Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 63

We have now briefly examined the elder gods of the Babylonian pantheon. Other, and in some cases more imposing, gods were yet to be adopted by the Babylonians, as we shall see in the following chapters.

[1] The passage is quoted by kind permission of Messrs A. & C. Black.

[2] Religious Belief in Babylonia and Assyria, p. 69.

[3] Athenæum, Feb. 12, 1876.

[4] Polyhistor is still speaking. The passage is somewhat obscure, and of course relates to the myth of Merodach and Tiawath—Bel representing Merodach, and "the woman-creature" Tiawath.

[5] Religious Belief in Babylonia and Assyria, p. 88.

[6] Religious Belief in Babylonia and Assyria, p. 81.

[7] Religious Belief in Babylonia and Assyria, p. 82.

[8] Elsewhere Ishtar herself is sprinkled. See p. 130.

[9] Translation from Prof. Sayce's Hibbert Lectures, p. 157.

[10] These deities of the underworld must not be confounded with the gods of the abyss referred to at great length in Chapter II. The first group are gods of the dead, the second gods of the primeval waters.

[11] In sacrifice, too, the totemic or symbolic animal of the god is often flayed and the skin worn by the priest, who in this manner personates the god. In ancient Mexico the priests of Centeotl wore the skin of a woman sacrificed annually to that goddess.

[Pg 154]


As it is probable that the materials of the Gilgamesh epic, the great mythological poem of Babylonia, originally belong to the older epoch of Babylonian mythology, it is fitting that it should be described and considered before passing to the later developments of Chaldean religion.

The Gilgamesh epic ranks with the Babylonian myth of creation as one of the greatest literary productions of ancient Babylonia. The main element in its composition is a conglomeration of mythic matter, drawn from various sources, with perhaps a substratum of historic fact, the whole being woven into a continuous narrative around the central figure of Gilgamesh, prince of Erech. It is not possible at present to fix the date when the epic was first written. Our knowledge of it is gleaned chiefly from mutilated fragments belonging to the library of Assur-bani-pal, but from internal and other evidence we gather that some at least of the traditions embodied in the epic are of much greater antiquity than his reign. Thus a tablet dated 2100 B.C. contains a variant of the deluge story inserted in the XIth tablet of the Gilgamesh epic. Probably this and other portions of the epic existed in oral tradition before they were committed to writing—that is, in the remote Sumerian period.

Assur-bani-pal was an enthusiastic and practical patron of literature. In his great library at Nineveh (the nucleus of which had been taken from Calah by Sennacherib) he had gathered a vast collection of volumes, clay tablets, and papyri, most of which had been carried as spoil from conquered lands. He also employed scribes to copy older texts, and this[Pg 155] is evidently how the existing edition of the Gilgamesh epic came to be written. From the fragments now in the British Museum it would seem that at least four copies of the poem were made in the time of Assur-bani-pal. They were not long permitted to remain undisturbed. The great Assyrian empire was already declining; ere long Nineveh was captured and its library scattered, while plundering hordes burnt the precious rolls of papyrus, and buried the clay tablets in the debris of the palace which had sheltered them.