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