Sunday, September 29, 2013

Mythology of Ancient Mesopotamia

Ø      Mesopotamia is the old name for the Middle East, including Iraq, Iran, Syria, Jordan, and Israel.

Ø      Mythology in Mesopotamia is the oldest in the world, and also the most confusing. What we know about it comes from finding pieces of tablets, often broken, that are written in cuneiform (klinové písmo). These tablets are buried in ancient cities.

Ø      We’ve learned to read these tablets thanks to the work of researchers, starting in the 19th century, who translated things like the Bahistun Inscription in Iran.

Written around 500 BC, it describes the life of the Persian king Darius, and is written in three languages, so all would understand. As a result, linguists were able to translate it.

Ø      We can read cuneiform. But, the myths are hard to put together. You might get part of the story from one tablet, and another part from a tablet in a different city, made thousands of years later. Imagine how much a story can change in a thousand years!

Ø      And, not every tablet described myths. Many were legal and business documents.

This one says someone bought beer in 3100 BC
Ø      Even more complicated, Mesopotamia was not a peaceful place. It was a collection of cities that constantly fought each other, traditionally Sumerians versus Akkadians versus Assyrians versus Hurrians. And, every once in awhile, an entire tribe of people (usually considered (povavažovaný) barbarians) would invade: Amorites, Hittites, Kassites, Elamites, Chaldeans, et cetera.

Ø      What united these cultures in terms of religion were the mythology of the Sumerians, the oldest, and longest lasting culture in Mesopotamia. Even after the Sumerian empire fell, their religious monuments and stories were so great that invading cultures copied it. Priests continued to speak and write in Sumerian, just like how Christian priests continue to study Latin today.

Ø      But it couldn’t last forever. As new cultures invaded, they changed the names of gods, and added new ones. Towards the end there were around 3,600 different deities (božstvá). All this makes it hard to learn the mythology. It's like putting a puzzle together. Here's the best I could do, spending a day on Wikipedia:

Don't worry, you don't have to learn the names.