The cosmic powers

The Sumerian concept of the me appears frequently in Enheduana’s poems, including in the opening words of the Exaltation: nin me šar2-ra, “Lady of all me.” Though it is often translated “cosmic powers” or the like, it has no direct English equivalent; and though it is a central element in Sumerian cosmology, experts have yet to reach a full understanding of its meaning.

The word literally means “to be,” but it is used as a noun. It is clear that the me are connected to the power that the gods wield over the human world; in literary texts, including the Exaltation l. 7–8, the me are depicted as physical objects that the gods can hold in their hands. In Inana’s Descent, Inana is forced to take off the me that she wears on her body, which leaves her defenseless against her sister’s attacks: clearly, her divine powers somehow reside in the me.

One way of explaining the me is to say that if a god is god of something, that something is a me. The me’s include common aspects of human life such as justice, kingship, metalworking, and sex, but also injustice, deception, and defeat. Further, individual objects such as a temple are also said to have their own me, which in that case might mean their destiny or cosmic role.

The White Temple, the temple of An in Uruk. Wikimedia Commons.

The me listed above are taken from the story of Inana and Enki, in which Inana drinks the god Enki under the table and absconds with the me; the text then gives a repeated list of the me that Inana thus acquired, which also include joy and sorrow, priesthood and blowjobs, strength and hostility. The me are not inherently positive or negative; they are rather the fundamental building blocks of human culture in all its aspects.

The most important study of that text and of the me in general is a book by the philologist Gertrude Farber. She summarizes the concept of the me as follows (610): “All spheres of civilization and culture—be it the institutions of state or religion, spiritual or emotional values, social conditions, professions, offices, or any object or tool—are permeated by the ‘divine powers’, which are designed and executed by the gods.”

When the Exaltation declares that Inana is the lady of all the me, it is a condensed and highly impactful way of announcing her supremacy. Her divinity is not limited to a distinct province of the human world; she rules all that there is to rule by gathering all of the me in her hands.

Further reading

Farber, “me.”

Farber-Flügge, Der Mythos “Inanna und Enki.”

Helle, Enheduana, 143–45.