Creation and Destruction
3 Flood Myths
In cultures around the world, there are myths that narrate the arrival of a universal flood that almost destroyed the human race. In this regard, the Mediterranean world is not an exception. Within Greco-Roman mythology, the most important flood myth comes from Ovid´s Metamorphoses. Nevertheless, this account was preceded in the region by Atrahasis and Gilgamesh Epic, which were written over one thousand years earlier and by the account of the flood in Genesis , which was written hundreds of years earlier.
In these myths, floods mark a turning point between “antediluvian” (before the flood) and “postdiluvian” (after the flood) times. Antediluvian times contain elements of utopia, but eventually descend into chaos, evil, or other turmoil. The flood provides some form of “reset” of creation, and the period after the flood comprises rebuilding and reparations, often leading away from the “mythical” qualities of the antediluvian times and towards a more “historical” age where “mythical” qualities are still present but with much less prominence.
One of the oldest flood myths from the Mediterranean region comes from the whose most known and complete version comes from the Old Babylonian period (18th century BCE). This epic, told across three cuneiform tablets, describes early conflicts between the gods, the origin of humanity, and the story of the flood. The Annunaki (Assembly of gods and goddesses) decides to create the human race in order to mitigate the hard work involved on the creation of Earth. The number of human beings grew rapidly, and their noises started to bother certain divinities such as Enlil who decided, on several occasions, that the best solution to end with this noise was to destroy humanity. However, the god Enki sides with the humans by secretly telling Atrahasis, a wise man, to build a boat and save himself and others. All these crises were stopped thanks to the instructions that the god Enki gave to the human Atrahasis in order to calm the anger of Enlil. Finally, Enlil manages to convince all the divinities of the Annunaki to send the Great Flood and destroy humanity. When the flood sets in, the gods become hungry as there are no more humans to offer them sacrifices, and so the flood ends. After the flood and the destruction of almost all of humanity, the gods and goddesses regretted what they had done, but fortunately Atrahasis and his wife had survived thanks to Enki, meaning that humanity had still another chance. The divinities decided to establish a series of limits, such as death and infertility, to prevent this situation from recurring. At the end, Atrahasis and his wife were rewarded with immortality.
The Epic was originally written in Akkadian, a language spoken in Mesopotamia from the 3rd millenium BCE and used as a written language up until the first century. Akkadian is written using cuneiform, a script written with a triangular stylus on clay tablets. It is one of the oldest known scripts (along with Egyptian hieroglyphics), and was used to write a variety languages including Sumerian, Akkadian, and Hittite.
You can read an English translation of the epic here.
The Epic of Gilgamesh
Parts of Atrahasis (see above) reappear in the Standard Babylonian Version (SBV) of the Gilgamesh Epic. The SBV, attributed to a scribe named Sîn-leqi-unninni, was complied and written down by the end of the 2nd millennium BCE. Though the flood myth appears only in the SBV, many of the episodes and stories in the SBV are based on an earlier Old Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic (ca. 19th century BCE), and on even earlier Sumerian myths about the hero Gilgamesh. The flood myth does not only appear in this 11th tablet, but there also references to this event in the Sumerian myths of Gilgamesh previously mentioned. Moreover, the Epic´s version of the flood narrative also appears to draw heavily from the earlier Atrahasis, including a reference to the name “Atra-hasis,” as well as other narrative details like, for example, the presence of completely identical sentences in both writings.
The Epic tells the story of Gilgamesh, the king of Uruk. The Epic of Gilgamesh tells the different adventures and missions on which Gilgamesh and his loyal companion Enkidu go on together. After Gilgamesh’s good friend (and possibly romantic partner) Enkidu dies at the hands of the gods, Gilgamesh begins to fear his own mortality. Hoping to find a way to escape death, he sets out on a quest to the far end of the world to find Ut-Napishtim, the only human to whom the gods had ever granted immortality.
The SBV comprises between eleven or twelve clay tablets written in cuneiform script, in Neo-Assyrian Akkadian. The inclusion of the twelfth tablet (Gilgamesh, Enkidu and the Netherworld) has sparked debate, often being classified as an “inorganic appendae”, in other words, an element that interrupts the plot of the story. After all, a priori, it seems that this story does not have anything to do with the general plot. Nevertheless, this version has been discussed more and more in recent times, understanding that its inclusion in the Epic of Gilgamesh is not a mistake, but a clear literary evolution. The flood account occurs on Tablet 11. Though many fragments and copies of this tablet exist, the earliest, most complete, and most famous is the so-called “Flood Tablet” from the Library of Ashurbanipal.
You can read the full SBV here.
The Epic of Gilgamesh (Standard Babylonian Version), Tablet 11, 1-206 (trans. R. C. Thompson, adapted by P. Rogak)
Akkadian epic, ca. 1200 BCE
 Gilgamesh said to him, to Ut-Napishtim the Distant:
“Ut-Napishtim, I look at you, (but) you seem in no way
Strange, (for) you are like me, and you are in no way different;
You are like me; my whole heart is set on fighting you,
[ ] you lie on your back [ ], how did you
Stand in the Assembly of Gods to petition for (eternal) life?”
Ut-Napishtim spoke to him, Gilgamesh, and answered:
“Gilgamesh, I will reveal the (whole) hidden story,
 And I will tell you the secrets of the Gods.
The city Shuruppak, a city that you know of,
is set [on the banks] of the Euphrates [river],
This city is old, and close to the gods.
The great gods decided to send a flood
[ ] there was Anu, their father;
Their adviser was warrior Enlil;
Ninurta was their herald;
Their canal-digger was Ennugi;
Prince Ea swore to secrecy
 (But) he betrayed their counsel to a reed-hut: 
“O Reed-hut, O Reed-hut! Wall, wall!
Listen, O Reed-hut, consider, O Wall!
One of Shuruppak, son of Ubara-Tutu, (your) house
Pull down, (and) fashion a ship; abandon possessions,
Seek out life, (and) disregard your hoard,
Put the descendants of all living things into the centre of your boat.
The boat that you build,
 measure exactly; its beam and its length must be equal.
Like the Abzu, cover it.
I understood and said to my lord Ea,
‘[See], Lord, what you say,
I honour, I will do
(But) how will I explain to the people and the elders?”
Ea answered me, his servant,
‘You, mortal, will speak to them like this:
“It is only me (?) whom Enlil hates, and so I in your city
 cannot live (anymore),
Nor turn my face toward the land which is Enlil’s.
[I will go] down to the Abzu, (there) living with Ea, my lord,
(Wherefore) he shower down plenty on you, many birds,
Plenty of fish [ ] the harvest.
[ ] causing a plentiful rainfall (?) to come down upon you.”‘
[ ] of morning had dawned [ ]
[Five lines damaged]
 The children provided pitch
The weak brought whatever (else) was necessary.
On the fifth day, I laid out the shape (of the ship), in accord with the plan (?),
Ten gar each was the height of her sides,
Ten gar to match was the size of her deck (?)
 I laid down the shape of the forepart (?), made in the same way;
Six times cross-pinned her,
I divided her seven times [ ]
Divided her inwards nine times,
Hammered the caulking within her, (and) found myself a punt,
(All) that was necessary, I added;
I smeared the hull with six shar of bitumen,
I smeared three shar of pitch on the inside.
Some people, bearing a container of grease, brought three shar;
(and) I left one shar of grease for the rigging (?); (and) the boatman
 Stowed away two shar of grease; cattle for the [ ] I slaughtered,
Each day I killed lambs.
The workmen [drank] mead, beer, oil, and wine
as though they were water
and made a great feast like the New Year.
The Shamash [ ] I added salve for the hand(s)
Before the great Shamash [ ] the vessel was finished
[ ] was difficult
[ ] I caused to bring above and below
Two-thirds of it [ ]
 [All I possessed, I] loaded on board;
I loaded all the silver that I possessed;
All the that gold I possessed, I loaded on board,
All of the descendants of all living things that I possessed, [I loaded on board].
Into the ship I embarked all my kindred and family (with me),
Embarked on the boat.
Cattle (and) beasts of the field (and) the descendants of the people.
Shamash decreed, “[ ](?)
In the evening will let a plentiful rainfall(?) pour down
You will enter the vessel, and shut the hatch.”
 That hour came [ ] (?)
In the evening a plentiful rainfall(?) poured down [ ] (?)
I looked at the day, and saw a horror,
I entered the vessel, and shut the hatch,
To Puzur-Amurri the boatman,
I delivered the palace [the ship], with its equipment.
When some of dawn had appeared,
A dark cloud rose from the horizon.
Adad was rumbling within it,
 Shullat and Hanish were at the front of the vanguard,
And coming as heralds over the hills and the levels.
Irragal wrenched out the mooring bollards ;
Ninurta let loose havoc as he came,
The Anunnaki brandished their torches
And shrivelled the land with their flames.
Desolation from Adad stretched to Heaven,
All that was bright was turned into darkness.
The land like [ ]
For one day the st[orm] [ ]
 Fiercely blew [ ]
Like a battle [ ]
Nor could a brother see his brother;
No mortals could be seen from heaven.
The gods were stricken with terror at the flood,
Fleeing, they rose to the Heaven of Anu, and crouched in the outskirts,
The gods were cowering like dogs,
Ishtar cried like a woman in labour.
Shrieking aloud, the sweet-spoken Lady of the gods said:
‘May that day turn to dust,
 because I said evil things in the Assembly of Gods!
O, how could I utter (such) evil things in the Assembly of Gods,
To blot out my people, allowing havoc!
Am I to give birth to my own people
Only to fill the sea (with their bodies) as though they were fish-spawn?’
Gods, the Anunnaki, wept with her, the gods were sitting (all) humbled,
In (their) weeping, (and) closed were their lips in(?) the Assembly.
Six days and seven nights
The hurricane, deluge, (and) tempest continued sweeping the land.
 When the seventh day came,
The warfare was quelled,
Tempest (and) deluge, which had been fighting like an army.
Lulled was the sea, (all) spent was the gale, assuaged was the deluge,
(So) did I look on the day; sound was (all) stilled;
And every human back to (its) clay was returned,
And bog was level with roof-tree.
I opened a hatch, and the sunlight streamed down on my cheek,
Bowing myself down, I sat weeping,
my tears over my cheek(s) overflowing,
 Into the distance I gazed, to the furthest bounds of the Ocean,
Land was showing at twelve (points),
And the ship grounded on the Mountain of Nisir
The Mountain of Nisir held fast, and did not let her (the ship) shift.
One day, two, Nisir held fast, and did not let her shift.
Three days, four, Nisir held fast, and did not let her shift,
Five days, six, Nisir held fast, and did not let her shift.
When the seventh day dawned,
I put forth a dove, and released it.
The dove went to and fro,
 It returned because there was not a resting-place.
I put forth a swallow and released it;
The swallow went to and fro.
It returned because there was not a resting-place.
I put forth a raven, releasing it;
The raven went, too, and saw the receding of the waters
And she ate as she waded (and) splashed, not returning.
Unto the four winds I freed (all the beasts)?
And sacrificed an offering, and poured a libation on the peak of the mountain,
Offering twice seven flagons,
 (and) heaped up beneath them sweet cane, (and) cedar, and myrtle.
The gods smelled the aroma,
The gods smelled the sweet aroma,
(And) the gods assembled like flies over the one making the offering.
Upon arriving, the Queen of the gods [Ninmah]
Lifted up the magnificent jewels, which Anu had made in accord with her wishes;
‘O Gods! I would (rather) forget this, my necklace of sapphires,
Than not maintain these days in remembrance, nor ever forget them.
(So), though (the rest of) the gods may be present at the offering,
Enlil may not come to the offering,
 Because he, unreasonably, brought on a flood,
And consigned my people to destruction.
Enlil, upon on his arrival,
Saw the ship, and Enlil burst into anger,
Swollen with anger against the gods, the Igigi:
Do any of mortals live?
Never could a man have lived through this ruin.’
Ninurta gave answer and spoke,
Saying to the warrior Enlil,
Who can there be to devise such a plan, except Ea?
 Surely, it is Ea, who knew of the plan (for the flood).’
Ea answered and spoke
Saying to the warrior Enlil:
Ruler of the gods, you warrior!
How could you, uncounseled, send down a flood?
Punish the faulty one for his fault,
Punish the criminal for his crime,
(But) have mercy, that he will not be cut off; be clement, that he may not [perish].
Instead of sending down a flood
Let a lion come to decrease humans;
 Instead of sending down flood,
Let a jackal come to decrease humans;
Instead of sending down a flood,
Let a famine occur, so that the country may be [devoured(?)];
Instead of sending down a flood,
Let the Erra come and the people [overwhelm].
I did not reveal the Great Gods’ secret,
(But) I entrusted to Atra-hasis a dream,
He of the gods heard the secret.
Deliberate, now, on his counsel’.
Enlil came up to the boat;
 He grasped my hands and uplifted
My wife, too, he raised and made us bend down onto our arms.
He touched our foreheads as he stood there between us, blessing us:
‘Ut-Napishtim has until now only been mortal,
Now Ut-Napishtim and his wife will be equal, like us gods.
Ut-Napishtim will dwell in the distance at the mouth of the rivers.’
 (So) they took me and made me dwell at the mouth of the rivers in the distance.
Taken from: https://www.sacred-texts.com/ane/eog/eog13.htm
There is also a well-known flood narrative in the Book of Genesis. The Book of Genesis (Bereshit, translated as “In the beginning) is the first book of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament. This book consists on an account of the creation of the world by God, the first step of humanity and the history of Israel´s ancestors. Following a very similar structure to the work of Atrahasis, the Bookf of Genesis can be divided in two parts: 1) The primeval history (chapters 1-11) in which the relationship between God and humankind is the main topic and 2)The ancestral history (chapters 12-50) which is more focused on the origins of the Jewish people and the ancestors of Israel. There are clear similarities between the primeval history of the Bookf of Genesis and the antediluvian times of Atrahasis since in both of them the reader is introduced to an utopic world, created by a divinity or various divinities, where everything is in harmony. Nevertheless, the introduction of mankind changes everything, making this world become a chaotic reality. In Atrahasis, the problem was the “noise”, in the Book of Genesis is the bad actions of mankind. At the end, the solution is the same for both pieces: the arrival of a flood to end up with mankind and, therefore, return Earth to its original harmony. Nevertheless, God decides to save only a group of humans, the family of Noah, and entrust them with the mission of reconstructing mankind again.
Hebrew Bible narrative, date varies
7.1 The LORD said to Noah, “Come with all of your household into the ship, for I have seen your righteousness before me in this generation.
2 You shall take seven pairs of every clean animal with you, the male and his female. Of the animals that are not clean, take two, the male and his female.
3 Also of the birds of the sky, seven and seven, male and female, to keep seed alive on the surface of all the earth.
4 In seven days, I will cause it to rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights. I will destroy every living thing that I have made from the surface of the ground.”
5 Noah did everything that the LORD commanded him.
6 Noah was six hundred years old when the flood of waters came on the earth.
7 Noah went into the ship with his sons, his wife, and his sons’ wives, because of the floodwaters.
8 Clean animals, unclean animals, birds, and everything that creeps on the ground
9 went by pairs to Noah into the ship, male and female, as God commanded Noah.
10 After the seven days, the floodwaters came on the earth.
11 In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst open, and the sky’s windows opened.
12 It rained on the earth forty days and forty nights.
13 In the same day Noah, and Shem, Ham, and Japheth—the sons of Noah—and Noah’s wife and the three wives of his sons with them, entered into the ship—
14 they, and every animal after its kind, all the livestock after their kind, every creeping thing that creeps on the earth after its kind, and every bird after its kind, every bird of every sort.
15 Pairs from all flesh with the breath of life in them went into the ship to Noah.
16 Those who went in, went in male and female of all flesh, as God commanded him; then the LORD shut him in.
17 The flood lasted forty days on the earth. The waters increased, and lifted up the ship, and it was lifted up above the earth.
18 The waters rose, and increased greatly on the earth; and the ship floated on the surface of the waters.
19 The waters rose very high on the earth. All the high mountains that were under the whole sky were covered.
20 The waters rose fifteen cubits higher, and the mountains were covered.
21 All flesh that moved on earth died, including birds, livestock, animals, every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, and every man.
22 All on the dry land, in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life, died.
23 Every living thing that was on the surface of the ground was destroyed, including man, livestock, creeping things, and birds of the sky. They were destroyed from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those who were with him in the ship.
24 The waters flooded the earth for one hundred fifty days.
8.1 God remembered Noah, all the animals, and all the livestock that were with him in the ship; and God made a wind to pass over the earth. The waters subsided.
2 The deep’s fountains and the sky’s windows were also stopped, and the rain from the sky was restrained.
3 The waters continually receded from the earth. After the end of one hundred fifty days the waters receded.
4 The ship rested in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on Ararat’s mountains.
5 The waters receded continually until the tenth month. In the tenth month, on the first day of the month, the tops of the mountains were visible.
6 At the end of forty days, Noah opened the window of the ship which he had made,
7 and he sent out a raven. It went back and forth, until the waters were dried up from the earth.
8 He himself sent out a dove to see if the waters were abated from the surface of the ground,
9 but the dove found no place to rest her foot, and she returned into the ship to him, for the waters were on the surface of the whole earth. He put out his hand, and took her, and brought her to him into the ship.
10 He waited yet another seven days; and again he sent the dove out of the ship.
11 The dove came back to him in the evening and, behold, in her mouth was a freshly plucked olive leaf. So Noah knew that the waters were abated from the earth.
12 He waited yet another seven days, and sent out the dove; and she didn’t return to him any more.
13 In the six hundred and first year, in the first month, the first day of the month, the waters were dried up from the earth. Noah removed the covering of the ship, and looked. He saw that the surface of the ground was dry.
14 In the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth was dry.
15 God spoke to Noah, saying,
16 “Go out of the ship, you, your wife, your sons, and your sons’ wives with you.
17 Bring out with you every living thing that is with you of all flesh, including birds, livestock, and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, that they may breed abundantly in the earth, and be fruitful, and multiply on the earth.”
18 Noah went out, with his sons, his wife, and his sons’ wives with him.
19 Every animal, every creeping thing, and every bird, whatever moves on the earth, after their families, went out of the ship.
20 Noah built an altar to the LORD, and took of every clean animal, and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar.
21 The LORD smelled the pleasant aroma. The LORD said in his heart, “I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake because the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth. I will never again strike every living thing, as I have done.
22 While the earth remains, seed time and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night will not cease.”
For a complete introduction to Ovid’s Metamorphoses and cosmogony, see chapter 2.
Ovid´s account of the flood appears in the first book of the Metamorphoses, following his cosmogony. Ovid starts the Metamorphoses explaining the peaceful golden age when the Earth was created and the gods and goddesses ruled the world. The harmonic golden age later turned into the iron age when it was man who rule the earth. The god Jupiter decided to visit the King Lycaon, expecting to be treated with kindness and hospitality, however, the experience was everything but friendly. After the disrespectful and wicked acts of the king towards the god, Jupiter decided to punish humanity and ask the god Poseidon to send a great flood to wipe out humanity and start all the process again. A second, postdiluvian, generation of humans emerges after the flood, as well as a new generation of monsters.
Latin narrative poem, 1st century CE
[177-198] “When the gods had taken their seats in the marble council chamber their king [ ], sitting high above them, leaning on his ivory sceptre, shook his formidable mane three times and then a fourth, disturbing the earth, sea and stars. Then he opened his lips in indignation and spoke. ‘I was not more troubled than I am now concerning the world’s sovereignty than when each of the snake-footed giants prepared to throw his hundred arms around the imprisoned sky. Though they were fierce enemies, still their attack came in one body and from one source. Now I must destroy the human race, wherever sounds, throughout the world. I swear it by the infernal streams that glide below the earth through the Stygian groves. All means should first be tried, but the incurable flesh must be removed by the surgical knife, so that the healthy part is not infected. Mine are the demigods, the wild spirits, , and , and sylvan deities of the hills. Since we have not yet thought them worth a place in heaven let us at least allow them to live in safety in the lands we have given them. Perhaps you gods believe they will be safe, even when , known for his savagery, plays tricks against me, who holds the thunderbolt, and reigns over you.’
[199-243] All the gods murmured aloud and, zealously and eagerly, demanded punishment of the man who committed such actions. When the impious band of conspirators were burning to drown the name of Rome in Caesar’s blood, the human race was suddenly terrified by fear of just such a disaster, and the whole world shuddered with horror. Your subjects’ loyalty is no less pleasing to you, Augustus, than theirs was to . After he had checked their murmuring with voice and gesture, they were all silent. When the noise had subsided, quieted by his royal authority, again broke the silence with these words: ‘Have no fear, he has indeed been punished, but I will tell you his crime, and what the penalty was. News of these evil times had reached my ears. Hoping it was false, I left ’ heights, and travelled the earth, a god in human form. It would take too long to tell what wickedness I found everywhere. Those rumours were even milder than the truth. I had crossed Maenala, those mountains bristling with wild beasts’ lairs, Cyllene, and the pinewoods of chill Lycaeus. Then, as the last shadows gave way to night, I entered the inhospitable house of the Arcadian king. I gave them signs that a god had come, and the people began to worship me. At first ridiculed their piety, then exclaimed ‘I will prove by a straightforward test whether he is a god or a mortal. The truth will not be in doubt.’ He planned to destroy me in the depths of sleep, unexpectedly, by night. That is how he resolved to prove the truth. Not satisfied with this he took a hostage sent by the Molossi, opened his throat with a knife, and made some of the still warm limbs tender in seething water, roasting others in the fire. No sooner were these placed on the table than I brought the roof down on the household gods, with my avenging flames, those gods worthy of such a master. He himself ran in terror, and reaching the silent fields howled aloud, having lost his ability to form speech. Foaming at the mouth, and greedy as ever for killing, he turned against the sheep, still delighting in blood. His clothes became bristling hair, his arms became legs. He was a wolf, but kept some vestige of his former shape. There were the same grey hairs, the same violent face, the same glittering eyes, the same savage image. One house has fallen, but others deserve to also. Wherever the earth extends the avenging furies rule. You would think men were sworn to crime! Let them all pay the penalty they deserve, and quickly. That is my intent.’
[244-273] When he had spoken, some of the gods encouraged ’s anger, shouting their approval of his words, while others consented silently. They were all saddened though at this destruction of the human species, and questioned what the future of the world would be free of humanity. Who would honour their altars with incense? Did he mean to surrender the world to the ravages of wild creatures? In answer the king of the gods calmed their anxiety, the rest would be his concern, and he promised them a people different from the first, of a marvellous creation.
Now he was ready to hurl his lightning-bolts at the whole world but feared that the sacred heavens might burst into flame from the fires below, and burn to the furthest pole: and he remembered that a time was fated to come when sea and land, and the untouched courts of the skies would ignite, and the troubled mass of the world be besieged by fire. So he set aside the weapons the forged, and resolved on a different punishment, to send down rain from the whole sky and drown humanity beneath the waves.
Straight away he shut up the north winds in ’ caves, with the gales that disperse the gathering clouds, and let loose the south wind, he who flies with dripping wings, his terrible aspect shrouded in pitch-black darkness. His beard is heavy with rain, water streams from his grey hair, mists wreathe his forehead, and his feathers and the folds of his robes distil the dew. When he crushes the hanging clouds in his outstretched hand there is a crash, and the dense vapours pour down rain from heaven. , ’s messenger, dressed in the colours of the rainbow, gathers water and feeds it back to the clouds. The cornfields are flattened and saddening the farmers, the crops, the object of their prayers, are ruined, and the long year’s labour wasted.
[274-292] ’s anger is not satisfied with only his own aerial waters: his brother the sea-god [Neptune] helps him with the ocean waves. He calls the rivers to council, and when they have entered their ruler’s house, says ‘Now is not the time for long speeches! Exert all your strength. That is what is needed. Throw open your doors, drain the dams, and set loose the reins of all your streams!’ Those are his commands. The rivers return and uncurb their fountains’ mouths, and race an unbridled course to the sea.
himself strikes the ground with his trident, so that it trembles, and with that blow opens up channels for the waters. Overflowing, the rivers rush across the open plains, sweeping away at the same time not just orchards, flocks, houses and human beings, but sacred temples and their contents. Any building that has stood firm, surviving the great disaster undamaged, still has its roof drowned by the highest waves, and its towers buried below the flood. And now the land and sea are not distinct, all is the sea, the sea without a shore.
[293-312] There one man escapes to a hilltop, while another seated in his rowing boat pulls the oars over places where lately he was ploughing. One man sails over his cornfields or over the roof of his drowned farmhouse, while another man fishes in the topmost branches of an elm. Sometimes, by chance, an anchor embeds itself in a green meadow, or the curved boats graze the tops of vineyards. Where lately lean goats browsed, shapeless seals played. The are astonished to see woodlands, houses and whole towns under the water. There are dolphins in the trees: disturbing the upper branches and stirring the oak-trees as they brush against them. Wolves swim among the sheep, and the waves carry tigers and tawny lions. The boar has no use for his powerful tusks, the deer for its quick legs, both are swept away together, and the circling bird, after a long search for a place to land, falls on tired wings into the water. The sea in unchecked freedom has buried the hills, and fresh waves beat against the mountaintops. The waters wash away most living things, and those the sea spares, lacking food, are defeated by slow starvation.
[313-347] Phocis, a fertile country when it was still land, separates Aonia from Oeta, though at that time it was part of the sea, a wide expanse of suddenly created water. There Mount Parnassus lifts its twin steep summits to the stars, its peaks above the clouds. When and his wife [ ] landed here in their small boat, everywhere else being drowned by the waters, they worshipped the Corycian , the mountain gods, and the goddess of the oracles, prophetic .
No one was more virtuous or fonder of justice than he was, and no woman showed greater reverence for the gods. When saw the earth covered with the clear waters, and that only one man was left of all those thousands of men, only one woman left of all those thousands of women, both innocent and both worshippers of the gods, he scattered the clouds and mist, with the north wind, and revealed the heavens to the earth and the earth to the sky. It was no longer an angry sea, since the king of the oceans putting aside his three-pronged spear calmed the waves, and called sea-dark , showing from the depths his shoulders thick with shells, to blow into his echoing conch and give the rivers and streams the signal to return. He lifted the hollow shell that coils from its base in broad spirals, that shell that filled with his breath in mid-ocean makes the eastern and the western shores sound. So now when it touched the god’s mouth, and dripping beard, and sounded out the order for retreat, it was heard by all the waters on earth and in the ocean, and all the waters hearing it were checked. Now the sea has shorelines, the brimming rivers keep to their channels, the floods subside, and hills appear. Earth rises, the soil increasing as the water ebbs, and finally the trees show their naked tops, the slime still clinging to their leaves.
[348-380] The world was restored. But when saw its emptiness, and the deep silence of the desolate lands, he spoke to , through welling tears. ‘Wife, cousin, sole surviving woman, joined to me by our shared race, our family origins, then by the marriage bed, and now joined to me in danger, we two are the people of all the countries seen by the setting and the rising sun, the sea took all the rest. Even now our lives are not guaranteed with certainty: the storm clouds still terrify my mind. How would you feel now, poor soul, if the fates had willed you to be saved, but not me? How could you endure your fear alone? Who would comfort your tears? Believe me, dear wife, if the sea had you, I would follow you, and the sea would have me too. If only I, by my father’s arts, could recreate earth’s peoples, and breathe life into the shaping clay! The human race remains in us. The gods willed it that we are the only examples of mankind left behind.’ He spoke and they wept, resolving to appeal to the sky-god, and ask his help by sacred oracles. Immediately they went side by side to the springs of Cephisus that, though still unclear, flowed in its usual course. When they had sprinkled their heads and clothing with its watery libations, they traced their steps to the temple of the sacred goddess, whose pediments were green with disfiguring moss, her altars without fire. When they reached the steps of the sanctuary they fell forward together and lay prone on the ground, and kissing the cold rock with trembling lips, said ‘If the gods’ wills soften, appeased by the prayers of the just, if in this way their anger can be deflected, tell us by what art the damage to our race can be repaired, and bring help, most gentle one, to this drowned world!’
[381-415] The goddess was moved, and uttered an oracle: ‘Leave the temple and with veiled heads and loosened clothes throw behind you the bones of your great mother!’ For a long time they stand there, dumbfounded. is first to break the silence: she refuses to obey the goddess’s command. Her lips trembling, she asks for pardon, fearing to offend her mother’s spirit by scattering her bones. Meanwhile they reconsider the dark words the oracle gave, and their uncertain meaning, turning them over and over in their minds. Then ’ son comforted ’ daughter with quiet words: ‘Either this idea is wrong, or, since oracles are godly and never urge evil, our great mother must be the earth: I think the bones she spoke about are stones in the body of the earth. It is these we are told to throw behind us.’
Though the ’s daughter is stirred by her husband’s thoughts, still hope is uncertain: they are both so unsure of the divine promptings; but what harm can it do to try? They descended the steps, covered their heads and loosened their clothes, and threw the stones needed behind them. The stones, and who would believe it if it were not for ancient tradition, began to lose their rigidity and hardness, and after a while softened, and once softened acquired new form. Then after growing, and ripening in nature, a certain likeness to a human shape could be vaguely seen, like marble statues at first inexact and roughly carved. The earthy part, however, wet with moisture, turned to flesh; what was solid and inflexible mutated to bone; the veins stayed veins; and quickly, through the power of the gods, stones the man threw took on the shapes of men, and women were remade from those thrown by the woman. So the toughness of our race, our ability to endure hard labour, and the proof we give of the source from which we are sprung.
[416-437] spontaneously created other diverse forms of animal life. After the remaining moisture had warmed in the sun’s fire, the wet mud of the marshlands swelled with heat, and the fertile seeds of things, nourished by life-giving soil as if in a mother’s womb, grew, and in time acquired a nature. So, when the seven-mouthed Nile retreats from the drowned fields and returns to its former bed, and the fresh mud boils in the sun, farmers find many creatures as they turn the lumps of earth. Amongst them they see some just spawned, on the edge of life, some with incomplete bodies and number of limbs, and often in the same matter one part is alive and the other is raw earth. In fact when heat and moisture are mixed they conceive, and from these two things the whole of life originates. And though fire and water fight each other, heat and moisture create everything, and this discordant union is suitable for growth. So when the earth muddied from the recent flood glowed again heated by the deep heaven-sent light of the sun she produced innumerable species, partly remaking previous forms, partly creating new monsters.”
Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2000 All Rights Reserved
Media Attributions and Footnotes
- Tablet 78971 © the British Museum is licensed under a CC BY-NC-SA (Attribution NonCommercial ShareAlike) license
- Tablet 78941 © the British Museum is licensed under a CC BY-NC-SA (Attribution NonCommercial ShareAlike) license
- Tablet K.3375 © the British Museum is licensed under a CC BY-NC-SA (Attribution NonCommercial ShareAlike) license
- The literary work of Atrahasis was widely distributed, so far seven manuscripts from the Old Babylonian period, two from the second half of the second millennium B.C., a dozen of the following millennium, and even some fragments from a later period are preserved of this text . Nevertheless, regarding the reconstruction of this story, it has to admitted that the Old Babylonian and the Neo-Assyrian fragments have played a key role in this process, especially the Old Babylonian tablets as they contain the oldest and most extensive manuscript of this literary work. Despite this, the fragments of the Old Babylonian period have not been fully deciphered yet, only 700 lines of the 1245 that conform this manuscript. Hence, the importance of the rest of the fragments as complementary pieces that serve to fill in the gaps of the Old Babylonian version in order to obtain the most complete version of the work possible. ↵
- The name "Ut-Napishtim" is derived from the word napištum, meaning "life" or "good health," in reference to Ut-Napishtim having achieved eternal life. ↵
- Indicates an unreadable or broken section of the tablet. Cuneiform tablets often have many gaps due to broken segments and wear. This is typically shown with a gap in the translation itself, and the distance of the gap in the translation often roughly corresponds with the amount of the line that is unreadable. Translators may attempt to reconstruct what may be missing based on partially visible signs, or by comparing other tablets that recount the same myth. This translation, for example, was created using many fragments of the Gilgamesh flood narrative. For further reading and an illustration of how fragmented tablets may be combined, see Andrew George's transliterated "score" of the SBV. ↵
- The chief god of the heavens. For further reading, see ORACC. ↵
- The god of kingship. Unlike the Greek deities, the hierarchy of gods in Mesopotamia was fluid across location and time. In some traditions, therefore, Enlil is praised before Anu (see note 1) while in later traditions (as the city of Babylon rose to power), Marduk (the patron god of Babylon) became the head of the pantheon. For further reading, see ORACC. ↵
- A god variously associated with warriors, fertility, and agriculture. For further reading, see: Jones, L, "Ninurta," Encyclopedia of Religions, 2nd edition (Detroit, MI: Macmillan Reference USA, 2005.) ↵
- Because of the major significance of irrigation ditches for agriculture in Mesopotamia, the divine role of "canal-digger" or "master of canals" appears on multiple occasions in Akkadian literature, and has an important link to fertility and land. ↵
- The god of the Apsu (see note below) and freshwater. He is also associated with trickery, wisdom, and magic. In this version of the flood myth, and in Atrahasis, he is presented as a helper to humans (similar to Prometheus). Many texts (such as in Atrahasis, above) also refer to Ea as "Enki." Both are names for the same deity, "Enki" being the earlier Sumerian name, while "Ea" is his later Akkadian name. For further reading, see ORACC. ↵
- Ea is not supposed to reveal the plans for the flood to humans, but finds a loophole in Anu's orders by pretending to be speaking only to the wall of the house and not to a person. The "reed wall" line has become one of the most famous lines of the epic. ↵
- The Abzu in Mesopotamian myth is an underground freshwater spring or ocean. It is the domain of the god Ea. ↵
- The god of the sun and justice. For further reading, see ORACC. ↵
- The god of storms and rain. For further reading, see ORACC. ↵
- Attendants of Adad ↵
- I.e. Irragal untied the boat ↵
- Anunnaki (or Igigi) is a collective term to refer to the gods of the heavens. It is particularly used to distinguish the gods of the heavens (or Anu's retinue) from Cthonic or Netherworld deities. ↵
- A goddess of sex, fertility, love, and war. Often connected to Aphrodite (see chapter 4). For further reading, see ORACC. ↵
- This title refers to the goddess Ninmah/Nintur, a goddess associated with child birth and the creation of humans. For further reading, see ORACC. ↵
- Compare Genesis 7:6-12 ↵
- Because there were no humans remaining to offer sacrifices (which sustain the gods), the gods were starving and are drawn to this sacrifice. ↵
- A god associated with plagues and wars. For further reading, see ORACC. ↵
- The name Atra-hasis means “of much wisdom.” It is here used as an epithet for Ut-napishtim, who is sometimes equated with the character of Atrahasis from Atrahasis. See section "Atrahasis." ↵
- There is broad scholarly consensus that the book of Genesis was composed by many authors and editors from different contexts and periods. The most well-known model is J.H. Wellhausen's "Documentary Hypothesis", which proposes that four different sources were combined to form the Pentateuch, though there are many newer hypotheses that build on and complicated Wellhausen's view. For a brief introduction to the Documentary Hypothesis, see: Tigay, Jeffrey H. Documentary Hypothesis, Empirical Models and Holistic Interpretation. ↵
- This passage uses two different Hebrew names for God: Elohim, and the Tetragrammaton. In this translation, the term "God" is used for the Hebrew Elohim, while the term "the LORD" is used in instances where the Tetragrammaton occurs. ↵
- A cubit is around 46cm, so the water rose approximately 690cm. ↵
- The Genesis flood famously inspired a rise in tourists and pseudo-archaeologists seeking to find the landing place of the arc. Christian tradition names Mount Ararat as the landing site, while some say that it landed at the Durupinar Site (on a neighbouring mountain), where an impression and large "anchor stones" were found. However, there is no known historical, scientific, or archaeological evidence for Noah's arc or the site of his landing. ↵
The original title is Enûma ilû awëlum, translated as When the Gods were / like men.
Roman: Jupiter or Jove
God of the sky, ruler of the Olympian gods.
See chapter 5.
Called Nereus or "The Old Man of the Sea."
A sea god with shapeshifting and prophetic powers. Father of the Nereids and son of Gaia.
Minor nature deities.
Half-goat, half-human minor woodland deities associated with lust and revelry.
A king of Arcadia, known for being turned into a wolf as punishment for attempting to trick Zeus into eating human flesh.
Appears in chapter 3.
A mountain in Greece, and the mythical home of the gods on this mountain.
One-eyed giant humanoids, and children of Gaia. Known for their skill at crafting, and particularly for forging weapons of the gods. Notable Cyclopes include Polyphemus.
Goddess of rainbows, and the messenger of the gods.
Goddess of marriage, wife of Zeus.
See chapter 6.
God of the sea.
See chapter 7.
Nature spirits or nymphs of the sea.
A son of Prometheus, husband of Pyrrha, and father of Hellen. Known for being one of the two people (along with his wife) to survive the flood in Ovid's account.
Featured in chapter 3.
A daughter of Epimetheus and Pandora, wife of Deucalion, and mother of Hellen. Known for being one of the two people (along with her husband) to survive the flood in Ovid's account.
Featured in chapter 3.
Titan of justice and order.
Featured in chapter 3.
Fish-tailed sea deities in Poseidon's retinue. The singular form (Triton) may also refer to one sea god, a son of Amphitrite and Poseidon.
A Titan. Known for creating humankind, for tricking the gods on various occasions, and for being punished (by Zeus) to have his liver eaten daily by an eagle.
See chapter 13.
A Titan. Son of Iapetus, brother of Prometheus and Atlas, father of Pyrrha, and husband of Pandora. Known for his foolishness.
Featured in chapter 14.
The early deities that ruled before Zeus and the Olympian gods. May refer specifically to the twelve children of Gaia and Uranus, or more broadly to the generations of deities before the Olympians.
Goddess of the earth.
Featured in chapter 1.