Ishtar is the Akkadian counterpart to the Sumerian Inanna and to the cognate northwest Semitic goddess Astarte. Anunit and Atarsamain are alternate names for Ishtar. The goddess represents the planet Venus. The double aspect of the goddess may correspond to the strikingly different phases of Venus in the summer and winter seasons. The meaning of Ishtar is not known, though it is possible that the underlying stem is the same as that of Assur, which would thus make her the "leading one" or "chief." In any event, it is now generally recognized that the name is Semitic in origin.
The Sumerian Inanna was first worshiped at Uruk (Erech in the Bible, Unug in Sumerian) in the earliest period of Mesopotamian history. In incantations, hymns, myths, epics, votive inscriptions, and historical annals, Inanna/Ishtar was celebrated and invoked as the force of life. But there were two aspects to this goddess of life. The goddess of fertility and sexuality could also destroy the fields and make the earth's creatures infertile. She was invoked as a goddess of war, battles, and the chase, particularly among the warlike Assyrians. Before the battle Ishtar would appear to the Assyrian army, clad in battle array and armed with bow and arrow. (She was probably the precursor to the Greek Athena.)
One of the most striking Sumerian myths describes Inanna passing through seven gates of hell into the underworld. At each gate some of her clothing and her ornaments are removed until at the last gate she is entirely naked. The queen of the underworld kills her and hangs her corpse on a hook on the wall. When Inanna returns from the underworld by intercession of the clever god, her father Enki, according to the rules she must find someone to take her place. On her way home she encounters her friends prostrated with grief at her loss, but in Kulaba, her cult city, she finds her lover Dumuzid Tammuz seated in splendour on a throne, so she has him seized and dragged below. Later, missing him, she arranges for his sister to substitute for him during six months of the year. (This is probably the origin of the Greek story of Persephone which renders the females in the story helpless and transfers Inanna's power to the god of the underworld.)
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. Inanna was the guardian of prostitutes, and probably had priestess-prostitutes to serve her. She was served by priests as well as by priestesses. The (later) votaries of Ishtar were virgins who, as long as they remained in her service, were not permitted to marry.
On monuments and seal-cylinders Inanna/Ishtar appears frequently with bow and arrow, though also simply clad in long robes with a crown on her head and an eight-rayed star as her symbol. This star, joined with the crescent moon, became a symbol of the Ottoman Empire and later of Islam. Statuettes have been found in large numbers representing her as naked with her arms folded across her breast or holding a child.
Together with the moon god Nanna or Suen (Sin in Akkadian), and the sun god Utu (Shamash in Akkadian), Inanna/Ishtar is the third figure in a triad deifying and personalizing the moon, the sun, and the earth: Moon (wisdom), Sun (justice) and Earth (life force). This triad overlies another: An, heaven; Enlil, earth; and Enki (Ea in Akkadian), the watery deep.
Ishtar is also an omnipresent figure in the epic of Gilgamesh.
- Wikipedia. (2004). Ishtar (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ishtar). Retrieved Sept. 22, 2004.