Telepinu- The Hittite Fertility Myth

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Traditional tales known as myths make an effort to explain some timeless events that have fascinated ancient civilizations, which heavily rely on natural forces. The gods of fertility had a crucial role in the majority of ancient cultures because they were largely dependent on agricultural products for survival. The fertility god was known as Telepinu among the Hittite Civilization, which existed between 2000 and 1200 B.C. in Northern Mesopotamia (Rosenberg 22). According to the Hittite fertility myth, Telepinu had a short fuse and his rage was always responsible for suffering, including the withering of vegetation and infertility in livestock (Rosenberg 22). One day Telepinu woke up enraged, left his home area to the countryside, and slept in a meadow to rest. During his absence, plants withered, the earth dried up, and animals became barren. Attempts by the sun god, and the great mother goddess, Hannahanna, to find Telepinu first proved futile. Eventually, Hannahanna sent a bee to look for the fertility god. The bee found Telepinu sleeping and stung him several times as instructed by the great mother goddess to wake him up (Rosenberg 24). The fertility god woke up angrier but was soothed by the goddess of healing, Kamrusepas. The return of Telepinu brought fertility back to the Hittite community and the people thrived (Rosenberg 25). This paper will analyze the Telepinu myth by discussing the greater meaning, the interpretation of the symbols used, human issues, the major characters and their representation, and the Hittite culture and values as depicted in the myth.

The Greater Meaning and Symbolism in Telepinu’s Myth

Telepinu was an anthropomorphic deity; he had human characteristics. For instance, he was short tempered, got tired, and fell asleep. All these are indications of the human qualities of the fertility god. They are also signs of a close relationship between Telepinu and the people. The epic cycle in the fertility myth starts with Telepinu’s anger, which made him leave his land full of misery due to drought and famine. This occurrence symbolically represents death; plants and animals could not reproduce and flourish in absence of the fertility god. Putting on shoes on the wrong feet indicate a disharmony and disorderliness and disruption of the cosmos due to the fertility god’s anger. After Telepinu’s departure, mist and smoke covered the window and the house respectively (Rosenberg 25). This represents loss of clarity and vision, resulting to confusion (Della Casa 102). When Telepinu disappears out of anger, the sun god is ready to kill the storm god for offending his son. This shows that the fertility god was very significant in the Hittite culture. While great and lesser gods had failed to find Telepinu, Nintu sent a little bee. The selection of a bee was symbolic; most vegetation undergo reproduction after a bee-assisted pollination process (Della Casa 105). Similarly, as Telepinu is the god of fertility, the bee can be interpreted to be his assistant, and thus the most likely creature to find him.

The bee stings the fertility god awake and smears his eyes and feet with wax as a sign of purification. This cleansing of the eyes is understood as a clarification of vision earlier lost due to anger. There is therefore hope for life after death and a recovery of the lost orderliness in the cosmos. Sleep is symbolically linked to death while waking up showed that the god of fertility overcame not only the physical fatigue that had been the cause of the nap, but also the power of darkness (Della Casa 106). It is a symbol of Telepinu’s rebirth in preparation to bring back life to his community in the form of fertility.

The bee stings and the waking up fill Telepinu with rage, which causes a lot of destruction to the community (Rosenberg 24). A flood sweeps off people and cities and animals. It is ironic that the purification process prescribed by Hannahanna has brought problems. However, the significance of this occurrence is portrayed later after a priest, human and male, prays for Telepinu. The god of fertility calms down after the prayer from the chosen human male and soothing from the goddess of healing. The anger in Telepinu can therefore be interpreted as a sigh of demon possession which was exorcised through prayers. The selection of a human male to conduct the prayers concurs with the practices of the ancient agricultural societies where power priests were highly significant in rivalling the powers of kings. From the fertility myth, the gods could not calm Telepinu’s rage and such roles required the intervention of a human priest. This is an indication of a strong bond between human and god in the ancient civilization. When Telepinu calmed, nature was restored to its original state. The economic stability recovered was a symbol of life after death.

The rituals that dissipate the fertility god’s anger after the bee stings were also symbolic and very meaningful. For instance, the priest sprinkling Telepinu’s ‘path’ with sweet smelling oil was symbolically done to ease the return of the fertility god back to the Hittite world. The olives, honey and wax, grape juice, specific kinds of fruits and water were used in the ritual. Similarly, the Hittites culturally and traditionally attracted gods through preparations of paths of oils, cereals, fabric, and honey.

The Cosmic Space

The cosmos, according to the Fertility myth, symbolized a world full of life (Della Casa 266). It is described to contain buildings, animals and people, which meant that it was inhabited. Houses, a cattle barn, alters and windows are mentioned in the myth, and are signs of life and people occupation of the cosmic pace. Human beings are referred to as “the Mortal”. Elements of the nature, which include springs, trees, mountains and pastures are also part of the cosmic space (Della Casa 265). The Hittite world was under the care of the gods. When Telepinu fled, he neglected his responsibilities of taking care of the world, and famine struck. The riches and the abundance of the Hittite world vanished when the fertility god left the land.

The Chaotic Space

The countryside, also referred to as the meadow and the moor in the fertility myth can be interpreted to mean ‘that other place’ away from the cosmos space, the Hittite world. The description of mist and smoke covering the windows imply that the region outside the cosmos is inhospitable, wild and hostile (Della Casa 267). When the god of fertility woke up angered and left the cosmos, the harsh conditions of the outside space seized the protected or sacred area, the Hittite land. The space that surrounds the cosmos can therefore be symbolically described as chaotic and unstructured. The phrase ‘meadow of the other world’ can be interpreted to mean the dwelling place of the dead Hittite royalty (Della Casa 267). It is in this space that Telepinu, the god of fertility, falls asleep, or is transformed into a different state of being. ‘The moor’ means that the chaotic space was muddy, damp, or aquatic in nature, therefore inhabitable and thus, the halenzu-plant grew over him.

Major Characters and their Representation

Telepinu is depicted as the most important of all the other gods among the Hittites. His anger and disappearance brings a lot of unrest among the other gods. Hannahanna and the other gods are troubled that without Telepinu they would die of hunger. The storm god and his father blame one another over who offended Telepinu and the sun god is ready to kill the one who turns guilty of the fertility gods anger and disappearance. Human male priests are also vital characters in the Hittite culture and the Telepinu fertility myth. They performed rituals that scared away the demons of anger in Telepinu and purified him, a role that the other gods could not have performed. The goddess of healing and magic contributed to the recovery of the cosmic space by soothing Telepinu using essence of figs, cedar and sesame and chanting. This way, the priests played a critical role in bringing back the lost abundance and fertility of the Hittite land. Similarly, Hannahanna, the mother of all the gods, and the bee represent the center or the nucleus of the cosmic space. They both portray the positive aspects of the Hittite world; they collectively work and succeed in bringing back the god of fertility (Della Casa 272). Hannahanna was optimistic that the bee would find Telepinu after ‘the greater and the lesser gods’ had failed. Despite criticism from Tarhun, who described the bee as small and weak (Della Casa 106). The bee finds the fertility god, wakes him up by stinging, and purifies him by smearing wax on his eyes and feet as instructed by Nintu. This is an indication that the bee and Hannahanna, both represent a sacred unity in the fertility myth. Hannahanna is also depicted as a god with authority over all the other gods. The storm god approaches her first after the disappearance of Telepinu to seek guidance. She is the one who sends other gods and the bee, with instructions, to find the god of fertility.


The fertility myth of Telepinu among the Hittites is a clear indication of the importance of fertility gods in the ancient civilization. The myth narrates how significant Telepinu was in the Hittite community. The epic cycle is clearly portrayed, where the fertility gods anger, disappearance, sleep in a chaotic space, and the resultant misery in the Hittite world represent death. On the other hand, life and the rebirth of the Hittites is represented by the come back and purification of their god of fertility. The cosmic and the chaotic spaces represent the Hittite land, which was full of life and abundance, and the ‘other’ world, which was wild, hostile and inhabitable. The fertility myth, therefore, is mainly about the rebuilding practices of the Hittites on their land. This paper has discussed the greater meaning, symbols, characters and some cultures of the Hittite fertility myth.

Work Cited

Della Casa, Romina. "A Theoretical Perspective of the Telepinu Myth: Archetypes and Initiation Rites in Historical Contexts." Antiguo Oriente, 8.2010 (2010): 97-116.

—. "Symbolic Representations of the Sacred Space/Landscape in the Telepinu Myth." Proceedings of the Eighth international Congress of Hittitology. Ed. Piotr Taracha. Warsaw: Agade, 2011. 262-275.

Rosenberg, Donna. World Mythology. Third. New York: McGraw-Hill Education, 2001.

April 13, 2023
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