Ever since the world was made, there have been people wondering how it happened. Well that's not quite true, but you get the point. We all have our different beliefs of how we came to exist on this little blue planet, forming a tonne of crazy stories. Whether it's a God and their very busy week, a dad that just can't stop eating his kids, or a massive space explosion from a swirling mass of nothingness, it's been a pretty wacky ride for the human understanding of how our home planet came to be. Today I want to talk about one of the absolute earliest ones, dating back around 4000 years, originally told in a place called Babylon, but also a fave of the Assyrians. It's a pretty fun story, and a great place to start if you want to understand what kind of tales they used to tell back in ancient Mesopotamia - full of a whole heap of guts and glory. It's called the Enuma Elish, named after the first two words of the epic, which roughly translates to 'when on high', but some people also call it the Seven Tablets of Creation, because it's a story about creation, written on (you guessed it) seven tablets. Imaginative? Not even a little bit. But it's a really great story.
Ready for a wild ride? Strap in and strap on, it's gonna be crazy.
In the beginning, there was water. That was it. A whole load of water. Everywhere you looked, more water. Just a heck of a lot of water. Can't imagine it? Just think of a swimming pool, then delete everything else from the picture and that's basically our ancient Mesopotamian original earth vol. 1.
But then one day, that water started moving. The ocean seethed and bubbled until suddenly, in a massive crash of waves, it split in two, forming some sweet-ass fresh water on one side, and super salty water on the other.
From the lovely super clean fresh water, came a god called Apsu, and from the salty water came a goddess called Tiamat (remember her - she's pretty important).
There’s literally nothing in this place except water. Just these two gods in a planet sized swimming pool. There's only so much Mesopotamian Marco Polo you can play before all this water just kind of gets a bit old. But hey, if there's nothing else to do, why not just do each other? So that's what Tiamat and Apsu decide to do. And after some sacred shenanigans, out pop Lahmu and Lahamu. Now this is where it all starts to get a bit Game-of-Thrones-y, you know, that 'incest is always best' attitude. Lahmu and Lahamu, despite being BROTHER AND SISTER, follow in their parents footsteps, and have some special cuddles. Anshar and Kishar are born, in yet another wonderfully convenient incest ready pairing, but unfortunately they only have the one kid, Anu. Luckily for everyone, Anu isn't about to let his lack of a sister hold him up, and he creates his own kid - Ea.
Now Ea is a bit of a mad lad, and he decides to change up the narrative, leaving the incest for his grandparents. You see, Ea's all about the good times, and he decides to throw an absolute rager every night, partying with all his relatives. But, like a first year in freshers’ week, he’s not too bothered about the noise they’re making, or about keeping people up. But over in a different corner of the divine swimming pool that is their world, Tiamat and Apsu are too old for this nonsense, they can’t sleep, and they're getting pretty mad about it.
And when I say pretty mad, I mean really mad. Apsu can't remember the last time he slept, and like I’m sure we’ve all done, he decides the only way to stop the noise is probably to kill some people. Now Tiamat surprisingly isn’t down with killing her children, grandchildren, great-grandchild, and great-great-grandchild, so she goes to Ea and warns him that Apsu is planning on killing them all, so he can finally get some sleep. Now Ea finds himself in a bit of a conundrum, and starts thinking long and hard about all the ways he could prevent a murder. And he's got it!! Forget quietening down, everyone knows the best way to stop a murder, is to murder someone.
And that's exactly what Ea does. He puts old Apsu to sleep like Apsu always wanted - hey maybe this Ea's not actually a bad guy!! Oh but then he kills him. A pretty permanent sleep for Apsu then.
After Ea kills Apsu, he feels pretty pleased with himself and decides that he should be the head of the gods (because who's gonna say no to Ea, the big old murderer), and gets himself a wife, Damkina, and a baby, Marduk. And hey! Let's celebrate the birth of little baby Marduk, our first non-incest baby! Now the big question on everyone's mind is what to buy the baby for a present, but I'm sure we'd all come to the same conclusion - yep, the literal, actual wind. Only problem with that is, the wind is pretty noisy. Marduk’s making tornadoes 24/7, and now he’s keeping everyone up.
So Tiamat finds herself in exactly the same position as before, only now her man is dead. Maybe Apsu was right?? Too bad he's dead now hey- there's no way to make everyone quiet... unless? Tiamat figures hey, if she doesn’t have a man to kill the rest of the gods, she might as well make a monster army to do it instead?
See Tiamat’s new goal is to destroy the rest of the noisy ass gods, and rule with her new boo Kingu. The younger gods, pretty understandably, aren’t too keen on this plan, and they try and fight Tiamat and her army, but soon fail dramatically.
So the rest of the gods are feeling super glum following their defeat, but then along comes baby Marduk, only he’s an adult now, and he says that he’ll defeat Tiamat, if they’ll crown him king afterwards. The gods don’t really think he’s likely to succeed, and they really really want Tiamat dead, so they think why not, and agree to his terms.
Marduk meets Tiamat, and kills her. Yay!! But he actually gets super nasty and graphic with it. He stamps on her head, then uses that useful present of the wind to call up a tornado and send her blood everywhere.
As a final touch, he splits her in two, and uses the two halves to create the heavens and the earth.
Seems intense? I know right. Got some repressed anger you're working out Marduk?? But hey, forget about Tiamat, Marduk is king now! He uses his new power to get some projects done, like sorting out a calendar, ordering the planets, and of course, killing Kingu and using his blood to create mankind, who will serve the gods forever.
And they all lived happily ever after! ... apart from Tiamat... and Kingu... and Apsu... and probably all the new human slaves...
But there we go!! That's the end folks! Now we all know a bit more about one of the world's earliest creation stories - a bit more interesting than the one you learnt at primary school?? Leave a comment to let me know what you thought of this episode of my How To Understand collection - or to suggest any aspects of ancient history that you just can't figure out!