Tuesday, March 24, 2009

[ Ishtar: the goddess of love and war in Akkadian (Babylonian) Civilization ].

Mythical Sexual Politics

As the term myth may suggest, it is something which is absurd or fictional. Or is it?
While these beliefs and stories need not be a literal account of actual events, they may yet express ideas that are perceived by some people and cultures to be truths at a deeper or more symbolic level. The word myth comes from the Greek word "mythos." The Greek Lexicon Liddell and Scott defines "mythos" as: word and speech. 1

In his essay “Did the Greeks Believe Their Myths?” Paul Veyne writes: "Myth is truthful, but figuratively so. It is not historical truth mixed with lies; it is a high philosophical teaching that is entirely true, on the condition that, instead of taking it literally, one sees in it an allegory." 2

In The Golden Bough (1890), Sir James George Frazer writes that all myths were originally connected with the idea of fertility in nature, with the birth, death, and resurrection of vegetation as a constantly recurring motif. 3

It is very interesting to note that though Mesopotamian, Greek and Hindu civilizations, religions and cultures existed in different parts of the world and were separated by great distances and time, but there are some amazing similarities between their fables and myths. The concept of goddess always lies with sexuality and we find great similarities in all the myths of goddesses in worldwide. In Sumer, the goddess was known as Inanna, and in Babylon and Assyria, was known as Ishtar. She was Aphrodite for the Greeks. The Egyptians called her Hathor, Quaddesha and Aset. To the Phoenicians, she was Astarte. To the Hebrews, she was Ashtoreth and Ashera. And to the Philistines, she was Atergatis.

Though in all these cultures, sex is so suppressed in social conversation that if any one tries to have a conversation about sex or sexuality, some may think of it as "dirty" or "perverted." But in case of myths (if we consider myths as tales of the people), we find a fascination towards sexual orientation has made these myths more attached to sexual fantasies than to other aspects of life. In his book Gay Witchcraft: Empowering the Tribe, Christopher Penczak, an author in the fields of paganism and magic, has elaborately discussed some gods and goddesses created by these myths with the sexual fantasies. For instance, the Greek king Oedipus unwittingly married his mother after killing his father, putting out his eyes when he discovered their identity. The Candomble deity Orungan ravished his mother, Yemanja, who then gave birth to a dozen children as well as the sun and the moon. In one version of the Aztec myth about their mother goddess, Coatlique’s husband physically abused her until one of her several hundred sons took action, killing his father and becoming his mother’s lover. The South American Panare mythology contains an example of father-daughter incest: Whenever the Sun and his daughter the Moon have intercourse, there is a total eclipse. Zeus, who occasionally dallied with handsome human males, was so sexually voracious that he would be positioned near the boiling center of the circle or in other words, at the torrid “heat” of sexual passion. Poseidon, the Greek god of the seas, was not far behind Zeus in his sexual proclivities. He ravished numerous women including the goddess Demeter. He raped Amphitrite, although he latter married her.

In mythology, the gods are often transsexual or can switch sexes in an instant. For example, there is the Balinese god, Syng Hyang Toenggal; a Hindu equivalent would be Indra, the transgendered sky god; and the Nordic equivalent would be the two-gendered Ymir, whose sacrifice was necessary for the creation of the Earth. Quan Yin, the Chinese goddess of compassion, is often pictured with Buddha. She is seen as beyond human conceptions of male or female, and can change her gender at will, as the occasion demands. Hermaphroditus, the son of Aphrodite and Hermes, is a hermaphrodite, giving his name to those whose physiology incorporates both a penis and female breasts. The concept of Ardhanariswara, the “ambisexual” creator god in Hindu mythology, is also compared with the Aztec god Ometecuhtli, who could give birth to the deities of the four directions. Candomble, an African-Brazilian religion, venerates Oxala, the “ambisexual” god of purity and wisdom. Baron Samedi, the Vodoun deity both of death and sexuality, typically is portrayed wearing both male and female garments, and is often pictured inviting men to engage in anal intercourse with him. Another “ambisexual” Vodoun deity is Damballah, the god of rainbows, peace, and prosperity. 4

In the northern area of Sumeria known as Akkadia, later called Babylonia, women were not confined to the home but instead had a role to play in public life. This was especially true of the priestesses, who owned property and transacted business. Property from family estates was inherited equally by sisters and brothers. A daughter, when she married, was given a dowry that she was allowed to keep in the event of a divorce. Sometime around 2300 BC, all this began to change. The patriarchal form of society began to empower more and the masculine world took a more authoritarian role. A woman might still own property but it was no longer hers to dispose of freely. Now she must first consult her husband and obtain his permission. When Hammurabi formulated his code known as Code of Hammurabi in around 1760 BC , the position of women had obviously been greatly eroded. Sarah Dening 5, the noted dream expert of noted Kingdom, tries to shape sexual roles in different social sequences cited above through myths in her much acclaimed book The Mythology of Sex. 6

Dening pointed her finger to the Sumerian myth of Inanna. She was the goddess of love and procreation, similar to the Hindu goddess Rati Devi; Anath of Canaan, Isis of Egypt, and the Babylonian goddess, Ishtar. All these goddesses were rejoiced in their sexuality. Inanna is often depicted resting her foot on the back of a lion, offering the king the symbolic objects indicating his ruling power. Lions, when associated with feminine deities, represent the other side of their character manifesting undomesticated, fierce, aggressive aspect of the female like the Hindu deity Durga.

Although Inanna was the goddess of love and sexuality, she was also called Mother of Harlots and the Great Whore of Babylon, and she declared of herself as a prostitute. Her holy city of Erech was known as "the town of the sacred courtesans." In no way, therefore, was prostitution in the Babylonian era considered a shameful profession. On the contrary, temples to Ishtar were inhabited by sacred prostitutes or priestesses known as Ishtartu or Joy-Maidens, dedicated to the service of the goddess. Their sexuality was seen as belonging to her, to be used therefore only in the sacred rites undertaken in her worship. Indeed, the original meaning of the word "prostitute" was "to stand on behalf of," that is, to represent, the power of the goddess .7 Curiously perhaps, from a contemporary standpoint, Ishtar was often referred to as "Virgin," implying that her creativity and power were self-engendered and not dependent upon masculine power.

Unlike to the Devdasi system among ancient Hindus where the unmarried maid disciples got married to the gods, in Babylonian culture, the priestesses would undertake the sacred marriage with any male worshipper who wanted union with the goddess. The man, whom the priestess had not met before and would not meet again, spent the night with her in the temple precincts. Their intercourse would put him in contact with the rejuvenating energy of the Goddess, mediated through her priestess who would bestow on him an ecstatic experience. For the priestess, the sexual act represented a ritual offering to the goddess. A very real benefit was therefore enjoyed by all concerned, not least the temple itself which could expect to earn considerable income from such worshippers. Apart from their sexual and commercial activities, temple prostitutes demonstrated considerable gifts in other areas. Because their natural secretions were considered to have a beneficial effect, they were greatly respected as healers of the sick. One clay tablet dating from this era tells us that diseases of the eye can be cured by a harlot's spittle. These women also acted as seers and were skilled in sorcery and prophecy. 8

As a result, priestesses often engaged in commerce and might be involved in import and export, land management, and other profitable endeavors. The modern brothel of our own culture, with its "madam," might perhaps be seen as a somewhat pale reflection of the temple of Ishtar.

According to author Sarah Dening, the myths of Inanna were created when patriarchal milieus had not been in dominant form.

After Hammurabi, comes another myth, the Sumero-Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh. Enkidu and Gilgamesh were two friends having a homosexual relationship. Later they meet the goddess Ishtar, who offers to marry Gilgamesh, promising him untold delights. He, however, preferring his friend Enkidu, rejects her advances in a deeply insulting way, referring to her in derogatory terms:

“Listen to me while I tell the tale of your lovers. There was Tammuz, the lover of your youth. For him you decreed wailing, year after year. You loved the many-coloured roller, but still you struck and broke his wing. You have loved the lion tremendous in strength: seven pits you dug for him, and seven . You have loved the stallion magnificent in battle, and for him, you decreed the whip and spur and a thong. You have loved the shepherd of the flock; he made meal-cake for you day after day and he killed kids for your sake. You struck and turned him into a wolf; now his own herd-boys chase him away. His own hounds worry his flanks." 9

Enraged, Ishtar asks her father to create a heavenly bull to destroy the insolent hero. Gilgamesh and Enkidu kill the bull and Enkidu throws its organs into Ishtar's face. This is too much for the assembly of the gods, who decide that Enkidu must die. This will be the punishment that Gilgamesh must bear. Later, Enkidu is allowed to emerge from the underworld for a visit and Gilgamesh begs him to reveal what death is like.

Aphrodite was the Greek goddess of love and beauty and was famous for her erotic nature. When we compare Ishtar with Aphrodite, we find the former is more free to her will than the later. For example, Ishtar was never forced to sleep with any one against her will, but in case of Aphrodite, we find she had to sleep with many gods even against her will. Ironically, Aphrodite was wed to Hephaestus, who was lame and considered to be the most unattractive of all the gods. This marriage was through no choice of her own, but instead, was arranged by Zeus in order to keep Aphrodite out of trouble. The goddess of love did not take her wedding vows very seriously and was accustomed to having many affairs involving both gods and men. She had constant relations with Mars. Her children by Mars were Harmonia, Deimos (Fear) and Phobos (Panic). She was also the mother of Hermaphroditus with Mercury (Hermes), Priapus with Dionysus (Bacchus), and Beroe (after whom the city Berytus in Lebanon was named) with Adonis. Aphrodite was also the mother of Eryx and Rhodes by Poseidon, Aeneas and Lyrus with Anchises (a mortal king killed by Zeus for drunkenly telling of his affair with Venus), Astynois with Phaethon (a beautiful young boy whom Venus ravished), Eryx with Butes (of Jason and the Argonauts), and Eros (Cupid) and Anteros (the avenging spirit of spurned love) by unknown fathers.

Referring to the transformation of ethical values of myths with the change of milieus in society, Dening writes “Given that myths tend to reflect aspects of the culture prevalent at the time, we may surmise that intimate relationships between men were not considered unusual. This could perhaps be expected in a society where archaeological evidence has shown that women had, by now, a very inferior role. Dual standards existed for married life, where a wife might be put to death for adultery, while a husband was free to enjoy as many women as he chose, provided he did not seduce the wife of another man.” 10

If the myths are in any way to be considered as the reflection of ‘social ideas’ of any group or society, then we can say that with the development of patriarchal control over feminine civil rights, the sexual freedom described in those myths was cut down from the women’s world and transferred to the men’s world with anti-feminist moral milieus which gradually made the female a sex object, however powerful they might be in their goddess perspectives. This is a strapping point, I believe, that the sex negative feminists have to think of before raising their voice against the sex role attitudes of the female.


1. Liddell and Scott Greek-English Lexicon is the world's most authoritative dictionary of ancient Greek. Indispensable for biblical and classical studies alike, the world's most comprehensive and authentic word list.
(An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon,( 7th edition), published by Oxford University Press, USA; (December 31, 1945), ISBN-13: 978-0199102068.

2. Veyne, Paul (1988). Did the Greeks Believe in Their Myths? An Essay on Constitutive Imagination. (translated by Paula Wissing). University of Chicago. ISBN 0-226-85434-5.

3. The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion is a wide-ranging, comparative study of mythology and religion, written by Scottish anthropologist Sir James George Frazer. The book was originally published in two volumes in 1890.Now it is available with Touchstone , published in December 1, 1995, ISBN-13: 978-0684826301.

4. Penczak , Christopher : Gay witchcraft: Empowering the tribe, published by Red Wheel/Weiser, Boston, 2003, ISBN-13: 9781578632817

5. Sarah Dening, a psycho therapist of UK, began her career by studying for a degree in Philosophy at London University and subsequently went on to work in film production, PR and then to run an art gallery. In the early 1980's, she set up the first public floatation tank facility in the UK whilst working towards becoming a Jungian psychotherapist. Many people had extraordinary experiences whilst floating including being reunited with a long-dead father and meeting an angel! For the last eighteen years she had been busy developing therapy practices in London and York. Dream work is an important aspect of Jungian therapy and she had worked with hundreds of clients, helping them to understand how their dreams can further their personal development. For nine years she had written a weekly national newspaper column interpreting readers' dreams in the Daily Mail, the Daily Express and, latterly, in the Daily Mirror. She died in August 2007 with cancer.she wrote several books like Healing Dreams, The Everyday I Ching, Dreams made Easy, The Mythology of Sex etc.

6. Dening, Sarah: The Mythology of Sex, Publisher: Batsford Ltd (5 Nov 1996), ISBN-13: 978-0713481112

7. Sandars, N. K. ( Translators): The Epic of Gilgamesh, published by Penguin, 1960,. ISBN-13: 9780140441000

8. Marling, Roderick W: VAMACARA TANTRA, KamaKala Publications, Portland , Oregon , 1997

9. Sandars, N. K. ( Translators) : The Epic of Gilgamesh, published by Penguin, 1960,. ISBN-13: 9780140441000, p. 86

10. Dening, Sarah: The Mythology of Sex, Publisher: Batsford Ltd (5 Nov 1996), ISBN-13: 978-0713481112

Monday, March 02, 2009

(A scene from Wilde Irish Production's dramatic representation of Ulysses on Bloomsday )

The Myriad of Molly Blooms

At the very beginning of James Joyce’s Ulysses, Molly Bloom, the cuckolding wife of Leopold Bloom, appears to the readers as a common Irish lady of the twentieth century. But in the 60 pages of scandalous, scatological, sarcastic and disturbingly profound monologue that follow, she appears as a sex monster, a lusty, lewd, outspoken, witty, and self-aware woman, seducing young boys even though she is a married woman.

Molly’s frustration is being a married woman in a marriage that lacks the sexual freedom she needs. Molly fantasizes about her sexual desires and dreams because it is a human quality that she is not willing to suppress. And she makes no apologies for it. Some critics appreciate Joyce’s characterization of Molly as a step forward to paint a free woman in Western Literature

Joyce and Feminism

Richard Brown, the author of James Joyce and Sexuality writes: “Joyce constructed out of his own version of feminist literary tradition and its obtrusive sexual dimorphism is conceived as a vindication of, rather than an attack on, femininity” (Brown, 1985, p. 101). Brown found “obscured the relationship between contemporary feminism and his success (p91).” Brown added an interesting discussion of “sexual dimorphism (p96-97).” In support of his idea, he stated that for Bloom, the world is “full of analogies to sexual difference (97).” Brown sees Joyce as depending heavily upon a “strong sense” of difference between the sexes, using “Penelope” as an example of Joyce creating the “separate female character (98).” He does not see Joyce's portrayal of Molly and other female characters through the eyes of men as misogynistic, since many of the male characters “suffer the same fate” when seen through women's eyes, such as Bloom and Boylan. Brown concluded his discussion with a confirmatory tone that Joyce constructed Molly out of his “own version of feminist literary tradition and its obtrusive sexual dimorphism is conceived as a vindication of, rather than attack on, femininity (p101).”

Declan Kiberd writes in his Introduction to the 1992 Penguin edition of Ulysses, that Joyce ponders a life spent fitting pins into hair and clothing, or making adjustments to disorderly skirts under the protective coverage of a friend in the street. His fellow-feeling for women in the momentous labour of childbirth is accompanied by a similar empathy with the woman suddenly being taken short in a city whose lavatories, like its pubs, were notoriously built for men only. This empathy is nowhere more clear than in Bloom’s attitude to women who are caught in moments of disadvantage (Kiberd, 1992, pp. iii-iv).

Can Joyce be reclaimed for feminism? Suzette Henke tries to find psychoanalytical answers with the ideas of Freud, Lacan, and Kristeva. Henke argues that Joyce invokes gender stereotypes in order to “mock and subvert traditional notions” of gender, focusing on constructions of the “gendered subject” and touching on ideas of androgyny, bisexual fantasy, and motherhood. Discusses Molly's monologue as “steeped” in the languages of Edwardian pornography and “Victorian sentimental fiction.”

No doubt, Joyce was the prime figure to bring erotic sexuality to English Literature, and his experiments were not with writings, but with lives and people as well. His constant visits to prostitutes, his experiments with verbal sex, and persuasion to Nora for her active participations are the example how Joyce put importance of sexuality in his life and writings.

Brenda Maddox writes in her book Nora: A Biography of Nora Joyce that Joyce was amazed at female sexuality when on his first date with Nora, she “unbuttoned his trousers, slipped in her hand, pushed his shirt aside and, acting with some skill (according to his later account), made him a man (Maddox, 1988, p. 42).”

Nora: A Biography of Nora Joyce (1988) tells us that Joyce made Molly Bloom as the prototype of his wife Nora . A reporter once asked Nora if she was actually Molly Bloom from Ulysses. She replied, “I'm not -- she was much fatter.”

Nora : A Woman //A Character

Nora Barnacle met Joyce on June 10, 1904, but it was not until June 16, 1904 that they had their first romantic liaison. After only three months dating, they flew away to Trieste (at that time in Austria-Hungary) but they did not marry. Meanwhile, Nora gave birth to her first son Giorgio on June 27, 1905 and later to a daughter, Lucia, in July 26. A miscarriage in 1908 coincided with the beginning of a series of difficulties for Nora, which placed strain on her relationship with Joyce and made it increasingly conflicted. After 27 years of living together relationship, at last, they got married in 1931.

Nora and Joyce did not have a very happy life. Though at the beginning, they at least had very sensual romantic lives, later on, they remained in tension and Nora was often complaining about Joyce as a weak man and a neurotic artist. In her letters to her sister, Nora accuses Joyce of ruining her life and that of their children. She says he drinks too much and wastes too much money. As for his literary activity, she laments the fact that his writings are obscure and lacking in sense. She hates attending his meetings with other artists and admits she would have preferred him had he been a musician rather than a writer. Their marital life became hell when their daughter Lucia went mad and son Giorgio left for America after marrying an American lady.

Before Joyce, Nora had only three affairs in her teenage years. She fell in love with a teenager named Michael Feeney, who died soon after of typhoid and pneumonia. In a dramatic but unrelated coincidence, her second lover died in 1900, garnering her the name of "man-killer" from her friends. It was rumored that she sought solace from her friend, budding English theatre starlet, Laura London, who also introduced her to a Protestant named Willie Mulvagh. In 1903, she was sent away after her uncle learned of the affair and dubious friendship. In a later period, besides Joyce, Nora had no other relationship as Molly Bloom had, but Joyce was always suspicious with the thought that Nora might have been unfaithful to him. Joyce thus had in his mind a strong link between Nora’s sexual allure and death (because two of her teenage fianc├ęs’ death ), and he focused on this morbid love theme in poems such as “She Weeps over Rahoon” and his best-known short story from the Dubliners, “The Dead.”

So, we don’t find any similarities in Molly Bloom with Nora if we overrule the three of teenage love relations she had. It may be fact that Nora became pregnant with Joyce at her first dating, but that was not a proof of her infidelities.

Is Molly a free woman ?

Molly is a woman who knows what drives a man crazy and how to seduce him at the drop of a hat. Even though she is a married woman, she does not forget how to seduce men because she has the frustration of being a married woman in a marriage that lacks the sexual connection she wants. Molly not only does it but needs the art of fantasy because it is a human quality that she is not willing to suppress. Molly fantasizes and makes no apologies for it. It shows that Molly is a rebellious by nature. But is she a free woman actually?

If Molly were truly sexually free, she would not go to church for confession of her guilt. She feels regrets about her infidelities and blames Leopold. “Its his own fault if I am an adulteress,” she says. If Molly were a free woman, she would not give Leopold the credit for turning her in to an "adulteress,” nor would she use the word “adulteress” because that word has a very negative connotation which implies guilt and shame. If Molly were a free woman, she would not feel terrible about the infidelity and the betrayal to her husband. Molly invokes God for creating Eve as the first sin of the Creator. By invoking that religious belief, she subconsciously proves the classic notion of patriarchal ideas that women are sinful by nature. If Molly had been guilt-free of affairs, she would have invoked poetry, pagan goddesses, humanly body pleasure, but not the creation of woman by God.

Molly also refers to one of Leopold’s pen pals as a “little bitch.” Molly Bloom’s jealousy of her husband’s infidelities and her anger toward Leopold are also indications that she is deeply hurt by their failing relationship and lack of sex.

Actually, Molly represents the common European female characteristics of that time, which the contemporary writings lack. As a very common woman, Molly is also tied down to the fears of aging and loosing her sex appeal, which she manifests in her fantasies about seducing Stephen. Molly is not actually after the sex, but rather, an emotional bonding. “I wish somebody would write me a love letter” she cries, showing her desperation for a lover who will fulfill her emotional needs.

Was Nora really Molly Bloom?

It is difficult to say whether or not Nora was the Molly Bloom of Ulysses because except the three premature affairs as a teenager, Nora sticks to her relationship with Joyce. But Joyce had a double-standard on women’s sexuality. Joyce was traditionally masculine in terms of sexual jealousy, possessiveness, and stereotyping of his ‘love.’ Joyce was extremely jealous of Nora’s fondness for anyone but himself, including her own father and children. As Maddox puts it, Joyce “could tolerate no thought of a rival for Nora’s affections” (Maddox, 1988, p. 23) and he felt irrationally betrayed that her cousins could co-exist with her love for him.

When courting Nora the summer of 1904, Joyce began to become possessive, and his jealousy revealed his insecurity. According to Maddox, “As the summer wore on, and he became more and more attached to Nora. Joyce showed the first signs of suspiciousness. She had three free evenings in a row that he could not account for (Maddox, 1988, p. 47).” Sexually, Joyce held Nora to a double standard; though he had consorted with prostitutes and had at least one “bout of venereal disease” (Maddox, 1988, p. 48) prior to meeting Nora, “doubt continued to torment Joyce" (Maddox, 1988, p. 70) about whether Nora had been a virgin or not before having sexual intercourse with him. He could not stand the thought of her having been with another man, even before she met him. As Maddox states, “Joyce never conquered his fear of Nora’s old loves (Maddox, 1988, p. 131),” which is why her old Galway beaus, such as Willie Mulvagh, had their names and/or actions immortalised in the obsessiveness of Joyce’s writing.

Mays relates how while visiting Dublin without Nora in 1909, Joyce “became obsessed with the thought that Nora might have been unfaithful to him" (Poems and Exiles, Ed. J. Mays, London, Penguin Books., p. xxxvi)” with Vincent Cosgrave.

This obsession made its way into Joyce’s poetry, his play Exiles, and Ulysses, not to mention some raving and accusatorial letters to Nora. Joyce was quick to believe Cosgrave’s words about his sexual relations with Nora before even hearing Nora’s version of events, and it took the word of two males, Joyce’s friend J. F. Byrne (the model for Cranly in “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man”) and his brother Stanislaus, to convince him that Cosgrave had lied to him about Nora (Maddox, 1988, p. 125).
Even so, he remained so suspicious and bitterly jealous of Cosgrave, his former friend and possible precursor of Nora’s affections, that he lampooned and abused him as Lynch in Ulysses and enjoyed hearing about his early demise and unsuccessful career (Maddox, 1988, pp. 320-1). None of this is the behaviour of a man who really believes in free love and open relationships. Nora’s experimental enthusiasm for sex and, as Brenda Maddox’s book explains, the fact “that Nora could release such fervour only three weeks after initiation left him with a lasting sense of awe at the banked fires of female desire (Maddox, 1988, p. 79).”

Why did Joyce metamorphose Nora in to Molly Bloom ?

Art is not what you see but what you make others see. What is important is how one views life as a whole and hence, the reader's psyche has indeed a lot to do with how the work is interpreted. I don’t blame Joyce, as some feminist critics did, for being unjust to Nora. Writing is a total difficult and complex process. An author has to make himself/herself a multi-winged personality -- one goes above the surroundings and canvas so that the author him/herself could observe everything with full objectivity. Another enters into the character. And the third one assimilates an author’s self with the character.

So, when Joyce tries to paint Molly in Ulysses and Bertha in Exiles, we find not the Nora, but the Joyce with his ‘manly woman’ personality. As Richard Brown explains about Molly, she “surely does represent a new kind of fictional woman: massive, potent and self-possessed. Though few modern feminists have wished to avail themselves of that image of femininity, it was evidently one which Joyce constructed out of his own version of feminist literary tradition, and its obtrusive sexual dimorphism is conceived as a vindication of, rather than an attack on, femininity (Brown, 1985, p. 101).”

I have no allegation on Joyce. Above all, I appreciate his feelings, as I am not only a feminist but a writer in my soul, always.