The exact meaning of his name is uncertain: the common translation is "Lord of the Earth": the Sumerian en is translated as a title equivalent to "lord"; it was originally a title given to the High Priest; ki means "earth"; but there are theories that ki in this name has another origin, possibly kig of unknown meaning, or kur meaning "mound". The name Ea is allegedly Hurrian in origin while others claim that it is possibly of Semitic origin and may be a derivation from the West-Semitic root *hyy meaning "life" in this case used for "spring", "running water." In Sumerian E-A means "the house of water", and it has been suggested that this was originally the name for the shrine to the God at Eridu.
Enki is also the master shaper of the world, god of wisdom and of all magic. He is the lord of the Abzu (Apsu in Akkadian, hence perhaps the Greek abussos and English word "abyss"), the freshwater ocean of groundwater under the earth. In the later Babylonian "Enuma Eliš" Abzu, the "begetter of the gods", is inert and sleepy but finds his peace disturbed by the younger gods so sets out to destroy them. His grandson Enki, chosen to represent the younger gods puts a spell on Abzu "casting him into a deep sleep" confining him deep underground. Enki subsequently sets up his home "in the depths of the Abzu." Enki thus takes on all of the functions of the Abzu including his fertilising powers as lord of the waters and lord of semen .
He is most often depicted: stepping out of the ocean; wearing a fish-suit of some kind; with fish or snakes around him; with streams of water flowing off of his shoulders, which is where the use of lines and waves to denote middle-ranks in the military probably originated. .
In the tablets, Ea is most known for (a) being the first of his family to propose and continually promote the creation-development of the Earth; (b) his engineering expertise technological ability, which was contained or displayed in the ‘mes’ he drafted, created, programmed or shared with the angels and their human constituents for the purpose of advancing one society or another from time to time; (c) losing control over his son Marduk, who became a terror across the globe, as indicated in Revelations ; and (d) his unabashed sexual drive and promiscuity, which, among other things, fostered the creation of modern man – a hybrid of angels and Homo sapiens. .
Early royal inscriptions from the third millennium speak of "the reeds of Enki". Reeds were an important local building material, used for baskets and containers, and collected outside the city walls, where the dead or sick were often carried. This links Enki to the kur or underworld of Sumerian mythology. In another even older tradition Nammu the goddess of the primeval creative matter and the mother-goddess, who was said to have "given birth to the great gods," was the mother of Enki, and as the watery creative force, was said to pre-date Ea-Enki. Benito states "With Enki it is an interesting change of gender symbolism, the fertilising agent is also water, Sumerian "a" which also means "semen". In one evocative passage in a Sumerian hymn Enki stands at the empty river beds and fills them with his 'water'. This may be a reference to Enki's hieros gamos or sacred marriage with Ki/Ninhursag (the Earth) (see below).
A second time, he had intercourse with Ninkurra, who gave birth to Uttu (= Weaver or Spider).
A third time Enki succumbs to temptation, and attempts seduction of Uttu. Upset about Enki's reputation, Uttu consults Ninhursag, who, upset at the promiscuous nature of her spouse, advises Uttu to avoid the riverbanks. In another version of this myth Ninhursag takes Enki's semen from Uttu's womb and plants it in the earth where seven plants rapidly germinate. With his two-faced servant and steward Isimud, Enki finds the plants and immediately starts consuming their fruit. Consuming his own semen he falls pregnant (ill with swellings) in his jaw, his teeth, his mouth, his throat, his limbs and his rib. The gods are at a loss to know what to do, as Enki lacks a womb with which to give birth, until Ninhursag's sacred fox fetches the goddess.
Ninhursag relents and takes Enki's Ab (water, or semen) into her body, and gives birth to gods of healing of each part of the body. The last one - Ninti, Sumerian = Lady Rib, is also a pun on Lady Life, a title of Ninhursag herself. The story symbolically reflects the way in which life is brought forth through the addition of water to the land, and once it grows, water is required to bring plants to fruit. It also counsels balance and responsibility, nothing to excess.
Ninti, is given the title of the mother of all living, and was a title given to the later Hurrian goddess Kheba. This is also the title given to Eve (= Hebrew Chavvah), the Aramaic Hawwah, who was supposedly made from the Rib of Adam, in a strange reflection of the Sumerian myth.
Once upon a time there was no snake, there was no scorpion,
There was no hyena, there was no lion,
There was no wild dog, no wolf,
There was no fear, no terror,
Man had no rival.
In those days, the lands of Subur (and) Hamazi,
Harmony-tongued Sumer, the great land of the decrees of princeship,
Uri, the land having all that is appropriate,
The land Martu, resting in security,
The whole universe, the people in unison
To Enlil in one tongue [spoke].
(Then) Enki, the lord of abundance (whose) commands are trustworthy,
The lord of wisdom, who understands the land,
The leader of the gods,
Endowed with wisdom, the lord of Eridu
Changed the speech in their mouths, [brought] contention into it,
Into the speech of man that (until then) had been one.
In his connections with Inanna Enki shows other aspects of his ll non-Patriarchal nature. The myth Enki and Inanna tells the story of the young goddess of the É-anna temple of Uruk, who visits the senior god of Eridu, and is entertained by him in a feast. The seductive god plies her with beer, and the young goddess maintains her virtue, whilst Enki proceeds to get drunk. In generosity he gives her all the gifts of his Me, the gifts of civilized life. Next morning, with a hangover, he asks his servant Isimud for his Me, only to be informed that he has given them to Inanna. Upset at his actions, he sends Galla demons to recover them. Inanna escapes her pursuers and arrives safely back at the quay at Uruk. Enki realizes that he has been tricked in his hubris and accepts a peace treaty forever with Uruk.
Politically, this myth would seem to indicate events of an early period when political authority passed from Enki's city of Eridu to Inanna's city of Uruk.
In the myth of Inanna's descent, Inanna, in order to console her grieving sister Ereshkigal, who is mourning the death of her husband Gugalana (Gu=Bull, Gal=Great, Ana=Heaven), slain by Gilgamesh and Enkidu, sets out to visit her sister. She tells her servant Ninshubur (Nin=Lady, Shubur=Evening}, a reference to Inanna's role as the evening star, that if she does not return in three days, to get help from her father Anu, Enlil, king of the gods, or Enki. When she does not return, Ninshubur approaches Anu only to be told that he understands that his daughter is strong and can take care of herself. Enlil tells Ninshubur he is much too busy running the cosmos. Enki immediately expresses concern and dispatches his Galla demons, Galaturra or Kurgarra, sexless beings created from the dirt from beneath the god's finger-nails, to recover the young goddess. These beings may be the origin of the Greco-Roman Galli, androgynous beings of the third sex, similar to the American Indian berdache, who played an important part in early religious ritual.
In the story Inanna and Shukaletuda, Shukaletuda, the gardener, set by Enki to care for the date palm he had created, finds Inanna sleeping under the palm tree and rapes the goddess in her sleep. Awaking, she discovers that she has been violated and seeks to punish the miscreant. Shukaletuda seeks protection from Enki, whom Bottero believes to be his father. In classic Enkian fashion, the father advises Shukaletuda to hide in the city where Inanna will not be able to find him. Enki, as the protector of whomever comes to seek his help, and as the empowerer of Inanna, here challenges the young impetuous goddess to control her anger so as to be better able to function as a great judge.
Eventually, after cooling her anger, she too seeks the help of Enki, as spokesperson of the "assembly of the gods", the Igigi and the Anunnaki. After she presents her case, Enki sees that justice needs to be done and promises help, delivering knowledge of where the miscreant is hiding.
In character Enki is not a jester or trickster god, he is never a cheat, and although fooled, he is not a fool. Enki uses his magic for the good of others when called upon to help either a god, a goddess or a human. Enki is always true to his own essence as a masculine nurturer. He is fundamentally a trouble-shooter god, and avoids or disarms those who bring conflict and death to the world. He is the mediator whose compassion and sense of humor breaks and disarms the wrath of his stern half-brother, Enlil, king of the gods. He is the Challenger who tests the limits of Inanna in the myth Enki and Inanna and the Me and then concedes graciously his defeat by the young goddess of Love and War, by strengthening the bonds between Eridu and her city of Uruk. So he becomes the Empowerer of Inanna.
He is the lord of the Apsu (Akkadian, Abzu in Sumerian, hence Greek and English Abyss) , the fresh-water ocean of groundwater under the earth. The essay on "Enki: the Fresh Waters Lord, Master of all Crafts, Magick and Wisdom states of Enki that he is—
Whether Eridu at one time also played an important political role in Sumerian affairs is not certain, though not improbable. At all events the prominence of "Ea" led, as in the case of Nippur, to the survival of Eridu as a sacred city, long after it had ceased to have any significance as a political center. Myths in which Ea figures prominently have been found in Assurbanipal's library, and in the Hattusas archive in Hittite Anatolia. As Ea, Enki had a wide influence outside of Sumeria, being equated with El (at Ugarit) and possibly Yah (at Ebla) in the Canaanite 'ilhm pantheon, he is also found in Hurrian and Hittite mythology, as a god of contracts, and is particularly favourable to humankind. Amongst the Western Semites it is thought that Ea was equated to the term *hyy (Life), referring to Enki's waters as life giving. Enki/Ea is essentially a god of civilization, wisdom, and culture. He was also the creator and protector of man, and of the world in general. Traces of this view appear in the Marduk epic celebrating the achievements of this god and the close connection between the Ea cult at Eridu and that of Marduk. The correlation between the two rise from two other important connections: (1) that the name of Marduk's sanctuary at Babylon bears the same name, Esaggila, as that of a temple in Eridu, and (2) that Marduk is generally termed the son of Ea, who derives his powers from the voluntary abdication of the father in favour of his son. Accordingly, the incantations originally composed for the Ea cult were re-edited by the priests of Babylon and adapted to the worship of Marduk, and, similarly, the hymns to Marduk betray traces of the transfer of attributes to Marduk which originally belonged to Ea.
It is, however, as the third figure in the triad (the two other members of which were Anu and Enlil) that Ea acquires his permanent place in the pantheon. To him was assigned the control of the watery element, and in this capacity he becomes the shar apsi; i.e. king of the Apsu or "the deep". The Apsu was figured as the abyss of water beneath the earth, and since the gathering place of the dead, known as Aralu, was situated near the confines of the Apsu, he was also designated as En-Ki; i.e. "lord of that which is below", in contrast to Anu, who was the lord of the "above" or the heavens. The cult of Ea extended throughout Babylonia and Assyria. We find temples and shrines erected in his honour, e.g. at Nippur, Girsu, Ur, Babylon, Sippar and Nineveh, and the numerous epithets given to him, as well as the various forms under which the god appears, alike bear witness to the popularity which he enjoyed from the earliest to the latest period of Babylonian-Assyrian history. The consort of Ea, known as Ninhursag, Ki, Uriash Damkina, "lady of that which is below", or Damgalnunna, "great lady of the waters", originally was fully equal with Ea but in more patriarchal Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian times plays a part merely in association with her lord. Generally, however, Enki seems to be a reflection of pre-patriarchal times, in which relations between the sexes were characterised by a situation of greater gender equality. In his character, he prefers persuasion to conflict, which he seeks to avoid if possible.
Jean Bottero and many others have suggested that Ia in this case is a West Semitic (Canaanite) way of saying Ea, Enki's Akkadian name. Ia (two syllables) is declined with the Semitic ending as Iahu and may have developed into the later form of Yahweh. Ia has also been confused with the Ugaritic Yamm (=Sea), (also called Judge Nahar, or Judge River) whose earlier name in at least one ancient source was Yaw, or Ya'a. Although both Ea and Yamm were water gods and are sometimes called "storm" gods, Ea was the creator and representative of the sweet beneficent waters from below the earth, and as "Enki" was responsible for fertilising the earth itself.
Yamm, however, in addition to being the deity of salt waters, and of storms that sank ships, flooded cities -- that is, had a more violent character than Ea, who generally avoided conflict. Indeed, ancient Ur during its hey day as a port city along the ancient coastline of the Persian Gulf (now far inland), maintained its most holy shrine to the life-giving essence of fresh water as against the life-threatening qualities of the salty seas. Thus Ea, the lord of the sweet waters, antagonist to his half brother, the storm god Enlil, who can be identified with the West Semitic storm god Ba'al Haddad, the King of heaven and creator of heaven and earth in West Semitic mythology. Yamm, although important to the maritime Canaanites, was comparatively a minor figure when compared to Ba'al Hadad, who in the West Semitic myths is always his foe.