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Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 32

We shall probably not be far in error if we regard the myth of the combat between Merodach and Tiawath as an explanation of the primal strife between light and darkness. Among the most primitive peoples, the solar hero has at one stage of his career to encounter a grisly dragon or serpent, who threatens his very existence. In many cases this monster guards a treasure which mythologists of a generation ago almost invariably explained as that gold which is spread over the sky at the hour of sunset. The[Pg 80] assigning of solar characteristics to all slayers of dragons and their kind was a weakness of the older school of mythology, akin to its deductions based on philological grounds; but such criticism as has been directed against the solar theory—and it has been extensive—has not always been pertinent, and in many cases has been merely futile. In fact the solar theory suffered because of the philological arguments with which it was bound up, and neither critics nor readers appeared to discriminate between these. But we should constantly bear in mind that to attempt to elucidate or explain myths by any one system, or by one hard and fast hypothesis, is futile. On the other hand nearly all systems which have yet attempted to elucidate or disentangle the terms of myth are capable of application to certain types of myth. The dragon story is all but universal: in China it is the monster which temporarily swallows the sun during eclipse; in Egypt it was the great serpent Apep, which battled with Ra and Horus, both solar heroes; in India it is the serpent Vritra, or Ahi, who is vanquished by Indra; in Australia and in some parts of North America a great frog takes the place of the dragon. In the story of Beowulf the last exploit of the hero is the slaying of a terrible fire-breathing dragon which guards a hidden treasure-hoard; and Beowulf receives a mortal wound in the encounter. In the Volsung Saga the covetous Faffnir is turned into a dragon and is slain by Sigurd. These must not be confounded with the monsters which cause drought and pestilence. It is a sun-swallowing monster with which we have here to deal.


Conflict between Merodach and Tiawath.—Photo W. A. Mansell and Co.


The tablets here allude to the creation of man; the gods, it is stated, so admired the handiwork of Merodach, that they desired to see him execute[Pg 81] still further marvels. Now the gods had none to worship them or pay them homage, and Merodach suggested to his father, Ea, the creation of man out of his divine blood. Here once more the tablets fail us, and we must turn to the narrative of the Chaldean writer Berossus, as preserved by no less than three authors of the classical age. Berossus states that a certain woman Thalatth (that is, Tiawath) had many strange creatures at her bidding. Belus (that is, Bel-Merodach) attacked and cut her in twain, forming the earth out of one half and the heavens out of the other, and destroying all the creatures over which she ruled. Then did Merodach decapitate himself, and as his blood flowed forth the other gods mingled it with the earth and formed man from it. From this circumstance mankind is rational, and has a spark of the divine in it. Then did Merodach divide the darkness, separate the heavens from the earth, and order the details of the entire universe. But those animals which he had created were not able to bear the light, and died. A passage then occurs which states that the stars, the sun and moon, and the five planets were created, and it would seem from the repetition that there were two creations, that the first was a failure, in which Merodach had, as it were, essayed a first attempt, perfecting the process in the second creation. Of course it may be conjectured that Berossus may have drawn from two conflicting accounts, or that those who quote him have inserted the second passage.


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