We may reasonably assume that the analogy drawn from the process of reproduction among men and animals led to the conception of a female deity presiding over the life of the universe. The extension of the scope of this goddess to life in general-to the growth of plants and trees from the fructifying seed-was a natural outcome of a fundamental idea; and so, whether we turn to incantations or hymns, in myths and in epics, in votive inscriptions and in historical annals, Ishtar is celebrated and invoked as the great mother, as the mistress of lands, as clothed in splendour and power-one might almost say as the personification of life itself.
But there are two aspects to this goddess of life. She brings forth, she fertilizes the fields, she clothes nature in joy and gladness, but she also withdraws her favours and when she does so the fields wither, and men and animals cease to reproduce. In place of life, barrenness and death ensue. She is thus also a grim goddess, at once cruel and destructive. We can, therefore, understand that she was also invoked as a goddess of war and battles and of the chase; and more particularly among the warlike Assyrians she assumes this aspect. Before the battle she appears to the army, clad in battle array and armed with bow and arrow. In myths symbolizing the change of seasons she is portrayed in this double character, as the life-giving and the life-depriving power. The most noteworthy of these myths describes her as passing through seven gates into the nether world. At each gate some of her clothing and her ornaments are removed until at the last gate she is entirely naked. While she remains in the nether world as a prisoner-whether voluntary or involuntary it is hard to say-all fertility ceases on earth, but the time comes when she again returns to earth, and as she passes each gate the watchman restores to her what she had left there until she is again clad in her full splendour, to the joy of mankind and of all nature. Closely allied with this myth and personifying another view of the change of seasons is the story of Ishtar's love for Tammuz-symbolizing the spring time-but as midsummer approaches her husband is slain and, according to one version, it is for the purpose of saving Tammuz from the clutches of the goddess of the nether world that she enters upon her journey to that region.
In all the great centres Ishtar had her temples, bearing such names as E-anna, "heavenly house," in Erech; E-makh, "great house," in Babylon; E-mash-mash, "house of offerings," in Nineveh. Of the details of her cult we as yet know little, but there is no evidence that there were obscene rites connected with it, though there may have been certain mysteries introduced at certain centres which might easily impress the uninitiated as having obscene aspects. She was served by priestesses as well as by priests, and itpyvould appear that the votaries of Ishtar were in all cases virgins who, as long as they remained in the service of Ishtar, were not permitted to marry.
In the astral-theological system, Ishtar becomes the planet Venus, and the double aspect of the goddess is made to correspond to the strikingly different phases of Venus in the summer and winter seasons. On monuments and seal-cylinders she appears frequently with bow and arrow, though also simply clad in long robes with a crown on her head and an eight-rayed star as her symbol. Statuettes have been found in large numbers representing her as naked with her arms folded across her breast or holding a child. The art thus reflects the popular conceptions formed of the goddess. Together with Sin, the moon-god, and Shamash, the sun-god, she is the third figure in a triad personifying the three great forces of nature-moon, sun and earth, as the life-force. The doctrine involved illustrates the tendency of the Babylonian priests to centralize the manifestations of divine power in the universe, just as the triad Anu, Bel and Ea (q.v.)-the heavens, the earth and the watery deep-form another illustration of this same tendency.
Naturally, as a member of a triad, Ishtar is dissociated from any local limitations, and similarly as the planet Venus-a conception which is essentially a product of theological speculation-no thought of any particular locality for her cult is present. It is because her cult, like that of Sin (q. v.) and Shamash (q.v.), is spread over all Babylonia and Assyria, that she becomes available for purposes of theological speculation.
ISHTIB, or ISTIB (anc. Astibon, Slav. Shtipliye or Shtip), a town of Macedonia, European Turkey, in the vilayet of Kossovoy 45 m. E.S.E. of Uskub. Pop. (1905) about 10,000. Ishtib is built on a hill at the confidence of the small river Ishtib with the Bregalnitza, a tributary of the Vardar. It has a thriving agricultural trade, and possesses several fine mosques, a number of fountains and a large bazaar. A hill on the north-west is crowned by the ruins of an old castle.
ISIDORE OF ALEXANDRIA Greek philosopher and one of the last of the Neoplatonists, lived in Athens and Alexandria towards the end of the 5th century A.D. He became head of the school in Athens in succession to Marinus Who followed Proclus. His views alienated the chief members of the school and he was compelled to resign his position to Hegias. He is known principally as the preceptor of Damascius whose testimony to him in the Life of Isidorus presents him in a very favourable light as a man and a thinker. It is generally admitted, however, that he was rather an enthusiast than a thinker; reasoning with him was subsidiary to inspiration, and he preferred the theories of Pythagoras and Plato to the unimaginative logic and the practical ethics of the Stoics and the Aristotelians. He seems to have given loose rein to a sort of theosophical speculation and attached great importance to dreams and waking visions on which he used to expatiate in his public discourses.
Damascius' Life is preserved by Photius in the Bibliotheca, and the fragments are printed in the Didot edition of Diogenes Laértius. See Agathias, Hist. ii. 30; Photius, Bibliotheca, 181; and histories of Neoplatonism.
ISIDORE OF SEVILLE, or Isidorus Hispalensis (c. 560-636), Spanish encyclopaedist and historian, was the son of Severianus, a distinguished native of Cartagena, who came to Seville about the time of the birth of Isidore. Leander, bishop of Seville, was his elder brother. Left an orphan while still young, Isidore was educated in a monastery, and soon distinguished himself in controversies with the Arians. In 599, on the death of his brother, he was chosen archbishop of Seville, and acquired high renown by his successful administration of the episcopal office, as well as by his numerous theological, historical and scientific Works. He founded a school at Seville, and taught in it himself. In the provincial and national councils he played an important part, notably at Toledo in 610, at Seville in 619 and in 633 at Toledo, which profoundly modified the organization of the church in Spain. His great work, however, was in another line. Profoundly versed in the Latin as well as in the Christian literature, his indefatigable intellectual curiosity led him to condense and reproduce in encyclopedic form the fruit of his wide reading. His works, which include all topics-science, canon law, history or theology-are unsystematic and largely uncritical, merely reproducing at second hand the substance of such sources as were available. Yet in their inadequate way they served to keep alive throughout the dark ages some little knowledge of the antique culture and learning. The most elaborate of his writings is the Originum sive etymologiarum libri XX. It was the last of his works, written between 622 and 633, and was corrected by his friend and disciple Braulion. It is an encyclopedia of all the sciences, under the form of an explanation of the terms proper to each of them. It was one of the capital books of the middle ages.
- With Isidore of Alexandria has been confused an Isidore of Gaza, mentioned by Photius. Little is known of him except that he was one of those who accompanied Damascius to the Persian court when Justinian closed the schools in Athens in 529. Suidas, in speaking of lsidore of Alexandria, says that Hypatia was his wife, but there is no means of approximating the dates (see Hypatia). Suetonius, in his Life of Nero, refers to a Cynic philosopher named lsidore, who said to have jested publicly at the expense of Nero.