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The goddess as androgyne (1)

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Topics (move over topic to see place in topic list)

02 Religious and ideological symbols and iconographic motifs

01 Religious and ideological doctrines and imagery

01 Religious and ideological doctrines and imagery

03 Religious festivals, cults, rituals and practices

Neo-Assyrian Empire
Old Assyrian and Old Babylonian Empires
Akkadian poetry
Neo-Babylonian texts
Sumerian poetry

Although Inanna/Ištar is the goddess par excellence, the beautiful maiden full of sex-appeal, she is also depicted as an androgyne, having masculine features, e.g., a beard. In the Old Babylonian sources, Ištar was given “masculinity” (nam-guruš) by her father An. In Hammurapi F 2: “O Inanna, to whom An has [given] manliness in heaven and earth!” In Samsu-iluna A 1, she is referred to as “the great knife of masculinity” (giri₂ gal nam-guruš-a). In Assurbanipal’s Hymn to Ištar of Nineveh, the goddess is described with the following words (SAA 3 7.6): “Like Aššur, she wears a beard and is clothed in brilliance.” In her hypostasis as the Venus goddess she was female as the evening star, identified with Ištar of Uruk, and male as the morning star, identified with Ištar of Akkad. But, in the Neo-Babylonian omen collection, Ištar is feminine as the morning star and masculine as the evening star. Inanna/Ištar is a goddess who is only endowed with masculine power and attributes (like the beard) in order to be equal with the male gods. She is bipolar in many aspects, and thus she combines and mediates opposites, e.g., she is connected with heaven and the netherworld, or erotic sex and castration. Her androgynous nature is merely one of these aspects, symbolizing sublime purity and perfection.

In Sumerian sources, Inanna is frequently called ki-sikil (lit. “pure place”), a word rendered as “maiden” or “virgin.” Occasionally this Sumerian compound word has a “prefix,” namely the word (“man,” “male”) in front of it. So far, the combination has been translated as “virgin/maiden,” taking the word for a determinative. Literally, however, the epithet lú-ki-sikil describes Inanna as “male-virgin.” Alternatively, the combination lú-ki-sikil can also be rendered as “virgin-man” since, according to the grammatical rules of Sumerian, the adjective stands directly after the noun which it qualifies, thus the combination might be used to describe the goddess’ androgynous aspect.

Sources (list of abbreviations) (source links will open in a new browser window)
Hammurapi F 2
Hymn to Ištar of Nineveh 7.6
SAA 3 7.6
Samsu-iluna A 1


Lapinkivi 2004, 156-157Lapinkivi, Pirjo. The Sumerian Sacred Marriage in the Light of Comparative Evidence. State Archives of Assyria Studies 15. Helsinki: The Neo-Assyrian Text Coprus Project 2004.

Links (external links will open in a new browser window)
Cf. Nanaya in Syria and Mesopotamia (1)
Cf. Tyche with beard (1)

Pirjo Lapinkivi

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