Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1961 (61.197.5)

“Come, Gilgamesh, be you my bridegroom!” beckons the goddess Ishtar (in Tablet VI of the Gilgamesh epic), depicted at left in a 6-inch-high ivory from the ancient Assyrian city of Kalhu. Gilgamesh realizes, however, that marrying Ishtar would mean giving up his earthly life and serving as her divine subordinate, so he spurns her proposal in order to pursue his heroic adventures. In the two second-millennium B.C.E. versions of the epic, Gilgamesh ultimately gives up his heroic quest in order to live, on the one hand, as an ordinary man who enjoys the good life, or, on the other, as a king who preserves the continuity of the city. In the first millennium B.C.E., however, a tablet was added to the epic in which Gilgamesh prepares to die and become a judge of the netherworld—finally accepting the fate he scorned in rejecting Ishtar.