The first Dragon

James Crowe

Have you ever been curious about the first Dragon in history? Where it was from, did it have a name? I know I was. I also realized that I would have to settle on the first Dragon in recorded history. Since time travel still eludes me. That is when I decided to do a little surfing, well, a lot of surfing and a lot of reading, as it turned out. Yes, I even hit the hard copy.

At first I was instantly gratified, as I'm sure many have been before me. A lot of web sites that I went to all told me the same... my quest was over...it was Anzu of Babylon, a.k.a Zu, c.1st Millennium B.C. From "Ninurta vs. Anzu" or "The Myth of Anzu". I read the descriptions, and with the exception of a few minor variations, it was this: Body and head of a lion, wings of an eagle (I didn't realize they had eagles in Babylon), razor sharp talons, the beak of a bird with teeth, and an armor-plated breast. It to me was a bit of a let down. I don't know about you, but to me Anzu sounds more like a griffin than a dragon. As I'm sure you will agree from the Babylonian depiction to the right. I also noticed a lot of copy and paste activity between a lot of the sites. So I decided to take a closer look, and actually read the original story as translated from the Babylonian clay tablets. At no time is Anzu referred to as a dragon. In other Babylonian text it is actual referred to as the Anzu Bird. In Sumerian text of the 3rd Millennium BC, Anzu was known as, the Zu-bird, a mythological creature which at times wrought mischief. From - Gilgamesh, Enkidu and the nether world - (Sumerian) : "In its branches, the Anzu bird settled its young." So, as far as the Babylonians and I are concerned, not only is Anzu not the first dragon, but not a dragon at all, and deserves no further mention. I did feel I was on the right trail though, so I pushed on into deeper study of Babylonian text.

My Reading and the views in other web sites brought me to an older "Dragon" in Babylonian and Assyrian text, Tiamat, creator of the gods and earth. c.2nd Millennium B.C. From the "Enuma Elish" or "The Seven Tablets of Creation". The fact that Tiamat was a dragon is not clear. In fact she has about as many detractors as she does supporters. She is often described as a Serpent type Water Dragon. Except for that fact that she was said to have given birth to dragons, along with a host of other creatures;

"She set up vipers and dragons, and the monster Lahamu,

And hurricanes, and raging hounds, and scorpion-men,

And mighty tempests, and fish-men, and rams;

They bore cruel weapons, without fear of the fight.

Her commands were mighty, none could resist them;

After this fashion, huge of stature, she made eleven [kinds of] monsters."

the descriptive evidence in the tale leaves one wondering to the fact of her being a dragon. She is in fact called a woman in the text, and mention is made of her lips. The following are all the pieces of description contained in the text of the Enuma Elish for Tiamat:

First: (Tablet 1)

unto Tiamut, the glistening one

Next: (Tablet 2)

Tiamat, who is a woman, is armed and attacketh thee.

... rejoice and be glad;

The neck of Tiamat shalt thou swiftly trample under foot.

... rejoice and be glad;

Next: (Tablet 4)

But Tiamat... , she turned not her neck,

With lips that failed not she uttered rebellious words:

Next: (Tablet 4)

Tiamat opened her mouth to its full extent,

Next: (Tablet 4)

He seized the spear and burst her belly,

Next: (Tablet 4)

And the lord stood upon Tiamat's hinder parts

Tiamat a dragon? I leave that to you. I myself do not find enough evidence in the old text to support the fact, but likewise I do not find enough to dismiss her. But, as for being the first dragon, that I can dismiss. (For those of you who enjoy Creation Myths though, her story is the first Creation Myth in recorded history!)

I was scratching my head. Here I was deep in the world that the Greeks called Mesopotamia, home of the Babylonians and Assyrian, the birth place of civilization, and writing, but where was my dragon! That's when I smacked myself in the head. The region may have been the birth place of writing, but it wasn't the Babylonians or the Assyrian that were the parents, they were but meir students...of the Sumerians! Mesopotamia, was originally Sumeria for over two thousand years! So I head for Sumeria!

And that's where I found it! The First Dragon written of, and the first dragon slayer story, and in the first written language Cuneiform!

KUR

Sumeria 3rd Millennium B.C.

"Since the dragon-slaying theme was an important motif in the Sumerian mythology of the third millennium B. C., it is not unreasonable to assume that many a thread in the texture of the Greek and early Christian dragon tales winds back to Sumerian sources."

Samuel Noah Kramer, Sumerian Mythology, 1944

"Samuel Noah Kramer spent most of his life studying this literature, by piecing together clay tablets in far-flung museums."

Sumerian Mythology, 1944, revised 1961

We find mention of Kur in three myths from the 4th - 3rd Millennium B.C., (more than a millennium before Tiamat!), In the introductory prologue to the epic tale "Gilgamesh, Enkidu, and the Nether World,"( written on eight tablets - seven excavated in Nippur and one in Ur), Where Enki, the water-god, fights Kur after he learns that The goddess Ereshkigal was carried off violently into the nether world, by Kur. Enki fought Kur from a boat, and Kur fought back savagely with stones of all sizes, and attacked Enki's boat with the primeval waters which it controlled. Unfortunately for us, the author of this tale is so anxious to proceed with the Gilgamesh tale that he doesn't finish the dragon part, and leaves us hanging. It is certain that Enki wins though because he is in the rest of the poem, Kur is not.

See anything familiar; Damsel in distress, knight comes to the rescue and slays the dragon.

The second version of the slaying-of-the-dragon myth can be found in "The Feats and Exploits of Ninurta." (49 tablets) A significant version, due to the fact that it is evident that it was utilized by the Semitic redactors in the creation of the Babylonian Creation Myth featuring Tiamat.

In this version, Ninurta, the warrior-god, is the hero of the story. His personified weapon, Sharur, kisses up to him in a drawn out speech extolling the heroic qualities and deeds of Ninurta to convince him to go after Kur, and attach and destroy him. What Sharur has against Kur is not written in the text that is available. Ninurta leaves to do as asked, but finds himself lacking and "flees like a bird". Sharur though, won't let it go and speaks, reassuring and encouraging Ninurta with his words. "Ninurta now attacks Kur fiercely with all the weapons at his command, and Kur is completely destroyed."

Things fall apart after that. The primeval waters of the nether world which Kur had been in control of rise to the surface so violently that no fresh water can reach the fields and gardens. The gods of the land in charge of irrigation and cultivation, are desperate. The Tigris does not flood as usual, and the river water is unfit for use.

"Famine was severe, nothing was produced,

The small rivers were not cleaned, the dirt was not carried off,

On the steadfast fields no water was sprinkled, there was no digging of ditches,

In all the lands there were no crops, only weeds grew.

Thereupon the lord sets his lofty mind,

Ninurta, the son of Enlil, brings great things into being."

Ninurta then piled up stones over the dead body of Kur, and kept piling them until he had a great wall in front of the land. The wall blocked and held back the raging primeval waters (mighty waters) stopping the waters of the lower regions (nether world) from rising to the surface of the earth. Ninurta gathered up the waters that had already flooded the land and lead them into the Tigris. Which can now over flow and water the fields.

"What had been scattered, he gathered,

What by Kur had been dissipated,He guided and hurled into the Tigris,

The high waters it pours over the farmland."

The third version of the slaying-of-the-dragon myth can be found in "Inanna and Ebih." A one hundred and ninety line poem. (12 tablets)

The dragon-slayer in this version of the story is a goddess, Inanna, curiously known as both the goddess of love and also as the goddess of battle and strife, (She must have been married), and is also referred to in many Sumerian hymns as "The Destroyer of Kur." Kur, is also referred to as The 'mountain,' in the Poem. Did I mention that Kur was also the first fire breathing dragon?

It, the poem, begins with a long passage that extolls the virtues of Inanna. It is followed by a long speech by Inanna to An (the leading deity of the Sumerian pantheon.) (by the third millennium. B. C. though, Enlil, the air-god, had already taken Ans place. Placing this in the forth millennium B.C.) The meaning of her speech is sometimes hard to understand, her attitude is clear though; Either Kur, who appears unaware of, or perhaps is oblivious to, her power, glorifies her virtues, and becomes submissive, she will do violence to the monster. This is part of her threat:

"The long spear I shall hurl upon it,

The throw-stick, the weapon, I shall direct against it,

At its neighboring forests I shall strike up fire,

At its . . . I shall set up the bronze ax,

All its waters like Gibil (the fire-god) the purifier I shall dry up,

Like the mountain Aratta, I shall remove its dread,

Like a city cursed by An, it will not be restored,

Like (a city) on which Enlil frowns, it shall not rise up."

An responds by giving her a detailed account of all of Kurs mischief that he has wrought against the gods:

"Against the standing place of the gods it has directed its terror,

In the sitting place of the Anunnaki it has led forth fearfulness,

Its dreadful fear it has hurled upon the land,

The 'mountain,' its dreadful rays of fire it has directed against all the lands."

An continues with a description of Kurs power and wealth, and warns Inanna against attacking it. But Inanna doesn't listen to Ans discouraging speech. Filled with anger and wrath she opens the "house of battle" she leads her weapons and aids and attacks and destroys Kur. She then stations herself upon Kur, and utters a paean of self-glorification.

So there you have it, the first dragon in recorded history, given to us by the sumerians.

From the book Sumerian Mythology:

"The Sumerians were a non-Semitic, non-Indo-European people who lived in southern Babylonia from 4000-3000 B.C.E. They invented cuneiform writing, and their spiritual beliefs influenced all successive Near Eastern religions, including Judaism, Christianity and Islam."

In closing let me say that the Sumerians gave us writing, they gave us culture, but most of all they gave us dragons. We should give them a moment of silence.

Reference Material:

Ninurta vs. Anzu, c.1st Millennium B.C., author; unknown

Gilgamesh, Enkidu and the nether world, c.3rd Millennium B.C., author; unknown

"Enuma Elish" or "The Seven Tablets of Creation, c.2nd Millennium B.C., author; unkown

Sumerian Mythology, 1944, 1961, by; Samuel Noah Kramer




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