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Myths of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 68

The goddess Bau, "the mother of Lagash", was worshipped in conjunction with other deities, including the god Nin-Girsu, an agricultural deity, and therefore a deity of war, who had solar attributes. One of the titles of Nin-Girsu was En-Mersi, which, according to Assyrian evidence, was another name of Tammuz, the spring god who slew the storm and winter demons, and made the land fertile so that man might have food. Nin-Girsu was, it would seem, a developed form of Tammuz, like the Scandinavian Frey, god of harvest, or Heimdal, the celestial warrior. Bau was one of the several goddesses whose attributes were absorbed by the Semitic Ishtar. She was a "Great Mother", a creatrix, the source of all human and bestial life, and, of course, a harvest goddess. She was identified with Gula, "the great one", who cured diseases and prolonged life. Evidently the religion of Lagash was based on the popular worship of the "Queen of Heaven", and her son, the dying god who became "husband of his mother".

The first great and outstanding ruler of Lagash was Ur-Nina, who appears to have owed his power to the successful military operations of his predecessors. It is uncertain whether or not he himself engaged in any great war. His records are silent in that connection, but, judging from what we know of him, it may be taken for granted that he was able and fully prepared to give a good account of himself in battle. He certainly took steps to make secure his position, for he caused a strong wall to be erected round Lagash. His inscriptions are eloquent of his piety, which took practical shape, for he repaired and built temples, dedicated offerings to deities, and increased the wealth of religious bodies and the prosperity of the State by cutting canals and developing agriculture. In addition to serving local deities, he also gave practical recognition to Ea at Eridu and Enlil at Nippur. He, however, overlooked Anu at Erech, a fact which suggests that he held sway over Eridu and Nippur, but had to recognize Erech as an independent city state.

Among the deities of Lagash, Ur-Nina favoured most the goddess Nina, whose name he bore. As she was a water deity, and perhaps identical with Belit-sheri, sister of "Tammuz of the Abyss" and daughter of Ea, one of the canals was dedicated to her. She was also honoured with a new temple, in which was probably placed her great statue, constructed by special order of her royal worshipper. Like the Egyptian goddess, the "Mother of Mendes", Nina received offerings of fish, not only as a patroness of fishermen, but also as a corn spirit and a goddess of maternity. She was in time identified with Ishtar.

A famous limestone plaque, which is preserved in the Louvre, Paris, depicts on its upper half the pious King Ur-Nina engaged in the ceremony of laying the foundations of a temple dedicated either to the goddess Nina or to the god Nin-Girsu. His face and scalp are clean shaven, and he has a prominent nose and firm mouth, eloquent of decision. The folds of neck and jaw suggest Bismarckian traits. He is bare to the waist, and wears a pleated kilt, with three flounces, which reaches almost to his ankles. On his long head he has poised deftly a woven basket containing the clay with which he is to make the first brick. In front of him stand five figures. The foremost is honoured by being sculptured larger than the others, except the prominent monarch. Apparently this is a royal princess, for her head is unshaven, and her shoulder dress or long hair drops over one of her arms. Her name is Lida, and the conspicuous part she took in the ceremony suggests that she was the representative of the goddess Nina. She is accompanied by her brothers, and at least one official, Anita, the cup-bearer, or high priest. The concluding part of this ceremony, or another ceremonial act, is illustrated on the lower part of the plaque. Ur-Nina is seated on his throne, not, as would seem at first sight, raising the wine cup to his lips and toasting to the success of the work, but pouring out a libation upon the ground. The princess is not present; the place of honour next to the king is taken by the crown prince. Possibly in this case it is the god Nin-Girsu who is being honoured. Three male figures, perhaps royal sons, accompany the prominent crown prince. The cup-bearer is in attendance behind the throne.


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