Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 125

It was thought at one time that this legend applied to the circumstances of the creation, and that the speaker was the god Nergal, who was waging war against the brood of Tiawath. It was believed that, according to local conditions at Cuthah, Nergal would have taken the place of Merodach, but it has now been made clear that although the tablet was intended to be placed in the shrine of Nergal, the speaker was in reality an early Babylonian king.

Eagle-headed Mythological Being In the Louvre.—Photo W. A. Mansell and Co.

The Eagle

As we have seen, the eagle was perhaps regarded as a symbol of the sun-god. A Babylonian fable tells how he quarrelled with the serpent and incurred[Pg 297] the reptile's hatred. Feeling hungry he resolved to eat the serpent's young, and communicated his intention to his own family. One of his children advised him not to devour the serpent's brood, because if he did so he would incur the enmity of the god Shamash. But the eagle did not hearken to his offspring, and swooping down from heaven sought out the serpent's nest and devoured his young. On his arrival at home the serpent discovered his loss, and at once repaired in great indignation to Shamash, to whom he appealed for justice. His nest, he told the god, was set in a tree, and the eagle had swooped upon it, destroying it with his mighty wings and devouring the little serpents as they fell from it.

"Help, O Shamash!" cried the serpent. "Thy net is like unto the broad earth, thy snare is like unto the distant heaven in wideness. Who can escape thee?"

Shamash hearkening to his appeal, described to him how he might succeed in obtaining vengeance upon the eagle.

"Take the road," said he, "and go into the mountain and hide thyself in the dead body of a wild ox. Tear open its body, and all the birds of heaven shall swoop down upon it. The eagle shall come with the rest, and when he seeks for the best parts of the carcase, do thou seize him by his wing, tear off his wings, his pinions, and his claws, pull him in pieces and cast him into a pit. There may he die a death from hunger and thirst."

The serpent did as Shamash had bidden him. He soon came upon the body of a wild ox, into which he glided after opening up the carcase. Shortly afterwards he heard the beating of the wings of numberless[Pg 298] birds, all of which swooped down and ate of the flesh. But the eagle suspected the purpose of the serpent and did not come with the rest, until greed and hunger prompted him to share in the feast.

"Come," said he to his children, "let us swoop down and let us also eat of the flesh of this wild ox."

Now the young eagle who had before dissuaded his father from devouring the serpent's young, again begged him to desist from his purpose.