The twelfth king of the Sumerian
city of Kish
after the Flood, according to the Sumerian king lists. He was succeeded by his son Balih
He is the subject of a story, in which he ascends to heaven on an eagle's back, searching for a herb that would enable him to have a son. The story is known from Babylonian texts, and later Assyrian, but it is undoubtedly much earlier, because authorship is credited to the sage Lu-Nannu, who lived in the 22nd century BCE court of King Shulgi of Ur. The image of Etana on the eagle's back is found on a cylinder seal from a century or two before that.
In the first tablet, the gods establish the city of Kish. They look high and low for a king suitable for it. Meanwhile the god Enlil is looking for a throne suitable for his protégé, the shepherd Etana. In the text of Etana it reads as if Etana is to be the first king, but the first tablet is known only in fragmentary form. Nothing is known after the introduction of Etana.
The second tablet concerns itself with an eagle and a snake who have taken up residence in a poplar tree, and made a rather uneasy alliance or friendship. Surprisingly for us, it is the serpent who is the trustworthy one, and who knows the eagle is not in favour with Shamash the sun god, because of his sins. But they swear an oath by Shamash, and cooperate in hunting for food and raising their families.
The evil eagle succumbs to his impulses, contrary to the wise advice of one of his own fledgelings, and eats the snake's children. The snake returns to its nest, stares, and bursts into tears, and prays to Shamash: the god advises him to take a wild bull and hide himself in its innards, and when the eagle comes to eat, to seize him, clip his wings, and throw him into a pit to starve. This they now do, though once more the wise young eagle-chick cautions his father that the juicy bull is a trap. But the eagle, seeing all the other birds flocking round enjoying its meat, joins in, though very suspiciously.
When the serpent catches him, the eagle pleads for his life, and offers payment (a kind of dowry), but the snake reminds him of the oath they swore by Shamash. Languishing in the pit, the eagle laments to Shamash, who scolds him for his evil-doing, but tells him he is sending along the man Etana, who will help him because he needs help in his own search for the drug of potency (or the "plant of birth").
In tablet three Etana finds the ill eagle and spends many months tending it. In the eighth month the eagle is once more as strong as a lion, and together they fly high above the world, seeing it shrink to nothing, searching high and low for the "plant of birth". There are also dream sequences. Breaks in the text make it slightly unclear what eventually happens, but after discussing the three dreams with his wife and with the eagle, Etana once more climbs aboard and they fly up to heaven.
The name has been borrowed as an almost-acronym for the Electronic Tools and Ancient Near Eastern Archives.
I've got my information from Stephanie Dalley's Myths from Mesopotamia (Oxford World's Classics), but a four-tablet version is available on line at