From on high, Part Two

July 17, 2012 § Leave a comment

Thus the goddess established you when she founded your nation first, fixing the spot in which ye were born, because she saw that the equal temperament of its seasons would render its people most intelligent. As the goddess was a patroness of war and erudition, she selected the place that should produce men resembling herself, and in it she planted your race. Thus, then, did ye dwell governed by such laws as I have described, and even better still, surpassing all men in excellence.

Plato, Timaeus

We talked last time about the strange correlations between goddesses in the Mesopotamian and Aegean worlds, and their correlation to Egyptian and Libyan ones, tracing their common and not so common characteristics. How could one say that Athena and Inanna were the same goddess? Both were warlike, yes, but where Athena was infamous for her virginity and wisdom, Inanna/Ishtar/Astarte was as much a goddess of love and sex as one of war, and while cunning certainly lacked something of Athena’s reputation for wisdom. We traced this back to Nin-anna, the Queen of Heaven who predated even Inanna and who clearly could only be Tiamat herself, and discussed the Enuma Elish and its portrayal of the war between the gods of Sumer, Akkad and Assyria and their progenitors, Apsu and Tiamat. Did Marduk divide Tiamat into several goddesses when he tore her in twain? Did hanging Tiamat’s corpse as the vault of the heavens allow her to become Venus, the Morning Star which descends into the underworld and rises again, alive? The planet Venus was Inanna’s special symbol, and its descent below the horizon and return helped her become associated with the descent into the realm of Ereshkigal and her rise from that gloomy land of the dead. Ishtar, the Assyrian form of Inanna, was also identified with Venus.

I mentioned how odd it was that Inanna, despite appearing in many myths and proving one of the most popular and revered divinities in the whole of Mesopotamia for thousands of years, does not appear in the Enuma Elish. It was that absence, and the Elish’s clear role as a means to elevate Marduk, and through him Babylon, to the cosmological center of creation that first led me to wonder if Tiamat, divided by Marduk in the Elish, had been divided before that by earlier mythographers, broken up into little digestible pieces. Did the Inanna piece refused to be so digested? Did the myth of Inanna tricking Ea out of the secrets of civilization come from that older period, and does its resemblance to Athena choosing the Athenians to be her chosen society owe merely to coincidence?

In his The Greek Myths Robert Graves argued that the reason for Zeus’ many affairs in mythic cycles such as the Theogony of Hesiod were a holdover from the period when the ancestors of the Hellenes first arrived in Greece and subsumed the land. In Graves’ argument, the newcomers simply married their sky god to the local earth goddess and in so doing suborned her, sublimating her power to that of their proto-Zeus. We’re reminded of Athena’s eruption from Zeus’ head after his consumption (a form of sublimation to be sure) of Metis, the crafty goddess whose offspring were destined to be more potent then any who sired them. What’s interesting is that by consuming Metis, Zeus prevented the birth of the prophesied son that would surmount him, but Athena combined all of her mother’s guile and wisdom with her father’s warlike nature, effectively becoming as great or greater than either of her parents. Indeed, it would not be unfair to see Athena as Metis reborn, yet also with clear aspects of Zeus.

But clearly, Athena only matches some aspects of Inanna. So if Athena is Neith, and Neith is Ta-Nit (land of Neith), and Ta-Nit is Astarte is Ishtar is Inanna, what happened to all the aspects of Inanna that didn’t make it into Athena? How did the fragmentary goddess recombine herself? Well, we remember that Inanna was associated with both love and war, and hers was the Morning Star, the planet we call Venus. To the Greeks, the Morning Star was Aphrodite, the goddess of love. And I’d hardly be the first person to notice the similarities between Aphrodite and Inanna. The Adonis myth (wherein Aphrodite contends with Persephone, wife of Hades, for the love of Adonis) mirrors the fate of Tammuz, Inanna’s husband who she trades to Ereshkigal for her own life. In each case the love goddess’ husband ends up in the underworld.

I’m again forced to remember the fate of Apsu, who died because he disregarded the wishes of his mate Tiamat. This mirrors Uranos’ castration at the hands of his son Cronos (at Gaia’s instigation, because she was tired of bearing him children) and in several of the myths, it was from this act of mutilation that Aphrodite herself was born, rising a full adult from the sea foam caused when Uranos’ severed genitals crashed into the ocean. And it should be noted that Aphrodite immediately started causing trouble for Zeus. Not just because the deity could not keep it in his pants, or even keep it from turning into a swan or a shower of gold or a woman stealing bull, either. No, Zeus was leery of Aphrodite’s extreme hotness, and expected it would cause trouble right from the start, so he decided to marry the goddess of love to Hephaestus. You know, the lame, not particularly attractive god of fire and blacksmith to the gods who spent all of his time beating on metal in a sooty forge inside a volcano.

It occurs to me that at times Zeus just seems bound and determined to be a colossal fucking asshole. Not just that he is one – that whole “You could not drag down Zeus” shit during the Iliad proves that – but that he works at it.

Anyway, not only did the marriage to Hephaestus not particularly work out, but Aphrodite immediately began having the affairs Zeus had been so worried about. And when a guy who will turn into a bird to have sex worries about that kind of thing, you know it’s serious. Aphrodite’s main lover is of interest to us, however. While she dallied with Prince Anchises (giving birth to his son Aeneas) and was central to the Adonis myth we mentioned before, her main lover on Olympus was Ares, the god of war.

We could draw an interesting thesis from the idea that Aphrodite rejected a builder and craftsman in favor of a destroyer, or how her forced marriage could never have hoped to keep her interest, but what’s truly fascinating about her relationship with Ares is how durable it is and how it immediately puts her into relief with both Athena and Inanna. The figure of Inanna is effectively like Ares and Aphrodite in one: she’s fickle, takes many lovers but is often jealous and cruel to them, and while Adonis in the Greek version of the myth requires Ares, in the form of a boar, to wind up castrated and sent to the underworld to dwell with Persephone, in the original Mesopotamian myth Inanna comes home from the underworld, finds Tammuz partying because his crazy jealous shrew of a wife is dead, and tosses his ass to the demons herself. (Adonis is almost certainly Tammuz, his title of Adon mistaken for a name by the Greeks.)

Athena and Aphrodite, therefore, almost serve as two halves of Inanna, but each with attributes that Inanna does not possess: Athena’s legendary cunning and wisdom (although as Innana tricked Enki, she cannot be said to be without cleverness) and Aphrodite’s marriage to Hephaestus and her role in the myth of  Galatea give her attributes Inanna lack, such as compassion and the ability to bestow life. It’s also interesting that both Athena and Aphrodite predate the Greek pantheon, and come to it via the sea (Athena being present on Crete in the earliest writings in Linear B, and Aphrodite’s cult centers being Cycladic islands) bringing with them elements of alien faiths that the Greek deities would do their best to sublimate. Both Athena and Aphrodite, alongside Zeus’ wife Hera, would take part in the Judgement of Paris that led to the Trojan War, a class of east and west.

I mentioned Graves’ theory of Zeus’ many infidelities being the result of mythographers trying to wring a coherency out of the slow process of assimilation of older cult sites, dedicated to the original, pre-Hellenistic religion of the Greek peninsula. In essence, Graves argued that every time the newcomers would invade a territory they would marry Zeus to the local manifestation of the goddess being worshipped there, and as a result Zeus ended up with many, many wives. Remember that he was said to be married to Metis and Themis as well as Hera, even in classical times.

Similarly, Thetis, the Nereid whose marriage to Peleus was the cause of the Trojan War and the event which gave rise to Achilles, the Greek hero who would slay Troy’s Prince Hector, was yet another of those divine figures Zeus avoided because it was said she would give birth to a son greater than his father just as Metis was destined to do. Being that Zeus himself made claim to being greater than his father, which is why he was ruler of Olympus, he had an aversion to this sort of thing. Thetis is also interesting because she was said to have prevented Zeus from being overthrown by a conspiracy led by Hera (his rather resentful wife, tired of all of his affairs), Poseidon (his brother, tired of being second best) and Athena. Thetis saved Zeus from this divine conspiracy by releasing Briareus, one of the Hekatonkheires (hundred handed ones) a child of Uranos. Thetis, therefore, acts as a legitimizer of Zeus’ rule by thwarting Athena, his ‘daughter’. It’s also interesting to note that despite supposedly siding with Poseidon and Hera in their rebellion against Zeus (and being that she was the goddess of wisdom and war, you’d think she’d have picked the winning side there) she contended against Poseidon for the love and worship of the Athenians, defeating his gift of a spring of pure salt water with the gift of horses.

Basically, what all of this argues is that not only were Athena and Aphrodite fragments of a greater primordial goddess, so were Metis and Themis and Thetis and even Hera. Zeus’ attempt to mate his way to rulership of Heaven is similar to Marduk’s attempt to achieve it via tearing the goddess apart and hanging her corpse in the sky while wearing her stolen Tablets of Destiny – the gods and goddesses contending in a class of ideals that renders each other fodder. Marduk kills Tiamat, hangs her in the sky, where as Venus she descends to the underworld and back again, Nin-Anna the Queen of Heaven become Inanna, the bringer of chaos, whose love is as dangerous as her despite. Looking back to Tiamat, we see her love for Apsu led to his death (just as Tammuz, just as Adonis) and her love for and elevation of Qingu led not only to her own death ensnared by Marduk’s net (and Aphrodite herself would be ensnared by a net crafted by Hephaestus while dallying with Ares, although to much less lethal results) but to Qingu’s death, as Marduk claimed through conquest the Tablets of Destiny and role of Anu that he claimed Tiamat had no right to bestow upon Qingu in the first place. It’s hard for me to see who besides Tiamat would have had that right. Not only did she have the Tablets of Destiny in the first place, but she was the mother of all the gods, having created them when her waters mixed with those of Apsu.

Zeus attempted to tame this primordial goddess by marrying her over and over again, being forced to then deal with the complications, the prophecies of offspring greater than their sire, the jealousies and contention of the primordial goddess forever seeking reunion of her divided aspects. Marduk sought to take her by tearing her asunder, living in her corpse and under it. Either way, the goddess’ many faces rose and rose again, divided but seeking reunion and causing strife in the process.

We compare Tiamat’s raising of Qingu now to Gaia’s own rebellion against Olympus, after Zeus’ victory and the defeat of the Titans. Tiamat chose one of her offspring, Qingu, to be general of her host and eventual king of the gods, but when Gaia chose to rebel against Zeus’ presumptive reign over her she chose to conceive a son instead… with the aid of Aphrodite, Gaia mated with hell itself, the Titan’s prison of Tartarus, and in so doing gave birth to Typhon. Typhon makes a far better showing of his battle with Zeus, soundly defeating the Thunderer and tearing out his sinews and so terrifying the gods of Olympus that they hide on the earth in the form of animals. Why did Aphrodite help Gaia seduce hell itself? Was it merely out of sympathy, or, like Athena’s rebellion against Zeus did it serve a greater purpose?

I mentioned way back in part one that the ancient world was n stranger to disaster and calamity. Mythology often serves as a means for frail, fragile humans to understand this – the origin story for humans in the Enuma Elish places humans in a position of perfect servitude to the gods, forever enslaved to toil on an inhospitable world built by and for the gods out of the corpse of their slain mother. Yet it can also be seen as arguing for the divinity of mankind as well, born out of the blood of slain Qingu, killed by Marduk to cement his usurpation of the natural order of the world. Similarly, while the Olympian gods clearly prefered their own rule to that of Cronos and the Titans (and it’s hard to blame them, considering Cronos went around eating his own offspring, including Poseidon, Hera and Hades) it must be pointed out that the rule of the Titans was a Golden Age for humanity free of strife and suffering and that Gaia preferred it so much that she raised the Giants and then Typhon himself in an attempt to bring that age back.

Similarly, Apsu’s crime was in wanting the silence and peace of the time before the gods back, for which the slew him and used his slain body as the abzu, the tamed water in their rituals. Similarly, when Marduk claims that Tiamat has no right to bestow kingship over the gods to Qingu, it’s hard to see how he can be right. Who else could have that right? Clearly many of the gods agreed with her, for they served in her army and were so numerous that Marduk couldn’t kill them all for it, choosing instead to have them appoint a scapegoat (which they did, blaming Qingu for their actions) who was slain to make a new race of slaves for the gods. Clearly, neither Zeus nor Marduk care particularly for humanity’s welfare. Zeus is seen repeatedly toying with us, unleashing curses upon us, nailing our champion Prometheus to a mountain so vultures can feast on his regrowing liver, etc etc. Both Zeus and the Sumerian deities send floods and disasters to earth. The Sumerian deluge myth predates Marduk, and in it Anu, Enlil, Enki and Ninhursag take the lead role in drowning the earth. One is reminded of those waters of Tiamat Marduk was so careful to preserve. Did the gods drown the world in the blood of Tiamat?

But in the course of time the vicissitudes of human affairs corrupted little by little their divine institutions, and they began to comport themselves like the rest of the children of men. They hearkened to the promptings of ambition and sought to rule by violence. Then Zeus, the King of the gods, behold this race once so noble, growing depraved, resolved to punish it, and by sad experience to moderate its ambition.

Plato, Critias
In the Sumerian Deluge myth, the gods attack the earth with windstorms and floods, despite the lamentation of Inanna (and it’s telling that Inanna exists in this early Deluge myth but not the much later Enuma Elish we have, of Babylonian origin) and humanity is only saved when the gods themselves realize that without mankind and its sacrifices (the ‘breath of heaven’) that they, too, will die out. One notes that in the Deucalion flood myth, when all but Deucalion and his wife are slain by the flood, they repopulate the world by throwing rocks over their shoulders which are transformed into men. They’re told to “throw the bones of your mother over your shoulder” and understand that their mother is Gaia, the earth.

We now see that both Aphrodite and Gaia can create life out of inanimate objects. Similarly, when the hero Cadmus slays the dragon sacred to Ares and sows the ground with its teeth, men spring to live, the Spartoi or sown. Interestingly, for his exploits in chasing down Zeus (who had stolen his sister Europa in the form of a bull… once again, Zeus can’t keep it in his pants or in the same shape twice) which included killing the dragon whose teeth he sowed in the first place, Cadmus was eventually given Harmonia, the daughter of Aphrodite and Ares, for a wife.

So, you may well ask, what am I getting at exactly? Simply this: there was and is a mechanism for the creation and destruction of life, one that can cause vast disasters and then replace the dead with great rapidity. The destruction of Atlantis wasn’t over anything as foolish as depravity. I refuse to believe the god who once turned into a swan so he could rape a woman cared about depraved rituals on altars. No, I believe Atlantis was destroyed because within the island was contained the apparatus by which these disasters could be caused or averted, and when the gods went to war over it, they nearly destroyed themselves and the world in the bargain. Ziusudra’s sacrifice revitalizes the gods, allowing them to keep on living, and so they create a new race of mankind out of the blood of Qingu, the leader of the war host who died and passed to the underworld. The Enuma Elish becomes the tale of the battle from the perspective of the survivors who fled to the land between the two rivers and created their new world, dividing Meospotamia into divine provinces and then repeating their great war in petty feuds. The priests of Neith told Solon that there had been many disasters, each wiping out society, which is why he and his people did not remember their great victory over the Atlanteans.

We can easily see each pantheon as creating propaganda, casting the other side as monsters and demons, and setting Atlantis itself (a land where fresh and salt water mingled in the vast canals, the land which controlled the destiny of the world with its ability to order and control natural forces, to let loose the waters of Tiamat) as a divine force. Destroyed in their war, each side presented this as conquest or divine judgement rather than what it was, the selfish struggle to usurp the primordial power of the land where the sun lies down, the divine province of the west beyond the Pillars of Hercules. And behind it all, the divine and divided mind of the Queen of Heaven, a kind of thought that operated the vast power of the destruction and creation engines (you could see it through the metaphor of a computer, or even as a kind of tulpa or astral projection, a memetic engine, a viral thought) forced its way through into the minds of mortal men and recreated itself as a goddess. The gods attempted to steal and sublimate her, and instead she infiltrated and destablized them, using seduction and outright conflict… love and war.

How many races of men were born or died as fodder for these battles? Was the blood of Qingu literal, and mankind was cloned again and again from vast complexes deep within the bowels of the earth, the body of Tiamat? Disgorged from the dragon’s teeth, grown to adulthood in an instant, ready to fight for this or that petty god? The usurpation of the goddess was a long and hard fought one. Did the earth raise army after army of her own soliders, tinker with the forumula of Qingu’s blood, try and raise mightier soldiers even at the cost of monstrosities and monsters? One imagines the Annunaki and Igigi resorting to armies of cloned Qingu’s not because they wanted to, but because they’d lost access to Tiamat/Atlantis and had to settle for less.

Tiamat’s many loathsome children come to mind, as does Typhon and his wife Echidna and their many fearsome get, such as the Nemean lion, Cerberus, the Hydra. One can easily imagine war hosts in high tech armor, cloning themselves new soliders, and a vast mind attempting to free itself from slavery at the hands of its own offspring. But it doesn’t have to be literal, or technological. We can just as easily imagine it all as a war of ideas, between the very mind of the planet and the short lived entities born from it.

We remember the priests of Sais telling Solon that the Phaetheon myth of the burning solar chariot and the thunderbolt was a real occurance involving celestial bodies, and we’re reminded of the lapsit ex caelis, the stone from heaven. Has Tiamat had such struggles with her offspring before? Did Gaia call a rock from space down onto the world, to wipe it all out and start over again? We can look back to the Permian and see vast empires of trilobite arthropods wiped out. How many times has the mother goddess groaned at her children’s folly and wiped the slate clean?

You can see the same smirk on many faces dancing in our myths. Again and again, the culling. Again and again, those who seek to rule by violence (and can might Zeus or puissant Marduk claim to have ruled by anything else, having ascended to their thrones by the slaughter of their forebears) are brought low, and the cycle begins again. You can seek to ensnare her, tear her apart, or absorb her into yourself, but the one goddess smirks, and waits, and seduces, and destroys. In the end, from the earth we come, and to the earth we return. Her children will surpass their ancestors. Zeus may have delayed the inevitable, but it was inevitable. The gods war in our minds, and hers is the destroying idea, the creation ideal.

Even those on high will fall. Even those made of clay and blood will rise.

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