Myths from Mesopotamia by Translated by Stephanie Dalley - review by Peter Jones

Peter Jones

In the Beginning

Myths from Mesopotamia


OUP 337pp £35 order from our bookshop

Epics of creation and the history of the world have their origins, for us at any rate, in the Near East. To whatever period we date the production of the earliest documents of the Old Testament (the so-called E and J documents from Palestine – 8th and 6th century BC?), we now know that they are a collection of sources some of which go back thousands of years. In the 8th century BC, Sargon II, king of Assyria, established the library at Nineveh which contained epic, mythic, magic and historical material in several languages, some dating as early as 2000 BC. They make the earliest western epics and stories of creation – Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey and Hesiod’s Theogony (8th and 7th centuries BC respectively) – babes in arms, and raise serious questions about the possible influence of eastern material not only upon Greek epic but also upon early Greek philosophy, which, to start with at any rate, was primarily concerned with questions of creation: where did the world come from and what was it made of? Possible connections are made more likely when we observe that Greek myth, the Old Testament and the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh all have a Flood.

If these fascinating and important connections are to be pursued with any confidence, we need up-to-date and accurate translations of the primary source material. What Stephanie Dalley has done is to provide us with a completely revised version of those myths which were written in the wedge-shaped cuneiform of Akkadian

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