Inanna Goddess: Descent, Myth & Summary

Instructor: Flint Johnson

Flint has tutored mathematics through precalculus, science, and English and has taught college history. He has a Ph.D. from the University of Glasgow

Learn about Inanna, Sumerian goddess of love, war, wisdom, and fertility and the patron goddess of the city-state Uruk. Inanna was the powerful goddess in Sumerian mythology.

Goddess Traits

Inanna was a Sumerian goddess of love, fertility, war, and wisdom. That sounds a little crazy, especially when you keep the Greek gods in mind. Imagining a combination of Aphrodite (goddess of love and fertility) and Athena (goddess of war and wisdom) gives me a headache. Aphrodite is sensual, passionate, and immature, while Athena helps heroes in their quests but is otherwise cold. It is difficult to imagine the goddess of wisdom having lovers, or of doing anything without forethought. I can't visualize Aphrodite making a decision based on cold logic.

In Sumer, though, things were different. Some experts have seen Inanna's complicated but strong personality as a great feminist character from the past. Inanna was complex; she had many lovers and didn't hesitate to punish them for infidelity. She also did not shy away from war, especially when it had to do with her favorite city-state of Uruk.

Patroness of Uruk

When I think of gods patronizing a city, I think of them introducing a new invention or defending the city from invaders. Going back to Greek myths, Athena won Athens by giving them the horse. Inanna did a lot more for Uruk than that. We only have a few myths about her, but she helps Uruk in several of them.

In one, she steals the Mes. The Mes were the blueprints of civilization - clay tablets that had instructions on how to make buildings and explanations of what the priesthood should do. Some were about planting, others about craftmanship. Inanna not only stole them all, though, she did it by stealing from another god. She gets Enki drunk and takes them from him to give to Uruk.

Inanna helped Uruk in other ways, too. In another myth, she helped Uruk collect tribute from the city-state of Aratta. When a drunken man begins destroying property and injuring people in Uruk, it's a fisherman of Inanna who stops him. Inanna didn't just make herself Uruk's patron goddess and then show up to save the city from invasion; she actually looked after Uruk.

The Ruins of an Inanna Temple
Temple of Inanna

Descent to the Underworld

Maybe Inanna's most famous myth is about her descent into the underworld. The reason she went to the land of the dead is not completely clear, but she is often said to have gone to visit her sister, the queen of the underworld, Ereshkigal. Inanna knew that the underworld was a place that no one could return from, though, because before she left, she ordered her attendant to beg the gods Enlil, Sin, and Enki to bring her back if she was not able to escape.

The next thing she did was dress herself with emblems of her power, including a special dress, wig, turban, makeup, and various other ornaments (like a lapis lazuli necklace and golden ring). But the path to the underworld had seven gates, and the sentry at each one ordered her take off one piece of clothing or some jewelry before she could pass.

By the time she was in the underworld, she was naked, and stripped of her powers. She was made a corpse and her body was hung with the others. In the land of the living, Inanna's attendant went to the three gods. Enki, the person she had stolen the Mes from, decided to help. He made two asexual beings and sent them to the underworld to revive Inanna. They were able to with the food and water of life.

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