After the city of Kish was designed and built by
the gods long ago, the goddess Ishtar chose Etana to be the king
of Kish. An eagle and a snake lived in the branches and roots of
a tree in the city of Kish. They co-operated in feeding their
young until one day the eagle ate the baby snakes and flew away.
Guided by the sun-god Shamash, the snake
punished the eagle by leaving it to die on a mountain path at
the bottom of a deep pit. Shamash gave the eagle a chance to
redeem itself by sending Etana into the mountains in search of
the herb of birth. Etana was a good king but had no son. He
rescued the eagle and restored it to health. The grateful eagle
flew around the mountains in search of the herb of birth but
‘Sit on my back,’ said the eagle to Etana. ‘I
will take you to the goddess Ishtar. She is the keeper of the
herb of birth.’
As they flew up into the sky Etana looked down
and saw his city becoming smaller and smaller until it
‘Take me home!’ he cried.
The eagle tossed Etana off his back three times.
Three times Etana tumbled towards the earth. Three times he was
saved by the eagle swooping down and catching him on the tip of
Back in Kish, Etana dreamed he flew to heaven
and saw the goddess Ishtar through a window. She was sitting on
a throne with lions growling beneath it. He flew in through the
window and approached Ishtar. The lions jumped at him and he
woke from the dream. Etana told the dream to the eagle who then
took him again on his back up to heaven.
The Etana cuneiform tablets are incomplete so
the story doesn’t tell if Etana found the herb of birth.
However, the historical king list names the second king of Kish
as Balih. He may well have been Etana’s son.