From The Bibliophile Library of Literature, Art, & Rare Manuscripts, Volume I, compiled and arranged by Nathan Haskell Dole, Forrest Morgan, and Caroline Ticknor; The International Bibliophile Society, New York-London; 1904; pp. 1-7.
[The Assyrian legend of Istar is one of the oldest in the world, for it undoubtedly goes back far beyond the epic in which it is embodied, and from which the following translation is made. This great poem, at present existing for us only in fragments, but which may not improbably be restored from discoveries remaining to be made, appears to have interwoven numerous legends of the deities much in the same manner as the Metamorphoses of Ovid were constructed out of pre-existent materials, already sufficiently venerable to have acquired a sacred character. The book devoted to the adventures of Istar is hitherto by far the most perfect. It describes Istar’s descent into the underworld in quest of her dead husband, Du-zi, the Tammuz for whom the Syrian women are represented by Scripture as mourning, and the Adonis of Greek mythology. The entire myth typifies the withdrawal of the sun in the darkness and cold of winter, of all natural facts the most likely to impress such races of mankind as do not enjoy a perpetual summer. It is met with in some form or other in every religion above the very rudest; what is peculiar to the Babylonian poet is the powerful imagination with which he depicts Istar successively divested of every portion of her apparel until nothing remains for her but the dust of death: while the consequences to mankind of the departure of the Goddess of Love and Pleasure from among them show that even at this early period, men were reasoning upon causes and results.]
1 [To Hades the country whence none return] I turn myself,
2 I spread like a bird in my hands.
3 I descend, I descend to the house of darkness, the dwelling of
the god Irkalla:
4 to the house out of which there is no exit,
5 to the road from which there is no return:
6 to the house from whose entrance the light is taken,2
7 the place where dust is their nourishment and their food mud.
8 Its chiefs also are like birds covered with feathers;
9 the light is never seen, in darkness they dwell.
10 In the house, O my friend, which I will enter,
11 for me is treasured up a crown;
12 with those wearing crowns who from days of old ruled the
13 to whom the gods Anu and Bel have given names of rule.
14 Water (?) they have given to quench the thirst, they drink
15 In the house, O my friend, which I will enter,
16 dwell the lord and the unconquered one,
17 dwell the priest and the great man,
18 dwell the worms of the deep of the great gods;
19 there dwells Etana, there dwells the god Ner,
20 (there dwells) the queen of the lower regions, Allat,
21 the mistress of the fields the mother of the queen of the
lower regions before her submits,
22 and there is not any one that stands against her in her
23 I will approach her and she will see me
24 . . . and she will bring me to her.
Here the story is again lost, Columns V. and VI. being absent. It would seem that Hea-bani is here telling his friend how he must die and descend into the house of Hades. Mr. Smith, however, thought that in the third column some one is speaking to Istar, trying to persuade her not to descend to Hades, while in the fourth column the goddess, who is suffering all the pangs of jealousy and hate, revels in the dark details of the description of the lower regions, and declares her determination to go there.]
The descent of Istar into Hades.
1 To Hades the land whence none return, the land (of dark-
2 Istar daughter of Sin (the moon) her ear (inclined);
3 inclined also the daughter of Sin her ear,
4 to the house of darkness the dwelling of the god Irkalla,
5 to the house out of which there is no exit,
6 to the road from which there is no return,
7 to the house from whose entrance the light is taken,
8 the place where dust is their nourishment and their food
9 Light is never seen, in darkness they dwell.
10 Its chiefs also are like birds covered with feathers,
11 over the door and bolts is scattered dust.
12 Istar on her arrival at the gate of Hades,3
13 to the keeper of the gate a command she addresses:
14 Keeper of the waters, open thy gate,
15 open thy gate that I may enter.
16 If thou openest not the gate that I may enter,
17 I will strike the door, the bolts I will shatter,
18 I will strike the threshold and will pass through the doors;
19 I will raise up the dead to devour the living,
20 above the living the dead shall exceed in numbers.
21 The keeper opened his mouth and speaks.
22 he says to the princess Istar:
23 Stay, lady, thou dost not glorify her,
24 let me go and thy name repeat to the queen Allat.
25 The keeper descended and says to Allat:
26 This water (of life) they sister Istar (comes to seek).
27 The queen of the great vaults (of heaven) . . .
28 Allat on hearing this says:
29 Like the cutting off of the herb has (Istar) descended (into
20 like the lip of a deadly insect (?) she has . . .
31 What will her heart bring me (i.e., matter to me) what will her
anger (bring me)?
32 (Istar replies:) This water with (my husband)
33 like food would I eat, like beer would I drink.
34 Let me weep over the strong who have left their wives.
35 Let me weep over the handmaids who (have lost) the embraces
of their husbands.
36 Over the only son let me mourn, who ere his days are come is
37 (Allat says:) Go keeper open thy gate to her,
38 bewitch her also according to the ancient rules.
39 The keeper went and opened his gate:
40 Enter, O lady, let the city of Cutha* receive thee;
41 let the palace of Hades rejoice at thy presence.
42 The first gate he caused her to enter and touched her, he
threw down the great crown of her head.
43 Why, O keeper, hast thou thrown down the great crown of my
44 Enter, O lady, of Allat thus is the order.
45 The second gate he caused her to enter and touched her, he
threw away the earrings of her ears.
46 Why, keeper, hast thou thrown away the earrings of my
47 Enter, O lady, of Allat thus is the order.4
48 The third gate he caused her to enter and touched her, he
threw away the necklace† of her neck.
49 Why, keeper, hast thou thrown away the necklace of my
50 Enter, O lady, of Allat thus is the order.
51 The four gate he caused her to enter and touched her, he
threw away the ornaments of her breast.
52 Why, keeper, hast thou thrown away the ornaments of my
53 Enter, O lady, of Allat thus is the order.
54 The fifth gate he caused her to enter and touched her, he
threw away the gemmed girdle of her waist.
55 Why, keeper, hast thou thrown away the gemmed girdle of my
56 Enter, O lady, of Allat thus is the order.
57 The sixth gate, he caused her to enter and touched her, he
threw away the bracelets of her hands and her feet.
58 Why, keeper, hast thou thrown away the bracelets of my hands
and my feet?
59 Enter, O lady, of Allat thus is the order.
60 The seventh gate he caused her to enter and touched her, he
threw away the covering robe of her body.
61 Why, keeper, hast thou thrown away the covering robe of my
62 Enter, O lady, of Allat thus is the order.
63 When for a long time Istar into Hades had descended,
64 Allat saw her and at her presence was arrogant;
65 Istar did not take counsel, at her she swore,
66 Allat her mouth opened and speaks
67 to Namtar (the plague-demon) her messenger a command she
68 Go Namtar [take Istar from] me and
69 take her out to . . . even Istar,
70 diseased eyes (strike) her with.
71 diseased side (strike) her with.
72 diseased feet (strike) her with.
73 diseased heart (strike) her with.
74 diseased head (strike) her with.
75 strike her, the whole of her (strike with disease).
76 After Istar the lady [into Hades had descended],
77 with the cow the bull would not unite, and the ass the female
ass would not approach;
78 the female slave in the street would not let herself be touched.1
79 The freeman ceased to give his command,
80 the female slave ceased to give her gift.
1 Papsukul, the messenger of the great gods, bowed his face
2 . . .
3 Samas (the sun-god) went and in the presence of his father the
moon-god he stood,
4 into the presence of Hea the king he went in tears;
5 Istar into the lower regions has descended, she has not
6 for a long time Istar into Hades has descended,
7 with the cow the bull will not unite, the ass the female ass will
8 the female slave in the street will not let herself be touched;
9 the freeman has ceased to give his command,
10 the female slave has ceased to give her gift.
11 Hea in the wisdom of his heart formed a resolution,
12 and made Atsu-sunamir‡ the sphinx:¶
13 Go Atsu-sunamir towards the gates of Hades set thy face;
14 may the seven gates of Hades be opened at thy presence;
15 mayAllat see thee and rejoice at thy presence;
16 when she shall be at rest in her heart, and her liver be appeased.
17 Conjure her by the name of the great gods.
18 Raise thy heads, to the roaring streams set thy ear;
19 may the lady (Istar) overmaster the roaring stream, the waters
in the midst of it may she drink.
20 Allat on hearing this,
21 beat her breast, she bit her thumb,
22 she turned again, a request she asked not:
23 Go, Atsu-sunamir, may I imprison thee in the great prison
24 may the garbage of the foundations of the city be thy food,
25 may the drains of the city be thy drink,
26 may the darkness of the dungeon be thy dwelling,
27 may a stake be thy seat,
28 may hunger and thirst strike thy offspring.
29 Allat her mouth opened and speaks,
30 to Namtar her messenger a command she addresses:
31 Go, Namtar, strike the firmly-fixed palace,
32 the ashêrim§ adorn with stones of the dawn,6
33 bid the spirits of earth come forth, on a throne of gold seat
34 unto Istar give the waters of life and bring her before me.
35 Namtar went, he struck the firmly-fixed palace,
36 the ashêrim he adorned with stones of the dawn,
37 he brought forth the spirits of earth, on a throne of gold he
38 To Istar he gave the waters of life and took her.
39 The first gate he passed her out of, and he restored to her the
covering robe of her body.
40 The second gate he passed her out of, and he restored to her
the bracelets of her hands and feet.
41 The third gate he passed her out of, and he restored to her the
gemmed girdle of her waist.
42 The fourth gate he passed her out of, and he restored to her
the ornaments of her breast.
43 The fifth gate he passed her out of, and he restored to her the
necklace of her neck.
44 The sixth gate he passed her out of, and he restored to her the
earrings of her ears.
45 The seventh gate he passed her out of, and he restored to her
the great crown of her head.
46 Since thou has not paid, (he says) a ransom for thy deliverance
to her (i.e. Allat), so to her again turn back,
47 for Tammuz the husband of (thy) youth;
48 the glistening waters pour over (him), the drops (sprinkle upon
49 in splendid clothing dress him, with a ring of crystal adorn
50 May Samkhat appease the grief (of Istar),
51 and, Kharimat,¥ give her comfort.
52 The precious eye-stones also she destroyed not,
53 the wound of her brother (Tammuz) she heard, she smote (her
breast), she, even Kharimat, gave her comfort;
54 the precious eye-stones, her amulets, she commanded not,
55 (saying): O my only brother, thou dost not lament for
56 In the day that Tammuz adorned me, with a ring of crystal,
with a bracelet of emeralds, together with himself he adorned
57 with himself he adorned me; may men mourners and women
58 on a bier place (him), and assemble the wake.
[[This remarkable text shows Istar fulfilling her threat and descending to Hades, but it does not appear that she had as yet accomplished her vengeance against Isdubar.]
* A great necropolis seems to have existed in Cutha.
† Literally “precious stones.”
‡ That is, “Go forth, cause it to be light!”
¶ Literally “the man who is a female dog,” or “lion.”
§ Literally “stone stakes” or “cones,” the symbols of the goddess Ashêrah. Cf. 1 Kings vii. 15-22.
¥ Tillili, the Accadian name of Kharimat, is here used. Tillili was the wife of the sun-god Alala symbolized by the eagle, which we are told was “the symbol of the southern” or “meridian sun.” What Sir. H. Rawlinson calls the monotheistic party among the Babylonians resolved Tillili into Anatu and Alala into Anu.