A Sister’s Sacrifice

Gestinannas-tortureIn my previous post, we left Inanna’s husband Dumuzi and his sister Geshtinanna sitting by a river with a sympathetic friend. As the three of them grieved over Dumuzi’s dream – a dream that foretold his death – Dumuzi happened to look up and see the demons of the Underworld, the galla, coming towards them in boats. He cried out:

My sister! Quickly go up the hill!
Do not go with slow noble steps.
Sister, run! 1

She begged him to hide and he assured her that the world of plants would protect him. He would disappear in the tall grasses and “in the ditches of Arali”. But, he said, “tell no one my hiding place.” Both his sister and his friend swore to it.

“Dumuzi, if we tell your hiding place,
Let your dogs devour us,
Your black dogs of shepherdship,
Your royal dogs of kingship,
Let your dogs devour us!”2

They all fled.

The galla caught up with Geshtinanna in her house and demanded that she show them where her brother is. She would not speak to them. They tried bribing her. They offered “the water-gift”, the blessing of the heavens to hold in her own hands, but she refused it. They tempted her with “the grain-gift”, the earth’s bounty at her feet. She refused that as well. Next:

They tore her clothes.
They poured pitch into her vulva.
Geshtinanna would not speak.3

YIKES! Hot pitch in the vulva? How on earth to depict that? I have to say that the puzzle of how to draw and carve the scene hooked me and I pushed aside the larger question of why do it at all. Certainly I was reluctant to immerse myself in it. Any other scene I would have wanted to refine my design and redo my carving, but with this one, I let it be after my second try.

Now as I write about it, I could argue that there is good reason to examine the dark side of our humanity. Never mind Sumer in 2000 BC; consider Iraq in 2003 AD and how our own US Army and the CIA inflicted tortures at Abu Graid. However, I also realize that my choices for Inanna blocks are not rational and arguable. Each block I carved illustrates lines of the poem that have a gut-level impact on me – an intimate connection. You might well ask: What is your connection to torture? Unlike like our captives at Abu Graid, I have never had wires attached to my genitals. But I have, in my life, known what it feels like to held down by overwhelming power: once as a child undergoing urinary tract surgery and later as an adult in conflict with a giant bureaucracy.

In a scene that (at least to me) seems to prefigure Christ’s temptations in the desert, unrelenting demons tempt Gestinanna with the gift of the earth’s fertility. If she will give up her brother, she will control Sumer’s crops. She could bump Inanna off her throne and rule in her own right. Like Jesus some 2000 years later, she rejects promises of wealth and power. Her deep love for her brother wins out. Even as the galla seal up her own fertility, she remains silent.

Wolkstein, Diane and Kramer, Samuel Noah, Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth, Harper Row, New York, 1983, p.77
Ibid. p.78
Ibid. p.79