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P Ferguson (16)
Lecture 3

Lecture 3 Notes

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Classical Studies
P Ferguson

Lecture 3: Mesopotamian Gods and the Underworld What is Myth? From the Greek word mythos Defined as a “traditional story” with a plotline, characters, set in the distant parts Often part of an oral tradition, anonymous In a culture, different versions of the same myth can coexist despite any contradictions without one being “truth” Divine myths - many characters are deities / supernatural - include creation myths and other aetiologies of the natural world - Gods may be natural elements and/or real personalities with human weaknesses - Myth is separate from religious belief and ritual Legends - Deal with heroes, human or semi-divine (one parent is a god) - Members of the royalty or nobility - Ancient people believed in such legends as we regard history, helping to explain the past - Usually have a kernel of truth to legends (heroes might have been real kings, setting is realistic) - Includes aetiological explanations of social traditions – how did social traditions come to be? Folktales - Characters are ordinary people or animals (fables) - Focus on entertainment but also justify social / cultural traditions - Combine motifs that appear again and again (like a treasure guarded by a monster) - Over 700 types of folktales have been catalogued, e.g. the quest - Much use of folktale motifs in legends Mythos is different from lobos (account, analysis), historia (history) The Descent of Ishtar to the Underworld Older version: Sumerian The Descent of Inanna - Much longer (410 lines) than Akkadian version but also more fragmented - Shows clearly that Dumuzi periodically died and rose, causing seasonal fertility - Contains no ritual or incantation but represents goddess as a cult statue - This statue probably made a ritual journey from Uruk (her home town) to Kutha (seat of Underworld deities) Newer version: Akkadian story first attested in Late Bronze Age texts in old Babylonia and Assyria - short composition (140 lines) - Seems to end with ritual instructions for taklimtu cult ritual - Evidence of taklimtu found in Assyrian texts as festival in the month of Dumuzi (Tammuz = June/July) - In Nineveh, ritual involved the bathing, anointing, and lying-in-state of the statue of Dumuzi - In Sumer, Dumuzi and Ishtar were ritually married (the Sacred Marriage) by king and a priestess involved ritual sex to ensure the fertility of the land Similarity in plot to Greek myth of Persephone abducted by Hades Referred to in the Hebrew Bible “there sat women wailing for Tammuz” Certain lines common with Nergal and Ershkigal and Gilgamesh Ishtar is determined to go to the Underworld but we don’t know why Underworld called Kurnugi (Land of No Return), Erkalla (The Great city), Egalgina (Everlasting Palace) and is described as a place where there is/are… - No possibility of return - No light - Eat dust for food and clay for bread - Dead clothed like birds with feathers - Guarded by 7 gates, each with a gatekeeper Eunuchs (“Good-Looks the Playboy” was probably one of them) were common fixture in the courts, often in charge of harlems and finances since they had no heirs Losing symbols of power as one enters the underworld = level playing field Purpose: explains aetiology of seasonal fertility, i.e. winter when Ishtar misses Dumuzi Summary Ishtar goes to Kurnugi (the underworld) and demands to be let in - or she will break the gates and release the dead upon the living world Ereshkigal (queen of the underworld) tells Namta (her gatekeeper) to let Ishtar in after she has gone through the “ancient rites” At each of the seven gates, something Ishtar is wearing is taken away until she meets Ereshkigal - crown, earrings
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