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Tiamat

Tiamat

In the Babylonian creation story called the Enuma Elish, Tiamat was a primeval goddess of salt waters and chaos. At the beginning of the universe, she and Apsu, the spirit of fresh waters, gave birth to all the gods. Tiamat's son Ea soon challenged and killed Apsu, but he could not defeat Tiamat. Ea then enlisted the help of

* See Names and Places at the end of this volume for further information.

his son Marduk, who rode out in a chariot to do battle with Tiamat in the form of a dragon. As Marduk approached, Tiamat opened her mouth to swallow him. But Marduk threw a storm into Tiamat's mouth, which prevented her from closing it. Then he killed her by shooting an arrow into her belly. After cutting Tiamat's body into pieces, Marduk used them to create the heavens and the earth.

See also Creation Stories; Enuma Elish; Marduk; Semitic Mythology.

primeval from the earliest times chaos gréât disorder or confusion

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Tiamat

Tiamat in Babylonian mythology, a monstrous she-dragon who was the mother of the first gods. She was slain by Marduk.

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Tiamat

Tiamat

The Babylonian goddess Tiamat appears as one of the primal female forces in the cosmogony of the creation epic Enuma Elish (c. 1100 bce). Tiamat, the primordial saltwater, commingles with the male Apsu, the freshwater ocean, to form new generations of gods. After her consort Apsu is murdered by the new generations of gods, angry Tiamat turns to revenge. Enuma Elish represents Tiamat's revenge as the source of disorder and chaos that needs to be subdued by powerful male gods. Specifically, Tiamat is personified as a monster who resorts to lies, black magic, and animal speech. She "illegally" creates several monsters to assist her in her fight, including giant snakes full of venom and sharp teeth, great lions, mad dogs, furious dragons, bison, and the hydra, scorpion-man, and merman. These terrible beings are clothed in the divine splendor in Tiamat's effort to lift them to the status of gods. Tiamat revolts still further in taking on a chief monster, Kingu, as her new husband. All these actions are viewed as illegal because they did not result from a consensus with other gods. Thus, Tiamat transgresses the divine order and introduces chaos into the world.

Tiamat is severely punished for her "disorderly" behavior by a powerful male god, Marduk, and by his supporters. In contrast to Tiamat's illegitimate ways of warring, Marduk resorts to the rightful means that are appropriate for noble deities: thunder, lightning, subduing the winds and floods, and a bow and arrow. Not only is Tiamat killed, but the very means of capturing her symbolize punishment for her actions. She is caught in a net, which suggests that she no longer deserves to be perceived as a goddess who is a primordial mother. Instead, she is portrayed as a savage female being who deserves to be hunted, caught in a net, and killed in a manner reserved for wild animals. The gruesome detail of the cutting of Tiamat's body communicates further the outrage at the goddess's transgression. Her skull is split, her veins cut open, she is disemboweled, her bones crushed. After cutting open her stomach, Marduk stands on her dead body as a sign of final victory. The "disorderly" body of Tiamat becomes a source of order only in her death; the female chaos can be conquered only with the final silencing of death. To this end, Tiamat's corpse is divided, piece by piece, to form the new universe: sky and earth.

While Tiamat is conquered, Marduk is elevated to a supreme role of a sovereign god. He assigns roles to gods, divides heaven and earth, and fixes the universe according to his will.

The story suggests that the primordial female goddess was deservedly punished for introducing chaos into the universe. Only by eliminating the disorderly female passion (or chaos) can the male rational order return. The vanquished body of Tiamat gives rise to the new hierarchy: heaven over earth and male power over female power.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Adams Leeming, David, and Margaret Adams Leeming. 1995. A Dictionary of Creation Myths. New York: Oxford University Press.

Bonnefoy, Yves, ed. 1991. Mythologies, trans. Donald Honigsblum, et al. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Pritchard, James Bennett. 1969. Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament. 3rd edition. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

                                        Wioleta Polinska

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Tiamat

Tiamat

Nationality/Culture

Babylonian

Pronunciation

TYAH-maht

Alternate Names

Thalatte (Greek)

Appears In

The Enuma Elish

Lineage

None

Character Overview

Tiamat was an ancient goddess of salt waters and chaos, or disorder. She is mentioned in the Babylonian (pronounced bab-uh-LOH-nee-uhn) creation story called the Enuma Elish , found inscribed on clay tablets dating back to around 1100 bce. She is the mother of the gods, and her body was used to make the world.

Major Myths

At the beginning of the universe, Tiamat and Apsu (pronounced AHP-soo), the spirit of fresh waters, gave birth to all the gods. She also gave birth to all manner of beasts, such as serpents and scorpion-people. Tiamat's son Ea (pronounced AY-uh, also known as Enki) soon challenged and killed Apsu, but he could not defeat Tiamat. Ea then enlisted the help of his son Marduk, who destroyed the legions of monsters Tiamat created as her army. Then he rode out in a chariot to do battle with Tiamat in the form of a dragon. As Marduk approached, Tiamat opened her mouth to swallow him, but Marduk threw a storm into Tiamat's mouth and prevented her from closing it. Then he killed her by shooting an arrow into her belly. After cutting Tiamat's body into pieces, Marduk used them to create the heavens and the earth.

Divine Creation

A theme repeated throughout world mythologies is the creation of heaven and earth through the sacrifice of a deity or primal being. Marduk split Tiamat in half and shaped heaven and earth from her ribs. Her tears became the source of the two major rivers in Mesopotamia, the Tigris and the Euphrates. In Indian mythology, Purusha, the original being, is sacrificed by the gods and from his body are created the sky, moon, earth, sun, and the four castes of Indian society. These creation stories indicate that people have always sought a divine origin for their existence.

Tiamat in Context

In the myth of Tiamat and Marduk, it is important to understand that Marduk was the patron, or protector god, of Babylon. When Babylon rose to prominence in the ancient world, stories that glorified their chosen god were favored. Earlier versions of the myth developed before the rise of Babylonian civilization may have differed in details related to Marduk. Some scholars have suggested that the killing of Tiamat by Marduk reflects a Babylonian victory over an earlier, matriarchal society where women hold the ruling power. However, this theory is not widely accepted.

Key Themes and Symbols

The myth of Tiamat emphasizes the connection between the world and the gods, and also highlights the split nature of the universe. The world and the heavens are created from the dead body of the goddess; similarly, the blood of her ally Kingu (pronounced KIN-goo) is used to make humankind. This reflects the presence of the divine in all parts of the world. The split nature of the universe is shown in the presence of two ancient forces—one a creation of salt water and one of fresh water. This is also shown in Tiamat's defeat, when Marduk slices her in two to create the heavens from one half and the earth from the other half.

Tiamat in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life

Tiamat is mostly known from the Enuma Elish, which was rediscovered by modern scholars in the nineteenth century. In mainstream culture, Tiamat is a well-known deity in the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game universe, though she is depicted as a multi-headed dragon and is only marginally connected with the original Babylonian goddess. Tiamat also appeared in the animated television series Dungeons & Dragons (1983), and in several video games, including Golden Sun for Nintendo's Game Boy Advance and the Final Fantasy series.

Read, Write, Think, Discuss

The creation myth of the Babylonians is based on the deities of the waters. Using your library, the Internet, or other available resources, locate Babylon on a map of the ancient world. What sources of fresh water are located near it? What sources of salt water can be found nearby? Why do you think the goddess of salt water is depicted as more powerful and chaotic than the god of fresh water?

SEE ALSO Creation Stories; Enuma Elish; Marduk; Semitic Mythology

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