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Myths of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 47

Another Sumerian storm demon was the Zu bird, which is represented among the stars by Pegasus and Taurus. A legend relates that this "worker of evil, who raised the head of evil", once aspired to rule the gods, and stole from Bel, "the lord" of deities, the Tablets of Destiny, which gave him his power over the Universe as controller of the fates of all. The Zu bird escaped with the Tablets and found shelter on its mountain top in Arabia. Anu called on Ramman, the thunderer, to attack the Zu bird, but he was afraid; other gods appear to have shrunk from the conflict. How the rebel was overcome is not certain, because the legend survives in fragmentary form. There is a reference, however, to the moon god setting out towards the mountain in Arabia with purpose to outwit the Zu bird and recover the lost Tablets. How he fared it is impossible to ascertain. In another legend--that of Etana--the mother serpent, addressing the sun god, Shamash, says:

Thy net is like unto the broad earth;
Thy snare is like unto the distant heaven!
Who hath ever escaped from thy net?
Even Zu, the worker of evil, who raised the head
of evil [did not escape]!
L.W. King's Translation.

In Indian mythology, Garuda, half giant, half eagle, robs the Amrita (ambrosia) of the gods which gives them their power and renders them immortal. It had assumed a golden body, bright as the sun. Indra, the thunderer, flung his bolt in vain; he could not wound Garuda, and only displaced a single feather. Afterwards, however, he stole the moon goblet containing the Amrita, which Garuda had delivered to his enemies, the serpents, to free his mother from bondage. This Indian eagle giant became the vehicle of the god Vishnu, and, according to the Mahabharata, "mocked the wind with his fleetness".

It would appear that the Babylonian Zu bird symbolized the summer sandstorms from the Arabian desert. Thunder is associated with the rainy season, and it may have been assumed, therefore, that the thunder god was powerless against the sandstorm demon, who was chased, however, by the moon, and finally overcome by the triumphant sun when it broke through the darkening sand drift and brightened heaven and earth, "netting" the rebellious demon who desired to establish the rule of evil over gods and mankind.

In the "Legend of Etana" the Eagle, another demon which links with the Indian Garuda, slayer of serpents, devours the brood of the Mother Serpent. For this offence against divine law, Shamash, the sun god, pronounces the Eagle's doom. He instructs the Mother Serpent to slay a wild ox and conceal herself in its entrails. The Eagle comes to feed on the carcass, unheeding the warning of one of his children, who says, "The serpent lies in this wild ox":

He swooped down and stood upon the wild ox,
The Eagle ... examined the flesh;
He looked about carefully before and behind him;

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