“Naked and bowed low, Inanna entered the throne room.
Ereshkigal rose from her throne.
Inanna started toward the throne.
The Annuna, the judges of the underworld, surrounded her.
They passed judgment against her.”
The Sumerians believed in a pantheon of deities. The four most powerful controlled the four elements of the universe: sky, earth, air and water. Inanna’s father was the moon god Nanna. Other gods minded the planets, created winds and storms, watched over cities and farms. The Annuna, Inanna’s judges in the underworld, were a collection of primordial sky gods who had been cast out of the heavens like Lucifer and his rebellious angels. One could not expect the Annuna to be impartial judges any more than one might expect Satan to give out Get Out of Hell cards. Inanna had broken the rules. She was a living goddess who had trespassed into the realm of the dead. She had disrespected the foundations of civilization that the Sumerians called the “me”.
In Mesopotamia, everyone who died went to a nether world that was a dismal shadow of life on earth. Given the splendor of royal burials, presumably kings and queens were more comfortable in the afterlife than poor farmers and slaves. At the 1920s excavations of Sumerian tombs at Ur, archeologist Leonard Woolley opened up a king’s chamber and found a chariot driven by the skeletons of two oxen, gold and silver food vessels, a gaming board, musical instruments, and the remains of 25 servants (mostly women) who had been killed to accompany their dead ruler. In Queen Puabi’s tomb, along with more sacrificed bodies and a treasure trove of her jewelry, Woolley found “unusually large cockle shells” containing cosmetic pigments, and a “silver pot with a gold drinking tube” for drinking beer1.
Fast forward 2000 years to Christianity and Islam, however, and the afterlife is no longer a shadowy realm adrift with the souls of the dead. It has been divided into Heaven and Hell. Both Christianity and Islam held out the hope of paradise for the faithful and the fear of punishment for sinners. In my Catholic catechism, there was also Purgatory where you went if you weren’t quite good enough to get into Heaven and needed to “do time” for your sins before being admitted into the presence of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. There was also Limbo where unbaptised babies and good pagans went. This didn’t seem fair to innocent babies and untutored pagans, but the nuns assured us that Limbo wasn’t a bad place. It just wasn’t as blissful as Heaven. Which still didn’t seem fair but there was no arguing. Where you went after death was decided by Jesus, the ultimate judge.
Inanna had seven judges – dethroned gods older than Jesus. We do not know what they looked like but the poem tells us that instead of sitting above her like Christ at the Last Judgement, they pressed around her. I tried drawing seven pairs of eyes. But that looked too busy and somehow cartoonish – like a bunch of cats in the dark. So I settled for three eyes – a scary trinity in impenetrable blackness. I imagined Inanna falling to her knees and raising a hand to ward off the “Guilty” judgement against her. For this print, I used my own hand as a model. As I carved, it felt like I was digging out shreds of old guilt from my Convent school days.
1From Ancient to Modern: Archaeology and Aesthetics, Princeton University, 2015