Inanna

Diane Wolkstein on Inanna

Written on cuneiform clay tablets dating back to 2,000 BCE, Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth is the oldest written story of which the world has a record. Two thousand years older than the Bible — tender, erotic, shocking, and compassionate — it is also the world’s first love story.

Inanna is the template upon which most subsequent love stories build on or refer to. It is also a sacred story that has the intention of bringing its audience to a new place of spiritual exploration: a place where our energies have not yet been tamed or ordered.

The story itself can be understood as a five–part cycle: In “The Huluppu–Tree,” Inanna appears to us as a young woman in search of her womanhood. In “Inanna and the God of Wisdom,” she achieves her queenship. In “The Courtship of Inanna and Dumuzi,” she delights in the shepherd Dumuzi and chooses him to be her lover, her husband, and the King of Sumer. In the most dramatic section, “The Descent of Inanna,” the queen dares to descend to the underworld. She is allowed to return from the Great Below only on the condition that she choose a substitute. Finally, in the last section of the cycle, the “Seven Hymns to Inanna,” Inanna is greeted and revered by her people.

Who is the Queen of Heaven? The direct translation of Inanna from Sumerian is Nin = Queen and An = Heaven. Inanna is the Morning and Evening Star (Venus), the Goddess of Love, War, and Fertility. She is Artemis, Athena, Aphrodite, Demeter all in one. When we know her story, we understand other goddesses and other traditions. When we come in contact with her story, we also come in contact with the quintessential story of a woman: her delight in her sexuality and her quest for wisdom.

I have been performing Inanna since its publication in 1983. Each time I return to its recitation, I do so with the delight one has of entering a house of prayer and loving its liturgy. Embedded in each line is a rhythm holding a wisdom that nourishes, restores, and strengthens the soul. It is a bold journey. Inanna sets out for the Great Below. Who would willingly choose to go to the underworld? And yet, anyone who has not gone has not really lived!

Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth (Book)

A fresh retelling of the ancient texts about Ishtar, the world’s first goddess. Illustrated with visual artifacts of the period.

Co-authored by Samuel Noah Kramer and illustrated with artwork from Sumer, with notes by Elizabeth Forte. HarperCollins

New York, 1983, softbound

ISBN 0–06090854–8

A hardback edition is also available; please e–mail us to order it by mail.

What critics are saying…

“This is an admirable translation, a great masterpiece of universal literature.” — Mircea Eliade

“A splendid mutual accomplishment and a great gift of mythology…. Inanna is a book to be cherished.” — P.L. Travers

“I felt shivers of recognition reading these ancient lines that proclaim Inanna’s discovery of her prowess…. Kramer and Wolkstein make us love their awesome goddess whose stormy complexities have been concealed in cuneiform tablets for thousands of years.” — Nor Hall

“In the myth of Inanna, Wolkstein and Kramer give us back the totality of woman, the ruler–wife–lover–redeemer, whom all worshiped and from whom all life flowed. It is a thrilling rediscovery.” — Olivier Bernier

“Wolkstein has been able to convey in English the rich metaphor, the erotic fullness, and the ritual pacing of these ancient stories…. Taken together with the illustrations, historical discussions, and textual commentaries, this book is worth a tower of scholarly tomes…. Such a feat is remarkable and rare.” — Barre Toelken, Director of Folklore and Ethnic Studies, University of Oregon

What Amazon readers are saying…

“This book is better than any other retelling of Inanna’s story. The texts are authentic and hauntingly moving. This book leaves you mute and amazed.” — Tom L. Waters, Tesuque, New Mexico

“Anyone who has a heart should read this book. My wife and I read Inanna’s story to each other now and then and every time we weep with joy, love, and sadness.” — Tom Cuthbertson, Santa Cruz, California

“A breakthrough work! The synergy between poet and scholar, storyteller and academic, gives this book a special place in our hearts. It is as meaningful today as it was 4,000 years ago.” — Alianna J. Maren

“Stunning. The imagery of the tales and hymns is lush, erotic, and real. It takes a true poet to translate words from a dead language into a modern one. Wolkstein does this with grace and power.” — J. French, Oakland, California

“Highly Recommended! I could not put this book down.” — Colin A. McKenzie, Kingston, Jamaica

“Wolkstein brings 4,000 year old clay tablets to life and reminds us of a Goddess tradition long lost to the Western world. In conjunction with Samuel Noah Kramer, a noted scholar on Sumer, she works with the subleties and ambiguities of the texts to reveal experiences long ago pressed into clay and forgotten.” — Elderbear, Loma Linda, Aztlan

Inanna Translations

Featured Translation

Inanna, Reina del Cielo y de la Tierra, Cien del Mundo, Mexico, 2010, ISBN 978607–455–410–6.

This edition is extremely rare and cannot be ordered from Amazon or any other online retailer. Please e–mail us to order it by mail.

More translations

Il Mito Sumero, Edizioni Jaca, Italy, 1984

Inanna, Trevi, Sweden, 1995

Inanna, Glydendahl, Norway, 2000

Inanna (DVD)

Inanna is a 21st Century rendering of a 5,000 year–old Sumerian epic. Told with humor and passion, this primal epic recounts the soul’s compelling discovery of compassion. Composer Geoffrey Gordon provides a musical score which evokes an atmosphere of mystery, stillness, and terror. Recorded live at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. In addition to Diane’s performance of Innana, the DVD includes interviews with Samuel Noah Kramer and HarperCollins editor Hugh Van Dusen.

“To hear, to see Diane Wolkstein perform Inanna is to understand the power of myth.” — Olivier Bernier, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Please e–mail us to order it by mail.

This DVD–R has no region code and is playable worldwide. Please make sure your equipment can play NTSC video before ordering.

Video Preview from the Inanna DVD

Speaking about Inanna

Inanna: A Language of Sexuality

In this video clip Diane talks about Inanna and the language of sexuality. This excerpt is taken from an interview with Karen Clothier for the 2011 Menopause: The Magical Telesummit.

 

Inanna: Her Reasons for Descending into the Underworld

In this video, Diane discusses Inanna’s reasons for descending into the underworld and reads a quote by Tolstoy. This excerpt is taken from an interview with Karen Clothier for the 2011 Menopause: The Magical Telesummit.

 

Inanna: Her Search for Wisdom

In this video, Diane talks about Inanna and her search for wisdom, prior to her descent into the underworld. This excerpt is taken from an interview with Karen Clothier for the 2011 Menopause: The Magical Telesummit.

 

Reviews for the Live Performance and the DVD

“There’s no one like Diane Wolkstein. A totally brilliant performance.” — Olympia Dukakis

“Inanna, the bewitching and powerful goddess of the Sumerians, speaks from the heart in this wonderful production that brings her poetry and divinity to life after millennia of silence.” — Dr. Irving Finkel, Keeper of Antiquities, British Museum

“To hear, to see Diane Wolkstein perform Inanna is to understand the power of myth.” — Olivier Bernier, Lecturer, Metropolitan Museum of Art

“Diane becomes one with the story, and the story seems to flow from her very being.” — Yvonne Young, National Storytelling Journal

“Erotic and comic, terrifying and triumphant, Wolkstein’s performance evokes the mystery and the deep humanity of the Sumerians… invaluable to our students as both an alternative to the canon of male‐oriented texts and as an entry into world literature.” — Patricia Clark Smith

“Letters, calls and accolades have been coming in to the Dean of Art’s office all week long from those in attendance… Ideas and feelings moved meaningfully around the table via your elegance and awareness. Thank you for your extraordinary talent and ability to share” — Sue Martin, Dean of Arts at University of Windsor, Ontario

“This specialized theater piece will have attraction for those with a keen interest in ancient civilizations, mythology, religious studies (particularly goddess worship), Middle Eastern studies, and performance arts.” — Library Journal

Performance Photos

Performance History

Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth premiered at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City in September, 1983 with a score and accompaniment by Geoffrey Gordon. Diane’s stage adaptation of the ancient text met critical acclaim at museums, theaters and universities across the world, including the United Nations and the Asia Society in New York, the British Museum (London), the Canberra National Gallery (Australia), the Arlington Theatre (Santa Barbara, California), the Smithsonian (Washington, D.C.), the National Storytelling Festival (Jonesborough, Tennessee), Yale University (New Haven, Connecticut), the University of Windsor (Canada), Brown University (Providence, Rhode Island), and the University of New Mexico at Albuquerque.

After Geoffrey Gordon died in August 2012, Diane Wolkstein was planning to tour her retelling of Inanna at the 2013 Fortellerfestivalen in Oslo, Norway, with a new score by Nathaniel Wolkstein — a plan that was cut short by her passing away in January 2013.

Collaborations and Derivative Works

Performers included Cristina Zavalloni (Inanna), Betty Schuurman, Jeroen Willems, Joep van der Geest, Henriëtte Koch, Hadewych Minis, and Dick van den Toorn.

Inanna’s Descent (Music Theater)

Inanna’s Descent (2000) is a piece of musical theater written by the world–renowned composer Louis Andriessen. The piece is scored for mezzo–soprano, piccolo, oboe, violin, piano, 2 percussion ensembles (4–12 total players).

Music composed by Louis Andriessen; Libretto by Hal Hartley, based on the book, Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth by Diane Wolkstein and Samuel Noah Kramer; Direction by Paul Koek.

Original performers included Cristina Zavalloni (Inanna), Betty Schuurman, Jeroen Willems, Joep van der Geest, Henriëtte Koch, Hadewych Minis, and Dick van den Toorn.

Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth (Ballet)

Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth was choreographed as a ballet by Marsha Knight. It premiered in the Spring of 2002 at the University of Wyoming at Laramie.

The Descent of Inanna (Opera)

With a cast of more than 50 musicians, singers, and dancers, Marcia Burchard’s opera The Descent of Inanna made its debut at the Dominican University of California in 2005. The libretto is based on the book, Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth by Diane Wolkstein and Samuel Noah Kramer.

Links — Inanna Around the World

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