Monday, 21 February 2011

The Bibliotheca.

Sir James George Frazer [of Golden Bough fame] translated The Bibliotheca into English, and it was published in 1921.

The Bibliotheca was originally believed to have been an ancient Greek text ( second century BC) and to have been written by Apollodorus of Alexandria, a Greek scholar who probably did indeed write out a compendium of myths...but unfortunately these have gone missing.

The texts written by the Apollodorus whose texts we do have -the Pseudo Apollodorus- were a compendium of myth sourced from old Greek epic and the plays of the Tragedians.

The work is generally believed to be a second century A.D. compilation, probably Roman.

In hunting down the history of Greek myth, as I try desperately to work out exactly how and when Greek myth became a part of British culture, Wiki tells me this:
The first mention of the work, ignored as a popularised handbook by Classical authors, is by Photios I Patriarch of Constantinople from AD 858 to 867 and from 877 to 886.
Why I wonder are Classical authors looking down on The Bibliotheca? Is it because, compared say to the Homeric Hymns, the style of prose is lacking in art? The Bibliotheca (Frazer's version) is a lot like modern books on myth; dictionary style entries that strip the stories of their narrative and reduce them to a list of who went where and did what with whom. On the other hand, the original work may not have been the first of many distilled versions, the original may have told the stories in full?
The work was almost lost in the thirteenth century, surviving in one now-incomplete manuscript, which was copied for Cardinal Bessarion [Basilios (or Basilius) Bessarion (in Greek Βασίλειος Βησσαρίων) (January 2, 1403 – November 18, 1472), a Roman Catholic Cardinal Bishop and the titular Latin Patriarch of Constantinople).

The first printed edition of "Apollodorus" was published in Rome in 1555, edited by Benedetto Egio (Benedictus Aegius) of Spoleto, who divided the text in three books, but made many unwarranted emendations in his very corrupted text. Hieronymus Commelinus published an improved text at Heidelberg, 1559. The first text based on comparative manuscripts was that of Christian Gottlob Heyne, Göttingen, 1782-83.

Unfortunately the Bibliotheca has not come down to us complete. It is undivided in the manuscripts but conventionally divided in three books. Part of the third book, which breaks off abruptly in the story of Theseus, has been lost. The Patriarch Photius had the full work before him, as he mentions in his "account of books read" that it contained stories of the heroes of the Trojan War and the nostoi, missing in surviving manuscripts. On the other hand, we have an epitome that was made by James George Frazer, who conflated two manuscript summaries of the text, also including the lost part, leaving us a good summary of its contents.
So, what does The Bibliotheca say about Persephone?

From Frazer:
Now Zeus wedded Hera and begat Hebe, Ilithyia, and Ares, but he had intercourse with any women, both mortals and immortals. By Themis, daughter of Sky, he had daughters, the seasons, to wit, Peace, Order, and Justice; also the Fates, to wit, Clotho, Lachesis, and  Atropus; by Dione he had Aphrodite; by Eurynome, daughter of Ocean, he had the Graces, to wit, glaia, Euphrosyne, and Thalia; by Styx he had Persephone; and by Memory (Mnemosyne) he had the Muses, first Calliope, then Clio, Melpomene, Euterpe, Erato, Terpsichore, Urania, Thalia, and Polymnia.

Pluto fell in love with Persephone and with the help of Zeus carried her off secretly. But Demeter went about seeking her all over the earth with torches by night and day, and learning from the people of Hermion that Pluto had carried her off, she was wroth with the gods and quitted heaven, and came in the likeness of a woman to Eleusis. And first she sat down on the rock which has been named Laughless after her, beside what is called the Well of the Fair Dances; thereupon she made her way to Celeus, who at that time reigned over the Eleusinians. Some women were in the house, and when they bade her sit down beside them, a certain old crone, Iambe, joked the goddess and made her smile. For that reason they say that the women break jests at the Thesmophoria.

But Metanira, wife of Celeus, had a child and Demeter received it to nurse, and wishing to make
it  immortal she set the babe of nights on the fire and stripped off its mortal flesh.
But as Demophon -- for that was the child's name -- grew marvelously by day, Praxithea watched, and discovering him buried in the fire she cried out; wherefore the babe was consumed by the fire and the goddess revealed herself.

But for Triptolemus, the elder of Metanira's children, she made a chariot of winged dragons, and gave him wheat, with which, wafted through the sky, he sowed the whole inhabited earth. But  Panyasis affirms that Triptolemus was a son of Eleusis, for he says that Demeter came to him. Pherecydes, however, says that he was a son of Ocean and Earth.

But when Zeus ordered Pluto to send up the Maid, Pluto gave her a seed of a pomegranate to eat, in order that she might not tarry long with her mother. Not foreseeing the consequence, she swallowed it; and because Ascalaphus, son of Acheron and Gorgyra, bore witness against her, Demeter laid a heavy rock on him in Hades. But Persephone was compelled to remain a third of every year with Pluto and the rest of the time with the gods.
So, Demeter goes to Hermion (rather than volcanic Sicily with its links to Titans).

Pausanius says:
The object most worthy of mention is a sanctuary of Demeter on Pron. This sanctuary is said by the Hermionians to have been founded by Clymenus, son of Phoroneus, and Chthonia, sister of Clymenus. But the Argive account is that when Demeter came to Argolis, while Atheras and Mysius afforded hospitality to the goddess, Colontas neither received her into his home nor paid her any other mark of respect. His daughter Chthoia disapproved of this conduct. They say that Colontas was punished by being burnt up along with his house, while Chthonia was brought to Hermion by Demeter, and made the sanctuary for the Hermionians.

[2.35.5] At any rate, the goddess herself is called Chthonia, and Chthonia is the name of the festival they hold in the summer of every year. The manner of it is this. The procession is headed by the priests of the gods and by all those who hold the annual magistracies; these are followed by both men and women. It is now a custom that some who are still children should honor the goddess in the procession. These are dressed in white, and wear wreaths upon their heads. Their wreaths are woven of the flower called by the natives cosmosandalon, which, from its size and color, seems to me to be an iris; it even has inscribed upon it the same letters of mourning.74

[2.35.6] Those who form the procession are followed by men leading from the herd a full-grown cow, fastened with ropes, and still untamed and frisky. Having driven the cow to the temple, some loose her from the ropes that she may rush into the sanctuary, others, who hitherto have been holding the doors open, when they see the cow within the temple, close the doors.

[2.35.7] Four old women, left behind inside, are they who dispatch the cow. Whichever gets the chance cuts the throat of the cow with a sickle. Afterwards the doors are opened, and those who are appointed drive up a second cow, and a third after that, and yet a fourth. All are dispatched in the same way by the old women, and the sacrifice has yet another strange feature. On whichever of her sides the first cow falls, all the others must fall on the same.

[2.35.8] Such is the manner in which the sacrifice is performed by the Hermionians. Before the temple stand a few statues of the women who have served Demeter as her priestess, and on passing inside you see seats on which the old women wait for the cows to be driven in one by one, and images, of no great age, of Athena and Demeter. But the thing itself that they worship more than all else, I never saw, nor yet has any other man, whether stranger or Hermionian. The old women may keep their knowledge of its nature to themselves.

[2.35.9] There is also another temple, all round which stand statues. This temple is right opposite that of Chthonia, and is called that of Clymenus, and they sacrifice to Clymenus here. I do not believe that Clymenus was an Argive who came to Hermion “Clymenus” is the surname of the god, whoever legend says is king in the underworld.

[2.35.10] Beside this temple is another; it is of Ares, and has an image of the god, while to the right of the sanctuary of Chthonia is a portico, called by the natives the Portico of Echo. It is such that if a man speaks it reverberates at least three times. Behind the temple of Chthonia are three places which the Hermionians call that of Clymenus, that of Pluto, and the Acherusian Lake. All are surrounded by fences of stones, while in the place of Clymenus there is also a chasm in the earth. Through this, according to the legend of the Hermionians, Heracles brought up the Hound of Hell.

[2.35.11] At the gate through which there is a straight road leading to Mases, there is a sanctuary of Eileithyia within the wall. Every day, both with sacrifices and with incense, they magnificently propitiate the goddess, and, moreover, there is a vast number of votive gifts offered to Eileithyia. But the image no one may see, except, perhaps, the priestesses.
So...where is this place?
Hermione is a small town and a popular tourist resort in the Peloponnes, facing Hydra (or SDRA, NIDRA, IDERO, Hydrea) whish is an island of Greece, lying about 4 M. off the S.E. coast of Argolis in the Peloponnesus, and forming along with the neighbouring island of Dokos (Dhoko) or so Google tells me.

Asking more I find:
Hydra Greece is a beautiful island lying in the archipelago called the Argo-Saronic. It is situated in the Greek Islands calles Saronic and lies between the islands of Poros and Spetses, near the coast of the eastern foot of the Peloponnese. It is very popular island because of its extremely picturesque capital, full of red-tiled houses and stone-paved narrow alleys. It used to be the destination of fashionable artists during the sixties and has kept a highly cosmopolitan character. Hydra in Mythology was a nine-headed monster, sister of Medusa.

This section of Hydra Island provides pictures, map, villages, history, museums, architecture and a large range of hotels.

Welcome to Hydra Island, Greece, Saronic
OK, well Hydra is the island opposite, but the photographs are beautiful.

As far as I can make out, a monastery was built over the temple to Demeter: The church of Agioi Taxiarchoi.

The area used to be volcanic and so I find another link with Titans insomuch as Hydra is a many headed monster is not unlike the Titans. Also, the land thereabouts is subject to earthquakes -the subterranean rumblings of large things imprisoned underground!

When I first started thinking about the Persephone myth, I saw two kinds of story: the first narrative is about sacrifice and the second kind concerns fertility: so Ereshkigal is sacrificed to the Kur, her descent is accidental, or a purposeful abduction, but she represents the truth that girls go missing, 'lost' to marriage or childbirth and old age. Inanna's descent is purposeful and contains no self-sacrifice at all (Inanna knew the risk and made sure that someone would get her out) Damuzi is sacrificed (the awful stories of him trying to hide, praying to the sun to make the demons see him as a deer) and Geshtinanna chooses her own descent as a true sacrifice to restore her brother for at least part of the year.

The fertility aspect is Demeter refusing to let crops grow, and giving Triptolemos the wheat seeds to spread all over the earth, it is also a part of the sacrifice story -the illicit pleasure in imagining Persephone's loss of innocence (the dark version of fertility, sex and onwards into BDSM and kink in general) the light version the joyful loss of the daughter to marriage and the hope of children, tainted with the fear of death. Persephone and Geshtinanna and Damuzi are the green force...
The force that through the green fuse drives the flower
Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees
Is my destroyer.
And I am dumb to tell the crooked rose
"My youth is bent by the same wintry fever.

And yet a third aspect of the Persephone myth keeps on appearing; the link between Persephone and oracles of the dead, and how they are sited in border lands. Lands imagined to be between the land of the living and the land of the dead; volcanic ground. The links with a cthonic god of rot and decay the black-sun Apollo:
The "dark, consuming fire" of the material sun leads to its being called the "Dark" or "Black Sun."
going all the way back to Akkadian stories of how Nergal became god of the underworld...

Well either way and what ever!
I look forwards to visiting Hydra or Ermioni.

one day...

Friday, 18 February 2011

Greek maps.

A modern re-construction of a Mesopotamian map 900-600 BCE.

Anaximander (c.610—546 BCE) believed this world of ours to be floating at equilibrium, in aethyr (my favorite spelling) .Neither the vault of the sky, nor the earth itself needs to be supported by water, mountains or pillars.

In the Mesopotamian map (top of the page) it looks as if the 'mountains' hold up the sky.

Nevertheless, this map (as far as I know, Anaximander's)  of the earth as seen from above, is remarkably similar to the Mesopotamian (Akkadian) map of the first millennium BC :

The myth most likely to have informed the Mesopotamian map is the Enuma Elish -the description of how Marduck kills Tiamat and makes the vault of heaven, and the span of the earth from her body.
And the lord stood upon Tiamat's hinder parts,
And with his merciless club he smashed her skull.
He cut through the channels of her blood,
And he made the North wind bear it away into secret places.
His fathers beheld, and they rejoiced and were glad;
Presents and gifts they brought unto him.
Then the lord rested, gazing upon her dead body,
While he divided the flesh of the ... , and devised a cunning plan.
He split her up like a flat fish into two halves;
One half of her he stablished as a covering for heaven.
He fixed a bolt, he stationed a watchman,
And bade them not to let her waters come forth.
Anaximander does away with the supports for the sky as well as earth.

But before you start thinking that Anaximander had got everything right, in his view the world would be cylindrical, its diameter being three times its height.

We live on top of it.

So...where exactly is the Netherworld?

When Ovid places the abduction of Persephone in Sicily, he is paying respect to the Greek idea that places of volcanic activity are closest to the prison of the Titans, to the Netherworld, to Tartarus.

Virgil describes Tartarus  in the Aeneid as a gigantic place, surrounded by the flaming river Phlegethon and triple walls to prevent anything bad escaping from it, but Plato in Phaedo gives the most satisfying to my mind, the best description of how a world system works and what Tartarus is...

Plato describes a spherical world floating in aethyr; it is made from twelve 'skins' patched together (like a football). There are pits in the skin, and we live in the bottom of one of these pits. Mist, air and water are the dregs of aethyr that sink into the pits, and if we could only fly we would be able to peep out of our sea of air into the purer realm of aethyr -where the ground is made of gem stone- we would be dazzled by brighter, more vivid, clean colours unlike our corroded and dull and reflected colours.

This is the land of far away, and sounds remarkably similar to the land Gilgamesh finds after travelling through the tunnel of the sun.

It also reminds me of images of the ground strewn with gems in Tibetan thankas, and the visualisation when practicing 'prostrations'. It isn't possible to believe that the Greeks originated everything anymore!

Plato explains that the soul is made of purer stuff than the body, and so attachment to the body or to this world is an impediment to ascension, or rebirth in a literally higher realm. Those unfortunate souls unable to 'let go' become ghosts stuck in our world, unable to go on to the Acherusian lake. This explains why ghosts are troublesome and unhappy beings.

Meanwhile, Tartarus is the hole that runs from the top to the bottom of the world and if you wonder what happens when you fall into it (I have!) you may be reminded of the game Portal!

All the rivers of the world drain into and flow out of Tartarus. There are four main rivers. Streams from these rivers flow through our bit of the world. Th description is complicated:
"So then these streams are many
and great and of all kinds;
and it happens then that among these many are four streams,
the greatest and outermost of which flows in a circle
and is called Oceanus,
and opposite this flowing oppositely is Acheron,
which flows through other desert regions
and flowing under the earth arrives into the Acherusian lake,
at which the souls of most of the dead arrive
and having stayed for the time due,
some longer, and some shorter,
again are sent out to be born into living creatures.

"And the third river comes out between these,
and near its exit it falls into
a great region burning with much fire,
and it makes a lake greater than the sea by us,
boiling with water and mud;
and from there it withdraws in a circle turbid and muddy,
and winding around to another place
it arrives also at the edge of the Acherusian lake,
not mingling with its water;
but winding around many times beneath the earth
empties lower than Tartarus;
and this is what they name Pyriphlegethon,
from which also the lava streams drawn off
spout up wherever they happen to on the earth.
"And opposite this the fourth falls
first into a region terrible and wild, as it is said,
the whole of which having a dark blue color,
which they name Stygian,
and the lake, which the river emptying makes, Styx;
and having fallen in here
and received terrible powers in the water,
passing beneath the earth,
winding around it withdraws opposite to the Pyriphlegethon
and meets it in the Acherusian lake from the other side;
and also this water does not mingle with any,
but this too going around in a circle
empties into Tartarus opposite to the Pyriphlegethon;
and the name of this is, as the poets say, Cocytus.

But in the beginning there was? Generally in the beginning there was the void of water, or chaos or as Anaximander has it
"Together were all the things".
There follows a differentiation, the whole must break. An away from Ki (Sumerian) Shu from Geb (Egyptian) whilst Anaximander has a ball of fire surround a ball of slime which bursts into wheels!

Some cosmologies are as Berkurt puts it, 'Biomorphic' (mother/father) whilst others are 'technomorphic' requiring a god as a creator.

Homer follows the Enuma Elish (Apsu the begetter and Tiamat, mother of all) with Oceanus and Terthys. Generally cosmos is lifted out of earth, or, acording to Anaxiamander  wheels of flame and 'influence', and openings of fire around the earth.

Which could explain why Crowley called a suit of his tarot pack *discs* rather than coins...?

Monday, 14 February 2011


I found -on a scrap of paper tucked into my notebook- a plan I'd made some months ago telling myself that the place to start was maps, so I'm quite pleased with myself that though I'd forgotten all about that plan, I had in fact begun to research the images, icons and philosophy people used to explain the blue sky and the dark earth.

But, back to mythology for a bit!

According to Kramer, Sumerian cosmology is similar to the first part of the Hittite story of cosmology: of Kumarbi, and hence to Hesiod's Theogony.

In Sumerian myth, the beginning of 'the world' is separation between earth and sky and then a giving birth of numerous gods. The story most people know (Enuma Elish)  is a latter myth. In it we get the battle between Marduck and Tiamat, which echos the older Sumerian tales of battles with the Kur.

In two out of the three Sumerian stories about the Kur, the Kur is dragon-like, in the third the Kur is a foreign, rich and powerful land.

But the one that interests me is -the story of Ninurta- because it seems to fuse into the story of Ereshkigal.

It goes like this:

From Kramer's Sumerian myth: -Ninurta, the warrior-god was (for the Sumerian's) the son of Enlil, the air-god.

Sharur (Ninurta's weapon) has set its mind against Kur. It praises Ninurta, and it urges Ninurta to attack and destroy Kur.

Ninurta sets out to do as bidden.

At first, however, be seems to have met more than his match and he "flees like a bird."

Once again, however, Sharur addresses him with reassuring and encouraging words.

Ninurta now attacks Kur fiercely with all the weapons at his command, and Kur is completely destroyed.

With the destruction of Kur, the primeval waters which Kur had held in check rise to the surface and as a result of their violence no fresh water can reach the fields and gardens. The gods of the land who "carried the pickax and the basket," that is, who had charge of irrigating the land and preparing it for cultivation, are desperate.

The Tigris waters do not rise, the river carries no good water.

"Famine was severe, nothing was produced, the small rivers were not cleaned, the dirt was not carried off, on the steadfast fields no water was sprinkled, there was no digging of ditches,
In all the lands there were no crops, only weeds grew.

Thereupon the lord sets his lofty mind, Ninurta, the son of Enlil, brings great things into being. He sets up a heap of stones over the dead Kur and heaps it up like a great wall in front of the land. These stones hold back the "mighty waters" and as a result the waters of the lower regions rise no longer to the surface of the earth. As for the waters which had already flooded the land, Ninurta gathers them and leads them into the Tigris, which is now in a position to water the fields with its overflow.

What had been scattered, he gathered,
What by Kur had been dissipated,
He guided and hurled into the Tigris,
The high waters it pours over the farmland. Behold now everything on earth
Rejoiced afar at Ninurta, the king of the land;
The fields produced much grain,
The harvest of palm-grove and vineyard was fruitful,
It was heaped up in granaries and hills;
The lord made mourning disappear from the land,
He made good the liver of the gods.

Hearing of her son's great and heroic deeds, his mother Ninmah--also known as Ninhursag and Nintu, and more originally perhaps as Ki, the mother earth--is taken with love for him; she becomes so restless that she is unable to sleep in her bedchamber. She therefore addresses Ninurta from afar with a prayer for permission to visit him and feast her eyes upon him. Ninurta looks at her with the "eye of life," saying:

"O thou lady, because thou wouldst come to a foreign land,
O Ninmah, because for my sake thou wouldst enter an inimical land,
Because thou hast no fear of the terror of the battle surrounding me,
Therefore, of the hill which I, the hero, have heaped up,
Let its name be Hursag (mountain), and thou be its queen."

Ninurta then blesses the Hursag that it may produce all kinds of herbs, wine and honey, various kinds of trees, gold, silver, and bronze, cattle, sheep, and all "four-legged creatures." After this blessing of the Hursag, he turns to the stones, cursing those which have been his enemies in his battle with Kur and blessing those which have been his friends; this entire passage, in style and tone, not in content, is very reminiscent of the blessing and cursing of Jacob's sons in the forty-ninth chapter of Genesis. The poem closes with a long hymnal passage exalting Ninurta.

A modern translation can be read here
The first mention of Ereshkigal is of her being carried away by the Kur (Sumerian -Enkidu, Gilgamesh and the Netherworld) the second story is (Sumerian) The Descent of Inanna, in which she is called Inanna's 'sister' and Queen of the Underworld.

There are latter stories about how Nergal becomes joint ruler of the Underworld with her.

But Eresh-ki-gal is a description, not a name. It means: great lady under earth and I'd leave it at that, except for the image from The Descent of Inanna of Ereshkigal as if giving birth:
The kurgarra and the galatur heeded Enki's words. They set out for the underworld.

Like flies, they slipped through the cracks of the gates.
They entered the throne room of the Queen of the Underworld.
No linen was spread over her body.
Her breasts were uncovered.
Her hair swirled around her head like leeks.

Ereshkigal was moaning:
"Oh! Oh! My inside!"

They moaned:
"Oh! Oh! Your inside!"

She moaned:
"Ohhhh! Oh! My outside!"

They moaned:
"Ohhhh! Oh! Your outside!"

She groaned:
"Oh! Oh! My belly!"

They groaned:
"Oh! Oh! Your belly!"

She groaned:
"Oh! Ohhhh! My back!"

They groaned:
"Oh! Ohhhh! Your back!"
Ninhursag isn't giving birth, nor is Ereshkigal, but in both cases their's is a connection with the productive quality of earth. There are two themes in the Persephone story: Abduction (sacrifice) and control over the fertility of the land, the stories of Ereshkigal (abduction and Inanna's Descent) both have those themes.

So, what's in a name?
The story of Ninurta's battle with the Kur does not mention 'The Kur'. Kramer translates the story as a battle with the Kur; Kur, in this case is the demon called Asag, a child of earth and sky who mated with the mountain to produce stone-demon offspring.

But the Kur is the mountain, the land of forigners, in this case probably the Zagros mountains, home of peoples such as the Kassites, Guti, Assyrians, Elamites and Mitanni, who periodically invaded the Sumerian and/or Akkadian cities of Mesopotamia.

One thing really puzzles me, the dead Kur buried under a mountain of stones reminds me of Python at Delphi (pytho -meaning decay and rot) a site famous for its oracle. Apollo and Ninurta are both associated with Nergal (via plague). But why did people believe that these places: places connected to Tartarus, prison of the Titans, or rotting, or stench-filled tunnels: or connected to the god Apollo, or Orpheus...

Why did people believe that the underworld could provide useful predictions about the future?

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Wondering about in the dark..

That's what gathering up background information feels like.

At the moment it seems to me that the Sumerians imagined the netherworld to be physically connected to this one. As water drains from a sponge, so the vaporous 'soul' drains from the dead body and seeps into the netherworld. When Gilgamesh loses his ellag and his ekidma the living Enkidu goes down to fetch them, but because he breaks the rules, he is seen by the dead and more importantly by Ereshkigal

Gilgamesh pleads with the gods, and eventually one opens a hole in the earth and Enkidu comes out of the earth as 'a gust of wind'.

But here in Britain, in what small amounts of mythology I can find, we seem to favour a multiverse rather than a far away; the otherworlds are coexistent, and people cross over into the land of fairy by accident rather than by taking a path.

Not that the land of fairy is necessarily the land of the dead, but both places stand for 'other realms'.

Greek myth (via Homer and Hesiod) contains Mesopotamian themes and elements, likewise Norse mythology borrows heavily from the Greek.

Celtic mythology is another kettle of fish all together. The sources are primarily Roman and Christian: an anonymous scholar in the 11th century wrote down the origins and history of the Irish people from the creation of the world down to the Middle Ages (The book of invasions). The Welsh tales are recorded in the Mabinogion.

In many ways a more authentic work is The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries by W. Y. Evans-Wentz (1911).

You can read it here: [LINK]

Sunday, 6 February 2011


Continuing with the subject of maps, I wondered where the Sumerians actually imagined the underworld or netherworld, to be?

Is there in Sumerian texts any reference to a physical location, an entrance perhaps to the netherworld and where on the map should it be placed?

In the story known as The descent of Inana, the queen of heaven simply sets off and walks to the seven gates of Ganzer.

But the myth most often used as *the* guide book to the Sumerian netherworld, is the story known as Gilgamesh, Enkidu and the nether world.

The beginning of the the tale contains the reference to Ereshkigal given as a gift to the netherworld and to Enki setting out to save her, before getting into the main narrative concerning Inana and the Halub tree:
In those days, in those distant days, in those nights, in those remote nights, in those years, in those distant years; in days of yore, when the necessary things had been brought into manifest existence, in days of yore, when the necessary things had been for the first time properly cared for, when bread had been tasted for the first time in the shrines of the Land, when the ovens of the Land had been made to work, when the heavens had been separated from the earth, when the earth had been delimited from the heavens, when the fame of mankind had been established, when An had taken the heavens for himself, when Enlil had taken the earth for himself, when the nether world had been given to Erec-kigala as a gift; when he set sail, when he set sail, when the father set sail for the nether world, when Enki set sail for the nether world -- against the king a storm of small hailstones arose, against Enki a storm of large hailstones arose. The small ones were light hammers, the large ones were like stones from catapults (?). The keel of Enki's little boat was trembling as if it were being butted by turtles, the waves at the bow of the boat rose to devour the king like wolves and the waves at the stern of the boat were attacking Enki like a lion.
Enki it seems, takes the boat but unfortunately the story does not tell what happens next on his journey.

The theme of the river as a force which carries away and leads to exile continues in Enlil and Ninlil:
At that time the maiden was advised by her own mother, Ninlil was advised by Nun-bar-ce-gunu: "The river is holy, woman! The river is holy -- don't bathe in it! Ninlil, don't walk along the bank of the Id-nunbir-tum! His eye is bright, the lord's eye is bright, he will look at you! The Great Mountain, Father Enlil -- his eye is bright, he will look at you! The shepherd who decides all destinies -- his eye is bright, he will look at you! Straight away he will want to have intercourse, he will want to kiss! He will be happy to pour lusty semen into the womb, and then he will leave you to it!"
The inevitable happens.
Enlil was sent into exile and Ninlil follows him:
As Enlil was going about in the Ki-ur, the fifty great gods and the seven gods who decide destinies had Enlil arrested in the Ki-ur. Enlil, the ritually impure, left the city. Nunamnir, the ritually impure, left the city. (2 mss. have instead: "Enlil, ritually impure, leave the city! Nunamnir, ritually impure, leave the city!") Enlil, in accordance with what had been decided, Nunamnir, in accordance with what had been decided, Enlil went. Ninlil followed. Nunamnir went, the maiden chased him.

Enlil went. Ninlil followed. Nunamnir went, the maiden chased him. Enlil approached the man of the Id-kura river of the underworld, the man-eating river.

So we know that the river of the netherworld is the Id-kura: the river that pulls people from life into death. Id-Kura translates roughly as Id, River, with Kur, meaning underworld, and ra meaning flood.

But where is it on the map?
Is it beyond the mountains, or before?

The story returns to the subject of the netherworld when Gilgamesh loses his ellag and his ekidma.
"The widows 'accusation and the young girls' complaint caused them to fall down to the bottom of the netherworld".
Brave Enkidu says that he will go down to fetch the -so far untranslated- objects.
"Enkidu went down to retrieve them but the nether world has seized him. Namtar did not seize him, the Asag did not seize him; but the nether world has seized him. The udug demon of Nergal, who spares nobody, did not seize him, but the nether world has seized him. He did not fall in battle on the field of manhood, but the netherworld has seized him."
The entrance to the netherworld is the grave, but just going under ground seems dangerous and rivers too will attack and lead one to the netherworld -which is denoted by the three triangle symbol of the kur.

The three little triangles are reminiscent of the triangles at the edge of the map -triangle islands, or rather mountains -the 'mountainous country', or 'abroad', ki-gal, 'the great place', edin, 'the steppe', arali,

Many translations describe the netherworld as if it is like Cormac McCarthy's The Road.
"He walked out in the grey light and stood and he saw for a brief moment the absolute truth of the world. The cold relentless circling of the intestate Earth. Darkness implacable. The blind dogs of the sun in their running. The crushing black vacuum of the universe. And somewhere two hunted animals trembling like ground foxes in their cover. Borrowed time and borrowed world and borrowed eyes with which to sorrow it."
It is usually described as a place of dust and the dead seem to be almost bird-like, covered in feathers, waiting to fall apart, the zombie realm. But when Gilgamesh asks Enkidu about the netherworld the message is, in contrast to religions that seem to hate the material world that as long as a person has lived their life to the full and has family to take care of the grave, the underworld may not be too bad.

Gilgamesh questions Enkidu:

Did you see him who had one son?"
"I saw him."
"How does he fare?"
"He weeps bitterly at the wooden peg which was driven into his wall."
"Did you see him who had two sons?"
"I saw him."
"How does he fare?"
"He sits on a couple of bricks, eating bread."
"Did you see him who had three sons?"
"I saw him."
"How does he fare?"
"He drinks water from a saddle waterskin."
"Did you see him who had four sons?"
 "I saw him."
"How does he fare?"
 "His heart rejoices like a man who has four asses to yoke."
"Did you see him who had five sons?"
"I saw him."
"How does he fare?"
 "Like a good scribe he is indefatigable, he enters the palace easily."
"Did you see him who had six sons?"
"I saw him."
"How does he fare?"
"He is a cheerful as a ploughman."
"Did you see him who had seven sons?"
"I saw him."
"How does he fare?" 
"As a companion of the gods, he sits on a throne and listens to judgments."

This brings up the subject of translation, and how cultural biases and fashionable concepts seep into the stories and change their meanings. Unless one knows how to read Sumerian (and even though there are equivalents of the 'Rossetta stones' that enable Sumerian to be translated) no one speaks Sumerian; so it is going to be difficult to understand what was really meant. On the other hand, the story texts were probably sold as narrative outlines for a story teller to flesh out.

Translators are keeping to the spirit of the text as they add and subtract, conflate and guess.

So I was pulled away from my task -of locating the netherworld- when I came across the word bison.

Is there a good reason for using the word bison in translation of a Sumerian poem?

I was trying to track down where Damuzi went. This poem is in Treasures of Darkness: A History of Mesopotamian Religion by Thorkild Jacobsen.

It is Sumerian, written around c.1700 B.C.

The wild bull, who has lain down, lives no more,
The wild bull, who has lain down, lives no more,
Dumuzi, The wild bull, who has lain down, lives no more,
The wild bull, who has lain down, lives no more.

O you wild bull, how fast you sleep!
How fast sleep ewe and lamb!
O you wild bull, how fast you sleep!
How fast sleep goat and kid!

I will ask the hills and the valleys,
I will ask the hills of the Bison:
"Where is the young man, my husband?"
I will say,
"He whom I no longer serve food"
I will say,
"He whom I no longer give to drink"
I will say,
"And my lovely maids"
I will say,
"And my lovely young men?"

"The Bison has taken thy husband away,
up into the mountains!"
"The Bison has taken thy young man away,
up into the mountains!"

"Bison of the mountains, with the mottled eyes!
Bison of the mountains, with the crushing teeth!
Bison! - He sleeps sweetly, he sleeps sweetly,
He whom I no longer serve food sleeps sweetly,
He whom I no longer give to drink sleeps sweetly,
My lovely maids sleep sweetly,
My lovely young men sleep sweetly!"

"My young man who perished from me
(at the hands of) your men,
"My young Ababa who perished from me
(at the hands of) your men,
Will never more calm me (with) his loving glance
Will never more unfasten his lovely bright clasp (at night)
On his couch you made the jackals lie down,
In my husband's fold you made the raven dwell,
His reed pipe - the wind plays it,
My husband's songs - the north wind sings them."

There are two words translators translate into bison: the Sumerian "gud-alim" and the Akkadian Kusarikku.

Going back to the clay tablet map, the description given at reads:

The so-called Babylonian map of the world. Clay tablet in British Museum Inv. 92687. Published by F.E. Peiser in Zeitschrift für Assyriologie und Vorderasiatische Archäologie 4 (1889) 361-370.

It is dated to the first half of the First Millennium BC.

The geographical knowledge of the Mesopotamian core territory is presented in a non-scalar graphic manner, with fair amount of accuracy, spotting certain regions and cities (some of which were labeled) around prominent mountains and rivers.
The visual representation of this geography uses a cursory but identifiable veracity, while the unknown edges of the inhabited world (dadmū) are geometricised in the pictorial representation and mytho-poeticized in its verbal ekphrasis.
The report of the fauna of the inhabited world in the text that accompanied the drawing, is specifically concerned with the content of the mythical marginal landscapes, the distant lands, listing those animals created by the god Marduk "on top of the sea".
The comprehensive list of the fauna comprises:
the anzû-bird,
the scorpion-man (girtablullû),
sea-serpent (mušhuššu),
gazelle (armu, ‹abītu),
water-buffalo (apsasû),
panther (nimru),
bull-man (kusarikku),
lion (nēšu),
wolf (barbaru),
red-deer (lulīmu),
hyena (būsu),
male/female monkey (pagû/pagītu),
ibex (turāhu),
ostrich (lurmu),
cat (šurānu),
chameleon (hurbabillu).
The text presents a liminal knowledge of the fabulous landscapes in a mytho-poetic narrative of mapmaking. The major concern is not the obvious well-known landscape of Mesopotamia, but its fictitious periphery that needed to be presented.
So contemporary translators use the word bison to mean far away, it becomes a word Kur, an ambiguous word...because bison are wild and far away to us?

I can see that I need to learn Sumerian.