Ancient Creation Myths

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Creation Myths of the Ancient Greeks, Mesopotamians, and Chinese

Zach Lenart

Ancient Mythology East and West
Professor Shawn Youngblood
October 2, 2012

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Creation myths of are often examined, but more often than not they are looked at individually. Much more can be learned if different myths are analyzed at the same time, recognizing similarities and differences as well as overlapping themes in these myths. We can learn about many aspects of a culture from their creation myths. The portrayal of women in the myth can teach whether the society is patriarchal or matriarchal. The descriptive vocabulary, and the characteristics given to the gods can show us what societies view as god-like qualities. Finally through analyzing overlapping themes that are repeated from myth to myth we can begin to infer what interaction some of these cultures may have had. Creation myths are crucial to a society’s identity, and we can learn much about these cultures through these myths. We can learn a lot about the gender related aspects of a society; patriarchal or matriarchal society, are women viewed as equals or subordinates to men, and what role women play in day to day life of these cultures. Taking a look at the Greek myths we can see that Ancient Greece was a patriarchal society through the leading gods in the myth, Ouranos, Cronos, and Zeus, for example. Now this is not to say that women were held far below men, just that men held higher positions in the society. Female goddesses still played an immense role in these myths, and are not to be forgotten. Gaea for example protected Zeus from being eaten by Cronos, and without Zeus a very important part of the plot would be missing. However, when you analyze The Enuma Elish, and the Chinese creation myths it is not nearly as clear. In The Enuma Elish you can see that this society was most like patriarchal as well, but women may have played a larger role. Although Marduk is the champion god, and king god by the end of the myth, Tiamat is still represented as a very powerful goddess. This is apparent when Ea first learns of Tiamat's battle preparation, and goes to his forefather Anshar for council because he is afraid. Yet even though Tiamat is represented as powerful, her actions are still regarded as evil, as it states “To avenge Apsu, Tiamat planned evil.”. The perception of women in the Chinese society is even harder to tell from the Chinese creation myths. P'an Ku is said to male as he is Lenart-2

referenced to as “he” and has male qualities “His blood and semen became ….. His hair and beard became the stars;”. Yin and Yang represent male and female, and each play an equally important role in the creation, making sure to balance every Yin with Yang as well. Finally we have Nu Kua who was a female goddess with the upper body of a woman and the lower body of a snake, sometimes represented as a dragon goddess. She was responsible for forming humans from yellow clay and repairing the Earth following the battle of the fire and water gods. From this we can assume that the Chinese culture held motherly nurturing, and protection highly, and that the battle of the fire and water gods, both male, could mean that male aggression is destructive without a female presence, both concepts supporting the importance of women in society. The types of gods involved in these myths have some very distinct commonalities and differences. The dominant male gods in the Ancient Greek myth and the Enuma Elish are both given very powerful qualities. Marduk is descried in the Enuma Elish likewise “He was the loftiest of the gods, surpassing was his stature; His members were enormous, he was exceeding tall.” and Zeus is described in Hymn to Demeter as “all-seeing Zeus the loud-thunderer.”. The older male gods are also inclined to try and destroy their children. Cronos devours his children born of Gaea, and Apsu plots to kill his children. Both of them are then killed in the process, the very thing...
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