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Kur is a Sumerian word that expressed a broad variety of meanings. In Sumerian religion, kur is normally used as a name for the Underworld, Irkalla, which is often personified as the first dragon, the Sumerian equivalent of the Babylonian Tiamat. The same word was often used to refer to the Zagros Mountains to the east of Sumer. Additionally, the word could also mean "foreign land". The cuneiform for kur was written ideographically with the cuneiform sign 𒆳, a pictograph of a mountain.
Kur as a word for "land" or "mountain"
Although the word for earth was Ki, kur came to also mean "land." Sumer itself was sometimes called kur-gal "great land." Kur-gal could also mean "great mountain" and was a metonym for both Nippur and Enlil, who was believed to rule from that city. The é-kur "Mountain House" was the temple of Enlil at Nippur.
Kur as a name for the Underworld
In many myths, the word kur is used as the name of the Underworld. It is possible that the flames on escaping gas plumes in parts of the Zagros Mountains would have given those mountains a meaning not entirely consistent with the primary meaning of mountains and an abode of a god. The eastern mountains as an abode of the god with the farther East as the origin of all gods was popular in religions of the ancient Near East. Another common name for the Underworld was ki-gal "Great Land." The ruler of the Underworld in Sumerian mythology was the goddess Ereshkigal, whose name literally means "Ruler of the Great Land."
Kur as the name of the first dragon
In later Babylonian religion, kur is possibly an Anunnaki, brother of Ereshkigal, Inanna, Enki, and Enlil. In the Enûma Eliš and in Akkadian tablets from the first millennium BC, kur is part of the retinue of Tiamat, and seems to be a snakelike dragon. In one story, the slaying of the great serpent kur results in the flooding of the earth.
A cylinder seal from the first millennium BC shows a winged, fire-spitting dragon with a nude woman between its wings pulling the chariot of the god who has subdued it. Another depicts a god riding a dragon. A third seal depicts a goddess riding on the back of a dragon.
- Kramer, Samuel Noah. Sumerian Mythology: A Study of Spiritual and Literary Achievement in the Third Millennium B.C.: Revised Edition. University of Pennsylvania Press, 1961, Philadelphia.
- "Sumerian Mythology" by Samuel Noah Kramer, p.110
- "Scenes from the Shadow Side", Frans Wiggermann, Mesopotamian Poetic Language, Brill, 1996, pp. 208-209
- Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia: An Illustrated Dictionary:Jeremy A. Black, Anthony Green, Tessa Rickards, University of Texas Press, 1992 ISBN 0-292-70794-0, p 114
- http://www.sacred-texts.com/ane/sum/sum08.htm "Sumerian Mythology"] by Samuel Noah Kramer p.110 passim
- http://www.sacred-texts.com/ane/sum/sum08.htm "Sumerian Mythology"] by Samuel Noah Kramer, p. 112
- http://www.sacred-texts.com/ane/sum/sum08.htm "Sumerian Mythology"] by Samuel Noah Kramer, p. 114