November 23rd, 2008


Water, Water Everywhere

In addition to creation and origin myths, another theme that shows up constantly in mythology is that of rebirth, especially after a world-destroying flood. I'm sure you all know the story of Noah from the Bible, and it's also commonly known that it's very similar to other flood tales from the Middle East. Utnapishtim, best known for his appearance in the Epic of Gilgamesh, went through much the same experience as Noah. The Greeks have the story of Deucalion, which shares some significant elements. I believe I've linked to this before, but in light of my topic for today, I'm going to reiterate that this looks like a pretty comprehensive list of flood myths from around the world. Some of them don't really have much in common with Noah's story other than that there was a big, destructive flood, but accounts of a few righteous people who survive in some kind of seagoing vessel are really quite common. It's been speculated that Noah's flood was based on memories of a flood of the Black Sea, which is not at all unlikely, but might not account as well for similar stories in distant parts of the world. India and China aren't all that near the Black Sea, yet they also have their own stories of deluge survivors. Some, like the Altaic myth, have so much in common with the Middle Eastern ones that they're almost certainly corrupted versions of them, but others might be based on local floods in different areas. One interesting difference between some of these stories is whether the gods recreate living things after the waters subside, or the human survivors have to take animals and plants with them. Noah is ordered to take animals in pairs into the ark, but he sacrifices a fair number of them after the flood. And apparently olive trees are capable of growing on land where all the vegetation had just been destroyed. That's rather odd, isn't it?
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