Read as part of The Telling Tales Reading Challenge
Inanna: Queen of Heaven and Earth
her stories and hymns from Sumer
by Diane Wolkstein and Samuel Noah Kramer
I was introduced to Inanna last autumn on a mythology workshop. The tutor gave us a taste and I fell instantly under Inanna’s spell. Within hours I had tracked down a second hand copy (not easy) and ordered it. When the book arrived I was bogged down in so many writing commitments that I reluctantly put it aside, after a brief foray, until I could savour it with relish. I have now done so and am even more enchanted than before.
This edition of the book combines so many aspects of my interests I feel it may have been written just for me:) It is collaboration between a cuneiformist expert/specialist and an amazing folklorist. The story and cycle of Inanna has been pieced together painstaking over decades from ‘fragments’ of clay tablets dating back to 2000BC. Anyone who knows me will know how I delight in these connections, continuations and interpretations of times past. So early language, storytelling, anthropology all come together, magic.
Sumer is situated in the southern half of modern day Iraq between present day Baghdad and the Persian Gulf – probably the birth place of modern civilization. With new discoveries every decade how can we tell? The tablets as they are found are divided between international museums.
Diane Wolkstein, although at first trying to tell the story in prose, her natural way in storytelling, found she had to relate it in verse, as far as possible keeping to the Sumerian verse line. The result? A small masterpiece of mystery, power and extravagance.
It is more than a story of Inanna; just 106 pages of the 206 page book detail her story. The rest is given up to a fascinating account of the history of the peoples of the area and their culture. There are photos of the tablets and fragments which have been scattered around the museums of the world, and explanations of the symbolism and rich imagery of the mythology. Something for every part of me.
I found the rhythm of the verse picked me up, carrying me effortlessly in its hypnotic and slightly addictive way. The language was superb and beautiful; the story of Inannas life cycle fascinating. From young inexperienced maiden through her fertile years to her aging this is a goddess seen in a whole. Familiar characters appear, such as Gilgamesh and Lilith, fleetingly, and then are left behind. Real persons people Inannas life, the ancient Sumerian heroes, a wonderful mesh of reality and spiritual which is so captivating in mythology.
Diane Wolstein calls this the worlds first love story (well written one anyway!) she describes the story, and I have to agree, ‘tender, erotic, shocking and compassionate.’ It is all of those, the language is in places raw and blunt, this after all is a goddess concerned with life and fertility. Her worshippers depended on her, in their barren surroundings, for life itself. The language is stark in the trials, tribulations, tortures and death, of the participants. It is extravagantly jubilant in the love, triumphs and successes won. A splendid, wonderful read.
I felt a sadness when I came to the end, because I had come to an end. And because although the work on these tablets continues, and there may well be more to come of Inanna, I probably will not be around to experience them.
I have my copy and if anyone wishes to borrow it they will be ankle tagged and have to live with an armed guard for the duration. I do not intend to let it go!