Ishtar’s Descent to the Great Below


The goddess Ishtar is one of the most important characters in Mesopotamian mythology. In the myth known as Ishtar’s Descent to the Great Below she decides to leave her realm of Heaven and Earth and go down to the Great Below ruled by her sister Ereshkigal.

Ishtar has to go through the seven gates of the Great Below. At each gate has to give up one of the symbols of her seven cosmic powers. When Ereshkigal sees Ishtar she has her killed and hung up from a nail in the wall like a water-skin.

With Ishtar dead in the Great Below all renewal of life on Earth stops.

The god of wisdom, Ea, sends a creature to the Great Below who tricks Ereshkigal into letting Ishtar come back to life. But Ishtar can only leave the Great Below if somebody else takes her place.

In the end Ishtar’s place in the Great Below is taken by her husband Dumuzi and his sister Geshtinanna. They will take turns to spend six months of each year in the Great Below.

That is how and why the seasons change, year after year.

Click thumbnails to view photos:

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Iraqi elders at the British Museum

Janette Yacoub reads Ishtar’s Descent in Babylonian

Listening participants

Badia Obaid tells Ishtar’s Descent in Arabic

This ZIPANG Day Out was featured on the BBC World Service in a TV news report by Kifah Arif broadcast on 8th July 2010. Click here for the Arabic version of the broadcast or here for an English version. (Please note: BBC videos do not play for users outside the UK.)