In front of me lies a clay tablet. Approximately 4000 years ago, an unknown Sumerian scribe inscribed cuneiform signs on it. The tablet is square, 23 x 23 cm, that is, measures less than a usual sheet of paper for a typewriter.
However, the scribe divided this tablet into twelve columns and contrived to fit more than 600 lines of a heroic poem. This poem can be called “Enmerkar and the ruler of Aratta.”
Although the events described in it occurred almost five millennia ago, the poem sounds surprisingly modern, for it describes an international conflict that vividly recalls some of the techniques of “politics from a position of strength.”
Once Enmerkar, “chosen by the bright heart of Inanna,” appealed with a plea to “his mistress, the good lady”:
“My sister Inanna! Make the people of Aratta
Start artfully crafting gold and silver for Uruk and
Bring noble lapis lazuli extracted from the rocks,
So I can sit in one of these museums, in the museum of the Ancient East.”
With these treasures, the inhabitants of Aratta should have decorated the sacred temple that Inanna “chose as her home” and where Enmerkar would pray to his goddess:
“Let Aratta submit to Uruk.
Let the inhabitants of Aratta
Bring mountain stones from their heights,
So that they build a great temple, a great sanctuary.
A great sanctuary, the sanctuary of the gods,
Where they will be forced to recognize my divine laws in Kullab…”
The treasures of Aratta were needed not only to glorify Inanna. Enmerkar intended to decorate Abzu, the sacred temple of god Enki in Eredu, with precious stones for it to shine “like a bright mountain.”
Enmerkar’s intentions were noble and pleasing to the gods. After all, he wanted to subdue Aratta, which was rich in construction stone and all kinds of metals, only for the sake of the gods’ good and glory.
After listening to Enmerkar’s words, Inanna told him to follow her advice and send a wise and eloquent messenger to Aratta with “the great words of wise Inanna as an order!” She promised Enmerkar that the people of Aratta would kneel before him, her royal brother.
Enmerkar chose a suitable messenger and passed him the prophetic words of the divine Inanna. He ordered him to pass mountains and roads leading to Aratta and repeat Inanna’s words full of threats and spells.
The emissary of Enmerkar set out on his journey and strictly followed all orders of his master, which he had received from the goddess Inanna.
“Intimidated by the might of the great mountains,
He walked along the road, trampling over the ashes.
He overcame five ridges, six ridges, seven ridges.
He looked up and approached Aratta
And joyfully entered the square of its royal palace.
He glorified the power of his king
And respectfully conveyed the words that were in his heart.”
Here is what Enmerkar’s messenger said to the ruler of Aratta:
“Your father, my king, sent me to you,
Lord of Uruk, lord of Kullaba, sent me to you.”
After such a lofty answer to the question of the ruler of Aratta about the purpose of his arrival, the messenger of Enmerkar described the power of his master. He called him “the great dragon of Sumer”, “a ram, whose royal power reaches the fortresses of a mountainous country.” Describing in detail the greatness and power of Enmerkar, the messenger expounded the essence of his message:
“I will put the inhabitants of this city to flight.
They will fly away like birds leaving their tree.
I will put them to flight, and they will fly away like birds fly to another nest.
I will empty Aratta.
I will destroy the city without mercy…”
Having pronounced these threats, the messenger conveyed the demand of Enmerkar, which was to obey Uruk and pay tribute. However, the ruler of Aratta also declared himself the favorite of Inanna and said that Saint Inanna, the “queen of the heavens and the earth”, “the mistress of all divine laws,” patronized Aratta.
So he refused to yield to Enmerkar. Then, the messenger unveiled that it had been Inanna who had promised Enmerkar domination over Aratta.
“The ruler was depressed and grieved deeply.
He did not know what to answer.
He searched for a reply for a long time.
He then looked at his feet with a darkened look and found the answer. “
Damaged in some places, the text on the plate makes it difficult to understand some spots that clearly contradict each other. In one section, the ruler of Aratta proposes to solve the issue by dueling two soldiers representing their countries. In another, he is ready to submit to Enmerkar, since Inanna deprived him of her mercy, “took back her word”, but on condition that Enmerkar sends him grain.
“Having listened to the answer of his messenger and having performed a series of magical rites, Enmerkar asked the goddess of wisdom, “omniscient Nidabe”, for help and advice. Then, he loaded animals with grain and sent them through seven mountains.
The caravan was led by the envoy of Enmerkar, who was commissioned to deliver a speech glorifying Enmerkar’s power and demand carnelian and lapis lazuli from the ruler of Aratta”.
From this and the next fragment of the poem, it appears that (if we correctly understand the text) in the second and third trip, the messenger was carrying a tablet with the demands of his king rather than a verbal order.
“The ruler of Aratta received the messenger in the square in front of his palace. The people of Aratta, delighted by the fact that they had received grain, agreed to give Emmerkar carnelian and instructed their elders to build a temple for him.
However, the ruler of Aratta objected. In turn, proclaiming his own power and glory, he put exactly the same conditions with the same words from the message of Enmerkar, that is, demanded carnelian and lapis lazuli.
Upon learning this, Enmekar again turned to the gods and various oracles for advice and performed all sorts of magical rites.
Then, the king of Uruk sent the third envoy to Aratta. However, instead of an answer, he handed him his scepter. The sight of this symbol of power for some reason caused the ruler of Aratta to tremble.
Terrified, the ruler of Aratta consulted with his shatamm (adviser) and bitterly complained about the plight in which Inanna’s disgrace had set his city. Nevertheless, although he was at first inclined to fulfill Enmerkar’s demands, later, for reasons unknown to us, he changed his mind and again suggested one of Enmerkar’s people to face his “man”. Thus, “it would become clear who was stronger”.
In response, Enmerkar sent his forth envoy to Aratta. He accepted the challenge of the ruler of Aratta but continued to demand gold, silver, and precious stones for the temple of the goddess Inanna. Otherwise, he threatened to raze Aratta.”
At this point, we find the second mention of some unknown record. As the researchers believe, Enmekar, fearing that his messenger would not be able to repeat the long a message, handed him a tablet with text.
“While the messenger waited for the answer of the ruler of Aratta, the Sumerian god of rain and thunderstorms Ishkur brought wild wheat and some other grains to Aratta.
At the sight of the wheat, the sorrowful ruler of Aratta cheered up and said that Inanna hadn’t turned away from Aratta and “hadn’t left her house of lapis lazuli.”
Because of lapses in this part of the epic and especially because of the damage to the next, it is impossible to understand the further course of events, which resulted in the people of Aratta granting gold, silver, and lapis lazuli to Inanna and bringing it all to the courtyard of the temple of the goddess in Uruk.