1 Ereshkigal was in mourning for her fallen husband and wished to be at home with her grief in the underworld. The other gods wished to cheer her up so they announced a celebration. An knew that it would be improper for Ereshkigal to come up and attend. The lord of heaven was likewise unwilling to go down into the underworld and have the celebration there.
2 "Send up your minister that he might accept some food and a gift for you." An Announced as a solution. The god Papsukkal served as an intermediary for their conversation.
3 For Papsukkal the journey was a long one. The palace of heaven had many stairs to go down, and the entrance to the underworld on earth was not easy to get to. Once Papsukkal arrived at the entrance to the underworld he called to Neti the gatekeeper.
4 "Lord Neti I have a message for your mistress. From An the great ruler in heaven."
5 Neti opened the way and Papsukkal passed slowly through each of the seven gates in the underworld and entered into the great walled underworld city of Urugal. Continuing, he passed through the great court yard, finally to bow at the feet of the lady of the underworld.
6 Kissing her feet in reverence Papsukkal gave his message to the great lady. "Lord An is throwing a celebration. He knows that it is improper for you to go up to enjoy it yourself, but you could provide a substitute and enjoy the gathering through him."
7 Ereshkigal liked this idea and sent her minister Namtar, the instrument of fate up to take her place at the celebration. "My loyal minister Namtar will take my place there. Treat him as though I was he."
8 Ereshkigal presented Namtar with presents that he should give to honor the great gods. She instructed him as to how to behave before the great gods and how they should behave for him.
9 To Papsukkal she had one final message. "Give my regards to An, Enlil, and Enki the great gods. Give my regards also to Apsu and Nash the pure goddesses." Ereshkigal used Nash, Nanshe's pet name out of affection, "mother and daughter to my dear friend Enki. Give my regards to Dumuzi husband to the lady of heaven as well as to Ninurta hero of the gods."
10 "Each and every god you have named is indeed well."
11 When Namtar arrived the great gods all stood in reverence to their beloved goddess Ereshkigal. They treated her as though she were the greatest of their kinswomen. Namtar was showered with food and gifts. He was offered the finest of the food, and his gifts were received in delight.
12 The gods stood before him not only to show their love of Ereshkigal, but to show that even they must submit before Namtar. The Minister of Ereshkigal was no ordinary god. He was the instrument of mans ultimate fate. He was the god of death itself.
13 One god refused to stand before Namtar. This god was the warrior god Nergal the god of war and plagues. Nergal was not particularly close to Ereshkigal, and he had absolutely no fear of death.
14 The conspicuous behavior of Nergal did not go beneath the notice of Namtar. It likewise did not go beneath the notice of Enki who was close to Ereshkigal. Enki beckoned Namtar over to him when it came time for the minister to return to the underworld.
15 "I know Ereshkigal well. When you see her she will want to know the name of the man who did not bow to her. If you tell her then she will want him brought to her so that she might teach him to fear death personally. Tell her everything that you have seen if you must."
16 Namtar did as he was advised, but not before discussing the death of the god with the rest of the great gods. The gods understood that with his inappropriate actions, that the death of their fellow god was assured.
17 He bowed before the queen of the underworld and told her of the insult. Ereshkigal was indeed angered. "I want you to return to heaven and look for the god that did not stand. When you find him I want to take care of him with my own hands."
18 The god of death did as his mistress instructed that he do and returned to heaven. Once he arrived he asked that they all lower their heads that he might recognize the top of the head that he had seen earlier.
19 "That god who did not bow before you earlier is no longer here!" reported the gods.
20 Indeed Namtar was unable to find the head of the god who he had been looking for. Had he counted them by number he would have found that none were missing. Enki had disguised the top of Nergal's head so that it might look as though it were balding.
21 "So he has fled. If nothing else this shows more than says that he too fears death. You may all rise."
22 At this all gods rose except for one bald headed god in the back. Namtar signaled for him to stand, but he would not.
23 "You in the back why will you not stand before me?" Namtar was forced to ask twice before he got an answer.
24 "I didn't stand because I am hard of hearing, but I do not fear Ereshkigal either."
25 "You are just as bad as the one who did not show deference to the power of the underworld earlier. Count yourself lucky that I am not after you."
26 When Namtar had again departed for the underworld to consult Ereshkigal, Enki took Nergal to the side and spoke to him. He had done some work to keep Nergal out of the land of the dead, and he didn't want to see his efforts crumble.
27 "You know the power of the underworld from the time when you and your twin brother stood guard by one of the great entrances to the realm."
28 "I do not fear the queen of the underworld. I do not fear death."
29 "We'll see."
30 "I will prove it to you. I am Nergal the great warlord. I will go to the underworld with my head held high and I will prove that I am better than it."
31 Hearing this Enki realized that if left to his own devices Nergal would most certainly fail. He also realized that Nergal's efforts would cause great damage to the gates of the underworld and would cause a breach between the land of the dead and the land of the living. The dead would rise up to feast upon the blood of the living.
32 "I have to stop this." Enki said to himself. Adressing Nergal Enki devised a plot that would both save the land of the living and the land of the dead. "If this is what you have set your mind to do then there are specific things you need to do."
33 "Tell me of your thoughts far sighted Enki. I will do as you advise." Nergal was an experienced war lord, and there was none as experienced with the realm of the dead as Enki, The god who had once conquered it and who first placed Ereshkigal upon its throne.
34 "Ningishzida the god of dawn and dusk travels to the underworld every day, and he returns to the land of the living upon a special chair. You must take your sword and cut down Mesu trees, Tiaru trees, and Juniper trees. Break down kanaktu trees and simberru trees and build a throne. Paint it in the colors of gold, silver, and lapis lazuli."
35 Nergal did as he was instructed. He cut the trees that he was told to cut and broke the trees that he was told to break. He constructed the chair with care, and painted it exactly as instructed.
36 Enki examined the work and approved of the construction. "Listen carefully to me. When you arrive in the underworld do exactly as I say. When they offer you a chair do not sit on it. When they offer you bread, meat, and beer do not accept. When they offer to wash your feet you must decline. You will see Ereshkigal in fine dress when she has had her bath. Do not have sex with her."
37 "I can't go down there like this. The gate keeper Neti will see me and will not let me stay alive." Fear crept into the edge of the voice of the fearless Nergal.
38 "You are a war lord. I will give you seven and seven demons to command."
39 Nergal set off towards the land of Kur. The realm of Ereshkigal was a one way road, and those who enter never leave again. Nergal headed straight to the great city of Urugal, the home of Ereshkigal.
40 Nergal knocked upon the outermost of the seven gates to the underworld. He had once stood guard by a gate not unlike this with his twin brother.
41 "Gatekeeper attend to your door." Instructed Ereshkigal to Neti her gate keeper.
42 When Neti arrived at the door he did not immediately open it. He waited for the man at the door to announce himself.
43 "Loosen the cord that binds this door that I may have an audience with Ereshkigal your mistress. I have been sent."
44 Neti conferred with Namtar. "There is a god standing at the entrance to the door. Come and inspect him and let him enter."
45 "Wait here." Namtar said to the gatekeeper and went immediately went to speak with his mistress. He had seen who it was and he was most grateful to the gatekeeper, but his face went as livid as cut tamarisk.
46 "The god who did not rise in my presence earlier is at your outermost gate."
47 "Bring him in and as soon as I have him in my presence I will kill him."
48 "My lady let me attack him at the outer gate. I am death and I have the power to kill him."
49 "My dear Namtar you should not seek lordship, nor should you attempt to perform glorious deeds. Do you want to sit at the royal dais? Do you want to decree fate?" she challenged sarcastically, "Do you think I seek to go to An's realm and rule there? That is too much power for any god. Go now and do as I ask."
50 Namtar returned to the outermost gate and addressed Nergal, "Come in my lord and go visit my mistress Ereshkigal."
51 "You should be glad to see me. You have been looking for me for some time now haven't you?"
52 Namtar opened the gate and the fourteen demons rushed past to hold the seven gates open. The first three demons, whose names are unknown, held the first three doors. These three doors were called Neti, Enkishar, Endashurimma. The demon known as Flashes of Lightning held Nerulla the fourth gate, Bailiff held Nerubanda the fifth, The Croucher held Endukuga the sixth, and Expulsion held the gate known as Enugigi the last of the gates.
53 The next seven of his troops each stood guard and also helped hold the doors open. None of the dead were allowed to exit through, and the integrity of the land of the living and the land of the dead was maintained. The demons known as Wind, Fits, Staggers, Stroke, The Lord of the roof, Feverhot and Scab served their war lord well.
54 With the demons holding the doors open Nergal raced past and into the land of the dead. On his way to the city Urugal, Nergal saw the dead outside the great city. These poor souls were deprived of light, they consumed dust as their food, they ate clay as their bread and they were clothed in feathers like the birds.
55 Ereshkigal attempted to escape through the great courtyard before her throne, but her path was cut off from Namtar by the great warlord. The queen of the underworld retreated back into her throne room.
56 "Perhaps we can discuss this peacefully." Suggested the queen from within her throne room.
57 Nergal remembered the advice that Enki had given him, and entered the throne room with care. He beheld beautiful Ereshkigal and he understood in an instant how the bull of heaven had loved her, and how the dragon that was the true embodiment of this realm had desired her for his own.
58 "Come and sit upon my throne. I offer you a place to judge the cases of the gods." 59 Nergal refused as Enki had advised. To accept would be to sit upon a throne other than the one that he had brought with him. He did not want to stay in the underworld forever.
60 "Well at least enjoy some refreshment." Offered Ereshkigal, and servants baring bread, meat, arrived along with a cup bearer bringing beer came at her merest suggestion.
61 Nergal again refused. He had no desire to consume the food of the dead and thus earn himself a permanent position in the realm of Kur.
62 Ereshkigal offered him a foot bath, but the warrior would not let his feet go bare, and he would not accept hospitality in a house that he was assaulting. To accept hospitality would mean to place himself under the rules of hospitality.
63 "I must go wash off even if you will not accept the washing of your feet." The queen of the land of Kur left for a nearby room where she bathed. Once she was done with the bath she dressed herself in a fine dress, and knowing that Nergal was out there allowed him a teasing glimpse of her body before sitting upon her throne once more.
64 The great war lord grabbed Ereshkigal by her hair and pulled her from her throne. Ereshkigal was taken by surprise, but she was not some flower to be taken without a fight. She was the queen of the underworld, and she had claws of her own.
65 The pair struggled together and battled. Nergal was an experienced warrior, but Ereshkigal had spent quite some time as the ruler of the underworld. The queen did well for being unarmed other than her natural claws, but Nergal gained the upper hand.
66 Nergal held her head down in order to kill her, but Ereshkigal pleaded for her life. "If you let me live I will share my kingdom with you. I will be queen and you will be my consort. I will place the tablet of destiny in your hand and together we will rule over the earth."
67 Nergal took Ereshkigal to bed and for one week Nergal laid with her. He had given into his desire for the woman. Together they passionately and fervently embraced each other. Their passion went both ways. Ereshkigal enjoyed the feeling of power that Nergal had about him.
68 Ereshkigal had not been with a man like this since the death of her husband from the irresponsible actions of Inanna. For seven days Ereshkigal forgot the loss that had been with her for so long.
69 After seven days Nergal got up intending on departing. Ereshkigal felt betrayed by his actions. She begged him to stay at her side. "Do not go. I will be alone without you do you not want to be a ruler in my realm?"
70 "Let me go." Nergal said to his lover. "Do not let yourself tremble. Let me go now and I will return to Kur later."
71 "No, you may not go." This callous dismissal made Ereshkigal's mouth darken with rage. She had been used by the war lord, and she would not allow him to depart if she had any say in the matter.
72 Departing the bed chamber Nergal walked across the great court yard of the city of Urugal and went to where he had left his carefully constructed throne. The lady of the underworld would not give her permission for him to go, so he would go without her permission. The chair would prevent the dead from stopping him as he ascended to the land of the living.
73 Nergal sat upon the chair he had constructed and his demons ushered his way through the seven gates of the underworld. Encountering Neti the gate keeper he said, "Your mistress Ereshkigal has sent me to deliver a message to the god An in his realm."
74 Nergal's deception worked perfectly. Without another word spoken between them Nergal exited the underworld and began his long journey back up the great stairway that lead to the realm of heaven. He had followed Enki's instructions, but he had not followed them exactly.
75 "Nergal the warlord of Inanna has returned to us. Soon he will be missed and he must be made to look bald and be sprinkled with spring water." At his arrival at the gate of Enki, Enlil, and An he was seen by these three great gods. This was done quickly. Nergal sat in the assembly of all of the gods disguised by Enki's magic spring water.
76 Nergal might have been fearless in battle, but the bald headed god who sat in the midst of the assembly was quite different. He was cringing, and his eyes were blinking profusely. He had enjoyed the taste of Ereshkigal's lips, but now he feared her power.
77 In the underworld Ereshkigal had not yet learned of Nergal's departure. She had just made herself beautiful after a bath and had ordered that the room be adorned with special scented waters and oils. From where she sat adorned in her fine dress she she ordered two daughters of Lamashtu and Enmershara to make similar preparations in order to please Nergal and to make his stay more pleasant.
78 "Nergal will be hungry. He will eat our bread and drink our water."
79 Ereshkigal's preparations came to a stop with the words of Namtar. "Nergal has departed for the land of heaven. He disappeared just before daylight."
80 The queen of the underworld cried out as though in mortal pain and fell off of her throne onto the ground. Tears flowed from her cheeks as she rose back up again.
81 "My lover Nergal, I did not have my fill of his passion before he departed."
82 Namtar was angry at the indiscretion that had been done to his mistress. "Send me to the realm of An and let me arrest this god. Let me apprehend him by force that he may be made to kiss you once more."
83 Ereshkigal took hopes in the words of her Minister. It had been a long time since the death of her husband the bull of heaven. She had forgotten how much she missed the love of a powerful man.
84 "Go then Namtar. Go to the gates of heaven and remind them that I was taken by Kur the dragon as a child. Remind them that I had never known the playing of other girls or the romping of children. Tell them that the god who I have laid with has brought me happiness and that I would have him to sleep with again."
85 The queen of heaven wanted to remind them that her youth had been taken away when the dragon Kur had taken her to be his wife. She wanted to play upon the love that the great gods of heaven had for their long lost kins woman.
86 Ereshkigal was not done making her request though. She had grown more practical as she had grown to adulthood. The great queen of the underworld needed to make her request have teeth.
87 "Tell the great gods that I am unclean. I had been taken when I was still saddened by the loss of my husband Gugalana the bull of heaven, and I will be unable to judge the dead for the great gods. Tell them that if they do not send Nergal to me that I will make the dead rise up to consume the living. The dead will spread upon the land and will grow to outnumber the living."
88 Namtar departed through the courtyard of the great city. He passed the seven gates of the underworld and headed up the stairway to the realm of An. His goal was the gate way of An, Enlil, and Enki.
89 "Namtar, why have you come here?" The three gods demanded of their visitor.
90 "The young goddess who was once among you has sent me with a message." Namtar delivered his message exactly as Ereshkigal had dictated it to him.
91 "Then enter Namtar," decided Enki. "Enter and select the one who has wronged our beloved Ereshkigal."
92 Namtar entered the court of An and searched for the one that had wronged his mistress. Before him the great gods were all kneeling humbly waiting for the lord of fate to make his judgment.
93 Namtar went straight to one good and looked at him carefully, but did not recognize him. He did this to a few more and he could not identify them either. Finally the lord of fate came to a bald headed man who was blinking and cringing.
94 Returning to the land of the dead Namtar addresed his mistress. He didn't relish the idea of telling the great lady of the underworld of his failure, but he had no other choice. He went to her and told her of every detail.
95 "Go and apprehend the bald cringing one. That will be Nergal. I know some of Enki's ways. He has sprinkled him with magical waters."
96 Namtar returned to the land of An. He stated his business to Enlil, An, and Enki when they asked, and once again he was before the assembly of the gods.
97 Namtar did not immediately find the one he was looking for so one god requested before the assembly of Enki, "Let Namtar, minister of Ereshkigal, who has come before us, drink our water, wash, and anoint himself."
98 The god who made this request was Nergal himself. His action showed that he did not truly fear death, but that he did wish to honor the servant of Ereshkigal. The grievance between the two had been settled.
99 Namtar addressed Nergal. "You will go down into the underworld to where my mistress awaits, but you will do it with your full power. You will observe all of the rights of the holy underworld, you will keep your chair, and you will carry all of your weapons and symbols of office. Do not let the gate keepers take hold of you or they will bind your chest."
100 Nergal payed close attention to the words of Namtar. He prepared his weapons and slung his bow, and began the long journey once more to the land of the underworld. This second trip to the underworld had to be taken with more care as this time he did not have an army of demons at his disposal.
101 "Gatekeeper, open up. Nergal your lord has returned."
102 Neti opened the first gate and Nergal struck him down. Once the doorman was down the warrior charged past him and assaulted the next door. He struck the next six doormen down in like fashion. None of them had gotten a chance to lay a hand on him.
103 He charged into the underworld and entered the great city of Urugal. He continued unhindered through the great courtyard without slowing down. Charging in the same way that he had once before, Nergal came before Ereshkigal's throne.
104 Seizing the queen of the underworld by the hair he pulled her from her throne. Laughing, Nergal tore Ereshkigal down, and took her into his arms. With his hand stil gripping her hair he brought her to his lips and the two embraced.
105 The two went to bed and once again they lay together for seven days. On the seventh day Papsukkal the messenger of An came to Kur with congratulations. The two gods went on to rule the underworld together as queen and king. Nergal was second only to Ereshkigal in all of the land of the dead.
This myth occurs long after the myths of Gilgamesh. From a mortal perspective, the bull of heaven had been dead for a long time when this myth was written down. That also means that it is not, strictly speaking, a purely Sumerian myth. It draws a lot of influence from other cultures in the area.
Some have suggested that this is a myth about the rape of Ereshkigal and the conquest of the underworld by Nergal. This is probably not the best way to look at this particular myth, and not how the ancient Mesopotamians would have seen it. In this myth Ereshkigal never actually offered Nergal leadership over the entire underworld, she merely offered him a place of high esteem within her empire. This can be backed up by the funerary records which begin to show Nergal as a prominent figure in underworld offerings, but his place is always beneath that of Ereshkigal.
A better way to look at this would be to use a modern cinema trope. A male warrior and a female warrior are fighting tooth and nail against each other. Eventually they charge at one another and instead of fight, they start kissing.
About the text itself. There are two versions of this myth that date from several centuries apart from one another. Each of them looks at the events from a slightly different angle, but they largely tell the same story. The above adaptation is a combination of the two.