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a hero in Babylonian-Assyrian mythology. According to a Sumerian list of kings that dates from the 21st century B.C., Etana was the 12th ruler of a dynasty that reigned in the city of Kish “after the flood”; the same document calls him “a shepherd who ascended to heaven and established all lands.” According to an older tradition, he was the first king.
An Akkadian legend that has survived in versions dating from the mid-second millennium B.C. to the beginning of the first millennium B.C. tells of the friendship between a serpent and an eagle: the eagle is punished for perfidy by the god Shamash but is rescued from death by Etana, who flies to heaven on the eagle’s back. Etana wants to reach heaven in order to find a “birth stone” (evidently an amulet) because his wife is unable to give birth. After obtaining the stone, he returns safely to earth with the eagle. The Roman writer Aelian, who lived in the second and early third centuries A.D., related a similar story, but the hero was Gilgamesh rather than Etana. The theme of humans flying on eagles is found in Akkadian glyptic art of the second half of the third millennium B.C. and may be based on the legend of Etana.