A goddess mainly known as the wife of Enlil, the head of the early Mesopotamian pantheon, and later of Aššur, the head of the Assyrian pantheon. She first appears in the late fourth millennium BCE and survived into the first centuries CE. She was at times syncretised with various healing and mother goddesses as well as with the goddess Ištar.
Ninlil is primarily known as the wife of Enlil. Reconstructing her original functions depends in part on how the second part of her name is interpreted (see the section on "Name and Spellings" below as well as the "Functions" section in the entry for Enlil). A common but very uncertain interpretation translates Ninlil's name as "Queen of the breeze," assigning Ninlil the same domain as Enlil (however, see the objections raised below under 'Name and Spellings').
Because Ninlil primarily appears as Enlil's consort, she shares some of his characteristics (e.g., his characteristics as creator, father of the gods, head of the pantheon, giver of life). Through her syncretisms (see below) she also took on aspects of healing and mother goddesses, but these seem to be secondary rather than original functions. Her epithets include "Queen of the heavens and the earth, queen of the lands" or "Lady of the gods" and "foremost lady of the Anunna gods" (Krebernik 1998-2001: 460).
Ninlil was syncretised with several goddesses. The foremost among these is Sud, the patron deity of the city of Šurrupag, one of the antediluvian cities mentioned in The Sumerian Kinglist (ETCSL 2.1.1). The Sumerian myth of Enlil and Sud is a literary rendering of this syncretism and relates how Sud married Enlil and thus became Ninlil (ETCSL 1.2.2). In addition, Ninlil was also syncretised with several minor healing and mother goddesses (for more information see Krebernik 1998-2001: 454-57).
The Sumerian myth Enlil and Ninlil (ETCSL 1.2.1) describes how Enlil pursues Ninlil amorously, resulting in Ninlil giving birth to the moon-god Su'en, the underworld deity Nergal, and the gods Ninazu and Enbilulu.
In Herodotus' Histories, Ninlil under the name Mylitta was identified as the Assyrian version of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love (Herodotus, Histories 1.131.3; 1.199.3). It is possible that this identification was due to Ninlil's syncretism with Ištar as the goddess of love and war.
As Enlil's wife, it is likely that Ninlil was worshipped in the same places as her husband (Krebernik 1998-2001: 457). Her main temple at Nippur was called the Eki'ur (Richter 2004: 51-2). In addition, Ninlil was worshipped in the city of Tummal, which has not been located yet but is most likely in the vicinity of Nippur (Krebernik 1998-2001: 457-8; Michalowski 2006). For additional cult places of Ninlil see George 1993; Krebernik 1998-2001: 457-8.
Attestations for Ninlil span about 3000 years. The first attestations can be found in the earliest written documentation from Mesopotamia ("Uruk IV" and "Uruk III", see Englund 2011), her last attestations date well into the Common Era, when she is mentioned as Mylitta in Herodianus's Peri Orthographias, dating to the second century CE (see Krebernik 1998-2001: 453 for possible attestations into the sixth century AD in Hesychius's work).
Very little is known about the iconography of Ninlil/Mulliltu. Some of her later iconography may overlap with that of the goddess Ištar after they were syncretised. Astronomically she is identified with the constellations Ursa Maior (mulmar-gíd-da ereqqu "wagon") and Lyra (mulUZ3 enzu "goat").
The element lil2/líl in Enlil's and Ninlil's names has been strongly debated among Assyriologists (also see the entry on Enlil). Krebernik's interpretation of this element as meaning "breeze" (Akkadian zaqīqu) is problematic as the reference he adduces is a commentary text that belongs to a speculative tradition dating to the Neo-Assyrian period (or possibly earlier), in which gods were associated with winds (STT 2, 400 r 12; see Livingstone 2007: 71-91, especially 75). Ninlil is there associated with the North wind and her name is explained as the "Lady of the breeze". The same text associates Enlil with the East wind and explains his name as the "Lord of all." As there is no earlier evidence for such an interpretation, it has to remain uncertain.
Ninlil's Akkadian name, Mulliltu/Mullissu, is curiously derived from Enlil's Emesal name (Krebernik 1998-2001: 453). The Emesal word for en "lord" is umun, which in Enlil's name was shortened to mun: dmun-lil2, where the n assimilated to the following consonant l: dmu-ul-lil2. In Akkadian a suffix -t- was added to create feminine grammatical gender and so Ninlil's Akkadian name became Mulliltu, and, under the influence of Neo-Assyrian sound changes in which the consontants -lt- become -ss-, Mullissu. This was taken into Greek as Mylitta (see Dalley 1979). Krebernik (1998-2001: 460) suggested that the derivation of Ninlil's Akkadian name from Enlil's Emesal name could indicate that Enlil was already understood as the primary deity from very early on, yet this does not explain why the name was derived from his Emesal rather than his Emegir name.
Nicole Brisch, 'Ninlil (Mulliltu, Mullissu, Mylitta) (goddess)', Ancient Mesopotamian Gods and Goddesses, Oracc and the UK Higher Education Academy, 2016 [http://oracc.museum.upenn.edu/amgg/listofdeities/ninlil/]