Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria
In ancient inscriptions, especially those of Gudea, Urbau, and Uru-kagina, the goddess Bau is alluded to as the great mother of mankind, who restores the sick to health. She is called 'chief daughter of Anu,' and seems to play the part of a fate to some extent. She has also an agricultural side to her character. Gudea was especially devoted to her, and has left it on record that she "filled him with[Pg 145] eloquence." Her temple was at Uru-Azagga, a quarter of Lagash, and as the goddess of that neighbourhood she would, of course, have come into close contact with Nin-Girsu. Indeed she is spoken of as his consort, and when Uru-Azagga became part of Lagash, Bau was promoted as tutelar goddess of that city and designated 'Mother of Lagash.' She has been identified with the primeval watery depths, the primitive chaos, and this identification has been founded on the similarity between the name Bau and the Hebrew bohu, the word for 'chaos,' but proof is wanting to support the conjecture. A closely allied form of her seems to be Ga-tum-dug, a goddess who has probably a common origin with Bau, and who certainly is in some manner connected with water—perhaps with the clouds.
Nannar was the moon-god of Ur, the city whence came Abram, and with that place he was connected much as was Shamash with Sippar—that is to say, Ur was his chief but not his only centre of adoration. Why he came to have his principal seat at Ur it would be difficult to say. The name Ur signifies 'light,' so it may be that a shrine dedicated to Nannar existed upon the site of this city and constituted its nucleus. In Babylonian mythology the sun was regarded as the offspring of the moon, and it is easy to see how this conception arose in the minds of a race prone to astronomical study. In all civilizations the lunar method of computing time precedes the solar. The phases of the moon are regarded as more trustworthy and more easily followed than the more obscure changes of the brighter luminary, therefore a greater degree of importance was attached to[Pg 146] the moon in very early times than to the sun. The moon is usually represented on Babylonian cylinders as bearing a crescent upon his head and wearing a long, flowing beard described as of the colour of lapis-lazuli—much the same shade as his beams possess in warmer latitudes. Nannar was frequently alluded to as 'the heifer of Anu,' because of the horn which the moon displays at a certain phase. Many monarchs appear to have delighted in the upkeep and restoration of his temple, among them Nur-Ramman and Sin-iddina.
But, as happens to many gods, Nannar became confounded with some earthly hero—was even alluded to as a satrap of Babylonia under the Median monarch Artaios—a personage unknown to history. Ctesias hands down to us a very circumstantial tale concerning him as follows:
"There was a Persian of the name of Parsondes, in the service of the king of the Medes, an eager huntsman, and an active warrior on foot and in the chariot, distinguished in council and in the field, and of influence with the king. Parsondes often urged the king to make him satrap of Babylon in the place of Nannaros, who wore women's clothes and ornaments, but the king always put the petition aside, for it could not be granted without breaking the promise which his ancestor had made to Belesys. Nannaros discovered the intentions of Parsondes, and sought to secure himself against them, and to take vengeance. He promised great rewards to the cooks who were in the train of the king, if they[Pg 147] succeeded in seizing Parsondes and giving him up. One day, Parsondes in the heat of the chase strayed far from the king. He had already killed many boars and deer, when the pursuit of a wild ass carried him to a great distance. At last he came upon the cooks, who were occupied in preparations for the king's table. Being thirsty, Parsondes asked for wine; they gave it, took care of his horse, and invited him to take food—an invitation agreeable to Parsondes, who had been hunting the whole day. He bade them send the ass which he had captured to the king, and tell his own servants where he was. Then he ate of the various kinds of food set before him, and drank abundantly of the excellent wine, and at last asked for his horse in order to return to the king. But they brought beautiful women to him, and urged him to remain for the night. He agreed, and as soon as, overcome by hunting, wine, and love, he had fallen into a deep sleep, the cooks bound him and brought him to Nannaros. Nannaros reproached Parsondes with calling him an effeminate man, and seeking to obtain his satrapy; he had the king to thank that the satrapy granted to his ancestors had not been taken from him. Parsondes replied that he considered himself more worthy of the office, because he was more manly and more useful to the king. But Nannaros swore by Bel and Mylitta that Parsondes should be softer and whiter than a woman, called for the eunuch who was over the female players, and bade him shave the body of Parsondes and bathe and anoint him every day, put women's clothes on him, plait his hair after the manner of women, paint his face, and place him among the women who played the guitar and sang, that he might learn their arts. This was done, and soon Parsondes played and[Pg 148] sang better at the table of Nannaros than any of the women. Meanwhile the king of the Medes had caused search to be made everywhere for Parsondes; and since he could nowhere be found, and nothing could be heard of him, he believed that a lion or some other wild animal had killed him when out hunting, and lamented for his loss. Parsondes had lived for seven years as a woman in Babylon, when Nannaros caused a eunuch to be scourged and grievously maltreated. This eunuch Parsondes induced by large presents to retire to Media and tell the king the misfortune which had come upon him. Then the king sent a message commanding Nannaros to give up Parsondes. Nannaros declared that he had never seen him. But the king sent a second messenger, with orders to put Nannaros to death if he did not surrender Parsondes. Nannaros entertained the messenger of the king; and when the meal was brought, 150 women entered, of whom some played the guitar, while others blew the flute. At the end of the meal, Nannaros asked the king's envoy which of all the women was the most beautiful and had played best. The envoy pointed to Parsondes. Nannaros laughed long and said, 'That is the person whom you seek,' and released Parsondes, who on the next day returned home with the envoy to the king in a chariot. The king was astonished at the sight of him, and asked why he had not avoided such disgrace by death. Parsondes answered, 'In order that I might see you again and by you execute vengeance on Nannaros, which could never have been mine had I taken my life.' The king promised him that his hope should be realized, as soon as he came to Babylon. But when he came there, Nannaros defended himself on the ground that Parsondes, [Pg 149]though in no way injured by him, had maligned him, and sought to obtain the satrapy over Babylonia. The king pointed out that he had made himself judge in his own cause, and had imposed a punishment of a degrading character; in ten days he would pronounce judgment upon him for his conduct. In terror, Nannaros hastened to Mitraphernes, the eunuch of greatest influence with the king, and promised him the most liberal rewards, 10 talents of gold and 100 talents of silver, 10 golden and 200 silver bowls, if he could induce the king to spare his life and retain him in the satrapy of Babylonia. He was prepared to give the king 100 talents of gold, 1000 talents of silver, 100 golden and 300 silver bowls, and costly robes, with other gifts; Parsondes also should receive 100 talents of silver and costly robes. After many entreaties, Mitraphernes persuaded the king not to order the execution of Nannaros, as he had not killed Parsondes, but to exact from him the compensation which he was prepared to pay Parsondes and the king. Nannaros in gratitude threw himself at the feet of the king; but Parsondes said, 'Cursed be the man who first brought gold among men; for the sake of gold I have been made a mockery to the Babylonians.'"