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|Queen of Heaven|
Goddess of Love, War, Fertility and Lust
|Symbol||Sky, Clouds, Wars, Birth, Skin|
|Parents||Sin and Ningal|
|Siblings||Utu, Ishkur and Ereshkigal|
|Children||Lulal and Shara|
|Queen of Heaven|
Goddess of Love, War, Fertility and Lust
|Symbol||Sky, Clouds, Wars, Birth, Skin|
|Parents||Sin and Ningal|
|Siblings||Utu, Ishkur and Ereshkigal|
|Children||Lulal and Shara|
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|Religion in Mesopotamia|
Inanna can be considered the most prominent female deity in ancient Mesopotamia. As early as the Uruk period (ca. 4000–3100 BC), Inanna was associated with the city of Uruk. The famous Uruk Vase (found in a deposit of cult objects of the Uruk III period) depicts a row of naked men carrying various objects, bowls, vessels, and baskets of farm produce, and bringing sheep and goats, to a female figure facing the ruler. This figure was ornately dressed for a divine marriage, and attended by a servant. The female figure holds the symbol of the two twisted reeds of the doorpost, signifying Inanna behind her, while the male figure holds a box and stack of bowls, the later cuneiform sign signifying En, or high priest of the temple. Especially in the Uruk period, the symbol of a ring-headed doorpost is associated with Inanna.
Seal impressions from the Jemdet Nasr period (ca. 3100–2900 BC) show a fixed sequence of city symbols including those of Ur, Larsa, Zabalam, Urum, Arina, and probably Kesh. It is likely that this list reflects the report of contributions to Inanna at Uruk from cities supporting her cult. A large number of similar sealings were found from the slightly later Early Dynastic I phase at Ur, in a slightly different order, combined with the rosette symbol of Inanna, that were definitely used for this purpose. They had been used to lock storerooms to preserve materials set aside for her cult. Inanna's primary temple of worship was the Eanna, located in Uruk (c.f. Worship).
Inanna's name derives from Queen of Heaven (Sumerian: nin-anna). The cuneiform sign of Inanna (𒈹); however, is not a ligature of the signs lady (Sumerian: nin; Cuneiform: 𒊩𒌆 SAL.TUG2) and sky (Sumerian: an; Cuneiform: 𒀭 AN). These difficulties have led some early Assyriologists to suggest that originally Inanna may have been a Proto-Euphratean goddess, possibly related to the Hurrian mother goddess Hannahannah, accepted only latterly into the Sumerian pantheon, an idea supported by her youthfulness, and that, unlike the other Sumerian divinities, at first she had no sphere of responsibilities The view that there was a Proto-Euphratean substrate language in Southern Iraq before Sumerian is not widely accepted by modern Assyriologists.
Along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers were many shrines and temples dedicated to Inanna. The House of Heaven (Sumerian: e2-anna; Cuneiform: 𒂍𒀭 E2.AN) temple in Uruk was the greatest of these, where sacred prostitution was a common practice. In addition, according to Leick (1994) persons of asexual or hermaphroditic bodies and feminine men were particularly involved in the worship and ritual practices of Inanna's temples (see gala). The deity of this fourth-millennium city was probably originally An. After its dedication to Inanna the temple seems to have housed priestesses of the goddess. The high priestess would choose for her bed a young man who represented the shepherd Dumuzid, consort of Inanna, in a hieros gamos or sacred marriage, celebrated during the annual Akitu (New Year) ceremony, at the spring Equinox. According to Samuel Noah Kramer in The Sacred Marriage Rite, in late Sumerian history (end of the third millennium) kings established their legitimacy by taking the place of Dumuzi in the temple for one night on the tenth day of the New Year festival. A Sacred Marriage to Inanna may have conferred legitimacy on a number of rulers of Uruk. Gilgamesh is reputed to have refused marriage to Inanna, on the grounds of her misalliance with such kings as Lugalbanda and Damuzi.
Inanna's symbol is an eight-pointed star or a rosette. She was associated with lions – even then a symbol of power – and was frequently depicted standing on the backs of two lionesses. Her cuneiform ideogram was a hook-shaped twisted knot of reeds, representing the doorpost of the storehouse (and thus fertility and plenty).
Inanna was associated with the celestial planet Venus. There are hymns to Inanna as her astral manifestation. It also is believed that in many myths about Inanna, including Inanna's Descent to the Underworld and Inanna and Shukaletuda, her movements correspond with the movements of Venus in the sky. Also, because of its positioning so close to Earth, Venus moves rather irregularly across the sky, and never travels all the way across the dome of the sky as most celestial bodies do, instead, Venus rises in the East and the West in both the morning and evening. Because of Venus' erratic movements (it disappears behind the sun from 90–3 days at a time and then reappears on the other horizon), some cultures did not recognize Venus as single entity, but rather two separate stars on each horizon as the morning and evening star. The Mesopotamians, however, most likely understood that the planet was one entity. A cylinder seal from the Jemdet Nasr period expresses the knowledge that both morning and evening stars were the same celestial entity. The erratic movements of Venus relate to both mythology as well as Inanna's erratic nature. Like Venus, Inanna seems unpredictable in her actions, being both the goddess of love and war, having both masculine and feminine qualities, and occasionally having temper tantrums. However, Mesopotamian literature takes this comparison one step further, explaining Inanna's physical movements in mythology as similar to the movements of Venus in the sky.
Inanna's Descent to the Underworld explains how Inanna is able to, unlike any other deity, descend into the netherworld and return to the heavens. The planet Venus appears to make a similar descent, setting in the West and then rising again in the East.
In Inanna and Shukaletuda, in search of her attacker, Inanna makes several movements throughout the myth that correspond with the movements of Venus in the sky. An introductory hymn explains Inanna leaving the heavens and heading for Kur, what could be presumed to be, the mountains, replicating the rising and setting of Inanna to the West. Shukaletuda also is described as scanning the heavens in search of Inanna, possibly to the eastern and western horizons.
Inanna is the goddess of love – but not marriage. She is connected with extramarital sex and sensual affairs, prowling streets and taverns for sexual adventure. In the Babylonian epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh points out Inanna's infamous ill-treatment of her lovers. Inanna also has a very complicated relationship with her lover, Dumuzi, in "Inanna's Descent to the Underworld" (c.f. "Inanna's Descent to the Underworld").
She also is one of the Sumerian war deities: "She stirs confusion and chaos against those who are disobedient to her, speeding carnage and inciting the devastating flood, clothed in terrifying radiance. It is her game to speed conflict and battle, untiring, strapping on her sandals." Battle itself is sometimes referred to as "the dance of Inanna."
Consider her description in one hymn: "When the servants let the flocks loose, and when cattle and sheep are returned to cow-pen and sheepfold, then, my lady, like the nameless poor, you wear only a single garment. The pearls of a prostitute are placed around your neck, and you are likely to snatch a man from the tavern." Despite her association with mating and fertility of humans and animals, Inanna was not a mother goddess, although she is associated with childbirth in certain myths. Inanna also was associated with rain and storms and with the planet Venus, the morning and evening star. as was the Greco-Roman goddess Aphrodite or Venus.
Inanna has a central role in the myth of Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta. A major theme in the narrative is the rivalry between the rulers of Aratta and Uruk for the heart of Inanna. Ultimately, this rivalry results in natural resources coming to Uruk and the invention of writing. The text describes a tension between the cities:
The lord of Aratta placed on his head the golden crown for Inana. But he did not please her like the lord of Kulaba (A district in Uruk). Aratta did not build for holy Inana (sic.; Alternate spelling of 'Inanna') — unlike the Shrine E-ana (Temple in Uruk for Inanna).
Text Summary: The city Aratta is structured as a mirror image of Uruk, only Aratta has natural resources (i.e. gold, silver, lapis lazuli) that Uruk needs. Enmerkar, king in Uruk, comes to Inanna requesting that a temple be built in Uruk with stones from Aratta, and she orders him to find a messenger to cross the Zubi mountains and go to the Lord of Aratta demanding precious metals for the temple. The messenger makes the journey and all the peoples he passes along the way praise Inanna. He makes his demands, and the Lord of Aratta refuses, saying that Aratta will not submit to Uruk. He is upset, however, to learn that Inanna is pleased with the Shrine E-ana. The Lord of Aratta issues a challenge to Enmerkar to bring barley to Aratta because Aratta is currently experiencing a severe famine. Enmerkar mobilizes men and donkeys to deliver the food. Still, the Lord of Aratta will not submit. A series of riddles, or challenges, follows. Enermerkar, with the wisdom of Enki succeeds at every task. Eventually, the Lord of Aratta challenges Enmerka to have a champion from each city fight in one-on-one combat. By this point, however, the messenger is tired. Enmerkar gives him a message, but he is unable to repeat it verbally. So, the messenger writes it down, thus inventing writing:
(Enmerkar's) speech was substantial, and its contents extensive. The messenger, whose mouth was heavy, was not able to repeat it. Because the messenger, whose mouth was tired, was not able to repeat it, the lord of Kulaba patted some clay and wrote the message as if on a tablet. Formerly, the writing of messages on clay was not established. Now, under that sun and on that day, it was indeed so. The lord of Kulaba inscribed the message like a tablet.
The Lord of Aratta cannot read the text, but the god Ishkur causes rains to end the drought in Aratta. The Lord of Aratta decides that his city has not been forsaken after all. The champion of Aratta dresses in a "garment of lion skins," possibly a reference to Inanna. The end of the text is an unclear, but it seems that the city of Uruk is able to access Aratta's resources.
According to one story, Inanna tricked the god of culture, Enki, who was worshipped in the city of Eridu, into giving her the Mes. The Mes were documents or tablets which were blueprints to civilization. They represented everything from abstract notions like Victory and Counsel and Truth to technologies like weaving to writing to social constructs like law, priestly offices, kingship, and even prostitution. They granted power over, or possibly existence to, all the aspects of civilization (both positive and negative). Inanna traveled to Enki's city Eridu, and by getting him drunk, she got him to give her hundreds of Mes, which she took to her city of Uruk. Later, when sober, Enki sent mighty Abgallu (sea monsters, from ab, sea or lake + gal, big + lu, man) to stop her boat as it sailed the Euphrates and retrieve his gifts, but she escaped with the Mes and brought them to her city. This story may represent the historic transfer of power from Eridu to Uruk.
The story begins with an introductory hymn to praise Inanna. The goddess then journeys about the world, until she comes across Mount Ebih, and is subsequently angered by its seeming lack of respect and natural beauty, and rails at the mountain:
Mountain, because of your elevation, because of your height,
Because of your goodness, because of your beauty,
Because you wore a holy garment,
Because An organized (?) you,
Because you did not bring (your) nose close to the ground,
Because you did not press (your) lips in the dust.
She petitions to the god An to allow her to destroy the mountain. An refuses, but Inanna proceeds to attack and destroy the mountain regardless, utterly annihilating it and leaving sad destruction in her wake. In the conclusion of the myth, she tells Ebih why she attacked it.
Inanna and Shukaletuda begins with a hymn to Inanna which praises her as the planet Venus (as it appears in the sky).
The story then goes on to introduce the reader to Shukaletuda, a gardener who is terrible at his job and partially blind. All of his plants die, with the exception of one poplar tree. Shukaletuda prays to the deities for guidance in his work. To his surprise, the goddess Inanna, sees his one poplar tree and decides to rest under that shade of its branches. While Inanna is asleep, Shukaletuda decides it would be a good idea to undress and rape her. The goddess awakes and realizes she was violated in her sleep. She is furious and determined to bring her attacker to justice. In a fit of rage, Inanna unleashes plagues upon the Earth to punish and identify her attacker. She turns water to blood in attempt to punish her rapist. Shukaletuda, terrified for his life, asks his father for advice on how to escape Inanna's wrath. His father tells him to hide in the city, amongst the hordes of people and blend in. Inanna searches the mountains of the East for her attacker, and is not able to find him. She then releases a series of storms and closes the roads to the city, and is still unable to find Shukaletuda in the mountains. After her plagues, Inanna is still not able to find her rapist and asks Enki for help in revealing him. Inanna threatens to leave her temple at Uruk unless Enki helps her find her attacker. He consents, and allows her to "fly across the sky like a rainbow". Inanna finally find Shukaletuda. He attempts to make his excuses for his crime against her, but she will have nothing to do with it and kills him.
This myth and Shukaletuda is cited as a Sumerian Astral myth, as the movements of Inanna to only the mountains correspond with the movements of the planet, Venus. When Shukaletuda was praying to the goddess, he may have been looking toward Venus in the horizon.
This fragmentary myth focuses on the actions of Gudam, who is described as a fierce warrior, who dined on flesh and drank blood instead of beer. Gudam walks through Uruk, killing many and damaging the Eanna temple, until a "fisherman of Inanna" turns his axe against him and defeats him. Gudam, humbled, pleads to Inanna for forgiveness, promising to praise her through words and offerings.
This myth, also fragmentary, begins with a conversation between Inanna and her brother Utu. She laments the fact that the Eanna temple is not of their domain, and resolves to reach or secure it. The text becomes increasingly fragmentary at this point in the narrative, but appears to describe her difficult passage through a marshland to reach it, while being advised by a fisherman as to the best route.
Ultimately she reaches her father, Anu. While he is shocked by her arrogance in attempting to capture the Eanna temple for herself, he nevertheless concedes that she has succeeded and it is now her domain. The text ends with an exaltation of her qualities and powers. This myth may represent an eclipse in the authority of the priests of Anu in Uruk, and a transfer of power to the priests of Inanna.
The story of Inanna's descent to the underworld is a relatively well-attested and reconstructed composition.
In Sumerian religion, the Underworld was conceived of as a dreary, dark place; a home to deceased heroes and ordinary people alike. While everyone suffered an eternity of poor conditions, certain behavior while alive, notably creating a family to provide offerings to the deceased, could alleviate conditions somewhat.
Inanna's reason for visiting the underworld is unclear. The reason she gives to the gatekeeper of the underworld is that she wants to attend the funeral rites of Ereshkigal's husband, here said to be Gud-gal-ana. Gugalana was the Bull of Heaven in The Epic of Gilgamesh, which was killed by Gilgamesh and Enkidu. To further add to the confusion, Ereshkigal's husband typically is the plague god, Nergal.
In this story, before leaving Inanna instructed her minister and servant, Ninshubur, to plead with the deities Enlil, Sin, and Enki to save her if anything went amiss. The attested laws of the underworld dictate that, with the exception of appointed messengers, those who enter it could never leave.
Inanna dresses elaborately for the visit, with a turban, a wig, a lapis lazuli necklace, beads upon her breast, the 'pala dress' (the ladyship garment), mascara, pectoral, a golden ring on her hand, and she held a lapis lazuli measuring rod. These garments are each representations of powerful mes she possesses. Perhaps Inanna's garments, unsuitable for a funeral, along with Inanna's haughty behavior, make Ereshkigal suspicious.
Following Ereshkigal's instructions, the gatekeeper tells Inanna she may enter the first gate of the underworld, but she must hand over her lapis lazuli measuring rod. She asks why, and is told 'It is just the ways of the Underworld'. She obliges and passes through. Inanna passes through a total of seven gates, at each one removing a piece of clothing or jewelry she had been wearing at the start of her journey, thus stripping her of her power.
When she arrives in front of her sister, she is naked. "After she had crouched down and had her clothes removed, they were carried away. Then she made her sister Erec-ki-gala rise from her throne, and instead she sat on her throne. The Anna, the seven judges, rendered their decision against her. They looked at her – it was the look of death. They spoke to her – it was the speech of anger. They shouted at her – it was the shout of heavy guilt. The afflicted woman was turned into a corpse. And the corpse was hung on a hook."
Ereškigal's hate for Inanna could be referenced in a few other myths. Ereškigal, too, is bound by the laws of the underworld; she can not leave her kingdom of the underworld to join the other 'living' deities, and they can not visit her in the underworld, or else they can never return. Inanna symbolized erotic love and fertility, and contrasts with Ereškigal.
Three days and three nights passed, and Ninshubur, following instructions, went to Enlil, Nanna, and Enki's temples, and demanded they save Inanna. The first two deities refused, saying it was her own doing, but Enki was deeply troubled and agreed to help. He created two asexual figures named gala-tura and the kur-jara from the dirt under the fingernails of the deities. He instructed them to appease Ereškigal; and when asked what they wanted, they were to ask for Inanna's corpse and sprinkle it with the food and water of life. However, when they come before Ereshkigal, she is in agony like a woman giving birth, and she offers them what they want, including life-giving rivers of water and fields of grain, if they can relieve her; nonetheless they take only the corpse.
Things went as Enki said, and the gala-tura and the kur-jara were able to revive Inanna. Demons of Ereškigal's followed (or accompanied) Inanna out of the underworld, and insisted that she wasn’t free to go until someone took her place. They first came upon Ninshubur and attempted to take her. Inanna refused, as Ninshubur was her loyal servant, who had rightly mourned her while she was in the underworld. They next came upon Cara, Inanna's beautician, still in mourning. The demons said they would take him, but Inanna refused, as he too had mourned her. They next came upon Lulal, also in mourning. The demons offered to take him, but Inanna refused.
They next came upon Dumuzi, Inanna's husband. Despite Inanna's fate, and in contrast to the other individuals who were properly mourning Inanna, Dumuzi was lavishly clothed and resting beneath a tree. Inanna, displeased, decrees that the demons shall take him, using language which echoes the speech Ereshkigal gave while condemning her. Dumuzi is then taken to the underworld.
In other recensions of the story, Dumuzi tries to escape his fate, and is capable of fleeing the demons for a time, as the deities intervene and disguise him in a variety of forms. He is eventually found. However, Dumuzi's sister, out of love for him, begged to be allowed to take his place. It was then decreed that Dumuzi spent half the year in the underworld, and his sister take the other half. Inanna, displaying her typically capricious behavior, mourns his time in the underworld. This she reveals in a haunting lament of his deathlike absence from her, for "[he] cannot answer . . . [he] cannot come/ to her calling . . . the young man has gone." Her own powers, notably those connected with fertility, subsequently wane, to return in full when he returns from the netherworld each six months. This cycle then approximates the shift of seasons.
Additionally, the myth may be described as a union of Inanna with her own "dark side", her twin sister-self, Ereshkigal, as when she ascends it is with Ereshkigal's powers, while Inanna is in the underworld it is Ereshkigal who apparently takes on fertility powers, and the poem ends with a line in praise, not of Inanna, but of Ereshkigal. It is in many ways a praise-poem dedicated to the more negative aspects of Inanna's domain, symbolic of an acceptance of the necessity of death to the continuance of life. It can also be interpreted as being about the psychological power of a descent into the unconscious, realizing one's own strength through an episode of seeming powerlessness, and/or an acceptance of one's own negative qualities, as is discussed by Joseph Campbell.
Another recent interpretation, by Clyde Hostetter,Star Trek to Hawa-i'i(San Luis Obispo, California: Diamond Press, 1991), p. 53) indicates that the myth is an allegorical report of related movements of the planets Venus, Mercury, and Jupiter; and those of the waxing crescent Moon in the Second Millennium, beginning with the Spring Equinox and concluding with a meteor shower near the end of one synodic period of Venus.
Joshua Mark argues that it is most likely that the moral of the Descent of Inanna was that there are always consequences for one's actions. "The Descent of Inanna, then, about one of the gods behaving badly and other gods and mortals having to suffer for that behavior, would have given to an ancient listener the same basic understanding anyone today would take from an account of a tragic accident caused by someone’s negligence or poor judgment: that, sometimes, life is just not fair."
Inanna's Akkadian counterpart is Ishtar. In different traditions Inanna is the daughter of Anu or she is the daughter of the moon god Sin. In various traditions, her siblings include the sun god Utu, the rain god Ishkur, and Ereshkigal, Queen of the Underworld. Her personal assistant is Ninshubur. She is never considered to have a permanent spouse, although Dumuzi is her lover. Yet, she is responsible for sending Dumuzi to the Underworld in "Inanna's Descent to the Underworld." Inanna also is regarded in astral traditions as the morning and evening star. The cult of Inanna may also have influenced the deities Ainina and Danina of the Caucasian Iberians mentioned by the medieval Georgian Chronicles.
Since Inanna embodies the traits of independence, self-determination, and strength in an otherwise patriarchal Sumerian pantheon, she has become the subject of feminist theory. Indeed, in one analysis of "Inanna and the huluppu tree", the author points out how she was implicitly "tamed and controlled", even "demoted", implying her prior importance as a female role model.
|This section appears to contain trivial, minor or unrelated references to popular culture. (November 2013)|
|c. 5300–4100 BC||Ubaid period|
|c. 4100–2900 BC||Uruk period||Uruk vase|
|c. 2900–2334 BC||Early Dynastic period|
|c. 2334–2218 BC||Akkadian Empire||writings by Enheduanna:|
Nin-me-sara, "The Exhaltation of Inanna"
|c. 2218–2047 BC||Gutian Period|
|c. 2047–1940 BC||Ur III Period||Inanna and Enki|