Wrath of Erra, The

Wrath of Erra, The
   An ancient Babylonian myth and epic poem that tells how Erra (or Nergal), god of the Underworld, death, and war, tried to destroy Babylon while that city's divine protector, Marduk, was away. The surviving written version of The Wrath ofErra (also known as Erra and Ishum and The Erra Epic) probably dates from the eighth century b.c. Beneath the surface of the story's colorful characters and events it appears to be a commentary on the ravages, and more importantly the inevitability, of war and the death and destruction it brings. The poem also reminds the reader or listener that human cities and society are transient and subject to decline or destruction at the whims of the gods. Yet even the most pitiless of divinities, including Erra, are not likely to cause the complete destruction of the world. The work concludes with a ray of hope that humanity is destined to survive the worst of catastrophes.
   As the tale begins, Erra is restless and bored and laments that it has been a long time since he has been able to express his violent tendencies:
   Erra, warrior of the gods, was restless in his dwelling. His heart urged him to do battle! Says he to his weapons: "Smear yourselves with deadly venom!" To the Seven, warriors unrivaled, [he says] "Let your weapons be girded!" ... Erra's limbs are sluggish, like those of a mortal lacking sleep. He says to himself, "Shall I get up or go to sleep?"
   Hoping to break out of his state of lethargy, Erra decides to destroy the city of Babylon. However, his faithful adviser, Ishum, tells him that this would not be a wise course. In response, Erra shouts:
   Keep quiet, Ishum, [and] listen to what I say as concerns the people of the inhabited world, whom you would spare. .. .I am the wild bull in heaven, I am the lion on earth, I am king in the land, I am the fiercest among the gods! . . . All the gods are afraid of a fight, so the black-headed folk [humans] are contemptuous! . . . I will make Marduk angry, stir him from his dwelling [his main temple in Babylon], and lay waste the [Babylonian] people!
   Thus, Erra disregards Ishum's advice and travels to Babylon. There, the god of the netherworld approaches the great god Marduk and accuses him of dressing in clothing unfit for a god. Unaware of Erra's ruse, Marduk becomes concerned about his appearance and decides to leave Babylon and obtain better garments. Naturally, Erra offers to watch over the city while his fellow deity is away. As soon as Marduk is gone, the god of death begins his attack.
   Ishum again tries to dissuade his master from violence, but to no avail. Erra continues on his rampage, killing men, women, and children and wrecking buildings.
   Eventually, however, Erra grows tired of destroying the city and departs. He meets with a group of fellow gods and justifies his actions, saying in essence that such violent acts are simply part of his nature. Then he asks the wise Ishum to explain how humanity is far from completely destroyed. The people of Babylonia will rise again, Ishum says:
   Let the people of the country, who had dwindled, become numerous again. Let short and tall alike traverse its paths. ... You shall make ... grain descend once more [on] to the land. You shall make [the] mountain deliver its yield, [the] sea its produce, [and] you shall make the ruined fields deliver produce. Let the . . . ruined temples lift their heads like the rays of the sun. Let the governors of all cities make the provider for . . . Babylon their lord.
   Finally, the story ends with a hymn of praise for the mighty Erra, sometimes destroyer of humanity and the Earth's surface.

Ancient Mesopotamia dictioary. . 2015.

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