meditations on the flood

Floodstory_tabletMarina Warner at The London Review of Books:

Versions of the Flood from around the world record memories of different disasters, not one single universal deluge – this is accepted now even by Biblical scholars. But the different accounts share several dramatic elements: the figure of the one man who is chosen to survive, the extraordinary hope placed in the building of a boat, its measurements and vast size, and the processes of caulking and stocking it. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, the ark is a six-decker vessel; in the Bible, the specs seem so exact they inspired many believers to attempt to make models. Atrahasis is the name of the hero who is spared and wins eternal life in the poem that Ipiq-Aya, Junior Scribe, pressed into the wet clay with his reed pen. In Gilgamesh, the survivor is called Uta-napishti, and Gilgamesh meets him when he is travelling to the underworld in order to bring back from the dead Enkidu,the wild man whom he loves. But the half-divine hero fails, and although he is told how to pick a magic coral-like plant from the seabed, which will guarantee his immortality, he loses it when he is bathing in a pool: a snake comes by and takes it.

The Babylonian Noah tells Gilgamesh how he survived the rains; in Atrahasis he sees in a dream that he must build an ark; in the later Gilgamesh, the counsellor god Enlil whispers the warning in secret:

Load the seed of every living thing into your ark,
The boat that you will build.

(John Gardner’s version, 1984.) The animals do enter two by two in some versions, but here the ark is a sperm bank, a granary.

more here.