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Nergal


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West Asia

According to one Babylonian myth, it happened that Ereshkigal, ‘the mistress of death’, summoned Nergal to account for his refusal to stand up in the assembly of the gods before her envoy. The gods agreed that Nergal should depart from them, and Ea gave him an escort of fourteen demons who caused sickness. The exiled god used these horrible comrades to advantage in seizing the seven portals of the nether world. Once inside the throne room himself, Nergal seized Ereshkigal by the hair and cast her on the floor. His dagger was only stopped from slitting the goddess's throat through a successful appeal to his masculinity. ‘Kill me not’, cried out Ereshkigal. ‘I shall be your wife and the kingdom of the dead acknowledge your sovereignty. In your hand I shall place the tablets of wisdom.’ Nergal accepted the proposal and henceforth as her consort ruled in death. A variant legend recounts his return to the assembly of the gods, whence a distraught Ereshkigal enticed him back to her bed. Her ultimatum to the gods was: Nergal, or the cessation of all fertility and life on earth. This fertility aspect of the chthonic goddess was a Sumerian inheritance.

Nergal was represented as wearing a crown and waited upon by fourteen grusome attendants. His city was Cutha, whose name could have meant the land of the dead. Associated with him were the plague and the destructive power of the sun: he was Irra, the god of pestilence, fire, battle, and the desert, also he was the sun god Shamash who lent fierce winds to Gilgamesh and Enkidu in their fight with the giant Huwawa. Nergal was feared and zealously propitiated. The Babylonians thought that to lose the favour of a god was the beginning of trouble. They believed the divine spirit inhabited the body of its servant. To show displeasue or wrath this protective presence had only to be withdrawn. ‘Then the one without a god’, a tablet explains, ‘headache covers like a garment when he walks in the street.’.

Subjects: Religion.


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