Hymn to ISHTAR


There were two dialects in ancient Sumeria, and the invocatory hymns were composed in what was known as “the women’s language”. It must not be inferred, however, that the ladies of Sumeria had established a speech which differed from that used by men. The reference would appear to be to a softer and homelier dialect, perhaps the oldest of the two, in which poetic emotion found fullest and most beautiful expression. In these ancient days, as in our own, the ideal of womanhood was the poet’s chief source of inspiration, and among the hymns the highest reach of poetic art was attained in the invocation of Ishtar, the Babylonian Venus. The following hymn is addressed to that deity in her Valkyrie-like character as a goddess of war, but her more feminine traits are not obscured:-

 To thee I cry, O lady of the gods, Lady of ladies, goddess without peer, Ishtar who shapes the lives of all mankind, Thou stately world queen, sovereign of the sky,  And lady ruler of the host of heaven–lustrious is thy name… O light divine, Gleaming in lofty splendour o’er the earth–Heroic daughter of the moon, oh! hear; Thou dost control our weapons and award  In battles fierce the victory at will– crown’d majestic Fate.

Ishtar most high, Who art exalted over all the gods, Thou bringest lamentation; thou dost urge    With hostile hearts our brethren to the fray;  The gift of strength is thine for thou art strong; Thy will is urgent, brooking no delay; Thy hand is violent, thou queen of war Girded with battle and enrobed with fear…  Thou sovereign wielder of the wand of Doom, The heavens and earth are under thy control.

Adored art thou in every sacred place, In temples, holy dwellings, and in shrines, Where is thy name not lauded? where thy will  Unheeded, and thine images not made? Where are thy temples not up-reared? O, where Art thou not mighty, peerless, and supreme?

Anu and Bel and Ea have thee raised to rank supreme, in majesty and pow’r, They have established thee above the gods And all the host of heaven… O stately queen, At thought of thee the world is filled with fear, The gods in heaven quake, and on the earth All spirits pause, and all mankind bow down With reverence for thy name… O Lady Judge,

Thy ways are just and holy; thou dost gaze On sinners with compassion, and each morn leadest the wayward to the rightful path.

Now linger not, but come! O goddess fair, O shepherdess of all, thou drawest nigh With feet unwearied… Thou dost break the bonds Of these thy handmaids… When thou stoopest o’er The dying with compassion, lo! they live; And when the sick behold thee they are healed.

Hear me, thy servant! hearken to my pray’r, For I am full of sorrow and I sigh In sore distress; weeping, on thee I wait. Be merciful, my lady, pity take And answer, “‘Tis enough and be appeased”.

How long must my heart sorrow and make moan And restless be? How long must my dark home Be filled with mourning and my soul with grief?

O lioness of heaven, bring me peace And rest and comfort. Hearken to my pray’r! Is anger pity? May thine eyes look down  With tenderness and blessings, and behold Thy servant. Oh! have mercy; hear my cry  And un-bewitch me from the evil spells, That I may see thy glory… Oh! how long shall these my foes pursue me, working ill, And robbing me of joy?… Oh! how long  Shall demons compass me about and cause Affliction without end?… I thee adore–

The gift of strength is thine and thou art strong– The weakly are made strong, yet I am weak… O hear me! I am glutted with my grief– This flood of grief by evil winds distressed; My heart hath fled me like a bird on wings, And like the dove I moan. Tears from mine eyes Are falling as the rain from heaven falls, And I am destitute and full of woe.

What have I done that thou hast turned from me? Have I neglected homage to my god And thee my goddess? O deliver me And all my sins forgive, that I may share Thy love and be watched over in thy fold; And may thy fold be wide, thy pen secure.

How long wilt thou be angry? Hear my cry,  And turn again to prosper all my ways–O may thy wrath be crumbled and withdrawn As by a crumbling stream. Then smite my foes, And take away their power to work me ill, That I may crush them. Hearken to my pray’r! And bless me so that all who me behold May laud thee and may magnify thy name, While I exalt thy power over all–Ishtar is highest! Ishtar is the queen! Ishtar the peerless daughter of the moon!



 BY: Donald A. Mackenzie



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