The richest and the poorest here must stay,
Each proud or humble maid must take her way;
To Ishtar’s temple grand, a lofty shrine,
With youth and beauty seek her aid divine.
Some drive in covered chariots of gold,
With courtly trains come to the temple old.
With ribbons on their brows all take their seats,
The richer maid of nobles, princes, waits
Within grand chambers for the nobler maids;
The rest all sit within the shrine’s arcades.
Thus fill the temple with sweet beauties, crones;
The latest maids are the most timid ones.
In rows the maidens sat along the halls
And vestibules, on couches, where the walls
Were carved with mystic signs of Ishtar’s feast;
Till at the inner shrine the carvings ceased.
Amid the crowd long silken cords were strung
To mark the paths, and to the pillows clung.
The King through the great crowd now pressed his way
Toward the inner shrine, where he may pray.
The jewelled maidens on the cushioned seats,
Now babbling hailed the King, and each entreats
For sacred service, silver or of gold,
And to him, all, their sweetest charms unfold.
Some lovely were, in tears besought and cried,
And many would a blooming bride provide;
While others were deformed and homely, old,
As spinsters still remained, till now grown bold,
They raised their bony arms aloft and bawled.
Some hideous were with harshest voices squalled,
And hags like “dal-khi” from the Under-World,
Their curses deep, growled forth from where they curled.
But these were few and silent soon became,
And hid their ugliness away in shame.
For years some maids had waited day and night,
But beauty hides the ugly ones from sight.
The King astounded, eyed them seated round;
Beneath their gaze his eyes fell to the ground.
“And hath great Accad lost so many sons,
And left so many maids unmarried ones?”
He eyed the image where the goddess stood
Upon a pedestal of cedar wood
O’erlaid with gold and pearls and “uk-ni” stones,
And near it stands the altar with its cones
Of gold adorned with gems and solid pearls,–
And from the golden censer incense curls.
Beside the altar stands a table grand
Of solid metal carved with skilful hand;
Upon it stands a mass of golden ware,
With wines and fruits which pious hands prepare.
The walls are glistening with gold and gems,
The priestesses all wear rich diadems.
The Sar now eyes the maidens, while they gaze;
Thus they expectant wait, while he surveys.
And see! he takes from them a charming girl
With Ishtar’s eyes and perfect form, the pearl
Of beauty of them all; turns to the shrine,
When in her lap he drops a golden coin,
And says, “The goddess Ishtar, prosper thee!”
She springs, for she from Ishtar’s halls is free,
And kneels and weeps before the monarch’s feet,
“O great and mighty Sar I thee entreat,
My will is thine, but all my sisters free:
Behold my sisters here imploring thee!”
The King gazed at the beauteous pleading face,
Which roused within his breast the noble race
Before her heavenly charms transfixed he stood.
Before her heavenly charms transfixed he stood.
“‘Tis well! my daughter, I the favor grant!”
And to the priestess said, “Let here be sent
Great coffers filled with gold! for I release
These maids. Let all their weary waiting cease,
The price I’ll send by messengers to thee.”
And all rejoicing sing a psalmody.
A ring of maidens round the image forms;
With flashing eyes they sing, with waving arms,
A wilderness of snowy arms and feet,
To song and dance the holy measure beat;
A mass of waving ringlets, sparkling eyes.
In wildest transport round each maiden flies,
The measure keeps to sacred psalmody,
With music ravishing,–sweet melody.
The priestess leads for them the holy hymn,
Thus sing they, measure keep with body, limb:
”Let length of days, long lasting years,
With sword of power, extend his holy life!
With years extended full of glory, shine,
Pre-eminent above all kings in strife.
Oh, clothe our king, our lord, with strength divine,
Who with such gifts to gods appears!
“Let his great empire’s limits be,
Now vast and wide, enlarged, and may he reign
(Till it shall spread before his eyes complete)
Supreme above all kings! May he attain
To silver hairs, old age, and nations greet
Our sovereign in his royalty!
“When gifts are ended of Life’s days,
The feasts of the Land of the Silver Sky,
With bliss, the Blest Abode Refulgent Courts,
May he enjoy through all eternity,
Where Light of Happy Fields with joy transports
And dwell in life eternal, holy there
In presence of the gods with sacred cheer,
With Assur’s gods walk blessed ways!”
When they have ended all their joyful song,
They gratefully around their monarch throng;
And kneeling at his feet, they bathe his hands
With tears of joy, and kiss the ‘broidered bands
Of his bright robes, then joyous haste away;
And Erech’s shame was ended on that day.
And now the Sar as his libation pours
The sparkling sacred wine before the doors
That lead to Ishtar’s glorious inner shrine.
He bows before her golden form divine,
”In thy fair shrine I bow to thee,
O Light of Heaven! bright thy majesty
As glowing flames upon the world doth dawn,
Bright goddess of the earth, thy fixed abode!
Who dawned upon the earth a glorious god!
With thee prosperity hath ever gone.
To gild the towers of cities of mankind!
Thou warrior’s god, who rideth on the wind!
As a hyena fierce thou sendest war,
And as a lion comes thy raging car.
Each day thou rulest from thy canopy
That spreads above in glory,–shines for thee;
O come, exalted goddess of the Sun!”
Against the tyrant King I go to war,
Attend mine arms, O Queen! with radiant car
Of battles! ride upon the giant King
With thy bright, fiery chargers! valor bring
To me at rising of the glistening car
Of Samas, send attendants fierce of war!
But goddess Mam-nutu of Fate and Death;
Oh, keep away from me her blasting breath;
Let Samas fix the hour with favor thine,
And o’er mine unknown path, Oh ride divine!
Thy servant strengthen with thy godly power
That he invincible in war may tower,
Against thy chosen city’s greatest foe,
Who brought on Erech all her deepest woe.”
And from the inner shrine with curtains hung,
The Oracle of Ishtar sweetly sung:
“O King of vast unnumbered countries, hear!
Thine enemy Khum-baba do not fear,
My hands will waft the winds for thee.
Thus I reveal!
Khum-baba falls! thine enemy!
Nor aught conceal.
“The harvest month propitious shines,
Array great Accad’s battle lines!
Before thy feet thy Queen descends,
Before thy will thine Ishtar bends,
To fight thine enemy,
To war I go with thee!
My word is spoken, thou hast heard,
For thee, my favor thou hast stirred.
As I am Ishtar of mine Or divine,
Thine enemy shall fall! Be glory thine!
“Before mine Izdubar I go,
And at thy side direct thy blow.
I go with thee, fear not, my King,
For every doubt and fear, I bring
Relief, to thy heart rest!
Of Sars, I love thee best!”
[Footnote 1: The account given by Herodotus of the worship of Beltis or Ishtar, if true (see Herodotus, i. 199), was one of the darkest features of Babylonian religion. It is probable that the first intention was only to represent love as heaven-born, and that it afterward became sensual in the time of Herodotus. (See Sayce’s edition Smith’s “C.A. of Gen.,” p. 50.) The presence of the women may have been intended at first to present an innocent attraction. See also Rawlinson’s “Ancient Monarchies,” vol. iii. p. 21.]—[Footnote 2: See Herodotus, vol. i. p. 199. Ishtar was called Mylitta or Beltis in the time of Herodotus. We have taken the above description from Herodotus, whose work is mostly confirmed by the cuneiform inscriptions.]—[Footnote 3: The above psalm is found in vol. iii. of Rawlinson’s “British Museum Inscriptions,” pl. 66, and was translated by H.F. Talbot, F.R.S., in vol. i. of the “Transactions of the Society of Biblical Archaeology,” p. 108, and also by M. Lenormant in his “Premieres Civilizations,” p. 177. We have used Mr. Talbot’s transcription.]—[Footnote 4: See terra-cotta tablet numbered “S. 954” in the British Museum; also translation by Rev. A.H. Sayce, M.A., in the “Records of the Past,” vol. v. p. 157.]—[Footnote 5: See fragment in Sayce’s edition Smith’s “Chald. Acc. Of Gen.,” p. 220, col. iii.]—[Footnote 6: The harvest month was the month of Sivan, which is mentioned by the Oracle of Ishtar of Arbela. See “Cuneiform Inscriptions of Western Asia,” vol. iv. pl. 68; also “Records of the Past,” vol. xi. pp. 61-62.]
SOURCE: Babylonian and Assyrian Literature (1901): Translated by Leonidas Le Cenci Hamilton, M.A.