ExplainingNature and the Universe Using Myths and Legends
TheNear East had many cultures consisting of the Greeks, the Romans, andthe Egyptians. However, these cultures manifested at differenttimelines. These people had their myths and legends to describe theirway of life and explain the nature and the origin of the universe. Itis in this sense that Paleolithic Venus Figures reveals the abilityto “read words of people long dead” (7). The tales comprised oftheir belief in supernatural powers such as the gods, which weremostly invincible to humans. The legends, on the other hand, wereheroes among the people in society they had unmatched power and theywere able to come up with ideas or make some decisions that couldliberate people from some situations. These individuals werecelebrated and are used as references. For this paper, the Greekculture will be discussed.
TheUse of Myths and Legends by Cultures in Near East and Mediterranean
Inparticular, the ancient inhabitants used myths to depict theirunderstanding of the truths of the world as well as the gods of themyths. They also used these mythologies to make comparisons withtheir lives to live according to the requirements and stipulations ofthe gods.
Thepeople of the Near East had numerous myths that accounted for thecreation of the earthly creatures. As indicated by the fables of theBabylonians, in the beginning, there was the primeval sea, which wasalso called the Tiammat goddess that gave birth to the other gods.When Tiammat attempted to destroy the chief god of the Babylonians,Marduk, she managed to kill her, instead, and separated her body intothe sky and the earth. As a result, these earliest myths were used inthe effort to provide the answer to the question about how everythingbegan (14). In the same sense, Black shows that the cultures from theMediterranean, including the Greek, also came up with the myths toprovide an explanation for the origin of the universe. In this case,they use the myths and the legends to find the rational explanationsfor the occurrence of distinct natural phenomena (20).
TheGreeks worshiped many gods. The gods were commanding in stature andhumand believed they were immortal. These gods were thought to havefeelings like humans, and they were capable of intermarrying and bearchildren, require food to stay alive and have strength. The blood ofthe Greek gods known as Icho was believed to have the power toreproduce life and was never affected by diseases. These gods were ofa higher order than humans although they were not exempted from somehuman characters, such as jealousy, revenge, and deceit, to mentionjust a few. In explaining the origin of the universe, the first twogods who came into being were known as Uranus and Gaea.
Uranusrepresented the heaven this god was omnipresent and possessed thequalities of light as well as purity and heat. Gaea was believed tobe the life-sustaining earth. The god was supposed to be the motherof all nourishment as shown in “Mistress you are magnificent, noone can walk before you” (Black 18).
CommonMyths of Creation
Atone point in history, during the first dynasty, it is believed thatUranus and Gaea got married and had a first born child known as theOceanus. The first born child was the water bodies that encircled theuniverse. From the belief, one can identify the logic. With a slightknowledge, one can define some logic in this view. From the work ofnature, the oceans are a result of rains that descend from the heavenand streams flowing from the earth. In its literal sense, the vastwater bodies, as well as the oceans, are formed from the influence ofthe globe and the heavens. Without the two, the ocean cannot exist.
Therest of the children produced by Uranus were of less material naturecompared to Oceanus. The offspring were believed to occupy theintermediate space forming a division between him and Gaea. Forexample, it was found that Aether only represented the atmospherecontaining air for immortals. The other offspring is Aer, which was abit closer to Gaea than Uranus, and exemplified the atmospherecontaining air that only immortals could breathe. Without thisprogeny, the mortals could perish. Nephelae, the sister to Aether andAer, formed the separation between the two. Gaea also produced someoffspring one of them being Pontus (the sea) whom she later unitedwith to create the sea deities i.e. Ceto, Eurybya, Thaumas, Nereus,and Phorcys.
Duringthe first dynasty, there also existed two mighty powers known as theErebus and Nyx. Erebus was known to be the god of darkness while Nyx,the sister, was believed to be the god of night. Erebus reigned inareas that did not support light. Later, the struggle for power amongthe offspring of the gods led to a new era. The world was dividedamong the Zeus and his brothers, after the victory. Zeus ruled in allthe three kingdoms i.e. the earth, the heaven, and the under-earth.Each territory was given to the other brothers.
Mostof the myths from the Near East that include areas such asMesopotamia and Syria are considered to arise from the earliest timesof the human settlements. They had many gods and goddesses whosefunctions overlapped over each other. However, the names of thesedeities changed over time as many different people shifted into theregions. Despite the presence of many names, there are thosegoddesses that remained over time. One of them was the fertility godand her consortium. The other god was the king of the gods and theunderworld god. The communication about the different myths andlegends was communicated in a variety of ways. For instance,information about the distinct gods in Mesopotamia was inscribed ontablets.
Theywere preserved on the clay tablets with their inscription on theancient scripts that were commonly known as the cuneiform. However,the writing about of the myths and stories about these gods tookplace a long time after they had been told. They had many variations.Nonetheless, the written texts did not form an essential part of theSumerian religious practices. They were also not a central part ofthe religious practices of most of the people in the region (Egypthome life 25).
Inaddition to these stories (that talked about the gods), the Sumeriansalso provided detailed accounts concerning the heroes and kings.These stories were later used to work in the first epic poem in theworld. In Gilgamesh`s quest for immortality, it indicates that themost common form of myth that was used in Mesopotamia was the Epic ofGilgamesh (16). It was subsequently written down in the Akkadian. Asan epic poem, it provides the narrations on the various narratives,the occasional failures of the heroes and the labors that help toembody the ideas of people about themselves.
Inparticular, the historians made use of such epic poems to discoverthe different aspects of the society and can therefore be used ashistorical sources. It is revealed from the Epic of Gilgamesh wherewhich recounts the encounters of Gilgamesh as he wandered thesemi-historical king Uruk and his attempts to find eternal life. As amatter of fact, it deals with a lot of facts about life and death,humanity, and deity, friendship, and immorality (Dally 14). However,other myths have survived as well. They include the story thatdescribes the descent of Ishtar.
Theother means through which the myths and the legends were able toreach the other people included personal communication since thedifferent stories about the gods moved with the people as theytraveled to different places this happened as they moved up and downalong the rivers. In this way, the gods got to acquire new names andcharacteristics over time.
Inother areas of the ancient world that include the near East and andMediterranean, the myths and the legends were used by the rulers inthe effort to link their success to the will of the gods. Inparticular, it is shown that Hammurabi created a connection betweenhim and the sun god Shamash who was the god concerned with law andjustice. For this reason, he encouraged the spread of the myths andprovided an explanation on how Marduk, who was the primary king ofBabylon, was elected the king of other gods in Mesopotamia. He wantedto relate to Marduk who was later considered to be the chief god ofMesopotamia and was able to absorb the qualities and powers of theother gods. Lichtheim shows that “I have known what I should know”(23).
Black,J E. et al. ElectronicText Corpus of Sumerian Literature.Oxford 1998.
Dalley,Stephanie. Mythsfrom Mesopotamia: Creation, the Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others, trans.Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1989.
Egypthome life.In A History of Western Society by McKay, P. John, Buckler, John& Hill, D. Bennett. Houghton Mifflin. 1979.
Lichtheim,Miriam. AncientEgyptian Literature: Volume II, The New Kingdom.2006. pp. 124–126.
PaleolithicVenus Figures.In A History of Western Society by McKay, P. John, Buckler, John &Hill, D. Bennett. Houghton Mifflin. 1979