The Babylonian Creation Myth

This poem was written in the 12th century BC, but the myths on which it was based date back to ancient Sumer. The most complete text was found on seven clay tablets. Below is a translation from Tablet IV which tells of the great battle between the sky god Marduk and the earth goddess Tiamat.

Tablet IV

They set up a throne for Marduk and he sat down facing his forefathers to receive the government. 'One god is greater than all great gods, a fairer fame, the word of command, the word from heaven, O Marduk, greater than all great gods, the honor and the fame, the will of Anu, great command, unaltering and eternal word! Where there is action the first to act, where there is government the first to govern; to glorify some, to humiliate some, that is the gift of the god, Truth absolute, unbounded will; which god dares question it? In their beautiful places a place is kept for you, Marduk, our avenger. 'We have called you here to receive the scepter, to make you king of the whole universe. When you sit down in the Synod you are the arbiter; in the battle your weapon crushes the enemy. 'Lord, save the life of any god who turns to you; but as for the one who grasped evil, from that one let his life drain out.' They conjured then a kind of apparition and made it appear in front of him, and they said to Marduk, the first-born son, 'Lord, your word among the gods arbitrates, destroys, creates: then speak and this apparition will disappear. Speak again, again it will appear.' He spoke and the apparition disappeared. Again he spoke and it appeared again. When the gods had proved his word they blessed him and cried, 'MARDUK IS KING!'

They robed him in robes of a king, the scepter and the throne they gave him, and matchless war-weapons as a shield against the adversary. 'Be off. Slit life from Tiamat, and may the winds carry her blood to the world's secret ends.'

The old gods had assigned to Bel what he would be and what he should do, always conquering, always succeeding; Then Marduk made a bow and strung it to be his own weapon, he set the arrow against the bow-string, in his right hand he grasped the mace and lifted it up, bow and quiver hung at his side, lightnings played in front of him, he was altogether an incandescence. He netted a net, a snare for Tiamat; the winds from their quarters held it, south wind, north, east wind, west, and no part of Tiamat could escape.

With the net, the gift of Anu, held close to his side, he himself raised up IMHULLU the atrocious wind, the tempest, the whirlwind, the hurricane, the wind of four and the wind of seven, the tumid wind worst of all. All seven winds were created and released to savage the guts of Tiamat, they towered behind him. Then the tornado ABUBA his last great ally, the signal for assault, he lifted up. He mounted the storm, his terrible chariot, reins hitched to the side, yoked four in hand the appalling team, sharp poisoned teeth, the Killer, the Pitiless, Trampler, Haste, they knew arts of plunder, skills of murder. He posted on his right the Batterer, best in the mle; on his left the Battle-fury that blasts the bravest, lapped in this armor, a leaping terror, a ghastly aureole; with a magic word clenched between his lips, a healing plant pressed in his palm, this lord struck out.

He took his route towards the rising sound of Tiamat's rage, and all the gods besides, the fathers of the gods pressed in around him, and the lord approached Tiamat. He surveyed her scanning the Deep, he sounded the plan of Kingu her consort; but so soon as Kingu sees him he falters, flusters, and the friendly gods who filled the ranks beside him- when they saw the brave hero, their eyes suddenly blurred.

But Tiamat without turning her neck roared, spitting defiance from bitter lips, 'Upstart, do you think yourself too great? Are they scurrying now from their holes to yours?' Then the lord raised the hurricane, the great weapon he flung his words at the termagant fury, 'Why are you rising, your pride vaulting, your heart set on faction, so that sons reject fathers? Mother of all, why did you have to mother war? 'You made that bungler your husband, Kingu! You gave him the rank, not his by right, of Anu. You have abused the gods my ancestors, in bitter malevolence you threaten Anshar, the king of all the gods. 'You have marshaled forces for battle, prepared the war-tackle. Stand up alone and we will fight it you, you and I alone in battle.'

When Tiamat heard him her wits scattered, she was possessed and shrieked aloud, her legs shook from the crotch down, she gabbled spells, muttered maledictions, while the gods of war sharpened their weapons. Then they met: Marduk, that cleverest of gods, and Tiamat grappled alone in singled fight. The lord shot his net to entangle Tiamat, and the pursuing tumid wind, Imhullu, came from behind and beat in her face. When the mouth gaped open to suck him down he drove Imhullu in, so that the mouth would not shut but wind raged through her belly; her carcass blown up, tumescent.

She gaped- And now he shot the arrow that split the belly, that pierced the gut and cut the womb. Now that the Lord had conquered Tiamat he ended her life, he flung her down and straddled the carcass; the leader was killed, Tiamat was dead, her rout was shattered, her band dispersed.

Those gods who had marched beside her now quaked in terror, and to save their own lives, if they could, they turned their backs on danger But they were surrounded, held in a tight circle, and there was no way out. He smashed their weapons and tossed them into the net; they found themselves inside the snare, they wept in holes and hid in corners suffering the wrath of god. When they resisted he put in chains the eleven monsters, Tiamat's unholy brood, and all their murderous armament. The demoniac band that has marched in front of her he trampled in the ground.

But Kingu the usurper, he chief of them, he bound and made death's god. He took the Tables of Fate, usurped without right, and sealed them with his seal to wear on his own breast. When it was accomplished, the adversary vanquished, the haughty enemy humiliated; when the triumph of Anshar was accomplished on the enemy, and the will of Nudimmud was fulfilled, then brave Marduk tightened the ropes of the prisoners. He turned back to where Tiamat lay bound, he straddled the legs and smashed her skull (for the mace was merciless), he severed the arteries and the blood streamed down the north wind to the unknown ends of the world.

When the gods saw all this they laughed out loud, and they sent him presents. They sent him their thankful tributes. The lord rested; he gazed at the huge body, pondering how to use it, what to create from the dead carcass. He split it apart like a cockle-shell; with the upper half he constructed the arc of sky, he pulled down the bar and set a watch on the waters, so they should never escape. He crossed the sky to survey the infinite distance; he station himself above apsu, that apsu built by Nudimmud over the old abyss which now he surveyed, measuring out and marking in. He stretched the immensity of the firmament, he made Esharra, the Great Palace, to be its earthly image, and Anu and Enlil and Ea had each their right stations.