Thursday, May 1, 2008

Kumarbi Epic and Hesiod's Theogony

One of the most obvious parallels between a Near Eastern and a Greek mythological story is between the Kumarbi Epic and Hesiod's Theogony. The Epic was recovered from the royal library of the Hittite emperors at Hattasus. It is written in Hittite, but interestingly the names of the divinites are mostly Hurrian, with some Babylonian. Thus, it is probably a translation of a Hurrian saga. First of all, they both have a succession story. In the Kumarbi, there were three generations of gods: The first was Alalu, who, after 9 years of rule, was driven out by Anu. Anu suffers the same fate; he is driven out by Kumarbi. This has a parallel in the Theogony; Zeus overthrows Kronos, who overthrew Ouranos, and becomes king of the gods and men.

However, the parallels run deeper. After Anu is deposed he escapes into the sky, with Kumarbi in hot pursuit. Kumarbi catches him and bites him with the intention of castrating him; he then spits out the seed which, in turn, impregnates the Earth. The children, he orders, should be brought to him when they are born so that he may eat them. They start to do this, but is apparently given a stone instead of the Storm-god to eat; the Storm-god is then safely born. The fragmentary epic then continues on another tablet. The Storm-god is fighting Luma, who is being depsed for apparent misrule. He is vanquished an the Storm-god rules for a time. This story is almost an exact copy of the story of Zeus' birth. Ouranos is castrated by his son Kronos, who in turn spits out the seed and impregnates the Earth; she gives birth to the Erinyes, the Giants and the Melian Nymphs. The legend of Zeus' birth runs as follows: Kronos orders that all his children be brought to him so he can eat them. He does this, but is given a stone instead of Zeus (the Storm-god) to eat. Zeus is then born safely and proceeds to depose Kronos.

There are obvious parallels here, however they are not exactly one to one. Mythology is a shifty business; as I've said in an earlier post, one can only really point out parallels and then work to establish influence. The exact reason for shifts in the stories are often obscure.

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