Myth Monday: Mythology in Wonder Woman (2017)

SPOILER WARNING for Wonder Woman (2017) starring Gal Gadot. I am not kidding about the spoilers. I will have all the spoilers. If you haven’t seen it, you should go do that.

But meanwhile, I’ll be here chatting about the use of mythology in the movie. Because this is Myth Monday and I love Wonder Woman and this is what I do.

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Buckle up, kids!

So, first, I’m going to take a look at the mythology we saw being used in the Wonder Woman film.

One of the first exposition dumps we get is from Diana’s mom, Queen Hippolyta of the Amazons. She explains that back in the most ancient of olden days, there were gods; only two of these gods are named: Zeus, and his son Ares. Spoilers – these are Greek gods. The island of Themyscira is vaguely Greek, I guess? So this seems fine so far. Diana’s mom explains that Ares, the god of war, moonlighted as the god of assassinations and killed off his entire family.

Why? Because he disagrees with them, because he is so full of war, I guess? War is horrible, but it is also a fluid concept in culture and history. There are lots of reasons to fight wars but soldiers generally fight with the idea of protecting their own people/land/family, rather than killing them. So Ares’ behavior is psychotic, but I suppose he doesn’t have anyone else to War with besides his family.

Anyway. In the movie’s lore, Zeus manages to land a crippling blow on Ares, so while all the gods are dead, Ares is mostly dead, nursing his wounds somewhere. Hippolyta and the other Amazons are hanging out on their island and staying Ready for the day when Ares returns. Ares is the villain of Hippolyta’s story, and therefore of Diana’s. For much of the movie, we see Diana focus with single-minded intensity on this mythic monster, this Evil Incarnate that must be destroyed, like a Dark Lord in a fantasy novel, before anywhere in the world can be good or peaceful again.

What’s especially great about this is that it forces the audience to be aware of two things at once: 1. how completely naive Diana is to believe that killing one person will make the whole earth a paradise; and 2. that we the audience often have this same belief when watching “superhero” movies: Spiderman just has to defeat the Goblin, Batman has to defeat the Joker, Captain America has to destroy Hydra, and then everything will be fine, everything tied up neatly, the heroes will kiss and fly off into the sunset.

Wonder Woman of course gets a little more complex than that, after setting it up this way.

But I’m going to turn around and talk about Greek mythology for a second.

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I’m sure he’s a great guy. Source

In Greek mythology, Ares is the son of Zeus. He is the god of war. And he is, in general, an arrogant bloodthirsty dingbat. But he doesn’t just represent humans who are possessive jerks and determined to fight and kill each other. He also represents the glory of defeating an enemy, martial prowess, and fighting for your people/honor/land/fame. For ancient Greeks, these were commendable qualities. Ares, like all of the gods, had his good and bad features, good and bad moments, and had to balance them out. He was also in love with Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, and wasn’t in the habit of killing off his family members.

 

 

In the Wonder Woman comics, Ares is present from the very first issue in 1942.

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Ares and Aphrodite in Wonder Woman #1. Source

This article does a good job of giving a quick overview of Ares in Wonder Woman comics, at least from 1987 on – it glosses over the early years, and ignores Ares’ first appearance. He’s always around, though, if only in Diana’s backstory, and often either lurking like a creeper or taking a more active role as Diana’s arch-nemesis.

It’s interesting to keep the origins of Ares, Greek god of war, in mind when watching a movie like Wonder Woman, in which he is a pretty solid evil dudebro. At one point in the movie, he tries to persuade Diana to join him in destroying the world through war, with the ultimate goal of creating a brand new perfect world of peace. That…I mean, that doesn’t even make sense. If your whole purpose of being is war, so much so that you killed off your own family, “peace” is not a goal that you would have. I’m convinced that Ares only uses this argument as a ploy to try to get Diana on his side, rather than his actual plan. But that’s speculation.

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Source

The other problem that Diana faces, of course, is that the REAL Ares was the enemies we made along the way! Humans have a real problem with war and conflict, and even defeating War Incarnate isn’t going to stop our determination to hurt each other when we’re angry or scared.

Ares is a good contrast to Wonder Woman, who is all about spreading peace and love, whether through political diplomacy or martial protection. It will be interesting to see if they use the Ares character in future Wonder Woman movies, or if he’s relegated to a place in her past as a sort of boogeyman that she no longer needs, a catalyst used to inspire her.

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Source

Myth Monday: The Star-Touched Queen (Review)

I’m really late to this party but I recently read The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi, an excellent YA fantasy which also happens to be chock-full of mythological influences. The protagonist is a girl called Maya, one of many daughters of a Raja who is trying to get a bunch of rebellions under control in his kingdom. The Raja decides his last unmarried daughter is the only way to get the rebels under control, in spite of the terrible horoscope surrounding her birth. Maya finds herself married to the mysterious Amar, the Raja of a land called Akaran that she’s never heard of before, and the mysteries only grow from there!

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“Ruling Akaran is a strange task. In many ways, it is like balancing an illusion. You must separate the illusion of what you see and the reality of its consequences,” he said. “Tell me, my queen, are you ready to play with fate?”

-Amar is a weird dude.

Some chunks of the plot and characters reminded me a lot of the myth of Cupid and Psyche, particularly the bit where the girl is married off, somewhat against her will, to a mysterious dude who won’t tell her anything about himself but is really nice and has a palace but also nothing really adds up and the girl becomes more and more uneasy about her life and her choices. All of that, but set in an Indian setting, and with a bunch more magical stories and mythic creatures, either gliding along on the fringes or bursting into the middle of the story.

Since I’m super white and am much more familiar with Greco-Roman myths than anything else, I had to look up the other myths invoked here, for the sake of my own curiosity. Fortunately, the author listed some on a Goodreads Q&A. She apparently used many Hindu myths in the story, but especially these: Savitri and Satyavan, Shiva and Parvati, The Ramayana, Shakuntula, and Narasimha. So I have my myth-reading list for the week!  Themes from these stories include lots of trickery and cleverness, the value of memory, the importance of Death as a stabilizing figure rather than a chaotic one, and the power of love. All of these are featured heavily in The Star-Crossed Queen. This book reminded me of another myth-inspired YA book, Deathless by Catherynne Valente. Deathless draws on Russian folklore, similar to the way The Star-Touched Queen draws on Hindu myths, and is another book I strongly recommend.

I definitely enjoyed the story without being familiar with the Hindu myths, as they enriched the story regardless, but I’d like to reread the book once I have a better grasp on them. This book definitely seems like one that would reward rereads; there’s a lot packed in here.

The book as a whole was beautifully written, well-paced, and included a fascinating and awful cast of characters. My personal favorite was Kamala the murder-horse, who says things like:

“It is nice to be nice. And it is also nice to eat people.”

Myth Monday: Percy In The Labyrinth

Previously on our Myth Mondays with Percy Jackson monsters:

The Lightning Thief

The Sea of Monsters

The Titan’s Curse

 

Today we’re hitting up one of my favorites, The Battle of the Labyrinth. I have a thing for Labyrinths. And Ariadne. And such.

The Monsters

Empousa: These terrifying lady-vampires are either the servants or daughters of Hecate, depending on the story. Basically they seduce dudes and then drink all their blood. They are called “one-footed,” which led to them having one leg (that of a donkey) and one prosthetic leg made of brass.  In The Battle of the Labyrinth, they serve the Big Bad and sometimes take the form of cheerleaders to lure Percy into a false sense of security (or something). Sadly we don’t see them drink blood, probably because this series is Middle Grade. 4/5 Monstrous Rating.

Hellhounds: Hellhounds are, if you can believe it, really scary dogs from the underworld…Cerberus is the most famous one. Mrs. O’Leary is a lesser-known hellhound, but she shows up The Battle of the Labyrinth and subsequent Percy Jackson books. She attaches herself to Percy and is brave and drooly and adorable. 5/5 Monster Rating!

The Minotaur: The Minotaur is only mentioned in this book, but Percy&Co. are exploring the labyrinth which was originally designed to keep the monster half-bull half-man securee. See The Lightning Thief post for more on him.

 

Kampe: Kampe. How do I describe Kampe? She’s basically a big combination of monsters and animals – like a dragon lady with a body made out of beast heads and legs made out of vipers. In The Battle of the Labyrinth, she is working for Kronos and keeping her own little prison in the labyrinth. I wouldn’t want to face her in a fight. 5/5 Monstrous Rating.

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The visual representations are insane. This one is by Ralph Horsley.

Briares: Briares is one of the Hundred-Handed Ones, giants from very early on in Greek mythology; they fight with Zeus and the gods against the Titans in the big War of the Titans. In The Battle of the Labyrinth, he’s being kept prisoner by Kampe. I really love the sub-plot with him and Tyson in this book – Tyson has always considered the Hundred-Handed Ones his heroes, but the reality is disappointing at first because Briares has been terrified into submission by Kampe (who is, admittedly, mind-meltingly scary). 3/5 Monstrous Rating because he’s secretly a Nice Guy.

Geryon: Geryon is the monstrous rancher that dreams are made of. Wait what. He has multiple heads and multiple bodies and really sounds goopy. He has a bunch of sacred red cattle that Hercules has to retrieve for his Tenth Labor. In TBoftL, Geryon also has flesh-eating horses (see below) and tells Percy he will have to clean out the stables in order to get any help from him. However, Percy winds up having to kill him anyway because Geryon is a terrible back-stabbing person. The trouble is, Percy has to kill all of his bodies at once to do so. Gross. 3/5 Monstrous Rating.

Eurytion: There’s a centaur in Greek mythology by this name, too, but the one in TBotL is a herdsman of Geryon. I really like that Eurytion, a sort of monstrous cowboy, is given his own hopes and dreams in the book, and is happy to help Percy once it looks like Percy might win. 3/5 Monstrous Rating.

Flesh-eating horses: In Greek mythology, Diomedes (one of the heroes of the Iliad) has a bunch of flesh-eating horses that he’s very proud of. Diomedes is very strong but sort of a terrible guy. Terrible guys are very common in Greek mythology. Anyway, Percy manages to befriend these horses to a point once he cleans their stable and drenches them all with water. He should have kept one as a steed, probably. 2/5 Monstrous Rating because I didn’t see them eat any flesh.

The Sphinx: Everyone knows the Sphinx, right? In mythology, the Sphinx posed a riddle to travelers and when they couldn’t answer it, murdered them. A very fun-loving guy. In TBotL, the Sphinx is guarding part of the Labyrinth, but instead of riddles it is giving travelers multiple-choice questions. I LOVE the implication that no one is being taught to think critically anymore and so the Sphinx doesn’t even bother with riddles. Annabeth, Percy’s smart friend, is very understandably upset by this change. 4/5 Monstrous Rating.

Telekhines/Telchines: I’m unclear on what these are, exactly, but they’re some sort of seacreature/dog/demon hybrid. They eventually piss off the gods so much that they all get murdered (possibly for practicing black magic). In TBotL, Percy comes across them a couple of times, as they’ve been recruited by Kronos. One of the most disturbing bits of this series is when Percy attacks a bunch of baby-Telekhines while they’re at school. Like…slow your monster-murdering roll, boy. 4/5 Monstrous Rating for being so persistent.

Antaeus: This guy is a giant wrestler, and a son of Gaea, the Earth goddess. He’s sort of the worst. He can’t be defeated as long as he’s touching the earth, so Hercules has to lift him up into the air in order to kill him. Percy employs a similar technique when he has to fight him in a cage-match in TBotL. 2/5 Monstrous Rating for the giant Greek diaper.

Sources

Bulfinch, Thomas. Bulfinch’s Greek and Roman Mythology: The Age of Fable. Dover Thrift, 2000. Print.

Hamilton, Edith. Mythology. New American Library, 1969. Print.

Riordan, Rick. The Battle of the Labyrinth. Disney Hyperion, 2008. Print.

 

We will finish up the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series next month with the final book, The Last Olympian!

Myth Monday: Dionysus Gets Some Followers

A few weeks ago I began a series of posts on Dionysus, one of the twelve Olympians in Greek mythology. Today we’re going to be picking up where my last post left off. See that post also for sources and recs on this crazy guy.

So last time we saw Dionysus, his grandmother Rhea had cured him of his madness and taught him the classic arts of gardening and fermentation. Like any enterprising young man, he has no interest in living and gardening with his grandma for the rest of his life, so he sets off to make his fortune. Now, along with his impressive baggage which includes both mommy AND daddy issues, Dionysus has a few different things that make him very popular throughout the known world. If I were to pick his top three weapons for making friends and enemies, they would be: booze,  madness, and dramatic flair. When push came to shove, he could always resort to shape-shifting or strangulation.

But I’m getting distracted from the story.

According to the stories, Dionysus went as far as India, teaching humankind about how to grow plants (especially the grapevine) and how to make wine. As he went, he gathered many followers and created a few enemies. Usually he would come along to some town or other, make everyone completely crazy, and then lead them into the wilderness where they would have wild parties and chase down animals (or occasionally people) and tear them to pieces.

Sounds fun, right?

Additionally, most of his followers (who were called the Maenads or the Bacchae) were women. There was nothing Dionysus liked more than finding meek, obedient women working quietly in their homes and lead them out into the streets into drunken revelry or violent hunts. There’s a lot of talk about Dionysus wanting to compensate for his dead mother by surrounding himself with nursemaids at all times. There are a lot of weird dualities in Dionysus’ story; one of which is that the Maenads sometimes appear as nurturing and loving, for example when the nymphs find baby Dionysus and care for him; but other times, when they’re in Crazy Mode they tear apart their own children. There is also a contrast between the Maenads’ freedom/ecstasy and their brutality. Basically, if you’re going to go to one of Dionysus’ parties, maybe keep your kids and your wife and your husbands locked up in a cellar somewhere, for their own protection. Because of their tendency to go on rampages, the Maenads didn’t make temples for Dionysus – all of their worship was outside, in the wilderness or among the plants Dionysus made grow.

Of course, not everyone liked the guy – for obvious reasons. And it took a while for Dionysus to become well-known and established as a worthy god to be worshiped. It’s hard to say whether opposition or indifference angered him more.

At some point early on in his career of lunacy, Dionysus wound up captured by pirates.  It’s hard to say whether he goaded them into this or not. I mean, he was just walking along like the beach like a young rich helpless person, sooo…. The pirates capture him and of course there’s That One Guy who is like, Guys? Guys? “Why did you kidnap this random beautiful man stuck in the middle of nowhere? Have you ever read a myth? Or heard a myth? THIS WILL NOT END WELL.” And of course, no one listens to That One Guy because they’re all going to get rich by ransoming this kid.  The kid, Dionysus, doesn’t do anything at first but then weird things start happening to the boat. Vines start creeping over it. Wine starts running over the deck. At some point the pirates lose their minds and try to escape vine-strangulation by jumping into the sea. Dionysus turns them into dolphins.

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Source  (The pirates turning into dolphins)

I mean, people often accuse Dionysus of over-reacting, but at least the pirates were living dolphins and not dead from being struck by lightning.

Besides the pirates, there are a couple of kings who are particularly famous for trying to keep Dionysus out of their countries and failing spectacularly. King Lycurgus makes a good effort – at one point, Dionysus and his forces are repelled so thoroughly that Dionysus himself leaps into the sea to hide. However, in the end Lycurgus is captured by Dionysus and thrown into a cave to think about what he’s done. I’m not sure how long he has to think about it before admitting that fighting against a guy who can make everyone around you powerful enough to tear boars and stags into pieces is probably not a great career move.

Pentheus, king of Thebes, is the other king. He refuses to allow Dionysus’ worshippers to establish themselves in Thebes. Pentheus captures one of Dionysus’ followers and interrogates him. In one version, this is Dionysus in disguise. In another, this is That One Guy from the pirate story. In both versions, Pentheus interrogates and threatens the man, the man makes some extremely unsettling and confident threats, and then proceeds to escape from his bonds and disappear.

Meanwhile, guess who has converted to Dionysus’ cult? Pentheus’ mother and sisters. Dionysus stirs up his followers and sends them on a hunt after a “wild beast.” The women, not realizing that the beast is in fact Pentheus, tear him to pieces. They only realize what they’ve done afterwards, when the madness has faded.

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The Maenads tearing Pentheus up. Source

What a fun guy. There’s plenty more where this came from! To be continued on a future Myth Monday!

Myth Monday: Retelling Recs

Last week on Myth Monday: Sea of Monsters, monster recap

You can check out all Myth Monday posts here.

Today I have two recommendations for myth-lovers. They’re both retellings of very old stories, from the perspectives of characters who are overlooked and mostly voiceless in the original. Both are beautifully written, and both made me cry.

Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis (1956)

17343This book is a retelling of the Greek myth of Cupid and Psyche. Quick premise of the myth, if you’re unfamiliar with it: Pysche is a beautiful princess who people start comparing to Venus, the goddess of love. Venus gets upset (as she tends to do) and tells her son Cupid to curse Pysche to fall in love with something horrible. Instead, Cupid falls in love with Pysche and through a complicated form of kidnapping, arranges for Pysche to wind up in his palace. Pysche visits him at night but never sees his face. Eventually, her sisters visit her and, jealous of her new life and status, make Psyche question why she never sees her husband. Is he a monster? Typical hijinks ensue.

Till We Have Faces tells the story from the perspective of Orual, one of Psyche’s sisters. In this version, Orual is possessive of her sister Psyche and loves her obsessively. She is both jealous of Psyche’s possible good fortune, but doesn’t believe that it could happen, and regardless she wants Psyche all to herself. We barely see anything of Psyche’s part of the story, so we, like Orual, have to decide if Psyche is brainwashed or making it all up.

Orual herself is a very tragic character. She isn’t valued by her father or other men because she’s a woman and not very attractive. She sets herself to learn everything she needs to in order to rule a kingdom, and also becomes a warrior. She becomes an excellent leader in her own right, but she remains cynical, and obsessed with bringing Pysche back to her. In spite of the fact that she loves Psyche, all of her actions toward her sister damage Psyche’s happiness, rather than support it. Orual’s journey to self-awareness lasts her whole life, and showcases the different forms of love, both healthy and sick, that people develop for each other.

Despite this, Orual is an extremely sympathetic character. She has to struggle against so many things during her life, and she is determined to be a good ruler, better than the ones before her. She wants love and friendship, and gains tremendous loyalty from those who know her. There’s a cast of supporting characters that help reflect Orual’s character and the core relationship between Orual and Psyche, including Fox, their Greek tutor, Redival, their other sister, and Lord Bardia, Orual’s friend and ally.

Lavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin (2008)

2214574This book is a retelling of part of the Aeneid by Vergil. The Aeneid is focused on Aeneas, a prince who has escaped the fall of Troy and is searching for a land for himself and his people to settle. Aeneas discovers the land that will become Rome (according to the myth), and sets himself to marry Lavinia, the daughter of the local chief. Lavinia never speaks in the epic poem, but a war is fought over her between Turnus, her previous fiancé, and Aeneas. Spoilers: Aeneas wins.

Lavinia is Le Guin’s attempt to give this character a voice of her own. The story is unchanged from the six latter books of the Aeneid, but from the perspective of Lavinia, who wants to live her own life, and failing that, to save her people from war. When she is unable to stop the war (which is prophesied and therefore unchangeable), she sets herself to doing what she can to stop the infighting, even after Aeneas has won and married her.

Plot is a lot less important to this book than simple character exploration. Who is Lavinia? What did she want? What she did know, and feel, and discover, through the action of the poem? Lavinia explores all of those questions, almost as a loose, prose translation of Vergil’s poem. It adds a lot of complexity and depth to Vergil’s poem, and interacts with it as well on certain levels that I don’t want to spoil.

Aside from all other reasons to read it, Lavinia is beautifully written and a joy to read.

 

Coming up on Myth Mondays: more Percy Jackson, more book reviews, and some exploration of one of my favorite Greek gods!

 

Myth Monday: And I Was Crying and I Was in The Bath

Last week on Myth Monday, we looked at a couple of Mesopotamian myths featuring guys trying to unlock the secrets of life (as you do).

Today, I’m going to summarize a myth about a guy called Anzu who has many ambitious life goals like “terrorize the countryside” and “take over the world with my magical tablets.”

Anzu

Once upon a time, the scariest and most beautiful monster was born. The gods heard about it, took a look at him, and concluded that only “holy water” and “broad earth” could have spawned such a creature. They give him a job, even though Anzu (the creature) doesn’t have any references or even a resume. He was obviously spawned just for them!

So Anzu takes a look around and realizes the gods have it going on really good, and the key to their power seems to be this magic Tablet of Destiny (referred to as the TOD from here on out). Like any ambitious young monster, Anzu hatches some plots, and one day, while his boss Ellil is having a bath and has put down all of his weapons, Anzu steals the TOD.

Suddenly, all of the light went out of Ellil’s bath-room and he was peeved. So the gods all flip out, and Anu, their leader, summons three separate warriors: Anu’s son Adad, Anunitu’s son Gerra, and Ishtar’s son Shara. They ask each of them to hunt down Anzu, kill him, and retrieve the TOD.

All three of these warriors, who are also the children of gods, say the equivalent of, “Thanks but no thanks, dad. Have you SEEN Anzu’s teeth? Also, he has the TOD now so he can turn anyone he wants into clay!”

[I’m not sure why you would make a tablet that had the ability to turn people into clay. That’s just begging for someone to steal it while you’re bathing.]

So the gods have to think for a moment. Ea decides that the only remaining option is to ask for Belet-ili’s help. Ea asks her to send her “favorite” warrior, Ninurta, after Anzu.After some high-quality flattery, Belet-ili agrees. Ninurta is also the son of Ellil, the guy who took a bath and deeply regretted it.

Okay so now they have a plan! Belet-ili gives Ninurta his marching orders, which are very long and dramatic, but essentially come down to: “Get your army together, scare the crap out of Anzu, and then cut his throat!”

Ninurta’s response isn’t recorded, but I’m guessing it was something like: “….K.”

He summons seven evil winds (because Ninurta is a badass and apparently makes friends with evil winds), gets his army, and goes after Anzu.

The two armies meet up on the mountain Anzu is using as his base, and there’s the usual trash-talking, army-clashing, blood-bathing conflict one might expect.

Ninurta tries to shoot Anzu, to no avail because Anzu uses the TOD to deflect everything shot at him. Rude! After many efforts, and some advice to the gods (which is basically, “….don’t give up, Ninurta! Shoot him again! Cut his wings off! DO IT!”) Ninurta succeeds at last in cutting up Anzu’s wings with his arrows and then shooting Anzu through the heart.

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Anzu on the left, the warrior Ninurta on the right with his thunderbolts. Source

Ninurta takes back the TOD, and returns to the gods. They shower him with glory and honor and titles, as per tradition.

Notes

We haven’t seen Belet-ili in a while, but you may remember her in Atrahasis , when the gods also had to beg her for help. She’s kind of a big deal: goddess of wombs and creation, mistress of the gods, etc etc.

Ellil is also in Atrahasis: he’s the god who is determined to destroy mankind in a flood and gets pissy when Ea helps Atrahasis survive.

There are a lot of sets of three in this myth. The gods ask three separate guys (before Ninurta) to kill Anzu, with the same wording in the requests and the same wording in the denial. Ninurta tries to kill Anzu three times, and is repelled by the TOD three times.

This myth, like the other Mesopotamian myths I’ve looked at, and like many old myths of other old cultures, started out being told orally, and were only written down when someone had the time/education/inspiration, and/or when the myth was canonized. Dalley points out that various small parts of this myth are repeated word for word in other myths: all of the storytellers had a sort of “grab bag” of phrases or interludes, and could mix and match them depending on what they needed from the story.

If this myth has a moral, it’s probably Don’t Steal From The Gods; or maybe Be Grateful To Be A Bath Attendant. Anzu has the fatal flaw of hubris: he wants to control everything, even the gods.  But Ninurta isn’t shown to be a particularly bad or good guy: he obeys Belet-ili, but he is promised many honors and prizes if he succeeds, so I don’t know how pious his obedience is. He returns the world to the status quo, and keeps the gods in power.

Source

As always, this post brought you by Myths From Mesopotamia, translated and edited by Stephanie Dalley.

Myth Monday: I Like Big Boats and I Cannot Lie

So I’ve been reading Mesopotamian myths, like you do, and this week I read Atrahasis I, II, and III, a very old story about a flood sent by the gods to destroy humanity.

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One of the clay tablets that records Atrahasis. It looks super fun to translate. Source

Quick Context:

So Atrahasis is old. Really old. The clay tablets it is inscribed on are dated around 1700 BC,  during the reign of Amm-saduqa of Babylon, and the author is Ipiq-Aya, writing during that same time (Dalley 3). It’s written in Akkadian, the language of oooooooooooold Babylon.

For comparison, the oldest copies of the Bible are the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were copied around 408 BC to 318 AD. The oldest pieces of writing ever found are from 3200 BC, also in Mesopotamia (ancient Sumer).

Fun Flood Fact: Atrahasis is also sometimes called Uta-na’ishtim, which, when abbreviated may have been pronounced as “Noah” (Dalley 2).Prometheus may also have originated from Greek translations of Atrahasis. Prometheus and Atrahasis both helped humanity survive in spite of the gods’ wishes. Noah was chosen by God to help humanity survive.

A Quick Guide to Mesopotamian Gods:

I’m really unfamiliar with this pantheon, and it’s really frustrating because I’m used to Greek/Roman and knowing everyone’s many, many names. Below is a list of the most significant gods in this myth. I also found this handy master-list online if you’d like to know more.

Enlil/Ellil: a warrior god; in this story he’s kind of a genocidal brat.

An/Anu: one of the oldest gods; sometimes the father of the gods like Zeus, in this story he’s one of the decision-makers.

Enki/Ea: god of wisdom/magic and lives under the ocean like a normal person; in this story, he’s very much on the side of humanity.

Belet-ili/Mami/Nintu: goddess of wombs; in this story she’s a pretty big deal and basically performs human transmutation by murdering another god.

Ishtar: goddess of marriage;  in this story she comes up whenever the gods are putting limits on humanity.

A Concise and Irreverent Summary of Atrahasis:

Once upon a time, the gods had to do all the work and decided they were sick of it. So they did a group brainstorm and decided to create someone else that could do the work for them. Of course, the only one who can do that kind of creation nonsense is the “womb-goddess” Belet-ili/Mami/Nintu, and the only way she can do it is by using the body of a god. Slaughtering one of their own doesn’t slow the gods down, though. RIP Ilawela, we don’t know if you volunteered or not. Then Mother Mad Scientist mixes Ilawela’s flesh and blood with earth and, voila! Humans!

But then they have all of these humans, who are immortal because the gods didn’t think this through, and the humans do all the work, but they also keep having babies and not dying and all those little humans are so noisy. So the gods brainstorm together again because they can’t hear themselves think. They decide to send plagues to take down the noise level a notch or three.

This is where our boy Atrahasis comes in. He is pretty tight with one of the main gods, Enki. Between the two of them, they figure out a proper offering to give the gods to butter them up so they’ll stop sending plagues. Here is where the story falls into a bit of a pattern where the gods try to wipe out mankind every once in a while because they’re so noisy, using a variety of plagues, floods, and famines, and every time Atrahasis figures out an offering to appease them.

Finally the gods’ think-group comes up the next great hit: The Flood. The gods decide to send a massive flood to reduce the population. They try to bring Enki in on the plan, but he loses his chill and is like, wow, if you guys want to flood mankind out of existence, do it yourself (even though he’s the one who keeps the ocean locked up). Enki sends a dream to Atrahasis so that Atrahasis has a compelling urge to dismantle his own house and build a boat out of it. Totally normal dream-compelled behavior. So Atrahasis and whoever goes with him manage to survive, but everyone else is wiped out. Nintu (Mami/Belet-ili) regrets all of her decisions and mourns humanity, because they are her child made out of dead god-bits, after all, but Ellil spots Atrahasis’ boat and loses his mind.

ELLIL: “WHAT DOST MINE EYES SEE BELOW ME? A BOAT? THERE IS ONLY ONE OF US WHO WOULD DARE”

ENKI: “Yep I did it, it was me, come at me bro.”

Instead of beating up Enki, though, the gods’ think-group comes up with various population controls, such as risky childbirth, plague, and shortened lifespans, and humanity gets to live happily ever after. Sort of.

The End

I’m told that the “story of the Flood was one of the most popular tales of ancient times” (Dalley 1). The editor of the Mesopotomian myth book I’m reading says that all of the many flood stories that exist might have started because various people (or just one person who spread it around) noticed all of the fossils of sea animals that were way above the waterline (Dalley 7).I’m going to throw out the crazy idea that the reason it was so popular was because everyone had been telling the story for generations because at least some aspect of it was true. I definitely subscribe to Tolkien’s view of true myths:

 …just as speech is invention about objects and ideas, so myth is invention about truth.

We have come from God (continued Tolkien), and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. Indeed only by myth-making, only by becoming a ‘sub-creator’ and inventing stories, can Man aspire to the state of perfection that he knew before the Fall. Our myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbour, while materialistic ‘progress’ leads only to a yawning abyss and the Iron Crown of the power of evil.

You mean, asked Lewis, that the story of Christ is simply a true myth, a myth that works on us in the same way as the others, but a myth that really happened? In that case, he said, I begin to understand.”

References:

Carpenter, Humphrey. J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography. Mariner Books, 2000.

Dalley, Stephanie. Myths from Mesopotamia: Creation, The Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others. Oxford World Classics, 2008.