Table of Contents

atrahasis tablet british museum
Original fragment of the Atrahasis epic



Atra-Hasis is an Akkadian epic recorded in various versions on clay tablets. Named after its protagonist, Atrahasis, meaning the ‘exceedingly wise’, the Atra-Hasis tablets include both a creation myth and one of three surviving Babylonian flood myths. The name “Atra-Hasis” also appears as the last king of Shuruppak before the Great Deluge on one of the Sumerian Kings List.

The Tablet of the Covenant is based upon the Babylonian epic of Atrahasis (Ziusudra in Sumerian). It is a tale of the early days of earth, when mankind was still young, and the gods were upon the earth. It is the tale of mankind’s corruption and the subsequent cleansing of the world by the flood weapon of the gods. It is the story of a man, favored by the gods, who built a great ship to escape the floodwaters that doomed the earth. It is believed by many scholars to be the source of the biblical tale of Noah and his ark.

After the three major gods, Anu, and his sons Enki and Enlil divided the Earth (Anu to rule over the sky, Enki over the waters, and Enlil over the land), Enlil assigned minor divinities (i.e. Dingir, or Igigi) to physical labour: farming, excavating and maintaining rivers and canals to irrigate. 

The exhausting work was too heavy for the lesser Dingirs/Igigis, and they began to rebel against their burden and refused to continue their struggle.

At this point, Enki, the wise “engineer” of the gods, suggests that they should create humans to do those works instead. During an assembly, they decide that a god needs to be sacrificed for this purpose.

It is then decided that the god Geshtu, or Ilawela, meaning “one with great intelligence”, has to be sacrificed for a greater good. The goddess Mami began shaping humans using the flesh and blood of Geshtu, and after 10 months a specially made womb breaks open, giving birth to humanity.

Mankind spreads rapidly and the overpopulation causes turmoil among the gods (most notably Enlil, in charge of the Earth), annoyed by the turbulence of so many humans. This soon leads to the Enlil’s final decision: creating mankind was a mistake, and all humans must perish with a great flood.

Enki, the good brother, wants to spare the seed of humanity that he himself decided to create. He appears to one of the most benevolent man on Earth, and tells him exactly what to do in order to save his life.

This story is as old as writing itself, and perhaps it was orally transmitted for centuries (if not millennia) before writing was invented.

There are parallels to this story. Besides the obvious Biblical story of the flood in the Book of Genesis, Atrahasis was also known as Ziusudra to the Sumerian civilization and was called Xisusthros by the Greeks (whose story was written by Berossus).

And now, let’s leave this beautiful tale to the original text.

Note: the three dots (…) mean that there are lines missing.

The Tablet of the Covenant – Atrahasis


Complaints of the Lower Gods


[1] When the gods were man
they did forced labor, they bore drudgery.
Great indeed was the drudgery of the gods,
the forced labor was heavy, the misery too much:

[5] the seven great Anunna-gods were burdening
the Igigi-gods with forced labor.


[21] The gods were digging watercourses,
canals they opened, the life of the land.
The Igigi-gods were digging watercourses
canals they opened, the life of the land.

[25] The Igigi-gods dug the Tigris river
and the Euphrates thereafter.
Springs they opened from the depths,
wells … they established.

They heaped up all the mountains.

[Several lines missing]

[34]  … years of drudgery.

[35] … the vast marsh.
They counted years of drudgery,
… and forty years, too much!
… forced labor they bore night and day.
They were complaining, denouncing,

[40] muttering down in the ditch:
“Let us face up to our foreman the prefect,
he must take off our heavy burden upon us!
Enlil, counsellor of the gods, the warrior,
come, let us remove him from his dwelling;

[45] Enlil, counsellor of the gods, the warrior,
come, let us remove him from his dwelling!”

[Several lines missing]

[61] “Now them, call for battle,
battle let us join, warfare!”
The gods heard his words:
they set fire to their tools,

[65] they put fire to their spaces,
and flame to their workbaskets.
Off they went, one and all,
to the gate of the warrior Enlil’s abode.

Insurrection of the Lower Gods


[70] It was night, half-way through the watch,
the house was surrounded, but the god did not know.
It was night, half-way through the watch,
Ekur was surrounded, but Enlil did not know!

[Several lines missing; the great gods send a messenger]

The Great Gods Send a Messenger


[132] Nusku opened his gate,
took his weapons and went … Enlil.
In the assembly of all the gods,

[135] he knelt, stood up, expounded the command,
“Anu, your father,
your counsellor, the warrior Enlil,
your prefect, Ninurta,
and your bailiff Ennugi have sent me to say:

[140] ‘Who is the instigator of this battle?
Who is the instigator of these hostilities?
Who declared war,
that battle has run up to the gate of Enlil?
In …

[145] he transgressed the command of Enlil.'”

Reply by the Lower Gods


“Everyone of us gods has declared war;

We have set … un the excvation,
excessive drudgery has killed us,

[150] our forced labor was heavy, the misery too much!
Now, everyone of us gods
has resolved on a reckoning with Enlil.”

[The great gods decide to create man, to relieve the lower gods from their misery.]

Proposals by Ea, Belet-ili, and Enki


[a1] Ea made ready to speak,
and said to the gods, his brothers:
“What calumny do we lay to their charge?
Their forced labor was heavy, their misery too much!

[a5] Every day …
the outcry was loud, we could hear the clamor.
There is …
Belet-ili, the midwife, is present.
Let her create, then, a human, a man,

[a10] Let him bear the yoke!
Let him bear the yoke!
Let man assume the drudgery of the god.”
Belet-ili, the midwife, is present.

[190] Let the midwife create a human being!
Let man assume the drudgery of the god.”
They summoned and asked the goddess
the midwife of the gods, wise Mami:
“Will you be the birth goddess, creatress of mankind?

[195] Create a human being, that he bear the yoke,
let him bear the yoke, the task of Enlil,
let man assume the drudgery of the god.”
Nintu made ready to speak,
and said to the great gods:

[200] “It is not for me to do it,
the task is Enki’s.
He it is that cleanses all,
let him provide me the clay so I can do the making.”
Enki made ready to speak,

[205] and said to the great gods:
“On the first, seventh, and fifteenth days of the month,
let me establish a purification, a bath.
Let one god be slaughtered,
then let the gods be cleansed by immersion.

[210] Let Nintu mix clay with his flesh and blood.
Let that same god and man be thoroughly mixed in the clay.
Let us hear the drum for the rest of the time.

[215] From the flesh of the god let a spirit remain,
let it make the living know its sign,
lest he be allowed to be forgotten, let the spirit remain.”
The great Anunna-gods, who administer destinies,

[220] answered “yes!” in the assembly.

The Creation of Man


On the first, seventh, and fifteenth days of the month,
he established a purification, a bath.
They slaughtered Aw-ilu, who had the inspiration, in their assembly.

[225] Nintu mixed clay with his flesh and blood.
That same god and man were thoroughly mixed in the clay.
For the rest of the time they would hear the drum.
From the flesh of the god the spirit remained.
It would make the living know its sign.

[230] Lest he be allowed to be forgotten, the spirit remained.
After she had mixed the clay,
she summoned the Anunna, the great gods.
The Igigi, the great gods, spat upon the clay.

[235] Mami made rady to speak,
and said to the great gods:
“You ordered me the task and I have completed it!
You have slaughtered the god, along with his inspiration.

[240] I have done away with your heavy forced labor,
I have imposed your drudgery on man.
You have bestowed clamor upon mankind.
I have released the yoke, I have made restoration.”
They heard this speech of hers,

[245] they ran, free of care, and kissed her feet, saying:
“Formerly we used to call you Mami,
now let your name be Belet-kala-ili:

[The human population increases and their noise disturbs the gods, who decide to wipe out mankind. The god Enki, however, sends a dream to Atrahasis. When the text resumes, Enki is still speaking.]

Enki explains Atraḥasis’ dream


[i.b35] “Enlil committed an evil deed against the people.”

[i.c11] Atraḥasis made ready to speak,
and said to his lord:
“Make me know the meaning of the dream.
let me know, that I may look out for its consequence.”

[i.c15] Enki made ready to speak,
and said to his servant:
“You might say, ‘Am I to be looking out while in the bedroom?’
Do you pay attention to message that I speak for your:

[i.c20] ‘Wall, listen to me!
Reed wall, pay attention to all my words!
Flee the house, build a boat,
forsake possessions, and save life.

[i.c25] The boat which you build
… be equal …

Roof her over like the depth,

[i.c30] so that the sun shall not see inside her.
Let her be roofed over fore and aft.
The gear should be very strong,
the pitch should be firm, and so give the boat strength.
I will shower down upon you later

[i.c35] a windfall of birds, a spate of fishes.'”
He opened the water clock and filled it,
he told it of the coming of the seven-day deluge.

Atraḥasis and the Elders


Atraḥasis received the command.
He assembled the Elders at his gate.

[i.c40] Atraḥasis made ready to speak,
and said to the Elders:
“My god does not agree with your god,
Enki and Enlil are constantly angry with each other.
They have expelled me from the land.

[i.c45] Since I have always reverenced Enki,
he told me this.
I can not live in …
Nor can I set my feet on the earth of Enlil.
I will dwell with my god in the depths.

[i.c50] This he told me: …”

Construction of the Ark


[ii.10] The Elders …
The carpenter carried his axe,
the reedworker carried his stone,
the rich man carried the pitch,
the poor man brought the materials needed.

[Lacuna of about fifteen lines; the word Atraasis can be discerned.]

Boarding of the Ark


[ii.29] Bringing …

[ii.30] whatever he had …
Whatever he had …
Pure animals he slaughtered, cattle …
Fat animals he killed. Sheep …
he choose and and brought on board.

[ii.35] The birds flying in the heavens,
the cattle and the … of the cattle god,
the creatures of the steppe,
… he brought on board

[ii.40] he invited his people
… to a feast
… his family was brought on board.
While one was eating an another was drinking,

[ii.45] he went in and out; he could not sit, could not kneel,
for his heart was broken, he was retching gall.



The outlook of the weather changed.
Adad began to roar in the clouds.

[ii.50] The god they heard, his clamor.
He brought pitch to seal his door.
By the time he had bolted his door,
Adad was roaring in the clouds.
The winds were furious as he set forth,

[ii.55] He cut the mooring rope and released the boat.


The Great Flood


[iii.5] … the storm
… were yoked
Anzu rent the sky with his talons,
He … the land

[iii.10] and broke its clamor like a pot.
… the flood came forth.
Its power came upn the peoples like a battle,
one person did not see another,
they could not recognize each other in the catastrophe.

[iii.15] The deluge belowed like a bull,
The wind resounded like a screaming eagle.
The darkness was dense, the sun was gone,
… like flies.

[iii.20] the clamor of the deluge.

[Lacuna. The gods find themselves hungry because there are no farmers left and sacrifices are no longer brought. When they discover that Atrahasis has survived, they make a plan to make sure that the noise will remain within limits: they invent childbirth, infant mortality, and celibacy.]

Mankind Punished


[iii.45] Enki made ready to speak,
and said to Nintu the birth goddess:
“You, birth goddess, creatress of destinies,
establish death for all peoples!

[iii.d1] “Now then, let there be a third woman among the people,
among the people are the woman who has borne
and the woman who has not borne.
Let there be also among the people the pasittu (she-demon):

[iii.d5] Let her snatch the baby from the lap who bore it.
And establish high priestesses and priestesses,
let them be taboo, and so cut down childbirth.”



This text is quite fragmentary, but we know its ending from other sources: Atrahasis survives, and after letting out three birds from his ark he exits. He then offers a sacrifice (in other terms, he cooks) for the gods who were watching the flood from above, but were hungry. 

Enlil arrives at the scene furious because mankind has survived, but then he is calmed down by Enki, and decides to grant immortal life to Atrahasis and his family.

You can read another version of this story, which is included in the Epic of Gilgamesh, here.

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