Babylonian Story Of Bird-God Anzu ‘The Wise One’ And His Underworld Realm

Only fragmentary but still very interesting Babylonian myth tells the story of a gigantic bird with a lion’s head, whose flapping wings were so powerful that they would cause sandstorms, tornadoes and thunder.

This gigantic creature, half man and half bird with huge wings and a beak “like a saw,”, could walk on two legs like a human and was known as Anzu/Zu (‘the wise one’).

Originally, the story was an earlier Sumerian myth, according to which, this creature was associated with Sumerian storm demon – the Anzu bird, which is represented among the stars by Pegasus and Taurus. The Akkadians had yet another version of the evil bird-god Zu, named Imdugud/Anzu – ‘the wise one of heaven’.

The evil Zu had one special wish, which was hard to fulfil: he wanted to rule the gods.

In one of the myths Imdugud (or Anzu) steals the Tablet of Destiny from the great god of the Mesopotamian pantheon, Enlil, who granted kingship and commanded the fates; his command could not be altered.

Mesopotamian sky-god, Anu asked two gods to volunteer to slay Anzu, but they refused in the face of the supreme power Anzu, now possessed. With the stolen Tablet of Destiny (or in Sumerian: ‘me’), a sort of divine template, the evil bird-god escaped to a shelter on a mountain top in Arabia. He knew that the wearer of this tablet had the full control of the universe and fates of all.

Eventually, a brave champion appeared on the scene. The Babylonian sources say it was Marduk and in Sumerian version of the story, it was Lugalbanda, the father of Gilgamesh, husband of the goddess Ninsun and the third king of the city of Uruk.

In other versions of this myth, the god Ninurta, son of Enlil and Ninhursag was the hero who managed to retrieve the divine template of Enlil, by killing the bird with his arrows.

The story survived only in fragments, therefore no details regarding Anzu’s defeat are known.

There is only a cylinder seal impression that suggests that evil thief Anzu, the enemy of the high gods, was finally brought before Ea depicted as the water god, for judgement.

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