Department of Near Eastern Antiquities
A cuneiform inscription on his right shoulder tells us who he is. With adoring lapis lazuli, kohl-lined, seashell eyes; bald head; beard; and sheepskin skirt, the alabaster Ebih-il smiles and gazes out…beyond us…presumably into the eyes of his beloved, the Goddess Ishtar. We know this is so because history tells us that Ebih-il, an important official in Mari, placed the statue in the Temple of Ishtar himself, as a sign of his longing and devotion.
This is a votive image. These statues are often depicted with their hands closed on their chests offering a symbolic prayer to a god or goddess.
In this case the goddess is Ishtar, the principal goddess of many of the Middle Eastern peoples of that time. Interestingly, Ishtar was goddess of both love and war, fertility and sex, which suited the warring tribes of the region just fine. (I wonder if homage is still paid to Ishtar by the warring tribes of the region: Iraq, Iran, Syria, etc.) A study of Ishtar may eventually be in order as her power was great and greatly contradictory. For example, in addition to presiding over love and war, she was also considered a giver of life, yet was heralded as a virgin. She was an excellent huntress (with bow and arrow) and also stole hearts. The Hymn to Ishtar (ca. 1400 B.C.) extolls: “her lips are sweet…her figure is beautiful, her eyes are brilliant…women and men adore her.”
And, with this statue, from the Temple of Ishtar to the Louvre, we see the eternal adoration of Ebih-il to his Goddess.