SEX WAR & FLOOD:
INANNA'S INTERCOURSE OF METAPHORS
Gwendolyn Leick, Sex and Eroticism in Mesopotamian Literature
Carey Ellen Walsh, Exquisite Desire: Religion, the Erotic, and the Song of Songs
Inanna, a goddess whose quiver and arrows morph into an evil wind and storm cloud, uses a flood to avenge the rape of her holy genitals.
The ancient Sumerians were not afraid to mix mythic metaphors. Most of the Sumerian pantheon show up and take action in numerous manifestations. Inanna, the goddess of love, sex, fertility, and warfare could also cameo dressed in floods and natural disaster.
If you don't know her already, Inanna was venerated in Sumer 6,000 years ago. That's around the time that young-earth biblical creationists think the world began. And yet, there stands Inanna, the most prominent female goddess in ancient Mesopotamia, worshipped in the ancient city of Gilgamesh as Queen of Heaven. And of all the gods in Sumer, she commands one of the most pronounced intercourse of metaphors. How does her tendency to manifest in mixtures, especially her cameos as a goddess of the flood, impact our understanding of natural disasters? What do sex and war have to do with floods?
To start, flood, sex, and war are all mixtures. Take sex, the most obvious. In sex, two discrete people in two bounded bodies experience merger. An ebb and flow of power and tenderness, an emotional storm of intensity and catharsis, a physical dance of struggle and longing and anger and peace.
Wars mix men, mix nations, mix politics, mix flesh and blood...life and death. Georges Bataille talks about war as a ritual wherein killing is permissible to the extent that it is organized, often meeting a political end. But in war, he goes on to indicate, killing can and does descend into a 'pitiless' animaliesque struggle - an uncivilized mass of non-persons (Erotism, ch. 6). Enemies and states and political goals and bodies mix with each other and with the flow of blood.
Floods do the work of mixing too. Floods overwhelm people who live in houses and work at jobs in special buildings and move from place to place through clearly marked and designated spaces. A flood will upheave roads, overturn cars, and carry houses down the street.
The Mesopotamian goddess Inanna (Ishtar) moves among these three mixtures: flood, sex, and war. Her holy genitals, blood drenched skin, and storm-clad body shape-shift through ancient myth and hymn. In one scene, she declares: "I will storm it and start the game of holy Inanna" inciting battles with her calculated set of warfare tactics. In another, she stirs up an evil raging wind as part of an onslaught of weather.
In the magisterial , Abusch characterizes Inanna (Sumerian) / Ishtar (Akkadian) with a list of six major domains: sexual love, communal storehouses, war and battle lines, rain and storms, prostitutes, and the morning and evening star (Venus). Somewhat at a loss, the authors simply state that she
At first, Inanna simply went on an expedition in the mountains of Elam and Subir to expose crime and render justice. Frontier justice by a divine vigilante, Inanna sought to seperate the criminal from the just. This task of hers is represented by both poetic and plot repeptition, her movements tack from heaven to earth, from heaven to earth, from heaven to earth. Exhausted by running along the 'intertwined horizon of heaven' (lines 112-28), Inanna lay down by the roots of a tree. In a moment of rest from her justice-work, Inanna succombed to an intimate crime: Cu-kale-tuda saw her laying beside his plot of land, pondered the "seven divine powers over her genitals," undid her loincloth, and raped her there.
Inanna awoke only to find that her own body had fallen victim to the human criminality she was determined to uproot. “Then the woman considered what should be destroyed because of her genitals” (line 129).
In her determination to find the rapist, Inanna filled the land with blood, replacing every aquatic system with vital fluid. Wells, irrigation systems, and rivers – every place people go to drink and draw water ran red.
Meanwhile, Cu-kale-tuda reveals his side of the story in a confession to his father. His gardens suffered. In his rage, he ripped them all out by the roots, but without ground-cover, the winds stirred up dust. As if from spite, the dusty winds stung Cu-kale-tuda’s eyes and partially blinded him. Straining to see, Cu-kale-tuda saw Inanna in the plot beside his as an apparition of the divine powers of heaven. With a criminal love for detail, he described the scene where he found her: “the shady tree was a Euphrates poplar with broad shade. Its shade was not diminished in the morning, and it did not change either at midday or in the evening.”
Upon hearing this confession, Cu-kale-tuda’s father urged him to run and hide; leave the mountains to blend into the city…”then this woman will not find you among the mountains” (lines 177-184). Rapists enjoy an ancient impunity.
Inanna’s second round of consideration about “what should be done because of her genitals,” led to her meteor-morphology, a representational mixture of sex and storm, as she mounted and took her seat on a cloud from which a fearsome flood mounted before her (lines 194-205). The south wind, personified as her cultic personnel, kicked up a dust storm behind her like a desert wake. The flood flowing from her ignominy cannot be divorced from her pursuit of justice that frames the entire hymn. This flood is a judgment, a fluvial mission to drown a criminal.
When neither blood nor flood flushed out Cu-kale-tuda, Inanna appeals to Enki, her father and high god of seawater, groundwater, and intelligence. Enki agreed with Inanna’s prostrations, that someone should pay, that Inanna should be recompensed (lines 239-255). Like her previous entreat to heaven, no divine powers come to her aid. Inanna departs from the high god, not with divine assistance but newfound agency. She transforms into a rainbow, connecting sky and earth in one easy posture. Now with ease, Inanna’s winds pass across the land. Though trying to become as tiny as possible, Cu-kale-tuda cannot hide, “the woman had found him among the mountains” (lines 239-55).
Once in a while, the broken lines of a Mesopotamian tablet provide a happy accident of perfect poetics. Lines 256-261 only yield a few words: “Holy Inanna now spoke to Cu-kale-tuda: ‘How ......? ...... dog ......! ...... ass ......! ...... pig ......!’ …’So! You shall die! What is that to me?’”
At the end of the hymn, Inanna effortlessly finds and condemns Cu-kale-tuda, though in a turn I cannot understand, she assures him that his name will live on in song and hymn. With a badly broken end, we should not make too much of these matters.
What does come across, however, is the power of Inanna’s pursuits in morphology and rhetoric. Her floods stream from her genitals and mix with her martial prowess. Of these mixtures, Bataille applies the term ‘erotic.’ Whether war or sex or death, “erotic activity, by dissolving the separate beings that participate in it, reveals their fundamental continuity, like the waves of a stormy sea" (Bataille, Erotism)
Her holy genitals, blood drenched skin, and storm-clad body shape-shift through ancient myth and hymn.
The reader is merely left with countless images like 1000s of ditigal photos stored on a maxed-out memory card.
Inanna was able to do what An (a god) could not fathom, destroy a city and land whose fecundity and power threatened an impotent heaven
In a moment of rest from her justice-work, Inanna succombed to an intimate crime
Inanna departs from the high god, not with divine assistance but newfound agency. She transforms into a rainbow...