Myths from Mesopotamia: Creation, the Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others - The Descent of Ishtar to the Underworld Summary & Analysis

Stephanie Dalley
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The Descent of Ishtar to the Underworld Summary and Analysis

The author begins by noting these tablets are the Akkadian version of the story, but that there are other versions in existence. This version is shorter, and gives a less detailed account, but does end with ritual instructions for the taklimtu, a known annual ritual. The author also notes a close connection with the Greek story of Persephone, as well as with lines from Gilgamesh. The story begins with Ishtar, the daughter of Sin the moongod, determined to go to Kurnagi, the Underworld. She addresses the keeper of the gate, and announces that she is to be let in, or she will break down the door and make the dead rise and eat the living. The doorkeeper reports the situation back to Ereshkigal, queen of the underworld, and explains that her sister Ishtar is demanding entry. Ereshkigal is angry, but allows Ishtar entrance under the condition that she is treated according with the ancient rights. Her crown, earrings, beads, toggle pins, birth stone belt, bracelets, and clothing are all removed as she passes through the seven gates, arriving in Kurnugi. Upon arrival, Ishtar angrily leans over Ereshkigal, but she tells her vizier, Namtar, to cast sixty diseases onto Ishtar. On Earth, all sexual activity halts, as Ishtar, goddess of sexuality, is imprisoned in the underworld. Ea creates a man, Good-Looks, to attain the waters of life from Ereshkigal. Good-Looks travels to Kurnugi and asks Ereshkigal for the waterskin. Although she curses Good-Looks for his request, she has no choice but to allow Ishtar to be sprinkled with the waters of life and revived. Ishtar is then led out the seven gates and given back her belongings. According to the notes, Ereshkigal tells Namtar that Ishtar is being given back in exchange for Dumuzi. Dumuzi is the lover of Ishtar. He is to be washed with pure water, anointed with sweet oil, clothed in red, and lamented by young girls. Belili, sister of Dumuzi, offers herself in his place. According to the notes, Dumuzi spends half a year in the underworld and is thus the subject of the taklimtu ritual of lying-in-state, and is replaced by Belili in the off times. The author notes that some of this version of the tale is based on information in Sumerian and variant Akkadian tablets.

This section contains 401 words
(approx. 2 pages at 400 words per page)
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