Why Babylonians Saw Humans as Slaves of The Gods
Myth, as defined by Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, is an ancient story or set of stories, especially explaining in a literary way the early history of a group of people or about natural events and facts. Mythology has no author and is considered to
be the collective memory of a group of people. Before myths were written, they were preserved orally and entrusted to priest and poets who passed them down for generations. This essay will be concerning myths from Mesopotamia, a country that lied between the Tigris River and Euphrates River in what is now Iraq. Mesopotamia was a rich country which prospered through agriculture, pastoralism and extensive trading. The purpose of this essay will be to prove that the Babylonians understood humans to be the workers and slaves of the gods, made to serve them.
Based on the excerpt of the Epic of Creation:
“ ‘It was Quingu who started the war,
He who incited Tiamat and gathered an army !’
They bound him and held him in front of Ea,
Imposed the penalty on him and cut off his blood.
He created mankind from his blood,
Imposed the toil of the gods (on man) and released the gods from it.”
(Epic of Creation IV)
In this passage, primeval man is created by the god Ea from the blood of the warrior Quingu who Tiamat, the primeval goddess who is the mother of the first generation of gods in this epic, had chosen to lead her battle. Quingu represents the vengeance of Tiamat who failed avenge the death of her husband Apsu. Quingu also represents humanity in the sense that man is made from him. In a way, he is the “mother” of humanity much in the same way that Tiamat is the mother of the first generation of gods in this myth.
Since humanity sprung from the death and blood from Quingu, it only makes sense that primeval man would have some qualities of him. The warrior Quingu is a leader; you could say it was in his blood. That same blood was passed down to man. In this way, it shows that the Babylonians thought of men as leaders. At the same time, however, Quingu was singled out as the one who started the war. This also shows the side of humanity in which people can cause conflicts, flare tempers and be toilsome, which has been proven true time and time again through the wars and conflicts of the social world in the past thousands of years. Humans have tempers and will stand up for things they believe in just as Quingu did in the Epic of Creation.
Another reason why mankind was created was to bear the burden of the gods, so they could fully become gods in the sense that they had no real duties, just a life of leisure. Man is being punished for Quingu’s war in a way because through him, they are created to become the slaves of the gods and carry out their duties. This proves that Babylonians thought of humans as the slaves of the gods, put on this earth for one reason, and that is to serve them.
I believe that the Epic of Gilgamesh shows how the Babylonians perceived mankind just as well, if not better, than the Epic of Creation. Gilgamesh, though not completely human, is a good example of the average man, not in the sense that he is a hero because very few humans today are true heroes, but because of the way that he has faults just like any other person. He is lustful, always looking for a young girl to court. He is also proud, which sometimes can be a fault when it is in excess. Gilgamesh is also easily influenced as we all are at times once he discovers his companion and brother Endiku, who was created by the mother goddess Aruru from a piece of clay. Endiku was meant to be created as a rival for Gilgamesh, someone to compete with for women and someone who would become a rival for him. Instead, Endiku became a brother, soul mate, and best friend to Gilgamesh, which shows the unpredictability of humans. Once the wild Endiku has made love to a woman, the harlot Shamhat, he has become human and the wild will no longer accept him. Soon, after a quarrel between Endiku and Gilgamesh, they each of them show their emotions; show that they are but mere mortals, and form a bond which can never be broken. This scene from the Epic of Gilgamesh shows that all humans have weak moments, and have emotions. I believe the most important lesson we learn from this duo is that sometimes people bring out the worst in each other. Gilgamesh is easily persuaded by Endiku to commit feats that he would normally never undertake such as hunting the Humbaba, the keeper of the forest. This act is to prove that they are strong and powerful, so people will remember and respect them, which is a common attribute of humans. We would all like to be remembered after we’re gone, become legends and do something great that no one else did.
Even though Gilgamesh is not completely mortal, he embodies all of the characteristics of humans. We are promiscuous, we cry, we are proud and stubborn. We plot against other people and strive to become great. And we scar both physically and emotionally, as Gilgamesh did after the death of his dear Endiku. Both the Epic of Creation and the Epic of Gilgamesh show how the early Babylonians perceived mankind, but in different ways. Gilgamesh shows the softer side of humans, while the Epic of Creation shows the raw and primordial side of man.
Dalley, Stephanie, trans. Myths From Mesopotamia. Revised ed. New York: Oxford UP, 2000.
Littleton, C. S., ed. Mythology. London: Duncan Baird, 2002.