Enlil was the Mesopotamian god of wind, air, earth and storms.

Parents: Anu and Ki
Consort: Ninli and Ki
Children: Ninurta, Nanna, Nergal, Ninazu and Enbilulu

Statuette of Enlil, c. 1800-1600 BC, from Nippur. National Museum of Iraq. (c) Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin

He is first attested as the chief deity of the Sumerian pantheon, but he was later worshipped by the Akkadians, Babylonians, Assyrians and Hurrians. Enlil’s primary centre of worship was the Ekur temple in the city of Nippur, which was believed to have been built by Enlil himself and was regarded as the “mooring-rope” of heaven and earth.

The ruins of the Ekur temple at Nippur.

Sumerian Creation Myth

The main source of information about the Sumerian creation myth is the prologue to the epic poem Gilgamesh, Enkidu, and the Netherworld, which briefly describes the process of creation: originally, there was only Nammu, the primeval sea. Then, Nammu gave birth to Anu, the sky, and Ki, the earth. Anu and Ki mated with each other, causing Ki to give birth to Enlil. Enlil separated Anu from Ki and carried off the earth as his domain, while Anu carried off the sky. Enlil marries his mother, Ki, and from this union all the plant and animal life on earth is produced.

Enlil and Ninlil

Enlil and Ninlil is a nearly complete 152-line Sumerian poem describing the affair between Enlil and the goddess Ninlil. First, Ninlil’s mother Nunbarshegunu instructs Ninlil to go bathe in the river. Ninlil goes to the river, where Enlil seduces her and impregnates her with their son, the moon-god Nanna. Because of this, Enlil is banished to Kur, the Sumerian Underworld. Ninlil follows Enlil to the Underworld, where he impersonates the “man of the gate”. Ninlil demands to know where Enlil has gone, but Enlil, still impersonating the gatekeeper, refuses to answer. He then seduces Ninlil and impregnates her with Nergal, the god of death. The same scenario repeats, only this time Enlil instead impersonates the “man of the river of the nether world, the man-devouring river”; once again, he seduces Ninlil and impregnates her with the god Ninazu. Finally, Enlil impersonates the “man of the boat”; once again, he seduces Ninlil and impregnates her with Enbilulu, the “inspector of the canals”.

Cuneiform inscription on a diorite mortar stating that this was an offering from Gudea to Enlil, c. 2144 – 2124 BC, from Nippur. (c) Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin

Flood Myth

Recorded in the Epic of Gilgamesh, Enlil causes a flood, seeking to annihilate every living thing on earth because the humans, who are vastly overpopulated, make too much noise and prevent him from sleeping. Utnapishtim, the hero, is warned ahead of time by Enki that the flood is coming. The flood lasts for seven days; when it ends, Inanna, who had mourned the destruction of humanity, promises Utnapishtim that Enlil will never cause a flood again. When Enlil sees that Utnapishtim and his family have survived, he is outraged, but his son Ninurta speaks up in favor of humanity, arguing that, instead of causing floods, Enlil should simply ensure that humans never become overpopulated by reducing their numbers using wild animals and famines. Enlil goes into the boat; Utnapishtim and his wife bow before him. Enlil, now appeased, grants Utnapishtim immortality as a reward for his loyalty to the gods.

Neo-Assyrian clay tablet of the Epic of Gilgamesh, Tablet 11: Story of the Flood, 7th c. BC, from the Library of Ashurbanipal. British Museum. (c) BabelStone