Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria
Page: 62Dagon his name; sea-monster, upward man
And downward fish,
as Milton expresses it, affords one of the most dramatic instances in the Old Testament of the downfall of a usurping idol.
"And the Philistines took the ark of God, and brought it from Eben-ezer unto Ashdod.
"When the Philistines took the ark of God, they brought it into the house of Dagon, and set it by Dagon.
"And when they of Ashdod arose early on the morrow, behold, Dagon was fallen upon his face to the earth before the ark of the Lord. And they took Dagon, and set him in his place again.
"And when they arose early on the morrow morning, behold, Dagon was fallen upon his face to the ground before the ark of the Lord; and the head of Dagon and both the palms of his hands were cut off upon the threshold; only the stump of Dagon was left to him.
"Therefore neither the priests of Dagon, nor any that come into Dagon's house, tread on the threshold of Dagon in Ashdod unto this day.
"But the hand of the Lord was heavy upon them of Ashdod, and he destroyed them, and smote them with emerods, even Ashdod and the coasts thereof.
"And when the men of Ashdod saw that it was so, they said, The ark of the God of Israel shall not abide with us: for his hand is sore upon us and upon Dagon our god."
Thus in the Bible story only the 'stump' or fish's tail of Dagon was left to him. In some of the Ninevite sculptures of this deity, the head of the fish forms a kind of mitre on the head of the man, while the body of the fish appears as a cloak or cape over his shoulders and back. This is a sure sign to the mythological student that a god so adorned is in process of quitting the animal for the human form.
This deity is alluded to in an inscription as "the eldest of the gods." He was especially favoured by the Kings of Assyria, and we find his name entering into the composition of several of their texts. In a certain poem he is called the "son of Bel," and is described as being made "in the likeness of Anu." He rides, it is said, against the gods of his enemies in a chariot of lapis-lazuli, and his onset is full of the fury of the tempest. Bel, his father, commands him to set forth for the temple of Bel at Nippur. Here Nusku, the messenger of Bel, meets him, bestows a gift upon him, and humbly requests that he will not disturb the god Bel, his father, in his dwelling-place, nor terrify the earth-gods. It would appear from this passage that Nirig was on the point of taking the place of Bel, his father, but that he ever did so is improbable. As a deity of storm he is also a god of war, but he was the seed-scatterer upon the mountains, therefore he had also an agricultural significance. It is strange that in Babylonia tempest-gods possess the same functions and attributes—those of war and agriculture—as do rain or thunder, or rain-thunder, or wind and rain deities elsewhere-a circumstance which is eloquent of the power of climatic conditions in the manufacture of myth. In Mesopotamia fierce sand-storms must have given the people the idea of a savage and intractable deity, destructive rather than beneficent, as many hymns and kindred texts witness.