To the Sumerians, Mashu was a sacred mountain. Its name means “twin” in Akkadian, and thus was it portrayed on Babylonian cylinder seals—a twin-peaked mountain, described by poets as both the seat of the gods, and the underworld. References or allusions to Mt.Mashu are found in three episodes of the Gilgamesh cycle which date between the third and second millennia BC.
Mashu was located in a forest in the “land of the Living”, where the names of the famous are written. It is alluded to in the episode “Gilgamesh and Humbaba”.
In this story, Gilgamesh and his friend, Enkidu, travel to the Cedar (or Pine) Forest which is ruled over by a demonic monster named Humbaba. While their motives for going to the Forest included gaining renown, it is also clear that they wanted the timber it contained. Humbaba, who had been appointed by the god Enlil to guard the Forest, is depicted as a one-eyed giant with the powers of a storm and breath of fire, perhaps the personification of a volcano. It is only with the help of another god, and a magically forged weapon that Gilgamesh triumphs over Humbaba.
But before his battle, Gilgamesh and Enkidu gaze in awe at the mountain called “the mountain of cedars, the dwelling-place of the gods and the throne of Ishtar” (Inanna). They climb onto the mountain, sacrifice cereals to it, and, in response, the mountain sends them puzzling dreams about their futures. When they begin to fell trees, Humbaba senses their presence and, enraged, fixes his eye of death on the pair. Although Gilgamesh finally defeats the monster, Enkidu eventually weakens and dies from Humbaba’s gaze and curse.
In addition to its reputation as the “land of the Living”, this forest is also a way to the underworld or the other world. For right after killing Humbaba, Gilgamesh continues in the forest and “uncovered the sacred dwelling of the Anunaki”—old gods who, like the Greek Titans, had been banished to the underworld. Furthermore, Gilgamesh seems to go into a death-like trance here; and in the same general region, the goddess Ishtar, whom Gilgamesh spurned, threatened to break in the doors of hell and bring up the dead to eat with the living.
Mashu is mentioned directly in the episode “Gilgamesh and the Search for Everlasting Life”. This story unfolds after the death of Gilgamesh’s friend, Enkidu, a wrenching experience which makes Gilgamesh face his own mortality and go searching for eternal life. It is en route to Utnapishtim, the one mortal to achieve immortality, that Gilgamesh comes to Mashu “the great mountain, which guards the rising and setting sun. Its twin peaks are as high as the wall of heaven and its roots reach down to the underworld. At its gate the Scorpions stand guard, half man and half dragon; their glory is terrifying; their stare strikes death into men, their shining halo sweeps the mountains that guard the rising sun”(69). Gilgamesh is able to convince the Scorpion-people to open the gate and let him enter the long tunnel through the mountains. Eventually Gilgamesh emerges from the tunnel into a fantastic Garden of the gods, whose trees bear glittering jewels instead of fruit.
In the view of several scholars, Mashu is also the mountain mentioned in the story that Utnapishtim told Gilgamesh. Utnapishtim, sometimes called the “Sumerian Noah”, told Gilgamesh how the gods had become angered with humanity and decided on the Flood as one means to exterminate it. A sympathetic god warned Utnapishtim and told him to build a boat and board it with his family, relatives, craftsmen, and the seed of all living creatures. After six days of tempest and flood, Utnapishtim’s boat grounded on a mountain. He released a dove and a swallow, both of which returned to him. Then he released a raven which did not return; Utnapishtim and his family came down from the mountain. When the disgruntled gods are finally reconciled with the re-emergence of humanity, Utnapishtim and his wife are taken by the god Enlil to live in the blessed place where Gilgamesh found him “in the distance, at the mouth of the rivers”.
Masis / Massis, the name of mount Ararat in Armenian, is a common first name for Armenian males, and is a common name for Armenian associations and organizations. It is also a city and a village in Armenia.
Aratta was a city, city-state, or country with which Sumerians had close trade and religious ties in the third millennium B.C. Its location is not known. Of four general sites suggested for Aratta, two are located in eastern Asia Minor: the Van-Urmia area and the Ayrarat district of historical Armenia.
The four myths outlined above portray Aratta as a wealthy and militarily powerful state with which Sumer had relations from very early times. It was located some distance from Sumer and protected by its forbidding mountains, but it was not so distant as to prevent trade relations. Aratta had building materials, precious stones, metals and craftsmen skilled in their transformation. Aratta also had primacy with regard to the religion of the mother goddess, Inanna, who resided in Aratta, was the patron of that state, and was taken or lured south to Sumerian cities. Uruk and Aratta also were in contest for military superiority—each demanding the submission of the other.
The method of transporting the “stones of the mountain” from Aratta to Uruk and of transporting grain from Uruk to Aratta seems consistent with such trade historically between the Armenian highlands and areas to its south, namely, by boat from Aratta south, and by pack animal from Uruk north. If Aratta is indeed located in eastern Asia Minor, the general implication of the Aratta cycle of myths is that Aratta played a seminal role in the development of religion in Sumer, as well as in the construction of its cult structures; and that trade and diplomacy between the two states was of such importance that writing was developed specifically for them.