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Lecture 25

CLT 3378 Lecture 25: Mesopotamian Afterlife

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CLT 3378
David Branscome

Culture​: Babylonian (or more broadly Mesopotamian) Work read​: ​Nergal and Ereshkigal Type of work​: poem Date of work​: 1400 and 700 BCE (two versions) Language of work​: Akkadian Culture​: Babylonian (or more broadly Mesopotamian) Work read​: ​Descent of Isthar to the Underworld Type of work​: poem Date of work​: 700 BCE Language of work​: Akkadian I. underworld a) various names b) one name: Kurnugi = “land of no return” c) another name: Irkalla d) where souls of deceased go (afterlife realm) Sumerian kur= “earth/ground” Kur= also “mountain” (in west?) Usually 7 gates to underworld’s entrance- place of no return You do not want anyone to return from the underworld, anxiety from Mesopotamian culture about coming back from the underworld Each entrance has a guard, an underworld spirit (demons) Usually no river to cross; different from greek underground A place characterized by dust rather than dampness like Greek underworld II. Ereshkigal; looks over the underworld a) name = “Queen of the Great Below” b) queen of underworld c) Ereshkigal = also known as Irkalla d) thus, region called Irkalla after her (cf. Hel; Hades) e) palace at Ganzir (at underworld’s entrance) 1. guarded by (usually) 7 gates 2. each with guard 3. at entrance to afterlife realm III. Namtar a) son, vizier/messenger of Ereshkigal b) name = “fate” c) same as Namtara in ​Atrahasis Mesopotamian gods often have an assistant and/or messenger He can go between boundary of underworld and where the gods residde IV. Ningeshtinanna a) goddess, scribe of underworld; one of the deities is responsible for taking notes, in common with Egyptian mythology b) records names of spirits V. Nergal a) god of plague, flood, war, fertility b) assimilated with god Erra, god of war c) husband of Ereshkigal d) king of underworld Married couple in charge of the underworld VI. spirits in underworld a) demons (​gallas​) = are sometimes seen in the world of the living and drag some spirits down; seen as scary; are guarding the gate b) spirits = ​gidim 1. no proper burial = no spirit 2. in underworld, ​gidim​ wander (thirsty because there world is a dusty place) c) underworld = dark, dusty VIII. revenants a) ghosts (​gidim​)= haunt living IF b) no funerary offerings (food/drink) c) diseases (ear) = magic, they will enter your ear and cause all sort of diseases d) spell/incantation (ca. 1000-100 BCE): “O dead people, why do you keep appearing to me, People whose cities are ruin heaps, Who themselves are just bones? I don’t go to Cutha [= cult city of Nergal], where ghosts congregate, Why do you keep coming after me? Be conjured by Abatu [= unknown] the queen and Ereshkigal, By Ningeshtinanna, scribe of the gods, Whose stylus is lapis and carnelian!” (from Benjamin R. Foster, ​Before the Muses: An Anthology of Akkadian Literature​, 3rd ed., CDL Press 2005) Gemstones really appeal to ghosts, gem encrusted objects Nergal and Ereshkigal I. poem in two versions a) Amarna version 1. ca. 1400 BCE = 90 lines 2. Amarna = site in Egypt b) Sultantepe version 1. ca. 700 BCE = 350 lines highly fragmentary 2. Sultantepe = in Assyria c) how Nergal becomes king of underworld He starts out as one of the gods that live in the heavens II. Amarna version- short but has very clear version of beginning of story a) gods to send share of feast to Ereshkigal (via Namtar); she cannot go to the feast because she cannot cross the underworld, Namtar is the only one who can; the gods get Namtar to take plate from feast to Ereshkigal As a sign of respect, everyone bows to Namtar, thus showing respect to Ereshkigal b) one god (Nergal) does not bow befo
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