Ancient Creation Myths Essay
Ancient Creation Myths
Creation myths of are often examined, but more often than not they are looked at individually. Much more can be learned if different myths are analyzed at the same time, recognizing similarities and differences as well as overlapping themes in these myths. We can learn about many aspects of a culture from their creation myths. The portrayal of women in the myth can teach whether the society is patriarchal or matriarchal. The descriptive vocabulary, and the characteristics given to the gods can show us what societies view as god-like qualities.
Finally through analyzing overlapping themes that are repeated from myth to myth we can begin to infer what interaction some of these cultures may have had. Creation myths are crucial to a society’s identity, and we can learn much about these cultures through these myths. We can learn a lot about the gender related aspects of a society; patriarchal or matriarchal society, are women viewed as equals or subordinates to men, and what role women play in day to day life of these cultures.
Taking a look at the Greek myths we can see that Ancient Greece was a patriarchal society through the leading gods in the myth, Ouranos, Cronos, and Zeus, for example. Now this is not to say that women were held far below men, just that men held higher positions in the society. Female goddesses still played an immense role in these myths, and are not to be forgotten. Gaea for example protected Zeus from being eaten by Cronos, and without Zeus a very important part of the plot would be missing. However, when you analyze The Enuma Elish, and the Chinese creation myths it is not nearly as clear.
In The Enuma Elish you can see that this society was most like patriarchal as well, but women may have played a larger role. Although Marduk is the champion god, and king god by the end of the myth, Tiamat is still represented as a very powerful goddess. This is apparent when Ea first learns of Tiamat’s battle preparation, and goes to his forefather Anshar for council because he is afraid. Yet even though Tiamat is represented as powerful, her actions are still regarded as evil, as it states “To avenge Apsu, Tiamat planned evil. ”.
The perception of women in the Chinese society is even harder to tell from the Chinese creation myths. P’an Ku is said to male as he is referenced to as “he” and has male qualities “His blood and semen became ….. His hair and beard became the stars;”. Yin and Yang represent male and female, and each play an equally important role in the creation, making sure to balance every Yin with Yang as well. Finally we have Nu Kua who was a female goddess with the upper body of a woman and the lower body of a snake, sometimes represented as a dragon goddess.
She was responsible for forming humans from yellow clay and repairing the Earth following the battle of the fire and water gods. From this we can assume that the Chinese culture held motherly nurturing, and protection highly, and that the battle of the fire and water gods, both male, could mean that male aggression is destructive without a female presence, both concepts supporting the importance of women in society. The types of gods involved in these myths have some very distinct commonalities and differences.
The dominant male gods in the Ancient Greek myth and the Enuma Elish are both given very powerful qualities. Marduk is descried in the Enuma Elish likewise “He was the loftiest of the gods, surpassing was his stature; His members were enormous, he was exceeding tall. ” and Zeus is described in Hymn to Demeter as “all-seeing Zeus the loud-thunderer. ”. The older male gods are also inclined to try and destroy their children. Cronos devours his children born of Gaea, and Apsu plots to kill his children.
Both of them are then killed in the process, the very thing Cronos tried to prevent by devouring his children in the first place. P’an Ku, as well, is described to be massive and powerful. As it says in the text “P’an Ku lived within them …… becoming more divine than heaven and wiser than earth. ” P’an Ku also being so divine is also used to create the world, “His breath became the wind and clouds; his voice became the peals of thunder.
His left eye became the sun; his right eye became the moon. ….. All the mites on his body were touched by the wind and were turned into the black-haired people. ”. These gods were also given a surprising amount of human, or mortal, qualities as well. Some gods are described as hateful, such as Cronos described directly in Theogony, “Cronos the wily, youngest and most terrible of her children, and he hated his lusty sire. ”, as well as lustful. These characteristics are generally reserved for humans, as observed in Judeo/Christian belief. The simple fact that these gods can be defeated may also be observed as humanistic qualities by some people.
These gods are described as immortal, which as defined by dictionary. reference. com is “not mortal; not liable or subject to death; undying”. In The Enuma Elish Apsu is killed by Ea, in Theogony Ouranos is killed by Cronos by dismembering his genitals, and in the P’an Ku myth he eventually dies and his body becomes the world that we now know. There are many similarities between these myths and some believe that it may be due to all cultures originating from a single area, and therefore having a similar original myth.
The Ancient Greek an the Mesopotamian myth both include some sort of flood aspect to the myth. The Ancient Greek myth includes Zeus and the other gods being angered with humanity, and therefore deciding to wipe it out with a flood. Prometheus helps humanity once again, and tells Deucalion to construct a chest in order to escape the destruction of the flood. This is very similar to the flood from the Mesopotamian culture. Ea tells Utnapishtim to build a ship for his family and “the seed of all living creatures” in order to escape the flood.
One of the main differences between Utnapishtim and Deucalion is that after the flood Utnapishtim is granted immortality, this is also illustrated in his name which translates to “He who saw life” according to Pantheon. org. All three of these myths begin creation with a primordial nothingness or chaos. P’an Ku has the formless chaotic egg, The Ancient Greeks have chaos, and The Enuma Elish starts with two chaotic bodies of water, salt and fresh. According to Pantheon. org this concept of chaos, or nothingness, is “the most frequently found primordial stuff of the universe in creation myths. and is relevant to all three of these myths.
Once again going back to Pantheon. org, another very common quality of creation myths is that some part of the world, universe, or even another god, is formed from the parts or destruction of a god or immortal being. The most immediately apparent example of this being in the P’an Ku myth. Once it is finally time for P’an Ku to die he is laid down and becomes the world. Individual body parts are given labels as to what they become, “His breath became the wind and the clouds; his voice became the peals of thunder.
His left eye became the sun; his right eye became the moon ….. All the mites on his body were touched by the wind and transformed into the black-haired people. ”. This action is present in the Enuma Elish as well where Tiamat is cut in half by Marduk after his victory, one half becoming the sky and the other becoming the earth. In the Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece and Rome there is an entire section in creation dedicated to “Near Eastern Parallels”, and that in itself is proof to the similarities between some of these creation myths. In this section the Song of Kumbari is discussed along with the Enuma Elish.
One of the parallels that first became apparent to me was the creation of new gods from a gods genitals. In the Song of Kumbari Kumbari bites off Anu’s genitals and spits them out creating two new gods, while in Theogony Cronos cuts off Ouranos’ genitals and throws them into the ocean, and creating Aphrodite. With such a large amount of similarities between these creation myths, one tends to wonder if these cultures had interaction prior to writing these myths. Perhaps Mesopotamia, while also being the first civilization, acted as a center vector for the trade of ideas and cosmological concepts.
Creation mythology can teach us much about ancient cultures, how women were viewed and valued in their society, how these societies viewed their gods, and what qualities they viewed as god like. However by analyzing more than one of these myths at a time we have begun to think about what interactions these ancient cultures may have had prior to, or during the formation of these myths. Creation myths are one of the most important identities for ancient culture and they are a great tool for learning more about these cultures.
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 12 February 2017
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