In Sumer, six thousand years ago, hymns of joy were sung in honor of Inanna, the ‘Lady of Heaven’, the greatest of deities, the Goddess of love and war, of fertility and justice, of wisdom and sex, of counsel and comfort, of decision and triumph. the supreme Goddess, the Sovereign of peoples.
Then for more than four millennia, in Sumer and elsewhere, people have prayed and celebrated Inanna, « joyful and clothed in love », under her other names, Ishtar or Astarte, Venus or Aphrodite, in all the languages of the time, from Akkad to Hellad, from Chaldea to Phoenicia, from Assyria to Phrygia, from Babylon to Rome…
And during all these millenia, the holy marriage, the sacred union of Inanna and Dumuzii, was also sung on earth, with hymns and prayers.
The following sacred verses, testify to this, not without a strong charge of eroticism:
« The king goes with lifted head to the holy lap,
Goes with lifted head to the holy lap of Inanna,
[Dumuzi] beds with her,
He delights in her pure lap. »ii
Or again, with this song, no less crude, and no less sacred:
« Inana praises … her genitals in song: « These genitals, (…) this high well-watered field of mine: my own genitals, the maiden’s, a well-watered opened-up mound — who will be their ploughman? My genitals, the lady’s, the moist and well-watered ground — who will put a bull there? » « Lady, the king shall plough them for you; Dumuzid the king shall plough them for you. » « Plough in my sex, man of my heart! »…bathed her holy hips, …holy …, the holy basin ». »iii
The name of the god Dumuzi (or Dumuzid) is written 𒌉 𒍣 in the ancient Babylonian cuneiform characters.
In Sumerian, these characters are read Dû-zi , Dum-zi, Dumuzi or Dumuzid, and in Akkadian Tammuz, a name that appears in the Bible, in the book of Ezekieliv.
The character 𒌉, du or dum, means « son ».
The character 𒍣, zi, means « life », « breath », « spirit ».
Dû-zi or Dumuzid thus means ‘Son of Life’ – but given the ambivalence of the sign zi, it could also mean ‘Son of the Breath’, ‘Son of the Spirit’.
This interpretation of the name Dumuzi as ‘Son of Life’ is « confirmed, according to the Assyriologist François Lenormant, by the fragment of a bilingual hymn, in Accadian with an Assyrian translation, contained in tablet K 4950 of the British Museum, which begins as follows ‘Abyss where descends the lord Son of life, burning passion of Ishtar, lord of the abode of the dead, lord of the hill of the abyss.’v
Thus, from the etymology and if we are to believe the songs that celebrated them, the wedding of Inanna and Dumuzi was both divinely erotic and spiritual, – it was, in essence, very crudely and very holily, that of the Goddess « Lady of Heaven » and the God « Son of Life ».
But the love, even mystical, of Dumuzi, was not enough to satisfy the divine Inanna…
One day she wished to leave the heights of Heaven, and to descend into that ‘unchanging land’, called Kur, or Irkalla, which for Sumer is the world below, the world of the dead.
To do this, he had to sacrifice everything.
The original Sumerian text which relates the descent of Inanna into the Underworld is available on the ETCSL website.
Here is a slightly modified version of the first verses, which have a repetitive, insistent, hypnotic form, and evoke, like a litany, all the elements of the loss, and the immensity of the sacrifice made by the Goddess to undertake her katabasis:
« From the heights of Heaven, she fixed her mind on the great Below. From the heights of Heaven, the Goddess fixed her mind on the great Below. From the heights of Heaven, Inanna fixed her mind on the great Below. My Lady left Heaven, she left Earth, she went down to the world Below. She gave up the en [priesthood], she gave up the lagar [another religious office], and she went down to the world Below. She gave up the E-ana of Unug [a temple, like the other sacred places that will follow], and went down to the world Below. She abandoned the E-muš-kalama of Bad-tibira, and descended into the world Below. She left the Giguna of Zabalam and went down to the world Below. She left the E-šara of Adab and went down to the world Below. She abandoned the Barag-dur-ĝara of Nibru, and descended into the world Below. She abandoned the Ḫursaĝ-kalama of Kiš, and descended into the world Below. She abandoned the E-Ulmaš of Agade, and descended into the world Below. She left the Ibgal of Umma and went down to the world Below. She left the E-Dilmuna of Urim, and went down to the world of Below. It abandoned the Amaš-e-kug of Kisiga, and descended into the world Below. She abandoned the E-ešdam-kug of Ĝirsu, and descended into the world Below. She abandoned the E-šeg-meše-du of Isin, and descended into the world Below. She abandoned the Anzagar of Akšak, and descended into the world Below. She abandoned the Niĝin-ĝar-kugde Šuruppag, and descended into the world Below. She abandoned the E-šag-ḫula in Kazallu, and descended into the world Below (…) »
Another Akkadian, shorter, version, of the descent of Inanna / Ishtar in this Underworld was translated into French for the first time by François Lenormantvi, in the 19th century.
The Babylonians and Assyrians represented the world Below as divided into seven successive circles, like, and as if by symmetry, the seven celestial spheresvii [revealed by the trajectories of the seven planets], which their astronomical science, multisecular and highly advanced, had been able to observe with acuity.
So Inanna passed through the gates of the seven circles of Hell one by one, and at each of these gates the infernal guardian stripped her, one after the other, of the precious ornaments with which she was adorned. Finally, at the seventh gate, she was also stripped of her great ceremonial robe, the pala, so that she was completely naked when she was finally placed in the presence of the queen of the funereal and chthonic realm, – who was also her elder sister, named Ereshkigal in Sumerian, and Belit in Akkadian, ‘the Lady of the Earth’.
Lenormant notes that to this name Belit, a mythological tablet corresponds the Semitic name of Allat, which is found later in Arab paganism. He points out that Herodotus also mentions the forms Alilat and Alitta of the name Allat. He deduces that this name served as the principal appellation of the divinity of the ‘feminine principle’, or rather, I might add, as the designation of the feminine principle of the Divinity, in several regions of Mesopotamia and Asia Minor.viii
The word allat is in fact the feminine form of the Arabic word ilah, ‘god, divinity’, which later gave the name of the God of monotheism, Allah, literally ‘the God’.
But let us return to the depths of Hell.
Ereshkigal, or Belit/Allat, on seeing Inanna/Ishtar arrive, was both very jealous and immediately suspicious. She was inflamed with anger and struck her with ailments and leprosy which seriously affected all parts of her body. According to another Sumerian account, Ereshkigal condemned Inanna to death, and killed her with a triple imprecation, casting a « death gaze », uttering a « word of fury » and uttering a « cry of damnation »:
« She gave Inanna a look: a murderous look!
She pronounced against her a word; a furious word!
She uttered a cry against her: a cry of damnation! »ix
Inanna’s death followed. Her corpse was hung on a nail.
But meanwhile, An, the god of heaven, and the gods of air and water, Enlil and Enki, were concerned about Inanna’s absence.
They intervened and sent two ambiguous beings, Kalatur and Kurgara, to the depths of Hell to save her from death. By pouring ‘food of life’ and ‘water of life’ on Inanna, they resurrected her and brought her out of the realm of the dead, going backwards through the seven infernal gates.
But there is an inflexible, unchangeable rule of the « Unchangeable Land »: every resurrection must be paid for with the life of a living person.
So the demons who were pursuing Inanna tried to seize, for the price of her life, several of Inanna’s followers, first her faithful servant Ninšubur, then Šara, her servant, musician and psalmist, and finally Lulal, her bodyguard.
But Inanna absolutely refused to let the demons take hold of them.
So the infernal beings went with her to the plain of Kul’aba, where her husband, the Shepherd-King and God Dumuzi, was.
« So they escorted her to the great Apple Tree
Of the plain of Kul’aba.
There Dumuzi was comfortably seated
On a majestic throne!
The demons seized him by the legs,
Seven of them spilled the milk from the churn,
While some shook their heads,
Like the mother of a sick man,
And the shepherds, not far away,
Continued to play the flute and the pipe!
Inanna looked at him with a murderous glance
She pronounced a word against him; a furious word
She shouted at him: a cry of damnation!
« It’s him! Take him away!
Thus she delivered to them the shepherd [king] Dumuzi. »x
As Ershkigal had done for her, Inanna looked upon Dumuzi with a deathly glance, she uttered a word of fury against him, she uttered a cry of damnation against him, but with a different result.
While she herself had been « turned into a corpse » by Ereshkigal’s imprecations, Dumuzi is not « turned into a corpse » but only taken away, alive, into Kur’s Hell by the infernal judges.
What interpretation can be given to the fact that Inanna delivers her love Dumuzi to the infernal demons, in exchange for her own life?
Why this look of death, these words of fury, these cries of damnation against her?
I propose three hypotheses:
1. During Inanna’s stay in Hell, and doubting that she would ever return, Dumuzi betrayed Inanna with other women or with other goddesses, or else, he renounced the ‘spiritual’ life for a ‘material’ one symbolized by the ‘majestic and comfortable throne’… Inanna, seeing him lounging around, listening to the flute and the pipe, seeming indifferent to his fate, gets angry and hands him over to the demons to let him know what she has experienced, in the Underworld. After all, is it not worthy of a God-King, named « Son of Life », to learn about death?
2. Inanna believed herself to be an ‘immortal goddess’, and divinely in love with the ‘Son of Life’. But after her experience in the hell of Irkalla, she discovered that she was a ‘mortal goddess’, and she realized that her love had died too : Dumuzi had done nothing for her, he had disappointed her by his indifference… It is indeed the God of water, Ea (or Enki) who saved her, and not Dumuzi.
How could she not be furious against a god « Son of Life » who loved her, certainly, but with a love less strong than her own death, since he did not resist her?
She also discovers that « love is as strong as death »xi. If not Dumuzi’s, at least her own.
And perhaps sending Dumuzi to the Kingdom of the Dead will teach her a lesson?
3. Inanna represents here a figure of the fallen soul. Her revolt is that of the soul that knows itself to be mortal, that has fallen into Hell, and that revolts against the god Dumuzi. She is rebelling against a God who is truly a savior, for he is called the God of Life, but she has lost all confidence in him, because she believed that he had apparently not been able to overcome death, or at least that he had « rested » while another God (Enki) was busy sending Inanna « water and food of life ».
In her revolt, Inanna delivers him to the infernal judges and condemns him to certain death, thinking no doubt: « Save yourself if you are a saving god! », mimicking with 3000 years in advance on the passion of Christ, those who mocked the God on the cross, at Golgotha.
Inanna reveals, without knowing it, the true nature and divine destiny of Dumuzi, – that of being a misunderstood god, betrayed, mocked, « handed over » to be put to death and locked up in the hell of Irkalla, waiting for a hypothetical resurrection…
The God ‘Son of Life’, this God who is ‘only Son’xii, ‘taken away before the end of his days’ and over whom funeral laments are pronounced, is none other than the luminous god, harvested in the flower of his youth, who was called Adonis in Byblos and Cyprus, and Tammuz in Babylon.
Dumuzi in Sumer, Tammuz in Akkad and Babylonia, Osiris in Egypt, Attis in Syria, Adonis in Phoenicia, Dionysus in Greece, are figures of the same archetype, that of the dead God, descended into the underworld and resurrected.
There is clearly a Christ-like aspect to this archetype.
Hippolytus of Rome (170-235), a Christian author, proposes an interpretation that goes in this direction.
For him, the pagan figure of Dumuzi, this sacrificial God, also known as Adonis, Endymion or Attis, can be interpreted as an abstract and universal principle, that of « the aspiration to life », or « the aspiration to the soul ».
« All beings in heaven, on earth and in the underworld yearn for a soul. This universal aspiration, the Assyrians call it Adonis, or Endymion, or Attis. When they call it Adonis, it is for the soul in reality that, under this name, Aphrodite [i.e. originally Inanna] burns with love. For them, Aphrodite is generation. Is Persephone or Korah [i.e. in the Sumerian myth, Ereshkigal] in love with Adonis: it is, he says, the soul exposed to death, because it is separated from Aphrodite, i.e. deprived of generation. Does the Moon become in love with Endymion and his beauty: it is, he says, that the beings superior (to the earth) also need the soul. Has the mother of the gods [Cybele] mutilated Attis, although she had him for a lover, it is because up there, the blessed nature of the beings superior to the world and eternal wants to make the masculine virtue of the soul rise towards her, because the man, he says, is androgynous. « xiii
Inanna (or Aphrodite) symbolically represents the very principle of « generation », or « creation », which animates all matter, and runs through every being and thing, – in heaven, on earth and in hell.
Dumuzi (or Adonis), on the other hand, is the figure of the « spiration of the spirit », the spiration of the divine, which is present in the « aspirations of the soul », or in the « aspiration to the soul », and which can also be called the « desire for love ».
iSamuel Noah Kramer, The Sacred Marriage: Aspects of Faith, Myth and Ritual in Ancient Sumer. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University. 1969, p.49
iiYitschak Sefati, Love Songs in Sumerian Literature: Critical Edition of the Dumuzi-Inanna Songs. Ramat Gan, Israel, Bar-Ilan University. 1998, p.105, cité par Johanna Stuckey in Inanna and the Sacred Marriage.
iiiA balbale to Inanna. http://etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk/cgi-bin/etcsl.cgi?text=t.4.08.16#
iv Ez 8,14
v François Lenormant. Les premières civilisations. Tome II. Chaldée, Assyrie, Phénicie. Paris. Ed. Maisonneuve, 1874, pp. 93-95
vi François Lenormant. Textes cunéiformes inédits n°30, traduction de la tablette K 162 du British Museum, citée in François Lenormant. Les premières civilisations. Tome II. Chaldée, Assyrie, Phénicie. Paris. Ed. Maisonneuve, 1874, pp. 84-93
viiHippolytus of Rome, in his book Philosophumena, writes that Isis, when mourning Osiris, or Astarte/Venus, when mourning Adonis, « is clothed in seven black robes … [just as] nature is clothed in seven ethereal robes (these are the orbits of the planets to which the Assyrians give the allegorical name of ethereal robes). This nature is represented by them as the changing generation and the creation transformed by the inexpressible, formless being, which cannot be represented by any image, nor conceived by the understanding. » Hippolytus of Rome. Philosophumena, Or Refutation of all Heresies. Translated by A. Siouville. Editions Rieder. Paris, 1928, p.132-133
viii Cf. François Lenormant. Les premières civilisations. Tome II. Chaldée, Assyrie, Phénicie. Paris. Ed. Maisonneuve, 1874, p.84
ixJean Bottéro, Samuel, Noah Kramer. Lorsque les dieux faisaient l’homme. Éditions Gallimard, Paris, 1989, p. 276-290.
x Jean Bottéro, Samuel, Noah Kramer. Lorsque les dieux faisaient l’homme. Éditions Gallimard, Paris, 1989, p. 276-290.
xiSong of Songs 8,6 : כִּי-עַזָּה כַמָּוֶת אַהֲבָה ‘azzah ka-mavet ahabah
xiiThis is one of the characteristic epithets of Adonis ‘monogenes‘.
xiiiHippolyte of Rome. Philosophumena, Ou Réfutation de toutes les hérésies. Trad. A. Siouville. Editions Rieder. Paris, 1928, p.129-13