Ishtar, or Nana, is the planetary Venus, and in general features corresponds with the classical goddess. Her name Ishtar is that by which she was known in Assyria; and the same term prevailed with slight modifications among the Semitic races generally. The Phoenician form was Astarte, the Hebrew Ashtoreth; the later Mendaean form was Ashtar. In Babylonia the goddess was known as Nana, which seems to be the Naneea of the second book of Maccabees, and the Nani of the modern Syrians. No satisfactory account can at present be given of the etymology of either name; for the proposal to connect Ishtar with the Greek (Zend starann, Sanscrit tara, English star, Latin stella), though it has great names in its favor, is not worthy of much attention.
Ishtar’s aphrodisiac character, though it can scarcely be doubted, does not appear very clearly in the inscriptions. She is “the goddess who rejoices mankind,” and her most common epithet is “Asurah,” “the fortunate,” or “the happy.” But otherwise her epithets are vague and general, insomuch that she is often scarcely distinguishable from Beltis. She is called “the mistress of heaven and earth,” “the great goddess,” “the queen of all the gods,” and again “the goddess of war and battle,” “the queen of victory,” “she who arranges battles,” and “she who defends from attacks.” She is also represented in the inscriptions of one king as the goddess of the chase.
The worship of Ishtar was wide-spread, and her shrines were numerous. She is often called “the queen of Babylon,” and must certainly have had a temple in that city. She had also temples at Asshur (Kileh-Sherghat), at Arbela, and at Nineveh. It may be suspected that her symbol was the naked female form, which is not uncommon upon the cylinders. [PLATE XXI., Figs. 1, 2.] She may also be represented by the rude images in baked clay so common throughout the Mesopotamian ruins, which are generally regarded as images of Mylitta. Ishtar is sometimes coupled with Nebo in such a way as to suggest the notion that she was his wife. This, however, can hardly have been her real position in the mythology, since Nebo had, as will presently appear, another wife, Varamit, whom there is no reason to believe identical with Ishtar. It is most probable that the conjunction is casual and accidental, being due to special and temporary causes.
[Illustration: PLATE 21]
The last of the five planetary gods is Nebo, who undoubtedly represents the planet Mercury. [PLATE XXI., Fig. 3.] His name is the same, or nearly so, both in Babylonian and Assyrian; and we may perhaps assign it a Semitic derivation, from the root nibbah, “to prophesy.” It is his special function to preside over knowledge and learning. He is called “the god who possesses intelligence,” “he who hears from afar,” “he who teaches,” or “he who teaches and instructs.”