurta in later periods.
Additionally, Ninurta also came to be closely associated with Nergal, Erra, and Zababa. This is primarily on account of Their being “Warrior-Gods.” Indeed, the same conquest of the Anzû/Asag creature (identified as “Asakku” in Akkadian) is attributed to Nergal / Erra in Tablet III of the poem Erra and Išum (Dalley: 204, 300; Foster: 1995)
Ninurta’s deeds and mythic adventures are many, some of which we only know from fragmentary references. This includes but is not limited to His slaying of the Mušmaḫḫū, a giant seven-headed serpent. (Dalley, 204) The most complete and well-known works featuring Ninurta/Ning̃irsu are the two versions (the Old Babylonian and the Standard Babylonian) of the Anzû epic, which are both Akkadian language works with no known antecedent in Sumerian literature; and the Sumerian epics Lugal-e ud me-lám-bi nir-ğál, The Return of Ninurta to Nibru (Nippur), and the highly fragmentary Ninurta and the Turtle. There is only a single, incomplete reference to Ninurta — and a very differently-behaved Anzû — in the Sumerian Epic of Lugalbanda.
Confronted with so many options to choose from, I ultimately decided to depict a scene from the Lugal-e ud me-lám-bi nir-ğál (lines 24 to 69), wherein Šarur appeals to His Lord Ninurta to take swift action on the matter of the Anzû/Asag-demon (Akkaddian: Asakku) running amok throughout Creation. The text I wrote into the piece in English is adapted from a few lines from the aforementioned section of the ETCSL version. In good conscience I must note that Thorkild Jacobsen’s translation of the Lugal-e included in ‘The Harps that Once . . .’ (233 – 272) is the more authoritative one. I chose to adapt the ETCSL version to my artwork, despite it not being the best translation available to me, since the way in which the contributor(s) translated the text made it easier to convert those particular lines into something more hymn-like.
I wrote Ninurta’s name in Neo-Assyrian cuneiform script above His head, preceded by the archaic DINGIR Akkadian Sumerogram versus the less-iconic AN sign. Meanwhile, the name of Ninurta’s weapon, Šarur (“Slaughterer of Thousands”), is written in Sumerian cuneiform — as it appears in the Lugal-e — preceded by the Akkadian DINGIR Sumerogram to make it more visually consistent with Ninurta’s. I did this because I couldn’t figure out how to render “Šarur” in Neo-Assyrian Akkadian cuneiform, as I could find no edition of the Standard Babylonian version (dating to the end of the Neo-Assyrian Period) that included the original Akkadian cuneiform. I’m not so confident in my Akkadian skills yet that I can feel comfortable trying to “retroengineer” English translations of Sumerian names into (Neo-Assyrian) Akkadian.
Šarur is not merely a potent magical weapon, but is Himself a lesser deity, and the loyal servant and companion of Ninurta. Šarur is a messenger between Ninurta and the other Gods, as well as Ninurta’s scout in the field, with the ability to take on many different forms. The transitions between these evidently different forms are, insofar as I was able to research the matter, explained nowhere in the extant mythic material nor in explanatory works.
Ninurta grasps the rod and ring of Divine authority in His left hand, while He grips the God-weapon Šarur in His right hand, Who I chose to depict as a large maul (a Medieval weapon Mesopotamians did not have, mind) with a formidable spike coming out of His mouth. Since Ninurta is associated with Zababa, among Whose symbols is the eagle, and since Ninurta’s symbol on kudurru stones is a bird resting on a low perch (Black and Green, 43), I chose to show the face of the God-weapon in the form of an eagle’s.
I gave Ninurta Neo-Assyrian-style clothing, which is comparatively more “modern” than anything I have yet shown on the Mesopotamian deities I’ve created artworks for. Indeed, this is perhaps the most fully-clothed I’ve yet shown any such God. I wanted to emphasize color over texture this time, and so didn’t incorporate any elaborate designs into His raiment. Likewise, for the sake of expediency and not interfering with the text, I opted to use blended red and yellow pastels to create a simple background.
Upon completion of this piece, I framed it and hung it up in the far left corner of my bedroom, together with my Ba’l-Hadad plaque and the 24″ x 36″ painting of Pazuzu I made three years ago. It’s an area of the house I endearingly refer to as “the Smiting God corner” (my side of the bed is strewn with various apotropaic objects and images of deities). I decided not to place Ninurta’s image in my Mesopotamian shrine space at this time, but I will likely do so once I’m permanently settled in Washington State sometime next year. In any case, this important and much-beloved deity is no longer imageless in my household.
Faculty of Oriental Studies, University of Oxford. “Lugalbanda and the Anzud Bird,” Translation: 22.214.171.124. The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature (ETCSL). 2006. Date of access: 19 Jan., 2016. http://etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk/cgi-bin/etcsl.cgi?text=t.126.96.36.199#
“The Return of Ninurta to Nibru,” Translation 1.6.1. ETCSL. 2001. Date of access: 19 Jan., 2016. http://etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk/section1/tr161.htm
“The Exploits of Ninurta,” Translation 1.6.2. ETCSL. 1999. Date of access: 19 Jan., 2016. http://etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk/cgi-bin/etcsl.cgi?text=t.1.6.2#
“Ninurta and the Turtle,” Translation 1.6.3. ETCSL. 1998. Date of access: 19 Jan., 2016. http://etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk/section1/tr163.htm
Black, Jeremy A., and Anthony Green. Gods, Demons, and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia: An Illustrated Dictionary. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006.
Dalley, Stephanie. Myths from Mesopotamia: Creation, the Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others. Oxford World’s Classics Revised Edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.
Foster, Benjamin R. From Distant Days: Myths, Tales, and Poetry of Ancient Mesopotamia. Bethesda: CDL, 1995. [http://www.piney.com/Baberraishum.html]
Heffron, Yaǧmur. ‘Nergal (god)’, Ancient Mesopotamian Gods and Goddesses, ORACC and the UK Higher Education Academy, 2013 [http://oracc.museum.upenn.edu/amgg/listofdeities/nergal/]
Heffron, Yağmur. ‘Zababa (god)’, Ancient Mesopotamian Gods and Goddesses, ORACC and the UK Higher Education Academy, 2013 [http://oracc.museum.upenn.edu/amgg/listofdeities/zababa/]
Horry, Ruth. ‘Erra (god)’, Ancient Mesopotamian Gods and Goddesses, ORACC and the UK Higher Education Academy, 2013 [http://oracc.museum.upenn.edu/amgg/listofdeities/erra/]
Jacobsen, Thorkild. ‘The Harps That Once . . .’ : Sumerian Poetry in Translation. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987.
Robson, Eleanor. ‘Ninurta, God of Victory’, Nimrud: Materialities of Assyrian Knowledge Production, The Nimrud Project at ORACC.org, 2015 [http://oracc.museum.upenn.edu/nimrud/ancientkalhu/thepeople/ninurta/]