Atrahasis by Ipiq-Aya.

Noah's Ark on Mount Ararat by Simon de Myle (1570).

One of the oldest stories there is is that of the Flood. The most famous version is in Genesis chapters 6 - 9 in which God wipes the slate clean so to speak; displeased with mankind he sends a great flood killing everyone with the exception of Noah and his family:
11 The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence.
12 And God looked upon the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth.
13 And God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth.
14 Make thee an ark of gopher wood; rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch.
15 And this is the fashion which thou shalt make it of: The length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits, the breadth of it fifty cubits, and the height of it thirty cubits.
16 A window shalt thou make to the ark, and in a cubit shalt thou finish it above; and the door of the ark shalt thou set in the side thereof; with lower, second, and third stories shalt thou make it.
17 And, behold, I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of life, from under heaven; and every thing that is in the earth shall die.
18 But with thee will I establish my covenant; and thou shalt come into the ark, thou, and thy sons, and thy wife, and thy sons' wives with thee.
19 And of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee; they shall be male and female.
20 Of fowls after their kind, and of cattle after their kind, of every creeping thing of the earth after his kind, two of every sort shall come unto thee, to keep them alive
21 And take thou unto thee of all food that is eaten, and thou shalt gather it to thee; and it shall be for food for thee, and for them.
22 Thus did Noah; according to all that God commanded him, so did he.
The Great Flood (c. 1450-99).
The Flood appears in other literature too: in Book I of Ovid's Metamorphoses for example Jupiter wishes for a new and superior race and he sent a great flood:
The corn was flattened; the farmer wept for his wasted prayers;
and all the fruits of a long year's labour were gone to no purpose.
Jupiter's anger did not stop short in the sky, his own kingdom;
Neptune the sea god deployed his waters to aid his brother.
He summoned the rivers and, when they arrived at their master's palace,
he spoke to the meeting: 'No need for a lengthy harangue,'
he said;
'Pour forth in the strength that is yours - it is needed! Open
the floodgates,
down with the barriers, give full reign to the steeds of your streams!'
He had spoken.
It's also found in Plato's Laws, Hesiod's Theogony, and in a great many other places too, one of the oldest being in The Epic of Gilgamesh which pre-dates Genesis by several hundred years. Another version that pre-dates Genesis is Atrahasis.

Atrahasis (also known as Atra-Hasis) is an 18th - 17th Century B.C. epic that tells the story of Atrahesis, perhaps a king of Shuruppak (in modern day Iraq), that was recorded on clay tablets. There are three major themes in it: the creation of man, the concern of the gods with overpopulation, and of course the flood.

As in Genesis, and indeed Hesiod, Ovid, and many other ancients, mankind was made from clay. Man was made to relieve the duties of the gods:
Far-sighted Enki and wise Mami
Went into the room of fate.
The womb-goddess assembled.
He trod the clay in her presence;
She kept reciting an incantation,
For Enki, staying in her presence, made her recite it.
When she had finished her incantation,
She pinched off fourteen pieces (of clay),
(And set) seven pieces on the right,
Seven on the left.
Between them she put down a mud brick.
She made use of a reed, opened it to cut the umbilical cord,
Called up the wise and knowledgeable
Womb-goddnesses, seven and seven.
Seven created males,
Seven created females,
For the womb-goddess (is) creator of fate.
But 600 years pass and the ever-increasing humans begin to get on the Ellil's (a god) nerves:
600 years, less than 600, passed,
And the country became too wide, the people too numerous.
The country was as noisy as a bellowing bull.
The God grew restless at their racket,
Ellil had to listen to their noise.
He addressed the great gods,
'The noise of mankind has become too much,
I am losing sleep over their racket.
Give the order that šuruppu-disease shall break out, ...
The tablet on which is inscribed the Atrahasis epic.
Sending disease and famine does not work, however, so Ellil decides to send a great flood. Meanwhile however Atrahasis, whose name means "extremely wise"), has proved himself to be a good and faithful man to the god Ea (also known as Enki). Ea therefore warns Atrahasis of the disaster to come and instructs him to build a boat:
'... Roof it like the Apsu
So that the Sun cannot see inside it!
Make the upper decks and lower decks.
The tackle must be very strong,
The bitumen strong, to give you strength.
I shall make a rain fall on you here,
A wealth of birds, a hamper of fish.'
He opened the sand clock and filled it,
He told him the sand (needed) for the Flood was
Seven nights' worth.
Atrahasis received the message.
He gathered the elders at his door...
And so Atrahasis and his family survive as "The Flood roared like a bull". Ellil is furious that humans have survived but then the two decide on other ways to control the population:
... let there be one-third of the people,
Among the people the woman gives birth yet does
Not give birth (successfully);
Let there be the pašittu-demon among the people,
To snatch the baby from its mother's lap...
It ends, with 8 lines missing at the beginning of the column,
How we sent the Flood.
But a man survived the catastrophe.
You are the counsellor of the gods;
On your orders I created the conflict.
Let the Igigi listen to this song
In order to praise you,
And let them record your greatness.
I shall sing of the Flood to all people:
It is, as with the Epic of Gilgamesh, a rather moving read. There's something almost frightening in reading something so very old and seeing familiar themes: faith, disaster, survival, even over-population. It's also quite astonishing that it is known who wrote it: Ipiq-Aya, in his words at the end of the tablet, a "junior scribe". It is not known how much of himself and his interpretation is in the text, but all the same it is still all very impressive.


This was from the first chapter of Myths from Mesopotamia translated by Stephanie Dalley (Oxford World Classics, 1989). The next chapter is The Epic of Gilgamesh, which I've read recently, and then The Descent of Ishtar to the Underworld, which I intend to read later this week.


  1. !! amazing pictures! there's some geological evidence that a great flood swept over the Mediterranean area sometime before 10k BC... having to do with the blocking of the Bosphorus with an ice dam that suddenly gave way: like the Bretz floods that drowned the Columbia River gorge several times at the end of the last ice age...

    1. Interesting. Of course one wonders if there was a real-life event that inspired it, or if they were simply wondering "what if?"...

  2. i really liked the mouse sneaking out the back door in the first painting...

    1. Your eyesight's better than mine, I can't see it!

    2. it's at the very back of the boat, scurrying down where the tiller normally sticks out...

    3. Oh yes! Well spotted! :D


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