8/20/10 - ancient floods

In today's excerpt - ancient floods:

"Most cultures ... have stories about a 'great flood' sent by angry gods to destroy mankind in the distant past. In Western civilization the most well known example is the story of Noah in the Bible. When God got fed up with mankind's disobedience and wickedness, he chose Noah and his family to perform a special mission: to build a huge boat (an ark) to hold breeding pairs of every animal to repopulate the world after the deluge.

"In the Sumerian version, the god Enki warns the king of Shuruppak, Ziusudra, that the gods have decided to destroy the world with a flood. Enki tells Ziusudra to build a large boat, where the king rides out the week-long flood. He prays to the gods, makes sacrifices, and is finally given immortality. According to Sumerian histories, the first Sumerian dynasty was founded by King Etana of Kish after this flood.

"Aboard ship take thou the seed of all living things.
That ship thou shall build;
Her dimensions shall be to measure.
-Sumerian flood myth

"According to the ancient Greeks, the mythical demigod Prometheus warned his son, Deucalion, that a great flood was coming, and instructed him to build a giant waterproof chest to hold himself and his wife, Pyrrha. The rest of humanity was drowned, but Deucalion and Pyrrha rode out the nine days of rain and flooding in their chest.  As the flood subsided, they washed up on Mount Othrys, in northern Greece. Zeus told Deucalion and his wife to throw stones over their shoulders, which became men and women to repopulate the world.

"Finally, Hindu mythology tells of a priest named Manu, who served one of India's first kings. Washing his hands in a river one day, Manu saved a tiny fish, who begged him for help. The grateful fish warned Manu that a giant flood was coming, so Manu built a ship on which he brought the 'seeds of life' to plant again after the flood. The fish—actually a disguise for the chief god, Vishnu—then towed the vessel to a mountaintop sticking up above the water. Sound familiar?

"Though it's impossible to know if these stories refer to the same actual event, a couple of historical events are plausible candidates. [One potential] explanation is the huge rise in sea levels that occurred at the end of the last Ice Age, beginning about twelve thousand years ago (10,000 BCE). The melting of the polar ice caps raised sea levels almost four hundred feet around the world—which must have made quite an impression."


Erik Sass and Steve Wiegand with Will Pearson and Mangesh Hattikudur


The Mental Floss History of the World: An Irreverant Romp Through Civilization's Best Bits


HarperCollins Publishers


Copyright 2008 by Mental Floss LLC


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