Text-Source: Jacobsen, Thorkild (1987) The harps that once...: Sumerian Poetry in Translation. Yale University Press, New Haven and London.


This idyllic little tale begins with an address to Inanna - probably by her girlfriends - in which she is celebrated as goddess of war, devastating enemy countries. Although the poem is a love song, the warrior character of the goddess in this context is important, because Inanna is also responsible for the protection of the king, who carries Her standard in battle, and the land. Thus, the Warrior aspect of the Goddess is stated in the beginning of the poem, and from this, we are directed to love and courtship, which is the theme of this poem. Inanna´s friends then proceed saying that the Maiden Goddess is so lucky for having such good providers, called as bridallers, serving as bridegroom and as attendants at her pending wedding. The bridallers are tthe bridegroom and his friends, who serve as honor guard.

The praise apparently makes Inanna decide to set a date for the wedding, and so she sends a messenger specifying what each is to bring as a wedding gift.These verses show clearly that the young maiden goddess needs to be properly courted, hers being the choice of befitting presents and hers the last word about the date for the auspicious occasion of the wedding The cautionary advice contained for the young is quite clear: don´t rush into things, there is a right time to come together as young adults in love and publicly accepted by society. Indeed, this passage shows that society and codes of moral behaviour for the young had evolved since the time Enlil forced himself upon Ninlil and had to pay high for his actions, or the way Nanna convinced Ningal in the first place to meet him at night by the marshlands of South Mesopotamia without any sign of acceptance or approval by the families involved. The maiden Inanna seems to be less free and yet more assertive than the goddesses who preceeded her. She will onlymarry the one who treats her right and will set up a date for the auspicious occasion in her own sweet time. Ninlil or Ningal, for example, did not have this choice, but Inanna exercises it to the fullest.

The groom, Dumuzi/Ama-ushumgal-anna, and the guests arrive, but are left waiting in the street until Inanna is ready. Ningal, Inanna´s mother, then tells Inanna of her new family ties and tells the maiden to bathe and dress in all her finery to welcome Dumuzi. At long last she finally opens the door and lets in her bridegroom, who has been impatiently calling from the street. This opening of the door by the bride to the bridegroom counted as the formal act that concluded a Sumerian marriage.

At this point a serious gap interrupts the text. Probaby it told of the consummation of the marriage and of the wedding banquet the following day. When the text again resumes Inanna has said goodbie to her parents and left with Dumuzi to go to her new home, Dumuzi´s house. He enters first alone, goes to the chapel of his family, and prays that the god will give him a son. Dumuzi then invites Inanna in, but she is afraid and at loss without her mother to tell her what to do. It is important to note that the ancient Mesopotamians believed that children were conceived only when the personal god and the goddess of the husband and wife, the personal deities of both families, entered the bodies of the couple during lovemaking and made them fertile.

We will see that this text brings to light two important aspects of Mesopotamian religion and worldview: the act of lovemaking was fundamentally sacred especially when the couple desired children of their own, and both man and woman would take the living form of their families´ personal deities and protectors. Fertility therefore was a divine gift and, lovemaking a sacred act to be enacted by the family gods of the family line. What a difference from post-Mesopotamian views of Sex and procreation as sin, labour and pain!

Dumuzi then goes back to his family for advice, but what the god said is lost in a new gap in the text. Presumably, says Jacobsen, in "The Harps that Once... " Dumuzi´s family god counseled gentleness and persuasion, for when the text resumes, Dumuzi is reassuring Inanna: she will not have to do any work, her position in the household will be an honored one. One assumes that his plea is successful, also that, doting on his young bride, he overstated the leisure of the life that awaited her. How it all came out is unfortunately lost in a gap at the end of the text

But there is more to this passage, and this is the fact that Inanna deep down must have wanted to reassurances about her position in her bridegroom´s family and her role as a future young wife in the household. This is a fantastic example of feminine assertiveness of for a young maiden of ancient times.

This text is very important to understand the issue of Dumuzi and Inanna´s marriage as the standard or archetypal nuptials of the upper classes in Sumer. Clearly, through it we can follow the stages of Dumuzi´s and Inanna´s wedding which beings with dispatching messengers to the bridesmen and the bridegroom and ends with the groom stating the bride´s high role in her new family home. A young maiden goddess is turned therefore into the beloved consort of the young lord.

(by Lishtar)


Girlfriends: O you like a .....

Your bridallers (1) are bountiful lords!
You who like....
Lady, your bridallers are bountiful lords!
O you who catch enemy countries like birds,
Ninegalla, your bridallers are boutiful lords!
O you, cracking enemy countries like one cracking eggs,
Inanna, your bridallers are bountiful lords!
Ama-ushumgal is in the first place,
The farmer in the inundation is second,
None other than the fowler is the third,
The fisherman, the man in the midst of the canebrake is the fourth of them.

Inanna: Let me, the lady, send a messenger to the shepherd:

May he treat me to prime butter and prime milk!
Let me send a messenger to the squire, the farmer,
May he treat me to honey and wine!
To the fowler, who has his net spread out,
Let me, the lady, send a messenger:
May he treat me to choice birds!
And the fisherman, none other! To his reed hut,
Let me, Inanna, send a messenger,
May he treat me to his precious carps!

Narrator: Her bridallers, taking the day off, came. The fowler brought choice birds, the fisherman brought precious carps, filled them in a .... with Milady. The shepherd carried pails of butter in his hands, Dumuzi carried pails of milk over his shoulders, butter and small cheese he carried hung over his shoulders. Whipped, herb-flavored, milk he carried hung over his shoulders. The shepherd called out unto the house, Dumuzi thrust a hand against the door crying:

Dumuzi: Make haste to open the House, Milady! Make haste to open the house!

Narrator: .......... The pure one.... the Mother, hearing her, went, and was standing by the .... saying:

Ningal: Verily you are his spouse, he is your spouse,

Verily you .... for him
Verily he is .....for you
Verily your father is now a stranger only,
Verily your mother is now a stranger only,
His mother you will respect as were she your mother!
His father you will respect as were he your father!

Dumuzi: Make haste to open the House, Milady! Make haste to open the house!

Narrator: Inanna at her mother´s bidding bathed in water, anointed herself with sweet oil, decided to put on for outer garment the grand queenly robe; She also took her man-beast amulets, was straightening the lapis lazuli stones on her neck, and held her cylinder seal in her hand. The young lady stood waiting - Dumuzi pushed the door open, and like a moonbeam she came forth to him out of the house. He looked at her, rejoiced in her, took her in his arms and kissed her.

Narrator:   ... Dumuzi, the lord Dumuzi came to him saying:

Dumuzi: O my master, I have come home
O my master, my bride is accompanying me
May she duly give birth to a little lad!
O my master, go into her into in the house!

Dumuzi: O my bride...

O Inanna..., the chapel of my personal god,
To the chapel of my personal god I have brought you.
You will sleep before my personal god, and on the seat of honor of my personal god, my bride, you will sit!

Narrator: Though he spoke thus to her, she sat down beside the sill, saying:

Inanna: I need help! I have always just obeyed mother!

Narrator: To the personal god he wended his foot, spoke a greeting and prayer to him as follows:

Dumuzi: O my master...




Inanna:    ... in your eyes

O my Ama-ushumgal, I know not how to use a loom

Narrator: The shepherd put his arm around the young lady saying:

Dumuzi: I have not carried you off into slavery, your table will be a splendid table,

At the splendid table I eat!
Your table will be the splendid table, will be the splendid table,
You, you will eat at the splendid table
My mother eats at the beer vat,
Duttur´s brother eats not at it,
But you, you will eat at the splendid table!
O my bride, cloth you will not weave for me!
O Inanna, yarn you shall not spin for me!
O my bride, fleece you shall not ravel for me!
O Inanna, warp you shall not mount for me!

(four lines too fragmentary for translation)

Have no fear...
Bread you shallnot knead for me
O Nin-egalla...

Narrator : The Shepherd Dumuzi she embraced

Inanna: I, who have pure splendor, glow as the morning Star on heaven,

Who glow as the morning Star on heaven....



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