Astarte (Greek Ἀστάρτη, "Astártē") is the Greek name of a goddess known throughout the Eastern Mediterranean from the Bronze Age to Classical times. Originally the deified evening star, she is found as Ugaritic ‘ṯtrt ("‘Aṯtart" or "‘Athtart"); Phoenician "‘shtrt" (‘Ashtart); and Hebrew עשתרת (Ashtoret, singular, or Ashtarot, plural), and appears in Akkadian as the grammatically masculine name of the goddess Ishtar; the form Astartu is used to describe her age. The name appears also in Etruscan as Uni-Astre (Pyrgi Tablets), Ishtar or Ashtart.
Astarte was connected with fertility, sexuality and war. Her symbols were the lion, the horse, the sphinx, the dove, and a star within a circle indicating the planet Venus. Pictorial representations often show her naked.
Other major centers of Astarte's worship were Sidon, Tyre, and Byblos. Coins from Sidon portray a chariot in which a globe appears, presumably a stone representing Astarte. In Sidon, she shared a temple with Eshmun. Coins from Beirut show Poseidon, Astarte and Eshmun worshipped together.
Other faith centers were Cytherea, Malta, and Eryx in Sicily from which she became known to the Romans as Venus Erycina. A bilingual inscription on the Pyrgi Tablets dating to about 500 BCE found near Caere in Etruria equates Astarte with Etruscan Uni-Astre that is, Juno. At Carthage Astarte was worshipped alongside the goddess Tanit.
Donald Harden in The Phoenicians discusses a statuette of Astarte from Tutugi (Galera) near Granada in Spain dating to the 6th or 7th century BCE in which Astarte sits on a throne flanked by sphinxes holding a bowl beneath her pierced breasts. A hollow in the statue would have been filled with milk through the head and gentle heating would have melted wax plugging the holes in her breasts, producing an apparent miracle when the milk emerged.
Astarte in Ugarit
Astarte appears in Ugaritic texts under the name ‘Athtart', but is little mentioned in those texts. ‘Athtart and ‘Anat together hold back Ba‘al from attacking the other deities. Astarte also asks Ba‘al to "scatter" Yamm "Sea" after Ba‘al's victory. ‘Athtart is called the "Face of Ba‘al".
Astarte in Egypt
Astarte arrived in Ancient Egypt during the 18th dynasty along with other deities who were worshipped by northwest Semitic people. She was especially worshipped in her aspect as a warrior goddess, often paired with the goddess Anat.
In the Contest Between Horus and Set, these two goddesses appear as daughters of Ra and are given in marriage to the god Set, here identified with the Semitic name Hadad. Astarte also was identified with the lioness warrior goddess Sekhmet, but seemingly more often conflated, at least in part, with Isis to judge from the many images found of Astarte suckling a small child. Indeed there is a statue of the 6th century BCE in the Cairo Museum, which normally would be taken as portraying Isis with her child Horus on her knee and which in every detail of iconography follows normal Egyptian conventions, but the dedicatory inscription reads: "Gersaphon, son of Azor, son of Slrt, man of Lydda, for his Lady, for Astarte." See G. Daressy, (1905) pl. LXI (CGC 39291).
Plutarch, in his On Isis and Osiris, indicates that the King and Queen of Byblos, who, unknowingly, have the body of Osiris in a pillar in their hall, are Melcarthus (i.e. Melqart) and Astarte (though he notes some instead call the Queen Saosis or Nemanūs, which Plutarch interprets as corresponding to the Greek name Athenais).
Astarte in Phoenicia
In the description of the Phoenician pantheon ascribed to Sanchuniathon, Astarte appears as a daughter of Sky and Earth and sister of the god El. After El overthrows and banishes his father Sky, as some kind of trick Sky sends to El his "virgin daughter" Astarte along with her sisters Asherah and the goddess who will later be called Ba`alat Gebal, "the Lady of Byblos". It seems that this trick does not work, as all three become wives of their brother El. Astarte bears to El children who appear under Greek names as seven daughters called the Titanides or Artemides and two sons named Pothos "Longing" and Eros "Desire".
Later we see, with El's consent, Astarte and Hadad reigning over the land together. Astarte, puts the head of a bull on her own head to symbolize her sovereignty. Wandering through the world Astarte takes up a star that has fallen from the sky (meteorite) and consecrates it at Tyre.
Astarte in Judah
Ashtoreth is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible as a foreign, non-Judahite goddess, the principal goddess of the Sidonians or Phoenicians, representing the productive power of nature. It is generally accepted that the Masoretic "vowel pointing" adopted ca. 135 CE, indicating the pronunciation ʻAštōreṯ ("Ashtoreth," "Ashtoret") is a deliberate distortion of "Ashtart", and that this is probably because the two last syllables have been pointed with the vowels belonging to bōšeṯ, ("bosheth," abomination), to indicate that that word should be substituted when reading. The plural form is pointed ʻAštārōṯ ("Ashtaroth"). The Biblical Ashtoreth should not be confused with the goddess Asherah, the form of the names being quite distinct, and both appearing quite distinctly in the First Book of Kings. The Biblical writers may, however, have conflated some attributes and titles of the two, as seems to have occurred throughout the first millennium Levant. For instance, the title "Queen of Heaven" as mentioned in the Book of Jeremiah has been connected with both. In later Jewish mythology, she became a female demon of lust; for what seems to be the use of the Hebrew plural form ʻAštārōṯ.
- Throughout the Old Testament, as noted below Judges 2:13, "And they forsook the Lord, and served Baal and Ashtaroth." in the Scofield Reference Bible, instances of Ashtaroth, plural of Ashtoreth, occur, including 1 Kings 11:5, Judges 10:6, 1 Samuel 7:3-4, 12:10, 31:10, 1 Kings 11:5, 11:33, 2 Kings 23:13. Scofield suggests that Jeremiah 44:18-19 refers to Ashtoreth (obliquely) as the "queen of heaven".
- In John Milton's, "Paradise Lost", Book I
Came ASTORETH, whom the PHOENICIANS call'd
ASTARTE, Queen of Heav'n, with crescent Horns;
To whose bright Image nightly by the Moon
SIDONIAN Virgins paid their Vows and Songs,
In SION also not unsung, where stood
Her Temple on th' offensive Mountain [the Mount of Olives], built
By that uxorious King [Solomon], whose heart though large,
Beguil'd by fair Idolatresses, fell
To Idols foul.
- In the serialized comic Testament published by Vertigo Astarte is one of the principal deity characters along with the Hebrew god and Moloch amongst others, interacting with both biblical stories and a near future tale that mirrors them.
- In David Gemmell's novels set in the world of the Drenai, Ustarte is an long-lived priestess who resides in a remote monastery in an inhospitable stretch of desert
- In Byron's verse play Manfred (written in 1816), Astarte is Manfred's dead sister with whom he seeks reunion, and for whose death he feels responsibility.
- In Poe's play Eulalie (1845) while giving praise to his dearly beloved he states "And all the day long shines bright and strong Astarte within the sky While ever to her dear Eulalie upturns her matron eye -"
- In Poe's play Ulalume , Poe's narrator observes "Astarte's bediamonded crescent, distinct with its duplicate horn" arising from "a liquescent and nebulous lustre" by the tomb of his beloved.
- In the episode "Klaus and Greta" on the television show 30 Rock, Jack Donaghy has a vision of Astarte while under the influence of fumes from an ancient carafe of wine brought to his New Year's party by Bob Ballard.
- In Tom Robbins book Skinny Legs and All , Astarte is frequently mentioned.
- Astarte (1967) was the first live, multi-media ballet performed by the Joffrey Ballet in New York and directed by Midge Mackenzie.
Some sources claim that the Greek goddess Aphrodite (especially in her aspect as Aphrodite Erycina) is another name for Astarte. Herodotus wrote that the religious community of Aphrodite originated in Phoenicia and came to Greeks from there. He also wrote about the world's largest temple of Aphrodite, in one of the Phoenician cities.
- ↑ Ishtar from Flickr.com
- ↑ K. van der Toorn, Bob Becking, Pieter Willem van der Horst, "Dictionary of deities and demons in the Bible", p.109-10
- ↑ John Day, "Yahweh and the gods and goddesses of Canaan", p.128
- ↑ Mark S. Smith, "The early history of God", p.129
- ↑ http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/midge-mackenzie-549501.html The Independent Obituary of Midge Mackenzie: Maverick campaigning film-maker
- Donald Harden, The Phoenicians (2nd ed., revised, London, Penguin 1980). ISBN 0-14-021375-9
- G. Daressy, Statues de divinités, (CGC 38001-39384), vol. II (Cairo, Imprimerie de l'Institut français d'archéologie orientale, 1905).
- Gerd Scherm, Brigitte Tast Astarte und Venus. Eine foto-lyrische Annäherung (Schellerten 1996), ISBN 3-88842-603-0.
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