Enūma Eliš, Berossus and Damascius


1 Introduction

2 Damascius’ summary of the Babylonian theogony

3 The Enūma Eliš

4 Berossus’ interpretation of the Enūma Eliš narrative

From George Syncellus’ summary of an account from the Babylonian priest and Greek-language writer Berossus, who apparently attributed the Enūma Eliš to the sage Oannes (akk. Umanu, pronounced Uwanu):

“(Oannes) says that there was a time when everything was darkness and water, and that in this time, there were monstrous living beings, and they were produced with dual shapes.

“For humans with two wings were originated,¹ and some that had four wings and two faces;² and some had one head, others two, a male and a female one, and two sets of genitals, male and female;³ and other humans had the legs of goats and horns,⁴ others had horse feet;⁵ others again had horse parts in the back but human ones in front, who were hippocentaurs in shape.⁶ Bulls with the heads of humans were also produced,⁷ and monstrous dogs who had fish tails in the back parts,⁸ dog-headed horses and humans,⁹ and other living beings that had the heads and bodies of horses, but fish tails,¹⁰ and other living beings that had the shapes of all kinds of animals, and besides these, reptiles and serpents and many marvellous animals which had each other’s appearances. And images of these are placed in the temple of Bêlos.¹¹

“Over all these ruled a woman¹² whose name was Omórka.¹³ This (name) is Thamátth¹⁴ in the Chaldaic language, but in Greek it is translated as Thálassa, ‘Sea’, or, by isopsephy,¹⁵ Selḗnē, ‘Moon’. While all things where thus united, Bêlos approached and cleaved the woman in half, and he made the Earth from her one half, Heaven from the other, and destroyed the living beings inside her.¹⁶

“(Berossus) says that (Oannes) allegorically expressed natural philosophy¹⁷ (physiolog-). For when everything was watery (hygrón) and living beings had originated in it, the god cut off his own head, and the other gods mixed the flowing blood with the Earth, and created humans. Because of this, they are intelligent and share in divine wisdom:¹⁸

“Bêlos, whom they translate as Zeus,¹⁹ divided the dark²¹ and separated Earth and Heaven from each other, and ordered the cosmos; but the living beings that could not bear the force of the light perished.²² When Bêlos saw the land empty and fruitless, he mixed the Earth with his blood and created humans and animals that were able to tolerate the air;²³ and Bêlos completed the stars, the Sun, the Moon and the five planets.²⁴

“This, according to Alexander Polyhistor, Berossus says in his first book.”

12: It is interesting that Tiˀāmat is called a woman, not a goddess. Perhaps Berossus is trying to avoid the implication that she should be good or immortal.
13: This represents Sumero-Akkadian amarukku, ‘flood’, apparently pronounced omorku (with an ambiguous final vowel, which could also be –a) by Berossus.
14: Transmitted as ΘΑΛΑΤΘ, the proper reading is certainly ΘΑΜΑΤΘ, directly representing Babylonian Tâmat (=Tiˀāmat), which means Sea, just like the Greek Thálassa. Why the last consonant is geminated, I do not know, but there is no serious reason to doubt that part of the spelling. Fascinatingly, Berossus does not call Tâmat a Chaldaic (i.e., Akkadian) translation of the Sumerian word, as he does the Greek, but rather says that the word Omorka is Thamatth. Differently put, he regards the equivalence of these two words as something more intimate than Akkadian-Greek translation.
15: By isopsephy, i.e., by converting the letters of Omorka (ΟΜΟΡΚΑ) into a number, 301, and then converting it to a different word whose letters amount to the same number, namely Selene (ΣΕΛΗΝΗ). This has been regarded by some as inauthentic, since it is not based on Mesopotamian lore, but it is a kind of writing-based reasoning that would have been familiar in spirit to a cuneiform scholar, even if it was tied to the Greek alphabet rather than cuneiform.