The myth, “The Lugal-e” (O Warrior King) (Note 1) tells of Ninurta and his battle with the demon Azag (Asag). During the battle, Ninurta reforms the destroyed mountains to create rivers for the cities. The second half of the myth is Ninurta ordering the various minerals for their use in civilization.
While Ninurta is at a banquet, Sharur (Note 2), his loyal Mace tells the God that the rocks and plants of the mountains have revolted. Lead by Azag, they seek to destroy the plains and cities. Ninurta leaves at once in his boat, Ma-kar-nunta-ea (Beloved Barge). However, He loses the first battle and retreats.
From “The Lugal-e:”
“The mace snarled at the Mountains, the club began to devour all the enemy. He fitted the evil wind and the sirocco on a pole, he placed the quiver on its hook. An enormous hurricane, irresistible, went before the Hero, stirred up the dust, caused the dust to settle, levelled high and low, filled the holes. It caused a rain of coals and flaming fires; the fire consumed men. It overturned tall trees by their trunks, reducing the forests to heaps, Earth put her hands on her heart and cried harrowingly; the Tigris was muddied, disturbed, cloudy, stirred up…. The storm flooded out the fish there in the subterranean waters, their mouths snapped at the air. It reduced the animals of the open country to firewood, roasting them like locusts. It was a deluge rising and disastrously ruining the Mountains.”
The Demon King Azag (Note 3) was born from the mating of the Gods – An (Heaven) and Ki (Earth). Although He was the King of the Plants, Azag mated with the mountains, creating stone children. Besides ruling over plants and rocks, He could boil the rivers and kill the fish. After defeating Ninurta the first time, Azag set up a throne and ruled the plains and the cities. Sharur, the Mace describes Him as “Who can compass the Asag’s dread glory? Who can counteract the severity of its frown? People are terrified, fear makes the flesh creep; their eyes are fixed upon it.”
Meanwhile, Enlil, Ninurta’s father counsels his son to bid his time. He tells Ninurta to wait until the springtime and then unleash his storms. While waiting, Ninurta reforms the ruined mountains, torn up from the first battle with Azag. He constructs embankments to channel the flood waters. This creates rivers for the well-being of the cities. By controlling the spring floods, Ninurta ensures abundance for the “black-headed people.” Finished, Ninurta marches off to do battle, again.
From “The Lugal-e:”
“But the Lord howled at the Mountains, could not withhold a roar. The Hero did not address the rebel lands, He reversed the evil that it had done. He smashed the heads of all the enemies, he made the Mountains weep. The Lord ranged about in all directions, like a soldier saying ‘I will go on the rampage.’ Like a bird of prey, the Asag looked up angrily from the Mountains. He commanded the rebel lands to be silent. Ninurta approached the enemy and flattened him like a wave. The Asag’s terrifying splendour was contained, it began to fade, it began to fade. It looked wonderingly upwards. Like water he agitated it, he scattered it into the Mountains, like weeds he pulled it up, like rushes he ripped it up. Ninurta’s splendour covered the Land, he pounded the Asag like roasted barley, he piled it up like a heap of broken bricks, he heaped it up like flour, as a potter does with coals; he piled it up like stamped earth whose mud is being stirred. The Hero had achieved his heart’s desire. Ninurta, the Lord, the son of Enlil, began to calm down.”
After defeating Azag, Ninurta reorders the land.
From “The Lugal-e:”
“The Lord applied his great wisdom to it. Ninurta, the son of Enlil, set about it in a grand way. He made a pile of stones in the Mountains. Like a floating cloud he stretched out his arms over it. With a great wall he barred the front of the Land. He installed a sluice on the horizon. The Hero acted cleverly. He dammed in the cities together. He blocked the powerful waters by means of stones. Now the waters will never again go down from the Mountains into the earth. That which was dispersed he gathered together. Where in the Mountains scattered lakes had formed, he joined them all together and led them down to the Tigris. He poured carp-floods of water over the fields.”
“Now, today, throughout the whole world, kings of the Land far and wide rejoice at Lord Ninurta. He provided water for the speckled barley in the cultivated fields, he raised up the harvest of fruits in garden and orchard. He heaped up the grain piles like mounds.”
The second half of this myth details Ninurta’s assigning duties to various stones. He is reorganizing the landscape for civilization to thrive. The rocks who fought against Him like flint were sentenced to be easily flaked and used by other stones. His allies like lapis lazuli were rewarded as being pleasing to the Gods.
Various interpretations of this myth have been made. A major one is that “The Lugal-e” depicts Ninurta as a force of nature. The thunderstorms raging over the mountains symbolizes the battle between Him and Azag. These storms create the spring floods that eventually form the rivers and streams of the plains. The cities, downstream, receive the bounty of this water.
From “The Lugal-e:” “The Lord caused bilious poison to run over the rebel lands. As he went the gall followed, anger filled his heart, and he rose like a river in spate and engulfed all the enemies. In his heart he beamed at his lion-headed weapon, as it flew up like a bird, trampling the Mountains for him.” This passage describes Ninurta, the Lord of Storms.
Others scholars believe that the “Lugal-e” describes how Ninurta defeated the mountain peoples. In his role as “Protector of the Cities,” the God ensures that the Assyrians, Kassites, Mitanni and others remain in the Zagros Mountains. In that, He is the Warrior God.
Meanwhile, noted Mesopotamian scholar Thorkild Jacobson in “Treasures of Darkness” writes that Azag was the original form of Ninurta. The God was first depicted as the Thundercloud, Who Throws Hailstones. In fact, the name “Azag” refers to “slingstones,” which is another name for hailstones. The conflict then becomes a struggle between the human and the non-human forms of the God. As the “human,” Ninurta becomes Lord Plough, the God of Agriculture.
I see the myth as the blending of order and chaos to form a stable civilization. For fertility to occur, chaos must be allowed free reign. However, to contain the chaos, Ninurta does his duty. From the battles, a new world emerges, and reemerges every spring. The myth could be seen as Ninurta recreation the Cosmos as Lord Plough granting abundance.
Selected Stones and Their Duties
Alabaster: Purifies silver. Seal keeper for the Treasury.
Carnelian: Decorated with precious metals. Revered as from the Gods.
Diorite: Holy statues and offerings made from this stone.
Hematite: Value as if gold. Worthy of respect. Reflects the light.
Kohl: Favorite of artisans
Emery: Used to file down other stones
Flint: Smashed into small pieces. To be used in metal work.
Lava and Basalt: Mold for goldsmiths
Limestone: Used for foundations on muddy ground.
Note 1. The full name of this myth is “Lugal-e ud me-lam-binir-gal,” which means “King, Storm, the Glory of Which is Noble.” Scholars only have the middle part of this myth. The beginning and ending are still missing.
Note 2. Sharur (“Smasher of Thousands”) is considered to be a Holy Being. Meanwhile, the Boats of the Gods, which all have names, are revered for containing the essence of the Gods.
Note 3. Azag (Asag) is also a name for a demon who attacks and kills people with head fevers.