ikhet_sekhmet: (Default)
Tikva Frymer-Kensky, outlining the role of goddesses in Sumerian civilisation:
  • "The second millennium... was a time of tremendous transformation... Religion was transformed in a way that continually and constantly diminished the role of goddesses... Female deities that had control over certain cultural events and activities in the early period, let's say in 2300 BCE, become sidekicks by the later period." (p 70) (She goes on to note that the Babylonians were "prudes" who "desexualized" creation - a forerunner of the sexless Biblical deity, who is a "talking torso" (p 78-9).)

  • Goddesses take the same roles as human women: "the mother, the sister, the mother-in-law, the daughter... and the wife. The mother is wonderful. There is no dark side to the mother in Mesopotamian mythology." The mother is dedicated and loyal, the sister similarly loyal. "Even the mother-in-law is a lovely figure. She is particularly the friend of the daughter-in-law. If you can imagine such a thing. She is her key ally in the house." (pp 70-1)

  • The wife is a more obscure figure. The "prototype of all wives" (p 71) is the goddess of spinning and weaving, Uttu, crucial in the introduction of culture to humanity. There's an obvious contrast with the bride Inanna's systematic rejection the entire process of textile production - "Anything connected to making clothing, basically, was a woman's job." (p 74) Even elite women had to oversee the making of textiles, but Inanna has no such "economic duties". (By contrast, in Genesis, human beings are not taught culture but invent clothing, agriculture etc for themselves (p 79), becoming not spectators in a cosmic game but its players (p 80).)

  • Although there are references to two minor children of Inanna, she never becomes a "mother figure". "She is eternally young and nubile - the Playboy bunny - the object of love and the personification of lust." But with no womanly chores to use her energy, Inanna is restless and power-hungry. "She is known by the epithet of 'the one who walks about'. Only demons and Inanna walk about." (p 75)

  • Pondering the possible origins of figures like Lady Wisdom, Frymer-Kensky speculates that all such female figures might have their origin in early childhood, where an "all-wise" mother "brings us into civilization". She points out that "transformational" skills, such as making food, clothing, and beer, are the business of goddesses, but so are divination, singing, and dancing - the "cultural arts" in general. (Eventually, the god Enki assimilates all the goddesses' powers in these areas.) (pp 81-82)
This essay (which is often very funny) contains a neat summary of what is IMHO one of polytheism's big advantages: "In paganism, the world is always in flux - god against god, god cooperating with god, gods merging with each other, fighting with each other. You can see why things happen." (p 79)

ETA: The same volume contains Frymer-Kensky's take on the Inanna-Dumuzi love songs. She notes that this "Lolita-Inanna" (pp 83-88) is very different to the Inanna of other sources: "... there is nothing defiant about her, nothing angry, nothing dangerous, nothing wild. She is the conventional well-brought-up daughter... There is no hint in this girl-child of the complex Inanna that she will later become."

__
Frymer-Kensky, Tikva. "Goddess: Biblical Echoes". in Studies in Bible and Feminist Criticism. Philadelphia, Pa. : Jewish Publication Society ; London : Eurospan [distributor], 2006. pp 69-82.
ikhet_sekhmet: (Ishtar)
The Neo-Pagan song Barge of Heaven was adapted by Starhawk from Thorkild Jacobsen's rendering of a Sumerian song, labelled Dumuzid-Inana P, which describes the goddess Inanna's preparation for marriage - a bath, a song of praise for her genitals, and finally her union with the king.

For a long time I've wanted to compare the two, partly because there are some lines in Starhawk's version which have been borrowed from other similar songs, and partly because I thought I was being a bit clever in spotting an edit which shifts credit for the land's fertility from the king to the goddess. Or does it?

Here are Starhawk's lyrics:
1 Your crescent shaped barge of heaven
2 So well belayed, so well belayed
3 Full of loveliness like the new moon
4 Your fertile fields well-watered
5 Hillock lands well-watered, too
6 At your mighty rising
7 The vines rise up and the fields rise up
8 And the desert fills with green
9 Just like a living garden
10 In the heat of the sun, you are the shade
11 A well of water in a dry, dry land
12 Swelling fruits to feed the hungry
13 Sweet cream to quench our thirst
14 Pour it out for me, pour it out for me
15 Everything you send me I will drink
Jacobsen's translation appears on page 46 of his book The Treasures of Darkness, and accounts for lines 1-3, 5, 4, and 6-9. Here's his rendering of those lines, given the same numbering:
1 (my crescent shaped) "Barge of Heaven,"
2 so (well) belayed,
3 full of loveliness, like the new moon

5 my hillock land, so (well) watered

4 My parts, (well) watered lowlands

6 At its mighty rising, at its mighty rising,
7 did the shoots and the vines rise up.
6 The king's loins! At its mighty rising
7 did the vines rise up and the grains rise up
8 did the desert fill (with verdure)
9 like a pleasurable garden.
Compare and contrast... )

___
Jacobsen, Thorkild. The Treasures of Darkness: a history of Mesopotamian religion. Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1976.

Kramer, Samuel Noah. Cuneiform Studies and the History of Literature: the Sumerian Sacred Marriage Texts. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 107(6), December 1963, pp 485-515.

Sefati, Yitschak. Love Songs in Sumerian Literature. Bar-Ilan University Press, Israel, 1998.

Links

Sep. 21st, 2007 09:19 pm
ikhet_sekhmet: (Default)
From Smithsonian.com: Epic Hero: How a self-taught British genius rediscovered the Mesopotamian saga of Gilgamesh—after 2,500 years. (Thanks [livejournal.com profile] murasaki_1966!)

It is the death of history: the destruction of Iraq' archaeological heritage. (Via [livejournal.com profile] drhoz).
ikhet_sekhmet: (Default)
(I'm just jotting down a few notes here - I hope I can do a more detailed summary of the book later on.)

Kramer points out that there are multiple, conflicting versions of the courtship of Inanna and Dumuzi.

Discussing the Descent, Kramer remarks, "For it would seem that not satisifed with being queen of the 'Great Above' only, she aspires to be queen of the 'Great Below' as well. She therefore... decks herself out in all of her rich finery and tempting jewels; and holding on tightly to the sacred emblems of her powers and prerogatives, she is all set to descend..." This description made me wonder why Inanna doesn't bring weapons, if Her plan is to take over the underworld - is she planning to argue or bully Her sister into giving up the throne? If She could smash the gates and enter anyway, why try for a diplomatic approach, with the excuse of attending Her brother-in-law's funeral?

If Inanna's intention was to conquer the underworld, that explains the lack of sympathy on the part of Enlil and Nanna when Inanna's vizier goes to them for help after Inanna has been gone for three days and three nights (or seven months, or seven years, seven months, and seven days, depending on the version!)

Here's something I wondered about... if the Queen of the Underworld is giving birth, which would explain the internal pains with which Enki's emissaries sympathise, who is she giving birth to? (She was originally Ninlil, Enlil's wife, and followed him to the underworld where he had been banished after raping her.)

Now this is interesting: Inanna is never presented as a mother goddess, but She does have sons, who are mentioned in the Descent - Shara and Lulal are both in mourning for Her, while Her husband Dumuzi neglects this duty.

The galla, the demons who accompany Inanna as She searches for a substitute for Herself, cannot be propitiated - completely inhuman, they "eat no food, drink no water, drink not libated water, accept not mollifying gifts, sate not with pleasure the lap of the wife, kiss not children, the sweet".

Mourning for the dead Dumuzi, the poet says the god "no longer competes among the lads of his city... no longer wields his sword among the kurgarra of his city". Kramer footnotes: "The kurgarra were part of the Inanna cult personnel who entertained the goddess by duelling with knives and swords."

__
Kramer, Samuel Noah. The Sacred Marriage Rite: Aspects of Faith, Myth, and Ritual in Ancient Sumer. Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 1969.
ikhet_sekhmet: (Default)
Sumerian literature has its roots in an oral tradition. It doesn't use rhyme or meter, but repetition, parallelisms, similes, and epithets.

In the early 3rd millennium BCE, An was head of the pantheon, and the tutelary deity of Uruk. Enlil of Nippur took over around 2500 BCE, probably reflecting Uruk losing its position as the dominant city-state. (Enki of Eridu may have tried and failed to take over from Enlil.) It's not known how Inanna took over from An as tutelary deity of Uruk. When the pantheon was being systematized around 2500 BCE, She became not just goddess of love, but goddess of war and the planet Venus.

Kramer ponders why the death of Dumuzi, the shepherd-god, affects plant life as well as animal life. He speculates there might be an undiscovered parallel story about the death of Enkimdu, the vegetation god who was Dumuzi's rival for the love of Inanna; or perhaps Dumuzi's identification with the king, "who was the 'farmer' as well as the 'shepherd' of his people", meant that "the languishing of all life, plant and animal, was attributed to him."
__
Kramer, Samuel Noah. The Sacred Marriage Rite: Aspects of Faith, Myth, and Ritual in Ancient Sumer. Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 1969.
ikhet_sekhmet: (Default)
The Sumerians' cosmology became "the basic creed and dogma of the entire Near East". The sea that surrounds the universe has existed since the beginning of time; from the sea came "a vaulted heaven superimposed over a flat earth and united with it", with the atmosphere separating them. The heavenly bodies were made from the atmosphere, after which life and the human race came into existence. The gods were in charge of every aspect of the universe and ran it according to plans and the me, "a set of universal and unchangeable rules and laws".

The four main gods, in charge of heaven, earth, air, and sea, were An, Ki, Enlil, and Enki. "Their creating techniques consisted in the use of the divine word: all the creating deity had to do was to lay his plans, utter the word, and pronounce the name."

Human beings were created for just one purpose: feeding and sheltering the gods. Human life is uncertain and insecure, but better than the dreary underworld. "The proper course for a Sumerian Job was not to argue and complain but to plead and wail, to lament and confess his inevitable sins and failings to his special personal gods, his 'good angel' as it were, through whom he would find his salvation."

"The centre of the cult was the temple, its priests, priestesses, singers, musicians, eunuchs, castrates, and hierodules. Here sacrifices of animal and vegetable fats, and libations of water, beer, and wine, were offered daily." There were also "new moon feasts and other monthly celebrations", as well as the most important ritual, the New Year celebration.
__
Kramer, Samuel Noah. The Sacred Marriage Rite: Aspects of Faith, Myth, and Ritual in Ancient Sumer. Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 1969.
ikhet_sekhmet: (Default)
I stumbled across a journal article about the creation of humanity in Sumerian and Biblical stories. The main Sumerian image that we have, and the only one in the Bible, has humans being created from clay. There's a second Sumerian tradition, though, in which human beings grow from the ground like grass. The author suggests this imagery, of human beings as plants, has survived in the Bible. She gives about a billion examples - trees, vines, you name it; the Tanakh is rich with agricultural metaphors for humanity and Israel. (Many of these tie in with my favourite image of Yahweh: the gardener, rather than the harsh "man of war".)

Here's a lovely example from the 103rd Psalm:

Man, his days are like grass,
his flowering that of a wildflower.
For a wind passes over it, and it is no more,
and one cannot find its place.

(To my ear, that sounds like Aztec poetry about the brevity and fragility of life.)

The author also points out the difference between creation stories in which humanity is deliberately created by the gods, and stories in which we just pop up as a result of spontaneous processes - "autochthonous" origins. It struck me as I was reading this that, considered as an origin story, evolution is one of these autochthonous processes - unplanned and automatic.
__

Frymer-Kensky, Tikva. The Planting of Man: a Study in Biblical Imagery. In Marks, John H. and Robert M. Good (eds). Love and Death in the Ancient Near East: essays in honor of Marvin H. Pope. Guilford, Conn, Four Quarters, 1987.

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