Academic journal article The Journal of the American Oriental Society

Blood on the Wind and the Tablet of Destinies: Intertextuality in Anzu, Enuma Elis, and Erra and Isum

Academic journal article The Journal of the American Oriental Society

Blood on the Wind and the Tablet of Destinies: Intertextuality in Anzu, Enuma Elis, and Erra and Isum

Article excerpt

Anzu, Enuma elis, and Erra and Isum are three fundamentally interconnected poems. (1) As heroic narratives about warrior gods, they form a coherent group which stands in a historical relationship, each alluding to the poems that precede it. Each tells the story of how a god gained recognition through demonstrating his might, and each is intensely competitive, using allusive techniques to establish the superiority of its protagonist over those that came before him. However, while the connections between these poems are by now well established, they remain under-explored. This article takes two motifs as a case study to explore the detailed workings of intertextuality in these poems: the matter carried on the wind as a sign of victory (2) and the tablet of destinies. (3) Both these motifs first appear in Anzu, are transformed by Enuma elis, and transformed yet again by Erra and Isum, building up complex chains of allusion.

Lambert (1986) first acknowledged that Enuma elis borrows elements from Anzu to depict Marduk as the new Ninurta, the implications of which were highlighted by Machinist: "The similarities with and modifications of the Anzu text... allow us to appreciate more precisely what Enuma elis is about" (2005: 44). Machinist then extended the picture to include Erra and Isum. (4) This poem builds on and subverts the allusive patterns in Enuma elis, which in turn had asserted itself over Anzu: the three poems thus form a set reflecting on each other.

Lambert was not complimentary about the way that Enuma elis deployed these allusions and was followed in this negative view by many, (5) but in recent years this attitude has begun to change. Articles by Machinist (2005), Katz (2011), and Seri (2014) explore the use of intertextuality in Enuma elis as a mark of refinement. Karen Sonik has recently written about the tablet of destinies as an important symbol of legitimate power in the poem (2012), and Gosta Gabriel has discussed its function in relation to the determining of destinies (2014: 262-68). However, the meaning of such borrowings has yet to be fully explored, either in Enuma elis itself or in Mesopotamian literature as a whole. This article takes the blood on the wind and the tablet of destinies as two examples of how much deeper into Akkadian literature an intertextual approach can take us. Not only are these motifs much better integrated than is usually recognized, but they are crucial parts of the way that Enuma elis establishes Marduk as the supreme warrior god over Ninurta, adding nuances that can substantially deepen our interpretation of the poem. (6)

As for Erra and Isum, although the poem is acknowledged to be highly innovative, (7) studies of its intertextuality remain few. Only Machinist (2005), Cooley (2008), and Frahm (2011) have written about it specifically from this perspective. Allusions to the blood or feathers on the wind and the tablet of destinies are brief and only small elements in this complex work. However, they are striking examples of just how complex these intertextual chains of meaning can become, and so are particularly worthy of analysis.

Intertextuality is a term with a complex history that has come to be used in many different ways. (8) At its most basic level, it refers to the reoccurrence of words, phrases, and motifs from one text in another. In literary studies, analysis of intertextuality goes beyond pointing out these reoccurrences and moves into their interpretation. That is, when we identify a connection, we must ask what it means and why it matters. Such connections need not always be significant--it is common for religious compositions in particular, such as hymns and balags, to include formulaic epithets and passages which are part of the poetic stock. However, references are often deliberately embedded in a text as literary allusions, and the educated audience is intended to recognize them as clues to the poem's interpretation. It is these kinds of allusions and meaningful recognitions that I am speaking of under the umbrella of intertextuality here. …

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