Flood Stories and Symbolism

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DJ Sims
English H II
September 16, 2012
1
Flood Essay
Almost everyone knows the story of Noah and the Ark but you may not know that many other cultures have flood stories as well. These stories have many differences and many similarities but one thing they all have in common is symbolism. Symbolism is the practice of representing things by means of symbols or of attributing symbolic meanings or significance to objects, events, or relationships. What part does symbolism play in the story of the floods? Symbolism is often used in writing especially during the time that the flood stories were written. Since the stories were passed through mouth and not paper like today the story tellers used symbolism to paint the picture for those who were listening. Almost anything can be symbolic if you can give enough proof as to why it is symbolic. Even colors can be symbolic and colors like purple and gold are colors of royalty. In the following paragraphs you will be made aware of the symbolism in the following stories, The Story of the Flood from the Epic of Gilgamesh, The Flood from Greek culture, The Flood from Hindu culture, and the story of Noah and the Ark from the Bible.

In The Story of the Flood from The Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh is on a search for immortality and goes to Utnapishtim and his family, the only people granted immortality, and asks him how he achieved it. Utnapishtim tells him a story of a great flood that killed all of mankind. “The uproar of mankind is intolerable and sleep is no longer possible by reason of babel” (Sandars). So the gods decided to flood the earth and kill all mankind. Though Enlil, a warrior, warned Utnapishtim of what was to come and had him build a boat and to gather every living thing, every kind of seed, and his kin into the boat. When the storm came everything died except for those on the boat and when the rain subsided and the waters cleared Utnapishtim burnt a sacrifice to the gods who in turn made him and his wife immortal. In the beginning of the story the world is described as a wild bull. “In those days the world teemed, the people multiplied, the world bellowed like a wild bull” (Sandars). A wild bull is just that, wild and they used this to show how unruly the people of earth had become. A big symbol that is used throughout the Epic of Gilgamesh is the number seven. It said that the boat had “seven levels in all” and that “for six days and six night the winds blew, torrent and tempest and flood overwhelmed the world, and when the seventh day dawned the storm from the south subsided, the sea grew calm, and the flood subsided” (Sandars). It also says that on the seventh day he loosed a dove and the dove came back without finding land. Then he loosed a swallow and the swallow came back without finding land. He then loosed a raven who, “saw that the waters had retreated, she ate, she flew around, she cawed, and she did not come back” (Sandars). A raven often symbolizes death because it is a carrion bird and so the raven may have been chosen in the story to find land because of the death that had taken place on earth.

In the Greek story of The Flood Jupiter had bound Prometheus on top of Mount Caucasus and sent disease down on the world causing man to be wicked. Deucalion, the son of Prometheus, was the one exception. “He was only a common man and not a Titan like his great father, and yet he was known far and wide for his good deeds and the uprightness of his life” (Baldwin). Though many had neglected their gods, Deucalion continued to visit his father and he said to his son, “The day is coming when Jupiter will send a flood to destroy mankind form the earth. Be sure that you are ready my son” (Baldwin). Deucalion was ready and when the rain came he took his wife, Pyrrha, and took shelter in the boat till the rain subsided. When the rain finally did stop the land was even more beautiful than it was before the flood had occurred but Deucalion and Pyrrha were sad because they...
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