For other uses, see Ishtar (disambiguation).
Goddess of fertility, love, war, sex, & power

Ishtar holding her symbol.Statue is at Louvre Museum
Planet Venus
Symbol Gate guarded by lions, eight-pointed star, Symbolic staff
Consort Tammuz
other consorts
Parents Anu
Old Babylonian period Queen of Night relief, often considered to represent an aspect of Ishtar.

Ishtar (English pronunciation /ˈɪʃtɑːr/; transliteration: DIŠTAR; Akkadian: 𒀭𒈹 ; Sumerian𒀭) is the Mesopotamian East Semitic (Akkadian, Assyrian and Babylonian) goddess of fertility, love, war, sex, and power [1] She is the counterpart to the earlier attested Sumerian Inanna, and the cognate for the later attested Northwest Semitic Aramean goddess Astarte, and the Armenian goddess Astghik. Ishtar was an important deity in Mesopotamian religion which was extant from c.3500 BCE, until its gradual decline between the 1st and 5th centuries CE in the face of Christianity.[2]


Ishtar symbolizes love, including that between human and animals, its power, and its danger.

Ishtar was the daughter of Anu.[3] She was particularly worshipped in the Upper Mesopotamian kingdom of Assyria (modern northern Iraq, north east Syria and south east Turkey), particularly at the cities of Nineveh, Ashur and Arbela (modern Erbil), and also in the south Mesopotamian city of Uruk.[3]

Besides the lions on her gate, her symbol is an eight-pointed star.[4]

One type of depiction of Ishtar/Inanna
The lion was her symbol (detail of the Ishtar Gate)

In the Babylonian pantheon, she "was the divine personification of the planet Venus".[3]

Ishtar had many lovers; however, as Guirand notes,

"Woe to him whom Ishtar had honoured! The fickle goddess treated her passing lovers cruelly, and the unhappy wretches usually paid dearly for the favours heaped on them. Animals, enslaved by love, lost their native vigour: they fell into traps laid by men or were domesticated by them. 'Thou has loved the lion, mighty in strength', says the hero Gilgamesh to Ishtar, 'and thou hast dug for him seven and seven pits! Thou hast loved the steed, proud in battle, and destined him for the halter, the goad and the whip.'

Even for the gods Ishtar's love was fatal. In her youth the goddess had loved Tammuz, god of the harvest, and—if one is to believe Gilgamesh —this love caused the death of Tammuz.[3]

Her cult may have involved sacred prostitution,[5] though this is debatable. Guirand referred to her holy city Uruk as the "town of the sacred courtesans" and to her as the "courtesan of the gods".[3]

Descent into the underworld

One of the most famous myths[6] about Ishtar describes her descent to the underworld. In this myth, Ishtar approaches the gates of the underworld and demands that the gatekeeper open them:

If thou openest not the gate to let me enter,
I will break the door, I will wrench the lock,
I will smash the door-posts, I will force the doors.
I will bring up the dead to eat the living.
And the dead will outnumber the living.

The gatekeeper hurried to tell Ereshkigal, the Queen of the Underworld. Ereshkigal told the gatekeeper to let Ishtar enter, but "according to the ancient decree".

The gatekeeper let Ishtar into the underworld, opening one gate at a time. At each gate, Ishtar had to shed one article of clothing. When she finally passed the seventh gate, she was naked. In a rage, Ishtar threw herself at Ereshkigal, but Ereshkigal ordered her servant Namtar to imprison Ishtar and unleash sixty diseases against her.

After Ishtar descended to the underworld, all sexual activity ceased on earth. The god Papsukal reported the situation to Ea, the king of the gods. Ea created an intersex being called Asu-shu-namir and sent them to Ereshkigal, telling them to invoke "the name of the great gods" against her and to ask for the bag containing the waters of life. Ereshkigal was enraged when she heard Asu-shu-namir's demand, but she had to give them the water of life. Asu-shu-namir sprinkled Ishtar with this water, reviving her. Then, Ishtar passed back through the seven gates, getting one article of clothing back at each gate, and was fully clothed as she exited the last gate.

Here there is a break in the text of the myth, which resumes with the following lines:

<quote>If she (Ishtar) will not grant thee her release,

To Tammuz, the lover of her youth, Pour out pure waters, pour out fine oil; With a festival garment deck him that he may play on the flute of lapis lazuli, That the votaries may cheer his liver. [his spirit] Belili [sister of Tammuz] had gathered the treasure, With precious stones filled her bosom. When Belili heard the lament of her brother, she dropped her treasure, She scattered the precious stones before her, "Oh, my only brother, do not let me perish! On the day when Tammuz plays for me on the flute of lapis lazuli, playing it for me with the porphyry ring. Together with him, play ye for me, ye weepers and lamenting women!

That the dead may rise up and inhale the incense."</quote>

Formerly, scholars[3][7] believed that the myth of Ishtar's descent took place after the death of Ishtar's lover, Tammuz: they thought Ishtar had gone to the underworld to rescue Tammuz. However, the discovery of a corresponding myth[8] about Inanna, the Sumerian counterpart of Ishtar, has thrown some light on the myth of Ishtar's descent, including its somewhat enigmatic ending lines. According to the Inanna myth, Inanna can only return from the underworld if she sends someone back in her place. Demons go with her to make sure she sends someone back. However, each time Inanna runs into someone, she finds him to be a friend and lets him go free. When she finally reaches her home, she finds her husband Dumuzi (Babylonian Tammuz) seated on his throne, not mourning her at all. In anger, Inanna has the demons take Dumuzi back to the underworld as her replacement. Dumuzi's sister Geshtinanna is grief-stricken and volunteers to spend half the year in the underworld, during which time Dumuzi can go free. The Ishtar myth presumably had a comparable ending, Belili being the Babylonian equivalent of Geshtinanna.[9]

There are intriguing parallels in the Greco-Roman myths of Orpheus and Persephone.

Ishtar in the Epic of Gilgamesh

The Epic of Gilgamesh contains an episode[10] involving Ishtar which portrays her as bad-tempered, petulant and spoiled by her father.

She asks the hero Gilgamesh to marry her, but he refuses, citing the fate that has befallen all her many lovers:

Listen to me while I tell the tale of your lovers. There was Tammuz, the lover of your youth, for him you decreed wailing, year after year. You loved the many-coloured Lilac-breasted Roller, but still you struck and broke his wing [...] You have loved the lion tremendous in strength: seven pits you dug for him, and seven. You have loved the stallion magnificent in battle, and for him you decreed the whip and spur and a thong [...] You have loved the shepherd of the flock; he made meal-cake for you day after day, he killed kids for your sake. You struck and turned him into a wolf; now his own herd-boys chase him away, his own hounds worry his flanks."[11]

Angered by Gilgamesh's refusal, Ishtar goes up to heaven and complains to her father the high god Anu that Gilgamesh has insulted her. She demands that Anu give her the Bull of Heaven. Anu points out that it was her fault for provoking Gilgamesh, but she warns that if he refuses, she will do exactly what she told the gatekeeper of the underworld she would do if he didn't let her in:

If you refuse to give me the Bull of Heaven [then] I will break in the doors of hell and smash the bolts; there will be confusion [i.e., mixing] of people, those above with those from the lower depths. I shall bring up the dead to eat food like the living; and the hosts of the dead will outnumber the living."[12]

Anu gives Ishtar the Bull of Heaven, and Ishtar sends it to attack Gilgamesh and his friend Enkidu. Gilgamesh and Enkidu kill the Bull and offer its heart to the Assyro-Babylonian sun-god Shamash.

While Gilgamesh and Enkidu are resting, Ishtar stands upon the walls of the city (which is Uruk) and curses Gilgamesh. Enkidu tears off the Bull's right thigh and throws it in Ishtar's face, saying, "If I could lay my hands on you, it is this I should do to you, and lash your entrails to your side."[13] (Enkidu later dies for this impiety.) Then Ishtar called together "her people, the dancing and singing girls, the prostitutes of the temple, the courtesans,"[13] and had them mourn for the Bull of Heaven.


Further information: Star and crescent
Depiction of the emblems of Ishtar (Venus), Sin (Moon), and Shamash (Sun) on a boundary stone of Meli-Shipak II (12th century BCE).

The "star of Ishtar" is a star design, often found alongside the crescent (for Sin) and the rayed solar disk (for Shamash) in Babylonian iconography (boundary stones, cylinder seals, etc.).[14][15] The star of Ishtar is most often an eight-pointed star,[15] but it could also have differing numbers of rays.

Comparisons with other deities

Like Ishtar, the Greek Aphrodite and the Aramean Northwestern Semitic Astarte were love goddesses. Donald A. Mackenzie, an early popularizer of mythology, draws a parallel between the love goddess Aphrodite and her "dying god" lover Adonis[16] on one hand, and the love goddess Ishtar and her "dying god" lover Tammuz on the other.[17] Some scholars have suggested that

the myth of Adonis was derived in post-Homeric times by the Greeks indirectly from the Eastern Semites of Mesopotamia (Assyria and Babylon), via the Aramean and Canaanite Western Semites, the Semitic title "Adon", meaning "lord", having been mistaken for a proper name. This theory, however, cannot be accepted without qualifications.[18]

Joseph Campbell, a more recent scholar of comparative mythology, equates Ishtar, Inanna, and Aphrodite, and he draws a parallel between the Egyptian goddess Isis who nurses Horus, and the Assyrian-Babylonian goddess Ishtar who nurses the god Tammuz.[19]

As Ishtar became more prominent, several lesser or regional deities were assimilated into her, including Aja (eastern mountain dawn goddess), Anatu (a goddess, possibly Ishtar's mother), Anunitu (Akkadian light goddess), Agasayam (war goddess), Irnini (goddess of cedar forests in the Lebanese mountains), Kilili or Kulili (symbol of the desirable woman), Sahirtu (messenger of lovers), Kir-gu-lu (bringer of rain), and Sarbanda (power of sovereignty).[20]

In other media


The artwork The Dinner Party features a place setting for Ishtar.[21]

Books, comics and other literature

In the book and movie Generation P by Viktor Pelevin, Ishtar and her legends are one of the main storylines. Ishtar is also a love interest for Destruction of The Endless in Neil Gaiman's The Sandman comic book series. In the Japanese manga Red River, a young Japanese girl is transported to ancient Hattusa and is mistaken for Ishtar. Ishtar is also seen as a goddess side character helping out the main heroine of the Japanese manga Loose Relation Between Wizard & Apprentice to awaken the protagonist's sexual desires. In the Conan the Barbarian stories, Ishtar is also mentioned several times.

Video Games

In the video game EVE Online, the "Ishtar" is a Gallente, Vexor-Class, Tech II Heavy Assault Cruiser. Also, the "Astarte" is a Gallente, Brutix-Class, Tech II Command Battlecruiser

See also


  1. Wilkinson, p. 24
  2. Jump up to: a b Simo Parpola (c. 2004). "Assyrian Identity in Ancient Times and Today" (PDF). Retrieved 2014-11-23.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Guirand, p. 58
  4. Black, Jeremy and Green, Anthony (1992). Gods, Demons, and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia: An Illustrated Dictionary. ISBN 0-292-70794-0. pp. 156, 169–170.
  5. Day, John (2004). "Does the Old Testament Refer to Sacred Prostitution and Did It Actual Exist in Ancient Israel?". In McCarthy, Carmel; Healey, John F. Biblical and Near Eastern Essays: Studies in Honour of Kevin J. Cathcart. Cromwell Press. pp. 2–21. ISBN 0-8264-6690-7. pp. 15–17.
  6. Jastrow
  7. Mackenzie, p. 95–98
  8. Wolkstein and Kramer, pp. 52–89
  9. Kirk, p. 109
  10. Gilgamesh, p. 85–88
  11. Gilgamesh, p. 86
  12. Gilgamesh, p. 87
  13. 1 2 Gilgamesh, p. 88
  14. Hugo Gressmann, Julian Obermann. The tower of Babel. Jewish Institute of Religion Press, 1928. pp. 81.
  15. 1 2 Carl G. Liungman. Symbols: Encyclopedia of Western Signs and Ideograms. Lidingö, Sweden: HME Publishing, 2004. p. 228.
  16. Mackenzie, p. 83
  17. Mackenzie, p. 103
  18. Mackenzie, p. 84
  19. Campbell, p. 70
  20. Monaghan, Patricia (2014). Encyclopedia of Goddesses and Heroines. New World Library. p. 39. ISBN 9781608682171.
  21. Place Settings. Brooklyn Museum. Retrieved on 2015-08-06.


Further reading

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