Enlil was one of the chief gods of the Sumerian and Babylonian pantheons. According to some myths, he was the offspring of An, the primary Sumerian god. Enlil was also identified as the brother of the mother goddess Aruru and the god of wind, or the sky between Earth and heaven.

Enlil’s spouse was Ninlil, who was called Sud in Sumerian myth. His offspring include the goddess Inanna, the queen of heaven; the god Ishkur, a storm god known in Babylonian sources as Adad; Suen, a moon god called Sin in Akkadian; Nergal, an underworld deity; Ninurta, principally a god of war, also known as Ningirsu; Nuska, Enlil’s minister who was also a god of fire; Utu, the sun god, known as Shamash in Akkadian; Zababa, a war god; and Ennugi, the canal inspector.

The cult of Enlil was centered in the E-kur, the mountain house, in the Sumerian religious capital of Nippur on the northern border of Sumer. Major stories about Enlil are found in two Sumerian myths: Enlil and Ninlil and Enlil and Sud. Copies of these myths were found in excavations at Nippur.

Enlil and Ninlil

The myth Enlil and Ninlil begins as Enlil spots the beautiful goddess Ninlil bathing in the pure canal. He approached her and offered kisses and love, but the goddess demurred, explaining that she was young and innocent. If her parents found that she had an affair, they would punish her. Nevertheless, Enlil persevered and finally impregnated Ninlil.

Word of Enlil’s rape of the goddess was reported to the assembly of the gods, and he was declared to be unclean. He was seized and banished from the city. Despite the impropriety of Enlil’s advances, Ninlil stayed by his side, determined to be with him and to bear him more children. Enlil tried to get away, but Ninlil followed him and Enlil slept with her several more times. The myth ends with praise to the mother, Ninlil, who conceived Enlil’s children, and with a celebration of Enlil as bringer of fertility and prosperity.

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The story implies that even though Enlil raped and deceived Ninlil, she continued to follow him to fulfill her craving to be a wife and to produce children. The story also implies that, even though he wronged Ninlil and became an outcast, Enlil was never permanently barred from returning to civilization.

According to one interpretation, Enlil was god of Earth and of the moist winds of spring. The myth was used to explain Enlil’s disappearance at the end of the long, dry summer and his return in the spring as the god who brought fertility and productivity to nature.

Enlil and Sud

A similar myth, Enlil and Sud, also relates thestory of the young god Enlil’s search for a wife. The poem describes Enlil’s infatuation with the beautiful young Sud (another name for Ninlil), their courtship, and their subsequent marriage.

The story begins with Enlil, the great god of heaven, in search of a wife. He spotted Sud, a young girl who was the daughter of the goddess Nisaba, in the street in front ofher house. Enlil assumed that the girl must be disreputable or she would not have been alone in the street. Taken with her beauty, Enlil promised to rehabilitate her, give her proper clothing, and make her a lady. Sud was taken aback by Enlil’s disrespectful speech and tried to brush him off. Enlil persisted, saying he wished to express his love for her. Sud was shocked by this brash behavior and went into the house.

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Enlil did not give up. He instructed his emissary, Nuska, to go to the girl’s house laden with bridal gifts to ask her mother for her daughter’s hand. Nuska arrived and, in the name of Enlil, asked the goddess for the hand of her daughter. The great goddess was flattered that Enlil wished to marry Sud. She responded that Enlil’s behavior would be forgiven and she would gladly become his mother-in-law.

After the wedding, the finest perfumes were poured over Sud, and she and Enlil consummated the marriage. Enlil then blessed his wife. He decreed that she would be known as Nintu, Lady Who Gives Birth. Nintu was then placed in charge of all the secrets pertaining to women. Nintu became a great fertility goddess and was given a second name, Ninlil, which means “goddess of full-grown wheat.” She was also given the role of mistress of the scribal arts.

Not only does this myth show Enlil as a love-struck young man rather than a remote deity, but it also contains the Mesopotamian view that a woman’s role was to be fertile and to manage her husband’s household.