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Myths of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 85

Tutu as Aga-azag may mankind fourthly magnify!
"The Lord of the Pure Incantation", "the Quickener of the Dead",
"Who had mercy upon the captive gods",
"Who removed the yoke from upon the gods his enemies".
"For their forgiveness did he create mankind",
"The Merciful One, with whom it is to bestow life!"
May his deeds endure, may they never be forgotten
In the mouth of mankind whom his hands have made.
King's Translation.[165]

Apparently the Babylonian doctrine set forth that mankind was created not only to worship the gods, but also to bring about the redemption of the fallen gods who followed Tiamat.

Those rebel angels (ili, gods) He prohibited return;
He stopped their service; He removed them unto the gods (ili) who were His enemies.
In their room he created mankind.[166]

Tiamat, the chaos dragon, is the Great Mother. She has a dual character. As the origin of good she is the creatrix of the gods. Her beneficent form survived as the Sumerian goddess Bau, who was obviously identical with the Phoenician Baau, mother of the first man. Another name of Bau was Ma, and Nintu, "a form of the goddess Ma", was half a woman and half a serpent, and was depicted with "a babe suckling her breast" (Chapter IV). The Egyptian goddesses Neheb-kau and Uazit were serpents, and the goddesses Isis and Nepthys had also serpent forms. The serpent was a symbol of fertility, and as a mother was a protector. Vishnu, the Preserver of the Hindu Trinity, sleeps on the world-serpent's body. Serpent charms are protective and fertility charms.

As the origin of evil Tiamat personified the deep and tempests. In this character she was the enemy of order and good, and strove to destroy the world.

I have seen
The ambitious ocean swell and rage and foam
To be exalted with the threatening clouds.[167]

Tiamat was the dragon of the sea, and therefore the serpent or leviathan. The word "dragon" is derived from the Greek "drakon", the serpent known as "the seeing one" or "looking one", whose glance was the lightning. The Anglo-Saxon "fire drake" ("draca", Latin "draco") is identical with the "flying dragon".

In various countries the serpent or worm is a destroyer which swallows the dead. "The worm shall eat them like wool", exclaimed Isaiah in symbolic language.[168] It lies in the ocean which surrounds the world in Egyptian, Babylonian, Greek, Teutonic, Indian, and other mythologies. The Irish call it "morĂșach", and give it a mermaid form like the Babylonian Nintu. In a Scottish Gaelic poem Tiamat figures as "The Yellow Muilearteach", who is slain by Finn-mac-Coul, assisted by his warrior band.

There was seen coming on the top of the waves
The crooked, clamouring, shivering brave ...
Her face was blue black of the lustre of coal,
And her bone-tufted tooth was like rusted bone.[169]

The serpent figures in folk tales. When Alexander the Great, according to Ethiopic legend, was lowered in a glass cage to the depths of the ocean, he saw a great monster going past, and sat for two days "watching for its tail and hinder parts to appear".[170] An Argyllshire Highlander had a similar experience. He went to fish one morning on a rock. "He was not long there when he saw the head of an eel pass. He continued fishing for an hour and the eel was still passing. He went home, worked in the field all day, and having returned to the same rock in the evening, the eel was still passing, and about dusk he saw her tail disappearing."[171] Tiamat's sea-brood is referred to in the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf as "nickers". The hero "slew by night sea monsters on the waves" (line 422).

The well dragon--the French "draco"--also recalls the Babylonian water monsters. There was a "dragon well" near Jerusalem.[172] From China to Ireland rivers are dragons, or goddesses who flee from the well dragons. The demon of the Rhone is called the "drac". Floods are also referred to as dragons, and the Hydra, or water serpent, slain by Hercules, belongs to this category. Water was the source of evil as well as good. To the Sumerians, the ocean especially was the abode of monsters. They looked upon it as did Shakespeare's Ferdinand, when, leaping into the sea, he cried: "Hell is empty and all the devils are here".[173]

There can be little doubt but that in this Babylonian story of Creation we have a glorified variation of the widespread Dragon myth. Unfortunately, however, no trace can be obtained of the pre-existing Sumerian oral version which the theorizing priests infused with such sublime symbolism. No doubt it enjoyed as great popularity as the immemorial legend of Perseus and Andromeda, which the sages of Greece attempted to rationalize, and parts of which the poets made use of and developed as these appealed to their imaginations.

The lost Sumerian story may be summarized as follows: There existed in the savage wilds, or the ocean, a family of monsters antagonistic to a group of warriors represented in the Creation legend by the gods. Ea, the heroic king, sets forth to combat with the enemies of man, and slays the monster father, Apsu, and his son, Mummu. But the most powerful demon remains to be dealt with. This is the mother Tiamat, who burns to avenge the deaths of her kindred. To wage war against her the hero makes elaborate preparations, and equips himself with special weapons. The queen of monsters cannot be overcome by ordinary means, for she has great cunning, and is less vulnerable than were her husband and son. Although Ea may work spells against her, she is able to thwart him by working counter spells. Only a hand-to-hand combat can decide the fray. Being strongly protected by her scaly hide, she must be wounded either on the under part of her body or through her mouth by a weapon which will pierce her liver, the seat of life. It will be noted in this connection that Merodach achieved success by causing the winds which followed him to distend the monster's jaws, so that he might be able to inflict the fatal blow and prevent her at the same time from uttering spells to weaken him.


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