Ancient History of Beer, Part 2: The Ancient Sumerian Goddess of Beer

By: The Scribe on Monday, February 25, 2013



Although most people today are more familiar with the concept of singing a rousing shanty over a tankard of ale—or stepping up to the karaoke machine after a few too many Coronas—the concept of singing and drinking being intertwined has been around for thousands of years.

In fact, as mentioned in Part 1 of this series, the Ancient Sumerians had their very own hymn dedicated to a special deity, the Goddess of Beer. “A hymn to Ninkasi” is a poem that describes the goddess’ recipe and process for making beer, and praises her for doing things like putting piles of grain in order, and setting up the fermenting vat.

In Sumerian mythology, Ninkasi is the daughter of Enki and Queen Ninti, and is one of eight children created to heal her father’s wounds. Along with being considered the goddess of beer, she was made “to satisfy desire” and “sate the heart”… probably through the beer-making process, which she performed daily.

Too bad for the Sumerians, though—Ninkasi’s beer was made for the other gods, who apparently liked to get their drink on before ruling for the day. Or maybe they drank on the job, considering Sumer’s history… but regardless of the technical details, clearly the Sumerians had a very high regard for their beer.

 

Here are a few select phrases from “A Hymn to Ninkasi”, but you can read several versions of the full translation here or here.

“Born of the flowing water (…)

Tenderly cared for by the Ninhursag,”

 

“You are the one who handles the dough, [and] with a big shovel, Mixing in a pit, the bappir with sweet aromatics,”

“Ninkasi, you are the one who bakes the bappir in the oven, Puts in order the piles of hulled grains,”

“Ninkasi, you are the one who spreads the cooked mash on large reed mats,”

“Ninkasi, you are the one who pours out the filtered beer of the collector vat, It is [like] the onrush of Tigris and Euphrates.”







 

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