An Introduction to Mythology
Page: 114His recital ended, Ut-Napishtim undertook to cure Gilgamesh of his disease, and for that purpose directed him to a magic spring of healing virtue. The hero, once more strong and healthy, returned to his ancestor's dwelling and again demanded the secret of life. Ut-Napishtim, though he had previously pointed out the hopelessness of the quest, now told Gilgamesh how he might obtain the plant of life, and with Arad-Ea for his pilot the hero set out. He was successful in finding the magic plant, but ere he could make use of it a[Pg 254] serpent-monster stole it from him, and with his quest still unfulfilled he was obliged to return to Erech.
The mythological significance of this tablet is, of course, that the sun-god can never attain immortality, he must 'die' inevitably at eventide, cross the waters of death, and sojourn until morning in the Underworld. Just as Gilgamesh is healed and restored to Erech, so is the sun restored to the world at dawn, his quest still unsatisfied, for he must 'perish' again when night comes round.
The XIIth and last tablet concerns the return of Eabani's ghost (utukka) from the Underworld. Gilgamesh still mourns for his friend, and begs the gods to restore him to life. At length Ea hearkens and intercedes with Nergal, god of the Netherworld, who consents to release the spirit for a little while. The passage containing Gilgamesh's interview with the ghost is of interest as setting forth the Babylonian doctrine of care for the dead. Eabani describes the conditions of life in the Underworld, showing that the dead who are properly buried and receive offerings are comparatively comfortable, while those who are uncared for dwell in squalor and wretchedness.
We must not overlook the important astrological aspect of the Gilgamesh epic. It is generally thought that the division of the epic into twelve tablets implies a connexion with the zodiac, though it is also suggested that the association is an artificial one conceived by the Ninevite scribes who copied the poem. However this may be, it is obvious that the epic abounds in astrological allusions. Thus the sign Virgo would be represented by the wooing of Ishtar in the VIth tablet; Taurus by the combat with the celestial bull; Scorpio by the meeting with the scorpion-men at the Mountain of the Sunset, and also by the traversing of the region of darkness, since the scorpion typified darkness, and the sign Scorpio was frequently used both as the seventh and eighth signs of the zodiac. Capricornus, represented as a fish-tailed goat, may be depicted by the encounter with Sabitu, goddess of the sea. The deluge story inserted in the XIth tablet comes under the sign of Aquarius, the water-bearer; while Pisces, the twelfth sign, typical of the after-life, corresponds with the ghost-scene in the[Pg 255] XIIth tablet. As has been said, Gilgamesh and Eabani were both of them forms of the sun-god; it is therefore not impossible that they were the mythological equivalents of the sign Gemini, the twins, itself connected with two types of the solar deity. The astrological or zodiacal element in the epic grew in importance with the advance of astrology in Babylonia.
The generic term Veda ('knowledge') is applied to a collection of ancient Hindu writings forming the Brahmanical scriptures. The Veda comprised a group of four distinct collections of sacred literature—namely, the Rig-veda, or book of hymns, the Sama-veda, or book of chants, the Yajur-veda, or book of prayers, and the Atharva-veda, or book of the Atharvans—each of these composed of a Samhita (a collection of sacred sayings forming the veda proper), to which are appended three other classes of writings, somewhat less authoritative and divine—the Brahmanas (prose writings), the Aranyakas, dealing with the more esoteric rites, and the Upanishads, of a rationalistic and speculative nature. The Rig-veda, the work of early Aryan settlers in India, is the oldest and most important of the four, and is believed to be of high antiquity. It is written in a dialect older than classical Sanskrit. The Sama-veda and Yajur-veda are largely composed of borrowings from the Rig-veda, resemblances to which are also apparent in the Atharva-veda, though the significance of the latter is less religious and more magical.
With the religious and moral teachings of the Vedas we have here no concern; but the lore of the ancient gods which still lingers in them is of great mythological interest, and reveals to some extent the workings of Indian religious thought in the early Aryan period. The foundation of the early Hindu religion as it is set forth in the Vedic literature was, apparently, a simple animistic cult, wherefrom was gradually evolved a pantheon of deities for the most part anthropomorphic. The natural world was divided, conveniently enough, into three spheres, the earth, the air, and the sky, each of which had its presiding deity with his divine court. Thus arose a constantly[Pg 256] changing triad of supreme deities—changing, at all events, in name—and in time the partly monotheistic idea of a spiritual essence or universal soul pervading and animating all things, even the gods themselves.