Mesopotamian storytelling workshop, 4th October 2008


At this workshop, the new ZIPANG storyteller Ann Gilmartin told the Sumerian story of Inana’s Descent into the Underworld. Inana, the goddess of love and fertility, decides to visit the underworld Land of the Dead which is ruled by her sister Ereshkigal. She puts on her crown, necklace, broach, gown and special anklets. All the symbols of her power. She leaves her loyal companion Ninshuba at the gate of the underworld to tell the gods if she does not return.

Ereshkigal’s gate-keeper takes Inana through the seven gates of the underworld. At each gate he removes one of her symbols of power. ”This is the way of the underworld,” he tells her. Inana enters Ereshkigal’s throne-room bowed low and naked. Ereshkigal is furious that Inana has ventured into her realm. She looks at her with the eye of death. Inana dies and her body is hung from a hook on the wall.

Without Inana there is no fertility in the Land of the Living. Ninshuba tells the gods that Inana has not returned from the Land of the Dead. Enki, the god of fresh water and wisdom, scrapes dirt from under his finger-nails and from it creates two strange little flying creatures. They fly through the cracks in the gates of the underworld and enter Ereshkigal’s throne-room. She is moaning and groaning like a woman in child-birth. They sympathise with her, as Enki told them to. Comforted by their concern, Ereshkigal asks the two strange little flying creatures what she can give them. “Give us our Queen who hangs from that peg,” they say.

Inana’s corpse is lifted off the hook and revived by the food and water of life brought by the two strange little flying creatures. But it’s not over yet. The judges of the underworld rule that Inana cannot leave the underworld without sending another god to take her place

New ZIPANG storyteller Badia Obaid told an episode of The Epic of Gilgamesh in Arabic. Gilgamesh has abused his kingly power and oppressed the people of Uruk. So the gods create the wild man, Enkidu, to stand up to him. Enkidu is seduced from his life among the gazelles by Shamkat. She takes him to a shepherd’s hut where he learns to eat bread, drink beer and dress like a civilised man. In the city of Uruk, Enkidu blocks Gilgamesh’s path as he tries to enter the bridal chamber and take a bride on her wedding day. Gilgamesh and Enkidu fight. The door and walls shake as the fight is watched by onlookers standing in a semi-circle. When the king and the wild man realise they are equal in strength they stop fighting and become friends. Their adventures together are only just beginning...

ZIPANG storyteller Fran Hazelton told the Babylonian creation myth Enuma elish… while Tara Jaff improvised a musical accompaniment on the harp.

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