Sunday, June 10, 2007

deucalion and pyrrha, and noah

The Greeks told the story of Deucalion and Pyrrha that follows lines similar to the biblical account of Noah. The story goes that the gods saw the abundant wickedness of humanity and destroyed everyone but Deucalion and his wife, Pyrrha, with a great flood. It's the same basic myth as Noah, though Deucalion and Pyrrha did not save any animals and brought no children with them.

Like the story of Noah, the myth of Deucalion and Pyrrha is a myth of divine judgment on wickedness, but it lacks the redemptive theme of the Noah story. There is no new beginning, no redemption of the human race, no new start seen through the lives of their children and grandchildren. Deucalion and Pyrrha see their world annihilated and watch a new race usurp their place in the world. (Noah and his wife took their sons and daughters-in-law on the Ark; Deucalion and Pyrrha watch as the gods create an entirely new race of humanity from the rocks the two of them throw over their shoulders.)

Imagine the grief they must have felt. They witnessed the genocide of their entire human species, and then watch as their land was taken over by a new people whom they had no relationship with. To make it more insulting, they were the instruments chosen to create their replacements.

Like the Greeks, the Hebrew writer of Genesis also imbued the tale with a moral meaning -- unlike in the Epic of Gilgamesh, where the Deluge came because a god was being kept awake by humanity's noise, the Genesis account links the Deluge to humanity's wickedness -- but the author of Genesis gives the Supreme Being a level of compassion and commitment notably lacking in Zeus. Yes, the mythological Noah witnesses the destruction of his whole world, but he also sees a God who is committed to his creation, and who gives it a second chance. There's a pledge that there will be no other Flood, but there's also repetition of the Eden commands to fill the earth and subdue it, to be fruitful and to multiply, with the implication that the earth has been renewed. (The Apostle Peter refers to this in one of his epistles, where he links the Flood to baptism, which in Christian circles is seen as a symbol of cleansing and resurrection.)

And unlike Zeus, who wipes his original human race off the slate, God keeps Adam's race in the running.

No comments: