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Ishtar (DIŠTAR DINGIR INANNA 𒀭𒌋𒁯) is the Assyrian and Babylonian counterpart to the Sumerian Inanna and to the cognate north-west Semitic goddess Astarte.

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Characteristics

One type of depiction of Ishtar/Inanna

Ishtar is a goddess of fertility, love, war, and sex[1] In the Babylonian pantheon, she "was the divine personification of the planet Venus".[2]

Ishtar was above all associated with sexuality: her cult involved sacred prostitution; her holy city Uruk was called the "town of the sacred courtesans"; and she herself was the "courtesan of the gods".[2] Ishtar had many lovers; however, as Guirand notes,

"Woe to him whom Ishtar had honoured! The fickle goddess treated her passing lovers cruelly, and the unhappy wretches usually paid dearly for the favours heaped on them. Animals, enslaved by love, lost their native vigour: they fell into traps laid by men or were domesticated by them. 'Thou has loved the lion, mighty in strength', says the hero Gilgamesh to Ishtar, 'and thou hast dug for him seven and seven pits! Thou hast loved the steed, proud in battle, and destined him for the halter, the goad and the whip.'

Even for the gods Ishtar's love was fatal. In her youth the goddess had loved Tammuz, god of the harvest, and — if one is to believe Gilgamesh — this love caused the death of Tammuz.[2]

Ishtar was the daughter of Sin or Anu.[2] She was particularly worshiped at Nineveh and Arbela (Erbil).[2]

Her symbol is an eight pointed star.[3]

The lion was her symbol (detail of the Ishtar Gate)

Descent into the underworld

One of the most famous myths[4] about Ishtar describes her descent to the underworld. In this myth, Ishtar approaches the gates of the underworld and demands that the gatekeeper open them:

If thou openest not the gate to let me enter,

I will break the door, I will wrench the lock,
I will smash the door-posts, I will force the doors.
I will bring up the dead to eat the living.
And the dead will outnumber the living.

The gatekeeper hurried to tell Ereshkigal, the Queen of the Underworld. Ereshkigal told the gatekeeper to let Ishtar enter, but "according to the ancient decree".

The gatekeeper lets Ishtar into the underworld, opening one gate at a time. At each gate, Ishtar has to shed one article of clothing. When she finally passes the seventh gate, she is naked. In rage, Ishtar throws herself at Ereshkigal, but Ereshkigal orders her servant Namtar to imprison Ishtar and unleash sixty diseases against her.

After Ishtar descends to the underworld, all sexual activity ceases on earth. The god Papsukal reports the situation to Ea, the king of the gods. Ea creates an intersex creature called Asu-shu-namir and sends him-her to Ereshkigal, telling him-her to invoke "the name of the great gods" against her and to ask for the bag containing the waters of life. Ereshkigal is enraged when she hears Asu-shu-namir's demand, but she has to give him-her the water of life. Asu-shu-namir sprinkles Ishtar with this water, reviving her. Then Ishtar passes back through the seven gates, getting one article of clothing back at each gate, and is fully clothed as she exits the last gate.

Here there is a break in the text of the myth. The text resumes with the following lines:

If she (Ishtar) will not grant thee her release,

To Tammuz, the lover of her youth,
Pour out pure waters, pour out fine oil;
With a festival garment deck him that he may play on the flute of lapis lazuli,
That the votaries may cheer his liver. [his spirit]
Belili [sister of Tammuz] had gathered the treasure,
With precious stones filled her bosom.
When Belili heard the lament of her brother, she dropped her treasure,
She scattered the precious stones before her,
"Oh, my only brother, do not let me perish!
On the day when Tammuz plays for me on the flute of lapis lazuli, playing it for me with the porphyry ring.
Together with him, play ye for me, ye weepers and lamenting women!
That the dead may rise up and inhale the incense."

Formerly, scholars[2][5] believed that the myth of Ishtar's descent took place after the death of Ishtar's lover, Tammuz: they thought Ishtar had gone to the underworld to rescue Tammuz. However, the discovery of a corresponding myth[6] about Inanna, the Sumerian counterpart of Ishtar, has thrown some light on the myth of Ishtar's descent, including its somewhat enigmatic ending lines. According to the Inanna myth, Inanna can only return from the underworld if she sends someone back in her place. Demons go with her to make sure she sends someone back. However, each time Inanna runs into someone, she finds him to be a friend and lets him go free. When she finally reaches her home, she finds her husband Dumuzi (Babylonian Tammuz) seated on his throne, not mourning her at all. In anger, Inanna has the demons take Dumuzi back to the underworld as her replacement. Dumuzi's sister Geshtinanna is grief-stricken and volunteers to spend half the year in the underworld, during which time Dumuzi can go free. The Ishtar myth presumably has a comparable ending, Belili being the Babylonian equivalent of Geshtinanna.[7]

Ishtar in the Epic of Gilgamesh

The Epic of Gilgamesh contains an episode[8] involving Ishtar which portrays her as bad-tempered, petulant and spoiled by her father.

She asks the hero Gilgamesh to marry her, but he refuses, citing the fate that has befallen all her many lovers:

Listen to me while I tell the tale of your lovers. There was Tammuz, the lover of your youth, for him you decreed wailing, year after year. You loved the many-coloured roller, but still you struck and broke his wing [...] You have loved the lion tremendous in strength: seven pits you dug for him, and seven. You have loved the stallion magnificent in battle, and for him you decreed the whip and spur and a thong [...] You have loved the shepherd of the flock; he made meal-cake for you day after day, he killed kids for your sake. You struck and turned him into a wolf; now his own herd-boys chase him away, his own hounds worry his flanks."[9]

Angered by Gilgamesh's refusal, Ishtar goes up to heaven and complains to the high god Anu. She demands that Anu give her the Bull of Heaven. If he refuses, she warns, she will do exactly what she told the gatekeeper of the underworld she would do if he didn't let her in:

If you refuse to give me the Bull of Heaven [then] I will break in the doors of hell and smash the bolts; there will be confusion [i.e., mixing] of people, those above with those from the lower depths. I shall bring up the dead to eat food like the living; and the hosts of the dead will outnumber the living."[10]

Anu gives Ishtar the Bull of Heaven, and Ishtar sends it to attack Gilgamesh and his friend Enkidu. Gilgamesh and Enkidu kill the Bull and offer its heart to the sun-god Shamash.

While Gilgamesh and Enkidu are resting, Ishtar stands upon the walls of the city (which is Uruk) and curses Gilgamesh. Enkidu tears off the Bull's right thigh and throws it in Ishtar's face, saying, "If I could lay my hands on you, it is this I should do to you, and lash your entrails to your side."[11] Then Ishtar called together "her people, the dancing and singing girls, the prostitutes of the temple, the courtesans,"[11] and had them mourn for the Bull of Heaven.

Comparisons with other deities

Like Ishtar, the Greek Aphrodite and Northwestern Semitic Astarte were love goddesses who were "as cruel as they were wayward".[12] Donald A. Mackenzie, an early popularizer of mythology, draws a parallel between the love goddess Aphrodite and her "dying god" lover Adonis[13] on one hand, and the love goddess Ishtar and her "dying god" lover Tammuz on the other.[12] Some scholars have suggested that

the myth of Adonis was derived in post-Homeric times by the Greeks indirectly from Babylonia through the Western Semites, the Semitic title 'Adon', meaning 'lord', having been mistaken for a proper name. This theory, however, cannot be accepted without qualifications."[14]

Joseph Campbell, a more recent popularizer of mythology, equates Ishtar, Inanna, and Aphrodite, and he draws a parallel between the Egyptian goddess Isis who nurses Horus, and the Babylonian goddess Ishtar who nurses the god Tammuz.[15]

References

  1. ^ Wilkinson, p. 24
  2. ^ a b c d e f Guirand, p. 58
  3. ^ Gods, Demons, and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia: An Illustrated Dictionary by Jeremy Black and Anthony Green (1992, ISBN 0-292-70794-0), p. 156, pp. 169-170.
  4. ^ Jastrow
  5. ^ Mackenzie, p. 95-98
  6. ^ Wolkstein and Kramer, p. 52-89
  7. ^ Kirk, p. 109
  8. ^ Gilgamesh, p. 85-88
  9. ^ Gilgamesh, p. 86
  10. ^ Gilgamesh, p. 87
  11. ^ a b Gilgamesh, p. 88
  12. ^ a b Mackenzie, p. 103
  13. ^ Mackenzie, p. 83
  14. ^ Mackenzie, p. 84
  15. ^ Campbell, p. 70
  • Campbell, Joseph. The Masks of God: Occidental Mythology. New York: Penguin, 1976.
  • The Epic of Gilgamesh. Trans. N. K. Sandars. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1985.
  • Guirand, F. "Assyro-Babylonian Mythology". New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology (trans. Aldington and Ames, London: Hamlyn, 1968), pp. 49-72.
  • Jastrow, M. "Descent of the Goddess Ishtar into the Lower World" (The Civilization of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915). Sacred-Texts. 2 June 2002 <>.
  • Kirk, G. S. Myth: Its Meaning and Functions in Ancient and Other Cultures. Berkeley: Cambridge UP, 1973.
  • Mackenzie, Donald A. Myths of Babylonia and Assyria. London: Gresham, 1915.
  • Wilkinson, Philip. Illustrated Dictionary of Mythology. NY: DK, 1998.
  • Wolkstein and Kramer. Inanna: Queen of Heaven and Earth. New York: Harper & Row, 1983.

Further reading

  • Powell, Barry. Classical Myth: Fourth Edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2003.

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

ISHTAR, or IsTAR, the name of the chief goddess of Babylonia and Assyria, the counterpart of the Phoenician Astarte. The meaning of the name is not known, though it is possible that the underlying stem is the same as that of Assur, which would thus make her the "leading one" or "chief." At all events it is now generally recognized that the name is Semitic in its origin. Where the name originated is likewise uncertain, but the indications point to Erech where we find the worship of a great mother-goddess independent of any association with a male counterpart flourishing in the oldest period of Babylonian history. She appears under various names, among which are Nand, Innanna, Nina and Anunit. As early as the days of Khammurabi we find these various names which represented originally different goddesses, though all manifest as the chief trait the life-giving power united in Ishtar. Even when the older names are employed it is always the great mother-goddess who is meant. Ishtar is the one goddess in the pantheon who retains her independent position despite and throughout all changes that the Babylonian-Assyrian religion undergoes. In a certain sense she is the only real goddess in the pantheon, the rest being mere reflections of the gods with whom they are associated as consorts. Even when Ishtar is viewed as the consort of some chief - of Marduk occasionally in the south, of Assur more frequently in the north - the consciousness that she has a personality of her own apart from this association is never lost sight of.

4 With Adbeel (Gen. xxv. 13) may be identified Idibi'il (-ba'il) a tribe employed by Tiglath-Pileser IV. (733 B.C.) to watch the frontier of Musri (Sinaitic peninsula or N. Arabia ?).

5 This is suggested by the fact that Ashurbanipal (7th century) mentions as the name of their deity Atar-Samain (i.e. "Ishtar of the heavens").

We may reasonably assume that the analogy drawn from the process of reproduction among men and animals led to the conception of a female deity presiding over the life of the universe. The extension of the scope of this goddess to life in general - to the growth of plants and trees from the fructifying seed - was a natural outcome of a fundamental idea; and so, whether we turn to incantations or hymns, in myths and in epics, in votive inscriptions and in historical annals, Ishtar is celebrated and invoked as the great mother, as the mistress of lands, as clothed in splendour and power - one might almost say as the personification of life itself.

But there are two aspects to this goddess of life. She brings forth, she fertilizes the fields, she clothes nature in joy and gladness, but she also withdraws her favours and when she does so the fields wither, and men and animals cease to reproduce. In place of life, barrenness and death ensue. She is thus also a grim goddess, at once cruel and destructive. We can, therefore, understand that she was also invoked as a goddess of war and battles and of the chase; and more particularly among the warlike Assyrians she assumes this aspect. Before the battle she appears to the army, clad in battle array and armed with bow and arrow. In myths symbolizing the change of seasons she is portrayed in this double character, as the life-giving and the life-depriving power. The most noteworthy of these myths describes her as passing through seven gates into the nether world. At each gate some of her clothing and her ornaments are removed until at the last gate she is entirely naked. While she remains in the nether world as a prisoner - whether voluntary or involuntary it is hard to say - all fertility ceases on earth, but the time comes when she again returns to earth, and as she passes each gate the watchman restores to her what she had left there until she is again clad in her full splendour, to the joy of mankind and of all nature. Closely allied with this myth and personifying another view of the change of seasons is the story of Ishtar's love for Tammuz - symbolizing the spring time - but as midsummer approaches her husband is slain and, according to one version, it is for the purpose of saving Tammuz from the clutches of the goddess of the nether world that she enters upon her journey to that region.

In all the great centres Ishtar had her temples, bearing such names as E-anna, "heavenly house," in Erech; E-makh, "great house," in Babylon; E-mash-mash, "house of offerings," in Nineveh. Of the details of her cult we as yet know little, but there is no evidence that there were obscene rites connected with it, though there may. have been certain mysteries introduced at certain centres which might easily impress the uninitiated as having obscene aspects. She was served by priestesses as well as by priests, and it would appear that the votaries of Ishtar were in all cases virgins who, as long as they remained in the service of Ishtar, were not permitted to marry.

In the astral-theological system, Ishtar becomes the planet Venus, and the double aspect of the goddess is made to correspond to the strikingly different phases of Venus in the summer and winter seasons. On monuments and seal-cylinders she appears frequently with bow and arrow, though also simply clad in long robes with a crown on her head and an eight-rayed star as her symbol. Statuettes have been found in large numbers representing her as naked with her arms folded across her breast or holding a child. The art thus reflects the popular conceptions formed of the goddess. Together with Sin, the moon-god, and Shamash, the sun-god, she is the third figure in a triad personifying the three great forces of nature - moon, sun and earth, as the life-force. The doctrine involved illustrates the tendency of the Babylonian priests to centralize the manifestations of divine power in the universe, just as the triad Anu, Bel and Ea - the heavens, the earth and the watery deep - form another illustration of this same tendency.

Naturally, as a member of a triad, Ishtar is dissociated from any local limitations, and similarly as the planet Venus - a conception which is essentially a product of theological speculation - no thought of any particular locality for her cult is present. It is because her cult, like that of Sin (q.v.) and Shamash (q.v.), is spread over all Babylonia and Assyria, that she becomes available for purposes of theological speculation.

Cf. ASTARTE, ATARGATIS, GREAT MOTHER OF THE GODS, and specially BABYLONIAN AND ASSYRIAN RELIGION. (M. JA.)


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Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

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Etymology

From Akkadian 𒀭𒌋𒁯 (DINGIRIŠTAR).

Proper noun

Singular
Ishtar

Plural
-

Ishtar

  1. A goddess of fertility, love, and war. In the Babylonian pantheon, she was the divine personification of the planet Venus. Assyrian and Babylonian counterpart to the Sumerian Inanna and to the cognate northwest Semitic goddess Astarte.

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Bible wiki

Up to date as of January 23, 2010
(Redirected to Ashtoreth article)

From BibleWiki

The moon goddess of the Phoenicians, representing the passive principle in nature, their principal female deity; frequently associated with the name of Baal, the sun-god, their chief male deity (Jdg 10:6; 1Sam 7:4; 1Sam 12:10). These names often occur in the plural (Ashtaroth, Baalim), probably as indicating either different statues or different modifications of the deities. This deity is spoken of as Ashtoreth of the Zidonians. She was the Ishtar of the Accadians and the Astarte of the Greeks (Jer 44:17; 1 Kg 11:5, 1 Kg 11:33; 2Kg 23:13). There was a temple of this goddess among the Philistines in the time of Saul (1Sam 31:10). Under the name of Ishtar, she was one of the great deities of the Assyrians. The Phoenicians called her Astarte. Solomon introduced the worship of this idol (1 Kg 11:33). Jezebel's 400 priests were probably employed in its service (1 Kg 18:19). It was called the "queen of heaven" (Jer 44:25).

This entry includes text from Easton's Bible Dictionary, 1897.

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