07 febrero, 2018

Mythical Wednesday: Ereškigal, the Queen of the Great Below

Name: Ereškigal (Sumerian), Allatu (Akkadian). It can be also Irkalla, as the Underworld and her goddess could be addressed using the same name. Ereškigal’s name can be translated as “Queen of the Great Below” or “Lady of the Great Earth”, both pointing the relationship between the goddess and the realm of the dead.

Geographical area: Mesopotamia. Although there were almost no archaeological evidences of temples erected for her, Ereškigal is attested some temples by few inscriptions preserved in Kutha, Umma and Aššur.

Timeline: the temple of Ereškigal in Kutha was built in Assyrian period (1392-1056 BCE) and rebuilt by Nebuchadnezzar (r. 1125-1104 BCE), but her first apparition was in literature, in the Sumerian poem The Death of Ur-Nammu (ca. 2030 BCE), where she is among the gods receiving gifts from the recently deceased Ur-Nammu, founder of the Third Dynasty of Ur. Later on, in the Old Babylonian period (ca. 2004-1595 BCE), she appears as a regent of the Underworld together with Nergal, the plague god.  

Ereškigal by Jason Engle (2017)

History: Ereškigal was the older sister of Inanna/Ištar, the goddess of war, love and sex, and the mother of Nungal/Manungal, another Underwolrd goddess. Ereškigal was first paired with Enlil and gave birth to Namtar, who became her messenger and minister. Later on, she had Ninazu, the underworld god of snakes and agriculture, from her marriage to Gugal-ana, the Bull of Heavens.
There are several myths were Ereškigal is present, but the Sumerian poem Inanna’s Descent to the Underworld is one of the most famous. Inanna, apparently seeking to extend her powers in the Underworld, descends into the real ruled by her older sister and demands to be let in. Ereškigal then orders Neti, the gatekeeper, to lock the seven gates of the Underworld and only to open each of them after Inanna has taken off one piece of her garment. By the time Inanna has made her way to the seventh door, she is naked and powerless, in front of the throne of Ereškigal. The judges of the Underworld judge Inanna guilty and kill them in that instant, her body being hung on a hook for everyone to see it. The goddess Inanna is finally taken back to life and up to the surface by Ašušunamir, a sexless creature that restores Inanna, but a legion of demons follows them as someone must be dragged to the Underworld as the goddess’s replacement. When she discovers that her husband Dumuzi has not mourned her death, she rages out and orders the demons to take him with them, as her replacement.
Another myth recorded in one of the versions of the poem of Gilgameš tells that Ereškigal was kidnapped by the Kur, the Underworld itself, that forced her to be her queen against her will. Then Enki, the god of water and wisdom, set sail in a boat to rescue her sister from the Kur, but he was not successful a first since the Underworld was far too powerful. Despite the poem does not explain how the battle finished, it is implied that Enki finally won, but somehow Ereškigal remained in the nether realm forever, as it had been named her Queen.

Burney Relief / Queen of the Night. Fired clay panel, ca. 19th-18th cent. BCE. Babylonia.
Currently displayed at the British Museum, London.

Iconography: Since there are no explicit images referring to Ereškigal, her iconography remains unknown. However, there may be a relief where she could be depicted. The so-called “Queen of the Night” or the Burney Relief currently displayed at the British Museum has been the subject of many scholar disputes, since its identification is not clear to the date. The presence of the two bird figures could be linked to the Underworld, since their inhabitants are described wearing feathers in their garments. Lions are well known symbols for Inanna/Ištar, Ereškigal’s sister, and this is another possible identification for the figure in the relief.

Similar deities in other cults: Ereškigal was syncretized by the Greeks and Romans with Hecate, as it is written in the Michigan Magical Papyrus.

Ereškigal by Yigit Koroglu

BLACK, Jeremy and GREEN, Anthony: Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia. The British Museum Press, London, ed. 2004.

Ancient Mesopotamian Gods and Goddesses, online resource, University of Pennsylvania: http://oracc.museum.upenn.edu/amgg/index.html

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