Mythology is one of the most ancient forms of literature, as well as one of the most pervasive. In the cultural traditions of Asia, it is primarily oral and thus particularly mutable and susceptible to intercultural influences, although myths have also been preserved through sculpture, painting, music, and drama. The essays collected here discuss narratives from diverse cultures, from ancient Egypt to Japanese Buddhism. If mythology can be understood as a series of responses to the human experience, common themes and figures across cultures are compelling evidence for the universal nature of certain concerns and interests. These legends not only describe the origins of the world, or the establishment of societies, but have normative force, as they are stories of heroes, gods, and royalty.
One major strand of the study of Eastern mythology attempts to ground these narratives in real conditions such as natural, socio-economic, and political events and processes. In this way mythology can be studied for its historical content and accuracy. For instance, in J. W. Kinnier Wilson's essay (see Further Reading), the legend of Gilgamesh is read as a transformative interpretation of certain naturally occurring phenomena. In another approach, mythology is treated as the expression of fundamental values and animating questions of a culture; C. J. Gadd's essay on Babylonian ceremonies of cyclical rejuvenation and Kelsey's examination of the snake as a figure of moral redemption in Buddhist mythology are examples of this hermeneutic path. Both methods of scholarship reflect the significance of myth as a cultural horizon, a heritage that structures and deeply influences the self-understanding of a society.
Asian myths have been preserved in a variety of ways: through oral repetition (and only recent recording), in written form, in ceremonial performances, and in painting, sculpture, and architecture. The highly developed and long-standing trade routes that traversed the continent and linked it to Europe and northern Africa served not merely to transport goods but to transmit cultural artifacts and ideas. Different versions of certain myths and recurring motifs have been linked to this economically-driven form of intercultural communication. The length and level of detail of the narratives also vary considerably, ranging from the few words that encapsulate the relatively simple plot of a Shinto tale, to the vast and sprawling epic of the Mahabharata, which in a hundred thousand couplets tells of a complex series of events that precipitate a cataclysmic war that involves numerous individual characters and intricate philosophical dialogue.
A great many tropes in Eastern mythology transcend cultural boundaries and much scholarly work has investigated the patterns and significance of cross-cultural figures, symbolism, and narrative events. In particular, the figure of the divine king appears in Egyptian as well as Babylonian and Southeast Asian mythology, and many divine figures possess some attribute of an animal, such as a serpent (related to the Chinese and Japanese dragon motif), bird (Horus, from Egyptian myth), or monkey (Hanuman, from Hindu mythology). Eastern mythology, as is typical of most mythological tales, has the characteristic of being composed by multiple and anonymous authors, generally over a long period of time, during which the narrative evolves, and often is spread over a wide geographical area—which also contributes to the existence of many different versions of the same tale.
For some early commentators, myth stood in opposition to the science of history as practiced by "enlightened" civilizations. Myth was thus regarded as the explanatory method of "primitive" Asian cultures, the romanticized and deified imaginings of those with no access to more objective accounts. Eastern mythology has also been closely tied to religious belief and practice, particularly in ancient Egyptian, Hindu, and Buddhist traditions. More recent scholarship has questioned the distinction between myth and history or science, and instead defined myth not by its supernatural content but by its cultural function. Eastern mythology in particular is strongly interwoven with traditional systems of government, social organization, and religion. To dismiss the centrality of what is called myth for these societies, some scholars claim, is to distort the relation of myth to reality; additionally, to portray science as fully disengaged from the functions of mythology is to misunderstand mythology. The commonality that links the diverse manifestations of mythology is concerned with quintessentially human questions: of origin and creation, of the order governing the natural world, and of what constitutes an ideal life. The answers to these questions, however, are deeply influenced by specific cultures; Eastern mythology thus reveals many divergent strands of thought and a profusion of cultural traditions.
Rudolf Anthes (essay date 1961)
SOURCE: "Mythology in Ancient Egypt," in Mythologies of the Ancient World, edited by Samuel Noah Kramer, Anchor Books, 1961, pp. 15-92.
[In the following essay, Anthes discusses the interconnected Egyptian myths of Osiris, Isis, and Horus, with specific consideration of the ceremonies that developed around these narratives.]
[The] myth of Osiris must be discussed. The most significant of the Egyptian myths, it was not only popular with the Egyptians, but has even been known in Europe for over two thousand years. Naturally, the story of the good king who was murdered by his covetous brother, his faithful widow who protected their son from the outside world and who brought him up in solitude, and the boy who eventually avenged his father and regained his kingdom appealed to people since everybody was ready to identify himself and his experiences with one or another of its features. The survival of the tale in Europe is due to another reason. The Roman mysteries of Isis, upon which the eighteenth-century idea of Osiris as expressed in Mozart's Magic Flute is based, featured the tale of Isis and her deceased husband in a spiritual rather than bodily aspect. Osiris was accepted as a mythological symbol by those who sought that ceremonial guidance to a religious experience which a predominantly rationalistic conception of religion could not offer to its followers.
To the best of our knowledge, the myth of Osiris was never written down by the Egyptians in a single comprehensive tale. The Greek authors were the first whose versions of the story have been directly transmitted. The Egyptian documents allude to it frequently in all kinds of religious texts, and they relate episodes in the form of ritual and tales. I should first like to deal with that form of the tale which is alluded to in our earliest source, the Pyramid Texts, and then discuss some of the major Egyptian elaborations on the myth. Finally, a hymn to Osiris from the time of the Empire may give an impression of how the Egyptian theologians of that period looked upon the myth.
We have already seen that the myth of Osiris originated in the genealogy of Horus. This might have been established in a ceremony such as the one which I have invented to illustrate the proceedings of the elevation to the throne in the earliest period. The elements of the myth, therefore, originated in two actions: the death of the king with his transformation into Osiris, and the installation of his son upon the throne, which meant the son's deification on earth as Horus. Evidently, no historical reminiscence of any figure of the past was involved, and folklore, too, played little if any role in it. Moreover, a significant observation of Siegfried Schott should be mentioned here: The fact that our first knowledge of the myth of Osiris originates in the funerary rituals of the king should not lead us to conclude that this ritual was some sort of performance of the myth of Osiris. The proceedings of the funeral were prompted by the factual necessity of a ceremonial interment in the pyramid as befitted the king, and they inspired the incidental mythological allusions. However, these allusions fit into the pattern of a tale. While any change in the proceedings of the funerary rites was apt to add new details to the story, its basic facts appear well established in the Pyramid Texts. We have evidence that the myth of Osiris was then already understood to have happened in the past, notwithstanding the fact that it was experienced anew in every performance of the rites. In our understanding, the myth was about six hundred years old when the Pyramid Texts were first written down in stone, and the ritual underwent considerable changes during this period. The funeral rites were certainly rooted in the prehistoric period. Thus many elements of the ceremonies contributed to the final appearance of the tale.
According to the Pyramid Texts, the tale of Osiris runs about as follows: The king, Osiris, was killed by his brother, Seth, in Nedyt (or Gehesty). Isis and Nephthys, the sisters of Osiris, sought for the body, found it in Nedyt, and lamented over it. Isis restored Osiris to life temporarily so that he might get her with child. She then gave birth to Horus, suckled him, and brought him up in Khemmis, a place in the Delta. As a child, Horus overpowered a snake. He reached manhood through a ceremony which centered on the fastening of the belt, which Isis performed, and went out to "see" his father (Pyr. 1214-15). Apparently he found him. Then a court over which Geb presided was held at Heliopolis. Seth denied the murder of Osiris; presumably, too, the question arose whether or not Horus was the true heir to Osiris; in any event, Isis testified on behalf of her son by taking him to her breasts. Horus was made the king by the acclaim of the court. I have mentioned before that an additional story which centered on the Eye was fused with the main one: Seth stole the eye of Horus who subsequently became Osiris, when they fought at Heliopolis, and the younger Horus, the son of Osiris, regained it in a fight with Seth and took it to his murdered father, Osiris, to revive him. According to the first story, the kingdom which was lost by murder was reassigned to the right heir by the court. According to the second story, the sign of kingship, the Eye, was first taken away from its owner and then restored to him by means of fights. The fusion of these two tales was accomplished by introducing the son into the combat; furthermore, the second fight was vaguely associated with the court procedure, and Horus restored the Eye to his father at Gehesty, the very place where Osiris was slain, according to the first story.
Apparently, for reasons which are unknown to us, it was necessary to connect the idea of the Eye which was lost and then regained with the concept that the king was Horus and Osiris. In view of this interrelation we may venture the opinion that the idea of fights was not genuinely connected with the loss and recovery of the Eye; it was the criminality of Seth, originating in the concept of the slaying of Osiris, which might well have first suggested that the fate of the Eye was due to struggles with that evil character. In addition to the elements of the combined story as presented here, two other features are alluded to in the Pyramid Texts, which are not yet fused into the main story. First, the drowning of Osiris, which refers to his cosmic character as the vegetation which arises out of the inundation of the Nile; this, as we have seen, plays a role in the version of the tale of Osiris which is related in the "Memphite Theology." Second, references to the dismemberment of the body of the deceased king who was Osiris seem to be reminiscent of a very ancient burial custom, which was no longer practiced early in the third millennium; the dismemberment of Osiris by Seth is a significant element of the tale of Osiris chiefly in the versions which are transmitted from the Greek period.
A papyrus roll written about 1970 B.C. deals with a series of ceremonies which were performed in connection with the accession of King Sesostris I to the throne. The ceremony probably represents a much older tradition. I should like to present the contents on the basis of Sethe's first edition as well as Drioton's most recent interpretation, which is, however, preliminary in character. The papyrus presents, in a very sketchy manner, a text in forty-six parts and thirty-one illustrations. They feature individual scenes apparently in a logical sequence, which represent what we may call the action, as a pantomime. The actors are the king, his children, some officials, and men and women. Objects and activities include the slaughtering of a bull, the preparation and offering of bread, boats, branches of trees, the insignia of the king, the figure of the deceased king, et al. The pantomime appears to be accompanied by the acting out of mythological scenes with the actors speaking. The following translation of the main part of the eighteenth scene, which is illustrated with the "mena"-fight of two men without weapons, may exemplify the evidence: "(The) action (is): (the performance of a) mena-fight.—This (corresponds to): Horus fights with Seth.—Geb (addresses) Horus and Seth. Speech (of Geb): 'Forget (it).'—Horus, Seth, fight.—Mena-fight." Evidently, both text and picture are only notes which serve for the harmonizing of two different performances. The pantomime follows in logical sequence although it cannot be reconstructed as a whole. Each scene contains a verbal or figurative allusion which directs the selection of the corresponding scene of the mythological performance. The mythological scenes, consequently, do not follow in logical order. They do not represent either a continuous drama or a tale. Again, however, just as in the Pyramid Texts, we may try to use the mythological notes as elements for reconstructing the underlying narrative. This appears as the myth of Osiris: the slaying of Osiris, the fight for the Eye, and the proclamation of Horus as the king. It seems to run in summary as follows:
Seth and his followers killed Osiris. Horus and his sons sought for Osiris on the earth and in heaven with the help of fish and birds. Horus found his father and lamented over him. He addressed Geb in order to seek justice and promised his deceased father to avenge him. The children of Horus brought the body of Osiris. Then they bound Seth and put him under the body of Osiris to serve as a bier. Then Seth with his followers and Horus with his children fought and Geb first encouraged their fight. The eye of Horus was torn out and the testicles of Seth were torn off. Thoth gave the eye of Horus to both Horus and Seth. The eye of Horus escaped. It was caught by the children of Horus who brought it back to Horus. Eventually it was restored to Horus and healed by Thoth. The details of the fight and the Eye are not too well understood at present, and it should be mentioned that both the intervention of Thoth and the escape of the Eye of Horus are alluded to in the Pyramid Texts as well as here. The end of the tale appears clearer: Geb ordered Thoth to assemble all the gods. These in turn did homage to their lord, Horus. Apparently Geb proclaimed an amnesty by which the followers of Seth as well as the children of Horus regained the heads which they lost during the fight.
Abydos in Upper Egypt, where the kings of the first two dynasties were buried, was the main seat of the worship of Osiris. Its great festival featured the finding, burying, and bringing back to life of Osiris in a ceremonial performance. This festival is attested mainly about 1850 B.C. in the autobiographical inscriptions of those men who were commissioned by the king to participate in it. It appears to be an exception that, in the eighteenth century B.C., a king, Neferhotep, personally attended the performance and seems to have even participated in it in the role of Horus (Breasted, Ancient Records 1, pp. 332-38). It is an open question whether this feast was repeated annually or only upon special occasions. The following reconstruction of the ceremony is based mainly on the inscriptions of the chancellor of Sesostris III, Ikhernofret (ANET, pp. 329-30): The standards of those gods who guarded Osiris in his holy chapel were brought from the temple in the "Procession of Upwawet." Upwawet (translated "he who finds or prepares the ways") was the canine deity of Asiut. He acted here as Horus when he went out to fight for his father. The enemies of Osiris were overthrown and those who rebelled against the Neshmetboat of Osiris were driven away. Then, presumably on the second day of the feast, there took place the "Great Procession," in which Osiris, the deceased god, was brought from the temple and placed in the Neshmetboat, which floated on a lake. According to the Neferhotep inscription, it was here that Horus "joined" his father, that is, found him and made a great offering for him. The funeral procession was drawn up on the lake and on the land and proceeded to the tomb of Osiris in Peker, the ancient royal necropolis. The death of Osiris was avenged in a fight which took place on the island of Nedyt. A triumphant procession brought Osiris back to Abydos in a boat which was then called "the great one." At Abydos he was conducted into his holy chapel. The stress which is laid upon the fights in the narrations of this festival leads us to think that they actually were performed and, consequently, that the processions were accompanied with the lamentation and the jubilation of the onlooking population, just as on the corresponding occasions in the late period. The character of this ceremony differs basically from that previously discussed. There we saw royal ceremonies which were interpreted by mythological references; here, however, the subject of the performance was the very myth of Osiris and Horus who, as divine beings, were only reminiscent of their former identity with the king. No direct connection appears to exist between these different types of performances. The following attempt to find affinities for the Abydian ceremony may, however, throw some light on the character of the myth itself.
From about 1500 B.C. we know of a funeral rite which brought about the identification of the deceased with what we call a grain-Osiris, i.e., moist earth and grain molded in a clay form. The growing of the grain indicated the Osirian rebirth. The rite is attested in the funerals of both kings and commoners. It took place in the last month of the inundation season when the water started to recede. This was the same month in which, fifteen hundred years later, the festival of the resurrection of Osiris was celebrated in all the forty-two nomes of Egypt. These ceremonies centered around the finding of Osiris as did the Abydian celebrations, but Osiris now was represented by a grain-Osiris, and the jubilant cry, "We have found him, we rejoice," sounded loud throughout the country when the water of the Nile was mixed with the earth and the grain in the clay form. After Osiris was "found," the new grain-Osiris was taken in procession to the temple. There it was deposited in the upper chamber of that room of the temple which represented the tomb of Osiris, where it replaced its predecessor from the preceding year. The latter was prepared for burial and exposed in front of the tomb either upon branches of sycamore, which was the tree in which Hathor, and subsequently Nut, had been embodied since ancient times, or else it was placed inside a wooden cow representing the ancient heavenly cow which was Nut and subsequently Hathor. These ceremonies of the latest period appear closely related to the funerary rites of the grain-Osiris, and not with the Abydian ceremonies of Osiris. As the god of vegetation who had deceased and was revived, Osiris appears only incidentally identified with the mythological character.
There exists, however, a certain affinity between the late ceremonies of Osiris and those which were performed in Abydos. Diodorus Siculus (Bibliotheca Historica I 87, 2-3) tells us that, according to some of his authorities, Anubis the dog was "a 'guard of the body' among those who were around Osiris and Isis; others, however, think that the dogs guided Isis during her search for Osiris." These two statements are confirmed by Egyptian sources. Anubis is the leader of those who guard the body of the deceased Osiris, according to the Coffin Texts, and together with the children of Horus he slays the enemies of Osiris according to a ritual of the late period. All this activity of Anubis is duplicated by the canine Upwawet, who is represented by the figure of a wolf standing upon a standard in Abydos where, according to pictures and the report of Ikhernofret, he was the first of the guardians in the chapel of Osiris and went forth in the "procession of Upwawet" to seek Osiris and to slay his enemies. Since the canines Upwawet and Anubis are interrelated and are sometimes substituted for each other, the fact that they acted alike in the service of Osiris can hardly be accidental. Another close parallel between the late mysteries of Osiris and the Abydian ceremonies is their virtual restriction to the finding, the burial, and the revival of the god. To be sure, it has been often assumed that the death of Osiris was represented in the ceremonies of Abydos but that it was not mentioned in the inscriptions because it was something secret and unspeakable. But this is hardly likely. The ceremony expressly starts with the departure of Horus in the guise of Upwawet to "fight for [or, to avenge]" Osiris, an expression which always indicates the activity of the son Horus for his deceased father. The departure of Upwawet mirrors that of Horus from Khemmis. Now, it is striking that the ceremonial reiteration of the extensive myth of Horus was restricted to the mere finding and resurrection of the god, just as it was in the late mysteries. Thus, the Abydian and the late ceremonies have something significant in common although the latter, which concern the god of vegetation, cannot possibly be traced back directly to the representation of the myth of the god who once was the deceased king. It is true that this agreement was possibly accidental. Abydos was the site of what was regarded as the tomb of Osiris and therefore the question of how his death occurred might have appeared less significant. Nor did the grain-Osiris ceremony pose the question of how the god died. However, the possibility that a historical reason for the conformity existed should be taken into consideration. It might be that the ceremony by which a deceased person was identified with vegetation goes back to earlier, and possibly prehistoric, times. Deposits of heaps of grain in tombs of commoners of the Early Dynastic period have been tentatively interpreted by Alexander Scharff as the prototype of the grain-Osiris. This interpretation of the grain deposits has been disputed for good reasons and must not be accepted as certain. Still, it is not altogether impossible, in spite of the lack of positive evidence, that the Osirian ceremonies at Abydos were influenced by agricultural rites as was the rite of the grain-Osiris. This brings up the further question of whether the identification of the deceased king with Osiris in the context of the lineage already had some prototype in popular belief. I am submitting to the reader this problem which cannot be solved with the available evidence, as an example of the difficulties confronting the student of Egyptian mythology.
There exist a number of additional features of the myth of Osiris and his family which throw light on the popularity which it enjoyed. I may mention the political implications which were given the fights between Horus and Seth. The hostile character of Seth, who ruled the desert outside of Egypt, and his affinity to the Asiatic storm god, eventually led to his identification as Apophis, although, according to the Coffin Texts, it was he who fought Apophis. The Hyksos who invaded Egypt about 1700 B.C. worshiped him more than any other Egyptian god. Later on, in retrospect, the Hyksos as well as the destructive Assyrians and the Persians who made Egypt a Persian satrapy, were identified with Seth. A myth recorded on the walls of the Ptolemaic temple of Horus at Edfu in Upper Egypt featured Horus as the victorious king who, on behalf of his father, Re, overcame Seth and his followers in Egypt and expelled them to Asia; this version of the myth was doubtless influenced by the experience of foreign invasions into Egypt. The character of Horus as a warrior developed mainly in the figure of Haroeris, "the great, or the elder Horus," who was regarded as the son of Re, in contrast to Harsiese, "Horus, the son of Isis," and Harpokrates, "Horus the child." The differentiation between Horus, the son of Re, and Horus, the son of Isis, is reminiscent of the fact that, in the ancient period, as we have seen, the king, Horus, was thought of as the bodily son of Atum and, at the same time, as the son of Osiris and Isis. However, Horus, the king, and Haroeris were clearly distinguished from each other as early as in the Pyramid Texts, as were several other forms of Horus, including Harakhty or Re-Harakhty.
Isis was looked on as an especially powerful magician, since it was she who revived her husband and protected her child against all the dangers of the wilderness. She still occurred as such in magical spells of the Christian period in Egypt. A longish tale which was recommended for use as a magical spell to "kill the poison—really successful a million times" is preserved from about 1300 B.C. and describes how she tricked Re into betraying his "name" to her, because, except for this name, "there was nothing that she did not know in heaven and earth." She created a serpent which bit Re as he took his evening walk. There was no remedy against the poison except for the magic of Isis, but Isis claimed that her magic was powerless in this case if she did not know Re's name. He tried to sell her many of his numerous names for this purpose, but the poison still burned "more powerful than flame and fire." Eventually, Re divulged his secret name to her, and Isis healed him with her spell, which, by the way, did not reveal the name (ANET, pp. 12-14). "He whose name is not known" occurs elsewhere in Egyptian religious literature as early as the Pyramid Texts. The tale of Isis indicates that this epithet was used for the highest god because he could not be submitted to magic, and not for any other reason.
In narrative fiction the separation of the world of the gods and the king on the one hand, and of non-royal individuals on the other, was, as a rule, observed. In the "Story of the Two Brothers" (ANET, pp. 23-25), the gods fashioned a woman for Bata, but then Bata was a divine being and not a mere mortal. This tale was written down about 1300 B.C., as were the other tales which we shall discuss. It is what we may call a semi-mythological tale. The names given to the two brothers, Bata and Anubis, are the names of deities and are so indicated in the writing, which makes it clear that the divine character inherent in them applies also to the two brothers themselves. The jackal-headed god Anubis and the very minor deity Bata are known from other sources but, in contrast to the two brothers of the tale, are in no way related, to the best of our knowledge. Neither the characters of the two brothers, nor the experiences which are related in the tale display any similarity to what we know about the gods whose names they bear. However, the tale contains several incidents which are clearly reminiscent of the story of Osiris. An essential part of the tale, the experiences of Bata and his wife in Byblos and in the palace of Pharaoh, is almost exactly like Plutarch's story of what happened to Isis when she sought for Osiris in these same places (De Iside et Osiride, Chap. 15). In contrast to this similarity of setting, however, the behavior of Bata's wife is just the opposite of that of the faithful Isis. Another story of the same kind, that of the two hostile brothers, Right and Wrong, is obviously reminiscent of the tale of Osiris: Wrong blinds Right, and the latter's son fights Wrong in court to avenge his father. Neither in this tale is the boy's mother reminiscent of Isis.
Besides these works of literature which are merely influenced by mythological motifs, there are others which are mythological in the strict sense of the word. We have already encountered some of them. The story of the sorceress Isis and the hidden name of Re is a good example; while it was recommended for use as a magical spell, it was doubtless composed for entertainment. The most sophisticated and most extensive example of this type of fiction is the story of the contest of Horus and Seth for the rule of Egypt (ANET, pp. 14-18). It adds considerably to our knowledge of mythological details since it relates at length episodes which are otherwise known only from allusions. Moreover, it throws some light upon the question of how mythological tales came into existence. All the characters of this tale are divine beings, as is to be expected in an Egyptian mythological text, but they are all very human, including the sorceress Isis.
The theme of the tale centers about the lawsuit between the clumsy, boorish fellow, Seth, who is introduced as the brother of Isis, and the clever child, Horus, who is assisted by his resourceful mother, Isis. The lawsuit deals, of course, with the inheritance of Osiris, the kingship in Egypt, which is claimed by Horus and Isis on the basis of the law, and by Seth on the basis of his strength and power. The court is the Ennead, the ancient court of Heliopolis, and is presided over by Shu, who is also called Onuris, "the bringer of her [i.e., the Eye] who was far away." Thoth, the recorder, is expressly described as the keeper of the Eye on behalf of Atum during the interregnum—the Eye, as we have seen above, being the royal Uraeus viper and crown, identical with Maat meaning law and order. Atum, who is also called Re, Re-Harakhty, "Re-Harakhty and Atum," the Lord of All, et al., is "the Great one, the Oldest one, who is in Heliopolis," and his consent is necessary for the validity of the decision of the court. The episodes occur because Atum favors the powerful Seth, while the court clearly decides in favor of the lawful heir, Horus. The tale opens with this decision of the court, and with the same decision the quarrel is finally brought to a happy end, with Horus crowned the king of Egypt. A characteristic feature of the end is the appearance of Seth here as in the "Memphite Theology" as a good loser. Once the decision is final, he agrees to it willingly and is then assigned to Re-Harakhty to be with him like a son, the frightful warrior in the sun boat. Between its beginning and end, the tale is replete with incidents which either delay or expedite the proceedings and decisions of the court. Atum hopes to find support for Seth in the goddess Neit, "the mother of the god," to whom Thoth writes a letter on behalf of the Ennead. In her answer Neit threatens to cause the sky to collapse if Horus is not made the king of Egypt. She recommends that the Lord of All compensate Seth by doubling his property and giving him Anat and Astarte, his (the Heliopolitan's) daughters. At another time, Re-Harakhty is placed in a situation where he cannot deny the right of Horus. Angry, as always, he blames the court for delaying the procedure and orders them to give the crown to Horus, but when they start to do so Seth throws a tantrum and the Heliopolitan gladly yields to his protest. Eventually, Thoth, the god of wisdom, recommends that the court ask the opinion of Osiris, the old king who is in the realm of the dead and is thus prevented from performing his former office. Naturally, the answer of Osiris favors the claim of his son, Horus, and prompts the final decision.
The tale is a parody on delayed court procedures and red tape, and is spiced with gibes at the leading figures. Baba, definitely a minor deity but apparently a member of the court, insults Re-Harakhty by claiming, "Your chapel is empty,"—though, in fact, Re was always worshiped in the open and not inside a temple. This impudent remark, which offends even the other gods, enrages Re. He lies down on his back in his tent, and, like Achilles, sulks. Then his daughter, Hathor, enters and displays her naked beauty to his eyes. This gesture makes him laugh. Later on, however, Re-Harakhty shows his own impudence toward Osiris. For when Osiris boasts in his letter that he created barley and emmer which are indispensable for all life, Re answers him, "If you had never existed, if you had never been born—still, barley and emmer would exist." Osiris, however, keeps his temper, even though he appears sensitive about his banishment to the realm of the dead. He earnestly reminds Re of his spectral "messengers who do not fear either god or goddess," and intimates that mankind and the gods eventually rest in his kingdom beneath in accordance with the word which Ptah once spoke when he created heaven.
In addition to all this, a major part of the tale consists of interludes which are prompted either by the crafty Isis or the plodding, muscle-bound Seth. Seth boasts of his strength. Isis insults him. Seth refuses to attend the court as long as Isis is admitted. The court adjourns to an island, and the ferryman Anty is forbidden to ferry any woman over to it. Isis deceives him and induces Seth to concede unwittingly that his claim is unjustified. At the suggestion of Seth, both he and Horus engage in a contest for which they turn into hippopotami. After an initial failure, Isis succeeds in spearing the Seth-hippopotamus, but then, driven by sisterly love, she frees him and is promptly beheaded by her son, Horus—this detail, however, does not diminish in any degree her activity throughout the balance of the story. Horus hides, but Seth finds him and rips his eyes out, and Hathor heals them with milk of a gazelle. Then Seth tries to overcome Horus by sexually attacking him, for this would make Horus despicable to all the gods. Horus, however, thinking quickly, nullifies this attack without Seth's knowledge, while Isis ingeniously turns Seth's scheming back on himself: in the presence of all the gods, a golden disk, unmistakably engendered by Horus, arises out of the head of Seth. Seth then suggests another test, a fight in boats on the Nile, and again Isis helps Horus to victory. He sails downstream to Neit of Sais to urge her to bring about the final decision, which, however, as we have seen, is actually prompted by Osiris's favorable opinion.
All of these ludicrous episodes have a mythological background, or, putting it more cautiously, most of their details also occur more or less explicitly elsewhere in mythological texts. This makes us wonder how far such details are genuinely mythological, and how far they originated in the fanciful imagination of the storytellers. We may remember that it was the activity of literary men rather than theologians which appears to have played a significant role in the composition of the Coffin Texts. Two of the episodes enumerated above may be stressed here because of their etiological origin: the ferryman Anty is punished by the removal of the "forepart of his feet," the god Anty is "he with claws," a falcon. The story could then refer to an anthropomorphic image of the god in which the toes were replaced by claws, in accordance with a suggestion first proffered by Joachim Spiegel. An etiological tendency is also evident in the beheading of Isis. She then appears to the gods as a headless statue of flint or obsidian. This might well have referred to a local image of hers. However, her decapitation also occurs contemporaneously elsewhere, and Plutarch (De Iside et Osiride, Chap. 19) relates that Horus beheaded his mother because she freed Seth. According to Plutarch, her head was replaced by that of a cow, and this is thought to explain the appearance of Isis as the cow-headed Hathor.
The origin, aim, and composition of this tale might well be explained in a serious light, and the fact remains that it is a purely mythological tale with respect to all its elements and its final appearance. In spite of the gravity of the topic, however, neither the exalted station of the gods nor the calamities which befell them were taken seriously by those who enjoyed the story. The tale is unmistakably the humorous product of, presumably, generations of storytellers. They and their audience identified themselves with the characters of this tale, and the fact that these were actually the gods of Egypt might not have been a matter of great concern. Perhaps listening to a story like this one was like remembering the youthful pranks of a man of undisputed dignity, which could not do any harm to his authority. Whether we regard this tale as a joke or as blasphemy, one fact is certain: a thousand years and more after this tale of the gods was written down, the common people of Egypt clung to these same gods with a worship which was both fanatic and fetishistic, and the teachers and sages interpreted Egyptian mythology reverently in a manner which brought it worldwide recognition. The humorous story of the contest of Horus and Seth did no harm to the myth of Osiris and Isis.
The great hymn to Osiris which was engraved on the tombstone of a certain Amenmose about 1550 B.C. may conclude this discussion. In the first section of the hymn Osiris is invoked in his characters of the god who is worshiped in all temples; the personification of Egypt, to whom Nunu yields the water of the Nile and for whom the beneficent north wind blows; the ruler of the starry sky; and the king of the deceased and the living. Throughout the hymn Osiris appears as the glorious ruler, terrifying only to his enemies. No allusion is made to the sinister aspect of his kingdom beyond, nor is the death of the god mentioned in the myth which is presented in the second and concluding part of the hymn. The glory of the kingdom of Osiris, the deeds of Isis, and the happiness of the kingdom of Horus are extolled. This is a paraphrase of the myth and at the same time the glorification of the kingship in Egypt, with both Osiris and Horus representing the kingship whose continuity is guaranteed by Isis, "the throne"; the author might well have been aware of the ancient meaning of these mythological figures. This part of the hymn, translated here with only a few minor omissions and introduced with the first line of the hymn, follows:
Praise to you O Osiris, Lord of Eternity,
King of the Gods.…
Great One, First of his brothers, Eldest of the Primeval
who established Maat (the law) throughout the two
banks of the river,
who put the son upon the seat of the father,
whom his father, Geb, favors and his mother, Nut,
great of strength when he overthrows the rebel,
mighty of arm when he kills his enemy.…
who inherited Geb's kingship of the Two Lands.
He (Geb) saw his virtue, he bequeathed to him the
leadership of the countries,
that coming events might be
He fashioned this country (Egypt) with his hand,
its water, its wind, its herbs, all its herds,
and whatever flies in the air and alights on earth,
its worms, and its small game of the desert
being rightly given to the son of Nut, and the Two
Lands were pleased with this.
Who appeared on the throne of his father like Re
when he shines forth in the horizon and gives light
in the face of the darkness.
He brightened the sunlight with his plumes and inundated
the Two Lands like the sun disk at dawn.
His crown, it pierced the heaven and mingled with
the leader of every god, clear of command,
whom the Great Ennead favors and the Little Ennead
His sister protected him, she who repelled the enemies
and who caused the deeds of the mischief-maker to
retreat by the power of her mouth,
she who is excellent of tongue, whose words do not
fail, who is clear of command,
Isis, the mighty, who took action for her brother, who
sought him without tiring,
who roved through Egypt as the (wailing) kite without
rest until she found him,
who provided shade with her feathers and created wind
with her wings,
who made jubilation and brought her brother to rest,
who strengthened the weakness of him who was tired
who received his seed, who bore an heir,
who suckled the infant in solitude—the place where he
who introduced him, when his arm was strong, into
the hall of Geb,
while the Ennead rejoiced:
"Welcome, O Son of Osiris, Horus, firm of heart,
Son of Isis, Heir of Osiris,
for whom the proper court, the Ennead and the
All-Lord himself has assembled
The Lords of Maat are united in it,
those who shun wrongdoing, and sit in the hall of
in order to give the office to its lord and the
kingship to whom it should be rendered."
They found that the acclamation given to Horus was,
"He is right."
The office of his father was given to him.
He came forth wearing the fillet and with the mace of
He took the rule of the two banks of the river, the
white crown firm on his head.
The earth was reckoned to him to be his property.
Heaven and earth were under his supervision.
Mankind, common folk, gentlefolk, and humanity were
entrusted to him,
Egypt, the northern regions, and the circuit of the sun
were under his counsels and also the north wind, the
river, the flood, the trees of life, and all green
Everyone rejoices, hearts are pleased, hearts are filled
Everyone is happy, everyone worships his beauty.
How sweet is his love in our presence.
His grace traverses hearts and his love is great in
every body, when they have rightly offered to the son
His enemy has fallen because of his crime, and evil is
done to the mischief-maker.
He who has done evil, his deed has returned to him.
The son of Isis has avenged his father so that he is
satisfied and his name has become excellent.…
Let your heart be glad, Wennofer.
The son of Isis, he has assumed the crown,
the office of his father has been assigned to him in the
hall of Geb.
(When) Re spoke and Thoth wrote, the court was
Your father, Geb, has given command for your benefit,
and it has been done according to that which he said.
ANET, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, edited by James B. Pritchard. 2nd edition. Princeton 1955 (The Egyptian Texts are translated by John A. Wilson).
James H. Breasted. Ancient Records of Egypt, Vols. I-IV. New York 1906.
E. A. Wallis Budge. The Book of the Dead. An English Translation with Introduction, Notes, etc. London 1898.
——. The Book of the Dead: The Papyrus of Ani. London 1895 (with translation).
Adolf Erman. The Literature of the Ancient Egyptians, translated by Ailward M. Blackman. London 1927 (the "Hymn to Osiris" on pp. 140-45).
Henri Frankfort. The Cenotaph of Seti I at Abydos. 39th Memoir of the Egypt Exploration Society. London 1933.
Samuel A. B. Mercer. The Pyramid Texts in Translation and Commentary, Vols. I-IV. New York 1952.
Mythological Papyri Texts. Translated with Introduction by Alexandre Piankoff. Edited with a chapter on the Symbolism of the Papyri by N. Rambova (Bollingen Series XL, Vol. 3). New York 1957.
Kurt Sethe. Dramatische Texte zu altaegyptischen Mysterienspielen (Untersuchungen zur Geschichte und Altertumskunde Aegyptens, Band 10). Leipzig 1928 (the text concerning the coronation of Sesostris I on p. 81 ff.).
The Shrines of Tut-ankh-Amon. Texts translated with Introductions by Alexandre Piankoff. Edited by N. Rambova (Bollingen Series XL, Vol. 2). New York 1955.
The abbreviations Pyr., C.T., and B.o.D. refer to the hieroglyphic text editions of the Pyramid Texts, Coffin Texts, and Book of the Dead respectively. For translation see above the books of Budge and Mercer.
2. BOOKS OF REFERENCE, DISCUSSIONS, ETC.
Rudolf Anthes. "Egyptian Theology in the Third Millennium B.C.," Journal of Near Eastern Studies, Vol. 18 (1959), pp. 170-212.
Hans Bonnet. Reallexikon der aegyptischen Religions-geschichte. Berlin 1952.
Etienne Drioton. "Le papyrus dramatique du Ramesséum," Annuaire du Collège de France, 59e année (1959). Résumé des cours de 1958-59, pp. 373-83.
Etienne Drioton et Jacques Vandier. L 'Egypte. Contains an extensive bibliography of mythology and religion with introductions, on pp. 107-28. Paris 1952.
Henri Frankfort. Kingship and the Gods. Chicago 1948.
Henri Frankfort et al. The Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man. Chicago 1946. (Reprinted with the title, Before Philosophy, as a Pelican Book, 1951.)
Hugo Gressmann. Tod und Auferstehung des Osiris nach Festbraeuchen und Umzuegen (Der Alte Orient, Band 23, Heft 3). Leipzig 1923.
Hermann Kees. Der Goetterglaube im alten Aegypten. 2. Auflage. Berlin 1956.
Alexandre Piankoff. "The Theology in Ancient Egypt," Antiquity and Survival, no. 6 (1956), pp. 488-500.
Siegfried Schott. "Mythen in den Pyramidentexten," in Samuel A. B. Mercer, The Pyramid Texts, Vol. IV, pp. 106-23.
C. Scott Littleton (essay date 1970)
SOURCE: "The 'Kingship in Heaven' Theme," in Myth and Law Among the Indo-Europeans: Studies in Indo-European Comparative Mythology, edited by Jaan Puhvel, University of California Press, 1970, pp. 83-121.
[In the essay that follows, Littleton studies various versions of the widespread and pervasive motif of the divine king, and concludes that the theme does not have a single Indo-European origin.]
By all odds the most important single episode in Greek mythology is the one that begins with the emergence of Ouranos out of Chaos and ends with the final triumph of Zeus over Kronos and his fellow Titans; for on this account of how Zeus came to succeed to the "Kingship in Heaven" depend, directly or indirectly, almost all other Greek myths, sagas, and folktales, to say nothing of their associated rituals and ceremonies. It formed, in the Malinowskian sense, the "charter"1 that legitimized the position of the Olympians relative to all other classes of natural and supernatural beings, and in so doing provided a firm foundation for the religious beliefs and practices of the ancient Greek-speaking community.
Yet, despite its fundamental importance to the whole structure of Greek myth and religion, the parenthood of these traditions relative to the "Kingship in Heaven" remains obscure. Through archaeological and linguistic research2 it has become increasingly apparent that the "Kingship in Heaven" theme,3 as it has come to be called, was in fact quite widely distributed and that it generally served a legitimizing function similar to that served by it among the Greeks. Its presence can be documented in the Hittite and Hurrian "Kumarbi" myths, in the Phoenician "Theogony" of Philo of Byblos, in the Iranian Sh-n-meh or "Book of Kings," as recorded by Firdausi, and, as I attempt to demonstrate, in two Bablyonian accounts of the Creation—the well-known Endma-Elish4 and the newly translated "Theogony of Dunnu"—and in the Norse traditions surrounding the ancestry and ascendance of Odin, as recorded in the Edda's of Saemund and Snorri. In each instance a single pattern of events is present: an existing generation of gods was preceded by two (and in some cases three) earlier generations of supernatural beings, each succeeding generation being presided over by a "king in heaven" who has usurped (or at least assumed) the power of his predecessor. Moreover, there is generally a fourth figure, a monster of some sort, who, acting on behalf of the deposed "king" (in the Iranian and Babylonian versions, as we shall see, the monster became identified with the deposed "king" himself), presents a challenge to the final heavenly ruler and must be overcome before the latter can assert full and perpetual authority.
In considering the source of this "Kingship in Heaven" theme, one question necessarily looms large to the student of comparative Indo-European mythology: despite its apparent absence in the Indic, Balto-Slavic, Italic, and Celtic traditions (discussed later) and its occurrence in a variety of non-Indo-European speaking traditions, is there any possibility that the theme is ultimately derived from one that was present in the Indo-European Urmythologie? Perhaps the most ardent advocate of the Indo-European origin theory is the eminent Swedish Iranianist Stig Wikander,5 who maintains that "I'histoire des Ouranides," as he terms it, reached the non-Indo-European peoples of Mesopotamia and Syria only after they had come into contact with the Hittites and Indo-Iranians who penetrated this region after 2000 B.C. This opinion is not shared, however, by most Orientalists. E. A. Speiser,6 for example, although he suggests that the extant form of the Endma-Elish seems to reflect an immediate Hittite or Hurrian origin, is nevertheless convinced that its roots lie deep in the early Babylonian and Sumerian traditions. A basically similar view has been advanced by the Hittitologist H. G. Güterbock,7 who asserts that the Hittite version of the theme, from which the Phoenician and eventually the Greek versions appear to derive, is itself based upon Hurrian models, which in turn are probably derived from early Mesopotamian prototypes.
No one, however, has as yet attempted to resolve this question on the basis of a systematic, comparative survey of all the mythological materials relative to the "Kingship in Heaven."8 The purposes of this paper9 are thus (1) to put into evidence the salient points of similarity and difference between the several versions of the theme in question, among which I include two that heretofore have not generally been recognized as such, the Norse and Babylonian versions, and (2) to consider the question of Indo-European origin in light of the patterns revealed by this survey. I begin with the Greek version which, although it contains neither the oldest10 nor necessarily the "purest" expression of the theme, is by far the most elaborate, best documented, and most familiar of the versions to be considered and thus can serve as a convenient point of departure.
The Greek Version
Inasmuch as the Homeric epics do not fully express the "Kingship in Heaven" theme and thus, for our purposes, cannot serve as primary sources, the earliest and most important Greek source of data concerning the theme under discussion is to be found in the Hesiodic poems, especially the Theogony. Composed during the later part of the eighth century B.C.,11 the Theogony is concerned primarily with the events surrounding and preceding the ascension of Zeus as "king" in heaven. It served as the major source of information about cosmogonic and theogonic matters for most Greek (and Roman) poets, essayists, and dramatists. A second source is to be found in the Bibliotheca of Apollodorus, which was composed sometime during the first or second centuries B.C.12 While drawing heavily upon Hesiod, Apollodorus also includes certain data that are at variance with those contained in the Theogony, and therefore, as it may reflect an ongoing popular tradition that was either overlooked by or inaccessible to Hesiod, the Bibliotheca must be considered a primary source not only for the Greek version of the "Kingship in Heaven" but for Greek mythological data in general. Our third source is the Dionysiaca of Nonnos which, despite its fifth century A.D. date,13 includes some original materials relevant to the theme not found elsewhere among classical works on myth. Nonnos, as we shall see, is especially concerned with the combat between Zeus and Typhon, and his description of this struggle may reflect a popular tradition unknown to either Hesiod or Apollodorus.
According to both the Theogony and the Bibliotheca14 the first "king" in heaven is Ouranos ("Heaven" or "Sky"). In the Theogony, Heaven is born of Gaia ("Earth"), who is apparently autochthonous, although she is preceded by the nonpersonified state or condition termed Chaos: "Verily at first Chaos came to be, but next wide bosomed Earth, the ever sure foundation of all.…" Earth or Gaia then gives birth to various beings (e.g., Hills; Pontos ["the Deep"]; Theogony 130) who are not specifically important to the theme under consideration. Next, she takes Heaven as a husband: "But afterwards she lay with Heaven …" (Theogony 135). Thus Hesiod defines the first generation.
In the Bibliotheca, these events are simplified: "Sky was the first who ruled over the whole world. And having wedded Earth …" (1.1.1). There is no hint of the incestuous situation described in the Theogony. To Apollodorus, both Sky and Earth appear to be autochthonous.
At any event, with the marriage of Ouranos and Gaia we may proceed to the second generation, which includes the offspring of this primal pair, the youngest of whom is destined to become the second "king" in heaven. In the Theogony (135) Earth has intercourse with Heaven and brings forth first "Okeanos, Koios and Krios and Hyperion and lapetos, Theia and Rhea, Themis and Mnemosyne … Phoibe and … Tethys." After these, she bears the so-called Hundred-handed: Kottos, Briareos, and Gyes, termed by Hesiod "presumptuous children" (Theogony 145). Then she bears the Cyclopes ("Orb-eyed"): Brontes, Steropes, and Arges;15 finally, she bears Kronos.16
In the Bibliotheca these events are similarly reported (1.1.2-4). Here, Apollodorus introduces the terms "Titan" (male) and "Titanide" (female) to refer to these offspring, terms Hesiod uses at a later point (see below).
Ouranos was jealous of his offspring, especially the Cyclopes and the giant Hundred-handed, and "used to hide them all away in a secret place of Earth … [Tartaros] … so soon as each was born, and would not suffer them to come up into the light…" (Theogony 155). Apollodorus (1.1.2-4) gives us a similar picture, locating Tartaros as a "gloomy place in Hades as far from earth as earth is distant from the sky." Here he follows Hesiod, who, in a later context (Theogony 725) describes Tartaros as so far below the earth that "a brazen anvil falling from earth nine nights and days would reach Tartaros upon the tenth."
Gaia, incensed over the treatment of her children by Ouranos, exhorts them to "'… punish the vile outrage of your father; for he first thought of doing shameful things'" (Theogony 165). None but Kronos, however, has the courage to take action (Theogony 165), and he tells her: "' … I will undertake to do this deed, for I reverence not our father of evil name.… '" The deed consists of an emasculation of Ouranos, performed with an "element of grey flint" made into a "jagged sickle" (Theogony 170), which Apollodorus (1.1.4) terms an "adamantine sickle."17 Kronos ambushes his father, cuts off the latter's "members," and casts them into the sea. The blood so spilled impregnates Earth, who gives birth to the Giants (Theogony 180) and to the Furies (Bibliotheca 1.1.4). The seaborne "members" ultimately reach Cyprus and give birth to Aphrodite.18
With the emasculation of Ouranos his power has gone, and Kronos becomes "king in heaven." It is worth noting here for later comparative purposes that Ouranos is not killed by Kronos, merely rendered powerless. Kronos is a rebel, but not a parricide.
As regards the nature of this rebellion there seems to be a divergence between the two main sources. Hesiod, as we have seen, gives the impression that it was all accomplished—through guile—by Kronos himself, whereas Apollodorus implies that Kronos was merely the leader of a general attack against the father, one in which all save one of those siblings not previously consigned to Tartaros took part (Bibliotheca 1.1.4): "And they, all but Ocean, attacked him … and having dethroned their father, they brought up their brethren who had been hurled down to Tartaros, and committed the sovereignty to Kronos." In any case, after his ascension to power Kronos reconsigns all(?) these siblings to Tartaros (Bibliotheca 1.1.5): "But he again bound and shut them up in Tartaros.…"
Kronos, now firmly seated on the heavenly throne, marries his sister Rhea (Theogony 455; Bibliotheca 1.1.5). The children produced by this union suffer an unhappy fate, for Kronos, hearing from Heaven and Earth a prophecy that he is destined to be overthrown by his own son (Theogony 410, Bibliotheca 1.1.5), swallows his offspring as fast as they are born. Here, too, we have an episode that may be used for later comparative purposes: the swallowing of one's offspring.
The swallowed children include first (Bibliotheca 1.1.5) Hestia, "then Demeter and Hera, and after them Pluto (Hades) and Poseidon." Finally, pregnant with Zeus, Rhea decides to foil Kronos. As to the birth of Zeus our sources differ slightly. Both Apollodorus and Hesiod claim that the event took place in Crete; just where in Crete has long been a matter of some debate.19
A great deal of attention is given to the events surrounding the birth and upbringing of this youngest of Kronos' sons, an attention directed neither to the births of Zeus's siblings nor to those of the preceding generations of gods (or Titans), and several of these events must be mentioned as they have analogues in the versions to be discussed shortly. After hiding her son in Crete, Rhea gives Kronos (Theogony 485) "a great stone wrapped in swaddling clothes. Then he took it in his hands and thrust it down into his belly.…" Thus is Kronos deceived by his wife, an event that seems to parallel the duplicity of Gaia in the castration of Ouranos. Apollodorus gives us some information concerning the childhood of Zeus which may also have some comparative value (Bibliotheca 1.1.7): "She [Rhea] gave him to the Kouretes and to the nymphs Adrasteia and Ida,20 daughters of Melissues, to nurse. So these nymphs fed the child on the milk of Amalthea." This last is apparently either a goat or a cow.21 We shall have occasion to observe two other cases of this sort, that is, suckling by a goat or a cow, in the Iranian and in the Norse traditions.
Thus, Zeus matures to manhood, being one of the few Greek gods (or Titans) to have a defined childhood.22 Both Apollodorus (1.2.1) and Hesiod (Theogony 490) indicate that this childhood lasted for a fair number of years.
Upon reaching adulthood, Zeus returns to heaven and sets about the overthrow of his father. According to the Bibliotheca (1.2.1) he "took Metis, daughter of Ocean, to help him, and she gave Kronos a drug to swallow, which forced him to disgorge first the stone and then the children whom he had swallowed.…" In the Theogony (495) Zeus is aided by Earth, who, apparently realizing that her son is evil, beguiles Kronos with "deep suggestions" and causes him to vomit up her grandchildren. This time, however, the older generation does not give up without a fight, and there ensues the famous "War of the Titans and Gods," (the latter term now used by both Hesiod and Apollodorus to distinguish the third generation [i.e., that of Zeus, Poseidon, Hera, et al.] from the two that preceded it). The war lasts ten years (Bibliotheca 1.2.1). On the one side are ranged Kronos and his siblings (save those still bound in Tartaros), and on the other Zeus, his mother,23 and his siblings. Zeus enlists the aid of the Hundred-handed and the Cyclopes, whom he delivers from their subterranean prison. The latter forge thunderbolts for use against their Titan brethren, and for this they later escape the punishment of Kronos and the rest of the Titans (Bibliotheca 1.2.2). It is in this connection that we first see Zeus associated with the sky and with meteorological phenomena, for Zeus's chief weapon is the thunderbolt.
Having defeated the Titans, Zeus now becomes the third and perpetual "king in heaven." As Apollodorus puts it (1.2.2), Zeus "overcame the Titans, shut them up in Tartaros, and appointed the Hundred-handed their guards.24 According to the Bibliotheca (1.2.2), the gods cast lots for the sovereignty, and "Zeus was allotted the dominion of the sky, to Poseidon the dominion of the sea, and to Pluto the dominion in Hades." This lot-casting aspect is not included in the Theogony; apparently Hesiod merely assumed that Zeus succeeded to the position vacated by his father.
Thus the Olympians, a new breed of supernatural beings, have succeeded to power. But this power is not yet secure; it remains to be confirmed by the conflict between Zeus and a final challenger, the monster Typhon (or Typhoeus).25
According to Hesiod, "Typhoeus" is the youngest child of Earth, fathered by a personification of Tartaros at some point following the defeat of the Titans (Theogony 820). Apollodorus agrees as to the parentage of the monster, but locates his birth at a somewhat later point, that is, after a successful conclusion of the war of the Olympians against the Giants (offspring of Earth; see above). According to the Bibliotheca (1.4.2), "When the gods had overcome the giants, Earth, still more outraged, had intercourse with Tartaros and brought forth Typhon in Cilicia, a hybrid between man and beast." This reference to Cilicia has been used to claim an Oriental origin for the Typhon story; I return to this point shortly when I consider the Phoenician and Hittite traditions.
While there are some minor differences as to details, all three of our Greek sources agree upon one important aspect of Typhon's (or Typhoeus') physical appearance: snakes grow from his body. As Hesiod puts it (Theogony 823), "From his shoulders grew a hundred heads of a snake." This aspect of Typhon's appearance will be especially important when we turn to the Iranian version (cf. below, Firdausi's description of the monster Zohak). Also worthy of note here is Nonnos' description of Typhon advancing to battle (Dionysiaca 1.266-268), "There stood Typhon in the fish-giving sea, his feet firm on the weedy bottom, his belly in the air and (his head?) crushed in the clouds," which corresponds almost exactly to a similar description in the Hittite version (see below, the description of the monster Ullikummi before Mount Hazzi).
That Zeus defeats this monstrous challenger is agreed upon by all concerned. But between Hesiod and both Apollodorus and Nonnos there are some important divergences when it comes to the manner and location of this defeat. In the Theogony the defeat of Typhoeus is accomplished rapidly and apparently with little effort on Zeus's part; the latter merely "leaped from Olympus and struck him (i.e., Typhoeus), and burned all the marvelous heads of the monster about him." This accomplished, "Typhoeus was hurled down, a maimed wreck …"; finally, "in the bitterness of his anger Zeus cast him into wide Tartaros" (Theogony 850-869). Apollodorus, however, claims that Zeus uses an "adamantine sickle" to inflict a mortal wound upon Typhon, who flees to "Mount Kasios26 which overhangs Syria." There, however, Typhon is able to wrest the sickle from Zeus and use it(?) to sever the sinews of the latter's hands and feet.27" Then Typhon lifts Zeus to his shoulders (his power having briefly returned, apparently owing to Zeus's temporary physical incapacity) and carries him to the famous Corycian cave, again in Cilicia. Hiding the sinews, he leaves the "she-dragon Delphyne" to guard his prisoner. Hermes and Aigipan steal the sinews from their bearskin hiding place and, unobserved by the monster, fit them again to Zeus (Bibliotheca 1.3.2). There is also a tradition (Oppian, Halicutica 3.15-25) wherein Corycian Pan lures Typhon out of the cave with a fish meal. In any event, Zeus regains his power. He pursues Typhon across Thrace and finally to Sicily, where he administers the coup de grace by burying the monster inside Mount Etna (Bibliotheca 1.3.3).
It is clear that this final battle between the chief of the Olympians and the last and most monstrous representative of the old order involves more than is usually involved in most mythological monster slayings. Nonnos underscores this: "No herds of cattle were the cause of that struggle, no flocks of sheep, this was no quarrel for a beautiful woman, no fray for a petty town: heaven itself was the stake in the fight…" (Dionysiaca 2.359-363; italics mine). Thus, having defeated Typhon, Zeus has firmly consolidated the position of his revolutionary Olympian regime. Henceforth, he will rule as perpetual and unchallenged "king" in heaven.
Before leaving the Typhon episode, I should perhaps mention in passing that some years ago F. Vian suggested that it presents a number of interesting parallels to the widespread and quite probably Indo-European tradition wherein a hero (or a triad of heroes) slays a three-headed monster that is menacing the peace and security of the community (cf. the Indian account of the conflict between Indra and the tricephalic son of Tvastar and the Roman legend of a fight between the three Horatii and the three Curiatii).28 I shall have more to say about this later on in the context of a general discussion of the possibility that the idea of the divine kingship is Indo-European in origin.
The myths concerning the later exploits of Zeus, his brethren, and his offspring, as well as those that concern the affairs of gods and mortals in subsequent generations (e.g., the Oedipus cycle, the siege of Troy) are not specifically germane to the theme in question, and therefore the delineation of the Greek version is concluded at this point. If I have dwelt here overlong, it is only because in the Greek tradition relative to the "Kingship in Heaven" there is a "model," so to speak, which can be utilized in making comparative statements as I consider the evidence from Anatolia, Phoenicia, Iran, Scandinavia, and Mesopotamia.
The Hurrian-Hittite Version
Since the first study over thirty years ago29 of the Hittite "Theogony" and the Hittite myth which H. G. Güterbock30 has labeled the "Song of Ullikummi," there has been a renewed interest in the argument—originally based on the presence of a Phoenician version of the theme under consideration—that the Greek "Kingship in Heaven" tradition just delineated is actually composed of myths having their origin somewhere in the ancient Near East. Indeed, I use the term "Hittite-Hurrian" here because of the indisputable evidence31 that the Hurrians, who were well established in northern Syria and Mesopotamia by the middle of the second millennium B.C., and whose language appears to have been neither Indo-European nor Semitic, also possessed versions of the myths discussed below.
The texts containing the Hittite and/or Hurrian myths in question date approximately from the thirteenth century B.C. and were translated from a series of cuneiform tablets32 found at Hattusha, the ancient Hittite capital, the site of which is located near the modern Turkish village of Bogazkoy. These tablets are not well preserved and countless interpolations have had to be made in order to arrive at anything like a coherent narrative.33 That which Güterbock terms the "Theogony"—the Hittite title is unfortunately missing—deals specifically with the "Kingship in Heaven." In it we see four generations of gods. The first is called Alalu, who reigns in heaven nine "years."34 His future successor, Anu, is described as he who "bows down to his [Alalu's] feet and puts the cups for drinking into his hand" (i.10-11).35 Although Anu (whose name derives from the Akkadianized form of the Sumerian god An, or 'Sky'36) is not specifically identified as Alalu's son, the fact that a god Alala is listed in a Babylonian god list as a father of Anu37' leaves no doubt as to the filial relationship here. In the ninth "year" of Alalu's reign Anu rebels against him and either drives or hurls him "down to the dark earth" (i.12), the latter expression apparently referring to a subterranean region.38
Thus, Anu becomes the second "king in heaven." But he, too, must cope with a rebellious offspring, the "mighty Kumarbi."39 At first, Kumarbi is described as serving Anu in a manner identical to that in which the latter had served Alalu; however, like his father before him, Anu is only permitted to reign for nine "years," and in the ninth "year" Kumarbi rebels. This time the elder god flees, but Kumarbi "took Anu by the feet and pulled him down from heaven" (i.23-24). Then follows a most interesting passage in light of our Greek "model": "He [Kumarbi] bit his loins40 [so that] his manhood was absorbed in Kumarbi's interior …" (i.25); compare Kronos' emasculation of Ouranos. Indeed, the striking correspondences41' here between Anu and Ouranos and between Kumarbi and Kronos have been noted frequently (see above).
Subsequent to his deposition and emasculation, Anu informs Kumarbi that by "absorbing" his "manhood" he has been impregnated with five "heavy" divinities: the Weather-god (i.e., the Hurrian Teshub),42 the river goddess Aranzah (i.e., Tigris),43 Tashmishu,44 who is destined to be the vizier of the gods, and two others whose names are not mentioned by Anu.45 Having thus addressed his successor, Anu "went up to heaven" and, after a visit to Nippur, perhaps to consult its chief deity Enlil about his pregnancy, Kumarbi becomes the third to occupy the heavenly throne.
From here on the text is too fragmentary for a consecutive narrative. It appears that Kumarbi attempts to avoid bearing these unwelcome offspring by spitting out Anu's seed (end of col. i);46 nevertheless, a fragmentary reference to Kumarbi's failure to count months and the phrase "the ninth month came" clearly indicate that he carried Teshub et al. within him for a full term. Güterbock47 points out that the theme of the mutilated first part of column ii is childbirth and that two of the gods in Kumarbi's "interior," Marduk and KA.ZAL (see n. 45), discuss with him several ways in which they might be born. Especially miraculous is the birth of the Weather-god or Teshub48 (cf. the attention devoted by our Greek sources to the birth of Zeus,49 to whom, as we shall see, Teshub corresponds in most respects). Then follows a passage that is especially interesting in view of the equivalence between Kumarbi and Kronos. In it someone (Kumarbi?) says "give me the child … I shall eat" (i.42); later there occurs the expression "Kumarbi begins to eat" (i.52), and prominent mention of the words "mouth" and "teeth" in connection with the Weather-god.
It seems that Teshub and his siblings are able to dethrone Kumarbi, for when we first meet the Weather-god he is already "king in heaven." Just how the rebellion is accomplished is not quite clear. Is it possible that Earth, like her Greek counterpart, conspired with her offspring (if indeed they were such) to bring about Kumarbi's downfall? Considering Earth's probable connection with the birth of Teshub and his siblings, this is quite likely; perhaps we have here a merging of Gaia and Rhea in the person of Earth.
The second Hittite myth relevant to the theme in question is entitled the "Song of Ullikummi" and contains many important parallels to the previously discussed Typhon story.50 Kumarbi, having been dethroned, has intercourse with a rock; from this unnatural union is produced the Stone-monster51' (also termed the Diorite after the substance of which the monster is composed), or Ullikummi. Conceived by his father in order to avenge the latter's overthrow, Ullikummi is destined to be a rebel against Teshub.52 That Typhon was born with a similar purpose in life can be seen from a passage in the Dionysiaca (2.565-568) wherein Kronides (an epithet of Zeus), after wounding the monster sorely, chides him saying: "A fine ally has old Kronos found in you, Typhoeus! … A jolly champion of Titans!"'
The young Ullikummi is placed on a shoulder of the Atlas-like Upelluri and allowed to grow: "In one day one yard he grew, but in one month one furlong he grew … when the fifteenth day came the Stone had grown high. And in the sea on his knees like a blade he stood. Out of the water he stood, the Stone …, and the sea up to the place of the belt like a garment reached. e.; he was lifted, the Stone, and up in Heaven the temples and the chamber he reached" (1.23-32). This can be compared to Nonnos' description of Typhon cited earlier, that is, feet in water and head "crushed" against the clouds.
The first of the gods to see Ullikummi is the Sun-god, who reports his terrified observations to Teshub. The latter goes to see for himself, and when he does so he weeps, for apparently he can see no way of overcoming this monster. His sister, Ishtar (Aranzah?) comforts him and tries to enchant Ullikummi by music (cf. Kadmos' charming of Typhoeus while recovering Zeus's sinews [Dionysiaca 1.409-534]). Here, however, we learn that the Stone is deaf and blind. So Teshub decides to fight him, but to no avail, for the monster is too powerful. The gods retreat from this battle, fought in the shadow of Mount Hazzi (i.e., Mount Kasios on the Syrian coast), and retire to Kummiya,53 the city of Teshub. Ullikummi follows, endangering even Teshub's wife Hebat. At this point Tashmishu enters the picture. After climbing a tower to tell Hebat of her husband's defeat, he suggests to Teshub that they visit Ea,"54 the Babylonian god of wisdom and witchcraft (cf. the Enūma-Elish, shortly to be discussed, wherein Ea occupies a prominent position), and together they journey to the wise god's home in Apsuwa (the Babylonian Apsu).55" Ea, willing to help, first ascertains that Upelluri has no knowledge of what is resting on his shoulder and then orders the "former gods" (i.e., those who ruled in heaven before Alalu, such as Enlil, the Sumerian storm-god) to produce the "ancient tool" (a sickle?) used at one time to separate Earth and Heaven. With this tool Ea cuts Ullikummi from Upelluri's shoulder and thus magically renders him powerless.56 Here, too, we have a parallel to the Greek tradition, for Apollodorus, as we have seen, described the use of a cutting tool (i.e., the "adamantine sickle") by Zeus in his struggle with Typhon. The same tool, of course, was used against Ouranos by Kronos, and some authorities, both ancient and modern, have interpreted the castration of Ouranos as a symbolic separation of heaven and earth.57 It is interesting that the Hittites preserve a tradition of a primeval cutting tool once used to separate heaven and earth, and which must later be used to defeat Ullikummi, although no specific tool is mentioned in the account of Anu's castration. Perhaps in the latter case the teeth of Kumarbi have been substituted for the stone "teeth" of a neolithic sickle (i.e., the "ancient cutting tool").
When word reaches the gods that Ullikummi has been rendered powerless, they join together under the leadership of Teshub and attack the monster. From here on the text is unreadable; however, we may assume with Güterbock58 that Teshub and his fellows are ultimately victorious. For it appears that here, as in the Greek tradition, the new "king in heaven" must meet this final challenger so as to validate his position as perpetual ruler, and there is no doubt that Teshub, like Zeus, is able to accomplish this validation. It should be noted, though, that the conflict here is much more general than in the Greek tradition. Perhaps in the conflict between Teshub and Ullikummi we have a merger of the Titanomachia and the Typhon fight.
The Phoenician Version
In the Phoenician History of Herennios Philo of Byblos, known only through the works of Eusebius (Praeparatio Evangelica) and Porphyrius (De Abstinentia), is contained a version of the "Kingship in Heaven" which closely parallels the two just discussed, a version that has often been regarded as an intermediary between those of the Hittites and the Greeks. Philo's date is uncertain, although the best evidence leads me to believe that he wrote during the latter half of the first century A.D.; Clemen places his birth in the last years of the reign of the Emperor Claudius.59 Claiming to have obtained his information from the works of a certain Sanchunjathon, a Phoenician scholar who, he asserts, "lived before the Trojan War," Philo attempts to reconstruct the "history" of his city and to trace the origins of its gods. He begins by outlining a four-generational sequence of "kings in heaven," all of whom are intimately associated with the city of Byblos and its environs.
According to Philo, the first "king in heaven" is named Eliun (or Hypsistos "Highest") (1.14),60 who with his wife Bruth (i.e., Beirut) comes to live in Byblos. They give birth to a son called Ouranos and a daughter named Ge or Gaia. Ge and Ouranos marry and produce four sons: El (who is also referred to as Kronos), Baitylos, Dagon, and Atlas (1.16). A quarrel ensues between Ouranos and his wife, and El (or Kronos) and his siblings side with their mother. Ouranos then tries to destroy his rebellious offspring, but El, on the advice of Hermes, whom he has taken as a counselor, forges a sickle (or spear?) and with it drives out his father. El then becomes "king in heaven" (or at least in Byblos), but turns out to be a bad ruler, casting out his brother Atlas and murdering a son and a daughter. Meanwhile, Ouranos has fled unharmed. He sends Rhea, Astarte, and Dione, his young daughters, to plead his case before El. These three El takes to wife,61' and by each he produces a number of children. The most important of these is Baal62 (or Baaltis), who succeeds him.
Thirty-two years later, El lures his father back to Byblos, into an ambush, and castrates him (cf. Theog. 175). Thus, the castration theme is present, although it does not accompany the deposition of the "Heaven figure" as it does in the Greek and Hittite-Hurrian versions. Furthermore, what appears to me to be a crucial element is lacking here: the idea that castration is a necessary step in reducing the power of the Heaven figure. In Philo it seems but an afterthought. Castration figures again in Philo's account, although this time it is self-inflicted. For some obscure reason El mutilates himself thirty-two years after so altering his father.
Finally, the fourth generation (in the person of Baal) takes over the heavenly kingship. This transfer of power is apparently made without much conflict, an occurrence unique in the distribution of the theme. Typhon is mentioned by Philo along with the children of El, but there is no mention of a fight.63 Moreover, the role of the "Zeus figure" (Baal) is minor when compared with that played by him in the Greek and Hittite-Hurrian versions, and in the Iranian, Norse, and Babylonian versions as well.
In view of its late date and the high probability that its author was thoroughly familiar with Hesiod, many scholars have been skeptical of this Phoenician "Theogony," labeling it a poor attempt at syncretism. The discovery of some Hurrian texts at Ras Shamra, however, wherein the double name El-Kumarbi occurs,64 has thrown a new light on the matter. As El is clearly identified by Philo with Kronos, it is reasonable to infer that there was some sort of a Kronos-El-Kumarbi syncretism present in northern Syria, at least, as early as 1400 B.C. If this is correct, then it is also quite reasonable to infer with Güterbock that the Phoenician tradition here forms a link between the Hittite-Hurrian version and the later Greek version, and that what formerly appeared as rank syncretism on Philo's part can now be seen as antedating rather than reflecting the Hesiodic version of the theme.65
But there still remain other possibilities. That the Phoenicians undoubtedly received elements of the Kumarbi myth from the Hittites as the latter expanded their empire after 1500 B.C. is not questioned here; indeed, the Ras Shamra evidence renders it almost certain. What is questioned, however, is the assumption that the Phoenicians were necessarily the link in a chain of diffusion from northern Syria to Greece. There is always the possibility that the theme reached Hesiod and/or his immediate sources directly from the Hittite-Hurrian region. This alternative is enhanced somewhat by L. R. Palmer's assertion66 that the Luvians, first cousins to the Hittites, invaded the Peloponnesus and Crete at the beginning of the second millennium B.C., and that the first speakers of Greek arrived several centuries later. If Palmer is correct in this assertion, and there is good reason to believe that he is, then it is remotely possible that the "Kingship in Heaven" theme was taken over by the Greeks along with other aspects of Luvian culture.67 Another possibility, that the theme was borrowed directly from Babylonia during Mycenaean times, is discussed presently.
The Iranian Version
It was Stig Wikander who, in 1951,68 first demonstrated the presence of the "Kingship in Heaven"—if indeed the term "heaven" is applicable in this instance—in the Iranian tradition. Bypassing the more ancient and mythological Avestan literature, Wikander pointed out that a threefold set of royal usurpers similar to those present in the Greek, Hittite-Hurrian, and Phoenician traditions occupies a prominent position in Firdausi's Shānāmeh, which was composed about A.D. 976. Despite its relatively recent date and the high probability that its author was familiar with Greek myth, the Shāhnāmeh has long been recognized as a repository of popular traditions not elsewhere represented in Iranian literature. This would certainly appear to be true as far as the theme in question is concerned.
In any event, the three Iranian kings cited by Wikander as comparable with Ouranos, Kronos, Zeus, et al., are Jamshid, Zohak, and Feridun, who occupy, respectively, positions four, five, and six in Firdausi's king list. Jamshid is preceded by three relatively indistinct figures, Kaiumers (equals Gayōmart in the Avesta), Husheng, and Tahumers. These three do not seem to be related to their successors in any important sense—Jamshid is made the son of Tahumers, but little else is said about the relationship between them. Thus it is Jamshid who occupies the Ouranos-like position, despite his lack of an autochthonous or truly divine origin.
Jamshid, whose name corresponds to that of Yima Xšaēta69 in the Avesta, is said to have ruled for some seven hundred years, and the early portion of this reign is described as a sort of Golden Age, when men were at peace with one another and the land was bountiful. But this state of affairs did not last. "Then it came about that the heart of Jamshid was uplifted with pride, and he forgot whence came his weal and the source of his blessings."70 Wikander, in discussing the position of Jamshid, notes that he "règne d'abord sur une humanité heureuse, mais il commet ensuite le premier péché, ce qui amène la perte de la Gloire Royale et sa chute."71' Wikander also remarks that some texts show Jamshid as having been deceived by "une figure féminine qui aurait inspiré ses transgressions et causé sa chute."72 Thus, we have some indication that here, too, there is a Gaia-like figure somewhere in the background.73
Jamshid is eventually overthrown by Zohak (equals Aži Dahāka in the Avesta), who in terms of our model occupies an ambiguous position. He is at once Typhon and Kronos. Both in his physical appearance and in his relationship with the third member of the trio, Feridun, who occupies the position of Zeus figure, Zohak strongly resembles Typhon. Yet he enters the epic occupying the position of a Kronos figure. Like Typhon, his physical appearance is characterized by the presence of snakes growing from his shoulders;74 yet he is the one who overthrows Jamshid and who commits the inevitable act of mutilation, although in this instance it is not castration but rather a sawing in half.75
There are two interesting parallels here to the Phoenician version. Like El, Zohak waits a hundred...
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W. Michael Kelsey (essay date 1981)
SOURCE: "Salvation of the Snake, the Snake of Salvation: Buddhist-Shinto Conflict and Resolution," in Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, Vol. 8, No. 1-2, March-June, 1981, pp. 83-113.
[In the following essay, Kelsey examines the use of the snake figure in Buddhist and Shinto narratives of evil and redemption.]
Buddhism and Shinto have had a remarkably harmonious coexistence over the past fourteen centuries. This is most probably due to two factors: on the one hand, Shinto lacked a formal structure from which to organize resistance, and on the other, Buddhism...
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C. J. Gadd (essay date 1933)
SOURCE: "Babylonian Myth and Ritual," in Myth and Ritual: Essays on the Myth and Ritual of the Hebrews in Relation to the Culture Pattern of the Ancient East, edited by S. H. Hooke, Oxford University Press, 1933, pp. 40-67.
[In the following essay, Gadd explores the network of Babylonian rituals centering around the motif of renewal and suggests that it reflects existential concerns.]
It is tedious to read in a first sentence the familiar complaint that the material to be studied in the following essay is sadly deficient. Those who are concerned about the affairs of remote antiquity must accustom themselves to being...
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Clark, R. T. Rundle. Myth and Symbol in Ancient Egypt. London: Thames & Hudson, 1959, 292 p.
Surveys the major themes and figures of Egyptian mythology.
Cooper, W. R. An Archaic Dictionary: Biographical, Historical, and Mythological. London: Samuel Bagster and Sons, 1876, 295 p.
An index of names from a wide range of cultural tradition; includes not only mythological heroes, gods, and creatures, but geographical and historical references.
Fergusson, James. Tree and Serpent Worship: Illustrations of Mythology and Art in India in the First and Fourth Centuries after Christ. Delhi: Oriental Publishers, 1971, 247 p....
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