Ishtar's Descent into the Underworld


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Babylonian Myth of Ishtar's Descent into the Underworld
HistoryWiz Primary Source

Ishtar was the goddess of life and fertility. She descends into the underworld to Ereshkigal, goddess of death and sterility, who has her executed. Fertility on earth disappears, causing the gods to create Asushunamir who tricks Ereshkigal into reviving Ishtar with the water of life.

 
 
 
To Kurnugi, land of no return,
Ishtar daughter of Sin was determined to go;
The daugher of Sin was determined to go
To the dark house, dwelling of Erkalla's God [Ereshkigal],
To the house which those who enter cannot leave,
On the road where travelling is one-way only,
To the house where those who enter are deprived of light,
Where dust is their food, clay their bread.
They see no light, they dwell in darkness,
They are clothed like birds, with feathers.
Over the door and the bolt, dust has settled.
 
Ishtar, when she arrived at the gate of Kurnugi,
Addressed her words to the keeper of the gate,
"Here, gatekeeper, open your gate for me,
Open your gate for me to come in!
If you do not open the gate for me to come in,
I shall shamsh the door and shatter the bolt,
I shall smash the doorpost and overturn the doors,
I shall raise up the dead and they shall eat the living:
The dead shall outnumber the living!"
 
 
 
 

The gatekeeper made his voice heard and spake,
He said to great Ishtar,
"Stop, lady, do not break it down!
Let me go and report your words to queen Ereshkigal."
The gatekeeper went in and spole to Ereshkigal,
"Here she is, your sister Ishtar,
Who holds the great keppu-toy,
Stirs up the Apsu in Ea's presence."
 
When Ereshkigal heard this,
Her face grew livid as cut tamarisk,
Her lips grew dark as the rim of a kuninu-vessel.
"What brings her to me? What has encited her against me?
Surely not because I drink water with the Anunnaki,
I eat clay for break, I drink muddy water for beer?
I have to weep for young men forced to abandon sweethearts.
I have to weep for girls wrenched from their lovers' laps.
For the infant child I have to weep, expelled before it's time.
Go, gatekeeper, open your gate to her.
Treat her according to the ancient rites."
 
The gatekeeper went. He opened the gate to her.
"Enter, my lady: may Kutha give you joy,
May the palace of Kurnugi be glad to see you."
 
He let her in through the first door,
but stripped off and took away the great crown on her head.
 
"Gatekeeper, why have you taken away the great crown on my head?"
"Go in, my lady. Such are the rites of the Mistress of Earth."
 
He let her in through the second door,
but stripped off and took away the rings in her ears.
 
"Gatekeeper, why have you taken away the rings in my ears?"
"Go in, my lady. Such are the rites of the Mistress of Earth."
 
He let her in through the third door, but stripped off and took away the beads around her neck.

"Gatekeeper, why have you taken away the beads around my neck?"

"Go in, my lady. Such are the rites of the Mistress of Earth."
 
He let her in through the fourth door, but stripped off and took away the toggle-pins at her breast.

"Gatekeeper, why have you taken away the toggle-pins at my breast?"

"Go in, my lady. Such are the rites of the Mistress of Earth."
 
He let her in through the fifth door, but stripped off and took away the girdle of birth-stones around her waist.

"Gatekeeper, why have you taken away

the girdle of birth-stones around my waist?"
"Go in, my lady. Such are the rites of the Mistress of Earth."
 
 
 
 

He let her in through the sixth door, but stripped off and took away the bangles on her wrists and ankles.
 

"Gatekeeper, why have you taken away the bangles from my wrists and ankles?"

"Go in, my lady. Such are the rites of the Mistress of Earth."

 
He let her in through the seventh door,
but stripped off and took away the proud garment of her body.
"Gatekeeper, why have you taken away the proud garment of my body?"
"Go in, my lady. Such are the rites of the Mistress of Earth."
 
As soon as Ishtar went down to Kurnugi,
Ereshkigal looked at her and trembled before her.
Ishtar did not deliberate, but leant over her.
Ereshkigal made her voice heard and spake,
Addressed her words to Namtar her vizier,

"Go, Namtar [ ] of my [ ]

Send out against her sixty diseases
[ ] Ishtar:

Disease of the eyes to her eyes,

Disease of the arms to her arms,
Diseiase of the feet to her feet,
Disease of the heart to her heart,
Disease of the head to her head,
To every part of her and to [ ]."
 
After Ishtar the mistress of [ ] had gone down to Kurnugi,
No bull mounted a cow, no donkey impregnated a jenny,
No young man impregnated a girl in the street,
The young man slept in his private room,
The girl slept in teh company of her friends.
 
Then Papsukkal, vizier of the great gods, hung his head, his face became gloomy;

He wore mourning clothes, his hair was unkempt.

Dejected, he went and wept before Sin his father,
His tears flowed freely before king Ea.
"Ishtar has gone down to the Earth and has not come up again.
As soon as Ishtar went down to Kurnugi
No bull mounted a cow, no donkey impregnated a jenny,
No young man impregnated a girl in the street,
The young man slept in his private room,
The girl slept in the company of her friends."
 
Ea, in the wisdom of his heart, created a person.
He created Good-looks the playboy.
"Come, Good-looks, set your face towards the gate of Kurnugi.
The seven gates of Kurnugi shall be opened before you.
Ereshkigal shall look at you and be glad to see you.
whe she is relaxed, her mood will lighten.
Get her to swear the oath by the great gods.
Raise your head, pay attention to the waterskin,
Saying, 'O, my lady, let them give me the waterskin, that I may drink water from it.'"
 
(and so it happened, but)
When Ereshkigal heard this,
She struck her thigh and bit her finger.
"You have made a request of me that should not have been made!
Come, Good-looks, I shall curse you with a great curse.
I shall decree for you a fate that shall never be forgotten.
Bread gleaned from the city's ploughs shall be your food,
The city drains shall be your only drinking place,
The shade of a city wall your only standing place,
Threshold steps your only sitting place,
The drunkard and the thirsty shall slap your cheek."
 
Ereshkigal made her voice heard and spake;
She addressed her words to Namtar her vizier,
"Go, Namtar, knock at Egalgina,
Decorate the threshold steps with coral,
Bring teh Anunnaki out and seat them on golden thrones,
Sprinkle Ishtar with the waters of life and conduct her into my presence."
 
Namtar went, knocked at Egalgina,
Decorated the threshold steps with coral,
Brought out the Anunnaki, seated them on golden thrones,
Sprinkled Ishtar with the waters of life and brought her to her sister.
 
He let her out through the first door,
and gave back to her the proud garment of her body.
He let her out through the second door,
and gave back to her the bangles for her wrists and ankles.
He let her out through the third door,
and gave back to her the girdle of birth-stones around her waist.
He let her out through the fourth door,
and gave back to her the toggle-pins at her breast.
He let her out through the fifth door,
and gave back to her the beads around her neck.
He let her out through the sixth door,
and gave back to her the rings for her ears.
He let her out through the seventh door,
and gave back to her the great crown for her head.
 
"Swear that she has paid you her ransom, and give her back in exchange for him, for Dumuzi, the lover of her youth.
Wash him with pure water, anoint him with sweet oil,
Clothe him in a red robe, let the lapis lazuli pipe play.
Let the party-girls raise a loud lament."
 
 
 
 
Then Belili tore off her jewellery,
Her lap was filled with eyestones.

Belili heard the lament for her brother, she struck the jewellery from her body,

The eyestones with which the front of the wild cow was filled.
 
"You shall not rob me forever of my only brother!
On the day when Dumuzi comes back up, and the lapis lazuli pipe and the carnelian ring come up with him,
When male and female mourners come up with him,
the dead shall come up and smell the smoke of offering."

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