Inanna Prefers the Farmer: Marriage, Sex and Divorce in Ancient Sumeria

Imagine this: two men, one a farmer, the other a shepherd, attempt to win divine affection.

In the end, the deity favors the shepherd.

Now, this might make you think of Cain and Abel from the Biblical Book of Genesis.

Abel, the shepherd, was slain by his brother Cain, the farmer, because God preferred Abel’s sacrificial offerings.

There is however, is a slightly less known story, though we’ve met some of the characters before.

This is the tale known as Inanna Prefers the Farmer

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Before we began, let’s review the ending of Inanna’s Descent:

After escaping the Underworld, a host of demons follow Inanna. Eager to claim someone to take her place, she lets them drag her faithless husband Dumuzid to Hell.

So, spoilers; divorce is looming.

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Inanna Prefers the Farmer:

While Inanna and her brother Utu exchanged some playful banter, Utu slowly broke the news to his sister: it was time for her to get married.

Two men* came to woo her:

Dumuzid the shepherd and Enkmidu the farmer.

At any rate, Inanna preferred the farmer. Hence the title of the story.

However, Utu thought Dumuzid was better suited for her; they both argued that a shepherd could provide everything a farmer could, and then some.

Apparently, she was convinced, and took Dumuzid to be her husband.

Incidentally, unlike Cain and Abel, the farmer and the shepherd parted ways amicably, exchanging gifts and farewells.

*[technically, Dumuzid was a deity, being the child of Enki and Ninsun]

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If Inanna and Dumuzid’s marriage sounds a bit contractual, their relationship quickly became intimate, showcasing the unapologetically erotic side of Babylonian culture:

Probably NSFW:
My vulva, the horn,
The Boat of Heaven,
Is full of eagerness like the young moon.
My untilled land lies fallow.
As for me, Inanna,
Who will plow my vulva?
Who will plow my high field?
Who will plow my wet ground?
As for me, the young woman,
Who will plow my vulva?
Who will station the ox there?
Who will plow my vulva?

*

Make your milk sweet and thick, my bridegroom.
My shepherd, I will drink your fresh milk.
Wild bull, Dumuzi, make your milk sweet and thick.
I will drink your fresh milk.
Let the milk of the goat flow in my sheepfold.
Fill my holy churn with honey cheese.
Lord Dumuzi, I will drink your fresh milk.

Translations by Samuel Noah Kramer and Diane Wolkstein.

For more, see Wolkstein, Diane; Kramer, Samuel Noah, Inanna: Queen of Heaven and Earth: Her Stories and Hymns from Sumer

1280px-Samuel_and_Saidye_Bronfman_Archaeology_WingDSCN4978
Erotic terracotta votive plaque dating to the Old Babylonian Period(c. 1830 BC — c. 1531) depicting Inanna and Dumuzdi in happier times. Housed in the Samuel and Saidye Bronfman Archaeology Wing in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem

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What’s the take away?

At some point in the ancient past, we went from tending gardens to domesticating livestock.

This story shows the significance of women in that transformation.

In the end, it’s Inanna’s choice, not the other way around.

In fact, Damuzid is put in the position of having to defend how he, as a shepherd, could provide for Inanna better than the farmer.

The conclusion reached by Inanna – and by perhaps, by extension, Babalyonian matrimonial culture – was that a shepherd was indeed good marriage material, a decision that her family (Utu) supported.

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The power of women is a repetitive theme in Babylonian myth: in the Epic of Gilgamesh, it is the civilizing force of female sexuality that draws the wild man Enkidu out of the forest and into the city.

(incidentally, it is Inanna who kills Enkidu, sending Gilgamesh into an existential crisis that leads him to the Ark of the (Babylonian) Flood).

Likewise, it is safe to assume that Inanna empowers and transforms Dumuzid.

While male heroes may have chose to build the city states of Babylon, it was the women of Babylon who chose the heroes.

However, that which is chosen can also be cast aside,

or below…

Inanna and Dumuzid:

Marriage,

Sex,

Divorce.

Death?

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So, the next time you forget/neglect/ignore your partner, remember the fate of Dumuzid:

Hell hath no fury like an Inanna scorned…

(I wonder if she ever looked up the farmer again)

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Epilogue:

There are two more poems in the extended Dumuzid cycle, the Dream of Dumuzid and the Return of Dumuzid.

Taken as a whole, it brings back Dumuzid as a Persephone-like fertility deity, spending half the year with Inanna (who forgave him), while he winters with her sister, Ershkigal, in the Underworld.

So if you think Hollywood invented the sequel/retcon, you need to go back several millennia. As Damuzid proves, there’s no hero a franchise can’t unkill.

Dumuzi_aux_enfers
Dumuzid, flanked by two snakes, being tortured by the Gala demons in the Underworld. British museum.

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