The Fourth Gate

Inanna-4th-GateAt the second gate and third gates of the Underworld, Inanna gave up her blue lapis beads – a pair of “small” ones plus a “double strand”. This was a big loss. While Mesopotamia was rich agriculturally, it had no mineral wealth; gem stones and gold were imported from mines in present day Iran – some five hundred miles away from the kingdom of Sumer. Lapis lazuli was not only rare and precious, it was believed to have holy power. If at the first gate, Inanna was divested of her queenly crown, at the next two gates she lost her sacred adornments. Then, the poem goes on to tell us:

“When she entered the fourth gate,
From her chest the breastplate called “Come, man, come!” was removed.
Inanna asked:
“What is this?”
She was told:
“Quiet, Inanna, the ways of the underworld are perfect.
They may not be questioned.”

“Come, man, come!” is a challenge, an invitation to combat and a taunt like Dirty Harry’s “Make my day!” I carved the name vertically like a breastbone but – as you can see – I forgot to reverse the letters it and it printed backwards.

As for the breastplate itself, I first drew female versions of Greek and Roman style muscle-shirt armor – molded breastplates boasting heroic pecs and nipples. But my sketches came out looking like a Victoria’s Secret bra for Wonder Woman. The look of them was embarrassing – no doubt a hangover of shame from my adolescence in the 1950s and my Convent education. If you were a Good Girl, breasts and nipples were to be covered up and contained in a white cotton bra. Otherwise, your breasts could be “an occasion of sin” for some hapless boy. It wasn’t until the 1970s and its feminist ritual of bra burning that unrestrained breasts were celebrated and dress shop manikins suddenly sprouted nipples. This was all very liberating and sexy but I don’t think women’s breasts were sexualized in 2500 BC any more than cow’s udders are eroticized today. Inanna’s sexuality was located in her vulva, which she praised as her “Boat of Heaven”.

So having rejected Hugh Hefner cones to shield Inanna’s chest, I searched the Internet and learned that the personal armor of Sumerian warriors consisted of a leather cloak with metal disks sewn on it to deflect arrows. In battle, warriors carried large rectangular shields that in close formation formed a protective wall. I tried drawing Sumerian metal disks on a fitted breastplate. As I overlapped them, I saw that my protective disks suggested the breast feathers of a bird of prey. Since ancient images of Inanna show her with talons instead of feet, raptor feathers seemed right.

Here is Inanna relinquishing the fierceness that protects her heart. One of her titles is “Lady of the Largest Heart” and without her breastplate, all the love in her large heart is open and vulnerable. Nonetheless she can not continue her journey downward without letting go of her armor. Working on this woodcut made me think about the shields we all carry. Certainly the angry attack mode can be a shield – a breastplate much favored by the current crop of political candidates. But it occurs to me that Good Girl modesty and compliance can be as much of a shield as “Make my day!”

Two views of “Declaration of Independence” by Janet Brome.