Over the next few weeks I’ve taken on a task to retell the story of the Babylonian Flood. There are three fragmentary stories, the most famous of which is embedded within the myth of Gilgamesh, but their significance is great because they hold voices from the ancient past, further back than the Greeks of Homer, the Tanakh of the Hebrews, the Shang Dynasty of the Chinese and the Old Kingdom of Egypt.
Three sources of the Flood Story
Archeological evidence of the rock and land formations suggest that the roots of the tale refer to a great deluge across the Tigris and Euphrates close to 2700 BC. Traditions, myths, instructions and stories in that era were passed down orally, with the written word barely invented beyond the pictogramic representations of field sizes and quantities. By the early 2000s though, writing on clay tablets in the regions of Mesopotamia reveals local customs, prophecies and history, and the first relating to a flood story now called the Eridu Genesis, of which only a third survives. A later version, known by its protagonist’s name Atrahasis was probably written in the 1640s BC, at the height of Babylon’s surging ascendency across the region of Middle East. The third version, and the most complete is within the canon of the Gilgamesh Myth, probably from 1100 BCE, but discovered in the thousands of clay tablets from the Royal Library of Ashurbanipal, from c.680 BC.
Sources and Inspirations
The Sumerians and Babylonians are a much neglected corner of ancient mythology, demonised by subsequent monotheistic religions, and out-glamoured by the majesty of the Ancient Egyptians. For my own writing I am fascinated by their origin stories, and have traced some useful connections with the later Celts and their own mythological invasions of Ireland. Civilisations with multiple deities seem able to contemplate parallel, multiple universes, with gods, demons and humans occupying different planes on the same physical space, and this is precisely where my own short stories and novels intersect.