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What I found really interesting in the creation myths (the Greek and Mesopotamian in particular) was the pattern of the younger generation overcoming the previous. Both Zeus and Marduk are part of the youngest generations in their lineage and both become more powerful than their predecessors. Zeus was born wiser than his father Kronos, while Marduk is said to be: “superior in every way”. But what separated these two myths and what I found really interesting was the difference in violence when it came to the physical defeat of the previous generation.

In Hesiod, Zeus is simply said to have “shrewd words” with his father Kronos and through “craft and power, conquered him”. There is, in my opinion at least, little climax and absolutely no violence.

The Mesopotamian myth however has entire passages dedicated to the battle between Marduk and Tiamat and the violence that ensues is quite graphic. We hear how skulls and hearts are smashed, arteries are severed and bellies are split open. There are several lines just dedicated to Marduk preparing his weaponry. Unlike the Greek confrontation between Kronos and Zeus, the battle between Tiamat and Marduk is in itself its own story and epic.

Of course there is some violence in Hesiod when Kronos defeats Ouranos, but even then Kronos only used one weapon (as opposed to the mass arsenal that Marduk carries) and there is only one sentence describing the actual severing of Kronos’ manhood.

So my question is, do you think this difference in violence is simply a difference in style of writing, or does it represent something about the cultures? Is the Mesopotamian myth simply going for something that is grander than life and more entertaining, or were they trying to emphasize something about their culture’s gods?

I would love to hear some opinions!

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4 thoughts on “Violence in the Creation Myths

  1. With the way that Mesopotamian gods are set up to physically represent their cities and armies, it would appear to me that Babylon was trying to ensure that none of the other cities would attack them.
    Their god has the most weapons, is the strongest, fastest, best, etc. so none of the other gods could contend with him. Therefore, none of the other armies could contend with Marduk’s army.
    The Greek myths and gods are not set up with such a personal tie to cities, and seem to act with more indifference toward humans.

  2. I agree with the earlier comment, which had not occurred to me, but I also think that in terms of violence within myth, the type of violence is key, especially within the Greek myth. As discussed in class, the castration is symbolic, not only of physically removing manhood but also removing the position within the household. So although in the Greek myth, there is less violence, I think the type of violence (removing manhood) is representative of concerns within the society.

  3. I also agree with pichenick; in that Babylon used its city as a personification for their patron god. I believe Marduk’s strength was utilized as a type of ‘shield’ to protect Babylon from war and destruction.
    There are many ancient cities in various parts of the world. Therefore, it is not surprising that they signify different customs of violence. For example, Zeus may not have used physical aggression to conquer; however, his words were just as powerful. Although the approach used to gain power by the gods varied from physical violence to verbal exchanges, both were equally effective during battle. Therefore, I believe the type of exchange will depend on the innate abilities of the gods.

    – A.P

  4. There are some really good insights from both the original post and subsequent comments. We see some of the gruesome dismemberment of these gods to create the earth/sky/sea, etc. not just in the Enuma Elish, but also in the Norse creation myths. If their gods are shown to be violent and dangerous, this may ward off potential enemies from planning an attack against their city, people, etc.

    Another thought could be that, by having the dismembered god(s) body parts create the earth, the spirit or the embodiment of those particular gods are all around them. This not only provides an aetiological explanation of why the earth, sea and sky exists, but it the supposed physical manifestation of the god provides a spiritual connection (am I sounding loopy yet?)

    And while the violence that we read comes as a shock to us, we lead a rather sheltered existence (thankfully, IMHO!) Violence and death (both by humans hands and by nature) would likely have been more commonplace at that time. Child mortality was high, and if people wanted to eat, it was done by slaughtering or hunting (if one was lucky enough to have meat). Most of us don’t live like this anymore, so when we encounter violence and untimely death, it comes as a real shock, and rightfully so.

    But the question is: why are some creation myths so violent, while others much less so? I guess that tells us something about their society. What seems to be the common theme here is the idea of displacement. Humans and gods seem to be bumped around quite a bit until things “settle down”.

    C.

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