Etymology: Serpent or Snake
Alternative Spelling: Illujanka
Illuyanka is the serpentine dragon that Teshub (Tarhun) slays in Hittite mythology.
What’s In A Name?
It should be of no surprise and interest that the name Illuyanka is likely a compound of two words meaning “snake.” These Proto-Indo-European words are “h’illu” and “eh.” Interestingly, these words appear in reverse order for the Latin “Anguilla,” meaning eel.
Where the word “illu” is a cognate to the English eel, the word “anka” is a cognate to the Sanskrit word ahi.
I think it is interesting the word is doubled up the way some Chinese names will be doubled up to emphasize something being powerful like lung-lung for Double Dragon. Incidentally, the videogame of the same name holds that name for the same reason.
In the carved relief showing Teshub slaying Illuyanka, they are shown as a massive, coiling serpent.
The struggle against Chaos; is a familiar motif found throughout the world in many different regions and mythologies of a culture hero or god going up against a creature of chaos. This creature is often shown as and takes the form of a great serpent or dragon. This is the familiar Knight slaying the Dragon seen in many European mythologies. Parallels to this concept are even found in other cultures.
The contest and fight between Teshub and Illuyanka represent one of these archetypal battles wherein the arrival of Spring and the beginning of the New Year is honored in the Hittite festival of Purulli.
Illuyanka Versus Teshub
This is the story that Illuynak is best known from. It’s pretty much his only appearance in Hittite mythology. This myth was rediscovered by archeologists and historians in 1930 in the Catalogue des Textes Hittites 321. Less than a hundred years ago with this post. An English translation of the text wouldn’t see publication until 1982 done by Gary Beckman. This translation is not yet in the public domain that I am aware of. These cuneiform tablets were found at Çorum-Bogazköy, the old Hittite capital of Hattusa.
In both myths, it is noted that Illuyanka threatens the whole of creation with destruction and why it is that Teshub needs to battle him.
1st Myth – Illuyanka’s Defeat At A Feast
This story begins with one of Teshub or Tarhun’s (Hittite or Hurrian) priests telling the story at the New Year’s festival of Purulli. In the story, Teshub and the serpent Illuyanka fight within the city of Kiškilušša. As they fight, Illuyanka defeats Teshub.
Defeated, Teshub approaches the other gods and asks his daughter Inara for help. Inara sets about to prepare a feast with lots of alcohol, namely wines and beer. That done, Inara traveled to the city of Ziggaratta where she asks the hero Ḫupašiya to help her with a task. Ḫupašiya agrees only if Inara will have sex with him. Since there’s a job to do, Inara agrees and invites Ḫupašiya and his sons to the feast.
At the feast, Inara has Ḫupašiya hide before inviting Illuyanka and his sons to the feast. As Illuyanka and his sons consume all the food and become drunk, Ḫupašiya comes out of hiding and ties up the mighty dragon with some rope.
Teshub enters back into the story by slaying Illuyanka.
Meanwhile, Inara instructs Ḫupašiya to stay within a house on a rock in Tarukka. She tells Ḫupašiya that he is to never look out of the house windows as he is to stay hidden from his wife and children. Eventually, after twenty days, Ḫupašiya looks out a window and on seeing his family, demands to be let go.
Inara asks Ḫupašiya why he looked out the window.
Now, this is where the text for the story is damaged and it’s unclear what we missed and why, where it can be read again, Inara has decided to travel to Kiškilušša to give her house and underground spring to the king.
This event though is where the New Year’s festival of Purulli originates.
2nd Myth –
This section begins with the invocations for strong, heavy rain. Illuyanka defeats Teshub, taking his eyes and heart.
Once more, Illuyanka and Teshub battle it out with the might serpent winning. In the aftermath of this defeat, Teshub marries Hebat, the daughter of a poor man named Arm. Together they have a son, Sarruma who grows up and marries Illuyanka’s daughter.
Teshub continually asks Sarruma to request his eyes and heart back from Illuyanka, saying they would make a good wedding gift. Eventually, Illuyanka relents and gives them to Sarruma to bring back to Teshub.
Restored, Teshub heads down to the sea where he battles against Illuyanka. Sarruma realizes he’s been used and sides with his father-in-law, the dragon. Sarruma begs Teshub to kill him too to which, he obliges with a torrent of rain and lightning.
The text then is unclear what happens next. We know that Teshub was about to do something, but this is where the text is damaged.
The rest of the text that can be read, details the different cults, their priests of the various gods, and their merits and revenues.
A relief showing this battle, found at Malatya dates to around 1050-850 B.C.E. This relief is on display at the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara, Turkey.
Hedammu – In Hurrian-Hittite mythology, this is the sea-dragon, son of Kumarbi and Šertapšuruḫi. Hedammu is basically the Hurrian version of Illuyanka.
Puruli – Spring Festival
The festival of Puruli was held every spring, celebrating the arrival of the New Year. The feast of Purulli is held to honor Teshub’s defeating Illuyanka and celebrate the prosperity of people and the fertility of the land.
In this festival, Illuyanka is seen as representing winter, and Teshub’s defeat of the serpent is the ending of winter and the coming of spring.
Sea Serpents By Any Other Name….
Cetus – The Grecian sea monster that depending on the translation given, is either a sea monster or monstrous whale.
Jormungand – This is the infamous sea serpent from Norse mythology that encircles the earth.
Leviathan – The name of a giant, monstrous sea serpent mentioned in the Books of Job, Isaiah, Amos, and Psalms. The story of Baal fighting Leviathan has parallels to the story of Teshub and Illuyanka.
Lotan – Originating more in Canaanite mythology, this is a sea creature much older than Leviathan and was just one of Yam’s many sea servants he could call on. Additionally, Lotan is also known by the name Tannanu which is similar to the name Tannin.
Rahab – A sea serpent associated with the Red Sea, Rahab is often equated with Tannin. It is also the more poetic name for Egypt in medieval Jewish folklore.
Tannin – A monstrous dragon or serpent of Canaanite mythology.
Tiamat – The story of slaying Tiamat in Babylonian mythology has a parallel.