The Descent of Inanna: An Adaption

From the Sumerian and Akkadian Descent myths.

The text which follows was written as classroom material for California State University, Los Angeles’ 2020 Ancient Near East history syllabus.

It may be presented as “reader’s theater”, with each part written specifically for the various figures featured in this, the most prolific myth of the Mesopotamian people.

Narrator: Here follows the story of Inanna, once a maiden and goddess of the storehouse.

Here follows the story of Inanna, the goddess who defeated the god Enki in a drinking game and took the Divine Measures as her prize. 

Here follows the story of Inanna, the goddess who seized control of the Temple of Heaven from An, the father of the gods. 

Here follows the story of Inanna, who having gained the powers of Heaven and Earth, set her sights on the Great Below. 

From the starry expanse of Heaven, Inanna turned her gaze.

From the width and breadth of bountiful Earth, Inanna turned her gaze. 

From the realm of the living, Inanna turned her gaze.


She abandoned the holy offices and set her mind upon descending into the Underworld. 

She abandoned the holy titles and set her mind upon descending into the Underworld. 

She abandoned her great temples of worship, too many to be named, and set her mind upon descending into the Underworld. 

She took up the Divine Measures of creation, civilization, and order. 

Upon her head she placed the horned crown.

About her neck she placed the royal strand of lapis beads. 

About her breasts she placed the double strand. 

She wrapped the royal robes around her body. 

She clad her breast with the breastplate. 

She carried the ring of power and rod of divine authority in her hand. 


She fastened her sight upon the world below. 

She opened her ear to the world below. 

She fixed her steps on the world below. 

At her side, her faithful servant, the goddess Ninshubur. 

At her side, her constant support, the goddess Ninshubur.

At her side, her wise advisor, the goddess Ninshubur.

Together, they walked upon the broad streets of the holy city. 

Together, they passed under the heavy gates of the holy city. 

Together, they stepped upon the road leading from the holy city. 

Inanna counted her holy temples, too many to be named. 

Inanna recounted her conquests one by one.

She recounted the capture of the Temple of Heaven as her own dwelling, having taken it by force from An, father of the gods. 

She recounted her triumph over Enki and the Divine Measures she took as her prize. 

She recounted the holy mountain, Ebih, that she destroyed for its hubris. 

She recounted the death of the man, Shukalletuda, who assaulted her while she slept. 

She recounted the god, Dumuzid, whose passion stirred for her alone.

She recounted having eaten the fruit of Kur and being awakened to the knowledge of desire. 

She recounted the throne built for her from the sacred hullupu tree. 

She recounted the hullupu tree she tended from which the lilu spirit, the restless serpent, and the lion-headed eagle, Imdugud, were driven. 

She recounted the sacred date house from which she once ruled. 


Inanna: I have turned my gaze upon the world below. 

I have opened my ear to the world below. 

I have fixed my steps on the world below.

When I descend and do not return , lift up your voice in lamentation. 

When I descend and do not return , beat the drum in the assembly hall. 

When I descend and do not return, tear at your eyes, your mouth, your thighs, and shroud yourself in the garment of one in mourning.

Plead before the lord of abundance, the ruler of the gods, my grandfather. 

Plead before Enlil and say: “O father, let not your treasure be covered in dust!”

Plead before Enlil and say: “O father, let not your precious lapis be crushed into rubble!”

Plead before Enlil and say: “O father, let not your fragrant tree be cut into tinder!”


If he will not help you, if he will not bend fate, go to my father in his house of light. 

Plead before the lord of the radiant moon, the father of champions. 

Plead before Nanna and say: “O father, let not your treasure be covered in dust!”

Plead before Nanna and say: “O father, let not your precious lapis be crushed into rubble!”

Plead before Nanna and say: “O father, let not your fragrant tree be cut into tinder!”


If he will not help you, if he will not bend fate, go to my great uncle in his house in the deep sea. 

Plead before the lord of creation, the magician of the gods. 

Plead before Enki and say: “O father, let not your treasure be covered in dust!”

Plead before Enki and say: “O father, let not your precious lapis be crushed into rubble!”

Plead before Enki and say: “O father, let not your fragrant tree be cut into tinder!”

Now go, my faithful servant, my constant support, my wise advisor.

Narrator: Ninshubur took haste and fled from the presence of her mistress, the Queen of Heaven and Earth.

Inanna stood before the gates of the Great Below. 

Like a lion, Inanna stood before the gates of the Great Below. 

Like a bull, Inanna stood before the gates of the Great Below.

Inanna: Open the door, gatekeeper! 

Open the door, Neti! 

Open the door to me, Queen of Heaven and Earth.

Neti: If you are truly Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth, why have you abandoned your divine office?

If you are truly Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth, why have you left your sacred temples?

If you are truly Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth, why have you come to the gates of the Great Below?

Inanna: I have come to bear witness to the funeral rites of my sister’s husband, Gugalanna, the Bull of Heaven!

I have come to bear witness to the funeral rites of the one who was slain by the king, Gilgamesh and his companion, Enkidu!

I have come to bear witness to the funeral rites and pour libations in his name and to weep with my sister!


Neti: Stay, Inanna. I will go to my queen. 

Stay, Inanna. I will pass through the gates into her halls. 

Stay, Inanna. I will give her your message.


Narrator: Neti descended to the palace of Ereshkigal, the Queen of the Great Below and stood before her throne.

Neti: My queen, Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth has abandoned her holy temple and stands outside of the gates of the Underworld. 

Upon her head she wears the horned crown;

About her neck, a strand of lapis beads;

About her breasts the double strand; 

She has wrapped the royal robes around her body;

She has clad her breast with the breastplate;

She has adorned her wrist with the ring of power; 

She bears the rod of divine authority. 

She says: “I have come to bear witness to the funeral rites of my sister’s husband, Gugalanna, the Bull of Heaven!”

She says: “I have come to bear witness to the funeral rites of the one who was slain by the king, Gilgamesh and his companion, Enkidu!”

She says: “I have come to bear witness to the funeral rites and pour libations in his name and to weep with my sister!”

Narrator: When Ereshkigal heard these words, she grew angry and a shadow was cast over her beautiful face. 

Those who mourn do so crowned in dust and clothed in sackcloth. 

She knew the plan already formed in Inanna’s mind. 

She knew of Inanna’s desire to take the throne of the Underworld for herself. 

Ereshkigal: Heed my words, Neti. 

Heed my words, chief gatekeeper. 

Heed my words, key-bearer. 

Close the seven gates. 

Bolt the seven gates. 

Guard the seven gates. 

Open them, but only a crack and force her to remove her jewels. 

Open them, but only a crack and force her remove her treasures. 

Open them, but only a crack and force her remove her garments. 

Decree this to be the rite of the Great Below.

Decree this to be the custom of the Great Below. 

Decree that the ways of the Great Below are perfect. 

Narrator: Neti took haste and fled before his mistress, the Queen of the Great World Below.

The gates were locked. 

The gates were bolted. 

The gates were sealed.

The outer gate was opened to Inanna. 

Neti stood before the goddess and beckoned her to come close as he opened the first gate but a mere crack. 

The crown was removed from her head.

Neti: You must satisfy the sacred rite, for the ways of the Great Below are perfect and are not to be questioned.

Narrator: Neti stood before Inanna and beckoned her to come close as he opened the second gate by a mere crack. 

The strand of lapis was removed from her neck.

Neti: You must satisfy the sacred rite, for the ways of the Great Below are perfect and are not to be questioned.

Narrator: Neti stood before Inanna and beckoned her to come close as he opened the third gate by a mere crack. 

The double strand of lapis was removed from her breast. 

Neti: You must satisfy the sacred rite, for the ways of the Great Below are perfect and are not to be questioned. 

Narrator: Neti stood before Inanna and beckoned her to come close as he opened the fourth gate by a mere crack. 

The breastplate was removed from her breast.

Neti: You must satisfy the sacred rite, for the ways of the Great Below are perfect and are not to be questioned.

Narrator: Neti stood before Inanna and beckoned her to come close as he opened the fifth gate by a mere crack. 

The ring of power was removed from her wrist. 

Neti: You must satisfy the sacred rite, for the ways of the Great Below are perfect and are not to be questioned.

Narrator: Neti stood before Inanna and beckoned her to come close as he opened the sixth gate by a mere crack. 

The rod of divine authority was removed from her hand. 

Neti: You must satisfy the sacred rite, for the ways of the Great Below are perfect and are not to be questioned.

Narrator: Neti stood before Inanna and beckoned her to come close as he opened the seventh gate by a mere crack. 

The royal robes were removed from her body. 

Neti: You must satisfy the sacred rite, for the ways of the Great Below are perfect and are not to be questioned.

Narrator: Neti opened the heavy doors to the throne room and Inanna, now naked, was ushered inside. 

Inanna bowed low before Ereshkigal’s feet.

As Ereshkigal rose from her throne, Inanna ran to seize it and claim it as her own. 

Ereshkigal’s cry roused the dreaded judges of the dead. 

The judges of the Great Below surrounded Inanna. 

The judges of the Great Below decreed her fate. 

The judges of the Great Below rendered their judgment.

Ereshkigal struck Inanna with the eye of death.

Ereshkigal: Behold, my eye: red and inflamed!

Narrator: Ereshkigal struck Inanna with the word of wrath.

Ereshkigal: Heed my word, for it is as the command of Heaven. 

The wrath of the Underworld falls upon you!

Narrator: Ereshkigal struck Inanna with the cry of guilt.

Ereshkigal: You are guilty in my sight! You are guilty in the sight of the judges of dread! 

You are guilty in the sight of the Great Below!

Narrator: A shadow stepped forth from behind Ereshkigal’s throne. 

It took the form of Namtar, Ereshkigal’s messenger, god of disease. 

He struck Inanna with the sixty diseases at his command. 

He lifted up her corpse and hung it from a hook in the hall of Ereshkigal. 

Three days passed.

Three nights passed. 

Ninshubur heeded her mistress’ instructions and lamented among the ruins. 

Ninshubur struck the drum in the assembly hall. 

Ninshubur clad herself in mourning garments.

She climbed the stairway to the Mountain House, the holy temple of Enlil, and bowed low before his throne. 

Ninshubur: O father, Inanna has descended to the Underworld!

Let not your treasure be covered in dust!

Let not your precious lapis be crushed into rubble!

Let not your fragrant tree be cut into tinder!

Enlil: Was it enough that she craved the powers of Heaven as her own and seized them for herself?!

To set one’s eyes upon the powers of the Underworld is to set one’s eyes upon death.

Those powers belong to the Underworld alone. 

Who having attained those powers may ever rise again to the realm of the living?

I will decree nothing and leave Inanna’s fate to the will of the Underworld. 

Narrator: Ninshubur fled the presence of Enlil. 

She climbed the stairway to the Great House of Light, the holy temple of Nanna, and bowed low before his throne. 

Ninshubur: O father, Inanna has descended to the Underworld!

Let not your treasure be covered in dust!

Let not your precious lapis be crushed into rubble!

Let not your fragrant tree be cut into tinder!

Nanna: Was it enough that she craved the powers of Heaven as her own and seized them for herself?!

To set one’s eyes upon the powers of the Underworld is to set one’s eyes upon death.

Those powers belong to the Underworld alone. 

Who having attained those powers may ever rise again to the realm of the living?

I will decree nothing and leave Inanna’s fate to the will of the Underworld. 

Narrator: Ninshubur fled the presence of Nanna and turned her gaze to the deep sea. 

She descended the stairway to the House of the Abyss, the holy temple of Enki. 

There, she bowed before his dais. 

There, she lifted up her voice in his halls. 

There, she cried aloud in his presence. 

Ninshubur: O father, Inanna has descended to the Underworld!

Let not your treasure be covered in dust!

Let not your precious lapis be crushed into rubble!

Let not your fragrant tree be cut into tinder!

Narrator: Enki was moved by her words. 

He rose from his throne and cried aloud in his despair. 

Enki: What has Inanna, the mistress of all lands done?

What has  Inanna, the priestess of An, done?

What has Inanna, the Queen of Heaven and Earth done?

Narrator: He pondered what Ninshubur told him and his heart was troubled. 

He pondered what Ninshubur told him and he removed dirt from beneath his fingernails. 

He pondered what Ninshubur told him and spoke his secret spell. 

Enki: By this dirt and my secret spell, I bring forth my servants who shall do that which I entrust to them. 

By this dirt and my holy decree, I bring forth the Kurgara who shall bear the plant of life which shall be passed over Inanna’s body. 

By this dirt and the word of my command, I bring forth the Galatura who shall bear the water of life which shall be sprinkled over Inanna’s body. 

Narrator: His servants came into being and stood before him. 

His servants came into being and took in the breath given to them. 

His servants came into being and turned their ears to their lord. 

Enki: Hear me, my servants: descend to the Underworld, passing through the gates like flies. 

Hear me, my servants: slip through the bolts like unseen spirits. 

Hear me, my servants: present yourselves before the Queen of the Great Below.

She is about to give birth and travails in her labor. 

She is naked, her holy shoulders are not covered by linen. 

She trembles as one who is in pain.

Her breasts are not full. 

Her nails claw at her head. 

Her hair is bound up like leeks. 

She will cry out and you shall sympathize with her.

She will cry out and you shall say ‘O mistress, your heart is troubled and in pain’. 

She will cry out and you shall say ‘O mistress, your liver is troubled and in pain’.

She will ask if you are mortals or gods. 

She will offer you counsel.

She will promise a good fate. 

The judges of the Underworld will ask if you are mortals or gods. 

The judges of the Underworld will offer you a river of sweet water.

The judges of the Underworld will promise you an abundant field. 

Do not accept these entreaties. 

Do not accept these promises. 

Do not accept these gifts.

Instead, ask that the corpse of Inanna be given into your care. 

Instead, feign that you do not know whose body hangs in her hall but request that she relinquish the corpse into your hands. 

When she gives it to you, pass the plant of life over it. 

When she gives it to you, sprinkle it with the water of life. 

When she gives it to you raise it up so that it may be breathe again and be Inanna once more. 

Narrator: The Kurgara and Galatura heard all these words and made haste to the Underworld. 

The Kurgara and Galatura hid these instructions in their hearts and set their feet upon the Path of No Return. 

The Kurgara and Galatura passed through the gates and bolts like flies and spirits. 

They lamented with Ereshkigal.

Galatura: O mistress; your heart is troubled and in pain!

Kurgara: O mistress; your liver is troubled and in pain!

Ereshkigal: Who are you that soothes my heart and dries my tears?

If you are gods, I will give you counsel in return for your goodness.

If you are mortals, I will ensure that you are given a good fate. 

The Seven Judges: Who are you that soothes the heart of Ereshkigal?

If you are mortals, we will offer you a river of sweet water to quench your thirst.

If you are gods, we will promise you an abundant field ripe with its fruit. 

Galatura: Your gifts are too great to accept.

Kurgara: Instead, give us the corpse hanging from the hook in your hall. 

Ereshkigal: Do you not know? 

That is the corpse of your queen. 

Galatura: Whether it is the corpse of a king or queen, we will take it as our possession.

Kurgara: Swear by the firmament of Heaven and the foundation of the Earth that you will give us what we ask for. 

Narrator: Ereshkigal granted their request, swearing by Heaven and Earth. 

The servants of Enki passed the plant and water of life over the corpse in their possession. 

Ereshkigal struck her thigh with her fist and gritted her teeth. 

She called for the Seven Judges.

Inanna breathed and life was restored to her body. 

Inanna stirred in the presence of Ereshkigal and the fearsome judges. 

Inanna stood with the Kurgara and Galatura at her left and right. 

The judges gathered to her left hand and to her right hand. 

The judges surrounded her on all sides. 

The judges grabbed Inanna and cried out. 

The Seven Judges: Who having died has ever left the Underworld unscathed?

If Inanna is to ascend and return to the land of the living, then let another descend to take her place among the dead!


Narrator: Daemons appeared at Inanna’s left hand. 

Daemons appeared at Inanna’s right hand. 

Daemons encompassed her like reeds and escorted her as she ascended through the gates, taking back her holy regalia.

Ninshubur threw herself at Inanna’s feet when she saw her rise up from the Underworld. 

Inanna forbade the daemons from taking Ninshubur away as her substitute. 

Inanna: Do not take her, for she lamented my death. 

Do not take her, for she beat the drum in the assembly hall. 

Do not take her, for she clothed herself in mourning garments. 

She set her feet upon the road to my grandfather, to my father, and to my uncle. 

She did as I instructed her.

She shall not be sent to the Underworld in my place.

Narrator: With Ninshubur at her side, Inanna walked forward on the road with the daemons of the Underworld. 

Together, they happened upon Shara who threw himself at Inanna’s feet. 

Inanna forbade the daemons from taking Shara away. 

Inanna: Do not take him, for he sings soothing songs to me. 

Do not take him, for he cares for me dearly. 

Do not take him, for he tends to my needs.

Narrator: With Ninshubur and Shara, Inanna walked forward on the road with the daemons of the Underworld. 

Together, they happened upon Lulal who threw himself at Inanna’s feet. 

Inanna forbade the daemons from taking Lulal away. 

Inanna: Do not take him, for he has sat in the dust as one in mourning. 

Do not take him, for he follows my commands. 

Do not take him, for he is steadfast and true. 

Narrator: With Ninshubur, Shara and Lulal, Inanna walked forward on the road with the daemons of the Underworld to the plains where Dumuzid dwelt.

No trace of ash or dust was seen upon his face or hair. 

No sackcloth covered his body. 

Instead, Dumuzid sat upon his throne, clad in his finery. 

Instead, he wore the horned crown and robes of divinity. 

Inanna cried out in anger. 

Inanna: Why are you not clad in the garments of one in mourning when I hung dead from the hook in Ereshkigal’s hall?

Why do you not wear ash upon your face and dust in your hair?

Why did you do not weep bitterly over my death?

I have risen, but one must now take my place.

That one, O Dumuzid, is you!

Narrator: The daemons of the Underworld rushed forward to seize Dumuzid. 

Dumuzid cried aloud in terror to Utu, the sun god, far above in the firmament of Heaven. 

Dumuzid: Hear me, O lord! 

Hear me, O Utu! 

Hear me, O brother-in-law!

Save me from my fate!

Let me escape those who pursue me!

Turn me into a gazelle!

Turn me into a snake!

Let me go forth and hide from their sight!

Narrator: Utu heard Dumuzid’s prayers and granted his request. 

His body twisted and stretched until he was Dumuzid no more. 

In his place was a great serpent who slithered with haste across the plain to the home of his sister, Geshtinanna. 

She lamented his state when she saw him and tore at her eyes and face and hair. 

She tore her garments and cried aloud when she learned of his troubles. 

Geshtinanna: O my brother, your days have been few!

O my brother, you are without wife and child!

O my brother, you have no friend or companion!

O my brother, you will be unable to comfort our mother in her distress!

Narrator: The daemons of the Underworld pushed through the doors of Geshtinanna’s home and once more, Dumuzid escaped their clutches. 

They roared and bellowed, demanding to know where Dumuzid was hiding, yet Geshtinanna remained silent. 

They beat at her face and pulled her hair, yet Geshtinanna remained silent. 

They clawed at her face and afflicted her with disease, yet Geshtinanna remained silent. 

They tore her garments and threw tar upon her, yet Geshtinanna remained silent. 

They left her alive and continued their search. 

Dumuzid fled to the safety of the sheepfold and coiled himself into a knot to avoid the eyes of his pursuers. 

He heard their feet pounding upon the earth and as they approached the sheepfold he cried aloud in fear. 

The daemons surrounded him and caught him in their hands. 

Utu’s spell was undone and in their grip, he was no longer a snake but a god. 

From afar, Inanna came running with her companions by her side. 

From afar, his sister cried out when she saw him bound as a captive. 

Geshtinanna: Do not take my brother into the grave, instead let me go in his place!

Narrator: The daemons stood silently with Dumuzid among them. 

Inanna was moved by her sister-in-law’s sorrow. 

Inanna was moved by her despair and wept with her. 

Inanna: May it be ever so in part!

May it be that Dumuzid take my place for half of the year. 

May it be that his sister, Geshtinanna, take his place upon his return. 

May it be that her devotion be rewarded and that she be given a place of honor in the halls of the Underworld. 

Narrator: The daemons obeyed Inanna’s decree and descended into the Underworld with Dumuzid among them. 

His cried out but his voice was suddenly silenced as the outer gates of the Underworld closed behind his captors. 

Dumuzid was led as a captive through the seven gates and was taken before the great throne of Ereshkigal. 

He bowed low and praised her name, beseeching her for mercy. 

Here ends the story of Inanna, who descended into the Underworld.

Here ends the story of Inanna, who desired its holy throne. 

Here ends the story of Inanna, who died and rose again. 

Here ends the story of Inanna, who sent her beloved husband to take her place in the House of Dust. 

May the people lament the loss of Dumuzid. 

May the people mourn in sackcloth and dust. 

May the people cry out for the son who once lived and now dwells in the Great Below. 

May Ereshkigal be praised…

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