Extracts from the book "In the Wake of Goddesses:Women, Culture and the Biblical Transformation of Pagan Myth" by Professor Tikva Frymer-Kensky, 1992, Fawcet Columbine, New York. © All rights reserved to author. Text here reproduced for aid in research and studies purposes

There were also important nonhousehold activities that were considered womanly and attributed to goddesses. Many of these grow out of the actions of women in their role as mothers, but extend beyond the household by being performed in public, for people who may not be related to the performer. Chief of these was the singing of laments. Mourning is a manifestation of long lasting love and devotion, and as such is part of, and grows out of, the relational aspect of goddesses/women as mothers, sisters and wives. Goddesses sing laments over their dead sons, lovers and brothers. The ancient literary catalogues from ancient Sumer list many laments that the goddess Geshtinanna sang over her brother Dumuzi, who had died and gone to the Netherworld, as well as laments that Inanna chanted for this same Dumuzi, who had been her spouse. These songs have not yet been recovered by archaeologists, but we do have a lament that Inanna sang over the King Ur-Nammu, who she identified with Dumuzi. Sons, too, were mourned, and laments by several goddesses for their dead sons are known.

The role of goddesses as mourner extends beyond the family, for the goddesses were the chief singers of public laments in the Sumerian literary tradition, the prime mourners over their destroyed cities. Several literary compositions commemorate historical disasters. One, the Lament over the City of Ur, was written some time after the destruction of the city at the end of the Ur III dynasty. In this poem, Ningal, the goddess of Ur, laments for the city. Significantly, She is shown singing two laments, one before the city had been destroyed, in an attempt to avert the imminent destruction; and then afterwards, when the city had been ravaged, bemoaning the loss of the city and Her home. Another such composition, the Eridu Lament, shows the goddess Damgalnunna bewailing teh loss of her city, Eridu. The Great Lamentation over the Destruction of Sumer and Ur demonstrates that lamenting was the job of the goddess of the city, not of the god. In this composition, the goddess of each city leae their home, the goddess of the city weeps, "Oh, my destroyed city, my destroyed home!". It is the goddess who laments when the goddess is the major deity of the city, like Baba and Ninisinna and Nanshe, and it is also the goddess who weeps when She is merely the minor spouse of the city god (as in Namrat, wife of Numushda in Kazallu). The tradition of the goddess lamenting continued after the Sumerian period, when the Sumerian language continued to be written as a learned language. In this later literature, sometimes called post-Sumerian, an important genre were congregational laments called balags. In these compositions, it is most commonly the goddess Inanna who utters the lament over the destroyed city.

The lamenting of the goddesses was not only a matter of tears and songs. It was an intense performance which entailed dramatic and painful acts. When Ninshubur, Inanna´s assitant, set up a cry for Inanna trapped in the Netherworld, "She clawed at her eyes, she clawed at her nose. She clawed at her inner thigh". So, too, when Damgalnunna cried over Eridu: "She claws at her hair like rushes, uttering a bitter lament". And when Ningal cries over Ur, "Her hair, she tears out as if it were rushes: on Her chest, on the silver-fly ornament, she smites and cries "woe, my city"; her eyes, well with teras, bittlerly She weeps". This self-laceration and frenzy is almost certainly a reflection of mourning behaviour on the human scene. As part of a public literary lamentations, it provided a public expression of grief, and allowed for emotional catharsis in the performers and listeners of the lament. Judging from the knowledge of compararive religion, the people of Mesopotamia, hearing the poems, may have entered the occasion and experienced and manifested their grief by performing these same dramatic actions.

Despite its passionate character, lament was not primarily a ventilation of emotion. It was a purposeful act, specifically intended to serve as an intercession. The weeping of Ninshubur in Inanna´s Descent to the Netherworld was goal-oriented: she wept befor the gods in order to prompt them to rescue Inanna, who had been trapped in the Netherworld. So too, in the Lamentation over the Destruction of Ur, Ningal intended to convince the gods not to destroy Ur. In this case, She was not successful; but after the destruction , She continue to lament in order to awaken mercy in the gods. Such intercessory lamentation often did succeed. The laments of Amagestinanna were so incessant that the gods agreed to allow Her to take Dumuzi´s place in the Netherworld for part of each year. In the Lamentation over the Destruction of Nippur, the temple itself laments until Enlil says that there has been enough lamenting, that He will be compassionate. In the Lamentation over the Destruction of Sumer and Ur, Nanna does not accept Enlil´s statement that it is simply time for Ur to be destroyed: He continues mourning until his father Enlil relents, promising that the city will be rebuilt. In the historical laments, the mourning of the goddesses over their destroyed cities were intercessions, for their goal was to get the city rebuilt. All of them should be considered successful intercessions, for the lamentations themselves were recited at the time of restoration of the city and shrine and the return of the gods to their homes, and the compositions often contain mention of the restoration celebrations.


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