Major Myths

Major Myths
Since so many different cultural traditions are grouped together under the banner of Semitic mythology, the various myths are best presented in groups according to their cultural origins.

Sumerian Myths One of the central Sumerian myths, the story of Inanna and Dumuzi, shows how part of the ancient mythology survived in later cultures. Inanna, goddess of light, life, and fertility, was ready to choose a husband. Two men wanted to marry her—Enkimdu (pronounced EHN-keem-doo), a farmer, and Dumuzi, a shepherd. Inanna leaned toward Enkimdu, but Dumuzi told her that his flocks and herds of livestock could produce more wealth than could Enkimdu’s fields. The rivals competed for Inanna’s hand until Enkimdu withdrew. Enkimdu then allowed Dumuzi to graze his flocks on his land, and in turn Dumuzi invited Enkimdu to attend his wedding to the goddess. The rivalry between the farmer and the herder in this myth is echoed in the Jewish story of Cain and Abel. Some historians of mythology believe that such tales grew out of ancient social tensions between settled agricultural communities and roving groups of livestock herders.

Ishtar was the Akkadian name for the Sumerian goddess Inanna, a central figure in Semitic mythology. ASSYRIAN SCHOOL/THE BRIDGEMAN ART LIBRARY/GETTY IMAGES.

Major Myths
One widespread story about Inanna and Dumuzi says that Inanna descended into the underworld, or land of the dead, and became a corpse there. The gods managed to restore her to life, but Dumuzi had to go to the underworld as her substitute. He came to be seen as a god of vegetation who had to die and be reborn each year. Many later myths about dying gods, including that of Adonis (pronounced uh-DON-is) in Greek mythology, resemble the story of Inanna and Dumuzi.

Another basic Semitic myth that came from Sumer is the story of a flood that covered the earth after humans angered the gods. Warned by The gods (or God) to build a boat, one righteous man—such as Noah— and his family survived the flood to give humankind a new start.

Mesopotamian Myths The myths of the Akkadians, Babylonians, and Assyrians depicted a world full of mysterious spiritual powers that could threaten humans. People dreaded demons and ghosts and used magical spells for protection against them. They worshipped a pantheon of a dozen or so major deities and many other minor gods.

The best-known Mesopotamian myth is the Babylonian epic of Gilgamesh (pronounced GIL-guh-mesh). It is the story of a hero king’s search for immortality, or the ability to live forever. A bold and brave warrior, Gilgamesh performed many extraordinary feats during his journey. Although he failed to obtain his goal—the secret of eternal life—he gained greater wisdom about how to make his life meaningful.

Another legend that deals with the question of why humans die is the myth of Adapa, the first human being. The water god Ea formed Adapa out of mud. Although Adapa was mortal, Ea’s touch gave him divine strength and wisdom. One day, when Adapa was fishing, the wind overturned his boat. Adapa cursed the wind. According to one version of the story, the wind was in the form of a bird, and Adapa tore off its wings. The high god Anu called Adapa to heaven to explain his actions. Adapa asked his father, Ea, for advice on how to act in heaven. Ea told him to wear mourning clothes, to be humble, and to refuse food and drink because they would kill him. So when Anu offered food, Adapa declined it. Unfortunately, Ea’s advice had been mistaken. The food Adapa rejected was the food of immortality that would have allowed human beings to live forever. Adapa’s choice meant that all men and women must die.

Marduk appears in a Babylonian myth about Zu, a bird god from the underworld. A frequent enemy of the other gods, Zu stole the tablets that gave Enlil control over the universe. When the high god Anu asked for a volunteer to attack Zu, several gods refused because of Zu’s new power. Finally, Marduk took on Zu, defeated him, and recovered the tablets. This restored the universe to its proper order.

WorldHistory ->Ancient history

Major Myths
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