In "By the Waters of Babylon" by Stephen Vincent Benét, what was the Place of the Gods?

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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The Place of the Gods was a great city of great "magic" that existed generations ago and that John's people, the "People of the Hills," now revere as sacred. The name of this place, which John's people are forbidden to speak, is withheld until the end of the story. The Place of the Gods was--before the Great Burning--a place of mighty bridges, tall towers and statues to great gods named "ASHING," "Lincoln and Biltmore and Moses." The Place of the Gods was eight days' journey to the east of the hills, through the forest and to the "great river," from where the Place of the Gods lay in sight to the south. The Place of the Gods was "newyork," or New York, and its great river was the Ou-dis-sun, or the Hudson River.

There was the great river below [the cliff], like a giant in the sun. It is very long, very wide. ... Its name is Ou-dis-sun, the Sacred, the Long. No man of my tribe had seen it, not even my father, the priest.
   Then I raised my eyes and looked south. It was there, the Place of the Gods.

The Place of the Gods was a place where great knowledge, learning and skill was accumulated. It was a place that could bring whatever was wanted from "the other side of the world." It was a place that turned night into day, where no one slept "with the sun," and where "their chariots blocked the streets." It was a place where, "with wisdom beyond wisdom," "not all that they did was well done." In the end, it became a place where "gods war with gods" and where fire and poison mist came "falling out of the sky." Ultimately, it was a place that men built, "not gods or demons. They were men," a significant point Benét is making.

They ran about like ants in the streets of their city--poor gods, poor gods! Then the towers began to fall. A few escaped--yes, a few. The legends tell it. ... I saw the last of them die. It was darkness over the broken city and I wept.

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Susan Woodward | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

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In "By the Waters of Babylon", the Place of the Gods is a destroyed New York City many, many years in the future.  John has a deep longing to go to the Place of the Gods, even though it is forbidden by the priests of his society.  By the end of the story, it is apparent that the priests do not know the truth of this place and cannot share knowledge with the Hill People. 

He said, "The law is not always the same shape—you have done what you have done. I could not have done it [in] my time, but you come after me. Tell!"

The Hill People believe that those who dwell in the city beyond the Ou-Dis-On river are gods.  John learns, after he travels there and has a vision regarding the "fire that falls from the sky", that the "gods" are really men who ended up destroying themselves.  If they knew the truth all at once, it would be hard to believe.  John agrees not to tell the truth right away but to start with gathering "books and writings" from the Dead Places they visit.  John knows that when he is Chief Priest, he will take a group to the Place of the Gods, "newyork."

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user6290388 | Student, Grade 10 | (Level 1) eNoter

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New York city after the apocalypse.

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