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Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 2.djvu/228

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compare well w-ith a modern lialance sheet that has passed the chartered accountants. Proofs are not lacking of the commercial talents of the Babylonians during the thirty-five centuries between these dates. LiTKRATURE. — Vast as is the material of Baby- lonian inscriptions, equally varied are their contents. The great majority no doubt of the 300,000 tablets hitherto unearthed deal with business matters rather than with matters literary; contracts, marriage set- tlements, cadastral surveys, commercial letters, orders for goods or acknowl- edgments of their receipt, offi- cial communications between magistrates and ci\-il or mili- tary governors, names, titles, and dates on foundation stones, private correspondence, and so on. Still a fair per- centage has a right to be strictly classed as "hterature or belles-lettres". We must moreover constantly keep in mind that only about one- fifth of the total number of these tablets have been pub- lished and that any description of their literature must as yet be fragmentarj' and tenta- tive. It is convenient to classify as follows: (1) the Epos;" (2) the Psalm; (3) the Historical Narrative.

(1) The Epos.—ia) The so- called "Seven Tablets of Cre- One of the Seven ation", because ^\Titten on a Tablets OF Creation series of seven very mutilated tablets in the Koujnmshik Li- brary. Happily the lacunae can here and there be filled up by fragments of duplicates found elsewhere. Borrowing an expression from the early Teuton litera- ture, tliis might be called the "saga of the primeval chaos". Assj-rian scribes called it by its first words "Enuma Elish" (When on high) as the Jews called Genesis "Bereshith" (in the beginning). Although it contains an account of the world's origin, as above contrasted with the account given in the Bible, it is not so much a cosmogony as the storj- of the heroic deeds of the god Marduk, in his struggle vrith the Dragon of Chaos. Though the youngest of the gods, Marduk is charged by them to fight Tiamtu and the gods on her sitie. He wins a glorious \'ictory; he takes the tablets of fate from Ivimgu, her husband; he splits open her skull, hews asiuider the channels of her blood and makes the north wind carry it away to liidden places. He divides the corpse of the great Dragon and with one half makes a covering for the heavens and thus fixes the waters above the firma- ment. He then sets about fashioning the universe, and the stars, and the moon; he forms man. "Let me gather my blood and let me set up a man, let me make then men dwelling on the earth." When Martluk has finished his work, he is acclaimed by all the gods with joy and given fifty names. The gods are apparently eager to bestow their own titles upon him. The aim of the poem clearly is to explain how Marduk, the local god of as modern a city as Babylon, had displaced the deities of the older Babylonian cities, the gods his fathers".

(b) The great national epos of Gilgamesh, which probably had in Babylonian literature some such place as the Odyssey or the ^neid amongst the Greeks and Romans. It consists of twelve chapters or cantos. It opens with the words Sha nagba imuru (He who saw everj'thing). The number of extant tablets is considerable, but unfortunately they are all very fragmentary and with exception of the eleventh chapter the text is very imperfect and shows as yet

huge lacuna>. Gilgamesh was King of Erech the Walled. When the story begins, the city and its temples are in a ruinous state. Some great calamity has fallen upon them. Erech has been besieged for three years, till Bel and Ishtar interest themselves in its behalf. Gilgamesh has yearned for a com- panion, and the goddess .Arurn makes Ea-bani, the warrior; "covered with hair was all his body and he had tresses like a woman, his hair grew thick as corn; though a man, he lives amongst the beasts of the field". They entice him into the city of Erech by the charms of a woman called Samuhat; he lives there and becomes a fast friend of Gilgamesh. Gil- gamesh and Ea-bani set out in quest of adventiu'e, travel through forests, and arrive at the palace of a great queen. Gilgamesh cuts off the head of Humbabe, the Elamite king. Ishtar the goddess falls in love with him and asks him in marriage. But Gilgamesh scornfully reminds her of her treat- ment of former lovers. Ishtar in anger returns to heaven and revenges herself by sending a divine bull against Gilgamesh and Ea-bani. This animal is overcome and slain to the great joy of the city of Erech. Warning dreams are sent to Gilgamesh and his friend Ea-bani dies, and Gilgamesh sets out on a far bring his friend back from the under- world. After endless adventures our hero reaches in a ship the waters of death and converses with Pir- napistum. the Babylonian Xoe. who tells him the story of the flood, which fills up the eleventh chapter of some 330 lines, referred to above. Pir-napistum gives to Gilgairiesh the plant of rejuvenescence but he loses it again on his way back to Erech. In the last chapter Gilgamesh succeetls in calling up the spirit of Ea-bani, who gives a vi\'id portrayal of life after death "where the worm devom'eth those who had sinned in their heart, but where the blessed hing upon a couch, drink pure water". Though weird in the extreme and to our eyes a mixture of the gro- tesque with the sublime, this epos contains de- scriptive passages of immistakable power. A few lines as example: "At the break of da'rni in the morn- ing there arose from the foimdation of heaven a dark cloud. The Storm god thundered within it and Nebo and Marduk went before it. Then went the heralds over moimtain and plain. I'ragala dragged the anchors loose, the Annimak raised their torches, with their flashing they lighted the earth. The roar of the Storm god reached to the heavens and everj'- thing bright turned into darkness."

(c) The Adapa-Legend, a sort of "Paradise Lost", probably a standard work of Babylonian literature,, as it is found not only in the Ninive library, but evea among the Amarna tablets in Egypt. It relates how Adapa, the wise man or Atrachasis. the pm-veyor to- the sanctuarj- of Ea, is deceived, through the en\-y- of Ea. Anu, the Supreme God, invites him to Para- dise, offers him the food and drink of immortality,, but Adapa, mistakenly thinking it poison, refuses,, and loses life everlasting. Anu scornfully says: '■Take him and bring liim back to liis earth."

(d) Ishtar's descent into Hades, here and there bearing a surprising resemblance to well-known lines of Dante's Inferno. The goddess of Erech goes:

To the land whence no one ever returneth.

To the house of gloom where dwelleth Irkalla,

To the house which one enters but nevermore leaveth. On the way where there is no retracing of footsteps.

To the house which one enters, and daylight all ceases.

On an Amarna tablet we find a description ghostly and graphic of a feast, a fight, and a wedtling in hell.

(e) Likewise fragments of legendary stories about the earliest Babylonian kings have come down to us One of the most remarkable is that in which Sargort of .\kkad, born of a vestal maiden of high degree.