Inanna is the name of the Sumerian goddess of love, fertility, and war who was also worshipped as Ishtar by the Akkadians, Babylonians, and Assyrians, Astarte by the ancient Phoenicians, and who may have been influential in the development of the Greek goddess Aphrodite. Inanna has long been associated with the planet Venus; her symbols are the eight-pointed star and the lion, a symbol of power and courage. She is portrayed as a beautiful, sensual woman who had many lovers. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, Inanna approaches Gilgamesh to be her lover, who rejects her because of the misfortune that seems to befall all her lovers. Angry, Inanna convinces her father Anu to send the Bull of Heaven, causing mass destruction until its death at the hands of Gilgamesh and Enkidu, the latter throwing the bull’s hindquarters in her face. This later results in Enkidu’s death by the gods as punishment, which leaves Gilgamesh heartbroken and leads to his own quest for immortality. Another famous myth associated with Inanna is her descent into the underworld known as Kur to visit her sister Ereshkigal, the queen of the underworld. She becomes trapped in the underworld; following instructions, her loyal servant Ninshubur goes to Enki who creates two sexless demons to go down to the underworld to retrieve her. He orders them to get in Ereshkigal’s good graces and when she, in her gratitude, offers them anything they want they ask for the corpse of Inanna hanging from a hook on the wall. The demons revive her with food and water. However, someone must take Inanna’s place in the underworld. They come across her servant Ninshubur but Inanna refuses to allow her loyal servant take her place; the same goes for her beautician Shara (sometimes depicted as her son) and her son Lulal. However, when they come upon her husband Dumuzid, dressed lavishly and clearly not in mourning, she chooses him to take her stead. However, his sister Geshtinanna begs to take his place; Dumuzid spends half the year in the underworld and his sister spends the other half there.
As for the meaning of Inanna’s name, it may derive from Sumerian nin-an-ak meaning “lady of the heavens”.
- Ishtar (Semitic, Akkadian, Assyrian, Babylonian)
- ‘Ashtoret (Biblical Hebrew)
- Ashtoreth (Biblical Hebrew)
- Astarte (Ancient Greek)