Throughout history women have had an enormous influence on the men of their times. The Descent of Inanna provides us with an example of the role women had during this era and the influence they had over creation stories. Women were very powerful and held in high esteem during this time, and it was not until after the introduction of monotheism that woman lost their position of power. The Descent of Inanna is a story full of irony about a goddess who is powerful yet weak, respected but disregarded, caring and concerned yet selfish and manipulative.
The story begins with Inanna preparing to descend to the underworld to deliver a message to Ereshkigal, her sister, of her husband’s death. She gathered her me-garments and gave her servant Ninshubur very specific instructions what she should do should Inanna not make it back from the underworld. Although Inanna is very confident in herself, she is very uncertain about the journey ahead. She knows she may die, which is why she tells Ninshubur to go to the temple of the gods to beg for mercy on Inanna’s behalf.
When Inanna reaches the underworld Neti, the gatekeeper, stops her and he goes to tell his queen and Inanna’s sister, Ereshkigal of the visitor. Ereshkigal knows that Inanna is shielding herself behind her me garments and without them she will be vulnerable. Ereshkigal instructs Neti to strip Inanna of her me at each gate and by the time Inanna enters the thrown room she is naked and vulnerable. It is only then that Ereshkigal is able to kill Inanna. After three days and nights of Inanna’s absence, Ninshubur did exactly as Inanna had instructed her to.
Ninshubur had such a high respect for her goddess and was forever Inanna’s faithful servant. She set up lament for her by the ruins, tore at her eyes and mouth, and dressed in a single garment as a beggar. She went to the gods to plead for Inanna’s life. After she is refused help from Enlil and Nanna, Ninshubur goes to Enki. Enki is troubled and agrees to save Inanna from her fate. Enki creates two creatures to retrieve Inanna’s body from the underworld and gives them instruction on how to ask Ereshkigal for the corpse.
The creatures do exactly as instructed and are able to retrieve Inanna’s body. They sprinkled the food and water of life over her body and Inanna rises. Just as Inanna was ready to ascend from the underworld, she is told that no one leaves and she must find someone to replace her. The galla were sent with her to bring back the person who would replace Inanna. When Ninshubur saw Inanna outside the palace gates, she immediately threw herself at her feet. When the gala tried to take Ninshubur, Inanna refused.
It is obvious that Inanna cared deeply for Ninshubur and had a mutual respect toward her. Inanna knows that she owes her life to Ninshubur which is why she refused to allow her to be taken. If her servant had not followed her directions exactly, Inanna may have remained in the underworld for eternity. However, when they reached Inanna’s husband Dumuzi, he was dressed in his me-garments and sitting on his throne. He did not look as someone who was mourning over the loss of his wife, such as Ninshubur had.
He did not even move as Inanna and the galla approached. His lack of respect and lack of mourning is why Inanna allowed the galla to take Dumuzi in her place. Inanna held higher regard towards her servant than she had towards her own husband! When the galla try to take Dumuzi, he prays to Utu, Inanna’s brother, to let his hand and feet be turned into snakes so that he may escape their grasp. His request is granted and for a moment, Dumuzi escapes.
Inanna finds him and although she seems to try to console Dumuzi, it does not erase the fact that she is giving her husband up to take her place in the underworld. In what appears to be some sort of a compromise, she tells him that his sister will remain in the underworld for half a year, and he the other half. In the end, Dumuzi is handed over to Ereshkigal. Irony seems to be the common theme throughout this story. Inanna was a goddess who was powerful and protected with her me, however without them she was weak and vulnerable.
Inanna was well respected by her faithful servant, but not even mourned over by her husband. And Inanna cared enough for her sons and Ninshubur not to allow the galla to take them, however she was selfish and manipulative enough to allow someone else to take her place in the underworld. Ironically enough, Inanna descends to the underworld to pay her respects to her sister, Ereshkigal, and to bring news of her husband’s death. However in the end, it is Inanna who sends her own husband to the underworld in order to take her place and pay her debt.