November 4th, 2007 by sabrina
And now for the other part of yesterday’s discussion, Ishtar.
Ishtar is the Babylonian Goddess of love, fertility, and war. Like Inanna before her, Ishtar was a Goddess of sexual love, and her partners were many. Like Inanna, Ishtar descended to the underworld to see her sister Ereshkigal, and was made to remove an article of clothing at each of the seven gates. Ishtar is not killed by Ereshkigal, but is imprisoned in the underworld, with the result that all sexual activity in the world ceased. Ea, the King of the Gods, then sends a servant to Ereshkigal to bargain for Ishtar’s release and, like Inanna, Ishtar must choose someone to take her place. Her choice is her shepherd lover Tammuz (corresponding to Inanna’s Dumuzi).
Ishtar has a prominent role in the Epic of Gilgamesh. After Gilgamesh and his friend Enkidu have killed the demon Humbaba, Ishtar appears to Gilgamesh and asks him to be her husband. Gilgamesh rejects Ishtar’s offer, citing her mistreatment of her former lovers and wondering why he would be any different. In fury, Ishtar asks her father Anu, God of Heaven, to unleash the Bull of Heaven so that it could attack Gilgamesh and avenge her. Anu hesitates, but when Ishtar threatens to raise all the dead from the underworld, he gives in. The Bull is set loose, and after a ferocious battle, Gilgamesh and Enkidu manage to slay it. Ishtar stands on the walls of the city and wails, which prompts Enkidu to throw the bull’s leg at her, threatening to do the same to her if she comes any closer. This is too much for the Gods, who were already upset with Gilgamesh and Enkidu for killing Humbaba. They decide that Enkidu must die, and Gilgamesh learns what it means to reject Ishtar’s advances.
Enkidu’s hostility towards Ishtar has another root. Earlier in the Epic, Enkidu, who is originally a wild man, is “civilized” by a temple prostitute. These prostitutes, called ishtaritu, inhabited the temples of Ishtar, offering themselves to any male worshipper who paid the required contribution. In fact, every Babylonian woman was expected to go to a temple and perform the rite with a stranger at least once in her life. Like Inanna, Ishtar was known as the Goddess of prostitutes, and her alternate names of Har and Hora gave rise to the terms “harlot” and “whore”.
Ishtar’s name means “star”, and she was also known as Istar, Estar, Ishara, Ishhara, Astar, Atar, Attar, Athar, Athtar, Irnini, Absusu (in her role as a promiscuous goddess), Abtagigi (“She Who Sends Messages of Desire”), Dilbah (as Venus the morning-star), Hanata (as warrior-deity), Kilili (as symbol of the promiscuous and independent woman), Nanab (“Queen”), Nin Si Anna (“Lady Eye of Heaven’”), Sharrat Shame (“Queen of Heaven”), Ulsiga (a title of reverence meaning “Ishtar of Heaven and Earth”), Zanaru (“Lady of the Lands”), and Zib (as Venus the evening-star). Epithets include Beautiful Queen, Beloved of Enki, Bestower of Strength, Bright Light of Nights, Bright Shining One of the Heavens, Daughter of the Moon, Forgiver of Sins, Framer of all Decrees, Giver of Justice and Laws, Glad-eyed Lady, Goddess of Goddesses, Goddess of Sighing, Great Goddess of Love and War, Great Harlot, Great Lover, Great Mother, Great Whore of Babylon, The Harlot, Heavenly Prostitute, Highest Sovereign of the Heavens, Ishtar of Arbela, Ishtar of Babylon, Ishtar of Nineveh, Lady of All the Harlots of Ur, Lady of Battle, Lady of Birth, Lady of Heaven, Lady of Never-Falling Waters, Lady of the Palace, Lady of Passion and Desire, Lady of Sorrow, Lady of Victory, Lawgiver, Leader of Hosts, Light of the World, Lioness of the Igigi, Mistress of the Gods, Mother of the Fruitful Breast, Mother of Harlots, Opener of the Womb, Protector of the Weak, Queen of Attack and Hand-to-Hand Fighting, Queen of Heaven, Queen of Heaven and Earth, Queen of the Rising of the Sun, Righteous Judge, Ruler of the Heavens, Ruler of the World, She Who Holds Reigns of Royalty, Shining One, and Star of Heaven.
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