Thursday, August 2, 2018

A Mesopotamian Underworld Love Story

Ereshkigal, being queen of the underworld, can’t leave her kingdom. Why? Not sure but I’m guessing that if she does, she’ll unleash the zombie apocalypse. So when the gods are partying and feasting, they send proxies instead so that Ereshkigal can feel included. They send this guy Kakka to Ereshkigal with a message: “Hey sis, thinking of you, xoxo, your brother Anu.” Ereshkigal sends her vizier Namtar to take part in the feast instead.

However, when Namtar gets there, he isn’t shown proper respect by this one guy Nergal. So, of course, because they’re all reasonable all-powerful gods, Anu punishes him by sending Nergal to the underworld (to make amends, possibly? Or just to die a horrible death by zombie. UNCLEAR). The gods give Nergal advice to help him survive (the usual, “don’t eat or drink or smell or cuddle ANYTHING YOU SEE” advice when one is traveling to Hell/Faerie/Underworld), and a chair which will ensure his ability to come back to the world of the living. I’ve always wanted a chair that can take me to the underworld and back again.

So Nergal gets down there, and obeys all of the rules very faithfully, until Ereshkigal puts on a MIGHTY FINE DRESS and takes a MIGHTY FINE BATH and then Nergal is like “one little cuddle couldn’t hurt, right?” And then they cuddle strenuously for six days.

Of course, on the seventh day, Nergal is like, “I’m taking my chair and getting out of here” and goes back to the land of the living.

Ereshkigal wakes up and is Displeased and utters the same curse that our girl Ishtar did in “The Descent of Ishtar”: Send my boyfriend back or “I shall raise up the dead, and they will eat the living. I shall make the dead outnumber the living!”

You know, normal break-up threats.

She then sends Namtar (her vizier) to get Nergal back. Namtar tells the gods that they better just send Nergal back or they’re going to have a zombie apocalypse on their hands.

Nergal, whether willingly or under orders (I can’t tell), goes back. However, this time instead of being let in through the seven gates of the underworld, he breaks them down like an invader. He goes into Ereshkigal’s throne room, marches right up to her, and throws her off of her throne.

And then they cuddle strenuously for another six days.

Nergal and Ereshkigal rule the underworld together after that, and live happily (?) ever after.

The End. 

It’s interesting to see a “gender-swapped” version of the more famous Persephone/Hades story, even though Ereshkigal is much older than the Greek story.

Nergal actually seems to be in part a solar deity, sometimes identified with Shamash, but only a representative of a certain phase of the sun. Portrayed in hymns and myths as a god of war and pestilence, Nergal seems to represent the sun of noontime and of the summer solstice that brings destruction, high summer being the dead season in the Mesopotamian annual cycle.

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