a reply to: geezlouise
I opted not to clutter this thread with a large dissertation on Mesopotamian mythology because I don't believe it is topical to the YouTube video that
OP posted. However, as you've expressed interest, I'll try to offer a brief summary here, without, I hope, taking this too far off topic.
As a preface, if you're interested in how the Mesopotamian people viewed the Netherworld, you'll want to get your hands on a copy of Dina Katz's
The Image of the Netherworld in the Sumerian Sources
, where she dissects every surviving text related to Netherworld, including epics,
narratives, praises, and cult songs. The entire volume focuses on the geographical, topographical, societal, and ecological conditions of the
Netherworld, and contains an in-depth appendix with linguistic dissections of all the surviving material related to the Netherworld, and a lengthy
discussion of its divine denizens.
Basically, here are the primary problems I found with your original comments:
1. There was no confusion between the subterranean water table or Abyss (abzu / apsû), and the Netherworld (ki / kur / erşetu / irkalla).
This one is patently false. The Mesopotamian people, in all ages, were absolutely certain of where the divine realms were in relation to each other.
As your article focuses on Assyria and Babylonia, I'll use the common Babylonian model from that time. The model presented below can be found in Gavin
White's excellent book
, which contains an in-depth 41 page bibliography full of sources and citations for every fact in his
As you can see, the Mesopotamian people believed that the Heavens and Earth rested upon the Abyss, while the Earth and Abyss were contained in a bowl
of mountains (the Zagros mountain range) into which, over which, and beneath which one could access the Netherworld. This is a significantly more
complex topic than my description gives credit too, and if you're interested I can explain it more in-depth. For the sake of saving some space though,
the Mesopotamian people knew that the water table under the Earth was above the Netherworld, which existed inside of, beneath, or beyond a mountain
2. There was no confusion between the god of the Abyss, Enki, and the ruler of the Netherworld (see point 3 below).
Now, this one is a little bit more tricky, as you're absolutely correct that the Mesopotamians were known to syncretize their deities quite
frequently. However, this primarily occurred with deities which existed in the same cosmic circle.
For example, the goddess Gula was syncretized with the goddesses Ama-arhuš, Azugallutu, Bēltu-balāti, Ninkharak, Ninisina, Ninnibru, and Ninsu'ana.
Each of these associated goddesses were in some way related to medicine and herbology (Gula's primary qualities), or else they were local tutelary
manifestations of Gula as she appeared in satellite villages, subordinate to Gula's chief city-state.
Now, the main deity of the Abyss is a male god named Enki, while the main deity of the Netherworld is a female goddess named Ereškigal (see below).
There are no surviving examples in any Mesopotamian literature where these two figures are misconstrued as one and the same. If such an example
exists, it is due to the scholar's misidentification of an artistic representation.
What is common to see, but which I personally disagree with, is the theory that a goddess of Heaven (Inanna) and a goddess of the Netherworld
(Ereškigal) are one and the same. That's a topic for another day though.
3. There was no male ruler of the Netherworld.
The Netherworld was always under the jurisdiction of a female warden, the goddess Ereškigal (etymologically: Queen of the Great Earth / Netherworld).
The masculine force you mentioned is most likely Namtar, who is Ereškigal's secretary / personal aid, and the deity responsible for measuring the
lifespan of human beings. In no text, though, is Namtar recognized as the ruler of the Netherworld.
The only place where Ereškigal is absent as the head of the Netherworld, is on god-lists from northern Mesopotamia that originated in purely semitic
cities, whose religious beliefs were untouched by Sumerian influences. Every other text detailing a Netherworld hierarchy begins with Ereškigal,
solidifying her place as the head of the Netherworld pantheon.
The other possibility, equally false, is that you were referring to Nergal, who has the title "lugal-kur-ra-ke," or "Enlil-kur-ra-ke," both of which
roughly translate to "Lord of the Netherworld." However, what most scholars fail to recognize, but which Katz devotes a section of her appendix on
Nergal to, is that these linguistic terms refer to warlords, not monarchs. In short, Nergal is not the King of the Netherworld, but the supreme
military commander, and governs over slain soldiers. Much like Odin does in Norse mythology.
Now, it is true that there's a Middle Babylonian epic where Nergal "rapes" Ereškigal. However, two versions of this myth exist, and in the earlier
one it is Ereškigal, not Nergal, who instigates their meeting, commanding Nergal to stay with her in the Netherworld: a fate from which Nergal
unsuccessfully attempts to flee, all the way up to the highest heaven.
Filler Title to Separate My Conclusion
Mehmet-Ali Atac's work is interesting, and I certainly don't discredit his attempts. However, his technique is largely based on interpreting cultural
motifs from the artwork of the Mesopotamian people, based on a process formerly adapted to Greek vase art. While this method was very useful for Greek
vase art, the Mesopotamians, unlike the Greeks, often created their art in an almost cookie-cutter fashion. This left little room for personal
flourishes. As such, Mesopotamian art is exceedingly helpful for identifying figures and myths, but frustratingly silent when it comes to trying to
"read into" the culture solely through their artwork.
As I said above, I'm a Mesopotamian polytheist, a reconstructionist, so this is the closest thing I have to a religion. If you're interested in
learning more, I'd be happy to continue. Though, perhaps not on this thread, since this whole subject seems a bit off-topic.
~ Wandering Scribe