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Myths of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 8

The archaeological work conducted in Persia, Asia Minor, Palestine, Cyprus, Crete, the Aegean, and Egypt has thrown, and is throwing, much light on the relations between the various civilizations of antiquity. In addition to the Hittite discoveries, with which the name of Professor Sayce will ever be associated as a pioneer, we now hear much of the hitherto unknown civilizations of Mitanni and Urartu (ancient Armenia), which contributed to the shaping of ancient history. The Biblical narratives of the rise and decline of the Hebrew kingdoms have also been greatly elucidated.

In this volume, which deals mainly with the intellectual life of the Mesopotamian peoples, a historical narrative has been provided as an appropriate setting for the myths and legends. In this connection the reader must be reminded that the chronology of the early period is still uncertain. The approximate dates which are given, however, are those now generally adopted by most European and American authorities. Early Babylonian history of the Sumerian period begins some time prior to 3000 B.C; Sargon of Akkad flourished about 2650 B.C., and Hammurabi not long before or after 2000 B.C. The inflated system of dating which places Mena of Egypt as far back as 5500 B.C. and Sargon at about 3800 B.C. has been abandoned by the majority of prominent archaeologists, the exceptions including Professor Flinders Petrie. Recent discoveries appear to support the new chronological system. "There is a growing conviction", writes Mr. Hawes, "that Cretan evidence, especially in the eastern part of the island, favours the minimum (Berlin) system of Egyptian chronology, according to which the Sixth (Egyptian) Dynasty began at c. 2540 B.C. and the Twelfth at c. 2000 B.C.[8] Petrie dates the beginning of the Twelfth Dynasty at c. 3400 B.C.

To students of comparative folklore and mythology the myths and legends of Babylonia present many features of engrossing interest. They are of great antiquity, yet not a few seem curiously familiar. We must not conclude, however, that because a European legend may bear resemblances to one translated from a cuneiform tablet it is necessarily of Babylonian origin. Certain beliefs, and the myths which were based upon them, are older than even the civilization of the Tigro-Euphrates valley. They belong, it would appear, to a stock of common inheritance from an uncertain cultural centre of immense antiquity. The problem involved has been referred to by Professor Frazer in the Golden Bough. Commenting on the similarities presented by certain ancient festivals in various countries, he suggests that they may be due to "a remarkable homogeneity of civilization throughout Southern Europe and Western Asia in prehistoric times. How far", he adds, "such homogeneity of civilization may be taken as evidence of homogeneity of race is a question for the ethnologist."[9]

In Chapter I the reader is introduced to the ethnological problem, and it is shown that the results of modern research tend to establish a remote racial connection between the Sumerians of Babylonia, the prehistoric Egyptians, and the Neolithic (Late Stone Age) inhabitants of Europe, as well as the southern Persians and the "Aryans" of India.

Comparative notes are provided in dealing with the customs, religious beliefs, and myths and legends of the Mesopotamian peoples to assist the student towards the elucidation and partial restoration of certain literary fragments from the cuneiform tablets. Of special interest in this connection are the resemblances between some of the Indian and Babylonian myths. The writer has drawn upon that "great storehouse" of ancient legends, the voluminous Indian epic, the Mahabharata, and it is shown that there are undoubted links between the Garuda eagle myths and those of the Sumerian Zu bird and the Etana eagle, while similar stories remain attached to the memories of "Sargon of Akkad" and the Indian hero Karna, and of Semiramis (who was Queen Sammu-ramat of Assyria) and Shakuntala. The Indian god Varuna and the Sumerian Ea are also found to have much in common, and it seems undoubted that the Manu fish and flood myth is a direct Babylonian inheritance, like the Yuga (Ages of the Universe) doctrine and the system of calculation associated with it. It is of interest to note, too, that a portion of the Gilgamesh epic survives in the


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