Wednesday, June 29, 2016


Everybody loves a superhero. Decades of comic books sales and blockbuster Hollywood sequels attest to this. The ancients loved their superheroes too. Many people are familiar with the legendary hero Gilgamesh, a central figure in The Timekeepers Series.  Less familiar is Lugalbanda, Gilgamesh’s alleged father. The Sumerians and Akkadians both told tales of Lugalbanda and his adventures. The stories were so mainstream at the time that they were actually part of the Sumerian scribal school curriculum. Several tablets dating to 20th-17th century BC have been discovered in southern Iraq.


In the tale Lugalbanda and the Mountain Cave, Lugalbanda is a soldier in King Enmerkar’s army. Enmerkar, the founder and first king of Uruk, is leading his army to lay siege to the city of Aratta, whose king he has a quarrel with over the favors of a certain goddess, Inana and the matter of tribute. The soldier, Lugalbanda, happens to fall sick along the way. “No man left behind” has not entered the warrior’s creed yet and his fellow soldiers leave him alone in a cave with a few provisions.  There he lies in a fevered state for two days, praying to his gods that he will be healed. His prayers are answered as the gods speak to him in a dream and command him to rise up and sacrifice some animals. Rounding up a bull and a couple of goats on the highlands of ancient Iran, he does the gods' bidding. Not much is left of this particular tale, but the story continues in Lugalbanda and the Anzu Bird.   

Anzu Bird (British Museum)

Feeling well enough to set out to join the king’s army in their attempt to overtake Aratta, Lugalbanda, alone on the trail, finds a baby Anzu bird. No ordinary bird, this one has the head of a lion and the body of an eagle. The chick is hungry, waiting for its hunting mother to return with food. When the giant of a mother bird returns and finds her baby in the care of Lugalbanda, she returns the soldier's kindness by bestowing upon him the ability to travel at supersonic speed.  The newly transformed superhero then runs faster than a speeding bullet to Aratta where he finds the king failing in his attempt to overtake the city. The king decides to seek the advice of the goddess Inana. Confident now in his new role of superhero, Lugalbanda volunteers for the mission and zips over seven mountain passes to arrive at the goddess' temple that same day. Returning just as quickly with Inana's sage advice, it’s easy to see how Lugalbanda ends up becoming King Enmerkar's successor and makes the  Sumerian Kings List as the second king of Uruk.