The main solar deity of Mesopotamia was certainly male – Šamaš in Akkadian, and UTU in Sumerian. Evidence for this figure is abundant, and he performs normal sun-god/dess activities like witnessing and judging human activity, and maintaining life.
However, there are early personal names with a more feminine connotation, such as Ummi-Samas, (Šamaš is my mother), and Tulid-Shamash (Šamaš gave birth), which indicate that perhaps Šamaš had a female side. (In the same region, after all, the Canaanites and the Arabs both had sun-goddesses, Šapaš and Shams.)
A goddess called A or Aya was Šamaš’ consort, and had solar characteristics in her own right. Her name means simply lady or mistress. One of her titles was dsud-aga – nur same “heavenly light” (Leick: 17.), and in Akkadian Aya meant simply “dawn”. She must have been a popular deity, and an old one, with inscriptions dating back to pre-Sargonic times. People were named after her in the Ur III period (21st-20th century BCE).
She was mostly worshipped as an intercessor, since her husband was the gods of justice. (Like Mary in the Christian tradition.) She was important enough to be one of the treaty-deities of Hatti (Leick: 17), and appears in god-lists from Ugarit. A cylinder seal in the Freud Collection shows Šamaš, a king, and a woman in horned head-dress, who may well be Aya. She stands with upraised arms behind the king and is probably intervening on his behalf. In the epic of Gilgamesh, the hero’s mother blames Šamaš for his desire to go wandering, and asks Aya to intervene so that the god will protect her son.
When the Semtic Akkadians came to Mesopotamia, all the local deities underwent a translation rather like the Graeco-Roman deities did. In this case, the sun-god Utu became Šamaš, and his wife Aya became Šerida. (Wikipedia describes Šerida as a “minor sun goddess“.)
Jastrow thinks that she was a form of solar deity who became identified with the chief sun-god, and then was married to him. ( Jastrow: 74.) (This happened to several solar deities, including the gods Malik.) Šamaš’ main temple was at Sippar, and he shared his rulership of the town with Aya. (They also shared a temple in the city of Larsa.) Her name appears alongside his in documents as “witnesses” to rentals of fields and houses and temple loans. In her role as wife she was a goddess of sexuality and fertility, called kallatum, “the bride” and belet-ulsazu unat “Mistress adorned with voluptuousness”. (Leick: 17)
None of this is to say that Serida is a sun-goddess, but she seems to have been a light-goddess like the Greek Theia, who was Hyperion’s wife and Helios’ mother. The voluptuous aspect would fit with other dawn-goddesses, such as Eos and Ushas.
Utu, your heart may turn good (again), your liver may turn favourable, your bright countenance, your rightful judgement to the place of Šerida, your beloved (?) spouse. Šerida, your beloved (?) spouse with sweet words may she welcome you … To the couch, your (good) piece of furniture, may she (?) invite you.
(Hymn to Utu 181-187)
Whoever has eaten good bread has also drunk good beer, in the house where the righteous man has filled the bowls with liquor — the lord of the storehouse, the Great Mountain Enlil; the lady of the storehouse, the great mother Ninlil; youthful Utu, lord of the mountain; Šerida, youthful leader of battle; the Enki and Ninki deities; Enmul and Ninmul.
A šir-namšub to Utu (Utu E) 1-7.
The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature: Sumerian Hymns and Cultsongs, Jan. 25, 2015. (Scribd)
Leick, Gwendolyn, 1998: A Dictionary of Ancient Near Easter Mythology, Routledge, London.
Jastrow, Morris, 1893: The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, Gutenberg Project, Jan. 25, 2015.
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