Astarte


Astarte is the name of a goddess as known from Northwestern Semitic regions, cognate in name, origin and functions with the goddess Ishtar in Mesopotamian texts. Another transliteration is 'Ashtart; other names for the goddess. According to scholar Mark S. Smith, Astarte may be the Iron Age (after 1200 BC) incarnation of the Bronze Age (to 1200 BC) Asherah.

Astarte was connected with fertility, sexuality, and war. Her symbols were the lion, the horse, the sphinx, the dove, and a star within a circle indicating the planet Venus. Pictorial representations often show her naked.

Astarte first appears in Ancient Egypt beginning in the Eighteenth dynasty of Egypt along with other deities who were worshipped by northwest Semitic people. She was worshipped especially in her aspect of a warrior goddess, often paired with the goddess Anat.

In the Contest Between Horus and Set, these two goddesses appear as daughters of Re and are given in marriage to the god Set, here identified with the Semitic name Hadad. Astarte also was identified with the lioness warrior goddess Sekhmet, but seemingly more often conflated, at least in part, with Isis to judge from the many images found of Astarte suckling a small child.

Indeed there is a statue of the 6th century BC in the Cairo Museum, which normally would be taken as portraying Isis with her child Horus on her knee and which in every detail of iconography follows normal Egyptian conventions, but the dedicatory inscription reads: "Gersaphon, son of Azor, son of Slrt, man of Lydda, for his Lady, for Astarte."

Plutarch, in his On Isis and Osiris, indicates that the King and Queen of Byblos, who, unknowingly, have the body of Osiris in a pillar in their hall, are Melcarthus and Astarte (though he notes some instead call the Queen Saosis or Nemanus, which Plutarch interprets as corresponding to the Greek name Athenais).

Astarte was accepted by the Greeks under the name of Aphrodite. The island of Cyprus, one of Astarte's greatest faith centers, supplied the name Cypris as Aphrodite's most common byname. Other major centers of Astarte's worship were Sidon, Tyre, and Byblos. Coins from Sidon portray a chariot in which a globe appears, presumably a stone representing Astarte. In Sidon, she shared a temple with Eshmun. At Beirut coins show Poseidon, Astarte, and Eshmun worshipped together.

Other faith centers were Cytherea, Malta, and Eryx in Sicily from which she became known to the Romans as Venus Erycina. A bilingual inscription on the Pyrgi Tablets dating to about 500 BC found near Caere in Etruria equates Astarte with Etruscan Uni-Astre that is, Juno. At Carthage Astarte was worshipped alongside the goddess Tanit.

Donald Harden in The Phoenicians discusses a statuette of Astarte from Tutugi (Galera) near Granada in Spain dating to the 6th or 7th century BC in which Astarte sits on a throne flanked by sphinxes holding a bowl beneath her breasts which are pierced. A hollow in the statue would have been filled with milk through the head and gentle heating would have melted wax plugging the holes in her breasts, producing an apparent miracle when the milk emerged.

The Syrian goddess Atargatis (Semitic form 'Atar'atah) was generally equated with Astarte and the first element of the name appears to be related to the name Astarte.

Astarte appears in Ugaritic texts under the name 'Athtart', but is little mentioned in those texts. 'Athtart and 'Anat together hold back Ba'al from attacking the other deities. Astarte also asks Ba'al to "scatter" Yamm "Sea" after Ba'al's victory. 'Athtart is called the "Face of Ba'al".

Astarte described by Sanchuniathon

In the description of the Phoenician pantheon ascribed to Sanchuniathon Astarte appears as a daughter of Sky and Earth and sister of the God El. After El overthrows and banishes his father Sky, as some kind of trick Sky sends to El his "virgin daughter" Astarte along with her sisters Asherah and the goddess who will later be called Ba'alat Gebal, "the Lady of Byblos". It seems that this trick does not work as all three become wives of their brother El. Astarte bears to El children who appear under Greek names as seven daughters called the Titanides or Artemides and two sons named Pothos "Longing" and Eros "Desire".

Later we see, with El's consent, Astarte and Hadad reigning over the land together. Astarte, puts the head of a bull on her own head to symbolize Her sovereignty. Wandering through the world Astarte takes up a star that has fallen from the sky (meteorite) and consecrates it at Tyre.




Astarte in Judea

The Masoretic pointing in the Hebrew Tanach (bible) indicate the pronunciation as Astoret instead of the expected Asteret, probably because the two last syllables have here been pointed with the vowels belonging to boshet "abomination" to indicate that word should be substituted when reading. The plural form is pointed Astoret.

For what seems to be the use of the Hebrew plural form Astoret as the name of a demon, see also Astaroth.

Astarte, or Ashtoret in Hebrew, was the principal goddess of the Phoenicians, representing the productive power of nature. She was a lunar goddess and was adopted by the Egyptians as a daughter of Ra or Ptah.

In Jewish mythology, She is referred to as Ashtoreth, supposedly interpreted as a female demon of lust in Hebrew monotheism. The name Asherah may also be confused with Ashtoreth, but is probably a different goddess.

Astarte means "she of the womb" in Canaanite and Hebrew. When the Hebrews turned from goddess-worship to a religion centered on the male Yahweh (or Jehovah), her name Athtarath was deliberately mis-rendered as Ashtoreth ("shameful thing") and confused with Asherah (see Monaghan). Depicted variously as a death-dealing virgin warrior, a life-giving mother, and a wanton of unbridled sexuality, her emblems were the moon and the morning and evening stars (the planet Venus). Astarte was a warrior goddess of Canaan and Syria who is a Western Semitic counterpart of the Akkadian Ishtar worshipped in Mesopotamia.

In the Egyptian pantheon to which she was officially admitted during the 18th Dynasty, her prime association is with horses and chariots. On the stela set up near the sphinx by Amenhotep II celebrating his prowess, Astarte is described as delighting in the impressive equestrian skill of the monarch when he was still only crown prince. In her iconography her aggression can be seen in the bull horns she sometimes wears as a symbol of domination. Similarly, in her Levantine homelands, Astarte is a battlefield goddess. For example, when the Peleset (Philistines) killed Saul and his three sons on Mount Gilboa, they deposited the enemy armor as spoils in the temple of "Ashtoreth".

Like Anat, she is the daughter of Re and the wife of the god Seth, but also has a relationship with the god of the sea.

From the fragmentary papyrus giving the legend of Astarte and the sea we learn that Yamm, the sea god, demanded tribute from the gods, particularly Renenutet. Her place is then taken by Astarte called, in this aspect, "daughter of Ptah". The story is lost from that point on but one assumes this liaison resulted in the goddess tempering the arrogance of Yamm.

It should also be noted that outside of Egypt, as well as being a warlike goddess, Astarte seems to have had sexual and motherhood attributes and is sometimes identified with Isis.

Asherah, Athirat ("Lady Asherah of the Sea", "she who gives birth", "wet-nurse of the gods") (Canaanite and Hebrew). Her name seems to come from a root meaning "straight," perhaps signifying both moral rectitude and the upright trees or pieces of wood in which her essence was believed to dwell. In homes, she was represented by a simple, woman-shaped clay figurine with, instead of legs, a tapered base which was inserted in the floor of the home.

She was also depicted as a naked, curly-haired goddess standing on her sacred lion and holding lilies and serpents in upraised hands. According to one source, she was "the force of life, experienced as benevolent and enduring, found in flocks of cattle and groves of trees, evoked in childbirth and in planting time."

She was also called Elat ("Goddess"). Her dying-god consort may have been Yahweh. After the shift among the Hebrews to the worship of the male Yahweh, a centuries-long campaign to stamp out her worship began, in which she was deliberately confused with the more wantonly sexual Astarte.




A later, Babylonian form of the Sumerian Inanna, but also identified with Asherah and Astarte. Like Inanna, she loved a dying and reborn vegetation god (Tammuz), whom she descended into the underworld in rescue of after his death. There, she supplicates herself before the queen of the Underworld, Erishkegal (no doubt, the death form of herself). Her emblems were the moon and the morning and evening stars (the planet Venus).

Ishtar ("light-giving queen of heaven") (Babylon)

Ishtar, also known as Htar (or Inanna in Sumerian mythology), the name of the chief goddess of Babylonia and Assyria, the counterpart of the Phoenician Astarte. The meaning of the name is not known, though it is possible that the underlying stem is the same as that of Assur, which would thus make her the "leading one" or "chief." At all events it is now generally recognized that the name is Semitic in its origin. Where the name originated is likewise uncertain, but the indications point to Erech where we find the worship of a great mother goddess independent of any association with a male counterpart flourishing in the oldest period of Babylonian history. She appears under various names, among which are Nana, Innanna, Nina and Anunit.

As early as the days of Khammurabi we find these various names which represented originally different goddesses, though all manifest as the chief trait the life-giving power united in Ishtar. Even when the older names are employed it is always the great mother-goddess who is meant. Ishtar is the one goddess in the pantheon who retains her independent position despite and throughout all changes that the Babylonian-Assyrian religion undergoes. Even when Ishtar is viewed as the consort of some chief - of Marduk occasionally in the south, of Assur more frequently in the north - the consciousness that she has a personality of her own apart from this association is never lost sight of.

With Adbeel may be identified Idibi'il (-ba'il) a tribe, employed by Tiglath-Pileser IV. ('l33 B.c.) to watch the frontier of Musri (Sinaitic peninsula or Northern Arabia). This is suggested by the fact that Ashurbanipal (7th century) mentions as the name of their deity Atar-Samain (i.e. "Ishtar of the heavens").

We may reasonably assume that the analogy drawn from the process of reproduction among men and animals led to the conception of a female deity presiding over the life of the universe. The extension of the scope of this goddess to life in general - to the growth of plants and trees from the fructifying seed - was a natural outcome of a fundamental idea; and so, whether we turn to incantations or hymns, in myths and in epics, in votive inscriptions and in historical annals, Ishtar is celebrated and invoked as the great mother, as the mistress of lands, as clothed in splendor and power - one might almost say as the personification of life itself.

But there are two aspects to this goddess of life. She brings forth, she fertilizes the fields, she clothes nature in joy and gladness, but she also withdraws her favors and when she does so the fields wither, and men and animals cease to reproduce. In place of life, barrenness and death ensue. She is thus also a grim goddess, at once cruel and destructive. We can, therefore, understand that she was also invoked as a goddess of war and battles and of the chase; and more particularly among the warlike Assyrians she assumes this aspect.

Before the battle she appears to the army, clad in battle array and armed with bow and arrow. In myths symbolizing the change of seasons she is portrayed in this double character, as the life-giving and the life-depriving power. The most noteworthy of these myths describes her as passing through seven gates into the nether world.

At each gate some of her clothing and her ornaments are removed until at the last gate she is entirely naked. While she remains in the nether world as a prisoner - whether voluntary or involuntary it is hard to say - all fertility ceases on Earth, but the time comes when she again returns to Earth, and as she passes each gate the watchman restores to her what she had left there until she is again clad in her full splendor, to the joy of mankind and of all nature.

Closely allied with this myth and personifying another view of the change of seasons is the story of Ishtar's love for her son and consort Tammuz - symbolizing the spring time - but as midsummer approaches her husband is slain and, according to one version, it is for the purpose of saving Tammuz from the clutches of the goddess of the nether world that she enters upon her journey to that region.

In all the great centres Ishtar had her temples, bearing such names as E-anna, "heavenly house," in Erech; E-makh, "great house," in Babylon; E-mash-mash, "house of offerings," in Nineveh. Of the details of her cult we as yet know little, but there is no evidence that there were obscene rites connected with it, though there may have been certain mysteries introduced at certain centres which might easily impress the uninitiated as having obscene aspects. She was served by priestesses as well as by priests, and it would appear that the votaries of Ishtar were in all cases virgins who, as long as they remained in the service of Ishtar, were not permitted to marry.

In the astral-theological system, Ishtar becomes the planet Venus, and the double aspect of the goddess is made to correspond to the strikingly different phases of Venus in the summer and winter seasons. On monuments and seal-cylinders she appears frequently with how and arrow, though also simply clad in long robes with a crown on her head and an eight-rayed star as her symbol.

Statuettes have been found in large numbers representing her as naked with her arms folded across her breast or holding a child. The art thus reflects the popular conceptions formed of the goddess. Together with Sin, the Moon god, and Shamash, the Sun god, she is the third figure in a triad personifying the three great forces of nature - Moon, Sun and Earth, as the life-force. The doctrine involved illustrate, the tendency of the Babylonian priests to centralize the manifestations of divine power in the universe, just as the triad Anu, Bel and ha - the heavens, the earth and the watery deep - form another illustration of this same tendency.

Naturally, as a member of a triad, Ishtar is dissociated from any local limitations, and similarly as the planet Venus - a conception which is essentially a product of theological speculation - no though of any particular locality for her cult is present. It is because the cult, like that of Sin and Shamash, is spread over al Babylonia and Assyria, that she becomes available for purposes of theological speculation.



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