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Literature / Inanna's Descent to the Netherworld

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An important piece of Mesopotamian Mythology, and one of the oldest written stories. The story is about the goddess Inanna (later known as Ishtar) going to visit her sister (or possibly alter-ego) Ereshkigal.

Tropes in Inanna's Descent to the Netherworld include:

  • Back from the Dead: Inanna, and later Dumuzi.
  • Balancing Death's Books: Inanna is allowed to come back, but needs to find someone to take her place.
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  • Clothes Make the Superman: Inanna girds herself with clothes and artifacts before her descent, making her powerful. She passes through seven infernal gates, and at each one, part of her clothing is taken from her. When she reaches the throne room, she is naked and therefore powerless, and she is carried off to be tormented.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Inanna anticipates problems, and instructs her priestess exactly what to do.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: Ereshkigal seems mostly portrayed this way.
  • Death Glare: Literally causes death.
  • Evil Twin: Though it is not entirely clear which one is the evil one. See below.
  • Expy: Ereshkigal is a Darker and Edgier version of her younger sister, Inanna. Some scholars believe they were at one point two aspects of the same goddess before becoming separate entities.
  • Faux Action Girl: Inanna. She has to be rescued by her priestess and a male deity. However, this may have been a gambit of sorts. She had already sent out word of her demise ahead of time to her most powerful family members, knowing that no one who was in the underworld could break free on their own.
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  • Gender Flip: In later retellings of the myth, Ninshubur was turned into a male god, to remove homosexual context from the myth.
  • The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry
  • Hero's Journey: One of the stories Campbell used to argue the existence of the monomyth, actually.
  • I Lied: Inanna clearly was not there for the purpose of Gugalana's funerary rites. She was there to nab Ereshkigal's underworld powers in the same way she grabbed Enki's me.
  • Jerkass Gods: A staple of Mesopotamian Mythology
  • "Just So" Story: Explains why we have winter and summer. Inanna, the fertility goddess, lets everything go dormant when her beloved husband is down in the Underworld, and lets things grow in the summer when he's back and she's happy.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Inanna loses her husband for half the year because she tried to steal Ereshkigal's husband Gugalana in The Epic of Gilgamesh only for him to get killed by Gilgamesh and Enkidu and tried to steal Ereshkigal's power.
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  • The Long List: See "Oral Tradition".
  • MacGuffin: Asu-shu-namir, the asexual creatures that help Inanna be brought back to life.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: After Inanna's fury subsides and she realizes the horrible consequences of sicking demons after her husband, she weeps.
  • Nice Guy: Enki, who helps Inanna, despite her earlier stealing his holy me(powers/laws), and the fact she has gone to the underworld nab Ereshkigal's powers in the same way she grabbed Enki's me. Enki in general is the Token Good Teammate among gods.
    • Nice Girl: Ninshubur, who is very loyal to Inanna, and is one of the only really positive characters in this myth, along with Enki.
  • Not So Different: Inanna and Ereshkigal. In fact, Ereshkigal might actually be a Darker and Edgier Expy of Inanna. This is further supported by the interesting thematic relation of the husbands of both women dying in the story as bookends, as well as the link-up between this story and the story where Gilgamesh kills Inanna's bull of heaven (the exact same bull that is the husband of Ereshkigal).
  • Oral Tradition: The story was clearly this before it was recorded, as evidenced by the repetition.
  • Our Demons Are Different: The closest approximation is the Hollows of Bleach fame.
  • Out-of-Clothes Experience: Inanna is stripped of her clothing and jewelry (symbols of her power) to grovel before Ereshkigal.
  • Ow, My Body Part!: Enki tells his servants that when they find Ereshkigal, she will be in pain and moaning things like, "oh, my heart!" and "oh, my liver!" To get on her good side, they are to moan along with her, "oh, your heart!" and "oh, your liver!"
  • Pimped-Out Dress: Inanna wears one during her descent into Irkalla. She's stripped of it partway through by the guards, though, in order to strip her of her power.note 
  • The Powers That Be
  • Rescue: Inanna anticipates problems, and instructs her priestess what to do. The priestess and another deity end up going to rescue Inanna.
  • Screaming Birth: After having killed Inanna, Ereshkigal is implied to be in a sort of crazed, emptiness-induced state of mental breakdown that resembles a very violent labor.
  • Spin-Off: Takes place just after Gilgamesh and his friend kill Gugalana (The Bull of Heaven) in The Epic of Gilgamesh, but is considered its own separate story.
  • Take Me Instead: When Dumuzi is sent to the Underworld in Inanna's place, his sister begs Inanna to let her go instead.
  • Take Over the World: Inanna's reason for going to Irkalla in the first place? She wants dominion over the heavens, Earth, and the underworld, and everything there. She actually gets it, too, though not in the exact way she wanted it and at some great cost.
  • To Hell and Back: One of the oldest stories of this type; possibly even the Ur-Example.
  • Villain Protagonist: Inanna breaks through her own sister's house, casually threatens a Zombie Apocalypse, causes biological reproduction to cease altogether in her absence and ultimately wants domination over all three realms.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Dumuzi gets one of these for not saliently mourning his wife.
  • Yandere: Inanna has her husband, Tammuz/Dumuzid, dragged off to the Underworld for failing to mourn for her while she was dead. Gilgamesh even lists this as one of her defining character traits when refusing her affections, even citing what she did to Tammuz as an example. note  Which doesn't quite make sense if this myth is set after The Epic of Gilgamesh.
  • Zombie Apocalypse: Inanna uses this threat against the gatekeeper if he does not let her in.


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