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Mesopotamian Mythology

Mesopotamian Mythology. Mesopotamian Societies. “the land between the rivers (Tigris and Euphrates): primarily the area of modern Iraq & Kuwait but often with greater borders

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Mesopotamian Mythology

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  1. Mesopotamian Mythology

  2. Mesopotamian Societies • “the land between the rivers (Tigris and Euphrates): primarily the area of modern Iraq & Kuwait but often with greater borders • It was the first area to have agriculture and cities; consequently influenced much of the Mediterranean area including Greece. • Was the first to develop large urban centers • Each great city was politically independent, with its own king, lawcodes and religious festivals, although there were many in common • Cities were often in conflict with one another, and at times different cities exercised wide dominion over others in their area • Each city had a patron deity (such as Inanna for Uruk) • Several civilizations developed in this area; the most enduring and influential were:

  3. Mesopotamian Societies • Sumerians • first major civilization (3000 BCE) • non-Semitic people /language • Uruk (and other cities) • cuneiform writing • elaborate mythology and cult-based mythic poems • Babylonians / Akkadians • later (c.1200-600 BCE) • Semitic people, language • myth based on Sumerian myth

  4. Mesopotamian Societies • Both societies share: • social/political hierarchy with kings as head of state • priestly class who also teach/write/preserve literature • tradition of sacred writings associated with actual rituals • high level of “civilization” (i.e. social structure & material wealth) • irrigation-based agriculture, water resources organized by government • cuneiform writing cuneiform tablet

  5. Sumerians and Babylonians shared a pantheon, although the deities had different names (as with the Greeks and Romans). The importance and in some respects, the nature of these deities varied over time and between these two societies.

  6. Gods and Goddesses • Nanna (Sin) (the moon), had a higher place in the pantheon than his children: • Utu (Shamash) (the sun), who becomes important as a deity of all-seeing justice, and • Inanna (Ishtar)(the morning star), whose multifaceted nature includes goddess of sexual love, of justice and warfare, of communal prosperity . . .

  7. Gods and Goddesses • Dumuzi (Tammuz )was Ishtar’s husband – a god like Attis (with Cybele) who died and was reborn every year. • Ereshkigal was the goddess of the Underworld (Kurnugi). • Geshtinanna (Belili) was Tammuz’s sister, who took his place in the underworld • Enki (Ea): god of fresh water and wisdom, often a helper to humans (as in the flood myth)

  8. Inanna • Inanna was the city goddess of Uruk. • In Sumerian tradition, she appeared in several important stories: • Story of the me (decrees which represent the key elements of Sumerian civilization) Inanna visits Enki– here her father. He gets drunk, she steals the me, and thus confers power on Uruk.

  9. Inanna In another story, she got the hero Gilgamesh to chase a demon from her hulupu tree, and make her a throne – a story which shows a good relationship between the powerful king of Uruk and the city’s patron goddess..

  10. Inanna and played a key role in civic cult, in a sacred marriage. She was worshipped in ornate temples . . .

  11. Inanna Here she takes a king by the hand and leads him, a sign of divine favor. Ishtar is goddess of prostitutes but the idea that there was “sacred prostitution” at her temples is a western misreading of the evidence – blame Herodotus. But it’s possible that in a yearly sacred marriage, Ishtar’s priestess had a ritual (real or symbolic?) sexual union with the city’s king, to insure fertility for the coming year.

  12. Inanna’s Descent Inanna decides to visit the Underworld . . . Inanna daughter of Nanna was determined to go – to the dark house, to the house which those who enter cannot leave, where those who enter are deprived of light, where dust is their food, clay their bread . . . Ereshkigal is angry that Inanna has come.

  13. As Inanna enters each of the underworld’s seven gates, the gatekeeper takes away an item of her high-status adornment: crown, earrings, jewelry, and finally “the proud garment of her body.” Inanna’s Descent What brings her here? What has incited her against me? Surely not because I eat clay for bread, drink muddy water for beer? I have to weep for young men forced to abandon their sweethearts. . . “Go in, my lady. Such are the rites of the Mistress of Earth.”

  14. Inanna’s Descent Inanna hangs like a corpse on a stake for three days (the Sumerian version) During this time all fertility on the earth stops. Ea sends a “pleasure boy” to the underworld who apparently performs the right action to get Ishtar released. But a substitute must be found. In the longer more complete Sumerian version, it is Dumuzi. He is taken down into the underworld to take Ishtar’s place. But he too is a fertility god (young herd animals), and cannot remain under ground forever. Apparently his sister Geshtinanna (goddess of vines) takes his place, and trades off parts of the year with him.

  15. Inanna’s Descent • How is this story like the Greek underworld myths we have encountered (Demeter and Persephone, Orpheus, Heracles, etc.)? • How is it different? • How similar are the ideas of the underworld and its deities? • What underlying meanings are there – are they similar to the ideas about human fate you see in the Mysteries at Eleusis?

  16. Gilgamesh Gilgamesh is on the Sumerian king-list as one of Uruk’s earliest kings – in the realm of myth. He features in several Sumerian myths (such as the one with Inanna’s hulupu tree), and in one long poem, the “Epic” of Gilgamesh. This poem is the most popular piece of literature in Mesopotamia, found in many different languages and versions across 2500 years. We discovered it in about 1920. There are two major versions: we are reading the Nineveh version, compiled by a priest in about 800-700 BCE.

  17. Gilgamesh I shall tell the land of the one who learned all things, of the one who experienced everything, I shall teach the whole. He searched lands everywhere. He found out what was secret and uncovered what was hidden, he brought back a tale of times before the flood. He had journeyed far and wide, weary and at last resigned. He built the wall of Uruk. . . One square mile is the city, one square mile is its orchards, one square mile is its claypits, as well as the open ground of Ishtar’s temple.

  18. Gilgamesh • Son of Lugulbanda and the goddess Ninsun • 2/3 god, 1/3 human. “perfect in splendor, perfect in strength” • Like all humans he is destined to die. • King of Uruk, building his city ever greater. • causing problems at home. • excess energy (in building, exploration, and sex – everything in fact) • people pray to the gods for relief.

  19. The gods create Enkidu, a hairy wild man • Good king of animals vs. difficult king in Uruk Gilgamesh and Enkidu • Gilgamesh sends a woman (called Shamhat, a cult name of Ishtar) to sleep with Enkidu • Enkidu loses hair, eats bread, drinks beer, goes to Uruk. • Gilgamesh dreams, Ninsun interprets. • the two men meet – at a celebration of Ishtar – and fight to a standstill, then become fast friends. • Next step: a quest to free the Cedar Forest of Humbaba.

  20. Gilgamesh and Enkidu • Nature vs. culture. . . • Masculine quest vs. feminine desire for peace: Ninsun’s prayer to Shamash: Why did you single out my son Gilgamesh and impose a restless spirit on him? He faces an unknown struggle, he will ride along an unknown road . . . Ninsun adopts Enkidu , entreats him to watch after Gilgamesh. Enlil destined Humbaba to keep the pine forest safe, to be the terror of people . . .

  21. Gilgamesh • What does Gilgamesh have in common with • Odysseus, • Achilles, • Heracles, • Others? • Is his story (so far) essentially different from theirs in some ways?

  22. The Cedar Forest • Enkidu’s premonition at the gates • Gilgamesh’s terrible dreams of destruction, • Enkidu’s optimistic interpretations • Humbaba, defeated, asks for mercy. • Despite the gods’ possible displeasure Enkidu urges Gilgamesh to kill the monster. • Humbaba cries out: • Triumphant return to Uruk • The goddess Ishtar approaches Gilgamesh to become her lover. Neither one of them shall outlive his friend! Gilgamesh and Enkidu shall never become old men!

  23. Gilgamesh & Ishtar Come to me, Gilgamesh, and be my lover! Bestow on me the gift of your fruit! You can be my husband, I can be your wife. I shall have a chariot of lapis lazuli and gold harnessed for you . . . kings, nobles and princes shall bow down beneath you. . . But Gilgamesh scornfully rejects her: You are a door that can’t keep out winds and gusts, a palace that rejects its own warriors, a waterskin which soaks its carrier . . . which of your lovers lasted forever? Which of your paramours went to heaven?

  24. The Bull of Heaven • Ishtar sends the Bull of Heaven to ravage Uruk. • Gilgamesh and Enkidu kill it • Enkidu insults and attacks Ishtar, even throwing the “thigh” of the bull in her face. • Inanna mourns the bull – a type scene related to fertility ritual. (The Bull of Heaven is the husband of Ereshkigal)

  25. Gilgamesh & Ishtar What reasons does Gilgamesh give for rejecting the love of Ishtar? Have we seen anything like this in Greek myth? Why is Gilgamesh so hostile to Ishtar, given that he does reject her? How is Ishtar characterized in this exchange – benevolent, cruel, as bad as Gilgamesh says, etc. . . . What do you expect at the conclusion of this episode, when Enkidu and Gilgamesh have both disrespected the goddess?

  26. Enkidu’s death • Enkidu’s lingering death • He curses the hunter and the prostitute • Shamash persuades him not to curse the prostitute. Enkidu has a terrible nightmare: The gods were in council last night. And Anu said to Enlil, “As they have slain the Bull of Heaven, so too have they slain Humbaba: One of them must die.” Enlil replied, “Let Enkidu die, but let Gilgamesh not die.” Then heavenly Shamash said, “Was it not according to your plans?” But Enlil turned in anger to Shamash: “You accompanied them daily, like one of their comrades.” Gilgamesh mourned bitterly for Enkidu his friend, and roved the open country. “Shall I die too? Am I not like Enkidu? Grief has entered my innermost being . . .

  27. Gilgamesh travels to the ends of the earth, through the dark mountain, the pathways of Shamash: He meets Siduri, the (female) innkeeper (another cult name of Ishtar). She directs him to Utnapishtim, and adds: When he had gone one double-hour, thick is the darkness, there is no light; he can see neither behind him nor ahead of him… When he had gone seven double hours, thick is the darkness, there is no light… At the nearing of eleven double-hours, light breaks out. At the nearing of twelve double-hours, the light is steady. As for you, Gilgamesh, let your belly be full, Make merry day and night. Of each day make a feast of rejoicing. Day and night dance and play!

  28. Utnapishtim • the boatman Urshanabi • The crossing to Dilmun, the land at the edge of time . . . • 60 saplings & river of death. • He finally uses his tattered clothing for a sail • Says to Utnapishtim: • Utnapishtim tells Gilgamesh: • how Ea told him to build a huge arc because a flood was coming; • how built the amazing thing, how he and his family alone of all mortals were saved from the Flood, • how Ishtar mourned the dead; • and how he and his wife came to Dilmun, living as immortals. I crossed uncrossable mountains. I travelled all the seas. No real sleep has calmed my face. I have worn myself out in sleeplessness; my flesh is filled with grief.

  29. Gilgamesh says to him, to Utnapishtim the remote, "as soon as I was ready to fall asleep, right away you touched me and roused me." Utnapishtim offers Gilgamesh a way to become immortal: Test yourself! Don't sleep for six days and seven nights." • But Utnapishtim shows him the loaves, and Gilgamesh realizes that he has failed his quest. • The “consolation prize”: a rejuvenating plant. • But a snake takes it from him. • Gilgamesh’s 7 day sleep • The 7 loaves of bread, a metaphor for the seven decades of human life.

  30. Homecoming Go up onto the wall of Uruk, and walk around! Inspect it . . . One square mile is the city, one square mile is its orchards, one square mile is its claypits, as well as the open ground of Ishtar’s temple. Urshanabi accompanies Gilgamesh home, and when they reach the city, Gilgamesh proudly points it out to him: The story's quiet close belies the significance of Gilgamesh's return. He is back where he started but a changed man, his description of Uruk here suggesting in the context a new acceptance of the meaning of the city in his life, an embracing rather than a defiance of the limits it represents… the king has evolved from a hubristic, dominating male into a wiser man, accepting the limitations that his mortal side imposes…[and] his essential kinship with all creatures who must die . Thomas van Nortwick

  31. How do Ishtar’s descent and Gilgamesh’s experiences on his way to Dilmun compare to one another? • Is there a feel to the wisdom Gilgamesh returns with? In other words, what sort of wisdom does Gilgamesh gain?

  32. finis

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