The Descent Of Ishtar

from Stephanie Dalley's book Myths of Mesopotamia.

Prenotes The Akkadian story is first attested in Late Bronze Age texts, in both Babylonia and Assyria, and later from the palace library at Nineveh. It is a short composition of some 140 lines, and seems to end with ritual instructions for the taklimtu, an annual ritual known from Assyrian texts, which took place in the month of Dumuzi (Tammuz = June/July) and featured the bathing, anointing, and lying - in - state in Ninevah of a statue of Dumuzi. The Sumerian version, the Descent Of Inanna, is attested much earlier, and I much longer, consisting of some 410 lines. It is a fuller, more detailed account, and shows clearly that Dumuzi periodically died and rose, causing seasonal fertility, a fact which has been doubted until 1963, when a newly published fragment disclosed the crucial evidence. This version contains no ritual or incantation. However, like the Akkadian version, it seems to represent the goddess as a cult statue, and it has been suggested that the goddesses statue makes a ritual journey from Uruk, her home town, to Kutha, seat of the Under world deities. Certain lines of text in the Descent of Ishtar are also found in Nergal and Erishkigal and in Gilgamesh.

The Story:

To Kurnugi, land of no return, Ishtar, daughter of Sin was determined to go, The daughter of Sin was determined to go To the dark house, dwelling of Erkalla's god, To the house which those who enter cannot leave, On the road where travelling is one way only, To the house where those who enter are deprived of light, Where dust is their food, clay their bread. They see no light, they dwell in darkness, They are clothed like birds, with feathers. Over the door and bolt, dust has settled. Ishtar, when she arrived at the gate of Kurnugi, Addressed her words to the keeper of the gate,

'Here gatekeeper, open your gate for me, Open your gate for me to come in! If you do not open the gate for me to come in, I shall smash the door and shatter the bolt, I shall smash the door post and overturn the doors, I shall raise up the dead and they shall eat the living: The dead shall outnumber the living!'

The gatekeeper made his voice heard and spoke, He said to great Ishtar,

'Stop, lady, do not break it down! Let me report your words to queen Erishkigal.'

The gate keeper went in and spoke to Erishkigal,

'Here she is, your sister Ishtar … Who holds the great keppu toy, Stirs up the Apsu in Ea's presence …'

When Erishkigal heard this, Her face grew livid as cut tamarisk, Her lips grew dark as the rim of a kuninu vessel,

'What brings her to me? What has incited her against me? Surely not because I drink water with the Anunnaki, I eat clay for bread, I drink muddy water for beer? I have to weep for young men forced to abandon sweethearts. I have to weep for girls wrenched from their lovers laps. For the infant child I have to weep, expelled before its time. Go, gatekeeper, open your gate to her. Treat her according to the ancient rites.'

The gate keeper went, he opened the gate to her.

'Enter my lady: May Kutha give you joy, May the place of Kurnugi be glad to see you.'

He let her in through the first door, but stripped off and took away the great crown of her head.

'Gatekeeper, why have you taken away the great crown from my head?'

'Go in, my lady. Such are the rites of the Mistress of Earth.'

He let her in through the second door, but stripped off and took away the rings in her ears.

'Gatekeeper, why have you taken away the rings in my ears?'

'Go in, my lady. Such are the rites of the Mistress of Earth.'

He let her in through the second door, but stripped off and took away the rings in her ears.

'Gatekeeper, why have you taken away the rings in my ears?'

'Go in, my lady. Such are the rites of the Mistress of Earth.'

He let her in through the third door, but stripped off and took away the beads around her neck.

'Gatekeeper, why have you taken away the beads around my neck?'

'Go in, my lady. Such are the rites of the Mistress of Earth.'

He let her in through the fourth door, but stripped off and took away the toggle pins at her breast.

'Gatekeeper, why have you taken away the toggle pins at my breast?'

'Go in, my lady. Such are the rites of the Mistress of Earth.'

He let her in through the fifth door, but stripped off and took away the girdle of birth stones around her waist.

'Gatekeeper, why have you taken away the girdle of birthstones around my waist?'

'Go in, my lady. Such are the rites of the Mistress of Earth.'

He let her in through the sixth door, but stripped off and took away the bangles on her wrists and ankles.

'Gatekeeper, why have you taken away the bangles from my wrists and ankles?'

'Go in, my lady. Such are the rites of the Mistress of Earth.'

He let her in through the seventh door, but stripped off and took away the proud garment of her body.

'Gatekeeper, why have you taken away the proud garment of my body?'

'Go in, my lady. Such are the rites of the Mistress of Earth.'

As soon as Ishtar went down to Kurnugi, Erishkigal looked at her and trembled before her. Ishtar did not deliberate, but leant over her. Erishkigal made her voice heard and spoke, Addressed her words to Namtar her visier,

'Go, Namtar … of my … Send out against her sixty diseases … Ishtar: Disease of the eyes to her , Disease of the arms to her, Disease of the feet to her, Disease of the heart to her, Disease of the head to her, To every part of her and to …'

After Ishtar the mistress of … had gone down to Kurnugi, No bull mounted a cow, no donkey impregnated a jenny, No young man impregnated a girl in the street, The young man slept in his private room, The girl slept in the company of her friends. Then Papsukal, visier of the great gods, hung his head, his face became gloomy, He wore mourning clothes, his hair was unkempt. Dejected, he went and wept before Sin hi father, His tears flowed freely before king Ea.

'Ishtar has gone down to the earth and not come up again. No bull mounted a cow, no donkey impregnated a jenny, No young man impregnated a girl in the street, The young man slept in his private room, The girl slept in the company of her friends.'

Ea, in the wisdom of his heart, created a person. He created Good-looks the playboy.

'Come, Good-looks, set your face towards the gate of Kurnugi. The seven gates of Kurnugi shall be opened before you. Erishkigal shall look at you and be glad to see you. When she is relaxed, her mood will lighten. Get her to swear the oath by the great gods. Raise your head, pay attention to the water skin, Saying "Hey, my lady, let them give me the water skin, that I may drink from it."

(And so it happened but)

When Erishkigal heard this, She struck her thigh and bit her finger.

'You have made a request of me that should not have been made!' Come, Good-looks, I shall curse you with a great curse. I shall decree for you a fate that shall never be forgotten. Bread gleaned from the cities plough shall be your food, The cities drains shall be your only drinking place, The shade of the city wall shall be your only standing place, Threshold steps your only sitting place, The drunkard and the thirsty shall slap your cheek.'

Erishkigal made her voice heard and spoke; She addressed her words to Namtar her visier, Decorate the threshold steps with coral, Bring the Anunnaki out and seat them on golden thrones, Sprinkle Ishtar with the waters of life and conduct her into my presence.'

Namtar went and knocked at Egalgina, Decorated the threshold steps with coral, Brought out the Anunnaki, seated them on golden thrones, Sprinkled Ishtar with the waters of life and brought her to her sister. He let her out through the first door, and gave to her the proud garment of her body. He let her out through the second door and gave to her the bangles for her wrists and ankles. He let her out through the third door and gave back to her the girdle of birthstones around her waist. He let her out through the fourth door and gave back to her the toggle pins at her breast. He let her out through the fifth door and gave back to her the beads around her neck. He let her out through the sixth door and gave back to her the rings for her ears. He let her out through the seventh door, and gave back to her the great crown for her head.

'Swear that she has paid you her ransom, and give her back in exchange for him, For Dumuzi, the lover of her youth. Wash him with pure water, anoint him with sweet oil, Clothe him in a red robe, let the lapis lazuli pipe play. Let the party girls raise a loud lament.'

Then Belili tore of her jewelry, Her lap was filled with eye stones. Belili heard the lament for her brother, she struck the jewelry from her body, The eye stones with which the front of the wild cow was filled.

'You shall not rob me forever of my only brother! On the day when Dumuzi comes back up, and the lapis lazuli pipe and the carnelian ring come up with him, When male and female mourners come up with him, The dead shall come up and smell the smoke offering,

…three lines missing…