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Myths of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 58

It is evident that there were various versions of the Tammuz myth in Ancient Babylonia. In one the goddess Ishtar visited Hades to search for the lover of her youth. A part of this form of the legend survives in the famous Assyrian hymn known as "The Descent of Ishtar". It was first translated by the late Mr. George Smith, of the British Museum. A box containing inscribed tablets had been sent from Assyria to London, and Mr. Smith, with characteristic patience and skill, arranged and deciphered them, giving to the world a fragment of ancient literature infused with much sublimity and imaginative power. Ishtar is depicted descending to dismal Hades, where the souls of the dead exist in bird forms:

I spread like a bird my hands.
I descend, I descend to the house of darkness, the dwelling of the
god Irkalla:
To the house out of which there is no exit,
To the road from which there is no return:
To the house from whose entrance the light is taken,
The place where dust is their nourishment and their food mud.
Its chiefs also are like birds covered with feathers;
The light is never seen, in darkness they dwell....
Over the door and bolts is scattered dust.

When the goddess reaches the gate of Hades she cries to the porter:

Keeper of the waters, open thy gate,
Open thy gate that I may enter.
If thou openest not the gate that I may enter
I will strike the door, the bolts I will shatter,
I will strike the threshold and will pass through the doors;
I will raise up the dead to devour the living,
Above the living the dead shall exceed in numbers.

The porter answers that he must first consult the Queen of Hades, here called Allatu, to whom he accordingly announces the arrival of the Queen of Heaven. Allatu's heart is filled with anger, and makes reference to those whom Ishtar caused to perish:

Let me weep over the strong who have left their wives,
Let me weep over the handmaidens who have lost the embraces of their husbands,
Over the only son let me mourn, who ere his days are come is taken away.

Then she issues abruptly the stern decree:

Go, keeper, open the gate to her,
Bewitch her according to the ancient rules;

that is, "Deal with her as you deal with others who come here".

As Ishtar enters through the various gates she is stripped of her ornaments and clothing. At the first gate her crown was taken off, at the second her ear-rings, at the third her necklace of precious stones, at the fourth the ornaments of her breast, at the fifth her gemmed waist-girdle,[122] at the sixth the bracelets of her hands and feet, and at the seventh the covering robe of her body. Ishtar asks at each gate why she is thus dealt with, and the porter answers, "Such is the command of Allatu."


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