Inanna’s Choice

dumuziWhen Inanna returns to the land of Sumer, she is trailing demons who want someone to take her place in the Underworld. This woodcut depicts whom she chose. Here’s the story.

The first person Inanna meets upon surfacing is Ninshubur, her trusty helper.  Ninshubur is dressed in the dirty sackcloth of mourning and is waiting at the palace gates for her queen’s return.  When she sees Inanna, she is overjoyed and throws herself in the dust at Inanna’s feet.  The demons propose taking Ninshubur as Inanna’s substitute.  Inanna cries out:

“No! Ninshubur is my constant support.
She is my sukkal who gives me wise advise.
She is my warrior who fights by my side.
She did not forget my words.

She set up a lament for me by the ruins.
She beat the drum for me at the assembly places.
She circled the house of the gods.
She tore at her eyes, at her mouth, at her thighs.
She dressed herself in a single garment like a beggar.

Alone, she set out for Nippur and the temple of Enlil.
She went to Ur and the temple of Nanna.
She went to Eridu and the temple of Enki.
Because of her, my life was saved.
I will never give Ninshubur to you.”

So the demons – the galla – command Inanna to walk on.  At Umma, they want to take her son Shara who sings hymns to her and attends to her beauty needs. ( He “cuts my nails and smooths my hair.”)  At Badtibira, the demons ask for her warrior son Lulal. (“My right arm, My left arm!”)  Like the faithful Ninshubur, both sons have donned sackcloth and have been praying in their temples for their mother’s return.  Inanna refuses to give them up.

Again, the demons order Inanna to walk on. They arrive at her own city, at “the big apple tree in Uruk” where Inanna finds her beloved husband, the shepherd Dumuzi, sitting on his high throne, resplendent in royal garments. Their marriage is celebrated in an erotic poem in which they make passionate love on “the fragrant honey-bed.”  He is the “blossom bearer in the apple orchard” who “plows” her vulva. She is his “beloved sister”.

Nonetheless, he has not mourned her absence; instead he has taken over the rule of her lands.  He does not budge from his seat when he sees her. Instead of stepping down from his throne to embrace her, he remains seated above her playing his reed pipe.  Needless to say, the goddess is more than annoyed. She, after all, was the one who installed him on his throne.

Inanna fastened on Dumuzi the eye of death.
She spoke against him the word of wrath.
She uttered against him the cry of guilt:

“Take him! Take Dumuzi away!”

The demons are quick to obey. They grab Dumuzi and beat him and gash him with axes. Dumuzi lets out a  great wail – a “not fair” protest, as if to say: “She goes off on her trip leaving me to sort things out and now she’s back ordering a bunch of demons to kill me!?!”  He appeals to Utu, the God of Justice and reminds Utu that he, Dumuzi, is one of the family.

I am the husband of your sister.
I brought cream to your mother’s house. . .
I am the one who brought wedding gifts to Uruk.
I am the one who danced on the holy knees, the knees of Inanna!

He begs the god to change him into a snake so he can wiggle away from the galla and Utu obliges.

My woodcut shows Dumuzi in the process of being transformed into a snake. It was fun carving the snake and I’m pleased with the way it came out. For Inanna’s sake, I would have liked to have her “honey man” looking more handsome, but he is fearful and fear obscures beauty. In the poem, he’s terrified of being dragged off into the darkness of the Great Below.  But in my woodcut, it looks as if he is afraid of becoming a snake.  Maybe that’s as it should be.  Any change can give rise to fear, but this one totally changes Dumuzi’s way of being in the world. As a snake, he has no hands with which to make love or wield a weapon.  As a snake he has no feet to measure an advance or a retreat.  Nonetheless, the transformation is the answer to his prayer.

Dumuzi escaped from his demons.
They could not hold him. . .

The end!

Actually it’s not the end of the story.  As the elipses indicate, twenty lines of the poem are missing. On the clay tablet that contained them, the cuneiform is illegible. Perhaps one day, a duplicate tablet will turn up in the bowels of some museum or be excavated in Iraq.  In any case, fragments of other tablets, pieced together over the years, tell of Dumuzi’s fate.  A “holy fly” brings news of him to Inanna and her heart softens. She arranges a compromise: her husband will spend half the year in the Underworld and his self-sacrificing sister will do time for him during the other half of the year.

I don’t know if I’ll do more woodcuts on the myth – so for now, Dumuzi’s escape brings my Inanna project to a close. As I noted in my first post, the Sumerian word for “wisdom” and “ear” are the same.  Samuel Noah Kramer who did the original translation told Diane Wolkstein (who retranslated Kramer’s work into poetic form) that “wisdom/ear” actually meant “mind”.  So one could say that Inanna “set her mind” to explore the Underworld. This implies that will is involved in listening, that wisdom doesn’t just float into one’s ear. I’m very grateful to all of you who have “set your minds” to this story and kept me company over the months (about nine of them!).  A heartfelt Thank You for “listening to” my woodcuts!