Inanna’s Willow

In Inanna’s Bargain, I explored the idea of multiple (fictitious) versions of ancient Mesopotamian myths, passed down and shared through oral traditions. With so many stories circulating, how did people know what to believe?

“There are many legends about the tree of life, as well as other trees favored by the gods,” Beluga stated. “In one of the most famous stories, the goddess Inanna finds a beautiful willow tree growing on the banks of the Euphrates River. She transplants the tree to her garden in Uruk with the intention of someday carving it into furniture. But the tree is beset by a serpent and two demons. In one version of the narrative, the hero-king Gilgamesh arrives and slays the serpent, causing the demons to flee. He chops down the tree, and at Inanna’s request he carves the wood into a throne for the goddess.”

“I’ve heard about Inanna’s willow,” I replied. “This legend is well-known in Uruk.”

“Yes, that is so,” Beluga responded. “But there is another version of the story, in which Gilgamesh slays the serpent but does not chop down the tree. Inanna decides that the willow is too beautiful to carve into furniture. Instead, she transplants the tree to Nippur, the holy city of her uncle Enlil, where it would remain protected for all time.”

Beluga smiled mysteriously and extended his arm towards the garden path.

“Some people say that Inanna’s willow still stands in this public garden,” he stated. “The tree is hidden within a grove of willows, connected with the beauty of life and death all around us. Like the tree of life, its branches arch towards the sun, and its roots extend into the soil and waters below.”

Looking in the direction of his gesture, I saw a cluster of willow trees in the distance, bordering a small stream. I smiled in pleasure at the sight, and my heart lifted in joy. I was intrigued by the thought that this story might be true. I liked entertaining the idea that Inanna’s willow might be growing in this garden, that its magical presence might thrive nearby.

Ultimately, I realized that I was in no position to judge the truth of any of the ancient legends. For all I knew, Inanna could very well have transplanted her willow tree into this public garden. Inanna was known to be capricious in her whims. I could easily imagine her transplanting a tree, not once but multiple times.

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