"Inanna's Descent to the Netherworld": A centennial survey of scholarship, artifacts, and translations

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ABSTRACT: An ancient Sumerian proverb may be read as “good fortune [is embedded in] organisation and wisdom.” [1] The present centennial survey is solely about organizing the last one hundred years of scholarship for a Sumerian afterlife myth named “Inanna’s Descent to the Netherworld.” The initial discovery of artifacts with snippets of the myth can be dated to as early as 1889. English translations of the myth emerged around 1920 and were followed by numerous archaeological expeditions and subsequent translation efforts. Such efforts, by many scholars and institutions, resulted in an authoritative 2001 version of the myth published by the University of Oxford via the Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature (ETCSL). The 2001 version, titled “Inana’s descent to the nether world” is 412 lines long and utilizes over fifty cuneiform artifacts (sources). The impact of this work has been mainstream and interdisciplinary interest in Inanna, the myth, and her role in antiquity. However, the technical nature of studying ancient Sumer may alienate a broader audience. The survey contained herein attempts to organize and explain the key people, concepts, events, and institutions involved with the discovery of “Inanna’s Descent.” Non-technical readers can expect to learn how and why we arrived at the likely complete translation we have today. Light background information and a chronology of scholarly work are followed by a brief discussion on promising areas of further research. The appendix contains a comprehensive catalog of referenced artifact data.

[1] Jeremy A. Black and Graham E. Cunningham, “Proverbs: Collection 1,” The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature (ETCSL), University of Oxford (1998-2003), last modified June 13, 2002, http://etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk/proverbs/t.6.1.01.html. [Segment A, No. 25]


For Huey; Winner of the 2020 Library Award for Undergraduate Research