Myths of Babylonia and Assyria
Page: 9Ramayana story of the monkey god Hanuman's search for the lost princess Sita; other relics of similar character suggest that both the Gilgamesh and Hanuman narratives are derived in part from a very ancient myth. Gilgamesh also figures in Indian mythology as Yama, the first man, who explored the way to the Paradise called "The Land of Ancestors", and over which he subsequently presided as a god. Other Babylonian myths link with those found in Egypt, Greece, Scandinavia, Iceland, and the British Isles and Ireland. The Sargon myth, for instance, resembles closely the myth of Scyld (Sceaf), the patriarch, in the Beowulf epic, and both appear to be variations of the Tammuz-Adonis story. Tammuz also resembles in one of his phases the Celtic hero Diarmid, who was slain by the "green boar" of the Earth Mother, as was Adonis by the boar form of Ares, the Greek war god.
In approaching the study of these linking myths it would be as rash to conclude that all resemblances are due to homogeneity of race as to assume that folklore and mythology are devoid of ethnological elements. Due consideration must be given to the widespread influence exercised by cultural contact. We must recognize also that the human mind has ever shown a tendency to arrive quite independently at similar conclusions, when confronted by similar problems, in various parts of the world.
But while many remarkable resemblances may be detected between the beliefs and myths and customs of widely separated peoples, it cannot be overlooked that pronounced and striking differences remain to be accounted for. Human experiences varied in localities because all sections of humanity were not confronted in ancient times by the same problems in their everyday lives. Some peoples, for instance, experienced no great difficulties regarding the food supply, which might be provided for them by nature in lavish abundance; others were compelled to wage a fierce and constant conflict against hostile forces in inhospitable environments with purpose to secure adequate sustenance and their meed of enjoyment. Various habits of life had to be adopted in various parts of the world, and these produced various habits of thought. Consequently, we find that behind all systems of primitive religion lies the formative background of natural phenomena. A mythology reflects the geography, the fauna and flora, and the climatic conditions of the area in which it took definite and permanent shape.
In Babylonia, as elsewhere, we expect, therefore, to find a mythology which has strictly local characteristics--one which mirrors river and valley scenery, the habits of life of the people, and also the various stages of progress in the civilization from its earliest beginnings. Traces of primitive thought--survivals from remotest antiquity--should also remain in evidence. As a matter of fact Babylonian mythology fulfils our expectations in this regard to the highest degree.
Herodotus said that Egypt was the gift of the Nile: similarly Babylonia may be regarded as the gift of the Tigris and Euphrates--those great shifting and flooding rivers which for long ages had been carrying down from the Armenian Highlands vast quantities of mud to thrust back the waters of the Persian Gulf and form a country capable of being utilized for human habitation. The most typical Babylonian deity was Ea, the god of the fertilizing and creative waters.
He was depicted clad in the skin of a fish, as gods in other geographical areas were depicted wearing the skins of animals which were regarded as ancestors, or hostile demons that had to be propitiated. Originally Ea appears to have been a fish--the incarnation of the spirit of, or life principle in, the Euphrates River. His centre of worship was at Eridu, an ancient seaport, where apparently the prehistoric Babylonians (the Sumerians) first began to utilize the dried-up beds of shifting streams to irrigate the soil. One of the several creation myths is reminiscent of those early experiences which produced early local beliefs: