University of Essex
The End of Eternity and the
Mesopotamian ‘Rod and Ring’
Dr Ben Pestell
University of Essex
Thursday 23 November 2023
7.30 – 9.00 pm (GMT)
All welcome


To register for this Zoom event, please email: pps@essex.ac.uk (mention CMS open seminar)

Figures of authority are often depicted holding a staff. The meaning of such sticks varies according to cultural context, and whether or not you wield it yourself. Perhaps it connotes stability, order and justice, or teleological progress, patriarchal power and state violence. We may think of the Ancient Greek skeptron or the monarchical ball and sceptre. A mysterious example of a staff of authority is found in the Mesopotamian ‘rod and ring’. When the goddess Inanna descends to the underworld, she takes her lapis lazuli rod and her ring of rope, but these are among the attributes that she must surrender to gain access. Is it the same rod and ring that is carved in the famous ‘Queen of the Night’ relief of Inanna’s counterpart Ishtar? Or is the figure depicted in the relief Ereshkigal, Queen of the Underworld herself? The ‘rod and ring’ is ubiquitous in depictions of Mesopotamian deities, but its precise significance is uncertain. It may be a symbol of divine authority, of political power, or justice. It may have a practical purpose as a measuring tool. It may also evoke a mythical conception of time, in which the linear and cyclical experiences of time are given equal importance. Understanding the rod and ring as a symbol of eternity, and tracing the symbol’s use chronologically, I identify where eternity breaks down, leaving humanity stranded in profane time.

Ben Pestell is an independent scholar and tutor. He has a PhD from the University of Essex where he is Visiting Fellow with the Centre for Myth Studies, and where he co-founded the long-running Myth Reading Group (the forerunner of the present open seminar series). He is co-editor of Translating Myth (Routledge/Legenda, 2016), and his publications address myth in contemporary literature, theories of myth, and contemporary receptions and interpretations of Greek Tragedy. He has taught widely in Adult Education for the WEA and the Mary Ward Centre, leading courses in Greek epic and tragedy, myths from Norse and Mesopotamian traditions, myth theory, comparative mythologies, and literary walks.