You are on page 1of 4

The Descent of Inanna


Reading Guide: The Descent of Inanna
Prof. Stephen Hagin K Symbolic Connections in WL K 12th edition K Kennesaw State University

The Descent of Inanna (Wolkstein, 51-89)
Inanna plans to enter the Underworld to visit her older sister, Ereshkigal, who is mourning the loss of
her husband, Gugalanna, the Bull of Heaven. However, anyone who enters the Underworld will never
be allowed to leave. The Mesopotamians believed that three realms existed: heaven, earth, and
underworld. The heavens were the distant stars in the sky, where many of the gods resided. You
can reach as high as you can, but you will never be able to touch them. You can build Towers of
Babel, climb the highest mountains, or jump as high as possible, but you will never reach the sky.
This distant, unreachable place is referred to as “the heavens.” The earth is the realm of duality,
human life, and a middle state, where the daemons (intermediaries) roam freely from one realm to the
other. This story will show you how these intermediaries operate.

Part 1: From the Great Above to the Great Below (51-73)
On page 53, Inanna instructs her trusted servant Ninshubur about what to do if Inanna does not
return in three days’ time. She tells her friend to ask the gods for help if she becomes trapped in the
land of no return. Therefore, Inanna clearly knows that she has a difficult journey ahead. By page
55, she has descended the stairs and approaches the door to the netherworld. She knocks, and the
door is answered by Neti, the main gatekeeper of the seven gates into the Underworld. He asks her
what she wants, and she tells him that she is Ereshkigal’s sister and that she comes to attend the
funeral of her brother-in-law. He tells her to wait so that he can ask the Queen of the Underworld,
Ereshkigal, what to do.
But wait. There is something else going on here. On page 55, Inanna says that she is “[o]n my way to
the East.” The East always represents life and rebirth, while the West represents death and dying.
Why would she be traveling through the Underworld to get to the East? This aspect of the story
simply reflects the travels of the planet Venus, which is personified as Inanna.
Joseph Campbell explains that all of us are “twice born,” and that we have to “die” before we can
assume a new “life.” For example, when you meet your significant other, your single life “dies” so
that you can be reborn into a new person, one who is not alone any more, but rather part of a whole —
your relationship. Likewise, when you become a parent, part of your old life is replaced with a new
one, filled with new responsibilities and challenges that changes the way that you live your life. If
Inanna is traveling to the East, then she is metaphorically seeking a rebirth, which can only occur
through a death, hence her visit to the realm of the dead.
Inanna knows that the cycles of life whirl around and around, and that there is always a new life
after each death. She is going to pay tribute to the end of winter and the beginning of new life in the
East. She is going to become born again. First, however, she needs to experience death. Hence, the
Underworld. Inanna is already the “Queen of Heaven and Earth,” as your book’s subtitle indicates,
but does she control the Underworld? No. Perhaps she is curious about it so that she can also
assume power over the third of the three realms?
On page 56, Inanna gathers together seven Holy me, her powers and wisdom that she will need to do
battle with the forces of the Underworld. These take the form of royal robes and assorted jewelry.
At the bottom of the page, though, Ereshkigal (Queen of the Underworld) tells Neti (the gatekeeper)


Ereshkigal attaches the “eye of death” onto Inanna and hangs her corpse on the wall. since she is so valuable to Inanna. who refuses to help. they find Ninshubur. View Ereshkigal as a mirror image of Inanna herself. and they will not be subjected to the same rules that mortals and gods must follow. but he too says no. and screaming. Questions for Part 1 of The Descent of Inanna: 1. however. wondering why he has met this fate. removing one of the seven me as she passes through each gate. but places one strict demand on her exit -. Immediately (page 60). but Inanna complains that Ninshubur cannot be taken. Enki is the only god who makes a commitment to help Inanna. as each god and goddess controls limited aspects. and the other that tends to the night. the galla find a man sleeping beneath an apple tree — Dumuzi. Inanna’s father. He gives them the food and water of life. Next. these two women are really different halves of the same concept -. so the soul of Inanna must be replaced. Inanna’s assistant. Why does Ereshkigal affix the “eye of death” upon her sister Inanna? Is she evil? Corrupt? No. In other words. He will attempt to hide. a kurgarra and a galatur. Furthermore. she will be accompanied by the galla creatures (nasty little demon dudes) who will search the Earth for someone to take Inanna’s place in the Underworld. Ereshkigal (the Queen of the Underworld. Inanna is dead. but they refuse the offerings (pages 66-67). the Underworld must be balanced. stating that her sons are brave warriors and needed on the Earth. Because they are neither male nor female (androgynous). begins to ask the gods for their help.they are both components of Nature’s dualities. They are more than sisters -. she visits Nanna. First she asks Enlil (also called Ellil). Both are aspects of Nature and natural cycles. Dumuzi is dragged away toward the Underworld. As Inanna and her underworld companions reemerge on the land. and Inanna’s sister) questions these kurgarra and galatur creatures and attempts to offer them gifts. Inanna then exclaims: “Take him! Take Dumuzi away!” Fighting. as nobody else can experience these things for her. Inanna’s assistant. especially since nobody forced her into the Underworld! Much like in the earlier Inanna stories. But why is their lack of sexual identity a benefit (or a condition that circumvents death)? Perhaps this has a lot to do once again with dualities. and he does so on page 64 by creating two androgynous creatures. What command does Inanna give to her servant Ninshubur? . whom they revive with Enki’s magic potions. That is when. Why won’t these father figures offer any succor to Inanna? Perhaps because they have no power over the Underworld. on page 71. First. due to these highly unusual conditions. is the friendlier (and more flirtatious) side of Nature. while Ereshkigal offers the dark side. and he sends them into the Underworld. Ereshkigal promotes the opposite that operates by day. the galla stumble across two of Inanna’s sons. Ninshubur.72 K Unit 1 to allow Inanna in only one gate at a time. Whereas Inanna represents fertility. Ereshkigal allows Inanna to leave the Underworld. the galla creatures begin to point out prospects for Inanna’s replacement. But Inanna complains again. The only gift they ask for is the body of Inanna. Next. Inanna is an adult woman now. Pages 57-59 show Inanna’s passage until she finally arrives in the Underworld completely naked. Inanna must face her own life changes. and succeeds temporarily. After all. kicking. until he is finally sentenced to the Underworld in the next two sections of this story. and she needs to fight her own battles.if she leaves. Inanna. How does Inanna dress for the Underworld? 2. they will be allowed in and out of the Underworld at will. Shara and Lulal. on page 70.

” “given to the winds. Geshtinanna discusses the “sheepfold” to Dumuzi. Dumuzi is eventually seized by the galla. she refuses their gifts. What explanation does Inanna offer to Neti. Dumuzi runs away. The moon reflects the changes of death. How do the kurgarra and the galatur revive the corpse of Inanna? 8. Although Enlil and Nanna cannot help Ninshubur. The sun naturally wants to preserve life and keep it active. for her visit to the Underworld? 4. to transform his arms and legs into those of a snake.” we see Dumuzi asking his sister Geshtinanna to interpret his dreams. the gatekeeper. 73 . female). Shara. What happens to Inanna as she passes through the seven gates of the Underworld? 5. Why does Inanna refuse to allow the galla demons to drag Ninshubur.The Descent of Inanna K 3. and later as those of a gazelle. The “water-gift” and the “graingift” are both representations of life (the same stuff that the androgynous creatures fed to Inanna to revive her in the Underworld).” “fall to earth. in dual opposition to the qualities of the sun (male vs. What kind of friend is this? Why would a friend turn against Dumuzi? The galla catch up with Dumuzi. When the galla approach Geshtinanna. who take him to his new home. Why does Geshtinanna refuse the gifts of life? Perhaps because they come from down below. or perhaps because of her loyalty to her brother. Why does the sun god have mercy on Dumuzi as he is dragged away to death? The sun represents life and its energy. Utu. what does Enki do to rescue Inanna? 7. Dumuzi calls up to the sun god. In a panic. What does her sister Ereshkigal do to Inanna after passing through the gates? 6. After this interpretation is made. The galla proceed to torture Geshtinanna (they rape her) before moving onto the friend who. asking his sister and friend to keep his hiding place a secret.” allowing the “sheepfold” (earth) to “become a house of desolation. Rather. How does Utu help Dumuzi after he cries out for help? Part 2: The Dream of Dumuzi (74-84) In the section entitled “The Dream of Dumuzi.” On pages 78-79. immediately accepts the gifts and reveals Dumuzi’s hiding places. of course. on page 80. because this is his fate. and gives Dumuzi one last chance for escape. Notice that Geshtinanna does not tell Dumuzi that he will die.” This allows us to better understand some descriptions. Under what condition will the Anunna allow Inanna to leave the Underworld? 9. she tells her brother that his dream portends his own death.” Remember that these nature-based stories tell about natural events and cycles. Dumuzi goes into hiding. followed by hers. which she does on pages 76-77. and Lulal to the Underworld? Why does she allow her husband Dumuzi to be imprisoned there? 10. Utu complies. she uses nature metaphors to describe Dumuzi’s passing: “terror of tall trees. which can be translated into “Mother Earth. In short. such as Dumuzi’s fire being “put out on your holy hearth.

Dumuzi is one of the names of the month. How does Utu.” we see everyone in tears over Dumuzi’s fate. Geshtinanna offers to make a sacrifice of herself so that Dumuzi can be released from the Underworld for one half a year. Dumuzi returned to the earth. to find Dumuzi — which they do! Why the horizon? Think about what the horizon is – the imaginary intersection of heaven and earth. decreed that he be carried off to the netherworld for six months of each year (to explain the barren. ended in tragedy when the goddess. What deal does Geshtinanna make with the “hands of the eternal” that allows Dumuzi partial escape from the Underworld? What might this symbolize? . which marked the beginning of the Sumerian new year. Inanna grants the fly the abilities to enter the taverns (which explains why flies are attracted to restaurants!) and listen to people’s conversations (the traditional “fly on the wall”). Dumuzi was originally a mortal ruler whose marriage to Inanna ensured the fertility of the land and the fruitfulness of the womb. Why does Geshtinanna refuse to reveal Dumuzi’s location. including his mother Sirtur and sister Geshtinanna. There really isn’t a “horizon. At the autumnal equinox. In the third unit on Egypt. help Dumuzi escape the galla demons? Part 3: The Return (85-89) In the final section entitled “The Return. and Geshtinanna took his place. His family is crying. and Tammuz in Arabic and Hebrew is still used as the name for the month of July. a deal is struck. A strange fly appears who seems to know where Dumuzi is. This marriage. the horizon is also a trick that is played on the eyes. offended by her husband’s unfeeling behavior toward her. The fly tells Inanna to look at the “edges of the steppe. the sun god. Question for Part 3 of The Descent of Inanna: 14. sterile months of the hot summer). On page 89. The horizon represents a boundary between these two realms. since they can fly heavenward.” since it is a matter of perspective. but it asks for compensation before saying where. unlike people. Dumuzi is about to leave the earth and pass into the next world. His reunion with his wife caused all animal and plant life to be revitalized and made fertile once again. Dumuzi hides from the galla demons by hiding in the ditches of Arali. How does Geshtinanna interpret Dumuzi’s dream? 12.74 K Unit 1 Questions for Part 2 of The Descent of Inanna: 11. Bear in mind that any flying creatures were considered to be gods or spirits of some fashion. In a later Mesopotamian calendars. However. we will see the horizon play an even more important role in mythology. but Dumuzi’s friend complies? 13.” or on the horizon. however.