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Category: Manchester Museum

Love, Babylonian-Style–The Tale of Ereš-ki-gal and Nerigal, Goddess and God of the Underworld

“As the prototype of Persephone, this goddess is one of much importance for comparative mythology, and there is a legend concerning her of considerable interest. The text is one of those found at Tel-el-Armana, in Egypt, and states that the gods once made a feast, and sent to Ereš-ki-gal, saying that, though they could go down to her, she could not ascend to them, and asking her to send a messenger to fetch away the food destined for her.

This she did, and all the gods stood up to receive her messenger, except one, who seems to have withheld this token of respect. The messenger, when he returned, apparently related to Ereš-ki-gal what had happened, and angered thereat, she sent him back to the presence of the gods, asking for the delinquent to be delivered to her, that she might kill him.

The gods then discussed the question of death with the messenger, and told him to take to his mistress the god who had not stood up in his presence.

When the gods were brought together, that the culprit might be recognised, one of them remained in the background, and on the messenger asking who it was who did not stand up, it was found to be Nerigal. This god was duly sent, but was not at all inclined to be submissive, for instead of killing him, as she had threatened, Ereš-ki-gal found herself seized by the hair and dragged from her throne, whilst the death-dealing god made ready to cut off her head.

“Do not kill me, my brother, let me speak to thee,” she cried, and on his loosing his hold upon her hair, she continued, “thou shalt be my husband, and I will be thy wife–I will cause you to take dominion in the wide earth. I will place the tablet of wisdom in thine hand–thou shalt be lord, I will be lady.”

Nerigal thereupon took her, kissed her, and wiped away her tears, saying, “Whatever thou hast asked me for months past now receives assent.”

Ereš-ki-gal did not treat her rival in the affections of Tammuz so gently when Ištar descended to Hades in search of the “husband of her youth.”

According to the story, not only was Ištar deprived of her garments and ornaments, but by the orders of Ereš-ki-gal, Namtar smote her with disease in all her members. It was not until the gods intervened that Ištar was set free.

The meaning of her name is “lady of the great region,” a description which is supposed to apply to Hades, and of which a variant, Ereš-ki-gal, “lady of the great house,” occurs in the Hymns to Tammuz in the Manchester Museum.”

Theophilus G. Pinches, The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, London, 1906, pp. 78-9.

Elements of the Cult of Tammuz

” … Whilst on earth, he was the one who nourished the ewe and her lamb, the goat and her kid, and also caused them to be slain–probably in sacrifice.

“He has gone, he has gone to the bosom of the earth,” the mourners cried, “he will make plenty to overflow for the land of the dead, for its lamentations for the day of his fall, in the unpropitious month of his year.”

There was also lamentation for the cessation of the growth of vegetation, and one of these hymns, after addressing him as the shepherd and husband of Ištar, “lord of the underworld,” and “lord of the shepherd’s seat,” goes on to liken him to a germ which has not absorbed water in the furrow, whose bud has not blossomed in the meadow; to the sapling which has not been planted by the watercourse, and to the sapling whose root has been removed.

In the “Lamentations” in the Manchester Museum, Ištar, or one of her devotees, seems to call for Tammuz, saying, “Return, my husband,” as she makes her way to the region of gloom in quest of him.

Ereš-ê-gala, “the lady of the great house” (Persephone), is also referred to, and the text seems to imply that Ištar entered her domain in spite of her. In this text other names are given to him, namely, /Tumu-giba/, “son of the flute,” /Ama-elaggi/, and /Ši-umunnagi/, “life of the people.”

The reference to sheep and goats in the British Museum fragment recalls the fact that in an incantation for purification the person using it is told to get the milk of a yellow goat which has been brought forth in the sheep-fold of Tammuz, recalling the flocks of the Greek sun-god Helios.

These were the clouds illuminated by the sun, which were likened to sheep–indeed, one of the early Sumerian expressions for “fleece” was “sheep of the sky.” The name of Tammuz in Sumerian is Dumu-zi, or in its rare fullest form, Dumu-zida, meaning “true” or “faithful son.” There is probably some legend attached to this which is at present unknown.

Theophilus G. Pinches, The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, London, 1906, pp. 71-2.

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