Episode 9 – Anunnaki 2 Ishtar and Dumazid

This week, we follow the twists and turns of an odd love story, Ishtar and Dumazid, who despite the sometimes questionable nature of their relationship were considered the archetype of lovers in ancient Mesopotamia

Ah! Divine marriage did not make it into the show! I meant to have a section on it, but forgot. I even promised I would get to it in the show!

First some pictures so that I don’t have literal porn on the thumbnail for this post. Here is a nice lover’s photo of Ishtar and Dumazid, of course from Wikipedia.

Divine marriage is a practice by some kings in Sumer where they would enact the rituals of marriage with a high priest of Ishtar, symbolically marrying the goddess for the protection of the city. There is some debate on whether these marriages were consummated or purely ritualistic, but they were undeniably important in thier day and it puts a new spin on the idea of Ishtar herself being physically present in her temple in Uruk. Perhaps there truly was a human woman taken to be the goddess who would appear from time to time, which is why the messenger back in episode 1 was able to state so plainly that Ishtar literally lived in Uruk and slept with king Enmerkar. Look at this, supposedly depicting either royal divine marriage or Dumazid and Ishtar, or both, or just porn, anyway, ancient porn is interesting. Image again from wikipedia.

Also, Dumazid gets a mention in the bible under the name Tammuz, this is an artwork depicting Ezekiel 8:14 in which the hebrew prophet encounters pagans celebrating (mourning) the ritual return of Tammuz to the underworld. Bonus fun fact, the Jewish lunar calendar still has a month named Tammuz in reference to Dumazid. These stories really did have powerful cultural resonance in days long past.

Also the farmer vs Shepherd thing needs elaboration. There are a few iterations of this kind of story just in the cuneiform corpus, including one that will show up when I do an episode on wisdom literature pretty soon explicitly titled debate between farmer and shepherd. And here so soon after the dawn of agriculture, relatively speaking, with so much of the population engaged in pastoralism, it was a particularly relevant conflict, sometimes just in terms of finances and words, sometimes in terms of actual open warfare, see how when god selects Abel the shepherd over Cain the farmer, which is universally how the stories seem to end, at least those I have seen, and the farmer literally murders the shepherd in anger. But don’t think for a second that this was an issue confined to the bronze age. As late as the 18th century CE in Britain the debate was still raging with the fights over the enclosure laws that restricted ranchers in favor of farmers. Why do all these stories seem to select the ultimate losing side? I don’t know, though for sure it probably didn’t seem so conclusively like the losing side from a bronze age perspective.

Also the creepy story, I need to clarify that it is badly broken at the end and the ending is my own interpretation, judging from the general tone and the way things seemed to be going. There could well have been a humorous reversal at the end, I hope there was, but my best guess from the clues we have is that Geshtin-ana is violated by her brother and we are meant to laugh at his foibles. Which makes it even harder when at the end she undergoes torture for him. This may have been a one off story told at their expense, or maybe in the lost stories Geshtin-ana is her brothers hidden mistress, or any of many other possibilities. I read recently that we have maybe as many as 2 million shards of cunieform, of which only thirty to fifty thousand have been translated. It makes me want to quit my job and become a cunieform translator.

Also, I got fewer audio burps this episode, I am working on improving the audio quality still, but for now I hope you can focus on the story more than the many many flaws in my delivery. Let me know if there is anything you would like to see me improve on or focus on in these episodes. Thanks again for listening.

2 thoughts on “Episode 9 – Anunnaki 2 Ishtar and Dumazid”

  1. I believe there is one version in which Ereshkigal's late husband is none other than Gugulanna, the Bull of Heaven, which would place the Descent of Inanna shortly after the killing of the Bull by Gilgamesh and Enkidu.Ereshkigal's other husband, Nergal the god of disease, who basically wrestles her to the ground and gets her to split the Underworld with him in another lovely story of gender relations, is more the classic Lord of the Underworld type you mention.


  2. Also, IIRC there was a reversal in our understanding of the Descent of Inanna story when we found a more complete telling. For a long time we assumed it was a gender-flipped Orpheus-and-Eurydice thing where Inanna/Ishtar was going to the Underworld to rescue the dead Dumuzid/Tammuz. Only later did we find out that she went down there to take over the place and, far from rescuing her husband, offered him to be punished in her stead.


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