Bull of Heaven

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Ancient Mesopotamian terracotta relief showing Gilgamesh slaying the Bull of Heaven, an episode described in Tablet VI of the Epic of Gilgamesh[1]

In Tablet VI of the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Bull of Heaven is a mythical beast that Ishtar demands from her father Anu in the Sumerian poem Gilgamesh and the Bull of Heaven after Gilgamesh repudiates her sexual advances.[2] Ishtar threatens that, if Anu does not give her Bull of Heaven, she will smash the gates of the Underworld and raise the dead to eat the living.[3] Anu at first objects to Ishtar's demand, insisting that the Bull of Heaven is so destructive that its release would result in seven years of famine.[3] Ishtar declares that she has stored up enough grain for all people and all animals for the next seven years.[3] Eventually, Anu reluctantly agrees to gives it to Ishtar and she unleashes it on the world, causing mass destruction.[2][3] The Bull's first breath blows a hole in the ground that one hundred men fall into and its second breath creates another hole, trapping two hundred more.[3] Gilgamesh and Enkidu work together to slay the Bull;[2][3] Enkidu goes behind the Bull and pulls its tail[3] while Gilgamesh thrusts his sword into the Bull's neck, killing it.[3]

Gilgamesh and Enkidu offer the Bull's heart to the sun-god Shamash.[4][5] While Gilgamesh and Enkidu are resting, Ishtar stands up on the walls of Uruk and curses Gilgamesh.[4][6][7] Enkidu tears off the Bull's right thigh and throws it in Ishtar's face.[4][6][7] Ishtar calls together "the crimped courtesans, prostitutes and harlots"[4] and orders them to mourn for the Bull of Heaven.[4][6] Meanwhile, Gilgamesh holds a celebration over the Bull of Heaven's defeat.[8][6]

The Bull of Heaven is identified with the constellation Taurus[2] and the reason why Enkidu hurls the bull's thigh at Ishtar in the Epic of Gilgamesh after defeating it may be an effort to explain why the constellation seems to be missing its hind quarters.[2] Some scholars consider the Bull of Heaven to be the same figure as Gugalanna, the husband of Ereshkigal mentioned by Inanna in Inanna's Descent into the Underworld.[9]


  1. ^ Black & Green 1992, p. 90.
  2. ^ a b c d e Black & Green 1992, p. 49.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Jacobsen 1976, p. 201.
  4. ^ a b c d e Dalley 1989, p. 82.
  5. ^ Fontenrose 1980, pp. 168–169.
  6. ^ a b c d Fontenrose 1980, p. 169.
  7. ^ a b Jacobsen 1976, p. 202.
  8. ^ Dalley 1989, p. 82-83.
  9. ^ Pryke 2017, p. 205.


  • Black, Jeremy; Green, Anthony (1992), Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia: An Illustrated Dictionary, The British Museum Press, ISBN 0714117056 
  • Jacobsen, Thorkild (1976), The Treasures of Darkness: A History of Mesopotamian Religion, New Haven, Connecticut and London, England: Yale University Press, ISBN 0-300-02291-3 
  • Pryke, Louise M. (2017), Ishtar, New York and London: Routledge, ISBN 978-1-138--86073-5 
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