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Ishtar

Ishtar (Ĭsh´tär), ancient fertility deity, the most widely worshiped goddess in Babylonian and Assyrian religion. She was worshiped under various names and forms. Most important as a mother goddess and as a goddess of love, Ishtar was the source of all the generative powers in nature and mankind. However, she was also a goddess of war and as such was capable of unremitting cruelty. Her cult spread throughout W Asia, and she became identified with various other earth goddesses (see Great Mother Goddess). One of the most famous of the Babylonian legends related the trials of her descent into the underworld in search of her lover Tammuz and her triumphant return to earth. In Sumerian religion, where her cult probably originated, she was called Inanna or Innina.

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Ishtar

Ishtar

In the ancient Near East, Ishtar was an important and widely worshiped mother goddess for many Semitic* peoples. The Sumerians* called her Inanna, and other groups of the Near East referred to her as Astarte.

A complex deity, Ishtar combined the characteristicsboth good and evilof many different goddesses. As a benevolent mother figure, she was considered the mother of gods and humans, as well as the creator of all earthly blessings. In this role, she grieved over human sorrows and served as a protector of marriage and motherhood. People also worshiped Ishtar as the goddess of sexual love and fertility. The evil side of Ishtar's nature emerged primarily in connection with war and storms. As a warrior goddess, she could make even the gods tremble in fear. As a storm goddess, she could bring rain and thunder.

Some myths say that Ishtar was the daughter of the moon god Sin and sister of the sun god Shamash. Others mention the sky god Anu, the moon god Nanna, the water god Ea, or the god Enlil, lord of the earth and the air, as her father. Most myths link her to the planet Venus.

deity god or goddess

benevolent desiring good for others

Ishtar appears in many myths, but two are especially important. The first, part of the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh, tells how Ishtar offered to marry the hero-king Gilgamesh because she was

* See Names and Places at the end of this volume for further information.

impressed by his courage and exploits. According to the epic, Gilgamesh refused her offer and insulted Ishtar, reminding the goddess of all the previous lovers she had harmed. Enraged, Ishtar sent the fierce Bull of Heaven to kill Gilgamesh, but he and his friend Enkidu killed the beast instead.

The other well-known myth of Ishtar concerns her descent to the underworld and sacrifice of her husband Tammuz (also known as Dumuzi). In this story, Ishtar decided to visit the underworld, which was ruled by her sister Ereshkigal, perhaps to seize power there. Before departing, she instructed her follower Ninshubur to seek the help of the gods if she did not return.

To reach the underworld, Ishtar had to pass through seven gates and remove a symbol of her powersuch as an article of clothing or a piece of jewelryat each one. At the last gate, the goddess, naked and deprived of all her powers, met her sister Ereshkigal, who announced that Ishtar must die. She died immediately, and her corpse was hung on a stake.

Meanwhile, the god Enki learned from Ninshubur that Ishtar was missing and sent two messengers who restored her to life. However, in order to leave the underworld, Ishtar had to substitute another body for her own. The goddess offered her young husband, Tammuz, to take her place. This tale of death and rebirth was associated with fertility and linked to the seasons and agricultural cycles, much like the story of Persephone in Greek mythology.

epic long poem about legendary or historical heroes, written in a grand style

underworld land of the dead

cult group bound together by devotion to a particular person, belief, or god

ritual ceremony that follows a set pattern

Temples to Ishtar were built throughout the ancient Near East. Among the most famous were those at the cities of Erech, Babylon, Ur, and Nineveh. Her cult was very popular and may have included rituals associated with sexual love.

See also Anu; Enlil; Gilgamesh; Inanna; Semitic Mythology; Shamash; Underworld.

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Ishtar

Ishtar Principal goddess of Assyro-Babylonian mythology. She is the daughter of Anu, the sky god, and Sin, the moon god. Through the centuries, she came to exhibit diverse attributes, those of a compassionate mother goddess and of a lustful goddess of sex and war. Ishtar is identified with the Sumerian Inanna, Phoenician Astarte and the biblical Ashtoreth.

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Ishtar

Ishtar a Babylonian and Assyrian goddess of love and war whose name and functions correspond to those of the Phoenician goddess Astarte.

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Ishtar

Ishtar •Qatar • Telstar • sitar • Ishtar • co-star •lodestar • sunstar • megastar •superstar • avatar • earthstar

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Ishtar

Ishtar ★★ 1987 (PG-13)

Two astoundingly untalented performers have a gig in a fictional Middle Eastern country and become involved in foreign intrigue. A big-budget boxoffice bomb produced by Beatty offering few laughs, though it's not as bad as its reputation. Considering the talent involved, though, it's a disappointment, with Beatty and Hoffman laboring to create Hope and Crosby chemistry. Anyone for a slow night? 107m/C VHS . Dustin Hoffman, Warren Beatty, Isabelle Adjani, Charles Grodin, Jack Weston, Tess Harper, Carol Kane, Matt Frewer; D: Elaine May; W: Elaine May; C: Vittorio Storaro; M: Dave Grusin, Bahjawa. Golden Raspberries ‘87: Worst Director (May).

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Ishtar

Ishtar

Nationality/Culture

Babylonian

Pronunciation

ISH-tahr

Alternate Names

Inanna, Astarte

Appears In

Ancient Semitic myths

Lineage

Daughter of Sin and Shamash

Character Overview

In the ancient Near East, Ishtar was an important and widely worshipped mother goddess for many Semitic peoples. The Sumerians called her Inanna (pronounced ee-NAH-nah), and other groups of the Near East referred to her as Astarte (pronounced a-STAR-tee).

A complex figure, Ishtar combined the characteristics—both good and evil—of many different goddesses. As a mother figure, she was considered the mother of gods and humans, as well as the creator of all earthly blessings. In this role, she grieved over human sorrows and served as a protector of marriage and motherhood. People also worshipped Ishtar as the goddess of sexual love and fertility. The more destructive side of Ishtar's nature emerged primarily in connection with war and storms. As a warrior goddess, she could make even the gods tremble in fear. As a storm goddess, she could bring rain and thunder.

Major Myths

Some myths say that Ishtar was the daughter of the moon god Sin (pronounced SEEN) and sister of the sun god Shamash (pronounced shah-MAHSH). Others mention the sky god Anu (pronounced AH-noo), the moon god Nanna (pronounced NAH-nah), the water god Ea (pronounced AY-ah), or the god Enlil (pronounced EN-lil), lord of the earth and the air, as her father.

Ishtar appears in many myths, but two are especially important. The first, part of the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh, tells how Ishtar offered to marry the hero-king Gilgamesh (pronounced GIL-guh-mesh) because she was impressed by his courage and exploits. According to the epic, Gilgamesh refused her offer and insulted Ishtar, reminding the goddess of all the previous lovers she had harmed. Enraged, Ishtar sent the fierce Bull of Heaven to kill Gilgamesh, but he and his friend Enkidu (pronounced EN-kee-doo) killed the beast instead.

Weeping for Tammuz

The biblical book of Ezekiel mentions, with great disapproval, an ancient Near Eastern ritual associated with the death of Ishtar's husband Tammuz. As recorded in the Bible, God points Ezekiel toward a temple: “Then He brought me to the entrance of the gate of the Lord's house which was toward the north; and behold, women were sitting there weeping for Tammuz.” This is described in the Bible as an “abomination”—an all-female ritual in which the priestesses mourned the death of Tammuz for forty days.

Interestingly, some historians have suggested that the Christian practice of observing Lent—a period of forty days of prayer and penitence before Easter—stems from the ancient forty-day mourning period for Tammuz. Both Lent and the mourning for Tammuz precede a resurrection.

The other well-known myth of Ishtar concerns her descent to the underworld (land of the dead) and the sacrifice of her husband Tammuz (pronounced TAH-mooz, also known as Dumuzi). In this story, Ishtar decided to visit the underworld, which was ruled by her sister Ereshkigal (pronounced ay-RESH-kee-gahl), perhaps to seize power there. Before departing, she instructed her follower Ninshubur (pronounced neen-SHOO-boor) to seek the help of the gods if she did not return.

To reach the underworld, Ishtar had to pass through seven gates and remove a symbol of her power—such as an article of clothing or a piece of jewelry—at each one. At the last gate, the goddess, naked and deprived of all her powers, met her sister Ereshkigal, who announced that Ishtar must die. She died immediately, and her corpse was hung on a stake.

Meanwhile, the god Enki (pronounced EN-kee) learned from Ninshubur that Ishtar was missing and sent two messengers who restored her to life. However, in order to leave the underworld, Ishtar had to substitute another body for her own. The goddess offered her young husband, Tammuz, to take her place. This tale of death and rebirth was associated with fertility and linked to the seasons and agricultural cycles, much like the story of Persephone (pronounced per-SEF-uh-nee) in Greek mythology. In another version of the story, Ishtar travels to the underworld to rescue Tammuz, who has died, and manages to bring him back—but only for part of each year. Thus the death and rebirth of Tammuz is also linked to fertility and agricultural cycles.

Ishtar in Context

Ishtar and the myths about her provide interesting insight into ancient Near Eastern views on the roles of men and women in society. For example, Ishtar is said to have had many relationships with men, gods, and animals. During those relationships, the males are almost always said to have suffered because they were distracted or weakened by Ishtar's power over them. This suggests that ancient Babylonians respected and revered women's reproductive power. The respect given this powerful female goddess translated into respect for women in Babylonian society. Though Near Eastern rulers were usually men, women were able to hold powerful and prestigious religious and political positions. This changed as the male-dominated Judeo-Christian faiths arose in the Near East, and female-dominated rituals and practices associated with the worship of Ishtar were branded as evil. As the worship of Ishtar faded, women gradually lost their religious, political, legal, and domestic power.

Key Themes and Symbols

Ishtar was believed to be the representation of the planet Venus, and the eight-pointed star is a symbol commonly associated with her. As an extension of her role as the goddess of sexual love, Ishtar was also the protector of prostitutes and alehouses. Prostitution was an important part of her cult, and her holy city Erech was known as the town of the sacred courtesans (prostitutes).

Ishtar in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life

In modern times, Ishtar has benefited from renewed interest in ancient mythologies of the Near East. The 1987 film Ishtar, starring Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman and often cited as one of the biggest box-office failures in cinematic history, is not connected with the Babylonian goddess other than by name. The name Ishtar has also been used for characters in numerous video games and Japanese comics, though most do not draw heavily from the mythology of the original goddess.

Read, Write, Think, Discuss

In the Epic ofGilgamesh, the hero insults Ishtar by mentioning her many loves and the sad fates they met. Do you think modern females who have a number of romantic relationships are viewed in a similarly negative way today? Do you think this same view applies to males who have several romantic relationships? Why or why not?

SEE ALSO Gilgamesh; Semitic Mythology; Shamash; Underworld

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