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My website dedicated to creation myths from the ancient world
Although students who study Latin may only learn about religions to the extent of superstitions about the living and the dead and of those involved with Cult of Isis, there were a plethora of religions that existed in and around the empire of ancient Rome that have all impacted the world in their own ways. Each of these religions cites an original creation myth of how the Earth, and those that inhabit it, including humans, came about. One would be hard pressed not to find many similar characteristics within each myth, even though the religions all originate in different places respectively, especially when dealing with the creation myths of the Chinese, Hebrew, Egyptian, and Greek people. The creation myths for predominant Eurasian religions such as Judaism, Egyptian, Chinese, and Greek have many similarities and differences; they also show how certain aspects and core beliefs of each religion have sustained over time and remain evident factors in today’s major religions.
The most popularly remembered ancient religion is that of the Greek with their memorable Olympians and Titans. Many are fascinated by the violent feud between father and son and the interesting incestuous encounters between the numerous gods; however, no one really stops to think about how the gods ever came about. According to the Greek story, in the beginning there was only chaos where everything was empty and void of life. Out of this void, however, appeared Erebus, the primordial god of the Greek myth. Shortly after, Love, Day, Night, and Gaea (the Earth) were born as well (Murtagh). Gaea bore Uranus who later gave her eighteen children. However, he was extremely jealous and distrusting of his children which angered Gaea; she began to plot against him and one of her children, Cronus, helped her. Cronus ambushed his father, castrated him, and threw his genitals into the sea. However, it was prophesized that Cronus would be overthrown by one of his children, and as logically follows, Uranus ate all of them to protect himself until his wife and sister, Rhea, hid one of his children, Zeus. Zeus forces his father to puke up his siblings and beats him in battle, bringing about the infamous rule of the Olympians and the gods we know today (“Greek Creation Myth”).
The humans came later on, after the gods had inhabited earth for a while. One of the only remaining Titans, Prometheus, decided to create man from clay and water while Athena breathed life into him. Man was created first, and for a short time, no women even existed. Men were made to be shaped like the gods themselves and lived happy, untroubled lives until Prometheus angered Zeus. Zeus had Pandora, the first woman, fashion and released her on Earth with her forever famous box. The box contained war, disease, and ever bad thing that men had never had to deal with before; she released everything but Hope, which Zeus instructed her to keep in the box. Thus man, woman, and the world we know today was created (“Man’s Creation”).
Christianity and Judaism
One of the most common ideas that come to mind when people think of ancient Roman religion is Christianity and the persecution, but eventual flourishing, of the Christian communities. Before Christianity sprung up, however, there was Judaism, brought about by the covenant made between Abraham and his God. The covenant determined that Abraham and bloodline would be the chosen people of Canaan, the original fertile land. In the Hebrew creation myth, there was nothing in the beginning, but for God, the omnipresent being that determined the fate of the Earth. He was also the creator of the Earth, a feat he accomplished in seven days. He was said to have created humans in likeness of his own image on the sixth day as Adam and Eve, the two primordial humans. On the seventh day he rested and made it a holy day, tired from all the work (Alford).
The Egyptian people had two different creation myths, because there were two parts of Egypt, Upper and Lower. In Upper Egypt, the Nile River played a huge role in the lives of all Egyptian people which explains why water, or Nu as they called it, was a prominent characteristic of their creation myth. In the beginning, there was only water, the Nu. As the Nu ebbed and flowed, it slowly receded and revealed a hill from which the creator god appeared (Johnston). He went by several different names (Khepri, Ra, Atum, Horace, or Aten) depending in its position in the sky. This god was said to be laid as an egg every day by a goose. Ra created several gods who were to make up the physical world, and humans sprung from his fallen tears. The creation myth for Lower Egypt is very similar, and details life after death with the creation of the Underworld and its ruler, Osiris (Deurer).
The Chinese creation myth says that the universe began as a void that contained a black egg where heaven and earth were mixed together, and in this egg was contained Pan-gu, the primordial god. He felt suffocated in the egg, so he cracked it and the egg formed the earth and the sky, or Heaven. The parasites that crawled on his body fell to the earth and formed humans. Pan-gu continued to grow and grow until he was big enough that he separated the earth and Heavens by many miles. When Pangu finally died, his breath became the wind and the rest of his body became the parts of the natural earth and the parasites that crawled on his body fell to the earth and formed humans (Johnston).
Similarities Between Creations
As can be seen, there are many similarities when it comes to creation myths. Many have a single primordial being that creates the universe and man along with it. There are often an original couple of humans who create the bloodline for other humans, as well. Another common theme throughout creation myths is a single egg that hatches an original god. Water is a regular symbol seen, as well, most likely because most people of that time relied on subsistence farming, and water was extremely important to them, so it would logically follow that they create the idea of their god from what allows them to thrive. The similarities relate to the mixing of cultures when people reached the end of their respective empires. The Hebrew and Egyptian myths demonstrate this well; each has a sequence of events that created the natural world with different elements being created in seven days and, for all but one day, the creation of the day matches perfectly to that of the other religion.
Differences Between Creation Myths
However similar the creation myths are, however, they also contain many differences. Some myths introduce a monotheistic view while others, like the Greek, are polytheistic. Others insist that there was absolutely nothing before the appearance of a god, while others report that water was always in the cosmos. In almost every story, humans are brought about in different ways, as well; Egyptians report that humans come from the tears of Ra, while Christians say that their god fashioned humans from clay. Another difference can be seen between the Greek and the Hebrew people in their myths; the Hebrew have a good place to go after death, Heaven, and a bad lace, Hell, whereas the Greek only created the Underworld, guarded by Hades, to host the dead, evil or not.
The Impact of These Religions on the World
These four religions contributed greatly to the outcome of the modern world, though their effects may not be seen directly. Christianity above all has prevailed to become the world’s most widely practiced religion and contributes greatly to much European history that defines the world today. An entire region in America in particular, accurately named the Bible Belt, after the name of the Christian holy book, shows how greatly influential this ancient religion proved to be. Not far behind is its predecessor, Judaism, which is practiced all over the world and now has a very controversial piece of land in the original Canaan allotted to the followers of Judaism. The Greek religion including many gods assigned to different aspects of daily life and explaining the origin of the human race influenced many other countries, usually conquered by the expansive Greek empire, which adapted slightly different variations of myth based off of the traditional Greek stories. The Chinese and Egyptian myths both contributed in the mixing of religions and cultures, as well, with similarly extensive empires. Though the effect of the creation myth is not easily visible, it shaped the basic ideals of the people who chose to follow that religion and whose actions have shaped our world today.
Religion had as large of an effect on the daily life of the people in ancient times as it does today. The creation myths of these respective religions demonstrate how the different people may have mingled and exchanged ideas together due to the overwhelming number of similar ideals contained within each myth. Each creation myth essentially demonstrated how the natural world came to be and how humans themselves found their place on this earth, but all in their own ways with different variations of the story. These creations myths were the basis of all religion in the ancient times, and were often the basis for feuds due to differences in ideology which has shaped the outcome of the world. The creation myths of the Egyptians, Hebrews, Chinese, and Greeks all reveal how these ideologies were shaped and led to the establishment of several main ideas that remain prominent in religions today.
Alford, Alan F. "Myth-Religion." Myth-Religion. N.p., 2006. Web. 11 Sept. 2012. <http://www.eridu.co.uk/Author/myth_religion/judaism.html>.
Deurer, Richard. "Egyptian Creation Myths." Egyptian Creation Myths. N.p., 1996. Web. 24 Sept. 2012. <http://www.egyptartsite.com/crea.html>.
Emmons, Jim B. "Greek Mythology." World Religions: Belief, Culture, and Controversy (n.d.): n. pag. ABC CLIO. Web. 24 Sept. 2012.
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Hansen, William. "Human Creation Myth in Greek mythology." World Religions: Belief, Culture, and Controversy. ABC-CLIO, 2012. Web. 3 Dec. 2012.
Johnston, Sarah Iles. "Creation Myths." Ancient Religions. Cambridge, MA: Belknap of Harvard UP, 2007. N. pag. Print.
Murtagh, Lindsey. "Greek Creation Myth." Creation Myth. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Sept. 2012. <http://www.cs.williams.edu/~lindsey/myths/myths_16.html>.
Suckling, Nigel. "The Chinese Creation." Unicorn Garden. Crescent Moon, n.d. Web. 01 Oct. 2012. <http://www.unicorngarden.com/creation.htm>.