Ereshkigal and Nergal


This ZIPANG Day Out was filmed by reporter Ahmed Taha for a news item broadcast in Iraq by Al-Sharqiya TV. Participants at the afternoon workshop were treated to confectionary recently brought from Kurdistan by new ZIPANG storyteller Muhamad Tawfiq Ali. Its name means “Food from Heaven”.

Most of the clues for this story are in Room 56 of the British Museum. The image from a cylinder seal rolled out on wet clay depicts a feast. There is a black diorite throne fit for the statue of a king. There are several faces of demons. The Queen of the Night may be a representation of Ereshkigal, Queen of the Great Below. There are two fragments of a stone vessel dedicated by a high official in the temple of Nergal. There is a small statue of a melancholy monkey looking not unlike a bald-headed, blinking and cringing god. There are small clay representations of a chair and a kissing couple.

In the Assyria galleries on the ground floor are the remains of the bronze decoration on the Balawat Gate. The huge wooden replica of this gate suggests the seven gates of the Great Below which feature in so much Mesopotamian mythology, including the story of Ereshkigal and Nergal.

This story begins with Ereshkigal unable to leave the Great Below to join her fellow deities in heaven for a feast hosted by her father, the sky god An. When her vizier, the god of fate Namtar, climbed the stairway to heaven to bring back Ereshkigal’s gift from the feast he was shown no respect by the god of war Nergal. When Namtar told Ereshigal what had happened she said she would be ready for Nergal’s arrival in the Great Below.

Up in heaven the god of fresh water and wisdom Ea chided Nergal for disrespecting Namtar. He told Nergal to make a replica throne to take with him to the Great Below and how to behave in Ereshkigal’s domain. In particular, Ea warned Nergal not to “do as men and women do”. When Nergal went to the Great Below, Ereshkigal bathed and put on an alluring gown. Nergal embraced her and they made love for six nights. Nergal then returned to heaven leaving Ereshkigal distraught. She sent Namtar to tell the deities in heaven that if she could not have Nergal again she would release the dead to devour the living.

The deities in heaven invited Namtar to take Nergal. But Nergal had disguised himself as a bald-headed, blinking and cringing god. Namtar returned to the Great Below without him. Ereshkigal knew that the bald-headed, blinking and cringing god was Nergal and told Namtar to bring him to her. This time when Namtar climbed the stairway to heaven Nergal showed him respect. Protected by seven demons provided by Ea, Nergal then charged through the seven gates of the Great Below and pulled Ereshkigal from her throne. He was about to pull off her head. She stopped him by offering to share her domain with him. They made love again.

On the seventh day Ereshkigal received a message from her father the sky god An. “Nergal is yours now forever,” he told her. 

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