Enuma Elish Analysis Example


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Symbolism in the Enuma Elish: Explanation

Enuma Elish Analysis: Introduction

Myths are full of symbolism. They tell you more than what you see. The symbol is not a side product of the myth; in fact, its symbol's progenitor. Myth unfolds what is embedded in the symbol (Altmann 162). This means that symbols are prevalent in myths. In order to break down one, this paper will break down the Enuma Elish, Babylonian creation myth. The following paragraphs will talk about the symbols in the Enuma Elish. It is evident that the Enuma Elish is not a description but a symbolic statement by which god's creation is expressed. Symbols in myths are the ends themselves; thus, they are not tools.

Body Paragraphs

The Enuma Elish describes the creation of the universe. There is a great conflict between the gods in the myth. The title of the myth means "when in the heights." According to the epic, when the world is created, there were only two beings, freshwater (Apsu) and his wife (Tiamat). Their children become the first gods. Apsu decides to kill his children as he thought they were a threat. But, Ea kills his father first. Being after her husband's blood, Tiamat declares war on her children. However, Ea gives birth to Marduk, the fire god, and he kills Tiamat with an arrow. With the bones and the blood of Tiamat, all of the creatures on earth were born.

Turner states that there is always a dominant symbol (23). In this case, it possible to say that the general pattern and the most prevalent symbol is chaos attacking the good one and the creation resulting in this war. Marduk, the fire god, kills the ocean goddess. The ocean can be taken as a birthplace for the earth, as all of the gods were created by Apsu and Tiamat, the ocean gods. As the chaos destroys the goddess, a new life, an order being born from disarray.

Also, Turner emphasizes that dominant symbols have two sides of meaning; sensory and ideological. He argues that the ideological pole describes the social and moral orders of the society (28). In our case, we can see that there is an allegory of the throne. Marduk says that if he can defeat Tiamat, he would be the "appointed" king. This is a clear indication of the social order in Babylon. It indicates the belief of a chosen ruler. One can interpret that society believed in a king, who is selected by creators.

The sensory pole, on the other hand, arouses desire and feelings (Turner 28). In Enuma Elish, Marduk creates the world, and he rises to power by electrifying the waters of Tiamat. Lightning, in this case, symbolizes the power of the creator. This creates tension and a majestic scene, by which the reader feels overwhelmed. But this symbol also includes an ideological meaning. From this symbol, we learn that the Sumerian public correlates the fire with reality. There is a creation when there is fire.

Turner states that just like dominant symbols, every ritual also has some instrumental signs; each ritual has interrelating symbolisms, too (Turner 32). These symbols are characterized by the fact that they are a means to an end, a dominant symbol. For example, Enuma Elish uses the body of Tiamat to describe the atmosphere and to explain the separation between the blue on the sea and the blue on the sky. This symbolization allows us to distinguish the fight between Marduk and Tiamat by acknowledging different layers to the earth.

Verene states that Cassier believed symbol was the main element that resulted in thought (555). From this perspective, we can say that symbolism is the primary concern in Enuma Elish. Without symbols, there would be nothing, no medium, to create a thought. Enuma Elish is not an exception. In the first parts of the epic, we see that the only thing there is water. We can also say that there is significant chaos ruling the earth. So, it can be interpreted that for the Sumerian people, water was related to the disorder. For them, water was something vital, but at the same time, it should be contained. And the following gods ensured that it was contained. Ea killed his father, Marduk killed his grandmother; both gods symbolized water. They were dead, but it was thanks to them that the earth was created.

Furtherly, being a cosmogonic text, Enuma Elish plays a significant role in symbolizing certain beliefs and thoughts. Since it is not something that can be told with materials, the epic chooses to symbolize the whole process. When Marduk fights with Tiamat, he creates the four winds. After his creation, these four winds become four seasons. And again, it is visible that one of the most prominent elements of the earth, seasons, was created by chaos and war. This creation perspective also shows us Sumerian public did not believe in a precise good or bad. Creating was something that only the collective power of these two could achieve. Marduk came from the first gods, Apsu and Tiamat. Neither of them has incredibly significant moralistic values. But it was their unrest that enabled the existence on earth.

Lastly, there is an interesting figure in Tiamat. Her blood and dissolved body created life on earth. Therefore, it is possible to say that Sumerian people believed in the creative power of women. It is not a coincidence that Tiamat left alone, rather than Apsu. This is a great indication the Sumerian people believed in feminine power.

Enuma Elish Analysis: Conclusion

After all, as we can see from these examples, Enuma Elish consists of several symbolisms. Without symbols such as fire, water, and winds, this cosmogonic epic would be less effective and hard to tell. It is clear that the Enuma Elish is a symbolic statement that expresses god's creation rather than a definition. Symbols are not instruments in myths; they are the ends themselves.


Altmann, Alexander. “Symbol and Myth.” Philosophy, vol. 20, no. 76, 1945, pp. 162–171, www.jstor.org/stable/3748320. Accessed 5 May 2021.

Turner, Victor. The Forest of Symbols : Aspects of Ndembu Ritual. Ithaca, Ny Cornell Univ. Press [Ca, 2002.

Verene, Donald. “CASSIRER’S VIEW of MYTH and SYMBOL.” The Monist, vol. 50, no. 4, 1966, pp. 553–564, www.jstor.org/stable/27901663. Accessed 5 May 2021.

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