This myth has appeared several times through many different evolutions of Mesopotamian civilization.
Some scholars assign its celebration to the Spring season at the time of the Babylonian New Year; others place its enactment during the Summer months.
As it is a tale of death and rebirth, of the dismantling and reintegration of spirit, many modern spiritualists will reenact the myth at their Samhain (Hallowe'en) celebrations. The following commentary and version of the myth is taken directly from the book, "Myths From Mesopotamia", by Stephanie J. Dalley

The Akkadian story is first attested in Late Bronze Age texts, in both Babylonia and Assyria, and later from the palace library at Nineveh. It is a short composition of some 140 lines, and seems to end with ritual instructions for the taklimtu, an annual ritual known from Assyrian texts, which took place in the month of Dumuzi (Tammuz = June/July) and featured the bathing, anointing, and lying-in-state in Nineveh of a statue of Dumuzi.

The Sumerian version, The Descent of Inanna, is attested earlier, and is much longer, consisting of some 410 lines. It is a fuller, more detailed account, and shows clearly that Dumuzi periodically died and rose, causing seasonal fertility, a fact which had been doubted until 1963, when a newly published fragment disclosed the crucial evidence. This version contains no ritual or incantation. However, like the Akkadian story, it seems to represent the goddess as a cult statue, and it has been suggested that the goddess's statue makes a ritual journey from Uruk, her home town, to Kutha, seat of Underworld deities.

There is an obvious similarity in basic theme to the Greek myth of Persephone, who was abducted by Hades. He periodically released her to her mother Demeter, thus causing fertility on earth to be seasonal, but of course there are many major differences between the Greek and Akkadian myths.


THE DESCENT OF ISHTAR TO THE UNDERWORLD

To Kurnugi, land of [no return],
Ishtar daughter of Sin was [determined] to go;
The daughter of Sin was determined to go
To the dark house, dwelling of Erkalla's god,
To the house which those who enter cannot leave,
On the road where travelling is one-way only,
To the house where those who enter are deprived of light,
Where dust is their food, clay their bread.
They see no light, they dwell in darkness,
They are clothed like birds, with feathers.
Over the door and the bolt, dust has settled.
Ishtar, when she arrived at the gate of Kurnugi,
Addressed her words to the keeper of the gate,
"Here gatekeeper, open your gate for me,
Open your gate for me to come in!
If you do not open the gate for me to come in!
If you do not open the gate for me to come in,
I shall smash the door and shatter the bolt,
I shall smash the doorpost and overturn the doors,
I shall raise up the dead and they shall eat the living:
The dead shall outnumber the living!"
The gatekeeper made his voice heard and spoke,
He said to great Inanna,
"Stop, lady, do not break it down!
Let me go and report your words to queen Ereshkigal."
The gatekeeper went in and spoke to [Ereshkigal],
"Here she is, your sister Inanna [. . .]
Who holds the great keppu'toy,
Stirs up the Abzu in Ea's presence [. . .]?"

When Ereshkigal heard this,
Her face grew livid as cut tamarisk,
Her lips grew dark as the rim of a kuninu-vessel.
"What brings her to me? What has incited her against me?
Surely not because I drink water with the Anunnaki,
I eat clay for bread,I drink muddy water for beer?
I have to weep for young men forced to abandon their sweethearts.
I have to weep for girls wrenched from their lover's laps.
For the infant child I have to weep, expelled before its time.
Go,gatekeeper, open your gate to her.
Treat her asccording to the ancient rites."
The gatekeeper went.
He opened the gate to her.
"Enter, my lady: may Kutha give you joy,
May the palace of Kurnugi be glad to see you"

He let her in through the first door, but stripped off (and) took away the great crown on her head,
"Gatekeeper, why have you taken away the great crown on my head?"
"Go in, my lady. Such are the rites of the Mistress of Earth."
He let her in through the second door, but stripped off (and) took away the rings in her ears.
"Gatekeeper, why have you taken away the rings in my ears?"
"Go in, my lady. Such are the rites of the Mistress of Earth."
He let her in through the third door, but stripped off (and) away the beads around her neck.
"Gatekeeper, why have you taken away the beads around my neck?"
"Go in, my lady. Such are the rites of the Mistress of Earth."
He let her in through the fourth door, but stripped off (and) took away the toggle pins at her breast.
"Gatekeeper, why have you taken away the toggle pins at my breast?"
"Go in, my lady. Such are the rites of the Mistress of Earth."
He let her in through the fifth door, but stripped off (and) took away the girdle of birth-stones around her waist.
"Gatekeeper, why have you taken the girdle of birth stones around my waist?"
"Go in, my lady. Such are the rites of the Mistress of Earth."
He let her in through the sixth door, but stripped off (and) took away the bangles on her wrists and ankles.
"Gatekeeper, why have you taken away the bangles from my wrists and ankles?"
"Go in my lady. Such are the rites of the Mistress of Earth."
He let her in through the seventh door, but stripped off (and) took away the proud garment of her body.
"Gatekeeper, why have you taken away the proud garment of my body?"
"Go in, my lady. Such are the rites of the Mistress of Earth."
As soon as Inanna went down to Kurnugi,
Ereshkigal loked at her and trembled before her.
Inanna did not deliberate (?), but leant over her.
Ereshkigal made her voice heard and spoke,
Addressed her words to Namtar her vizier,
"Go Namtar [ ] of my [ ]
Send out against her sixty diseases
[ ] Inanna:
Disease of the eyes to her [eyes]
Disease of the arms to her [arms]
Disease of the feet to her [feet]
Disease of the heart to her [heart]
Disease of the head [to her head]
To every part of her and to [ ]."
After Inanna the Mistress of (?) [had gone to Kernugi]
No bull mounted a cow, [no donkey impregnated a jenny]
No young man impregnated a girl [in thr street(?)]
The young man slept in his private room,
The girl slept in the company of her friends.
Then Papsukkal, vizier of the great gods, hung his head, his face [became gloomy];
He wore mourning clothes, his hair unkempt.
Dejected(?), he went and wept before Sin his father,
His tears flowed freely before king Ea.
"Inanna has gone down to The Earth and has not come up again.
As soon as Inanna went down to Kurnugi
No bull mounted a cow, no donkey impregnated a jenny,
No young man impregnated a girl on the street
The young man slept in his private room,
The girl slept in the company of her friends."
Ea, in the wisdom of his heart, created a person.
He created Good-looks the playboy.
"Come,Good-looks,set your face towards the gate of Kurnugi.
The seven gates of Kurnugi shall be opened before you.
Ereshkigal shall look at you and be glad to see you.
When she is relaxed, her mood will lighten.
Get her to swear the oath by the great gods.
Raise your head, pay attention to the waterskin,
Saying, 'Hey my lady,let them give me the waterskin, that I may drink water from it.'"

(and so it happened. But)
When Ereshkigal heard this,
She struck her thigh and bit her finger.
"You have made a request of me that should not have been made!
Come, Good-looks, I shall curse you with a great curse.
I shall decree for you a fate that shall never be forgotten.
Bread (gleaned(?)) from the city's ploughs shall be your food,
The city drains shall be your only drinking place,
Threshold steps your only sitting place,
The drunkard and the thirsty shall slap your cheek."
Ereshkigal made her voice heard and spoke:
She adressd her words to Namtar her vizier,
"Go Namtar, knock (?) at Egalina,
Decorate the threshold steps with coral,
Bring the Annunaki out and seat (them) on golden thrones,
Sprinkle Inanna with the waters of life and conduct her into my presence."
Namtar went, knocked at Egalina,
Decorated the threshold steps with coral,
Brought out the Annunaki, seated them on golden thrones,
Sprinkled Inanna with the waters of life and brought her out to her (sister).
He let her out through the the first door, and gave her back to her the proud garment of her body.
He let her out through the second door, and gave back to her the bangles of her wrists and ankles.
He let her out through the third door, and gave back to her the girdle of birthstones around her waist.
He let her out through the fourth door, and gave back to her the toggle-pins at her breast.
He let her out through the fifth door, and gave back to her the beads around her neck.
He let her out through the sixth door, and gave back to her the rings for her ears.
He let her out through the seventh door, and gave back the great crown for her head.
"Swear that (?) she has paid you for her ransom,and give her back (in exchange) for him,
For Dmuzi,the lover of her youth,
Wash (him) with pure water,anoint him with sweet oil,
Clothe him in a red robe, let the lapis lazuli pipe play(?)
Let party-girls raise a loud lament(?)"
Then Belili tore off (?) her jewellery,
Her lap was filled with eyestones.
Belili heard the lament for her brother, she struck the jewellery [from her body],
The eyestones with which the front of the wild cow was filled.
"You shall not rob me (forever) of my only brother!
On the day when Dmuzi comes back up, (and) the lapis pipe and the carnelian ring come up with him,
(When) male and female mourners come up with him,
The dead shall come up and smell the smoke offering"

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