2General Concepts cosmogony ex nihilo theomachy hierarchical structure Cosmogonies are stories about the world’s creation and origins, and in Greek works these stories focus on this creation as a beautiful and ordered production. Myth and divine characters, more than scientific theory, serve as an explanation for natural events and the development of landscapes. Ancient cosmogonies do not usually begin with creation ex nihilo (from nothing) but rather from a primeval matter (earth, sky, or water personified as gods that cohabitate and procreate to produce other natural elements). Often, a theomachy (battle of the gods) is depicted, representing the takeover of younger generations of gods from their patriarchs or the domination of male power over matriarchs. The world is depicted hierarchically, with gods living above, humans on earth, and demons/spirits in a lower world.
3Cannibal Spell for King Unis “Unis’s privileges will not be taken from him, for he has swallowed the Perception of every god” (28).Inscribed inside the pyramid, the cannibal spell recounts the violent cycle in which a deceased king rises and sets like the sun, devouring his fellow gods, the stars, in order to assimilate their magic powers and fulfill his role as a creator god.The image of the ibis represents the glyph “akh,” which represents the sun as a creator god.
4Great Hymn to the Aten el-Amarna monism Hapy dat etiological myths The hymn appears at the entrance to the tomb of an official in the new capital city, el-Amarna. King Akhenaten’s (Amenhotep IV) cult of Aten is not a complete transition toward monotheism, but does represent early steps toward monist worship of a single god—in this case the sun as a sustainer of the world. Students should examine the personification of the sun rising and setting, stretching its rays, and bringing life to all living creatures and providing sustenance for them, as well as the “evil” that appears once the sun sets (“every lion comes from its den, all the serpents bite”). As the footnote 3 states, Hapy represents the Nile’s flooding, which emerges from the Egyptian underworld (dat). This is an example of an etiological myth, in which a natural event (i.e, flooding, the appearance of seasons) is based on a god’s activity.
5Enuma Elish “when on high” Akkadians Tiamat (mother ocean)/ Apsu (father, fresh water)Marduk/ EaEsharra and BabylonQingu’s blood, human creation as “artful”Anunna and Igigi (higher, lesser) godsIn this cosmogony, which borrows from Sumerian, Old Akkadian, and West Semitic accounts, the world emerges from the cohabitation of fresh and salt water (male Apsu and female Tiamat, respectively). Marduk creates an earthly dwelling, Babylon (“houses of the great gods”), to parallel Esharra, the gods’ celestial domicile. Humans are formed from the lesser god Qingu’s blood as “an artful thing” by Ea, the god of wisdom and magic and Marduk’s father; students will note that Quingu, though a lesser god, was a general and harbinger of war—how does this inheritance contribute to the writer’s views about mankind and his behaviors? Note the purposes of the text, approved by Marduk (Tablet VII)
6MardukMarduk, a Mesopotamian god and patron god of Babylon, is also known as the “solar calf.” He acquires the attributes of former patron deities in the area, including his father, Ea. The Enuma Elish explains Marduk’s ascent over other supreme gods to become chief god of the area, and establishes the creation of humans for the benefit of the gods.In this image, Marduk is accompanied by the dragon (serpent), which was held as a sacred animal by the deity, and called upon to aid in battle and deed.Image caption reads “The god Marduk with his dragon, from a Babylonian cylinder seal.”
7ZigguratIn Enuma Elish, the higher gods build a ziggurat in Babylon, which will house gods when they visit Marduk. The gods endeavor in physical labor, using hoes and bricks over two years to create a dwelling for Marduk as a tripartite godhead (Anu-Enlil-Ea). Mesopotamians built ziggurats as terraced pyramid complexes meant to house gods and (at the shrine) allow priests to serve and placate the gods. Students might compare this ziggurat to the one described in the Tower of Babel (see Genesis, the Hebrew Bible).The image is a recreation of the ziggurat at Ur, built for their patron deity, the moon god Nanna.
8Sanctity of the TextThe first one should reveal them The wise and knowledgeable should ponder them together The master should repeat, and make the pupil understand The “shepherd” and “herdsman” should pay attention (38).A common element in cosmogonies and foundational myths is the explanation or assertion of the authority of the work and this invites, to varying degrees, scrutiny of the intended veracity of the work. “The Great Hymn to the Aten” is spoken by “The Vizier, the Fanbearer on the right of the King,” and the hymn reveals that the king is the only one who knows Aten (107–10), thus revealing the authority of the source of the Vizier’s knowledge.As the footnote reads: As in other Mesopotamian mythical stories, this explains how the text originated and how it should be used by later ages. The “first one” probably refers to revelation during sacred rituals, and Marduk’s approval of the text and invocation convey that the text should not be altered by future generations. How do the purpose of the text for different community members and command that it not be changed relate to the sanctity and purpose of religious texts that are “divinely inspired” in other religions (i.e., the Hebrew Bible, the Qur’an)?
9Hesiod Theogony, “birth of the gods” Gaia / Uranus (mother earth/ father sky)TitansHesiod as a shepherd “tending sheep at the foothills of god-haunted Helikon”invocation to the MusesAs with other early Greek works, the Muses divinely inspire the poet to write (see, for example, Homer’s invocations to the Muses, pp. 230 and 332). Hesiod is taught the “beautiful song” by the gods while herding his sheep near Mount Helikon. Hesiod is commanded always to “begin and end my song” with invocations to the Muses.
10Nine Muses Kleio Euterpe Thaleia Melpomene Terpsichore Erato Polymnia OuraniaKalliopeAccording to Hesiod, the Muses are conceived when Zeus procreates with Mnemosyne for nine nights, giving birth to nine daughters nine months later. The Muses “extol for the whole world the laws and wise customs of all the immortals” through their song. Each muse represents a different art (respectively): History, Elegiac Poetry and song, Comedy, Tragedy, Dance, Love Poetry, Sacred Poetry, Astronomy, and Epic Poetry.The image depicts Apollo and the Nine Muses, painted ca by Baldasarre Peruzzi.
11Aphrodite and the Titans Aphrodite is born of the foam produced from Ouranos’ genitals, which are castrated and tossed into the see by his son, Kronos, at the bequest of Gaia. Aphrodite becomes goddess of “sweet love and its joyful pleasures,” while Ouranos names his children the Titans (Overreachers) for having castrated him.The top image shows The Birth of Venus, painted by Botticelli during the Renaissance. The image on the bottom depicts the castration of Uranus by Kronos, by Vasari and Gherardi in the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence (16th century).
12Prometheus and HubrisPrometheus, meaning “forethought,” commits hubris (wrongdoing against the gods) by stealing fire and giving it to mankind, and (according to some accounts) for teaching mankind the arts of civilization, including history, writing and medicine. Zeus vows punishment for both Prometheus and mankind: Pandora is fashioned by Hephaistos and sent “to charm the hearts of all men as they hug their own doom.”For his act of hubris, Prometheus is punished by being chained to a rock in Caucasus for eternity, where his liver is gorged daily by an eagle and regenerates each night.Some scholars have noted that the fashioning of humans from clay in Hesiod’s account bears resemblance to the fashioning of humans from clay in Enuma Elish, and to the formation of man from earth in the Hebrew Bible Genesis account.The image depicts Prometheus, painted by Gustave Moreau (1868). Housed in the Gustave Moreau Museum.
13PandoraPandora is fashioned by Hephaistos, instructed in weaving and wisdom by Athena, made beautiful by Aphrodite, and corrupted morally by Hermes before being sent to mankind in the form of a shy maiden. Pandora carries a jar from which she releases all evils—sickness, pain, suffering—upon mankind; only hope remains within the jar. Think about hope—is it an evil or good concept, according to ancient Greeks? Remember that “fate” (moira) and the gods’ intents determined a man’s life according to the ancient Greeks, so would harboring hope complement or contradict a belief in fate?The left image depicts Pandora, painted by Jules Joseph Lefebvre (1882), and the right image depicts a pithos (jar) from the Department of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities at Denon. Students will notice that she is depicted holding a box rather than a jar, this due to Erasmus’s mistranslation of the Greek into Latin, in which the stone storage jar is translated into the Latin word for “box.” How does this misnomer relate to the creation and perpetuation of myth?
14The Races of MankindThe first race is the golden race, marking a carefree period for mankind, without pain, misery, old age, evil, or need for work; they become the guardian spirits for future mortals. The second race, of silver, enjoys a nurturing childhood, but in adolescence commits violence against others and fails to perform sacrifices honoring the gods. The third race, bronze, is formed from ash trees and made for “harsh deeds of war and violence”; they fashion everything from bronze and engage in destructive acts. The fourth, heroic race of demigods is destroyed in war and battle during the Trojan War or abuse of the gods’ property and animals. The fifth race, of iron, is characterized by work, pain, worry, and lack of reciprocity among communities.The images are paintings by Lucas Cranach the Elder, depicting the Golden Age (left) and Silver Age (German Renaissance).
15Philosophers Thales of Miletus, water as prima materia Heraclitus, theory of transformationEmpedocles, conjunction of the elements, laws of attraction and repulsionAnaxagoras, intelligence and processThales suggests that water is the prima materia (primary substance) from which all matter is formed, which can be neither created nor destroyed; this is based on his observation that life is nourished from moisture, and that most living beings (seeds included) are primarily composed of moist elements. Heraclitus argues that “the totality of substance is eternal” earth itself, which is destructible and will transform into fire, using his observation of sea water being dissolved and measured in proportion to prove that all elements can be transformed but will exist in the same proportion as in their first state. For Empedocles, all substances (earth, air, water, and fire) are in a perpetual state of joining and separating by laws of attraction and repulsion (Love and Strive). Anaxagoras suggests that all creation stems from the mind, which arranges things (“nothing completely separates off or dissociates one from another except mind). How do these views compare to current scientific laws about matter?
16Lucretius Epicureanism “But if I knew nothing of atoms, of what they were, still from the very ways of the heavens, from many other things I could name, I’d dare to assert and prove that not for us and not by gods was this world made” (55).“Surely the heavens and earth must also have a time of origin and a time of death” (56).Epicureanism emphasizes tranquility or peace of mind as the primary goal of human life. Anxiety can be removed by examining the world as a material formed of atoms that are constantly moving and changing, rather than ascribing change to divine intervention. The gods do exist, but they are uninvolved in the workings of the universe. Earth and the heavens, as material places, also partake in the cycle of birth and death.
17Discussion QuestionsWhat do these creation myths tell us about original societies, their cultures, and their understanding of the universe?Students should look at the importance of matriarchy in the form of female deities, women as “dangerous” (the story of Pandora), hubris as punishment for defying or disrespecting a god, and how humans interact with and define the universe using early scientific methods. How do these beliefs relate to monotheistic religions (i.e., Eve / Pandora, Prometheus/ Tower of Babel, hubris/ sin), and how do the scientific treatises compare to our current knowledge about the universe?
18This concludes the Lecture PowerPoint presentation for The Norton Anthology of World Literature