Myths of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 221

As Queen of Assyria, Semiramis was said to have cut roads through mountainous districts and erected many buildings. According to one version of the legend she founded the city of Babylon. Herodotus, however, says in this connection: "Semiramis held the throne for five generations before the later princess (Nitocris).... She raised certain embankments, well worthy of inspection, in the plain near Babylon, to control the river (Euphrates), which, till then, used to overflow and flood the whole country round about."[470] Lucian, who associates the famous queen with "mighty works in Asia", states that she was reputed by some to be the builder of the ancient temple of Aphrodite in the Libanus, although others credited it to Cinyras, or Deukalion.[471] Several Median places bear her name, and according to ancient Armenian tradition she was the founder of Van, which was formerly called "Shamiramagerd". Strabo tells that unidentified mountains in Western Asia were named after Semiramis.[472] Indeed, many of the great works in the Tigro-Euphrates valley, not excepting the famous inscription of Darius, were credited to the legendary queen of Babylonia and Assyria.[473] She was the rival in tradition of the famous Sesostris of Egypt as a ruler, builder, and conqueror.

All the military expeditions of Semiramis were attended with success, except her invasion of India. She was supposed to have been defeated in the Punjab. After suffering this disaster she died, or abdicated the throne in favour of her son Ninyas. The most archaic form of the legend appears to be that she was turned into a dove and took flight to heaven in that form. After her death she was worshipped as a dove goddess like "Our Lady of Trees and Doves" in Cyprus, whose shrine at old Paphos was founded, Herodotus says, by Phoenician colonists from Askalon.[474] Fish and doves were sacred to Derceto (Attar),[475] who had a mermaid form. "I have beheld", says Lucian, "the image of Derceto in Phoenicia. A marvellous spectacle it is. One half is a woman, but the part which extends from thighs to feet terminates with the tail of a fish."[476]

Derceto was supposed to have been a woman who threw herself in despair into a lake. After death she was adored as a goddess and her worshippers abstained from eating fish, except sacrificially. A golden image of a fish was suspended in her temple. Atargatis, who was identical with Derceto, was reputed in another form of the legend to have been born of an egg which the sacred fishes found in the Euphrates and thrust ashore (p. 28). The Greek Aphrodite was born of the froth of the sea and floated in a sea-shell. According to Hesiod,

The wafting waves
First bore her to Cythera the divine:
To wave-encircled Cyprus came she then,
And forth emerged, a goddess, in the charms
Of awful beauty. Where her delicate feet
Had pressed the sands, green herbage flowering sprang.
Her Aphrodite gods and mortals name,
The foam-born goddess; and her name is known