Myths of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 31

In the epic of Gilgamesh, the Babylonian Hercules, we meet with Ea-bani, a Goliath of the wilds, who is entreated to come to the aid of the besieged city of Erech when it seemed that its deities were unable to help the people against their enemies.

The gods of walled-round Erech
To flies had turned and buzzed in the streets;
The winged bulls of walled-round Erech
Were turned to mice and departed through the holes.

Ea-bani was attracted to Erech by the gift of a fair woman for wife. The poet who lauded him no doubt mirrored public opinion. We can see the slim, shaven Sumerians gazing with wonder and admiration on their rough heroic ally.

All his body was covered with hair,
His locks were like a woman's,
Thick as corn grew his abundant hair.
He was a stranger to the people and in that land.
Clad in a garment like Gira, the god,
He had eaten grass with the gazelles,
He had drunk water with savage beasts.
His delight was to be among water dwellers.

Like the giant Alban, the eponymous ancestor of a people who invaded prehistoric Britain, Ea-bani appears to have represented in Babylonian folk legends a certain type of foreign settlers in the land. No doubt the city dwellers, who were impressed by the prowess of the hairy and powerful warriors, were also ready to acknowledge the greatness of their war gods, and to admit them into the pantheon. The fusion of beliefs which followed must have stimulated thought and been productive of speculative ideas. "Nowhere", remarks Professor Jastrow, "does a high form of culture arise without the commingling of diverse ethnic elements."

We must also take into account the influence exercised by leaders of thought like En-we-dur-an-ki, the famous high priest of Sippar, whose piety did much to increase the reputation of the cult of Shamesh, the sun god. The teachings and example of Buddha, for instance, revolutionized Brahmanic religion in India.

A mythology was an attempt to solve the riddle of the Universe, and to adjust the relations of mankind with the various forces represented by the deities. The priests systematized existing folk beliefs and established an official religion. To secure the prosperity of the State, it was considered necessary to render homage unto whom homage was due at various seasons and under various circumstances.

The religious attitude of a particular community, therefore, must have been largely dependent on its needs and experiences. The food supply was a first consideration. At Eridu, as we have seen, it was assured by devotion to Ea and obedience to his commands as an instructor. Elsewhere it might happen, however, that Ea's gifts were restricted or withheld by an obstructing force--the raging storm god, or the parching, pestilence-bringing deity of the sun. It was necessary, therefore, for the people to win the favour of the god or goddess who seemed most powerful, and was accordingly considered to be the greatest in a particular district. A rain god presided over the destinies of one community, and a god of disease and death over another; a third exalted the war god, no doubt because raids were frequent and the city owed its strength and prosperity to its battles and conquests. The reputation won by a particular god throughout Babylonia would depend greatly on the achievements of his worshippers and the progress of the city civilization over which he presided. Bel-Enlil's fame as a war deity was probably due to the political supremacy of his city of Nippur; and there was probably good reason for attributing to the sun god a pronounced administrative and legal character; he may have controlled the destinies of exceedingly well organized communities in which law and order and authority were held in high esteem.