It is very well known that images of heroes and gods are oftentimes not only present in just one mythology. It is interesting how these characters oftentimes travel through time and space. This essay is dedicated to a brief overview of one such travel. It will research the figure of Ishtar of the Sumero and her three “incarnations” which took place in different periods of time and in different parts of the world. The list is, certainly, to be continued, but in this short essay it is reasonable to limit it just to three variants of this goddess.
Innana or Ishtar of the Sumero-Accadian pathos is one of the best known goddess images throughout the history. Her image has been resorted to a lot in different times.
The image of Innana/Ishtar dates back to 3000 -2000 b.c. This goddess was worshiped in Mesopotamia (Ruether, 43). She was called Innana in the Sumer tradition and Ishtar in the Accadian pathos. She was the sister of the sun god Utu and she stood for such spheres of human life as love and fertility, as well as war. She is described as impulsive, majestic, and full of ambition and of readiness to defend her rights. If she represents love, it’s not spiritual love and devotion, rather its sexuality and frivolous relationships. She is not described as a good mother and her marital life is ill-fated. One of the myths related to her marriage states that her brother tried to arrange her marriage and introduced her to a candidate who was a shepherd and whom she declined because she thought he would not be able to provide for her (Ruether, 50). However, in the end she was persuaded and a marriage took place. The description of this union is the reflection of Innana representing sexuality and fertility.
One of the reasons for the goddess’s significant role in different traditions is her going to and returning from the underworld (Ruether, 50). This theme appears in numerous traditions, often involving dying and further resurrecting of a god and signifying change of seasons and related processes in nature. In case of Innana, her decision to go to the underworld is quite voluntary. She chooses to undertake this trip because she wishes to conquer the underworld. However it proves to be more difficult than she thought. On her way, she has to pass through seven gates and at each she must leave something from her attire. When she finally reaches her sister and the ruler of the underworld Ereshkigal, Innana is naked. Ereshkigal kills her with the power of her look. Gods pleed for Innana, but to return to live she must place someone in the underworld instead of her. Innana chooses her husband for this role. In the end it is decided that he may stay half of the time in the underworld and half of the time on earth, which is traditional of many gods in other pathos who symbolize dying and reviving nature.
Main features of Innana in these myths include great power and independence, which is not often seen with goddesses. Like all gods in the sumero-Accadian tradition, human’s relationship to her is viewed as that of slaves to a master (Ruether, 43).
The image of Ishtar transforms into the goddess Astarte who is worshiped in Levant, Egypt and Assyria. The time of her worship dates back to the first millennium B.C. As well as Ishtar, Astarte represents both the aspect of sexuality and fertility, and that of war, though in Egypt, for instance, greater emphasis is made on the war aspect. In Egypt Astarte is represented as the daughter of the god Ra and a moon goddess. On the whole, the image of this goddess is complex and there exist numerous variations depending on the time period and place. Depictions of Astarte include her standing on a chariot, completely naked, riding over a fallen enemy, and an Astarte who has a head of a lion. It should be said that lions were viewed as the sacred animals of this goddess and she was often depicted with them. From the Egyptian lore Astarte influenced the Hebrews and there are numerous references to her in the Bible, where she is called Ashtaroth and represents deviation from the true religion, sin, and the evil of paganism. Syrian myths connect her to the morning and evening star; she is the goddess of Venus. There also is a legend mentioning her falling from Mount Lebanon in the form of a metior into the river (Mackenzie, 311).
Aphrodite is, probably, an even more famous “Incarnation” of the very same goddess. At least a number of scholars, sharing views of Herodotus trace her origin back to Astarte and Ashtar. It is believed that her cult was first established on Cyprus and then migrated to mainland Greece (Beekes, 179).
Aphrodite, just as two other goddesses referred to above stood mainly for the sexual aspect of love. She was not officially associated with war; however she took personal interest in the wars and is mentioned in Greek mythology in relation to the Trojan War. Just like Ishtar, Aphrodite is also married to a character, not worthwhile any envy. Her husband is not a human, he is a god, but the most ugly of the gods and Aphrodite also cheats on him both with gods and humans.
There are many other parallels to be drawn. This image is present in world’s mythologies belonging to different time periods and even nowadays is oftentimes to be found in modern art.
Tracing the incarnations of Ishtar is what numerous scholars have paid a lot of attention. However even mentioning all of such is unthinkable in such a short overview.
- Beekes, Robert. “Etymological Dictionary of Greek”, Vol. 1 (Leiden: Brill, 2010).
- Mackenzie, D. “Egyptian myth and legend with historical narrative, notes on race problems, comparative beliefs, etc.” London: Gresham Publishing co, 1907.
- Ruether, R. R. The goddesses and the divine feminine. A Western religious history. Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press. 2005.