14 marzo, 2018

Mythical Wednesday: Šerida/Aya, the Light goddess

Name: Šerida (Sumerian), Aya (Akkadian)
Geographical area: Šerida/Aya was worshipped alongside her companion, the sun god Šamaš, at the temples located in Sippar and Larsa. Both had the same name, E-babbar, which means “the white house”.
Timeline: Šerida/Aya became especially popular during the Early Dynastic period (c. 2900-2350 BCE) and the Old Babylonian period (c. 2000-1600 BCE). Her Sumerian name, Šerida, appears in the poem Nanna-Suen’s journey to Nibru dated around 1800 BCE. Its Akkadian version, Aya, was quite a popular personal name associated with female slaves working for the nadītu, the sacred priestess from the temples.
From the first millennium on, Šerida/Aya appears in texts from the Neo-Assyrian period (911-612 BCE), including the version in standard Babylonian of the Epic of Gilgameš. Her cult was restored by Nabonidus, the last king of Babylonia, after rebuilding the temple of Šamaš in Sippar.

"Sunrise" by Cirle-Art in Deviant-Art

History: Šerida/Aya was mostly known for being the consort goddess of the solar deity, Utu/Šamaš. Her marriage with this god gave her powers upon the sunlight, especially with the one regarding the sunbreak, since “Aya” is the Akkadian word for “dawn”. In Nanna-Suen’s journey to Nibru she appears at her temple in Larsa and she is one of the goddesses who tries to seduce Nanna/Sin to make him leave his boat’s cargo at her city. However, Nanna rebuffs her and carries on with his journey.
Later on, in Old Babyonian period (c. 2000-1600 BCE), she became a symbol of fertility, maternity and sexual activity. The administrative texts from Sippar dated in this period show that Aya fulfilled alongside with Šamaš the role of justice guardian, being present at trials and commercial agreements to assure their proper development. She also features in the Epic of Gilgameš where she is called “the great bride”. In the III tablet Gilgameš is planning on venturing in the Cedar Forest to defy Humbaba, its guardian, and his mother Ninsumun blames the sun god, Šamaš, for inciting his son. Ninsumun climbs to the temple’s roof and begs Aya to protect Gilgameš at night, when the sun is not in the sky.

Impression of a clay royal seal from Old Babylonian period.
Aya and Šamaš appear to the left, identified with the inscription.
Currently displayed at the British Museum. 

Iconography: Aya is identified in a royal seal next to Šamaš, both showing human shape. The goddess is dressed in the kaunakes, the woolen skirt so common in Mesopotamian iconography. She also wears a mantle and her hair up with what could be a tiara, a diadem or some other hair ornament. Generally, Aya’s aspect is the one of a noble, high class lady, highlighting her role as the spouse of the Sun.
Similar deities in other cults: Aya (Ugaritic), Ninkar, Sudag, Sudgan, Ninmulguna, Munusulšutag (all from Achaemenid period).

BLACK, Jeremy and GREEN, Anthony: Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia. The British Museum Press, London, ed. 2004.
Corpus of Ancient Mesopotamian Gods and Goddesses: http://oracc.museum.upenn.edu/amgg/index.html

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