Inanna

From the Great Above to the Great Below

The courtship of Inanna and Damuzi

Inanna, daughter of the moon, Goddess of Light, Fertility and Love, looked down upon the Earth. The Queen of Heaven chose the shepherd, Damuzi as her husband, and he was called to the Royal Palace. Inanna was bathed and anointed with scented oil, and when she opened her house to the shepherd, she shone before him, like the light of the moon. Inanna declared: ‘Let the singer weave into song. What I tell you. Let it flow from ear to mouth. Let it pass from old to young.’ Inanna enticed Damuzi. With her song of love, the Goddess enticed the shepherd, and Damuzi responded.

Inanna decreed that Damuzi would sit upon the lapis lazuli throne, and carry the mace, the sword, and the holy sceptre. The faithful Ninshubur led the Shepherd King to the sweet embrace of the Goddess, saying: ‘My queen, here is your king, your beloved bridegroom. From the upper sea to the lower sea, may his shepherds staff protect all of Sumer and Akkad. Under his reign, let there be rich grain. In the marshland, may the fish and birds live in abundance. May the deer and wild goats multiply on the steppe. May there be floodwaters in the Tigris and Euphrates, and may the plants grow high and fill the meadows with flowers. In the orchards, may there be honey and wine. In the palace may there be long life. O, Queen of Heaven and Earth, and of all the universe, may Damuzi enjoy long days in the sweetness of your embrace.’ Damuzi opened wide his arms to the holy priestess of heaven, and they rejoiced together in love.

 

Descent to the Underworld

From the Great Below to the Great Above, Inanna heard her sister’s cry. The Goddess abandoned heaven and earth, the holy priestess abandoned her office, to descend to the kur, to the underworld. She gathered together the seven mé, the seven attributes of her holy office. She placed the shugurra, the crown of the steppe, on her head. She tied the small lapis beads around her neck. She wrapped the royal robe around her body. She daubed her eyes with ointment. She bound the breastplate around her chest. She slipped the gold ring over her wrist. She took the lapis measuring rod and line in her hand.

Inanna set out for the underworld, with Ninshubur, her faithful servant. To Ninshubur she said: ‘My faithful warrior, my wise counsel. If I do not return in three days, set up a lament for me by the ruins. Beat the drum for me in the assembly places. Circle the houses of the gods. Tear at your eyes, your mouth, your thighs. Dress yourself in sackcloth.’

‘Go to Nippur, to the temple of Enlil. When you enter his holy shrine, cry out: “O Father Enlil, do not let your daughter be put to death in the underworld. Do not let your bright silver be covered with the dust of the underworld.” If Enlil will not help you, go to Eridu, to the temple of Enki. Weep before Father Enki, the God of Wisdom, who knows the secrets of life and death. He will not let me die.’

When Inanna arrived at the gates of the underworld, she knocked loudly, and cried out in a fierce voice: ‘Open, gatekeeper! Open the door, Neti. I alone would enter!’ Neti, the gatekeeper of the kur, asked: ‘Who are you?’ and she answered: ‘I am Inanna, Queen of Heaven,’ and Neti replied: ‘If you are truly Inanna, Queen of Heaven, why has your heart led you to where no traveller returns?’ Inanna answered: ‘Because Gugalanna, husband of my sister, Ereshkigal, has died. I have come to witness the funeral rites. Let it be done.’

Neti delivered the message to Ereshkigal, Queen of the Underworld: ‘My queen, a maid, as tall as heaven, as wide as the earth, as strong as the foundations of the city wall, waits outside the palace gates. She has gathered together the seven me. On her head she wears the shugurra, the crown of the steppe. Around her neck she wears the small lapis beads. At her breast she wears the double strand of beads. Her body is wrapped with the royal robe. Her eyes are daubed with an ointment. Around her chest she wears the breastplate. On her wrist she wears the gold ring. In her hand she carries the lapis measuring rod and line.’

When Ereshkigal heard this, she said: ‘Neti, gatekeeper of the kur, heed my words. Bolt the seven gates of the underworld. Then, one by one, open each gate a crack and let Inanna enter. As she enters, remove her royal garments. Let the holy priestess of heaven enter bowed low.’ Neti heeded the words of his queen. He bolted the seven gates of the underworld. Then he opened the outer gate and he said: ‘Come, Inanna, enter.’

When she entered the first gate, the shugurra, the crown of the steppe, was removed from her head.  Inanna asked: ‘What is this?’ and she was told: ‘Quiet, Inanna, the ways of the underworld are perfect. They may not be questioned.’

When she entered the second gate, the small lapis beads were removed from her neck. Inanna asked: ‘What is this?’ and she was told: ‘Quiet, Inanna, the ways of the underworld are perfect. They may not be questioned.’

When she entered the third gate, the double strand of beads was removed from her breast. Inanna asked: ‘What is this?’ and she was told: ‘Quiet, Inanna, the ways of the underworld are perfect. They may not be questioned.’

When she entered the fourth gate, the breastplate was removed from her chest. Inanna asked: ‘What is this?’ and she was told: ‘Quiet, Inanna, the ways of the underworld are perfect. They may not be questioned.’

When she entered the fifth gate, the gold ring was removed from her wrist. Inanna asked: ‘What is this?’ and she was told: ‘Quiet, Inanna, the ways of the underworld are perfect. They may not be questioned.’

When she entered the sixth gate, the lapis measuring rod and line was removed from her hand. Inanna asked: ‘What is this?’ and she was told: ‘Quiet, Inanna, the ways of the underworld are perfect. They may not be questioned.’

When she entered the seventh gate, the royal robe was removed from her body. Inanna asked: ‘What is this?’ and she was told: ‘Quiet, Inanna, the ways of the underworld are perfect. They may not be questioned.’

Naked and bowed low, Inanna entered the throne room, and there she saw her sister, Ereshkigal. She was surrounded by the Annuna, the judges of the underworld, and they passed their judgment against her. Ereshkigal fastened the eye of death upon Inanna. She spoke the word of wrath and uttered the cry of guilt against her. Her sister struck her down, and Inanna, the high priestess of heaven and earth, was turned into a corpse, and hung from a hook on the wall.

After three days and three nights, Ninshubur set up a lament by the ruins. She beat the drum in the assembly places. She circled the houses of the gods. She tore at her eyes, at her mouth, at her thighs, and she dressed herself in sackcloth.

Then she set out for the temple of Enlil, at Nippur. When she entered the holy shrine, she cried out: ‘O Father Enlil, do not let your daughter be put to death in the underworld. Do not let your bright silver be covered with the dust of the underworld.’ Father Enlil answered angrily: ‘She who goes to the Dark City must remain there.’ Father Enlil would not help.

At Eridu, Ninshubur cried out: O Father Enki, do not let your daughter be put to death in the underworld. Do not let your bright silver be covered with the dust of the underworld.’ Father Enki said: ‘What has my daughter done? Inanna! Queen of All the Lands! Holy Priestess of Heaven! What has happened? I am troubled. I am grieved,’

From under the fingernail of his right hand, Father Enki brought forth some earth, and he fashioned it into a kurgarra. Then, from under the fingernail of his left hand he brought forth some more earth, and he fashioned it into a galatur. He gave the food of life to the kurgarra, and the water of life to the galatur, and then Enki said to them both: ‘Go to the underworld, and enter the door like flies. Ereshkigal, the Queen of the Underworld, is moaning with grief. Her breasts are uncovered. Her hair swirls about her head like leeks. When she cries, ‘Oh! Oh! My inside!’ Cry also, ‘Oh! Oh! Your inside!’ When she cries, ‘Oh! Oh! My outside!’ Cry also, ‘Oh! Oh! Your outside!’ The queen will be pleased. She will offer you a gift. Ask her only for the corpse that hangs from the hook. Sprinkle the food of life and the water of life upon it, and Inanna will arise.’

The kurgarra and the galatur followed Enki’s command. They slipped through the gates like flies, and they entered the throne room of the Queen of the Underworld. Her breasts were uncovered. Her hair swirled around her head like leeks.  Ereshkigal was moaning: ‘Oh! Oh! My inside!’ They moaned: ‘Oh! Oh! Your inside!’ She moaned: Ohhhh! Oh! My outside!’ They moaned: ‘Ohhhh! Oh! Your outside!’ She groaned: ‘Oh! Oh! My belly!’ They groaned: ‘Oh! Oh! Your belly!’ She groaned: ‘Oh! Ohhhh! My back!’ They groaned: ‘Oh! Ohhhh! Your back!’ She sighed: Ah! Ah! My heart!’ They sighed: ‘Ah! Ah! Your heart!’ She sighed: ‘Ah! Ahhhh! My liver!’ They sighed: ‘Ah! Ahhhh! Your liver!’

Ereshkigal stopped and she looked at them. ‘Who are you,’ she asked, moaning, groaning, sighing with me? If you are gods, I will bless you. If you are mortals, I will give you the water-gift, the river in its fullness.’ The kurgarra and galatur answered: ‘That we do not want.’ Ereshkigal replied: ‘Then I will give you the grain-gift, the fields in harvest.’ The kurgarra and galatur said: ‘That we do not want.’ So Ereshkigal said: ‘Speak then! What do you want?’ and they answered: ‘We want only the corpse that hangs from the hook on the wall.’ Ereshkigal said: ‘The corpse belongs to Inanna,’ and they replied in unison: ‘Whether it belongs to our queen, whether it belongs to our king, that is what we wish.’ The corpse was given to them. The kurgarra sprinkled the food of life and the galatur sprinkled the water of life upon it, and Inanna arose.

Inanna attempted to ascend from the underworld, but the Annuna seized her and they said: ‘No one leaves the underworld unmarked. To return from the underworld, you must provide someone in your place.’ As Inanna ascended, the galla clung to her. The galla, demons of the underworld, know no food or drink, accept no gifts, and know nothing of love. They will tear a wife from her husband’s arms, or a child from her father’s knee. They will steal a bride from her marriage home. The galla clung to Inanna as she ascended from the underworld.

Ninshubur, dressed in a soiled sackcloth, was waiting outside the palace gates. When she saw Inanna, surrounded by the galla, she threw herself in the dust at Inanna’s feet. The galla said: ‘Walk on, Inanna, we will take Ninshubur in your place.’ Inanna cried: No! Ninshubur is my constant support, my sukkal who gives me wise advice, my warrior who fights by my side. She did not forget my words. She set up a lament for me by the ruins. She beat the drum for me at the assembly places. She circled the houses of the gods. She tore at her eyes, at her mouth, at her thighs. She dressed herself in sackcloth. She set out for Nippur and the temple of Enlil. She went to Eridu and the temple of Enki. It is because of her, my life was saved. I will never give Ninshubur to you.’

At the holy shrine at Badtibira, Lulal, the son of Inanna, was dressed in a soiled sackcloth. When he saw Inanna surrounded by the galla, he threw himself in the dust at her feet. The galla said: ‘Walk on, Inanna, we will take Lulal in your place.’ Inanna cried: ‘Not Lulal! He is my son. He is a leader among men. He is my right arm. He is my left arm. I will never give Lulal to you.’

At the big apple tree in Uruk, Damuzi, the husband of Inanna, was dressed in his shining me-garments, and sitting on his magnificent throne. The galla seized him by his thighs. They broke the reed pipe that he was playing. Inanna fastened on Damuzi the eye of death. She spoke the word of wrath, and uttered the cry of guilt against him: ‘Take him! Take Damuzi!’

The galla, who know no food and no drink and who accept no gifts, seized Damuzi. They beat the husband of Inanna. They gashed him with axes. Damuzi let out a wail. He raised his hands to heaven, and beseeched Utu, the God of Justice, to save him. The merciful Utu accepted his tears, and changed him into a snake, and Damuzi escaped from his demons. He stumbled across the steppe, weeping. When Damuzi finally lay down to rest, among the rushes, he received a dream.

On waking, he ran to his sister, Geshtinanna. ‘My singer who knows many songs, my sister, my wise woman, who knows the meaning of dreams, I must tell you my dream: Rushes rise and grow thick about me. A single reed trembles for me. From a double-growing reed, first one, then the other, is removed. In a wooded grove, the terror of tall trees rises about me. Water is poured over my holy hearth. The bottom of my churn drops away. My drinking cup falls from its peg. My shepherd’s crook has disappeared. An eagle seizes a lamb from the sheepfold. A falcon catches a sparrow on the reed fence. My sister, your goats drag their lapis beards in the dust. Your sheep scratch the earth with bent feet. The churn lies silent; no milk is poured. The cup lies shattered; Damuzi is no more. The sheepfold is given to the winds.’

Geshtinanna spoke: ‘My brother, do not tell me such a dream. The rushes which rise up and grow thick about you are your demons, who will pursue and attack you. The single growing reed which trembles for you Is our mother; she will mourn for you. The double-growing reed, from which one, then the other is removed, Damuzi, is you and I. First one, then the other, will be taken. In the wooded grove, the terror of tall trees which rises above you is the galla, they will descend on you in the sheepfold. When the fire is put out on your holy hearth, the sheepfold will become a house of desolation. The bottom of your churn will drop away, your drinking cup will fall from its peg, your shepherd’s crook will disappear, and you will fall to the earth, onto your mother’s knees. The eagle who seizes a lamb in the sheepfold is the galla who will scratch your cheeks. The falcon who catches a sparrow in the reed fence is the galla who will climb the fence to take you away. Damuzi, my goats will drag their lapis beards in the dust. My hair will swirl around in heaven for you. My sheep will scratch the earth with bent feet. O Damuzi, I will tear at my cheeks in grief for you. The churn will lie silent and no milk will be poured. When the cup lies shattered, Damuzi will be no more, and the sheepfold will be given to the winds.’

Damuzi hid in the reeds of the river, he hid amongst the tall plants of the meadows, but the galla continued in their pursuit. They searched for him in Geshtinanna’s house, but she would not speak. They offered her gifts, but she would not speak. They tore her clothes, but she would not speak. Amongst the trees, the galla found him. Again, Damuzi pleaded with Utu, and was changed into a gazelle, and once again escaped. But still the galla pursued. Damuzi fled to the sheepfold of his sister, and when Geshtinanna found him there, she wept. Her grief covered the horizon like a garment. She tore at her eyes, her mouth, her thighs.

The galla climbed the reed fence. The first galla struck Damuzi on the cheek with a piercing nail, the second galla struck Damuzi on the other cheek with the shepherd’s crook, the third galla smashed the bottom of the churn, the fourth galla threw the drinking cup down from its peg. They shattered the churn, they shattered the cup, and then they cried: ‘Rise, Damuzi! Husband of Inanna, son of Sirtur, brother of Geshtinanna! Rise from your false sleep! Your ewes are seized! Your lambs are seized! Your goats are seized! Your kids are seized! Remove the holy crown from your head! Remove the me-garment from your body! Let your royal sceptre fall to the ground! Remove the holy sandals from your feet! Naked, you must go with us!’

The galla surrounded Damuzi, and they bound his hands and neck. The churn was silent. No milk was poured. The cup was shattered. Damuzi was no more. The sheepfold was given to the winds.

The Return

A lament was raised in the city: ‘My Lady weeps bitterly for her husband. Inanna weeps bitterly for Damuzi. He will no longer raise his sword high. Great is the grief of those who mourn for Damuzi.’

Inanna wept for Damuzi: Gone is my husband, my sweet husband. My beloved has been taken from me before I could wrap him with a proper shroud. The wild bull lives no more. The shepherd lives no more.’

Sirtur, the mother of Damuzi, wept for her son: ‘My heart plays the reed pipe of mourning. Once my boy wandered so freely on the steppe, and now he is captive. The ewe must give up her lamb, the goat her kid. My heart plays the reed pipe of mourning. I would go to him, to see once more the face of my child, although now the spirit has fled.’

Geshtinanna wandered about the city, weeping for Damuzi: ‘O my brother! I am your sister. I am your mother. The day that dawns for you will also dawn for me. I would find my brother! I would comfort him! I would share his fate!’ When Inanna saw the grief of Geshtinanna, she was deeply moved. The Goddess took Geshtinanna to the edge place, where they found Damuzi weeping, and she said: ‘Damuzi, you will go to the underworld half the year. Your sister, Geshtinanna, will go the other half. On the day you are called, that day you will be taken. On the day Geshtinanna is called, that day you will be set free.’

Holy Ereshkigal! Great is your renown! 

Holy Ereshkigal! We sing your praises!