Who was Ishtar?
What was Ishtar the god of?
Like most other female gods, Ishtar was a fertility god, but Ishtar was fiercer and more powerful than female Greek gods like Athena or Aphrodite. According to one story, when the Sumerian king Gilgamesh refused to be her boyfriend, she got angry and killed his best friend, Enkidu.
Ishtar, Tammuz, and the underworld
In another story, Ishtar is jealous of her son Tammuz, who brings life to the earth, so she kills him. Then everything on earth dies (like in winter). Ishtar is sorry, and she has to go beg her sister Allatu, the goddess of the underworld, to let Tammuz come back. But he can only come back for half the year, in the spring and summer – he still has to spend the fall and winter in the underworld. This is a story about wheat farming, where you plant the seeds underground and they spend the winter there, and then come up in the spring. (Compare this to the Greek story of Persephone).
How did people worship Ishtar?
When did they stop?
Ishtar and Tammuz: A Babylonian Myth of the Seasons, by C. J. Moore (1996). Easy reading.
Gods, Goddesses, and Monsters: An Encyclopedia of World Mythology, by Sheila Keenan (2000). Easy reading.
Religion in Ancient Mesopotamia, by Jean Bottero (2001).