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You read something over breakfast thinking, this is short, it'll only take a minute, and before you know it you're embroiled.

This short article from the year 1900 suggests that Ishtar was originally an androgynous deity before being "split" into male and female aspects. Similarly, Barton argues, Enlil and Ninlil were originally one and the same god. This intriguing idea is based on three pieces of evidence: one, in South Arabia, the goddess Athtar became the god Athtar, the deity's female aspect becoming a separate goddess, Shamsu; an inscription which Barton argues should read in part "the king of countries, the god Ishtar, the lady, the goddess Ishtar"; and an incantation in which both Enlil and Ninlil are called "mother-father". Barton also mentions Phoenician inscriptions referring to "Ashtart of the name of Baal" and "Tanit of the face of Baal".

This is appealing, but I don't quite know what to do with it. I can't find any citations of this article (which makes me wonder how I found it in the first place); apparently no-one else has built on this idea (although Barton discussed it further in his 1902 book A Sketch of Semitic Origins: Social and Religious). Connections suggest themselves: the primordial Aztec creator deity Ometeotl, both male and female, who can also appear as a male god, Ometecuhtli, and a goddess, Omecihuatl. OTOH, the Egyptian god Atum seems to have started off male and acquired female characteristics as a necessary part of being a creator.

There's also a mention of a Phoenician idol of a bearded goddess (Tanit, but with Baal's face?). I tried randomly searching for "bearded goddess" and came up with various examples, including a bearded Isis (which I will ETA), and the bearded Aphrodite / Aphroditus / Hermaphroditus, and his/her festival in which men and women swapped clothes - shades of the transvestism apparently involved in Inanna's rituals. Scholars have argued over whether Anat wore a beard. (Which I will also ETA because I can't lay hands on the photocopies right now.)

ETA: After much faffing about I found a section on Anat's beard in Neal H. Walls' book The Goddess Anat in Ugaritic Myth. There's a description of the god El mourning the slain Baal in a series of ritual actions, which includes shaving his beard and whiskers. Then Anat goes through the same series of steps. IIUC what El does, literally, is to "cut his cheeks and chin", where the word for "chin" is also used to mean "beard". So in Anat's case, she "gashed her cheeks and chin". Walls remarks: "the comparative evidence for bearded goddesses is dubious". I shall pursue this question. (Does Sekhmet's ruff count?)

ETA: Here's bearded Isis (click for larger size):



This is a plate from Symbolik und Mythologie der alten Völker: besonders der Griechen (Symbolism and mythology of the Ancient Peoples, Especially the Greeks) by Friedrich Creuzer. This in turn reproduces an illustration from Nachträge zu meinem Werke betitelt "Reise zum Tempel des Jupiter Ammon in der libyschen Wüste" (Supplements to my work titled "Journey to the Temple of Jupiter Ammon in the Libyan Desert) (whew!) by Heinrich Karl Minutoli. Here, alas, the trail runs out: Minutoli tells us that this is a relief in the Palazzo Grimani in Venice, and that is Graeco-Roman, but gives no further information.
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Barton, George A. An Androgynous Babylonian Divinity. Journal of the American Oriental Society 21, 1900, pp. 185-187
Walls, Neal H. The Goddess Anat in Ugaritic Myth. Scholars Press, Atlanta GA, 1992.

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