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Saturday July 2, 2022

Fiction: The Priestess of Marduk

story by mary johnston

Babylon, builded of brick, lay four-square in its fat plain. Fields of the best grain in the world shimmered out and afar, westward, beyond Euphrates to the desert edge, eastward to Tigris, to Akkad north, and south to the sea where stood Eridu, city of Ea, the old Father-God. Babylon was moated, Babylon was walled, a great, slow river ran through Babylon. Houses stood thick in Babylon, and the narrow streets were many, and every building was made of baked clay, for there was little stone in the land, and where long and long since had waved uncounted trees now waved the heavy-eared grain. The houses where the people dwelled were small and low. The house where the king dwelled was not high, but huge of breadth, and brazen-gated. Likewise the houses of the gods were huge, where-ever they rose in the city. And hugest of all, huge as two or three of the others put together, covering no mere hands’ breadth of earth floor, spread the house of Marduk, son of Ea, once god of this city only, now strongest god of many gods in a wide land.

Many-courted and many-roomed was the house of Marduk.

A blue sky hung over Babylon, and the sun rode in strength with Marduk and with Sharrâni the king. The sun and Marduk and Sharrâni the king were somehow one….

Temple wall, palace wall, walls of tall gateways had a strange and effective decoration of glazed tiles coloured blue and red and white and black and yellow. On the tiles were painted, colour against colour, huge winged men, genii, together with great beasts, unicorns, lions, bulls. Repeated and repeated, these became processions, troops of creatures inside and outside temple and palace. Sometimes, in the heated, quivering air, they seemed to palpitate, to move in their places.

The vast house of Marduk, thus coloured and adorned, reared itself from a yet vaster platform of earth and brick. Beside it, within the wide temple enclosure, rose higher and higher yet, the “mountain of the god,” the tower of seven stages. Each stage spread wider, rose taller than the next that was built upon it, until at the top was only the chamber of the god and the pathway around, and each stage was mounted by an outward stair, a broad, gradual and parapetted ascent, and each stage contained a ritual number of rooms, looking out upon a surrounding, guarded walkway. From top to bottom the wall space glowed with those coloured tile-pictures, with winged genii, trees of life, bull and lion and dragon. The sunshine of Babylon lit them as with fire behind; in the moonlight of Babylon they still showed. Then they were faintly-hued, but they seemed vaster and more solemn than in the daytime. The “mountain of the god,” the “lofty house of Marduk,” sprang two hundred feet and more above the low roofs of Babylon. From its stages was watched the life of the city, the movements on the plain, the glittering presence and solemn actions of sun, moon and stars.

Iltani, the mother of Iltani, had died at Iltani’s birth. Lugal-naid, her father, had taken another wife, Ramtû, who was kind enough to Iltani, but a passionate and cruel mistress to Ina-banat and Belatum, slaves and concubines of Lugal-naid. Iltani dwelled in the house with the three women, and now took the side of one and now of another, though for the most part secretly. Evil would it be if any of the three, conceiving dislike to her, should blacken her forehead in the sight of her father who owned her to do what he would with her! Lugal-naid was not unkind, and Iltani fetched and carried for him, and regarded him with awe, and with pride in his weight among the people, for he was superintendent of the temple granaries.

“Iltani is leaving childhood,” said Ramtû to Lugal-naid.

“Let her be a little longer,” answered Lugal-naid. “She is use and ornament in the house.”

Iltani grew for another year. “O Lugal-naid, you must be thinking what you will do with Iltani!”

“I will think,” said Lugal-naid.

“There is Ninmar, son of Ur-Enlil—”

“I will think,” said Lugal-naid.

On the other side of Euphrates flowing through Babylon, dwelled the brother of Lugal-naid, Ibni-Shamash, who had an office in the king’s palace. Ibni-Shamash had sons and two daughters, Innina-nûri and Tuda-Ishtar. The latter were older than Iltani, who had child’s admiration for them and their ways and adornments. Ibni-Shamash gave Innina-nûri for wife to Nanâ-iddin, son of the assistant of the under-governor.

That had been in the spring time when the plain was green and there were blossoms in every garden. When it was autumn, and all the land was brown and dry and the heart longed for rain, Iltani heard Ramtû and Ina-banat and Belatum talking all together.

It seemed that Innina-nûri was doing wrong…. It seemed that Nanâ-iddin was going to accuse her before the judges in the temple court…. It seemed that all the kindred of Ibni-Shamash were deeply concerned. It seemed that they were angry with Innina-nûri, that they sent and exhorted her, even pleaded with her…. It seemed that Innina-nûri had listened, though with the air of the skies in rain and storm, and at last, pushed against by all, had bowed her head before Nanâ-iddin…. It seemed that there had followed a time of stillness and that the kindred all had congratulated themselves…. It seemed that then, suddenly, with a crash, all was wrong again! Nanâ-iddin and his father the assistant of the under-governor were gone to the judges, who summoned before them Innina-nûri.

A wind ran through the houses of Ibni-Shamash’s kindred. Iltani, too, heard the wind.

Justice of Marduk and the King. Innina-nûri, that will not be wife to her husband, Nanâ-iddin, shall be thrown into the river…. Mercy of Marduk and the King. Two days are given to Innina-nûri for repentance and returning to Nanâ-iddin.

“O women!” said Lugal-naid when he returned to his house that eve. “See what comes of wrong-doing!”

On a summer day, some time after Innina-nûri returned finally to Nanâ-iddin, Iltani went with Ramtû across the river to Ibni-Shamash’s house to see Gin-Enlil his wife and Tuda-Ishtar that was not yet wed. The year before, Tuda-Ishtar was, indeed, to have been given for wife to a very fine young man, son of one in favour with the King. But in a war with Elam the man had been killed. And now Tuda-Ishtar would not be wed until the savour of his{161} death was gone from the general mind. Tuda-Ishtar was beautiful, and who took her would give Ibni-Shamash a good price, and out of this Ibni-Shamash would give to Tuda-Ishtar herself garments, two slave women and a wheat field.

Ramtû and Iltani found at Ibni-Shamash’s door slaves waiting, staves in hand. They had in keeping an ass with an embroidered cloth upon its back, and strung along the bridle rein little silver bells. “For whom is all this?” asked Ramtû. “For Tuda-Ishtar, mistress,” answered the old man, the head slave.

Ramtû and Iltani, entering the house, met there an air of business and excitement. Gin-Enlil and Lamazi, wives of Ibni-Shamash, and a dozen handmaids were gathered in the next to the greatest room in the house about Tuda-Ishtar who stood in the middle of the floor. They were putting upon Tuda-Ishtar fine garments and ornaments of gold and silver and gems. Tuda-Ishtar was more beautiful than ever for there was a red stain upon her lips and cheeks and her eyes were quite like stars, and on her head was a curious, crown-like headdress.

When Ramtû saw this she smote her hands together and cried: “Why did you not send word that Tuda-Ishtar was going to-day to the temple of Mylitta? I would have brought her my chain that I wore the day I sat beneath the palm trees!—You, also, were there that day, Gin-Enlil!”

“Yes. Twenty years ago…. We did not have to return, Ramtû, day after day, like some we know!”

“By Ishtar, no!—And Tuda-Ishtar will not have to return, nor, indeed, have to wait at all! The first man that sees her—the bee and the honey-bloom!—You should have let us know!”

“She would go now and have it over with, and her debt to Mylitta paid.—After all, even though we are told it is a high duty, a woman wants the day behind her and out of mind!”

Iltani, going home with Ramtû, crossing the river in a boat, looked at the walls of the temple of Mylitta. There could be made out the court, surrounded by palm trees, where, for one time in her life, every woman of Babylon, saving only priestesses and votaries of a god, must sit until there came some man, no matter whom, who dropped a piece of silver in her lap. Then would the woman rise and go away with the man and pay her debt to Mylitta, keeping the silver piece ever after to show clearance.

The young Iltani saw behind her forehead Tuda-Ishtar sitting there under palm trees. They said that she would not have long to wait. That was because she was beautiful. Everybody admired that in Tuda-Ishtar, and served her because of it.

The young Iltani did not think of all that; she only saw a picture of her cousin sitting under the palm trees, and of a man coming near and then standing still before Tuda-Ishtar. Her fancy made the man young, and also beautiful…. Iltani looked at the palm tree and the blue sky behind them, and then she looked over the side of the boat at her own image in the still water. When she had regarded the image for some moments, she glanced aside at Ramtû. She longed that Ramtû should say to her, “Why you, too, Iltani, are beautiful!” But Ramtû talked to the boatman of the price of food….

Iltani grew apace. Said Ramtû to Lugal-naid, “What will you do with this girl? Younger than she have sat their day in the temple of Mylitta! And Ninmar has  wed Beligunu!—Do you mean to present Iltani to the god?”

“That is what I intend,” said Lugal-naid. “It is an old oath that I swore if I prospered. I waited to see if I did so prosper. This year I am made superintendent of superintendents. Now Iltani shall become bride of Marduk!”

On a summer day, some time after Innina-nûri returned finally to Nanâ-iddin, Iltani went with Ramtû across the river to Ibni-Shamash’s house to see Gin-Enlil his wife and Tuda-Ishtar that was not yet wed. The year before, Tuda-Ishtar was, indeed, to have been given for wife to a very fine young man, son of one in favour with the King. But in a war with Elam the man had been killed. And now Tuda-Ishtar would not be wed until the savour of his{161} death was gone from the general mind.

Iltani went with all her ornaments to the temple of Marduk. She went not unhappily, though she wept at parting with Ramtû, Ina-banat and Belatum. She was going to a life of honour that, so far as it went, and did she always follow righteousness, would reflect honour upon her kindred. A votary of Marduk gave up certain sweetnesses in life, but also she found others. Iltani’s kindred and their friends brought her in procession to the temple. Priests and priestesses ritually met her, Lugal-naid ritually renounced his part in her to the god, her dower that she brought was ritually spread around her, music was made, incense hung in the air….

That had been some months ago. Now that part of the huge temple which she inhabited was familiar to Iltani. Familiar were the rooms and rooms within rooms, the courts in sun and shade, the rites and duties, service of the temple, spirit of the hive!

Huge was the temple, many were its inmates, multifarious its activities. The god and the king who ruled under his shield so merged that the king was half-divine and the god more than half-royal. All life moved under the glance of the god and his fingers pushed it here, withdrew it there, or, resting underneath, held it steadfast. The fingers of the god, clothed in flesh, became his most numerous priesthood. Learning was of the god, judgement and law were of the god, administration was of the god, though the king was named with him.

Marduk was served by a mighty host of priests. Priestesses there were also and in number, but by no means in so great a number. But men and women together, his servants swarmed in his enormous temple. The people likewise filed or poured through the long series of temple rooms and passageways and small and large courts. The people came to the temple for knowledge, for law, for healing, for divination, for exorcism of the innumerable evil ones, for directions as to paths through every thorny desert, for comfort, for glow, for subtle excuses, for life anew, for spiritual wine, and for direct, practical, everyday business. They brought covenanted-for produce of every description, they poured into the temple treasury the temple-tax, that was a broad and deep and continuing stream.

Much life was there, centring in, flowing through the temple, for any to view who had vision, and to grow by who had the seed of growth.

The priestesses of the temple taught, judged, divined, exorcised, healed, performed work of scribe and notary, directed, executed, much as did the priests, and as well. They received honour as did the priests. From their status there fell a fairly broad shaft of warmth and light upon all women of their land. In Egypt, too, fell by the goddess-way a certain light and warmth and colour upon the entire mother hemisphere. In Egypt there was Isis, in Babylonia, Ishtar. And all the Babylonian gods had consorts, goddesses with powers and with devotees. There was Ninlil for Ea, and Antum for Anu, and Sarpanit for Marduk.

That was all true. Yet all was in the convention. Ishtar, indeed, remained dimly, hugely, outside, but Ishtar to an extent undefined, general, like the air that you breathed without thinking of it. But all the others were as wives of men, honourable, free in much, in much powerful, but with distinctness secondary. All men and gods, by virtue of manship, rose by a head above women and goddesses. That was held to be the nature of things, fundamental and unalterable. Faint, old trails of old, old story, old, inexplicable customs resting like crones in nooks and corners, might breathe of a time when the indubitable truth was hardly so firmly established. But the time must have been ancient, ancient! Now ever the truth seemed to grow more established.

The young Iltani came to a wide corner of the temple quarter, rooms below, small, low rooms above, twisting, outside stairs, passageways, large court and small courts, and in the central court a well and old trees. In many places the walls, within and without, had those great pictures of gods and goddesses and sacred beasts and all their huge adventure. It was like living, in a far later time, with a child’s gay picture book or blocks. In the long hot summer, these pictures struck like brands upon the tissues of the mind. In the short, chill winter, with their red and their yellow, they gave out warmth and light.

Inmates of this part of the temple, and they were many, were not at all without steady, even employment. The whole, huge place worked, religion being so official, Marduk so actually pervading all that the land knew of the actual…. Iltani found herself with others under the orders of the votary Â-rishat, who kept the room where were kept the clay tablets upon which were written, week by week, the simpler annals of the house of the women of the deity. Iltani had been taught to write. Now with a bride of Marduk a little older than herself, she copied defective tablets upon fresher clay. She worked in a little room from which one stepped into a little court in which there grew a great and old fig tree.

Amat-Tashmit loved to talk. When the votary Â-rishat was near, when other, older votaries passed or stood talking among themselves, the two novices were silent enough. But when none was by, Amat-Tashmit talked, and Iltani also, though less than the other.

Amat-Tashmit, having had the longer residence here, could instruct her sister in devotion. Iltani learned the round of life, so far as Amat-Tashmit had trodden it or could report upon others’ treading. Iltani heard from Amat-Tashmit of the idiosyncrasies of her many and many companion votaries of Marduk. There was a votary of Marduk for every day and night of Marduk’s year. And Amat-Tashmit talked of the bands and bands of priests, the huge number of servants of Marduk. She talked of individual priests of fame, persons of high rank in the court of Marduk. When she spoke of these reverence sat upon her tongue and in the ears of Iltani. But she talked also of priests of no especial fame whom she had chanced to observe. The most of these were young—young men under guidance in the house of Marduk. If was all harmless talk enough that Amat-Tashmit made, but around it and through it ran a haunting warmth and colour.

Matters of fact, serenely accepted as the right and proper will of the god, the king and all Babylon, came also into the talk of the two. As they worked they might look up from the clay and from the fine wedge-shaped stylus which each used, look up and forth, and beyond the fig tree see the “mountain of the god,” the tower, rising by stages high, high against the blue heaven. They saw the broad, winding way leading from stage to stage, and the figures, small at that distance, ascending, descending, ascending. And they might see the chamber atop, room and shrine of Marduk, high up, high up, goal of the seven stairs! The light struck against the bright pictures of the chamber’s outer walls. Sometimes the tower top dazzled like the sun, sometimes it was cosy or golden, a star of morn or eve.

Iltani with Amat-Tashmit watched with a kind of fascination this tower of seven levels, one above the other. It was the “mountain of the god.” Within that topmost room stood the great figure of the god, overlaid with gold, and all around were ranged the most precious votive figures, figures given by kings and by the queens of kings. And in the room was the bed of the god, hung with gold, the bed of Marduk, god of gods, whom to serve was honour and felicity, whom to represent was honour and felicity, the bed of Marduk and the goddess Sarpanit, his spouse.

Each day the novices saw borne around the tower and upward the votary whose name was set against that day in the year of Marduk. She was borne in procession, with music and song. The two watched her and that sister throng mount from stage to stage. Arrived upon the seventh the company circled three times the mountain-top. Then the bride of Marduk went alone into the freshly swept and garlanded Marduk-room. The two watching from the court of the fig tree might see the company part from her it had brought, reabsorb into itself the votary whose place she took, whose day this year was passed, and again with music descend the spiral way. The day went. Iltani and Amat-Tashmit, working with stylus and clay, gave not much thought to the tower and the votary who praised Marduk alone in the chamber where was reared the great gold-covered image.

But when the rays of the sun were slant they stepped from their own small room into the court of the fig tree, for they heard trumpets and knew that the priest who that night would represent the god now went to the mountain-top. Small figures in the distance, they saw him and the band that bore him thither. The strong chanting of the priests came to them, the light glinted upon the lifted, waved, gilded, many-shaped symbols and insignia of Marduk. They watched this company also from stage to stage, to the tower height, watched the company part there from the human Marduk, watched it descend in the red sunset light…. Up there the votary was no longer alone. Up there were Marduk and Sarpanit.

The days passed, the weeks and the months. The temple, or her corner of the temple, grew home-like to Iltani. Around her were much folk and manifold business. She laboured with others, rested and played, ate and drank and slept in a field of crowded bloom, of a thousand bees that gathered honey. All was under rule, all that was done was done ritually, arrows drawn to hit the sun. But many had forgotten the aim of the arrows. The marked rhythm pleased Iltani. Her body seemed to move with it, and that within her body, the worker that had spun the body from itself….

That had been in the spring time when the plain was green and there were blossoms in every garden. When it was autumn, and all the land was brown and dry and the heart longed for rain, Iltani heard Ramtû and Ina-banat and Belatum talking all together.

It seemed that Innina-nûri was doing wrong…. It seemed that Nanâ-iddin was going to accuse her before the judges in the temple court…. It seemed that all the kindred of Ibni-Shamash were deeply concerned. It seemed that they were angry with Innina-nûri, that they sent and exhorted her, even pleaded with her…. It seemed that Innina-nûri had listened, though with the air of the skies in rain and storm, and at last, pushed against by all, had bowed her head before Nanâ-iddin…. It seemed that there had followed a time of stillness and that the kindred all had congratulated themselves…. It seemed that then, suddenly, with a crash, all was wrong again! Nanâ-iddin and his father the assistant of the under-governor were gone to the judges, who summoned before them Innina-nûri.

A wind ran through the houses of Ibni-Shamash’s kindred. Iltani, too, heard the wind.

Justice of Marduk and the King. Innina-nûri, that will not be wife to her husband, Nanâ-iddin, shall be thrown into the river…. Mercy of Marduk and the King. Two days are given to Innina-nûri for repentance and returning to Nanâ-iddin.

“O women!” said Lugal-naid when he returned to his house that eve. “See what comes of wrong-doing!”

On a summer day, some time after Innina-nûri returned finally to Nanâ-iddin, Iltani went with Ramtû across the river to Ibni-Shamash’s house to see Gin-Enlil his wife and Tuda-Ishtar that was not yet wed. The year before, Tuda-Ishtar was, indeed, to have been given for wife to a very fine young man, son of one in favour with the King. But in a war with Elam the man had been killed. And now Tuda-Ishtar would not be wed until the savour of his death was gone from the general mind. Tuda-Ishtar was beautiful, and who took her would give Ibni-Shamash a good price, and out of this Ibni-Shamash would give to Tuda-Ishtar herself garments, two slave women and a wheat field.

Ramtû and Iltani found at Ibni-Shamash’s door slaves waiting, staves in hand. They had in keeping an ass with an embroidered cloth upon its back, and strung along the bridle rein little silver bells. “For whom is all this?” asked Ramtû. “For Tuda-Ishtar, mistress,” answered the old man, the head slave.

Ramtû and Iltani, entering the house, met there an air of business and excitement. Gin-Enlil and Lamazi, wives of Ibni-Shamash, and a dozen handmaids were gathered in the next to the greatest room in the house about Tuda-Ishtar who stood in the middle of the floor. They were putting upon Tuda-Ishtar fine garments and ornaments of gold and silver and gems. Tuda-Ishtar was more beautiful than ever for there was a red stain upon her lips and cheeks and her eyes were quite like stars, and on her head was a curious, crown-like headdress.

When Ramtû saw this she smote her hands together and cried: “Why did you not send word that Tuda-Ishtar was going to-day to the temple of Mylitta? I would have brought her my chain that I wore the day I sat beneath the palm trees!—You, also, were there that day, Gin-Enlil!”

“Yes. Twenty years ago…. We did not have to return, Ramtû, day after day, like some we know!”

“By Ishtar, no!—And Tuda-Ishtar will not have to return, nor, indeed, have to wait at all! The first man that sees her—the bee and the honey-bloom!—You should have let us know!”

“She would go now and have it over with, and her debt to Mylitta paid.—After all, even though we are told it is a high duty, a woman wants the day behind her and out of mind!”

Iltani, going home with Ramtû, crossing the river in a boat, looked at the walls of the temple of Mylitta. There could be made out the court, surrounded by palm trees, where, for one time in her life, every woman of Babylon, saving only priestesses and votaries of a god, must sit until there came some man, no matter whom, who dropped a piece of silver in her lap. Then would the woman rise and go away with the man and pay her debt to Mylitta, keeping the silver piece ever after to show clearance.

The young Iltani saw behind her forehead Tuda-Ishtar sitting there under palm trees. They said that she would not have long to wait. That was because she was beautiful. Everybody admired that in Tuda-Ishtar, and served her because of it.

The young Iltani did not think of all that; she only saw a picture of her cousin sitting under the palm trees, and of a man coming near and then standing still before Tuda-Ishtar. Her fancy made the man young, and also beautiful…. Iltani looked at the palm tree and the blue sky behind them, and then she looked over the side of the boat at her own image in the still water. When she had regarded the image for some moments, she glanced aside at Ramtû. She longed that Ramtû should say to her, “Why you, too, Iltani, are beautiful!” But Ramtû talked to the boatman of the price of food….

Iltani grew apace. Said Ramtû to Lugal-naid, “What will you do with this girl? Younger than she have sat their day in the temple of Mylitta! And Ninmar has wed Beligunu!—Do you mean to present Iltani to the god?”

“That is what I intend,” said Lugal-naid. “It is an old oath that I swore if I prospered. I waited to see if I did so prosper. This year I am made superintendent of superintendents. Now Iltani shall become bride of Marduk!”

The procession returned to the court whence sprang the tower. All day the temple, all day the king and his chief men, all day Babylon and all Babylonia praised Marduk and did rites before him. All day Marduk was to be felt above the city, the river, the plain, above the temple quarter and its smoking altars, above the tower, the “mountain of the god.” All day the human Sarpanit awaited alone the slant rays of the sun and the human Marduk.

Amat-Tashmit had been given by her parents to the god some months before the coming of Iltani. Now Amat-Tashmit was shown her name written against such a day “for the holy room in the lofty house of Marduk.” Even the seeing of her name written made a gala day for the votary concerned. That day she was excused from work, she was served first at meal time, she was given a wreath of flowers. The next day she went to a range of rooms across the great court of the well and the trees. There, for so many days, would be training, instruction, purification, lasting until the day they adorned her and bore her with timbrel and song to the door of Marduk. As, every day, through the year of Marduk there wound the procession to the “mountain of the god,” so, every day, there moved through the courts of the votaries a woman crowned with flowers…. Iltani watched with a thrill Amat-Tashmit set the flower wreath upon her head.

The next day Amat-Tashmit was gone across the court of the well. Iltani, alone, copied accounts in the small room behind the great tree.

The thrill did not go away. Behind it arose a strange feeling that turned the tree into a forest through which Iltani wandered. The young Iltani, for all her copper-coloured hair, could not remember ever once having been in any forest, but that was what she felt. She worked all day in a dream; whether she sat alone, or found the humming of other women about her, in a dream. When the sun’s rays came slant and the trumpets blew Iltani turned face to the tower, and through her poured and thrilled and pulsed something new in the forest that seemed to turn red and purple and splendid.

At night, lying awake in a room with many young, sleeping women, the glow seemed to Iltani to pass into glory…. In the morning one of her companions said to her, “You look differently!”

That day the votary Â-rishat installed beside her two writers upon clay, and there was no more loneliness in that kind. But Iltani wandered in the forest of the inner world.

Lugal-naid had brought her to the temple in the spring of the year. She had been given in the days just following the New Year high festival, the god day of god days, the day when Marduk and Sarpanit remembered and celebrated their eternal wedding, immortal, without beginning, without ending, the day when out of his power and bliss Marduk portioned, for the year to come, the lot of mankind, the high day, rising like a tower out of ten preceding, marked days during which Babylonia remembered its sins and cleansed its heart, the day of the Sun when he put off his winter mourning. All the rest of the year fell away from that shining point, then turned upon itself and climbed again to the golden mark. Six months it fell away, six months it climbed…. The wreathed day, the high day, looked forward to by all Babylon, the huge festival, the day of mystic union and good omen, the day when to serve Marduk was fame and joy, Marduk who came in fulness of power, raying light….

To Iltani the votary the forest seemed to fill with light, rose light. Within it sprang desire like a strong tree, desire to be the Sarpanit of that day.

So high an honour was the dream, the aspiration, vague or distinct of every maiden in the house of the women. It was ever a maiden, chosen halfway in the year, in the autumn, then at once set aside, honoured, instructed, purified, made beautiful within and without against that high New Year day. There were many in the continually fed house of the women who might have that dream. Iltani, daughter of Lugal-naid, knew no reason why Iltani should be chosen.

But now, day and night, she saw before her the winged Marduk, shining one, god of gods! Desire held her, to be, that day, of the mountain-top. It sprang like a strong tree in the rose-lit forest, or rather it stood the forest itself….

Dav after day went by, and here was autumn. The votary Â-rishat spoke to Iltani. “The rulers of the temple sit to-day in the room of the lion. You and twenty more are chosen to pass before them.”

Priests and priestesses, chiefs in sanctity, sat in the room of the lion. Iltani saw them as huge veiled forms, guardians of the way to Marduk, god of gods, raying light—

Three days, and she went again to the room of the lion. One day more, and voices told her that Iltani, daughter of Lugal-naid, was chosen for the New Year Sarpanit. With trumpets it was proclaimed in the temple. Babylon knew it presently…. Lugal-naid gave a feast.

Iltani went to a part of the temple mass that was called the house of the New Year, and to a room therein that was named the room of Sarpanit. This chamber was built high, and it gave upon the flat roof of a congeries of attendant rooms. Upon the roof stood great earthen jars, filled with growing plants, and around it ran a brick parapet. The outer wall of the Sarpanit room was overpainted with a great tree of life, and beside it, tall as the tree, the winged Marduk. The whole faced the east, and when the sun had passed the zenith, stood in the shadow of the “mountain of the god.”

From autumn to spring, throughout the winter that knew rain but not snow, the New Year votary dwelled in the Sarpanit room, dwelled watched by aged women who were now but as doorkeepers and gardeners in the great house of the god, dwelled subject to much instruction by votary and priestess, efficient, famed, appointed to that service, dwelled in the midst of Sarpanit rites, a being set apart in the hive, symbolically, esoterically, the hive itself.

Iltani lived six months in the Sarpanit room. When the rains fell a great brazier filled with coals cast a dull glow upon pictured walls. When the sky cleared and the sun shone out, she might spend hours upon the roof warmed by the sun that again was Marduk. At night she might be a watcher of the stars.

She faced the “mountain of the god.” If it rained, a silver veil fell between her and it, or there was reared a leaden wall. If the weather was bright, all its colours dazzled. In moonshine and starshine it seemed to go yet higher, up among the stars.

Every morning she heard music and singing voices and watched the day’s votary mount to the seventh stage. When the sun’s rays came slant she heard the trumpets and watched the mounting priest of Marduk. When the dark came there was a lamp there, far above, in the Marduk-room…. The priest of the New Year…. She knew that he would be chosen for beauty and strength.

Iltani sat beneath the parapet of the roof by the Sarpanit room. It was night, mild as a spring night of more northern lands. The stars were shining. A young moon gave pale light. The beams fell against the tiled outer wall of the room and showed the huge, pictured forms.

Marduk was winged. He rose tall, tall and full of might! In his face, in his form was what majesty, what beauty the art of Babylonia could put there. He stood winged, his hand upon the tree of life.

Iltani had looked at him so long, saying, “God, God!” to herself, that now the wings and the crowned head seemed to rise among the stars, to rise from earth and become the firmament, the firmament overshadowing, upholding, to be worshipped, and only that to be worshipped…. Iltani of her own motion, bowed herself together, touched her forehead to the ground.

Ishtar!… She did not know why Ishtar, not Sarpanit, should come into her mind—save that Ishtar was in some way Mother Earth and all that grew, and dimly, dimly very great! Ishtar was mother and children, bearing and growing….

But Iltani looked again at Marduk, and was wrapped in magic, fold on fold.

Spring came upon the plains that stretched from Euphrates. Verdure and flowers arose from the dark. The watchers of the stars in the high house of Marduk sent word to the king, and the king proclaimed the word to the people. In the heavens was written the sign that meant rich harvests at home, and abroad, in the king’s wars, victory. Marduk had thrown, before his coming, a handful of jewels. At that the city so rejoiced that the nine days before the high days that were officially days of supplication, repentance and cleansing of heart, humbling and propitiation, went themselves like festival.

In the house of Sarpanit the New Year votary was watched, tended, made in all ways beauteous…. Marduk, coming in power, must find a Sarpanit also in power, kindler of desire!

Babylon, in fresh heat, under a sky from which had passed all the rain clouds, put on holiday garb. The people thronged the temple courts, coming in groups and bands and processions, bringing the sacrifices. There was heard, as on no other day, the bleating of sheep, the lowing of cattle, the voices of doves. King Sharrâni came in procession, with clangour and throb of instruments of music, with shouts of the populace. The gods from their lesser temples came in procession to visit Marduk, god of gods. Priest-borne, newly-decked, came the images by the Sacred Street, came to huge chanting, to the bowing of the throng. From the pictured walls looked the pictured genii, the pictured sacred beasts, the pictured gods.

Babylon and the brimming river Euphrates and the plain that was to thicken with wheat and barley, millet and sesame, waked through the starlight of the night before the day. Cresset lamps burned in doorways, the young men surged, singing, through the streets. Waned the spring night, arose a breath of balm and spice, came the light in the east. Trumpets blew from the city wall, trumpets blew from the king’s palace, trumpets blew from the temple roofs. Dawned the high day of the round year, the day when Marduk returned to his house in a golden mantle of strength! The children and all the people leaped up to festival. When Marduk the sun rose from where he slept, beyond Tigris, east of India, he was met with ecstasy. All day Marduk the sun rained light upon Babylonia, upon Babylon, and light intense upon his temple there. As ever, on the New Year day, were found men and women who claimed to see the winged Marduk, hovering in the heavens, above his lofty house….

At an early hour in the day the women votaries of the high god came with music, with garlands, with burning frankincense, to the Sarpanit-room in the shadow of the tower. They took Iltani and robed her in fine white figured with gold. They put a veil upon her like the mist upon the morning plain, and over it a twisted circlet of silver and gold. They took her from the Sarpanit-room and in the court they placed her at the head of their band, with only musicians going before her. They gave into her hand a stalk with two flowers, they raised over her a red canopy. The music swelled, the voices rose. In a blue, upcurling, incense cloud, Iltani set her foot upon the broad, the worn, the clay and fire made tower stair.

Stage by stage, stage by stage, and the city was below her and the thronged and throbbing temple courts. Stage by stage, and a gulf of blue light, thrilling, tingling was around. It weighed her down, it upheld her. She looked to the sky and thought that she saw Marduk, winged, coming from the sun.

The procession returned to the court whence sprang the tower. All day the temple, all day the king and his chief men, all day Babylon and all Babylonia praised Marduk and did rites before him. All day Marduk was to be felt above the city, the river, the plain, above the temple quarter and its smoking altars, above the tower, the “mountain of the god.” All day the human Sarpanit awaited alone the slant rays of the sun and the human Marduk.

Symbols—symbols that were warm and glowed…. Iltani-Sarpanit sat in the gold-furnished temple room in the prescribed attitude of devotion. She sat still, and light and fire ran through her being. Marduk—Marduk—Marduk!

The sun’s rays came slant. At the mountain-top, she heard at the mountain foot, trumpets blowing…. She veiled her eyes, she quivered. All at once, her strong dream of ecstasy parted a little…. This was a man coming to the mountain-top, a man as she was a woman. Terror threatened, a depth of headlong fall. O God, my God! O Marduk, raying light!

The lover was the winged Marduk—never, never must she lose him!… The trumpets were more loudly blowing, and now she might hear rising to her the strong chanting, the rhythmic tread. There was an altar in the room, and upon it a burning fire. Now she rose and, as she had been taught to do, heaped this with the richest spices, with sandalwood and frankincense. The room filled with thin clouds, blue and fragrant, and in the heart of these stood Iltani, and her soul beat about to repel the terror and keep the ecstasy.

Lugal-naid, and Ibni-Shamash and Nanâ-iddin, Ramtû, Ina-banat and Belatum, Innina-nûri, Tuda-Ishtar—teachings formal and informal, conscious, unconscious, word of mouth and blow from hand, long, long, long impressions, tellings and tellings and tellings, repetitions, as it were, before she was born, and repetitions after she was born—very much and very strong drew to themselves, whelmed and coloured the soul of the votary…. Iltani would have still the ecstasy, the abandonment, the feeling of god-presence. If he were not the god, make him such—make him such! Perhaps he was the god—perhaps he was—With man and woman man was highest always—Man was highest—Lugal-naid said it, Ramtû, Ina-banat, Belatum said it! Man was highest—man to woman was as god to votary!

She would not lose the winged Marduk, and she could not believe in her own wings. So she spread the burning frankincense, and she turned the altar of the god somewhat from the east, and in the blue smoke now rising, now flattened to right or left, now rolling downward, she, of her own movement, touched her forehead to the earth and beheld man as god.

The human Marduk, too, was young and chosen for beauty and strength….

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