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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 38.djvu/306

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

struction, one of the inscribed cylinders discovered in recent times, speaking of a tower which most of the leading archseologists identify with the Tower of Babel, reads as follows:

"The building named the Stages of the Seven Spheres, which was the Tower of Borsippa, had been built by a former king. He had completed forty-two cubits, but he did not finish its head. During the lapse of time, it had become ruined; they had not taken care of the exit of the waters, so that rain and wet had penetrated into the brick-work; the casing of burned brick had swollen out, and the terraces of crude brick are scattered in heaps."

We can well understand how easily "the gods, assisted by the winds," as stated in the Chaldean legend, could overthrow a tower thus built.

It may be instructive to compare with the explanatory myth developed first by the Chaldeans, and in a slightly different form by the Hebrews, various other legends to explain the same diversity of tongues. The Hindoo legend of the confusion of tongues is as follows:

"There grew in the center of the earth the wonderful 'world tree' or 'knowledge tree' It was so tall that it reached almost to heaven. It said in its heart: ' I shall hold my head in heaven and spread my branches over all the earth, and gather all men together under my shadow, and protect them, and prevent them from separating. But Brahma, to punish the pride of the tree cut off its branches and cast them down on the earth, when they sprang up as wata trees, and made differences of belief and speech and customs to prevail on the earth, to disperse men upon its surface."

Still more striking is a Mexican legend: according to this, Xelhua, one of the seven giants rescued from the flood, built the great Pyramid of Cholula, in order to reach heaven, until the gods, angry at his audacity, threw fire upon the building and broke it down, whereupon every separate family received a language of its own.

Such explanatory myths grew or spread widely over the earth. A well-known form of the legend, more like that of the Chaldeans ihan the Hebrew later form, appeared among the Greeks. According to this, the Aloidæ piled Mount Ossa upon Olympus and Pelion upon Ossa, in their efforts to reach heaven and dethrone Jupiter.

Still another form of it entered the thoughts of Plato. He held that in the golden age men and beasts all spoke the same language, but that Zeus confounded their speech because men were proud and demanded eternal youth and immortality.[1]


  1. For the identification of the Tower of Babel with the "Birs Nimrud" amid the ruins of the city of Borsippa, see Sir Henry Rawlinson, and especially George Smith, Assyrian