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Myths of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 92

Here the text becomes fragmentary. Further on it is gathered from the narrative that Etana is being carried still higher by the Eagle towards the heaven of Ishtar, "Queen of Heaven", the supreme mother goddess. Three times, at intervals of two hours, the Eagle asks Etana to look downwards towards the shrinking earth. Then some disaster happens, for further onwards the broken tablet narrates that the Eagle is falling. Down and down eagle and man fall together until they strike the earth, and the Eagle's body is shattered.

The Indian Garuda eagle[192] never met with such a fate, but on one occasion Vishnu overpowered it with his right arm, which was heavier than the whole universe, and caused many feathers to fall off. In the story of Rama's wanderings, however, as told in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, there are interesting references in this connection to Garuda's two "sons". One was mortally wounded by Ravana, the demon king of Ceylon. The other bird related to Rama, who found it disabled: "Once upon a time we two (brothers), with the desire of outstripping each other, flew towards the sun. My wings were burnt, but those of my brother were not.... I fell down on the top of this great mountain, where I still am."[193]

Another version of the Etana story survives among the Arabian Moslems. In the "Al Fatihat" chapter of the Koran it is related that a Babylonian king held a dispute with Abraham "concerning his Lord". Commentators identify the monarch with Nimrod, who afterwards caused the Hebrew patriarch to be cast into a fire from which he had miraculous deliverance. Nimrod then built a tower so as to ascend to heaven "to see Abraham's god", and make war against Him, but the tower was overthrown. He, however, persisted in his design. The narrative states that he was "carried to heaven in a chest borne by four monstrous birds; but after wandering for some time through the air, he fell down on a mountain with such a force that he made it shake". A reference in the Koran to "contrivances ... which make mountains tremble" is believed to allude to Nimrod's vain attempt.[194]

Alexander the Great was also reputed to have ascended on the back of an eagle. Among the myths attached to his memory in the Ethiopic "history" is one which explains how "he knew and comprehended the length and breadth of the earth", and how he obtained knowledge regarding the seas and mountains he would have to cross. "He made himself small and flew through the air on an eagle, and he arrived in the heights of the heavens and he explored them." Another Alexandrian version of the Etana myth resembles the Arabic legend of Nimrod. "In the Country of Darkness" Alexander fed and tamed great birds which were larger than eagles. Then he ordered four of his soldiers to mount them. The men were carried to the "Country of the Living", and when they returned they told Alexander "all that had happened and all that they had seen".[195]

In a Gaelic story a hero is carried off by a Cromhineach, "a vast bird like an eagle". He tells that it "sprang to the clouds with me, and I was a while that I did not know which was heaven or earth for me". The hero died, but, curiously enough, remained conscious of what was happening. Apparently exhausted, the eagle flew to an island in the midst of the ocean. It laid the hero on the sunny side. The hero proceeds: "Sleep came upon herself (the eagle) and she slept. The sun was enlivening me pretty well though I was dead." Afterwards the eagle bathed in a healing well, and as it splashed in the water, drops fell on the hero and he came to life. "I grew stronger and more active", he adds, "than I had ever been before."[196]


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