From under the Dust of Ages

by William St. Chad Boscawen | 1886 | 41,453 words

A series of six lectures on the history and antiquities of Assyria and Babylonia, delivered at the British Museum....

Lecture 6 - The Legends Of Gizdhubar

THE discovery and decipherment of the Chaldean Deluge Legend, some twelve years ago, opened up an entirely new section of Assyrian literature.

The patient researches of the small band of Assyriologists had gathered fragment by fragment, like the tessera? of some shattered mosaic, from the oblivion which for centuries had shrouded it, and from inscriptions, which for centuries had been silent, the story of Assyria's kings.

They had given to the world's history a retrospective enlargement, far be- yond the expectations of the most ardent student of antiquity. Although the annals of the life and times, and the record of those deeds of war and conquest, which had emblassoned the names of Sargon, Sennacherib, and Assurbanipal, the Sardanapalus of the Greeks, on the roll of history, had now been restored to the student, there was a large section of the cuneiform literature untouched. The great library of Nineveh, which had been rescued from beneath the dust of ages by Sir Henry Layard and his able lieutenant, Mr Hormuzd Eassam, was not merely a chamber of royal records.

Its contents had a far larger range, embracing, as we now know, almost every branch of literature. During the twelve years which have elapsed since Mr George Smith startled the world by his discovery, the treasure-house which he opened has been very zealously searched by ardent students, and the result has been the revealing to a learning and wisdom, equalled, but not surpassed, by any nation of antiquity, except perhaps the Celestial Empire, to whose literature, in many respects, it affords a striking resemblance.

I now pass to the system and arrangement of this ancient and long-buried library, which has yielded us such valuable records of the long bygone past.

The key to the arrangement, and the extensive and varied character of the library, is afforded by the colophon attached to each tablet, which resembles in some respect our dedication and title-pages.

The most frequent one reads as follows : —

" The palace of Assur-bani-abla, king of nations, king of Assyria, of whom Nebo and Tasmituv have enlarged his ears and enlightened his eyes to the wealth of the tablets, of which the kings going before him (his ancestors), their writing had not reverenced. The wisdom of Nebo. . . . All there was on the tablets I wrote, I studied, I explained, and, for the instruction of my people, within my palace I placed."

The existence of a series of instruction tablets, such as the syllabaries, and the important series of bilingual tablets in parallel columns, classified as the series Ana itti su, "to be with him," literally "handbooks," indicate the educational character of the library. In the same manner the statement hi pi duppi u tamadi labruti mahhruti Assuriu Ahkadi — " According to the tablets and ancient teaching side by side of Assur and Akkad ;" and sometimes we find — " According to the ancient tablets and papyri side by side of Assur, Sumir, and Akkad " (W. A. I., III., 52, 2).

In the case of the former, it evidently applies to the bilingual tablets, in which the languages of Assyrian and Akkad, or North Babylonia, are placed side by side ; and, in the latter, to the trilingual tablets, in which the versions of the languages of Assyria, Akkad, and Sumir, the Shinar of the Hebrews, or South Babylonia, are placed together, as in the lexographical tablet printed in W. A. I., vol. IV., pi. 11-12.

These statements, together with the often-repeated phrase, Kima labri su, like its old copy, attached to the majority of tablets — the Gizdhubar legends included — show, as we know from history, that the library of Assurbanipal was the product of a royal library commission appointed about B.C. 660 to copy all the most important tablets in the libraries of Chaldea, and to place them in the library at iNineveh — the object being to stay the intercourse between the Babylonian priests and the youths of Assyria, which had caused so much trouble during the rebellions of Merodach, Baladan, and Samas-suma-ukin.

It has been necessary for me thus to preface my paper with this outline of the origin and system of the royal library at Nineveh, in order that we may better ascertain the position of the Gizdhubar poem in the literature of Assyria. I will now pass to the subject of classification of the tablet books adopted by the Assyrian scribes.

The system resembled in some respects that adopted by the Hebrew scribes in the naming the books by their first words, as Genesis, Exodus, and Leviticus are called respectively ????? (Bereshith), ???? (Shecmoth), and ????? (Wayyikra) — these being the opening words of each.

In like manner, we find the Assyrian and Babylonian scribes cataloguing the majority of their tablet books according to the first words of their first tablet. Thus the first creation tablet commences with the words Enuva Elis — "In the time when as yet on high." So we find the Fifth Tablet, which contains an account of the creation of the heavenly bodies, classified as " Tablet V." — Enuva Elis. That is, the Fifth Tablet of the series commencing with those words. The magical tablets are catalogued under the heading Atal limnuti — "evil spirits" — being the opening words of the First Tablet. The Penitential Psalms under the words Salmu arka — " future peace."

At the end of the Deluge Tablet is the following colophon or docket :

  1. First Line of Xesct Tablet op the Series. The Tambukku in the house of the was left.
  2. Number of Tablet in Series. Eleventh Tablet (of series)— "He who the fountain had seen. The story of Gizdhubar.
  3. Statement of Copying from Older Documents. Like its old copy, written and made clear.

The general title of the series may from this be taken to be Zikar Gizdhubar, " the story of Gizdhubar" — zikar being the construct case of zilcaru, a record or memorial from zaharu to record the Hebrew -on " to remember, to bring to mind." There are portions of two other sets of these stories — one fairly complete, the other only mentioned by name. The first of these is called Zikar Dibbara—" the story of the Pestilence god," and relates to a terrible plague sent as divine punishment on the land of Babylonia by the offended gods. Of the story we have fragments of those tablets out of a series of seven.

In the fable of the ox and the horse, mention is made of the " story of Istar, a legend," as yet lost to us, though, as I shall show, referred to in the Sixth Tablet of the Gizdhubar story. Sir Henry Eawlin son was, I believe, the first to point out the solar character of the Epic, and to show that its twelve books were arranged according to the sun's journey through the twelve signs of the zodiac. More fragments of the Epic itself, and tablets relating to it, having been brought to light, his conjecture has been amply confirmed. It has long been known that the majority of the signs of the zodiac are represented by the names of the Akkadian months, and that even where the names themselves do not agree, there is other evidence forthcoming, such as the character of the divine regent of the month, or the name of the ruling star, which agrees with the zodiacal sign.

The following general statements as to the arranging of the twelve constellations may be quoted as examples. In the Fifth Creation Tablet:

lines 1-7:

  1. He made pleasant the dwelling-places of the great gods.
  2. The constellations, their forms as animals he fixed.
  3. The year its divisions he divided.
  4. Twelve months of constellations by threes he fixed.
  5. From the day by which the year commences to its end.
  6. He determined the position of the crossing stars, and fixed their bounds.
  7. Not to make fault or error of any kind.

Also in an astronomical tablet (W. A. I., vol. III., pi.), we read — "Twelve months to each year, 360 days (60 x 6) in number as recorded." And again in the Deluge Tablet (Col. iii. 30-31)—" I looked to the regions bounding the sea. To the twelve points no land I saw." In addition to these very distinct allusions to the division of the

In the accompanying table, I have arranged the months with the signs of the zodiac, the divine regents, and the name given to Merodach, the star of Babylon — the morning star referred to in Isaiah xiv. 12. I think it will be at once seen how much evidence there is of zodaical arrangement both of the calendar and the books of the Epic.

It will be observed that I differ somewhat in my arrangement of the tablets from Mr Smith, but it must be remembered that we have only the number dockets attached to Tablets III., VI, X., XL, XII.— all other fragments having to be arranged according to incident. The numbered tablets, however, all fall well into their places under signs corresponding to their stories. An examination of the text of the tablets that the Epic is a collection of national stories woven together, and all centred round " Gizdhubar, the perfect in strength " — Dp. Gizdhubar. Gitmalu. [1]

The Achilles of this Chaldean Iliad, who was ruler of Uruki, the Erech of Genesis (x. 10). This city throughout the legends is called Uruk-Su Buri —

"Erech, the beautiful or blessed" —

a phrase which calls very forcibly to mind the "golden troy" of Homer. The fact that some of the stories are woven together by a very slender thread is quite apparent when the text comes to be examined, and there is no more glaring example than that of the Deluge Tablet, which is clearly interpolated wholesale into the text of Tablet XL, and its commencement timed off. This was done in order to obtain a legend corresponding to the sign of Aquarius, and to the month of the " curse of rain " of the Akkadians, the month Sebadhu, or " destruction " of the Semites.

Again, in the Sixth Tablet, we have a number of small stories of the loves of Istar, evidently older than the Epic, woven into the speech of Gizdhubar.

Of the First Tablet we have no trace, nor do we "am any indication of its contents. The fragment Mr Smith placed as the commencement of the Epic, if it belongs at all to the poem, certainly does not come in this place. Of the second book, we have some fragments ; and from the continuation of the story in the third, we are able to gather a fair knowledge of the nature of its contents. As corresponding to the sign of Taurus, and the month of the Protecting Bull, it relates to the mysterious satyr or centaur, the companion of the hero so often represented on the Babylonian cylinder seals. Gizdhubar has a dream that the stars of heaven are falling upon him, and, like Nebuchadnezzar, we can find no one to explain the hidden meaning to him. He is, however, told by his huntsman, Zaidu, of a very wise creature who dwells in the marshes, three days' journey from Erech.

The introduction of this per- sonage, Za-Ai-Du — "the hunter" (Heb. ??? and ???) into the story, brings before us very forcibly the ????? — " mighty hunter " — of Genesis x. 9.

The strange being whom this companion of the hero is despatched to bring to the court is one of the most interesting characters in the Epic.

He is called Hea-Bani — " he whom Hea has made."

This mysterious creature is represented on the gems as half a man and half a bull. He has the body, face, and arms of a man, and the horns, legs, hoofs, and tail of a bull.

Though in form rather resembling the satyrs, and in fondness for and association with the cattle the rustic deity Pan, yet in his companionship with Gizdhubar and his strange death, he approaches nearer the centaur Chiron, who was the companion of Heracles.

By his name he was the son of Hea, whom Berosus identifies as Cronos, as Chiron was the son of Cronos. Like Chiron, he was celebrated for his wisdom, and acted as the counsellor of the hero, interpreting his dreams, and enabling him to overcome the enemies who attacked him.

Chiron met his death at the hand of Heracles, one of whose poisoned arrows struck him, and, though immortal, would not live any longer, and gave his immortality to Prometheus. On this last statement I shall have something rather important to say later on. Zeus made Chiron among the stars a Saggitarius.

Here again we have a striking echo of the Chaldean legend in the Erech story. According to the arrangement of tablets, the death of Hea-bani takes place under the sign of Saggitarius, and is the result of some fatal accident daring the combat between Gizdhubar and Khumbaba. Like the centaurs before his call to the court of Gizdhubar, Hea-bani led a wild and savage life. It is said on the tablets

" that he consorted with the wild beasts. With the gazalles he took his food by night, and consorted with the cattle by day, and rejoiced his heart with the creeping things of the waters."

Dean Stanley made the very wise remark, in one of his lectures on the Jewish Church, that Nebuchadnezzar the Great became with the Chaldeans and later Jews a second Nimrod. Have we here, then, the origin of the story of Nebuchadnezzar's madness ?

The third book of the Epic corresponds to the months of the Twins, the sign of Gemini ; and we have the appropriate story of the twin sisters Samkhat and Kharimat, the beautiful females, who are sent to entice Hea-bani to Erech.

These two creatures are the handmaids of Istar, the goddess of Erech. Their names indicate them to be personifications of pleasure and lust.

As Dp. Sani-kha-a-ti is derived from the root nob, and corresponds to the Hebrew ????, joy or pleasure ; and her companion, Kha-ri-ina-ti, from the root ???, means the " devotee," and is equivalent in meaning to the Hebrew ????, " the womeu consecrated to the temple of Venus," who are also called Kadistuv in the inscriptions.

To the persuasive words of the one, and the loving actions of the other, the sage, like St Anthony, yields, and the tablet says —

" At the words of her mouth, his wisdom fled away."

He consented to come to the court of Gizdhubar at Erech. In order to test the struggle of the hero, he brings with him the Mirdarm, which Mr Houghton thinks to be a tiger, but which, I expect, is another name for the lion, and forms possibly the subject of the fifth story, corresponding to the sign Leo. Mr Smith, who never could be brought to see the mythological character of Gizdhubar, and always regarded him as a king of Babylon, and was still more stubborn on the subject of the arrangement according] to the zodiac, made his fourth and fifth books of the Epic to contain an account of the war between Gizdhubar and the Elamite giant Khumbaba, who is called

" the strong one who dwells in the dark land of the pine tree,"


" whose weapon was the tempest, which he poured forth from Ids mouth, and he took in his hand the Pierce, at which all men quake."

It is evident to me that these fragments do not come in here, but rather under the month, "the cloudy month," of the Akkadians — the month Kisleu, or " the giant " of the Semites, and sign of Saggitarius.

It was the month of November, the month of the months of thunder, storms, and rain. And Khumbaba, whose name appears to mean " the maker of darkness," poured forth storm from his mouth, and was armed with piercers, at which all men quake. We may safely therefore identify this mythic by the storm and thundercloud, armed with the lightning, hich came sweeping from the mountains of the East, the land of Elam, over the plains. Khumbaba being called an Elamite, here indicates that, at the time when this Epic was compiled, the old nature myths were becoming Ethnic myths, and the war in heaven becoming the national wars of Babylon against her neighbours.

We have several traces of this in the Hebrew writing, such as Shamgar, who slew 600 Philistines with an oxgoad ; Gideon, the hewer-down ; and most of all in the Hebrew Heracles Samson, whose deeds have many parallels in the story of Gizdhubar. Another fact that seems to support this transposition is, that the regent of the month is " Nergal, the War god," and who is called " the mighty hero of the gods ; " and Merodach, as the star of Babylon, is called Alam, "the shadow," as if referring to the clouds.

I shall not therefore, in the face of the mutilated condition of the fragments, attempt to restore in any way the fourth and fifth books. Iii the month Elul or Ulul of the Semites — the "monthly message of the goddess" of the Akkadians, corresponding to our August — the sun had reached the zenith of his power — a time when in Palestine the heat is intense. So now we find Gizdhubar at the zenith of his power when he attracts the eyes of the lustful queen of heaven, the goddess I star ; so in the Sixth Tablet corresponding to the sign of Virgo, we have the story of the proposal of Istar to Gizdhubar. This tablet is fortunately in very good preservation, so one can give some fuller details showing the construction of the Epic.

The hero having put on his crown, the goddess thus addressed him : —

(For the favour of Gizdhubar, the Princess Istar lifted up her eyes) : —
" Kiss me, Gizdhubar, that 1 may marry thee ;
Thy word to me as a bond place also 1
Thou, then, shalt husband me, and I then will wife thee ;
Thou shalt ride in a chariot of crystal and gold,
Of which the body is silver, and splendid its pole.
Thou shalt yoke daily, daily strong mules.
To our house in its fragrance the cedar spreads
To our house at thy entiance.
The Euphrates shall kiss thy feet.
(They shall place) below thee all kings, lords, and princes.
Gifts from mountain and plain they shall bring thee as taxes.
(Thy herds), and flocks of many sheep shall bring forth twins.
The race, thy mules shall be swift.
(Bearing) thee in thy , may they be strong and not weak.
And, in the yoke, equals they have not."

The value of this passage consists in the idea it gives of the position of the ancient chieftain, almost Homeric in character, his income being derived from dues and taxes. There is a bilingual hymn, Assyrian and Akkadian, which gives almost the same words as this, showing how there were royal titles in kind on all objects. Honey and milk flow in the land.

The mountain brings tribute, the plain brings tribute, the fruit-garden brings tribute to the princely king of the land, who has on his right hand the sun, on his left hand the moon (W/A. I., vol. IV., pi. IS, No. 3).

The hero knows, however, the danger of yielding to the love charms of this fickle queen, and tells her that corpses and carrion, disease, and famine form the emblems of her divinity and the insignia of her royalty. He then relates to her with bitter sarcasm her former amours, and here we have preserved a series of minor legends which the compiler of the poem has woven into the Epic. The first referred to is Tarnmuz Adonis. " For Tammuz (Adonis) thy husband, who year by year bewails his enchantment." The association of Tammuz, or Dunuzi, as he is called, the deification of the young summer sun, is brought on in several other passages in the inscriptions.

In one hymn (W. A. I, IV, pi. xxvii., No. 1) we read—

" The princely Lord Tammuz, the husband of Istar."

The epithet here, ueuv bcliv (princely lord), reminds us of the Phoenician title Aclonai, " the lord." The celebration of the annual festival of the marriage of Istar and Tammuz, and the mourning for Tammuz, took place at the summer solstice, and was one of the great festivals of the year, it having spread to Phoenicia, where the celebration took place in the beautiful glen of Aphaca, "the place of weeping," the modern Af ka in the Lebanon ; to Phrygia, where it assumed the form of the mourning for Atys ; and it was one of the forms of idolatry practised in Jerusalem in the time of Ezekiel, where women wept for Tammuz in the north gate of Jerusalem, turning to that evil point where the cold boar's tusk of winter had slain the beloyed youth.

The colophon or rubric attached to that beautiful legend of the descent of Istar into the underworld, one of the most poetic of the Assyrian inscriptions, throws considerable light on the ceremonial of this festival. Here we find Tammuz called " the youthlul husband " of Istar and " my only brother," and the figures of the god and goddess were adorned with robes and jewels and placed on a bier, followed by a crowd of weeping men and women. The hero Gizdhubar now proceeds to enumerate the other loves of the goddess.

Thou dost love Allal the eagle,
Thou didst smite him and break his wings.
He stood in the forest and begged for wings.
Thou didst love a lion full of strength ;
Seven times seven thou didst wound him.
Thou didst love the horse glorious in war ;
He bowed down . . . thou didst afflict him.
Seven times without ceasing thou didst afflict him.
To his mother Sillili, weeping, thou didst afflict him.

In these animal loves of the goddess we have probably stories based on the animals sacred to her. As goddess of war and the chase, both the horse and the lion would be sacred to her. In the story of the horse perhaps we have a reference to the story of the horse in the fable of the ox and the horse, of which I have spoken. We now come to human lovers.

Thou didst love the shepherd Tabulu,
Whom continually thou didst desire offerings.
Each day he offered libations and victims.
Thou didst strike him, and to a jackal thou didst turn him.
The people of his own village drove him out ;
His dogs tore him to pieces.
Thou didst love also Isullanu, the tiller of the soil,
Who constantly his garden stuff brought thee.
Each day he made bright thy dishes.
In thy . . . thou didst bind him.
My Isullanu, thy gathering we will eat,
And wisely enjoy the goodness of thy pot herbs.
Isullanu said to thee,
As for me, why dost thou desire me ?
Oh, mother ! without thou cookest i will not eat.
Thou heardest these things.
Thou didst strike him, and into a pillar thou didst turn him.
Thou didst place him in the midst of a desert.
And moreover many things I could add.
And as for me, if thou lovest me, T like unto these will become.

Here we have the goddess in the character of enchantress and mistress of witchcrafts, like Circe and Hecate. In this portion of the legend she exactly corresponds to the epithets applied to her, as the goddess of Nineveh, by the Hebrew prophet Nahum :

" Because of the multitude of the whoredoms of the well-favoured harlot, the mistress of witchcrafts"

(Nahum iii. 4).

The goddess Hecate, it will be remembered, had a threefold character, sometimes being identified with Silene, in which she would correspond to Istar, as the goddess of the crescent moon ; with Artemis, as the goddess of hunting, she would correspond to Istar, the archeress of the gods ; and with Persephone, in which she may be compared to Istar descending into the underworld. In this tablet we have an early version of the Legend of Actaeon, which is strangely similar to that of Tabulu disowned by his own dogs; and the story of Isullanu resembles rather that of Circe. It is also interesting to notice here the manner in which Tabulu, the shepherd, and Isullanu, the tiller of the soil, are placed in opposition to one another, as we find Cain and Abel in the Hebrew legend of civilisation.

The old feud between the herdsman and the agriculturist so common in ancient mythologies in the myths of civilisation presents itself here. Enraged at his reply, the goddess flees to heaven to the presence of her father Anu — the Chaldean Zeus — and her mother Anunitus, and there relates how Gizdhubar had scorned her, and begs for their divine aid in obtaining vengeance on the hero.

To assist her, a winged bull, called the Bull of Heaven, is created, and sent to earth. Gizdhubar, however, aided by Hea-bani, slays the bull and enters in triumph into Erech. The goddess and her maids who fight against the hero remind us of Omphale and her amazons, or Cybele and the Corybantes. The goddess here appears in her character of Bilat tahhazi, lady of battle, or sometimes " lady of war and conflict." This episode must be placed under the seventh month.

The eighth book is one of particular interest, as we have here a very close agreement between the Chaldean legends and those of the Grecian Heracles.

These tablets relate to the wanderings of Gizdhubar in the desert to the west of Babylonia until he comes to a garden where the trees are covered with jewels as fruit. In this garden live two women, Siduri and Sabilu, with whom the hero converses. The region is guarded by two scorpion-men, of whom the inscription says, " Their crown was the threshold of heaven, and their footing in the underworld, and whose face burned with terribleness, and whose presence was death." It was their duty to guard the rising and setting sun. Here, then, we have a very striking parallel to the story of the journey of Heracles to the garden of the Hesperides. The women correspond to the Hesperides, while the scorpion-men are the representatives of Atlas, who assisted the hero to gather the apples.

It is curious to note that one of the most favourite subjects of the Cypriote seal-engravers was the representation of this garden of the West. The scorpion-men here mentioned enable us to place this legend in its proper place under the sign of Scorpio.

Turning now to the calendar we find Kisleu. The sun has passed the summer solstice and the autumn equinox, and is now waning in power.

As I have already said, under the month Kisleu I should place the story of the combat with Khumbaba to correspond to the month of clouds, the giant and the sign of Sagittarius. During the combat with Khumbaba the faithful companion of Gizdhubar, Hea-bani, the satyr, was slain. For we find the tenth tablet opening with the lamentations of the hero over his beloved companion — " Gizdhubar for Hea-bani his friend wept bitterly and lay on the ground." The bitter lamentations of the hero in the twelfth book lead me to think that in some measure, like Heracles, he was contributory to his companion's death. The hero is now afflicted with the terrible disease of leprosy, loses his hair and wanes in power, and yearns to know the secret of immortality.

This he is told is only known to the translated sage Shamas-napistc, the sun of life, who had survived the Deluge, and had been taken away to dwell in an island at the mouths of the Tigris and Euphrates.

This idea of the sick and weakened sun is common to many mythologies. We have a parallel to it in the illness of Heracles produced by the poisoned robe of Nessus ; also in the loss of strength by Samson when shorn of his hair. To find his way to the Chaldean Noah, he has to take a guide, the Chaldean Charon, Nis Hea, " the man of Hea," the boatman, who will pilot him to the resting-place of the translated sage. The god Hea was the god of the rivers and seas, and one of his titles was " the god of the boatmen." This portion corresponds to the month Tabet, or rainy month of the calendar, — The month of " the going forth on the sea " of the Akkadian calendar. They journey to the island ; and in the eleventh tablet, corresponding to the month of much rain and the month of destruction and the sign of Aquarius, we have the Deluge legend woven into the Epic.

Footnotes and references:


Not Bicvalu, as read by Mr Smith, but a derivative from f/amalu — " perfect. " Emuki.

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