This blog post is part of my Student Series! in while I highlight articles written by previous Humanities students on a topic of their choosing that relates to our course content. Keep in mind this is written by high schoolers and anything that could identify them personally has been removed or altered by me.
How could an ancient Mesopotamian goddess and an American comic book superhero relate? Ishtar (Mesopotamian goddess) and Wonder Woman (comic book character) have more in common than you would think. In this blog post we will be looking at the parallels in family, dress, and character between Wonder Woman and Ishtar.
Ishtar or Inanna
Ishtar, also known as Inanna, was the goddess of war, storms, and fertility. She was the daughter of the sky god An or Anu. She was often depicted either naked (due to being the god of fertility) or in war gear with a lion. Ishtar’s association with the lion is due to her being the god of storms; the lion’s roar represented thunder. She embodied both the good and the bad aspects of life in Mesopotamia (war and fertility), but was still worshipped in Mesopotamian religion for over 3,000 years. Ishtar was a ferocious goddess with many fearing her temper. This is shown in the Epic of Gilgamesh and in the myth Ishtar’s descent.
In the Epic of Gilgamesh, she releases the Bull of Heaven because Gilgamesh refuses to marry her and insults her relationship history. In the myth Istar’s descent, she goes to the Underworld and is killed by Ereshkigal, her sister. She is revived to find her husband, Tammuz, sitting on her throne and, enraged, drags him to the Underworld. However, she is remorseful and rescues Tammuz by having his sister switch places with him for six months of the year. Ishtar’s descent explained the changing seasons in Mesopotamian religion and parallels other myths such as the story of Persephone in Greek religion. Ishtar exemplified a duality in character not usually seen with women in religion or media.
Wonder Woman was created in 1941 by Dr. William Moulton Marston. She lived on Paradise Island, which was completely devoid of men and therefore patriarchy. Wonder Woman’s story begins when she goes into the world of men. Wonder Woman was a complete divergence from the typical comic book character- think Batman or Superman. Her first appearance in All-Star Comics and subsequent series, Sensation Comics changed the world.
Wonder Woman became an indelible feminist icon; she was no damsel in distress. She was actually the complete opposite of the typical female character for the time. Wonder Woman had powers of strength, speed, and flight. She was the founding member of the Justice League, which linked her with the other heroes in DC’s arsenal, and was a symbol of American patriotism through World War II. Wonder Woman also was initially associated with the theme of bondage as a subverted theme of the fight for women’s rights (unsurprisingly this led to much controversy and put her on the forefront of the anti-comics movement). However, Wonder Woman has prevailed over 75 years of history, with a popular television series in the 70’s starring Lynda Carter and an upcoming film adaptation. Marston created a new kind of woman, one that would be a role model for young children everywhere. Since her inception, Wonder Woman has embodied, “a great movement now under way—the growth in the power of women.” (Smithsonian Magazine).
- The main similarity between Wonder Woman and Ishtar is their inversion of traditional gender roles. Ancient Mesopotamia was a patriarchal society; women had the sole responsibility of rearing a child. Similarly, Wonder Woman was created in 1941, a time where the woman’s role was rooted in the household.
- Both are the daughters of a sky god. Ishtar is the daughter of An (Anu) and in the New 52 and Rebirth storylines Wonder Woman is the daughter of Zeus and Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons.
- Ishtar and Wonder Woman both wear battle gear. Ishtar is often seen as a warrior with her bow and arrow. Wonder Woman’s costume has changed over time, but almost all incarnations contain her breastplate, tiara, bracelets, and star symbol. Wonder Woman’s weapons include her iconic golden lasso of truth, silver bracelets, and tiara.
- Both have to rescue their “damsels.” Wonder Woman often has to come to the rescue of Steve Trevor, her main love interest in the comics. She also was the only one to free herself from being tied up when captured. Ishtar has to come to the rescue of her husband, Tammuz, in the myth Inanna’s descent. Granted, Inanna was the cause of Tammuz being trapped in the Underworld, but she is remorseful and saves him anyway.
- Ishtar has always had the status of a god; Wonder Woman only recently became the goddess of war.
- Wonder Woman was created to be solely a good character. She does not have the duality of character that Ishtar has as the god of both war and fertility
Connection to Today
Both Ishtar and Wonder Woman connect today’s world because of their statement on gender roles. Both Ishtar and Wonder Woman show that women can be equally as strong as men without becoming them due to their femininity. The line from the Wonder Woman theme song exemplifies this with the line, “In your satin tights, fighting for our rights.”
The model of a strong woman can be seen in subsequent characters and gods such as:
- Olivia Benson (Law and Order: SVU)
- Hermione Granger (Harry Potter series)
- Elizabeth Bennet (Pride and Prejudice)
- Azzarello, Brian. Wonder Woman Volume 1 Blood. New York: DC Comics, 2012.
- Azzarello, Brian. Wonder Woman Volume 4 War. New York: DC Comics, 2014
- “Ishtar.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Accessed on October 3, 2016. www.britannica.com/topic/Ishtar-Mesopotamian-goddess.
- “Ishtar.” Myths Encyclopedia. Accessed on October 3, 2016. www.mythencyclopedia.com/Ho-Iv/Ishtar.html
- “Ishtar.” New World Encyclopedia. Accessed on October 4, 2016. www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Ishtar
- Lepore, Jill. “The Surprising Origin Story of Wonder Woman.” Smithsonian Magazine. Published October 2014. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/origin-story-wonder-woman-180952710/?page=2
- Mangles, Andy. “Wonder Woman.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Last updated on March 24, 2016. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Wonder-Woman
- Rucka, Greg. Wonder Woman Rebirth. New York: DC Comics, 2016