One of the most important deities in the Near East cradle of civilization, Ishtar is the Mesopotamian goddess of fertility, love, war, sex and power. The divine personification of the planet Venus, Ishtar is probably best remembered as a fertility goddess – some scholars argue that she is the basis for Aphrodite via cultural cross-pollination with early Hellenic societies. Often the foremost goddess in the pantheons of several cultures in ancient Mesopotamia, Ishtar was also a powerful war deity. One of the most famous extent myths involves Ishtar attempting to visit her sister Ereshkigal, queen of the underworld. A motivation for her journey has not survived in primary sources – it may be that Ishtar wished to conquer Ereshkigal’s domain. The gatekeeper for the underworld allows Ishtar to pass through the seven gates to Ereshkigal, but she must remove one piece of clothing as she enters each gate. By the seventh gate, she is naked and she attacks Ereshkigal, who subdues her. Ereshkigal then subjects her sister to 60 diseases and, in some versions of the myth, kills her. All sexual activity ceases on earth, a change that makes the other gods sit up and notice Ishtar’s fate. They force Ereshkigal to allow Ishtar to leave the underworld. Ishtar leaves, receiving a piece of clothing back as she exits through each of the seven gates.
In ISHTAR IN SYRIA, the war goddess reckons with a tragic quagmire reminiscent of the Syrian Civil War, which began in 2011. With the lives of hundreds of thousands of her people at stake, she attempts to end a war where a government has turned on its people and world powers are facing off in a deadly proxy fight. Amid the chaos and carnage, a merciless group of extremists have carved out an alarmingly large foothold. The current war in Syria, the ancient land of the Assyrians and Babylonians, has already involved Ishtar, which is what sparked the idea to create the project. ISIS, for example, has destroyed temples dedicated to Ishtar in the ancient cities of Mari and Palmyra.
ISHTAR or IN ISHTAR IN SYRIA by Barry Eitel
Staged Reading on October 13, 2017 at the EXIT Theatre
BARRY EITEL is a San Francisco playwright and a recipient of the 2016 TITAN Award for playwrights from Theater Bay Area. His play The Ice Cream Sandwich Incident was produced by FaultLine Theatre at PianoFight in August, 2016 and considered the “Best New Work” of 2016 by Theatre Arts Daily. His immersive jazz musical The Cool, produced by Watt/Dobson Productions, had a sold-out run at Amado’s in San Francisco in early 2017. He is the original Head Writer for Boxcar Theatre’s The Speakeasy, leading a team of nine to create a breathing novel set in a Prohibition-era speakeasy. His short plays have been produced by Shotz, SF Theatre Pub, Arabian Shakespeare Company and Pan Theatre. His play Lemons was produced by the Emerging Artists Lab at San Jose Rep. Published by Smith & Kraus, Barry is a founding member of 6NewPlays, a Bay Area playwright collective, and is a graduate of Loyola University Chicago.