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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.
The Library of the World’s Best Literature. An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

III. Fragments of a Descent to the Underworld

By Accadian-Babylonian and Assyrian Literature

TO the underworld I turn,

I spread my wings like a bird,

I descend to the house of darkness, to the dwelling of Irkalla,

To the house from which there is no exit,

The road on which there is no return,

To the house whose dwellers long for light,

Dust is their nourishment and mud their food,

Whose chiefs are like feathered birds,

Where light is never seen, in darkness they dwell.

In the house which I will enter

There is treasured up for me a crown,

With the crowned ones who of old ruled the earth,

To whom Anu and Bel have given terrible names,

Carrion is their food, their drink stagnant water.

There dwell the chiefs and unconquered ones,

There dwell the bards and the mighty men,

Monsters of the deep of the great gods.

It is the dwelling of Etana, the dwelling of Ner,

Of Ninkigal, the queen of the underworld….

Her I will approach and she will see me.

Ishtar’s Descent to the Underworld

[After a description substantially identical with the first half of the preceding poem, the story goes on:—]

TO the gate of the underworld Ishtar came,

To the keeper of the gate her command she addressed:—

Keeper of the waters, open thy gate,

Open thy gate that I may enter.

If thou open not the gate and let me in,

I will strike the door, the posts I will shatter,

I will strike the hinges, burst open the doors,

I will raise up the dead devourers of the living,

Over the living the dead shall triumph.

The keeper opened his mouth and spake,

To the Princess Ishtar he cried:—

Stay, lady, do not thus,

Let me go and repeat thy words to Queen Ninkigal.

[He goes and gets the terrible queen’s permission for Ishtar to enter on certain conditions.]

Through the first gate he caused her to pass

The crown of her head he took away.

Why, O keeper, takest thou away the great crown of my head?

Thus, O lady, the goddess of the underworld doeth to all her visitors at the entrance.

Through the second gate he caused her to pass,

The earrings of her ears he took away.

Why, O keeper, takest thou away the earrings of my ears?

So, O lady, the goddess of the underworld doeth to all that enter her realm.

[And so at each gate till she is stripped of clothing. A long time Ninkigal holds her prisoner, and in the upper world love vanishes and men and gods mourn. Ea sees that Ishtar must return, and sends his messenger to bring her.]

Go forth, O messenger,

Toward the gates of the underworld set thy face,

Let the seven gates of Hades be opened at thy presence,

Let Ninkigal see thee and rejoice at thy arrival,

That her heart be satisfied and her anger be removed.

Appease her by the names of the great gods …

Ninkigal, when this she heard,

Beat her breast and wrung her hands,

Turned away, no comfort would she take.

Go, thou messenger,

Let the great jailer keep thee,

The refuse of the city be thy food,

The drains of the city thy drink,

The shadow of the dungeon be thy resting-place,

The slab of stone be thy seat.

Ninkigal opened her mouth and spake,

To Simtar, her attendant, her command she gave.

Go, Simtar, strike the palace of judgment,

Pour over Ishtar the water of life, and bring her before me.

Simtar went and struck the palace of judgment,

On Ishtar he poured the water of life and brought her.

Through the first gate he caused her to pass,

And restored to her her covering cloak.

[And so through the seven gates till all her ornaments are restored. The result of the visit to the underworld is not described.]