"The legendary Queen of Assyria was so given to lust, she made legal those sensual vices of which she was often accused. Now she suffers for her desires."
It is believed that the legend of Semiramis was inspired by the historic Assyrian queen, Shammuramat (Semiramis being a Greek adaption of the original name). After the death of her husband, Shammuramat ruled as regent for her son, Adad-Nirari III, until he came of age. As such, her reign was tolerated, as normally women could not rule in their own right. Her skill in rulership was evidently effective enough that she became a highly respected figure among the Assyrians. She may have been deified upon her death, and as time went on the story of Shammuramat became more embellished and elaborated on, resulting in the mythic figure that became Semiramis.
The legend of Semiramis was recounted by both Ctesias of Cnidus and Diodorus Siculus, from which the popular accounts of her exist today. Here, she is written as the demigoddess wife of Onnes, general of King Ninus. Her wise counsel and her bravery in battle caused Ninus to fall in love with her; to gain her as a wife, he drove Onnes to madness and ultimately suicide. Upon the death of her second husband during a war with the Bactrians, Semiramis disguised herself as her son, Ninyas, in order to lead her husband's army, who believed they were taking orders from the new king. After this, she continued to rule in her own right for 42 years, refortifying Babylon and expanding her empire. She was also credited for several innovations, such as the castration of eunuchs and the damming of the Euphrates River.
However, Semiramis began to be viewed in a negative light in later centuries, first in Armenian legend (stated to have started a war with the Armenians when their king refused to marry her, resulting in their beloved king's death), and then by Christian writers, who painted her as a lustful, incestuous queen who raped her own son, passing a law to make incest between parents and children legal. Semiramis was later killed by her son.
- In The Inferno, Dante witnesses the soul of Semiramis along with the many other lustful souls who are condemned within the Tempest of Lustful Shades, within the second circle of Hell.
- Armenian legend also portrays her as lustful - namely, a homewrecker and a harlot.
- Indigenous Assyrians, who are currently centered around Iraq, northwest Iran, northeast Syria and southeast Turkey, still use Semiramis as a name for female children.