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Myths of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 220

The legends of Semiramis indicate that Sammu-rammat was associated like Queen Tiy with the revival of mother worship. As we have said, she went down to tradition as the daughter of the fish goddess, Derceto. Pliny identified that deity with Atargatis of Hierapolis.[466]

In Babylonia the fish goddess was Nina, a developed form of Damkina, spouse of Ea of Eridu. In the inscription on the Nebo statue, that god is referred to as the "son of Nudimmud" (Ea). Nina was the goddess who gave her name to Nineveh, and it is possible that Nebo may have been regarded as her son during the Semiramis period.

The story of Semiramis's birth is evidently of great antiquity. It seems to survive throughout Europe in the nursery tale of the "Babes in the Wood". A striking Indian parallel is afforded by the legend of Shakuntala, which may be first referred to for the purpose of comparative study. Shakuntala was the daughter of the rishi, Viswamitra, and Menaka, the Apsara (celestial fairy). Menaka gave birth to her child beside the sacred river Malini. "And she cast the new-born infant on the bank of that river and went away. And beholding the newborn infant lying in that forest destitute of human beings but abounding with lions and tigers, a number of vultures sat around to protect it from harm." A sage discovered the child and adopted her. "Because", he said, "she was surrounded by Shakuntas (birds), therefore hath she been named by me Shakuntala (bird protected)."[467]

Semiramis was similarly deserted at birth by her Celestial mother. She was protected by doves, and her Assyrian name, Sammu-rammat, is believed to be derived from "Summat"--"dove", and to signify "the dove goddess loveth her". Simmas, the chief of royal shepherds, found the child and adopted her. She was of great beauty like Shakuntala, the maiden of "perfect symmetry", "sweet smiles", and "faultless features", with whom King Dushyanta fell in love and married in Gandharva fashion.[468]

Semiramis became the wife of Onnes, governor of Nineveh, and one of the generals of its alleged founder, King Ninus. She accompanied her husband to Bactria on a military campaign, and is said to have instructed the king how that city should be taken. Ninus fell in love with Semiramis, and Onnes, who refused to give her up, went and hanged himself. The fair courtesan then became the wife of the king.

The story proceeds that Semiramis exercised so great an influence over the impressionable King Ninus, that she persuaded him to proclaim her Queen of Assyria for five days. She then ascended the throne decked in royal robes. On the first day she gave a great banquet, and on the second thrust Ninus into prison, or had him put to death. In this manner she secured the empire for herself. She reigned for over forty years.

Figure XVIII.1. THE SHEPHERD FINDS THE BABE SEMIRAMIS

From the Painting by E. Wallcousins

Professor Frazer inclines to the view that the legend is a reminiscence of the custom of appointing a mock king and queen to whom the kingdom was yielded up for five days. Semiramis played the part of the mother goddess, and the priestly king died a violent death in the character of her divine lover. "The mounds of Semiramis which were pointed out all over Western Asia were said to have been the graves of her lovers whom she buried alive.... This tradition is one of the surest indications of the identity of the mythical Semiramis with the Babylonian goddess Ishtar or Astarte."[469] As we have seen, Ishtar and other mother goddesses had many lovers whom they deserted like La Belle Dame sans Merci (pp. 174-175).


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