The Myth-Making Outlook of the Ancient Near East


Personification of Natural Objects


The following excerpts from Mesopotamian literature are examples of personification. While we regard table salt as an ordinary mineral, to the Mesopotamians it was alive, a fellow being. In one passage, a person appeals to salt to end his bewitchment. In the second, an afflicted person who believes himself bewitched calls on fire to destroy his enemies.



O Salt, crested in a clean place,

For food of gods did Enlil [father of the  

Sumerian gods) destine thee.
Without thee no meal is set out in Ekur,
thee god, king, lord, and prince do
not smell incense.

I am so-and-so, the son of so-and-so,
Held captive by enchantment,
Held in fever by bewitchment.
O Salt, break my enchantment! Loose my spell!

Take from me the bewitchment.—And as My

I shall extol thee.


Scorching Fire, warlike son of Heaven,

Thou, the fiercest of thy brethren,

Who like Moon and Sun decide lawsuits— Judge thou my case, hand down the verdict.

Born the man and woman who bewitched me;

Burn, O Fire, the man and woman who be-

witched me;

Scorch, O Fire, the man and woman who bewitched me;

Burn them, O Fire;

Scorch them, O Fire;

Take hold of them, O Fire;

Consume them, O Fire;

Destroy them, O Fire.





The Mesopotamian creation epic Enuma Elish, (Poem of Creation) is another example of mythical thinking. Marduk, the chief god of Babylon, slays Tiamat, a primal mother identified with the salt sea, and then proceeds to construct the cosmos from her carcass.


"Stand thou up, that land thou meet in

single combat!"

When Tiamat heard this,

She was like one possessed; she took leave of her senses.

In fury Tiamat cried out aloud.

To the roots her legs shook both together. She recites a charm, keeps casting her spell,
While the gods of battle sharpen their weapons.

Then joined issue Tiamat and Marduk, wisest of gods.


They strove in single combat, locked in battle.

The lord spread out his net to enfold her.
The Evil Wind, which followed behind, he let

loose in her flee.

When Tiamat opened her mouth to consume him,

He drove in the Evil Wind that she close not her lips.

As the fierce winds charged her belly,
body was distended and her mouth was

wide open.


He released the arrow, it tore her belly

It cut through her insides, splitting the heart,

Having thus subdued her, he extinguished her life.

He cast down her carcass to stand upon it.

After he had slain Tiamar, the leader,

Her band was shattered, her troupe broken up;

And the gods, her helpers who marched at her


Trembling with terror, turned their backs about,

In order to save and preserve their lives,

Tightly encircled, they could not escape..

He made them captives and he smashed their weapons.

Thrown into the net, they found themselves ensnared;

Plated in cells, they were filled with wailing;

Bearing his wrath, they were held imprisoned.


When he had vanquished and subdued his

adversaries. . . .

[Marduk] turned back to Tiamat whom he had


The lord trod on the legs of Tiamat,

With his unsparing mace he crushed her skull.

When the arteries of her blood he had severed,

The North Wind bore (it) to plates undisclosed.

On seeing this, his fathers were joyful and jubilant,

They brought gifts of homage, they to him.

Then the lord paused to view her dead body,


That he might divide the monster and do artful


He split her like a shellfish into two parts:

Half of her he set up and ceiled it as sky,

Pulled down the bar and posted guards.

He bade them to allow not her waters to escape.

He crossed the heavens and surveyed the regions,


[There] He constructed stations for the great gods.

Fixing their astral likenesses as constellations.

He determined the year by designating the


He set up three constellations for each of the

twelve months.


In her [Tiamat’s] belly he established the zenith.

The Moon he caused to shine, the night (to

him) entrusting.

He appointed him a creature of the night to

signify the days.

When Marduk hears the words of the gods.

His heart prompts (him) to fashion artful works.

Opening his mouth, he addressed [the god] Ea

To impart the plan he had conceived in his


"Blood I will mass and cause bones to be.

I will establish a savage, ‘man’ shall be his


Verily, savage man I will create.

He shall be charged with the service of the gods

That they might be at ease!"