There was one goddess who ruled over wisdom (Athena), another love (Aphrodite), another chastity (Artemis), and another the hearth and marriage (Hera) -- yet the choices felt unsatisfying to me. Why were the goddesses (and gods) of ancient Greece so fragmented, so compartmentalized? You know, one was good to have at your side in an argument, another when you went on a date (or were looking for one!), another when you took up housekeeping and another when you needed to retrieve your childlike divinity -- but not one of them was the picture of a complete woman!
Here I was in the golden age of our Western Civilization, and not one fully-formed deity! (What was the significance of that, I wondered.)
And so I traveled father and farther back in time looking for "her" until I came to the cradle of civilization, the land of the ancient Sumerians. Here, in the Fertile Crescent, I found an image carved in stone, of a woman holding a sheaf of grain in her hand and a quiver of arrows at her back who had long curling hair tumbling down her shoulders, a crown of horns upon her head, bright eyes -- and a smile on her face.
She made me laugh! Who was this woman who had such a sweet smile but was ready to fight?
The image, from 2400 BC, was much older than the other stone carvings from the Bronze Age that caught my attention. Nevertheless, I was immediately struck by it's freshness and accessibility, attributable no doubt to her amiable countenance. She seemed like someone I could get to know and like. I had to find out who she was!
I learned that she was Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth. Unlike the goddesses in the Golden Age of Greece, Inanna possessed all the virtues. She was a whole person. The ancient Sumerian tablets were translated and retold by Diane Wolkstein and Samuel Noah Kramer in their book Inanna: Queen of Heaven and Earth. In it, they tell how Inanna got all the virtues. The story goes like this:
Inanna went to visit her father, Enki, who was a great god and knew all things, and after paying her respects he invited her to drink with him at the Table of Heaven. Inanna accepted and she sat down and they began to drink beer together. They drank more and more beer until, swaying with drink, Enki toasted Inanna:
In the name of my power! In the name of my holy shrine!Through the driving mists of his drunken stupor, Enki gave Inanna all of his me (virtues) and each one she took: the virtue of war, of incantation, of truth, of dagger and sword, of the black garment, of the colorful garment, of fear, of lovemaking, of forthright speech, of slanderous speech, of song, of power, of lamentation, of the perceptive ear, of the power of attention, of treachery, of straightforwardness, of kindness, of deceit, and so on, until Enki had no virtue left and he fell fast asleep. Inanna fell sleep too and when she woke she loaded up her boat with all of the virtues that now belonged to her and she sailed home. When Enki woke, still reeling of drink, he asked: "Where are all my virtues?" and his assistant explained to him what had happened. Enki sent wave upon wave of sea monsters after her but Inanna held her father to his word and with the help of her secretary she drove back the monsters and delivered the virtues to her people.
To my daughter Inanna I shall give the high priesthood!
Godship! The noble, enduring crown! The throne of kingship!
Inanna replied: I take them!
What virtues are yours? Take them!