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Fic: Inanna's Descent

Title: Inanna’s Descent
Author: Pinigir
Fandom: Sumerian Mythology
Characters/Pairing: Ereshkigal, mentions of Inanna, Dumuzi and others. Ereshkigal/Dumuzi and Inanna/Dumuzi implied.
Rating: PG
Warnings: None.
Summary: Ereshkigal remembers Inanna’s attempts at gaining power over Death.
Disclaimer: Though it does belong to the public domain since give or take three thousand years, I would like to say that this little story is based on the myth of Inanna’s Descent to the Underworld. References are made to the Gilgamesh Epic and the myth of Inanna and Enki.
Notes: In case it isn’t clear from the text: Gugalanna was Ereshkigal’s first husband and was known as the Bull of Heaven.
More notes: No beta, so corrections in spelling, grammar, syntax and so on are welcome. Other kinds of feedback are really welcome too.

Inanna’s Descent

Ereshkigal, Queen of the Underworld, Goddess of the Dead, was lost deep in thought. She was plagued by memories of the past actions of her sister Inanna. She remembered the time when Inanna, who fancied herself Queen of Heaven and Goddess of Fertility, came to the gates of the Underworld, telling the gatekeeper that she wanted to attend the funeral rites of Gugalanna, her brother-in-law. Ereshkigal hadn’t believed a word of it.

Here in Irkalla, Ereshkigal was cut off from the world above, but that didn’t mean she didn’t have any idea of what was going on up there. She had her messenger, Namtar, who would tell her news of the world above. Ereshkigal had heard of Inanna’s earlier exploits.

One thing to make her suspicious of Inanna’s motives was that Inanna had indirectly been responsible for Gugalanna’s death. Inanna had asked their father, An, to unleash the mighty bull on the heroes Gilgamesh and Enkidu, who subsequently killed him. This outcome would have been expected from the start. So, Ereshkigal had reason enough to think that Inanna never really cared for her husband.

When it came to Gilgamesh: Inanna had reportedly behaved like a petulant child towards him, going after him for him not wanting to be her lover. Inanna was notorious for the way she treated and discarded her suitors, most of them ending up with a fate worse than death. Gilgamesh had understood this, but that had brought him even more trouble with the goddess. This and all the other stories of her love life didn’t place Inanna in a good light, even though she seemed to have calmed down somewhat after she had married the shepherd Dumuzi.

The deciding factor for Ereshkigal’s mistrust had been Inanna’s treatment of Enki. The goddess had gone to visit the god in his temple E-Abzu in Eridu, from where he reigned over the watery Abzu and where he held the Me, the godly decrees that held power over the whole of human civilization. During the meal they had had together, Enki had become happily drunk and, in his drunken state, began bestowing Inanna with Me after Me. She had done nothing to stop him. This had been what she had been after all the time: more power for her and her city Uruk. After receiving more than a hundred Me in this manner, Inanna had quickly loaded them in her Boat of Heaven and had set sail for her city. Once Enki had realized what had happened, he deeply regretted his actions and had sent several of his servants out to prevent Inanna and the Me from reaching Uruk. At each of the seven stops along the way, Enki’s servants managed to catch the boat, but Inanna’s faithful servant Ninshubur had been able to shake them off every time. The boat eventually reached Uruk and Inanna could claim the Me as hers. Enki had lost them forever. It was very painful to hear for Ereshkigal how her own sister had taken advantage of the kindness and hospitality of Enki, the wisest of the gods, just to increase her own power.

From all that she had heard, it had become clear to Ereshkigal that, next to all her other faults, Inanna was hungry for power. Nothing would stop her from getting what she wanted, it seemed. Ereshkigal had had every reason to assume that Inanna was similarly motivated when she showed up at the gates to the Netherworld; that Inanna wanted to gain power over Death. Even the gods were not supposed to defeat Death. Who did Inanna think she was? She seemed to think she was unconquerable and omnipotent. Ereshkigal would gladly prove her wrong. She would do everything in her power to prevent Inanna from defeating Death. That Inanna was her sister didn’t mean that she would give in to her every whim.

So, what Ereshkigal had done, was to make sure that Inanna was stripped of her power. At each of the seven gates of the Underworld, Inanna had had to leave one of her godly attributes behind. When she had come to stand before Ereshkigal, she had been naked. But not even when she was naked could Inanna show some humility. Within moments of arriving, she had seated herself upon Ereshkigal’s throne. The audacity! At least it had become clear that Ereshkigal had understood Inanna’s intentions all too well. On the spot, the seven judges of the Underworld had sentenced Inanna to death, the exact same thing that she had come to overcome. Inanna’s dead body had then been hung on a hook, displayed for all the world to see. It had appeared that Ereshkigal had won.

She had rejoiced too soon. A little over three days later, two creatures, neither male nor female, had come to Ereshkigal. They had promised to relieve her from the constant pain she was in. She had been so glad about this that she had promised to repay them by granting them each one request. They could have asked for anything, but what had they requested? The food and water of life! They had planned to revive Inanna! She had tried to offer them everything she could think of instead, but they had stood by their original request. Ereshkigal hadn’t had a choice but to comply.

After Inanna had been resurrected, she had immediately begun her return to the world above. Ereshkigal couldn’t just have let this happen. Inanna had to pay for her deeds! Also, once Irkalla had claimed a life, it couldn’t just be given back. If Inanna didn’t stay, someone else had to remain in the Netherworld in her stead. Ereshkigal had immediately sent her servants after Inanna, demanding a replacement. Of course, Inanna had tried to talk her way out of this, but finally she had to make a choice. Eventually, Inanna had chosen Dumuzi, her own husband, to replace her in the Underworld. It seemed that Inanna had never really cared about him, just like with her earlier lovers. But Dumuzi’s sister had cared, begging for him to be spared and offering herself instead. Because of this plea, it had eventually been decreed that Dumuzi would have to stay in the Underworld the first half of each year, while his sister, Geshtinanna, had to stay the second half. So, this was what had happened every year and what would continue happening every year in the future.

In the end, Inanna had conquered Death and two innocent others had had to pay for it. Ereshkigal had been furious. If it were up to her, Inanna would have stayed in the Underworld. She deserved it. Never mind that everything living would have died, because the fertility of the earth depended on the goddess. Ereshkigal had no need for fertility. But, apparently, the other gods did. If she understood correctly, this had been the reason why Inanna had been rescued. Why else would it have been Enki, of all people, who agreed to help? Because that was what she learned later: after Inanna hadn’t come back soon enough, her servant had gone to the other gods for help. After Enlil and Nanna had turned her down, Enki had agreed and had created the two sexless creatures that had come to Ereshkigal. And so, Ereshkigal had been duped. She had been left to rot in the Underworld, while Inanna could continue on living.

There was only one good thing that had come out of this: Dumuzi. He brought light into her bleak existence. She couldn’t understand how Inanna could not appreciate his presence. It didn’t really matter, as long as Ereshkigal could have him with her half of every year. And she didn’t really mind that Geshtinanna was there during the other half. She was certainly better company than Ereshkigal’s own sister would have been.

Right now, it was Dumuzi who was with her. He lay sleeping beside her, looking beautiful and innocent and full of life. He brought a smile upon her face, which was a rare thing in the Underworld. Yes, she was very grateful for having him in her life. She might not have won over her sister, but she had gotten something very valuable in return. And she couldn’t help thinking that maybe someday, Inanna would have to pay for her actions. Her luck had to run out sometime. In the meantime, Ereshkigal could cherish her time with Dumuzi. She looked at him fondly once more, before kissing him on the forehead and pulling him closer. With her thoughts finally calmed down, Ereshkigal settled down to sleep.


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 16th, 2009 08:38 pm (UTC)
Interesting. I like seeing the story from Ereshkigal's POV, though to me it reads a rather like an essay about history, kind of like she's not emotional involved in the facts.
Oct. 16th, 2009 09:06 pm (UTC)
Thanks for reading! Yeah, it was a bit difficult to write about this without getting all those details in, because I feared that no one would know what I was talking about otherwise. Maybe I'll get the mix better next time.
Oct. 17th, 2009 12:00 am (UTC)
Oh I know that feeling! There is so much good material in there. I have the same problem working with the Demeter stuff. When there is alot of good detail already out there, the temptation is to put it all in. My very first Demeter/Persephone story actually had nearly more footnotes than prose, lol.

Given how well you know this myth, I look forward to your next versions and explorations. I expect they will be very cool.

Oct. 17th, 2009 12:27 am (UTC)
Yes, it's easy to want too much at one time. But now that this is out of the way, I think I might be able to explore all this in a more relaxed manner. (And I just wish I could rely on more people knowing the myths. Having the feeling I need to explain everything isn't very helpful.)

By the way, I compared this myth to the one of Demeter and Persephone for my bachelor thesis. Oh, and the myth of Adonis is pretty much directly related to Inanna's myth.
Oct. 17th, 2009 12:32 am (UTC)
"(And I just wish I could rely on more people knowing the myths. Having the feeling I need to explain everything isn't very helpful.)"

- trust the story and trust yourself, the rest will flow. I'm learning that less really is more. A hint of a sunset, a whisper of a breeze. All those things add up eventually when it flows from the truth. - which probably sounds waaaay too corny, but eh, I'm also a priestess, so I get that way sometimes, sorry.

And oh, yeah, I can imagine that there is tons to see in comparison between these myths. Is your thesis available somewhere? I'd love to read it.

Adonis, huh? I didnt know that, he's one I have not spent much time on, cool!
Oct. 17th, 2009 12:50 am (UTC)
I'll try to remember that. :-)

Well, my thesis is on my computer, in a Word document. But it's written in Dutch, so it's not very useful for anyone not familiar with that language. :-(

Yeah, Adonis himself maybe isn't all that interesting, but it's nice to see the parallels to the myth of Tammuz/Dumuzi. With Persephone in place of Ereshkigal and Aphrodite in place of Inanna. Also, there are a number of similarities to (the Greek version of ) the myth of Osiris and Isis. The Phoenicians have probably played a major role in all this. It probably also helps that most of these myths had similar functions: being tied to fertility and mystery cults.
Oct. 17th, 2009 12:57 am (UTC)
ah, oops, I knew I should have picked up Dutch when I had a chance ;)

I so love how these myths overlap and link up. Its soooo much fun to dig into and explore.
Oct. 17th, 2009 01:01 am (UTC)

That's one of the things I really love about myths: the ways in which they are related to each other. By coincidence or in a "genetic" sense. Glad to see that someone has the same idea as me!
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )



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