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Myths of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 222

As Cytherea with the blooming wreath,
For that she touched Cythera's flowery coast;
And Cypris, for that on the Cyprian shore
She rose, amid the multitude of waves. Elton's translation.

The animals sacred to Aphrodite included the sparrow, the dove, the swan, the swallow, and the wryneck.[477] She presided over the month of April, and the myrtle, rose, poppy, and apple were sacred to her.

Some writers connect Semiramis, in her character as a dove goddess, with Media and the old Persian mother goddess Anaitis, and regard as arbitrary her identification with the fish goddess Derceto or Atargatis. The dove was certainly not a popular bird in the religious art of Babylonia and Assyria, but in one of the hymns translated by Professor Pinches Ishtar says, "Like a lonely dove I rest". In another the worshipper tries to touch Ishtar's heart by crying, "Like the dove I moan". A Sumerian psalmist makes a goddess (Gula, who presided over Larak, a part of Isin) lament over the city after it was captured by the enemy:

My temple E-aste, temple of Larak,
Larak the city which Bel Enlil gave,
Beneath are turned to strangeness, above are turned to strangeness,
With wailings on the lyre my dwelling-place is surrendered to the stranger,
The dove cots they wickedly seized, the doves they entrapped....
The ravens he (Enlil) caused to fly.[478]

Apparently there were temple and household doves in Babylonia. The Egyptians had their household dovecots in ancient as in modern times. Lane makes reference to the large pigeon houses in many villages. They are of archaic pattern, "with the walls slightly inclining inwards (like many of the ancient Egyptian buildings)", and are "constructed upon the roofs of the huts with crude brick, pottery, and mud.... Each pair of pigeons occupies a separate (earthen) pot."[479] It may be that the dove bulked more prominently in domestic than in official religion, and had a special seasonal significance. Ishtar appears to have had a dove form. In the Gilgamesh epic she is said to have loved the "brilliant Allalu bird" (the "bright-coloured wood pigeon", according to Sayce), and to have afterwards wounded it by breaking its wings.[480] She also loved the lion and the horse, and must therefore have assumed the forms of these animals. The goddess Bau, "she whose city is destroyed", laments in a Sumerian psalm:

Like a dove to its dwelling-place, how long to my dwelling-place will they pursue me,
To my sanctuary ... the sacred place they pursue me....
My resting place, the brick walls of my city Isin, thou art destroyed;
My sanctuary, shrine of my temple Galmah, thou art destroyed.
Langdon's translation.

Here the goddess appears to be identified with the doves which rest on the walls and make their nests in the shrine. The Sumerian poets did not adorn their poems with meaningless picturesque imagery; their images were stern facts; they had a magical or religious significance like the imagery of magical incantations; the worshipper invoked the deity by naming his or her various attributes, forms, &c.


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