Inanna’s grief over the death of her husband Dumuzi is heartfelt. As a fertility goddess and a warrior, her love for him was fierce and sexual – their sacred union made the land of Sumer fruitful. She will miss his “sweet songs” but her overwhelming concern is that Dumuzi’s corpse has not had a proper burial. She fears that he will return as a malevolent ghost to blight the crops of her people.
For Dumuzi’s sister Geshtiananna, however, the loss is more personal. Dumuzi was her twin, a brother who had initiated her into sexual maturity and whom she, in turn, nurtures like a mother. He is the masculine side of her own feminine being and, the poem tells us, she does not want to live without him:
Geshtinanna wandered about the city, weeping for Dumuzi:
“O my brother! Who is your sister?
I am your sister.
“O Dumuzi! Who is your mother?
I am your mother. . .
I would find my brother! I would comfort him!
I would share his fate!”1
Inanna’s heart is softened by Geshtinanna’s grief. “I would take you to him,” she gently tells Geshtinanna, “but I do not know the place.”
Right on cue, a “holy fly” directs them to a ditch at the edge of the steppe where they find the dead Dumuzi weeping. Inanna takes his hand and tells him:
“You will go to the underworld
Half the year.
Your sister, since she has asked,
Will go the other half.
On the day you are called,
That day you will be taken.
On the day Geshtinanna is called,
That day you will be set free.”
Inanna placed Dumuzi in the hands of the eternal.2
The very last lines of the poem are a hymn of praise – not to Inanna but to her older sister, Ereshkigal, Queen of the Underworld: “Holy Ereshkigal! Great is your renown! Holy Ereshkigal, I sing your praises.”3 Thus the poem circles back to the beginning when, at the outset of the poem, Ereshkigal is grieving the death of own husband, the Great Bull of Heaven. The River God sends little creatures to mirror her pain and, thanks to their empathy, Ereshkigal allows Inanna to escape from the Underworld.4 Now, at the end of poem, Gestinanna’s tears of grief move Inanna and she allows brother and sister to escape separation. In the land of Sumer, empathetic emotion is a liberating force.
For this final print, I wanted to evoke the movement of the earth’s seasons and their continual swirl of life and death. So I drew on my tai chi practice and imagined a dance between Dumuzi and Geshtinanna within the black and white boundaries of the yin/yang symbol. (Although the symbol as we know it today originated around the 4th century BCE, Inanna’s story is a couple thousand centuries older.) Since Geshtinanna was the Sumerian goddess of wine, and grapes are a summer crop, I put her in the white “yang” or “male” segment, even though as a female force, she could be considered “yin”. To represent Dumuzi, I chose barley, a Sumerian winter crop, and placed him in the “yin” or “female” dark. This was really a logistical choice that made carving easier, but as it turns out, it was also philosophically correct since “yang” is contained within “yin” and vice versa.
I imagined Inanna holding her spherical solution and drew her hands in the position of a tai chi player holding an ever-changing “ball” of energy. However, as I re-read the poem for this blog, I realize that Inanna doesn’t keep hold of her sphere – she places it in the “hands of the eternal”.
Sometimes it is harder to let go than it is to hold on, but Inanna releases the twins without fanfare or drama. She simply places them “in the hands of the eternal.” In doing so she insures the welfare of her people who celebrate her harvests with beer brewed from Dumuzi’s barley and wine made from Geshtinanna’s grapes.
1Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth, Diane Wolkstein and Samuel Noah Kramer, Harper & Row, 1983. P.87-88
3Ibid. p. 89
4See my blog “The Gift”, September 2016