Ereškigal (goddess)

Ereškigal, whose name translates as "Lady of the Great Earth", rules the underworld.

Functions

Unlike her consort Nergal, Ereškigal has a distinctly dual association with death. This is reminiscent of the contradictive nature of her sister Ištar, who simultaneously represents opposing aspects such as male and female; love and war. In Ereškigal's case, she is the goddess of death but also associated with birth; regarded both as mother(-earth) and a virgin (Van der Toorn et al. 1999: 455).

Divine Genealogy and Syncretisms

Ereškigal is the sister of Ištar and mother of the goddess Nungal. Namtar, Ereškigal's minister, is also her son by Enlil; and Ninazu, her son by Gugal-ana (Black and Green 1998: 77). The latter is the first husband of Ereškigal (Black and Green 1998: 77), who in later tradition has Nergal as consort. Bēlet-ṣēri appears as the official scribe for Ereškigal in the Epic of Gilgameš (Ataç 2004: 69).

Cult Place(s)

With few exceptions, as Wiggermann (1998-2001d: 220) asserts, Ereškigal had no cult in Mesopotamia and as a result, rarely encountered outside literature. Inscriptions, however, attest to temples of Ereškigal in Kutha [~/images/Kutha.jpg], Assur [~/images/Assur.jpg] and Umma [~/images/Umma.jpg] (George 1993: 85 no.288, 164 no.1311, no.1312).

Time Periods Attested

In the Sumerian poem The Death of Ur-Namma (ETCSL 2.4.1.1), Ereškigal is among those receiving gifts from Ur-Namma, newly arrived in the netherworld (Kramer 1967: 111). Her co-regency of the netherworld together with Nergal begins in the Old Babylonian period (Dalley 2000: 164). In the first millennium, her temple in Kutha is rebuilt by Nebuchadnezzar (George 1993: 85 no. 288).

Iconography

The iconography of Ereškigal remains unknown except for a possible representation on the so-called Burney Relief, a large terra-cotta plaque (now displayed at the British Museum), the authenticity of which has long been the subject of dispute (see Collon 2005). The relief shows a winged nude female with talons for feet. Standing on two recumbent lions and flanked by owls, she sports the horned headdress of divinity and carries a rod and ring in each raised hand. The avian features may be linked to the netherworld whose residents re described as dressed in bird feathers (Dalley 2000: 155). Collon 2005 identifies the Burney figure as Lilitu (the Mesopotamian forerunner of the Biblical Lilith and who belongs to Ereškigal's circle) and suggests that the wings point downward to the chthonic realm. Provenienced comparanda for the winged nude on the Burney Relief are found in two Old Babylonian terra-cotta reliefs from Ur and Nippur: both show a frontal nude with talon-feet, raised hands, a horned headdress and what Albenda 2005: 182 describes as a "pleated cape" pulled back over the shoulders. The similarity between the cape and the wings on the Burney Relief are suggestive. As for the animals on the relief, owls are unknown in Mesopotamian iconography (Albenda 2005); nor do texts offer clues for a possible link with Ereškigal or the netherworld. Lions, on the other hand, are well-known iconographically as attribute animals of Ištar, Ereškigal's sister.

Name and Spellings

Written forms:
dereš-ki-gal, dereš-ki-gal-la
Normalised form:
Ereškigal

Ereškigal in Online Corpora

Further Reading

Yaǧmur Heffron

Yaǧmur Heffron, 'Ereškigal (goddess)', Ancient Mesopotamian Gods and Goddesses, Oracc and the UK Higher Education Academy, 2016 [http://oracc.iaas.upenn.edu/amgg/listofdeities/erekigal/]

 
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