Enuma Elish

Enuma Elish Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Anonymous's Enuma Elish. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Anonymous

Though the names of scribes who copied the text of the Enuma Elish are preserved on the recovered tablets, the identity of the original author is nowhere recorded. Most often, those with the training to write texts in the ancient Babylonian context would have been priests.
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Historical Context of Enuma Elish

Around the time of Hammurabi’s reign (1792-1750 BCE)—the ruler under whom the kingdom of Babylon expanded to conquer all of ancient Mesopotamia—the god Marduk began to be worshiped more than his Sumerian predecessor, Ea (or Enki or Enlil), who’d featured more prominently in earlier versions of the myth. Thus Marduk’s rise corresponded historically with the emergence of Babylon from a city-state to an empire, something that is reflected in the epic itself. The text of the Enuma Elish was discovered in fragments by Austen Henry Layard in 1849, in the library of Ashurbanipal at Nineveh (now Mosul, Iraq). The epic was recorded in the Old Babylonian language on seven clay tablets, written in Sumero-Akkadian cuneiform script.

Other Books Related to Enuma Elish

The Epic of Gilgamesh, the best-known ancient Mesopotamian epic, shares the Enuma Elish’s Old Babylonian (2nd millennium BCE) origins, and its modern rediscovery and publication occurred around the same time, in the mid-19th century. The modern study of both these texts yielded insights for scholarship on the Bible, particularly the Old Testament’s Book of Genesis, which contains accounts of the creation, human origins, and a primordial flood that have been thought to share common elements with the Babylonian texts. For another Ancient Near Eastern creation myth, Hesiod’s Theogony, also composed in epic poetic form (albeit written later, around 700 BCE), offers a point of comparison.
Key Facts about Enuma Elish
  • Full Title: Enuma Elish, or The Epic of Creation
  • When Written: Various dates proposed, from 1900s BCE to 1100s BCE
  • Where Written: Mesopotamia
  • Literary Period: Ancient Near Eastern
  • Genre: Religious text
  • Setting: The gods’ abode in the heavens; ancient Babylon
  • Climax: Marduk slays Tiamat
  • Antagonist: Tiamat
  • Point of View: Third person omniscient

Extra Credit for Enuma Elish

Ceremonial Usage. Though the precise ritual use of the Enuma Elish is a point of contention among scholars, it may have been recited or performed during Akitu, the spring barley-cutting festival, or to mark the annual flooding of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

Old Babylonian Title. The epic’s traditional title, the Enuma Elish, comes from the poem’s incipit, or opening words: “When on high.”