Pisces Nammu, Tiamet and Tethys   Leave a comment

Nammu was the Goddess sea (Engur) that gave birth to An (heaven) and Ki (earth) and the first gods, representing the Apsu, the fresh water ocean that the Sumerians believed lay beneath the earth, the source of life-giving water and fertility in a country with almost no rainfall.

Nammu is not well attested in Sumerian mythology. She may have been of greater importance prehistorically, before Enki took over most of her functions. An indication of her continued relevance may be found in the theophoric name of Ur-Nammu, the founder of the Third Dynasty of Ur. According to the Neo-Sumerian mythological text Enki and Ninmah, Enki is the son of An and Nammu. Nammu is the goddess who “has given birth to the great gods”. It is she who has the idea of creating mankind, and she goes to wake up Enki, who is asleep in the Apsu, so that he may set the process going.

It is suggested that there are two parts to the Tiamat mythos, the first in which Tiamat is ‘creatrix’, through a “Sacred marriage” between salt and fresh water, peacefully creating the cosmos through successive generations. In the second “Chaoskampf” Tiamat is considered the monstrous embodiment of primordial chaos. Although there are no early precedents for it, some sources identify her with images of a sea serpent or dragon. In the Enûma Elish, the Babylonian epic of creation, she gives birth to the first generation of deities; her husband, Aspu, later makes war upon them and is killed. When she, too, wars upon her husband’s murderers, she is then slain by Ea’s son, the storm-god Marduk. The heavens and the earth are formed from her divided body.

Tiamat possessed the Tablets of Destiny and in the primordial battle she gave them to Kingu, the deity she had chosen as her lover and the leader of her host, and who was also one of her children. The deities gathered in terror, but Anu, (replaced later, first by Enlil and, in the late version that has survived after the First Dynasty of Babylon, by Marduk, the son of Ea), first extracting a promise that he would be revered as “king of the gods”, overcame her, armed with the arrows of the winds, a net, a club, and an invincible spear.

Tiamat also has been claimed to be cognate with Northwest Semitic tehom (תהום) (the deeps, abyss), in the Book of Genesis 1:2.

Tethys was both sister and wife of Oceanus. She was mother of the chief rivers of the world known to the Greeks, such as the Nile, the Alpheus, the Maeander, and about three thousand daughters called the Oceanids. Considered as an embodiment of the waters of the world she also may be seen as a counterpart of Thalassa, the embodiment of the sea.

Although these vestiges imply a strong role in earlier times, Tethys plays virtually no part in recorded Greek literary texts, or historical records of cults. Walter Burkert notes the presence of Tethys in the episode of Iliad XIV that the Ancients called the “Deception of Zeus”, where Hera, to mislead Zeus, says she wants to go to Oceanus, “origin of the gods” and Tethys “the mother”. Burkert  sees in the name a transformation of Akkadian tiamtu or tâmtu, “the sea,” which is recognizable in Tiamat. Alternatively, her name may simply mean “old woman”; certainly it bears some similarity to ἡ τήθη, meaning “grandmother”, and she is often portrayed as being extremely ancient (cf. Callimachus, Iamb 4.52, fr. 194).


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