Each King had his Apkallu
by Estéban Trujillo de Gutiérrez
“The fish-figurines would seem to confirm the theory attractively put forward by Zimmern (KAT 535 ff. and subsequently ZA 35 151 ff.), that the apkallu’s, often occurring in groups of seven and sometimes identified with purādu-fish (Sumerian s u h u r . k u), represent Oannes and the other fish-like monsters who, according to Berosso’s account, taught mankind all crafts and civilization.
Furthermore, the apkallu-figurines of the ritual KAR 298 discussed by Zimmern loc. cit. (see also Gurney, AAA 22 38 ff.) are each associated with a city in Mesopotamia and addressed as ūmu; Güterbock’s suggestion that the element p i r i g in the names of three apkallu’s in our text corresponds to this ūmu and refers to their character as mythological creatures (ZA 42 10 n. 3) would thus strengthen the argument in favor of the identification of the apkallu’s with the monsters described by Berossos.
What in the Greek account clearly reflects an etiological myth finds no correspondence in any of the texts dealing with apkallu’s in Mesopotamia. The exploits of the apkallu’s, as we shall see, are on a different mythological plane.
The connection between them and wisdom and the crafts lies in the term ummânu, which is one of their epithets, and to which I shall presently return.
First, however, we shall have to dispel the misconception originating with Zimmern’s article in KAT, and repeated in the discussions connected with the apkallu’s by others, namely, the assumed identity of the “wise men” — or some of them — with the early kings.
Besides a certain juggling of names inevitable when dealing with Berossos, the allusion to the “man who ascended to heaven” in the text published by Gurney, JRAS 1935 459 ff., was taken to refer to Etana, the more easily so since the phrase used in the Sumerian version, l ú a n . š è b a . a n . e x (DU+DU) echoes the very words of the Sumerian King List: E t a n a s i p a l ú a n . š è b a . e x . d è (see Jacobsen, AS 11 p. 80: 16 f. and n. 67).
The view of Güterbock, ZA 42 9f., that the tradition of the apkallu’s is separate from that of the historical kings, and his assumption that the phrase “who ascended to heaven” refers to Adapa — of whom the same words are used in one of the versions of the Adapa legend (PSBA 16  275:14, latest translation by Speiser, ANET 101 ff.) — is vindicated against his critics by the structure of the present text.
Since each personage is described by a group of at least four lines, the third and fourth lines, “[ . . . ] who ascended to heaven”, must be part of the description of the same person mentioned in the first and second lines as the purification priest of Eridu (išippu Eridu).
Because this is a well-known title of Adapa, the section must refer to him rather than to Etana. Indeed, none of the apkallu’s mentioned is himself a king, but is only associated with a famed king of old: the text states clearly that Nunpiriggaldim was the apkallu of Enmerkar, that Lu-Nanna was apkallu under Šulgi, allowing us only to conjecture that each was a noted person during a particular reign, excelling in superior wisdom — a topos later taken up by the Assyrian kings when they boast of being endowed with a wisdom equal to that of the apkallu’s.”
Erica Reiner, “The Etiological Myth of the “Seven Sages,” Orientalia, v. 30, No. 1, 1961, pp. 6-7.