Ishtar (Ishhara, Irnini, Inanna) is the Assyro-Babylonian counterpart to the Sumerian Inanna, cognate to the Northwest Semetic goddess Astarte, the Greek Aphrodite (Roman Venus) or Athena, Egyptian Isis or Hathor and Etruscan Turan. (Alt. names for Ishtar: Anunit, Astarte, Atarsamain, and Esther.) She is a goddess of fertility, love, protection, fate, sex, childbirth, marriage, hunting, storms, war, and arguably the most important mother goddess of Mesopotamia. She bears the title of "Queen of Heaven."
In all the great centres Inanna and then Ishtar had her temples: E-anna, "house of An," in Uruk; E-makh, "great house," in Babylon; E-mash-mash, "house of offerings," in Nineveh. She was served by temple prositutes of both genders.
One of Ishtar's most important astrological symbols is the Morning Star, the planet Venus and the star Sirius. Lions (dragons) were said to be sacred to her. As well as eight or sixteen pointed stars.
In Gilgamesh she appears to try and seduce the titular hero. He refuses her advances and recites her previous lovers. Ishtar, angered by her rejection, appeals to her father to send the Bull of Heaven to attack Gilgamesh. Enkidu and the hero manage to slay the beast, but not without punishment: Enkidu becomes ill and dies.
She also appears in another passage, in the famous story of the Huluppu Tree of the prologue of Gilgamesh. Here Ishtar tends to a tree that she wants to use to carve a new throne and bed. Unfortunately, a dragon built its nest at the foot of her tree, a Zu bird raised its young at the crown, and Ki-sikil-lil-la-ke [Lilith] (Literally, Maiden of Lila) made her house in the middle. Petrified, Ishtar cries out to the gods and then Gilgamesh. The hero Gilgamesh then drives out all three, slaying the dragon, sending the Zu bird and its young flying to the mountains and Kisikillillake tearing her house down before fleeing to the wilderness.
The Akkadian Descent Myth
One of the more popular myths tales is of Ishtar's descent into the underworld. The earlier version of this tale, the Sumerian Descent of Inanna, (circa 1900-1600 BCE) varies slightly. This version uses the name Ishtar in place of Inanna.
Ishtar gives a false explanation as to why she wants to visit the underworld, to the gatekeeper. The gatekeeper accepts the story, but is sure to inform Ishtar's sister Ereshkigal, of Ishtar's presence. Ereshkigal gives allowance to her sister for admittance. However, she is to follow the ancient rites that come.
At each of the seven gates Ishtar removes a article of clothing. (A symbol of Ishtar's decrease of power.) She would be weakened everytime a part of her attire was removed. While this is taking place, a great famine strikes the earth and everything begins to die.
As Ishtar arrives as the throne of Ereshkigal, completely nude, cold, and almost dead, she complains. But Ereshkigal silences her: she must perform the underworld rites as followed. Ishtar then usurps Ereshkigal's postion on the throne, and sits in her place. The Annunaki (Seven demon-gods of the underworld), as punishment for this deed, sentence Ishtar to death. Her corpse is hung on a hook.
The uncle of Ishtar, Ea, bides for the return of Ishtar. He sends a eunuch to make a bargan with her, clean water in exchange for his niece. Ereshkigal curses this eunuch and consults her Annunaki. They decide to release Ishtar, and as she passes through each of the seven gates again, she is given her clothing back. However, for the release of her sister, Eseshkigal demands a substitute.
On arriving upon the upper world, Ishtar is shocked to see her consort, Tammuz, garbed in magnificent robe and sitting in the place of her, on the throne. Infuriated, Ishtar decides to send him to the underworld in her place. Tammuz hastily casts magic on himself to transform and flee to his sister, Gestinanna. Mercifully, Gestinanna agrees to take his place for one half of the year in the underworld, while Tammuz fulfills his role in the other half of the year.
In popular culture
- In the movies, Blood Feast (1963) and Blood Diner (1987), Ishtar appears, but is referenced as an Egyptian god.
- In the manga Red River, the character Yuri is said to be an incarnation of Ishtar.
- In the anime Yu-Gi-Oh!, Marik Ishtar is named after Ishtar.
- In the book and movie Generation P, one of Ishtar's legends is one of the main storylines.
- In the video game Catherine, Ishtar appears under the alias Trish, The Midnight Venus. After completing the extra "Axis Mundi Babel" challenges, she reveals that is Ishtar and breaks the fourth wall when she talks to the player. She says that the true purpose of the nightmares was to find a consort to replace her previous consort, Thomas Mutton/Dumuzid.