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Ishtar and Inanna and Zombies

October 23, 2009

My exploration of the relationship between Ishtar and Zombies in the Gilgamesh Epic has taken another turn. I recently acquired a copy of Diane Wolkstein and Samuel Noah Kramer’s Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth. The Sumerian goddess Inanna and the Akkadian goddess Ishtar had become largely (and almost completely) synchronized by the time of the writing of the Gilgamesh Epic. As such, examining the relationship between Inanna and the dead can throw light on that Ishtar.

In discussing the story of “Inanna’s Decent to the Netherworld,” Diane Wolkstein comments on the interrelation between Inanna and her sister Ereshkigal, Queen of the Netherworld:

In many ways, Ereshkigal is the other, neglected side of Inanna. Therefore, when she hears of the appearance at her gates of the “all-white” fertile, bedecked Goddess of Love, she is enraged, for Inanna’s light, glory and perpetual movement have, to some extent, been achieved at her expense. (158)

Ereshkigal, the neglected side of Inanna, has certain qualities that are similar to Lilith’s. Both are connected to nighttime aspects of the feminine—the powerful, raging sexuality and the deep wounds accumulated from life’s rejection—which seeks solace in physical union only…. The powerful Lilith of Inanna’s adolescent days had to be sent away so Inanna’s life-exploring talents could be developed. But now that Inannna has become queen of her city, wife to her beloved, mother to her children, she is more able to face what se has neglected and feared: the instinctual, wounded, frightened parts of herself. She now hears, and is capable of respond to, the labor of Ershkigal in the Great Below. (160)

So Ereshkigal and Inanna are doppelgangers and alter egos—sharing many characteristics, but unable to be in the same place. This relationship is extended to Ishtar through the synchronizing of the Inanna and Ishtar.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. October 23, 2009 6:24 pm

    You should publish an essay with this title. I’ll read anything with “Zombies” in the title and I bet a lot of other people would too.

    • October 24, 2009 11:22 am

      Thanks! Since I’m teaching Gilgamesh every semester at this point, I’ve given thought to publishing some of these ideas eventually. I feel like that title (and the whole discussion) might play better to the MLA or AAR than to the AOS. But maybe I’m just reading my crowds wrong.

  2. October 24, 2009 11:04 am

    Such a femme fatale, that Ishtar!

    My question is, how do we relate gods and humans to each other? The intersection of theology and anthropology is more interesting than mere comparisons of traits and features of various goddesses / demons, from Inanna to Lilith.

    For example, since Ishtar convenes “the cult women, prostitutes, harlots,” is she their patron saint of sorts? More generally, is she the patron saint of all seductresses? If so, features in the book of Proverbs’ depiction of the seductress of young men are illuminated.

    Following a long-standing Italian tradition, I read excerpts of the Iliad and the Odyssey to my children in their growing-up years. The dialogues therein between gods and humans are marvelous. The question keeps popping up: it’s all about patronage, and conflicting lines of patronage. Or should we say matronage.

    Funny thing, when I think of Ishtar, I think of Sarah – not the one you are thinking of, but the one in Tobit. It’s easy to connect Ishtar with Lilith, but it is also interesting, by way of contrastive analysis, to connect her with Sarah and the demon she cannot shake.

    • October 24, 2009 11:43 am

      A lot of good ideas running around in here. Patronage/matronage is definitely at issue in Gilgamesh: Shamash and Enlil have a conflict over the fact the former helped Gilgamesh transgress the rules of the latter. The same thing happens with Ea in several stories (Adapa, Atra-Hasis, and maybe the beginning of the Enuma Elish). However, I get a little worried taking the ideas from Sumerian through Akkadian to Hebrew for the “strange woman” of Proverbs.

      When Ishtar wants Gilgamesh, she’s quite forward about it, but she is not married to another. While both Inanna and Ishtar have had many lovers and many bad relationships, their seduction does not break with social convention.

      A better example of the seductress in Proverbs would be Aphrodite (since you mentioned the Greeks). She has Hephaestus as a husband but is still running around with other gods and humans. Not that I think that the Greek myths have a direct influence here, just that she is truer to the picture of a seductress. Unfortunately, none of the goddesses at Ugarit seem to conform to this picture, or we could more easily make the leap to the Hebrew text. Still, if you can think of one, let me know!

      I hadn’t thought of the Sarah of Tobit as an example of the Inanna/Ershkigal internal conflict. Asmodeus is a male demon who might want Sarah for her own and kills all her suitors on their wedding night. I’ve always thought of her more as a woman fighting of an incubus. Seeing Asmodeus as Sarah’s dark side is a fun reading. Asmodeus would be her Lilith/Ershkigal. Hmmm….

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