Myths of Babylonia and Assyria
Page: 111May madness and shrieking, bondage and yearning
In like manner, too, the inhabitants of the Indian Hell suffered endless and complicated tortures.
The Persephone of the Babylonian Underworld was Eresh-ki-gal, who was also called Allatu. A myth, which was found among the Egyptian Tel-el-Amarna "Letters", sets forth that on one occasion the Babylonian gods held a feast. All the deities attended it, except Eresh-ki-gal. She was unable to leave her gloomy Underworld, and sent her messenger, the plague demon Namtar, to obtain her share. The various deities honoured Namtar, except Nergal, by standing up to receive him. When Eresh-ki-gal was informed of this slight she became very angry, and demanded that Nergal should be delivered up to her so that he might be put to death. The storm god at once hastened to the Underworld, accompanied by his own group of fierce demons, whom he placed as guardians at the various doors so as to prevent the escape of Eresh-ki-gal. Then he went boldly towards the goddess, clutched her by the hair, and dragged her from her throne. After a brief struggle, she found herself overpowered. Nergal made ready to cut off her head, but she cried for mercy and said: "Do not kill me, my brother! Let me speak to thee."
This appeal indicated that she desired to ransom her life--like the hags in the European folk tales--so Nergal unloosed his hold.
Then Eresh-ki-gal continued: "Be thou my husband and I will be thy wife. On thee I confer sovereignty over the wide earth, giving thee the tablet of wisdom. Thou shalt be my lord and I will be thy lady."
Nergal accepted these terms by kissing the goddess. Affectionately drying her tears, he spoke, saying: "Thou shalt now have from me what thou hast demanded during these past months."
In other words, Nergal promises to honour her as she desired, after becoming her husband and equal.
In the "Descent of Ishtar" the Babylonian Underworld is called Cuthah. This city had a famous cemetery, like Abydos in Egypt, where many pious and orthodox worshippers sought sepulture. The local god was Nergal, who symbolized the destructive power of the sun and the sand storm; he was a gloomy, vengeful deity, attended by the spirits of tempest, weariness, pestilence, and disease, and was propitiated because he was dreaded.
In Nether Cuthah, as Ea-bani informed Gilgamesh, the worm devoured the dead amidst the dust and thick darkness.
It is evident that this Underworld was modelled on the grave. In early times men believed that the spirits of the dead hovered in or about the place of sepulture. They were therefore provided with "houses" to protect them, in the same manner as the living were protected in their houses above the ground.
The enemies of the human ghosts were the earth spirits. Weapons were laid beside the dead in their graves so that they might wage war against demons when necessary. The corpse was also charmed, against attack, by the magical and protecting ornaments which were worn by the living--necklaces, armlets, ear-rings, &c. Even face paint was provided, probably as a charm against the evil eye and other subtle influences.