Monday Mythos – Early Zombie Awareness

As some of you know, I’ve been picking away at a mythology-based series for…oh, the last few years, at least. Yes, it’s largely based on Greek mythology, but I’ve also looked at the old stories of other cultures for ideas.

I will be upfront: this series does not contain zombies. At least not in the classical sense. But while researching I learned something interesting: the ancients were as concerned about the dead eating the flesh of the living as we are. I bring you what is perhaps the first piece of Zombie Awareness we have.

In Ishtar’s Descent Into the Underworld, the goddess of love and war heads to the realm of the dead. The gatekeeper doesn’t want to let her in. Ishtar, like any good badass, threatens her way through:

“Gatekeeper, ho, open thy gate!
Open thy gate that I may enter!
If thou openest not the gate to let me enter,
I will break the door, I will wrench the lock,
I will smash the door-posts, I will force the doors.
I will bring up the dead to eat the living.
And the dead will outnumber the living.”

The dead will eat the living. And outnumber them. And all this between 1900-1600 BC, a considerably long time before Night of the Living Dead. This fear — or fascination — is old..

This is the Akkadian version, which is shortened considerably from its original Sumerian form. The Sumerian version is far more detailed and elaborate, and Ishtar is known as Inanna…but Inanna does not threaten to kick in the door or unleash the dead, which is kind of a bummer, because damn.

So what prompted its inclusion? I haven’t dug into any research on this one, but I find the threat fascinating. Not just because it seems like a direct forerunner to “When there’s no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth” but because it’s so specific. I’m going to do this this and that, oh yeah, and flesh-eating fiends are gonna rule the planet.

Did some scribe think, Wow, I bet the dead eating the living would be shocking, or…perhaps…work with me here…somewhere along the line…the dead rose up and ate the living, and it was added to this story after the fact?

…I guess I’ve got my next short story idea.

And that, friends, is the first edition of Monday Mythos. And do yourself a favor. Next time you’re questioning how much you really want something, remember this: To get what she wanted, Ishtar would let the fucking dead up to devour the living.

She’s fascinating, by the way – in all her incarnations. Google her!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.