In Praise of IštarIn Praise of Ištar

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  • In Praise of ItarLob der Itar: Gebete und Ritual an die altbabylonische Venusgttin by Brigette R. M.GronebergReview by: A. J. FerraraJournal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 120, No. 2 (Apr. - Jun., 2000), pp. 199-205Published by: American Oriental SocietyStable URL: .Accessed: 18/06/2014 00:24

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    The divine dyad Inanna/Istar, analyzed according to its two main divine personalities, represents a major figure of the Mesopotamian pantheon from earliest times and one which enjoyed a wide-

    spread acceptance in various forms in the ancient Near East. The personalities reflected by various

    types of textual evidence present a complicated picture. In the volume under review, we are given two new texts and the reworking of a third which add substantial knowledge regarding this most fascinating deity.

    To PARAPHRASE RILKE'S FIRST DUINO ELEGY, every goddess is terrifying, and the divine dyad Inanna/lltar is no exception. Her customary and well-known amatory and bellicose attributes evoke the Wife of Bath's "Vene- rien and Marcien" traits.' To be counted among her other

    already known attributes are paradox: [ g ] u 1-1 u d i m 2 - x-me zi-zi ga2-ga2 dinanna za-a-kam, "To de-

    stroy, to build up; to tear out and settle are yours, Inanna"2; enigma: ni3- AK.AK.-da-ni ab-si-kur2-ru gar-bi n i 3 n u - z u, "She changes her own action, no one knows how it will occur"3; and pleonexia: eri- - n a, "tem- pestuous lady."4 It is, therefore, a pleasure to have new materials anent this divine personality which expand on several levels Hallo's "typology of divine exaltation."5

    This is a review article of: Lob der Istar: Gebete und Ritual an die altbabylonische Venusgottin. By BRIGETrE R. M. GRONEBERG. Cuneiform Monographs, vol. 8. Groningen: STYX PUBLICATIONS, 1997. Pp. xix + 187 + 40 plts. HF1 150.

    Abbreviations follow the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary or the

    Pennsylvania Sumerian Dictionary unless otherwise noted. 1 Geoffrey Chaucer, Canterbury Tales, Prologue of the Wife of

    Bath's Tale, ed. A. C. Cawley (London: J. M. Dent, 1996), 11.609- 12 (p. 174):

    For certes I am al Venerien In feelynge and myn herte is Marcien. Venus me yaf my lust, my likerousnesse And Mars yaf me my sturdy hardynesse.

    2 Ake W. Sjoberg, Inninsagurra, 1. 19; cf. "Iftar-Louvre," I 13 (pp. 22-23).

    3 Innins-agurra, 1. 7; cf. "Istar-Louvre,"I 16 (pp. 22-23).

    4 Innins-agurra, 1. 1. 5 W. W. Hallo and J. J. A. van Dijk, Ninmesarra, 64-68.

    Groneberg's careful, sympathetic and well-thought-out treatment of three lyrically couched liturgical compositions from the Early Old Babylonian period, "lstar-Louvre," Agusaya A and B, and "Istar-Bagdad," provides a sub- stantial and welcome addition to our growing fund of information and knowledge about this very complex goddess as well as some of the practices of her cult in the early part of the second millennium. The author's selec- tion and treatment of these compositions are steps toward a much more ambitious goal: an eventual examination of Inanna/lstar foregrounded against the rest of the Meso- potamian pantheon-especially its goddesses. Although the texts under discussion give us a tantalizing glimpse of Inanna/Istar and her cult, the information conveyed by them raises many questions and is highly suggestive for further inquiry. What, for instance, is precisely meant and intended by Istar-Louvre I 24 (p. 23)? The materials also prompt a reexamination of Oppenheim's iron dictum that a Mesopotamian religion should not be written.6

    Groneberg's rationale for the limitation she has placed on the present work and her selection of texts is clearly set out:

    Neben dem Gebete an Annunitum ... sind diese drei Texte sicherlich die informativsten religiosen Texte iber die Gottin Inanna/lstar. (p. vii)

    Possibly so, and given her eventual goal, Groneberg's present contribution may be regarded as a work in progress.

    The introduction contains a brief overview and charac- terization of the texts. In addition to furnishing new infor- mation about the nature of the goddess, "Istar-Louvre"

    6 A. L. Oppenheim, Mesopotamia: Portrait of a Dead Civili- zation (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1964), 172.


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  • Journal of the American Oriental Society 120.2 (2000)

    (AO 6035) preserves a detailed narrative account of a rit- ual, possibly occasioned by a building project associated with a shrine. The ritual contains mention of the cultic practice of transvestitism which was previously known to us from an earlier Iddin-Dagan sacred-marriage hymn.

    Groneberg has critically edited Agusaya A and B be- fore, and it is presented here in a revised translation along with an extensive discussion of its literary structure, style, and content. It is included here because of its top- ical affinities with the other two texts under discussion. 'Igstar-Bagdad" (IM 58424), a lament bearing similarities to ludlul bel nPmeqi, gives us a picture of personal piety. Groneberg suggests that it was composed of several shorter Old Babylonian prayers, which were reedited into a larger composition in post-Old Babylonian times.

    All three texts are written in lyrical language typical of the period and present a combination of epic and lyric genres. Groneberg is to be commended for avoiding use of the more conventional albeit misleading term, "hymnisch- epische Dialekt" and opting instead for "lyrisch-babylo- nische Sprache" to describe the elevated and occasionally difficult literary language of the texts-a Kunstsprache, to use Rollig's convenient and more accurate term (p. xv).7 With regard to the literary quality of the texts, Groneberg states:

    Unter stilistischen Gesichtspunkten haben wir in den drei hier neu bearbeiteten Texten kunstvolle, hochentwickelte Hymnen vor uns, die in der Dichte des poetischen Aus- drucks auf der gleichen Ebene liegen wie die Istar- Gebete RA 22, 170ff. und VS 10, 215. (p. xv)

    However, Agusaya A and B bear the marks of a much less

    polished work, possibly attributable to the fact that the scribe had difficulty with the text (p. 58). Notwithstanding the difficulties presented by its troubled transmission, Groneberg's discussion of the composition's structure is well done (pp. 61-63).

    All three compositions present us with a spectrum of the goddess's attributes, including a novel connection with ardat lili. We see a polarity of behaviors, which range from capricious to caring, similar to those expressed in Inninsagurra and which are central to several interrelated theses advanced by Groneberg in the course of the book. The materials provide an occasionally unfamiliar and fas- cinating look at expressions of public and personal piety and cultic praxis associated with these. "Istar-Bagdad," for example, illustrates the "hierarchischen Konzeption des babylonischen Pantheons" (perhaps alternatively ex-

    7 W. Rollig, RIA 6, s.v. "Literatur," 48.

    pressed, given Groneberg's associated thesis, as Transzen- denz?) and the necessity of invoking one's own personal god, il abi, as a means to approach the remote divine pres- ence (p. xv).8 For Groneberg, the well-known story of Agusaya illustrates this principle in mythic terms: a sub- stitute being is created to protect humankind against the more capricious and destructive of Inanna/Istar's tenden- cies. I would suggest that on a thematic level, this is evoc- ative of the anti-Gilgamesh aspects of Enkidu, which result as well in dramatic contest. This mechanism is ac- companied by ecstatic ritual practices, in this instance, an aetiologically-based report of the whirling dance, gustu, which is apotropaically motivated: 11. 15-17: li-ib-si sa- at-ti-sa li-is-sa-ki-in gu-us-tu-d i-pa-ar-si-im sa-at-ti (p. 86). How better to approach the falcon of the gods, the unapproachable, than with dizzying ecstasy?9 It is remi- niscent, as well, of a motif commonly found in combat myths: knowledge of the adversary given to the opponent by a wise and/or divine helper prior to a direct engage- ment between the contestants.10

    Groneberg concludes the introduction with a more general discussion of parallel practices in cults of the Greco-Roman period. She focuses on the oriental cults of Aphrodite and Cybele and the possible connection between Cybele's cultic personnel, the galloi and gal5- la2:gallu of Mesopotamia. I miss mention of other cultic personnel in Cybele's service who, similar to the galloi, practiced castration and ecstatic rites: the metragyrtes.11 Missed too, is any mention of another mother goddess from Asia Minor and Syria, and one who is closer to the point: Atargatis/Derceto, the consort of Hadad, generally referred to as the "Syrian Goddess" (dea syria). She too had galloi devoted to her, although probably not as cultic personnel per se, but as wandering mendicants.12 Argu- ably, it was she whose incorporation into the Syrian pan-

    8 Cf. W. G. Lambert, BWL 86, 11. 256-57. 9 W. H. Ph. Romer, "Eine sumerische Hymne mit Selbstlob

    Inannas," Or 38 (1969): 98,1.21: dingir buru5-me-es me- e mu-tin-me3, "The gods are (but) birds, I (Inanna) am a falcon." The alternative approach is to soothe her troubled heart with the laments of the gala priests, as the Sumerian

    aetiological tale tells us. See S. N. Kramer, "BM 29616, The

    Fashioning of the Gala," Acta Sum 3 (1981): 1-11. 10 Cf. Agusaya A VI 14-49 (pp. 80-81), Ea to Saltu; Agusaya

    B I 1-9 (p. 84), Istar to Ninsubur; CT 13, 23-24: tas-pu-ra-an-ni be-el re-hu-ut nari [ ] ul i-de-e-ma sd lab-bi [ ]: "You have sent

    me, o lord, [to slay?] River's offspring. (But) I do not know [the

    ways?] of the Lion-Serpent." 11

    Apuleius, Metamorphoses, books 8-9. 12 Lucian, De dea syria.


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  • FERRARA: In Praise of lstar

    theon can be traced back to the worship of Nanaya by the Aramean tribe Bit Ammukani, which was centered in and around Uruk in the late first millennium.'3

    Chapters I and II are devoted to "Iftar-Louvre," [ser] tanati Istar, "[song?], glory to Istar," according to its su- perscript (editio princeps). Chapter I contains a detailed discussion of all aspects of this unprovenanced text, from paleographic to literary features. Especially welcome is Groneberg's discussion of the "poeticity" of the composi- tion-with respect to the feature of assonance, among oth- ers (pp. 12-15).

    Die Poetizitat des Textes wird bewirkt durch Lautassonan- zen und die Wortstellung. Spannung wird erzeugt durch die Varianz im Vokabular und die Anordnung der Satzgliedern in den Versen. (p. 12)

    One is struck here by the general similarity between these features and Latin poets' attempts to adapt Latin verse to Greek metric schemes, such as are found in the Odes of Horace.'4 Chapter II contains a transliteration and transla- tion on facing pages. In a similar manner, Chapters III and IV treat Agusaya A and B (VS 10, 214 and RA 15, 174ff., respectively). Chapter III is an in-depth discussion of the composition's style and content, and chapter IV contains a transliteration and translation of the composition.

    "Istar-Bagdad" (editio princeps) is treated in chapters V and VI. In chapter VII Groneberg offers a detailed dis- cussion and analysis of Istar's ritual as disclosed here in comparison with others previously known, both explicit and implicit: the Old Babylonian Mari ritual, the Iddin- Dagan sacred marriage rites, the late Istar ritual, tablet 19 of the balag uru2-am3-ma-ir-ra-bi and the festival pro- cession reported in a prayer to Nanaya for Sargon II. Groneberg discusses as well how these rituals reflect the personality of the goddess to a greater or lesser extent. Of special interest here is her discussion of the shamanistic function of Inanna/lstar:

    Es ist zu vermuten, daB der schamanistische Aspect dieser Gottin ein wichtiger Hintergrund fur ihre Bedeutung in Mesopotamien ist. Sie nimmt im Pantheon eine hervorra-

    13 Joan Goodnick Westenholz, "Nanaya: Lady of Mystery," in Sumerian Gods and their Representations, ed. I. L. Finkel and M. J. Geller, Cuneiform Monographs, vol. 7 (Groningen: Styx Publications, 1997), 78-79.

    14 For a discussion of prosodic analysis at the syllabic and intra- syllabic levels, see R. H. Robins, "Aspects of Prosodic Analysis," Proceedings of the University of Durham Society, series B.1 (1957): 1-12.

    gende Stelle ein. Ihre Bedeutung nicht nur als weibliche Gottheit, als die sie keine besondere Rolle spielte, sondern als staatserhaltende weibliche Gottheit, geht daraus her- vor, daB ihre Macht nicht nur fur kriegerische Ausein- andersetzungen genutzt wird, sondern auch fur die Festigung des Konigtums im Fruchtbarkeitsritus des hieros gamos. Sie verleiht ebenso wie die groBen mannli- chen Gotter die Insignien der Konigsherrschaft. (p. 154, nn. 285 and 286)

    An extensive bibliography and several indices, both top- ical and lexical, are provided. The tablets are presented in photographic plates with facing autographs by Groneberg for "l'tar-Louvre" and autographs by A. Cavigneaux for "l'tar-Bagdad." The quality of the photographs of the former is not the best; that of the latter is much better. Photographs of the Burey Relief, a detail of the Larsa Vase depicting Istar lilitu and a plaque depicting the same complete the work. The text is remarkably free of typo- graphical errors. I note the following: in the list of plates, I-XXVI present "Istar-Louvre," not I-XXXVI (p. 187). P. 153 note 273: "Ausfomuliert."

    There is much here which is new and challenging, both in terms of materials presented and of Groneberg's inter- pretations. Suffice it to point out some of the more salient features of her treatment an...