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Literature / Nergal and Ereshkigal

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An important piece of Mesopotamian Mythology, and one of the oldest written stories.

The story is about the god Nergal causing a diplomatic turmoil with Irkalla, the underworld ruled by goddess Ereshkigal, and how it carries on to their eventual marriage.

Possibly the oldest Romantic Comedy in history.

Tropes in Nergal and Ereshkigal include:

  • The All-Solving Hammer: Namtar genuinely wants Ereshkigal's happiness, but his only proposed way to solve the misunderstanding and bring Nergal back is taking him forcefully to the underworld. Even after it is made clear that Nergal does have feelings for Ereshkigal, Namtar still only thinks in capturing him by force.
  • Balancing Death's Books: A variation. Nergal is still the owner of his life after he leaves Irkalla, but as he has caused Ereshkigal lose her Virgin Power and thus she cannot continue ruling her place, he is obligued to return and share her functions. At least according to her, that is; it might perfectly be all an excuse to bring the hunk back to her.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Nergal and Ereshkigal share one, but unlike most examples, things turn worse instead of better when they free their tension, and it is necessary a new measure to solve it.
  • Book Ends: Ereshkigal and Nergal spend six days on bed before all their trouble and other six days after everything is solved.
  • Break the Haughty: Ereshkigal is portrayed as a Spoiled Brat through most of the story, but when Nergal abandons her, she breaks down and reveals how lonely she feels in her kingdom and that she has genuinely fallen in love with him despite (or because) all the mess. It's implied that after having tasted love, the underworld would be even more sour for her without her lover.
  • Chickification: Ereshkigal becomes the co-ruler of Irkalla after having been the sole queen up to that point, although it is justified in-story in that she actually prefers it that way because she always felt alone in her job.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Ea, as always, has an array of useful tricks to protect Nergal from harm.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: Nergal is a plague god, while Ereshkigal is the goddess of the dead, and they are both a pair of asses (he does a lot of things out of egotism and/or arrogance, while she throws dangerous tantrums at the brim of a hat). However, they both ultimately mean well, and nothing in later Mesopotamian mythology indicates they don't fulfill their cosmic tasks properly.
  • I'm a Man; I Can't Help It:
    • Before Nergal travels to Irkalla, Ea warns him about not to eat, drink, bath or bang Ereshkigal while in the underworld, as he would be cursed. Rather predictably, he obeys all of them except by the last, to Ereshkigal's delight, and they end up sharing a bed for six days.
    • The story also implies a romantic subtext aside from a merely sexual one, as he is described to give in "to his heart's desire". However, the fact that this is the first statement of his own love for her (nothing is mentioned about Nergal's feelings up to that point, anyway), it's possibly being implied that he fell in love with her upon seeing her naked, as per the classical tradition that men reach love through sex while women reach sex through love.
  • I Have Many Names: Nergal is also named Erra or Irra in the text.
  • I Love You Because I Can't Control You: Ea predicts that Ereshkigal will try to seduce Nergal, the only god who didn't bow to her emissary, so he will stay with her forever. He is right, as she is (or ends up) smitten with him, and it only becomes worse when he escapes from her amorous clutches.
  • Jerkass Gods: Though this time they are mostly jerkasses to each other and not towards mortals.
  • Lonely Rich Kid: Ereshkigal was abducted by the dragon Kur as a young girl and carried to the underworld a long time ago. Although she is now its queen, she states she never knew "the playing of other girls or the romping of children".
  • Love Redeems: In both ways. Ereshkigal used to be a cruel cthonic goddess, but she warms up after falling in love with Nergal. He is also kind of a selfish rogue at first, but he eventually accepts their love and becomes her partner.
  • Noble Demon: Ereshkigal and Namtar are genuinely preoccupied about the underworld's workings and laws. In fact, the entire story starts only because someone broke one of them.
  • Oral Tradition: The story was clearly this before it was recorded, as evidenced by the repetition.
  • Our Demons Are Different: Irkalla has creatures guarding its gates, while Ea gives Nergal seven demons to protect him.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Ea disguises Nergal as a god "bareheaded, blinking and cringing" so Namtar doesn't recognize him when he comes for him. While this doesn't make precisely for a discreet disguise, it works wonders with Namtar (although Ereshkigal eventually realizes the ruse and sends him back).
  • Romantic Comedy: As mentioned above, this might be one of the first examples in history. Although the story has a trascendent theme and entails changes in the Mesopotamian pantheon, there's an undeniably lighthearted tone in the way things get messed up through the gods' actions, has an emotional moment when Ereshkigal confesses her loneliness, and ultimately ends in heartwarming fashion when she and Nergal become a couple forever.
  • To Hell and Back: Nergal does this, and eventually settles down there.
  • Tsundere: Ereshkigal is a type A. Nergal might also count.
  • Undying Loyalty: The vizier Namtar to Ereshkigal.
  • Unholy Matrimony: Thematically speaking, the matrimony of Ereshkigal and Nergal unites the queen of the Netherworld with the god of plagues and war - supply and demand, in a way. Subverted otherwise, however, because none of the two is actually evil and their union only puts a Happy Ending to a cosmic conflict.
  • The Vamp: Ereshkigal deliberately allows Nergal to see her naked while she enters her bath, knowing he will fall for it. She is most sympathetic than many examples, however, because she acts on loneliness rather than more nefarious goals.
  • Virgin Power: Ereshkigal claims that making love to Nergal has left her impure and thus unfit to keep ruling the underworld, though it's also possible she was bluffing in order to give the gods more reasons to send Nergal back to her.
  • What the Hell, Hero?
  • Zombie Apocalypse: Ereshkigal threatens the gods with rising the dead so they will eat the living if Nergal doesn't come back to her realm.