The flood, floods and mythic flood stories 6 European myths

European myths

In our regions we do have the Celtic stories and Norse Mythology like the Bergelmir or “Mountain Yeller” or “Bear Yeller” where like in the Chinese mythology can be found a bear, who has now become a frost giant, the son of giant Þrúðgelmir and the grandson of Ymir (who was called Aurgelmir among giants), the first frost giant, according to stanza 29 of the poem Vafthrudnismal from the Poetic Edda. In that saga we also can find a coffin, which could refer to the Ark of Noah, making it that the Prose Edda account of the flood could be borrowed from Judeo-Christian tradition of Noah’s Ark.

Parnassos2.jpg
Mount Parnassus towering above Delphi, north of the Gulf of Corinth.

In the South of Europe there was the story of Zeus, the king of the gods, who resolved to destroy all humanity by a flood. Deucalion (“sailor, seaman, fisher”), the son of Prometheus (the creator of humankind), king of Phthia in Thessaly, and husband of Pyrrha; also the father of Hellen, the mythical ancestor of the Hellenic race, constructed an ark in which, according to one version, he and his wife rode out the flood and landed on Mount Parnassus.

Library of Ashurbanipal / The Flood Tablet / T...
Library of Ashurbanipal / The Flood Tablet / The Gilgamesh Tablet (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Deucalion, who reigned over the region of Phthia, is the parallel character to Utnapishtim, the survivor of the Sumerian flood that is told in the Epic of Gilgamesh, and to the Biblical Noah. He had

 

first founded cities and reared temples to the immortal gods, and first ruled over men”.

Creation of humanity by Prometheus as Athena looks on (Roman-era relief, 3rd century AD)

Ignited by the hubris of the Pelasgians, Zeus became angry and decided to put an end to the Bronze Age. According to the Greek story, Lycaon, the king of Arcadia, had sacrificed a boy to Zeus, who was appalled by this savage offering. Zeus unleashed a deluge, so that the rivers ran in torrents and the sea flooded the coastal plain, engulfed the foothills with spray, and washed everything clean. The story found first in the Roman poet Ovid‘s Metamorphoses (8 CE) and in the Library of Pseudo-Apollodorus[1], tells that Deucalion been forewarned of the flood by his father, Prometheus, with the aid of his father Prometheus, was saved from this deluge by building a chest which he had build to survive the deluge with his wife, Pyrrha.[2]
In this version of the Flood myth no animals are rescued. After nine days, Deucalion and his wife Pyrrha, daughter of Epimetheus, was the one surviving pair of humans. Their chest touched solid ground on Mount Parnassus,[3] or Mount Etna[4] in Sicily, or Mount Athos in Chalkidiki[5], or Mount Othrys in Thessaly[6].

Hyginus mentions the opinion of a Hegesianax that Deucalion is to be identified with Aquarius,

“because during his reign such quantities of water poured from the sky that the great Flood resulted.”

Once the deluge was over and the couple had given thanks to Zeus, Deucalion (said in several of the sources to have been aged 82 at the time) consulted an oracle of Themis about how to repopulate the earth.

In inquiring how to renew the human race, they were ordered to cast behind them the bones of their mother. The couple correctly interpreted this to mean they should throw behind them the stones of the hillside (“mother earth”) Gaia, the mother of all living things, and they did so. Those stones thrown by Deucalion became men, while those thrown by Pyrrha became women. In early Greek versions Hermes told the couple directly to cast stones behind them.

The 2nd-century writer Lucian gave an account of the Greek Deucalion in De Dea Syria that seems to refer more to the Near Eastern flood legends: in his version, Deucalion (whom he also calls Sisythus)[7] took his children, their wives, and pairs of animals with him on the ark, and later built a great temple in Manbij (northern Syria), on the site of the chasm that received all the waters; he further describes how pilgrims brought vessels of sea water to this place twice a year, from as far as Arabia and Mesopotamia, to commemorate this event.

[1] Apollodorus’ library at theoi.com

[2] Pleins, J. David (2010). When the great abyss opened : classic and contemporary readings of Noah’s flood ([Online-Ausg.]. ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. p. 110. ISBN 978-0-19-973363-7.

[3] Pindar, Olympian Odes, 9.43; cf. Ovid, Metamorphoses, I.313–347

[4] Hyginus’ Fabulae 153″. Livius.org. 2007-09-26. Retrieved 2012-07-09.

[5] Servius’ commentary on Virgil’s Bucolics, 6:41

[6] Hellanicus, FGrH 4 F 117, quoted by the scholia to Pindar, Olympia 9.62b: “Hellanicus says that the chest didn’t touch down on Parnassus, but by Othrys in Thessaly.

[7] The manuscripts transmit scythea, “Scythian”, rather than Sisythus, which is conjectural.

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Preceding:

The flood, floods and mythic flood stories 1 Flooding and Water-waves

The flood, floods and mythic flood stories 2 Mythic theme 1 God or gods warning

The flood, floods and mythic flood stories 3 Mythic theme 2 Hebrew story of the flood

The flood, floods and mythic flood stories 4 Mythic theme 3 Chinese mythology

The flood, floods and mythic flood stories 5 Indian region

Next: The flood, floods and mythic flood stories 7 North America

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