Category Archives: Jewish
Etymology: “Bull Calf of the Sun,” “Calf of the Sun” or “Solar Calf”
Also known as: Bel (“Lord,” Akkadian), Bel-Marduk, Murdoch
Other Spellings: 𒀭𒀫𒌓 (Cuniform), dAMAR.UTU, Amar utu k (Sumerian), Μαρδοχαῖος, Mardochaios (Greek), מְרֹדַךְ, Mərōdaḵ (Masoretic Hebrew), Merōḏaḵ (Tiberian), Marōdak (Septuagint), Merodach (Biblical Hebrew), Martuk
In Mesopotamian mythology, Marduk is a fertility and storm deity of Babylon. He is known for defeating the dragon goddess Tiamat and becoming the Leader of the Babylonian pantheon.
Marduk came to prominence as the patron deity of the city of Babylon during the rule of Hammruabi, the sixth king of the First Babylonian dynasty of the Amorites in the 18th century B.C.E. when Babylon became the political center of the Euphrates valley. Marduk’s full acceptance as the head of the Babylonian pantheon would be completed by the last half of the second millennium B.C.E.
Animal: Dogs, Horse, Mušḫuššu (Snake-Dragon)
Element: Air, Water
Sphere of Influence: Fertility, Judgement, Storms, Vegetation
Symbols: Hoe, Spade
In what surviving art and texts we have, Marduk is shown as being human dressed in royal robes decorated with stars. Marduk is often accompanied by his snake-dragon that he got from the god Tishpak.
When shown riding in his war chariot, Marduk carries his other emblems of a scepter, arrows, bow, spear, net and lightning bolt.
What’s In A Name?
To start, there is some controversy over the translation of Marduk’s name. There is the Sumerian dAMAR.UD that translates as: “calf of the sun/sun-god.” Then comes the suggestion that this spelling should call for the translation of: “calf of the storm,” “the son of the storm, and “maker of storms.” The latter translation is often rejected due to a lack of evidence with Marduk’s role as a storm god. Accepting this interpretation of the name nixes any connection to Marduk as a solar deity.
The Akkadian spelling for Marduk’s name is AMAR.UTU that translates to mean MERI.DUG. The name is translated to mean “Solar Calf.” In the Hebrew Torah, his name is spelled as Merodach and the Greek spelling of his name is given as Mardochaios.
Marduk’s name is thought to derive from the phrase: amar-Utu meaning: “Bull Calf of the Sun God Utu.” This naming convention could easily be an indicator of early genealogy. Or, it’s an indicator of cultural ties to the city of Sippar, whose main deity was Utu, a Sun God. The city of Sippar dates to the third millennium B.C.E.
The Encyclopedia of Religion comments that the name Marduk was likely pronounced as Marutuk.
Esagila – “Temple whose top is raised” or “Proud/Honored Temple.” While Marduk would come to claim prominence throughout most of Mesopotamia, his primary temple is Esagila, located in Babylon. This is the famous ziggurat that’s described by Herodotus.
Etemenanki – “Temple that is the foundation of Heavens and Earth” A ziggurat with Marduk’s shrine located at the top. This may be the temple that inspired the “Tower of Babel.”
Cult of Marduk – As the patron god of Babylon, this city was the main location for Marduk’s worship. The rise and popularity of this religion venerating Marduk is tied closely with the rise of Babylon as a strong political power and capital of the Mesopotamian empire. To the degree that many other deities were subsumed and seen as aspects and epitaphs of Marduk. Outside of Babylon, Marduk was worshipped in Borsippa, Nippur, and Sippar.
In the Assyrian period of Babylonian history, Aššur becomes the head of the pantheon and Marduk takes on a symbolic role of Babylon’s resistance to Assyrian rule. The cult of Aššur would compete with the cult of Marduk. In the Assyrian version of the Enūma Eliš, it is Aššur who becomes the head of the pantheon, not Marduk.
The Marduk Prophecy also shows the conflicts of this change of power as Marduk’s statue is continually “taken captive” until finally the resulting destruction of Babylon and Esagila with the different shifts of power in the region.
This is a very important aspect of the ancient world beliefs and Mesopotamia is no different. Within the temple of Esagila there was a golden statue of Marduk. This statue wasn’t just dedicated to Marduk, the ancient Mesopotamians believed that statue to actually be the god himself. Seen in the Marduk Prophecy, if the statue of the god wasn’t present, then he wasn’t in his temple or there to protect his city-state and all sorts of calamities and problems would happen.
Originating during the rule of the Kassites, a new king wishing to see his rule as legitimate, needed to “take the hands of Marduk,” symbolizing the king’s submission and accepting the will and guidance of the god.
In 485 B.C.E., the Persian king Xerxes attacked the city of Babylon and there is no mention of Marduk’s statue. The same goes when Alexander the Great conquers Babylon in 331 B.C.E., there’s no mention of the statue. This lack of evidence and records leads many scholars to believe and agree that Marduk’s statue disappearance from history means that it has, in all likelihood been destroyed.
Without a statue, the Babylonian religion and worship of Marduk declined.
This was the ancient New Year’s festival that the Sumerians and Mesopotamian cultures celebrated. This festival occurred sometime during March and April, marking the planting of barley. This festival was presided over by Nabu and Marduk to such a degree, that a text known as the Akitu Chronicle documents a time when the festival couldn’t be observed as Marduk (his physical statue, thus him) wasn’t present in the city of Babylon. Without the statue to carry through the city out to a small house outside the city walls, the people thought that disaster would soon befall them if the patron god wasn’t there to stop the forces of chaos.
Every year at the Akitu House located outside the city, the Enuma Elish would be recited for the New Year’s festival. There was also involved a ritual slapping of the king. Gotta’ stay humble, I guess.
Parentage and Family
Anu – Grandfather and the original head of the Mesopotamian pantheon before other deities arrive on the scene.
Ea – The previous head and leader of the gods before stepping down. Known as Enki in Sumerian. Ea was the creator god, associated with the fresh, life-giving waters.
Damkina – A Fertility and Mother goddess originally known as Ninhursag.
Sarpanitu – Also spelled Zarpanitu. She is a Mother and Fertility Goddess
Nanaya – She is sometimes given as Marduk’s wife in the myths.
Nabu – Son and god of literature, scribes and wisdom. Nabu was originally Marduk’s first minister before being identified as his son.
Birth Of A Legend
For as old and ancient as the Mesopotamian mythologies are, it makes sense that we might not know that much about them. To a point.
Marduk goes from obscurity with almost nobody knowing anything about him in the third millennium B.C.E. to the head of the Mesopotamian pantheon in Babylon in the first millennium B.C.E.
By the time the Enuma Elish is written, Marduk’s original nature has already been altered and obscured. As now, he’s a deity linked to the attributes of judgment, magic, vegetation, and water. He is now identified as the son of Ea and Damkina.
As the politics of Babylon and the whole of the Euphrates Valley ramped up, Marduk’s attributes and aspects begin to alter as he would be placed as the head of the Mesopotamian pantheon, especially for his patron city-state of Babylon.
Once Babylon becomes the capital of Mesopotamia, Marduk who was currently just a patron deity of the city now ascends to become the head of the Mesopotamian pantheon and a supreme deity, ruling or presiding over everything else. Explaining this power shift of head honcho, head god and the transfer of power from Ea to Marduk, the Enûma Elish gets written, showing a peaceful abdication of power as Ea steps down and concedes rulership to his son.
There are a couple little snags later on, such as the revival of the god Enlil’s worship to Marduk, reflecting a real-world, historical rise of the cult of Enlil during Kassite control in Babylon between 1570 B.C.E. to 1157 B.C.E. The worship of Marduk and thus, his triumph over Enlil returns at the end of this era of Kassite control.
The other snag to Marduk’s popularity and his being the supreme deity comes during 1000 B.C.E. when the deity Aššur up north in Assyria gains popularity and worship. Down in the southern parts of the region, Marduk is still the head deity. The history of these events is reflected in the Marduk Prophecy.
This ancient epic creation poem was written in the 18th century B.C.E. when the city of Babylon becomes the political capital of Mesopotamia. It’s largely written to show Marduk’s birth, many of his heroic deeds and how Ea (Enki) steps down to allow Marduk, in a relatively peaceful transfer of power to become the king and head of the pantheon.
The Enuma Elish begins at the start of time when the universe is nothing more than chaos with freshwater represented by Apsu and saltwater represented by Tiamat, a dragoness. The male and female principles, not unlike the concept seen in the Japanese Yin & Yang. The joining of these two primordial deities would see the creation of all the other gods, known as the Anunnaki.
While Tiamat loved all her children, Apsu, on the other hand, didn’t care for them, saying they were too noisy, keeping him up all night and unable to get any work done during the day. Apsu’s response to this problem was to kill his children.
A horrified Tiamat told her eldest son, Enki of what Apsu planned. Enki decided that the best plan for dealing with this was to put Apsu into a deep sleep and then kill him. From Apsu’s corpse, Enki then creates his home, the earth and the marshy region of Eridu.
This further horrifies Tiamat who wasn’t expecting for Enki to just up and kill Apsu. As a result, she decided to wage war on her own children. The mighty Tiamat raises up an army of chaos and sets Kingu (Quingu) as the general of this army and her new consort.
This has Enki and the other gods worried about what to do. That is, until Marduk steps forward, saying he will lead everyone in this war. Marduk has one condition, that is that he be named as the new king of the pantheon. Enki agrees and Marduk leads the Anunnaki to battle.
Marduk prepares his weapons consisting of bow and arrows, a mace, lightning as he is a storm god, flames and a net. Gathering up the four winds, Marduk encircles and nets the mighty Tiamat to prevent her from escaping him. New winds are created by Marduk such as whirlwinds and tornadoes. As he is a storm god, Marduk brings down a fierce flood of rain. It’s a battle between a storm god and a primordial goddess of chaos and the sea, it’s epic as Marduk rides in his storm-chariot pulled by four horses who have poison in their mouths. Spellcasting and an herbal antidote as Marduk faces off against one of the mightiest dragons known in mythology.
After Marduk finally slays Tiamat with an arrow to her stomach, he then goes after Tiamat’s son, Kingu who oversaw the army and wears the Tablets of Destiny over his chest. Marduk makes short work of Kingu in single combat, claiming the tablets and establishing himself as the new head of the pantheon.
This is a lot of power that Marduk has now accumulated and he sets about to create the universe. But didn’t that already exist? He’s at least making a new one as Marduk takes the two halves of Tiamat’s corpse to create the heavens and the earth, completing the work started by Enki. From Tiamat’s eyes, the Tigris and Euphrates rivers flow.
With Kingu’s blood, Marduk mixes it with the earth to create the first humans. The creation of humans would allow the gods the leisure time and the time to focus on higher purposes, taking care of human needs as humanity basically did the grunt work. All humans would need to do is respect and give heed to the will of the gods living in Eridu with Marduk ruling overall as a benevolent god.
That doesn’t sound like it will end well and I’m sure there’s another story concerning that.
Side Note: Depending on the version of the creation myth, it is solely Marduk involved in all of it and there’s no mention of Enki.
Further, knowing that this is a revision of the original myths, I’m curious about what the originals may have been.
Eridu – The First City
Yes, there really is a historical site for an ancient city of this name. Eridu is the oldest city built by the Mesopotamians around 5400 B.C.E. Depending on who you ask, it may be the oldest city in the world. In the Babylonian texts, namely Enuma Elish, it is a holy city where all the other gods lived a life of leisure.
This city was originally the city-state for the god Enki who is later known as Ea by the Akkadians. For modern times, it was first excavated by John George Taylor in 1855. Later, archeological discoveries found that the city was ultimately abandoned around 600 B.C.E. due to a change in climate as the water became more salinized from all the constant irrigation.
As seen later, in the Marduk Prophecy, with the Enuma Elish, the story here likely reflects on the transition from Eridu to Babylon as it became the political and religious center of the Euphrates valley and a cultural shift as the newer city becomes more prominent over the older city of Eridu.
Revisionist History – Scholars have noted that the city of Eridu is founded in the 5th millennium B.C.E. and that Marduk ascends to head of the Mesopotamian pantheon in the 2nd millennium B.C.E. That is a lot of time to have passed. It clearly marks that someone decided to rewrite the myths to favor Marduk when his popularity and the importance of Babylon as a political center become prominent.
Marduk is a god of fertility and vegetation and thus, agriculture. The triangular spade or hoe that Marduk is shown with in some art represents his role and power over fertility and vegetation.
The roles and aspects of Marduk being a Spring, Storm and Solar god also blend in with this function. However, making these connections relies on accepting certain etymological interpretations for Marduk’s name.
As a patron god, Marduk, not just King of the gods, also presided over the city of Babylon. The importance of a patron deity is shown in the Marduk Prophecy where Babylon has fallen to chaos and disarray when Marduk’s statue and thus the god himself leaves and order is later restored when King Nebuchadnezzar returns Marduk’s statue to the city.
Not the Original Patron – This was a fun little fact to come across. Before Marduk became the patron god of Babylon, that honor belonged to Inanna, goddess of sexuality and warfare. She would still be a prominent and important goddess throughout the Mesopotamian culture.
Marduk’s role as Patron, also places him prominently as a protector deity. Aside from the Akitu Chronicles and the Marduk Prophecy, there are two other texts: “The Ludlul-Bel-Nimeqi” and “The Wrath of Erra” that highlight just how vital having one’s patron deity present was, not just for the city, but for the individual as well.
The Ludlul-Bel-Nimeqi – Also called the “Let me praise the Lord of Wisdom” or “The Poem of the Righteous Sufferer,” it is often classified as “Wisdom Literature.” This text is a long treatise some four tablets long with 120 lines each. that details the amount of suffering that Tabu-utu-bel, a city official of Nippur goes through because Marduk isn’t close enough to help as he is too far away for any meaningful help. Biblical scholars have compared this text with the Book of Job for the themes of suffering when one’s God seems absent.
The Wrath of Erra – This is another text, in which the war god, Erra (Irra or Nergal) grows bored and decides the only way to cure his boredom is to attack Babylon. The other gods try to persuade Erra that this is a bad idea and don’t do it. Undaunted, Erra heads off to Babylon anyways. Once there, Erra convinces Marduk that his clothes are shabby and perhaps he should go about getting some new threads. Marduk says he’s much too busy to take of this matter and Erra convinces Marduk that he’ll watch over the city. Off Marduk goes and Erra takes advantage of the opportunity to proceed with destroying the city and killing civilians. Depending on the source translated from, either the other gods stop Erra’s path of destruction or he’s halted when Marduk finally returns with his fancy new duds. Regardless, the story ends with giving praise to Erra, the god of war for sparing a part of the city so people could rebuild.
The idea of having a protector and patron god of one’s city was very strong among the Babylonians. This was their whole city and personal identity that in 485 B.C.E. the Persian king Xerxes had Marduk’s statue destroyed when he sacked the city. Eventually, with the sands of time, Babylon is deserted and left to ruin and people have forgotten about worshiping Marduk.
King Of The Gods
As head of the Mesopotamian pantheon, Marduk takes on a lot of aspects. In some cases, this is taking over the role of other gods who had previously been the head of the pantheon. Such aspects that Marduk comes to preside over are justice, compassion, mercy, healing, regeneration, magic.
A “snake-dragon, mušḫuššu is Marduk’s sacred animal that he got from the god Tishpak. The mušḫuššu is depicted on the city walls of Babylon.
If you ask me this is a lot of titles and epitaphs to be known by. We get this list from two different sources, “The Seven Tablets of Creation” that Leonard W. King studied in 1902 to reconstruct from fragments a list of names. Then there is the “King’s List” that Franz Bohl studied in 1936. Finally, we get to 1958, when Richard Litke compared and noticed similarities with Marduk’s name between the two lists of An (Anum, a deity list) and Enuma Elish.
These names demonstrate the level of prominence that Marduk held within the Babylonian pantheon. These fifty names of Marduk are found and documented in the Enûma Elish and the Anum.
Why 50? – The number 50 was originally associated with the god Enlil, the former head of the pantheon. So this is just part of showing the transfer of power from Enlil to Marduk.
Asalluhi – As Marduk came to prominence, he took over the role and identity of Asalluhi, the son of Ea and god of incantations and magic. With both Asalluhi and Marduk becoming equated as the same entity, Asalluhi’s name survives as one of Marduk’s many names and epitaphs. Some commentary has noted that equating or syncretizing Marduk and Asalluhi together is a means to create a stronger tie to the god Ea and the city of Eridu as Ea was not part of the original pantheon.
Bel – Meaning “Lord,” this is the name that Marduk would eventually be known by, making him a god of order and destiny.
He is normally referred to as Bel “Lord”, also bel rabim “great lord”, bêl bêlim “lord of lords”, ab-kal ilâni bêl terêti “leader of the gods”, aklu bêl terieti “the wise, lord of oracles”, muballit mîte “reviver of the dead”, etc.
The Marduk Prophecy
This is an interesting text, not so much as it’s telling prophecies, but more about being a history around the movement of Marduk’s cult as they follow Marduk’s statue from Babylon. This text was found at the House of the Exorcist in Assur and dates from 713 to 612 B.C.E. It appears to be similar to another set of texts, the Shulgi prophecy.
It begins with Marduk’s statue getting stolen by Mursilis I of Hatti in 1531 B.C.E. The god Marduk is described as visiting the land of Assyria. Then, when a Tukulti-Ninurta I overthrows Kashtiliash IV in 1225 B.C.E., Marduk’s statue is taken Assur and then Elam as Kudur-nahhunte sacks the city in 1160 B.C.E.
Each time, Marduk is described as willingly heading off to visit these places. Which makes sense when you remember that this far back, a statue of a deity… hence an idol was the actual deity in question, not just a representation.
The way Marduk’s travels are told, they are allegories of the history involved. The first couple of journeys that Marduk takes are fairly favorable. When it comes to the city-state of Elam, that’s a whole other matter as the other gods following after Marduk, likely shows the changing climate of the region as they abandon Babylon due to famine and pestilence.
There’s also a familiar theme as Marduk prophecies that he will return again to Babylon with a new king will rise to power bringing about redemption and salvation to the city, taking it back from the Elamites and restoring the Ekursagila temple. Where the Marduk Prophecy is concerned, King Nabu-kudurri-uṣur (Nebuchadnezzar), who reigned from 1125 to 1103 B.C.E. is accepted as being the king who returns Marduk’s statue to Babylon and is victorious over the Elamites.
The main importance of the Marduk Prophecy text is to highlight the necessity of the patron deity staying in Babylon. Each time that the Marduk statue (Marduk himself) is abducted, chaos falls on the city of Babylon while the places where the statue resides, prosper.
Like some epic game of football where the opposing team comes and steals the home team’s mascot to weaken their morale.
No! Say it isn’t so!
Remember the previously mentioned King Nebuchadnezzar? It’s been noted that the dates of when the Marduk Prophecy (1 millennium B.C.E.) and even the Enuma Elish both date to around the time of Nebuchadnezzar’s rule and reign between 1125-1103 B.C.E. It makes him look good for restoring order (his defeat of the Elamites and bringing Marduk’s statue back) that he’s the prophesied king come to do Marduk’s will.
Jupiter – Roman
With Marduk’s position and role as the head of the Mesopotamian pantheon, the Romans equated him with Jupiter, the head of their pantheon.
Zeus – Greek
With Marduk’s position and role as the head of the Mesopotamian pantheon, the Greeks equated him with Zeus, the head of their pantheon.
Bel – Babylonian
Yes, Bel is previously mentioned earlier as one of Marduk’s fifty names.
He is mentioned as being a separate deity here as in the 1 millennium B.C.E., by the time we get to this era of history, as a title, Bel is the name that other deities Enlil and Dumuzid, not just Marduk have been known by.
Taken separately, Bel holds all the titles and aspects that Enlil did. To the point that Bel eventually becomes a god of order and destiny. Even Greek historians mentioned Bel in their writings. As a separate deity, Bel was the god of order and destiny. Both Marduk and Bel’s cults were similar, so it’s not hard to see how Bel becomes absorbed and an epitaph for Marduk.
Bel and the Dragon – This is a Jewish story and apocryphal addition to the Book of Daniel in which the Babylonians offer a substantial amount of food and wine every day to an idol of Bel. This vast quantity of food seemingly, miraculously disappears each night. This is enough to convince the Persian king Cyrus the Great that the idol is alive, and he tells Daniel this.
Daniel being a wise man and rather smart knows this isn’t the case. Afterall Daniel says it’s clay on the inside and bronze outside. It likely has never eaten anything. To prove this, Daniel discreetly covers the floor of the temple with ash.
Both Daniel and Cyrus leave for the night. When they return in the morning, Daniel is able to point out the footprints left behind, thus proving that it is the seventy priests of Bel who are eating the food, not the idol.
Some scholars point out that the name Bel is derived from the Semitic word “Baal” that has the same meaning of “Lord.” There are several places within the Bible where Bel is mentioned, this more than likely referencing Marduk. The Hebrew version of Marduk’s name, Merodach is found in many places in the Bible as a surname for non-Israeli kings.
Continuing this trend for Biblical Connections, Marduk and a couple other Mesopotamian and Canaanite deities are made mention of in the Torah or Old Testament.
Thanks to Cyrus the Great of Persia, when he captured Babylon, he reversed the policies of the previous ruler by calling for the rebuilding of temples and reinstating religions that had been destroyed or banned before.
Where the Bible (Torah) is concerned, Cyrus allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild their temple to Yahweh. Cyrus records inspiration for this as coming from Marduk. The bible will say that it is Yahweh who inspired Cyrus.
The “Cyrus Cylinder” found in 1879 at Babylon records the following: “Marduk, the great Lord, established as his fate for me a magnanimous heart of one who loves Babylon, and I daily attended to his worship… I returned the images of the gods, who had resided there [in Babylon], to their places; and I let them dwell in eternal abodes. I gathered all their inhabitants and returned to them their dwellings… at the command of Marduk.”
In the Book of Ezra 5:13 this event is recorded: “In the first year of Cyrus king of Babylon, King Cyrus issued a decree to rebuild this house of God.”
The Book of Isaiah is where Yahweh is given credit for inspiring Cyrus.
“I will raise up Cyrus in my righteousness:
I will make all his ways straight.
He will rebuild my city
and set my exiles free” (Isaiah 45:13)
The connections don’t end there, Biblical scholars see a similar theme with Marduk’s slaying Tiamat with the Canaanite story of Baal slaying Tannin and notably Yahweh’s defeating the giant sea monster Leviathan in Psalm 74: 13-14 or a future time in Isaiah 27:1.
The previously mentioned Etemenanki temple is thought to be the inspiration for the Tower of Babel. Babylon’s destruction is prophesied in the book of Jeremiah (50:2).
Who do you accept? It’s a matter of two different religions, cultures and perspectives. Of course, it’s easy, after the fact, to say there was divine intervention and that it is all prophesied.
According to Zecharia Sitchin, the claim is made that the great battle between Tiamat and Marduk is symbolic for the creation of our solar system’s asteroid belt. Sitchin writes that this asteroid belt was once a planet that the Sumerians called Tiamat. Due to an impact, the planet was destroyed, creating the “Great Band” or asteroid belt. The planetary impact responsible is that of the planet Nibiru, associated with the god Marduk.
Babylonian Astronomy, Astrology & Zodiac
I will call bunk on Sitchin’s ideas.
When you look at the word Nibiru in the Akkadian language, it refers to a crossing or transition points like with rivers. In Babylonian astronomy, Nibiru came to refer to the Equinox, notably, the Autumn Equinox. In their star lore, the term nibiru can refer to any crossing. Tracking the movement of the stars and planets in the heavens as they appear from Earth. The star or planet associated with Marduk is the one we know modernly as Jupiter.
For the Babylonians, the Autumn Equinox occurred in the month of Tisritum, roughly coinciding with between September and October. If we’re following the Greek Zodiac, then the constellation of Libra is prominent. A further fun fact, depending on the time of the year and the location of the planet Mercury, it could sometimes be called Nibiru.
Some of it is confusing. Mainly it’s understanding how to read and interpret what the Babylonians meant when tracking the night sky.
It should come as no surprise, that as old as the Mesopotamian cultures and religions are, that they would have mapped out the night sky to mark the turning of the seasons, creating a calendar. Many of these early constellations and zodiacs were adopted by the later Greeks who incorporated the constellations into their own mythology.
In Babylonian beliefs, it is Marduk who creates the astrological calendar and mapped out the different signs of the Zodiac. Marduk would be identified with the planet Jupiter, who of course is later equated with the Greek Zeus and renamed for the Roman deity Jupiter as all three are heads of their respective pantheons.
Cetus – Greek Mythology & Constellation
While many are familiar with the constellation’s connection to the Grecian story of Andromeda and Perseus in its role as the giant sea monster sent by Poseidon to destroy the coast of Aethiopia.
The constellation of Cetus has been identified with Tiamat, the dragon goddess of Chaos. Marking Tiamat’s story one of many that the Greeks likely inherited from the Mesopotamians and retold for their legends.
Etymology – “Big Fish” or Whale
Alternate Spellings: Κηφεύς Kepheús (Greek), Ketos, Cetea (plural)
Cetus is the name of the monstrous sea creature whom King Cepheus was to sacrifice his daughter Andromeda. The giant monster has a bit part in the overall story of Perseus and Andromeda, though it is enough to earn it a place up in the heavens to be immortalized as a constellation.
The name cetus can mean any large fish, especially a shark, whale or a sea monster. In Greek art, as well as seen in the Hercules The Legendary Journeys series, the cetea were shown as large sea serpents. And yes, both Hercules and Perseus slay giant sea monsters in their adventures.
Visualizing Cetus as a huge, monstrous sea serpent makes it easier to see how it could destroy the coast of Aethieopia or rise up out of the sea to try and devour Andromeda.
Side Note – The art historian John Boardman has the idea that the images of the cetus along the silk road influenced the image of the Chinese dragons and the Indian makara.
Story Of Perseus
In the Greek story of Perseus, Cepheus was the king of Acrisios or Aethiopia, the husband of Queen Cassiopeia and the father to Andromeda. For the Greeks, Cepheus is known as the father of the Royal Family.
The story begins when Cassiopea started bragging about how Andromeda was more beautiful than the Nereids. This kind of attitude of extreme arrogance and pride, especially when a person claims to be better than the gods, creates what’s known as hubris.
Offended by Cassiopeia’s remarks, the Nereids approached Poseidon and complained, asking him to punish this mortal woman. Poseidon agreed and he sent a flood as well as the sea monster Cetus (or Kraken) to destroy the coastline of Aethiopia.
After consulting with the oracle of Ammon (identified by the Greeks with Zeus,) located at an oasis near Siwa in the Libyan desert, Cepheus was told that he would be able to end the destruction of his country by giving up his daughter Andromeda in sacrifice to Cetus. At the urging of his people, Cepheus had Andromeda chained to a rock by the sea to await her fate.
Luck was with Andromeda, for the hero Perseus was flying by on the Pegasus and on seeing her, he flew down to ask her why she was bound to the rocks. Andromeda told her story to the hero Perseus.
After hearing the story, Perseus went to Cepheus, saying he could save Andromeda from the sea monster and that in return, he wanted her hand in marriage. Cepheus told Perseus that he could have what he wanted.
At that, Perseus then, depending on the accounts given, pulled his sword and found a weak spot in the scales of the sea monster Cetus or he used the severed head of Medusa to turn the monster to stone.
In either event, the monster is slain, Perseus saved Andromeda and a grateful Cepheus and Cassiopeia welcomed them to a feast where the two were married.
The story doesn’t completely end there as it seems Andromeda had also been promised to her uncle Phineus to marry. This wouldn’t have been disputed or contested if Phineus had been the one to save Andromeda and slay Cetus himself. So Phineus picked a fight with Perseus about his right to marry Andromeda at the wedding.
After slaying a Gorgon and a Sea Monster, a mere mortal man is no challenge for Perseus who once again pulls out Medusa’s head and turns Phineus to stone. Given variations of the story, sometimes this is when Cepheus and Cassiopeia are also turned to stone when they accidentally look at the gorgon’s severed head. With Phineus now dead, Andromeda accompanies Perseus back to his home Tiryns in Argos where they eventually founded the Perseid dynasty.
Some accounts give that Perseus and Andromeda had seven sons and two daughters. Others place this count a little differently saying its seven children all together, six sons and one daughter. Most accounts agree that the eldest son, Perses founds his own kingdom and becomes the ancestor to the kings of Persia. A variation to this account is that Perses was adopted by his grandfather Cepheus and named an heir to the throne.
Eventually, years later, as the major figures of the storied died and passed away, the goddess Athena placed Cepheus and the others up into the heavens as constellations to immortalize and commemorate this story.
In another account, because Cepheus was descended from one of Zeus’ lovers, the nymph Io, that earned him a place in the night sky.
Further, it is the god Poseidon who places both Cepheus and Cassiopeia up into heavens to become a constellation.
Hyginus’ Account – By his account, Cepheus’ brother is Agenor who confronts Perseus as he was the one to whom Andromeda had been promised in marriage. This is who Perseus ends up killing instead of Phineus.
Aethiopia or Ethiopia?
The accounts can vary and much of this owes to some lack of clarity among the ancient Greek Scholars and Historians. Homer is the first to have used the term Aethiopia in his Iliad and Odyssey. The Greek historian Herodotus uses the name Aethiopia to describe all of the inhabited lands south of Egypt. The name also features in Greek mythology, where it is sometimes associated with a kingdom said to be seated at Joppa, (what would be modern-day Tel-Aviv) or it is placed elsewhere in Asia Minor such as Lybia, Lydia, the Zagros Mountains, and even India.
Modern-day Ethiopia is located on the horn of Africa and has some tentative ties to the legend of Andromeda. The Egyptian priest Manetho, who lived around 300 BCE called Egypt’s Kushite dynasty the “Aethiopian dynasty.” And with the translation of the Hebrew Bible or Torah into Greek around 200 BCE, the Hebrew usage of “Kush” and Kushite” became the Greek “Aethiopia” and “Aethiopians.” This again changes later to the modern English use of “Ethiopia” and “Ethiopians” with the arrival of the King James Bible.
Given the way that Countries, Empires, Kingdoms, and Nations rise and fall, expand and shrink, it’s very well possible that both Aethiopia and Ethiopia are one and the same and that modern-day Tel-Aviv once known as Joppa (Jaffa) may have once been part of Ethiopia. Some sources cite Joppa as having been a city of Phoenicia. There is a lot of history that has been lost to the sands of time that can only be guessed at and speculated upon.
Hercules Vs Cetus
This is a very similar story that follows much the same theme that the story of Perseus and Andromeda follows.
Now, Hesione is a Trojan princess and the daughter of King Laomedon. Being Trojan, Hesione in some versions and not Helena gets the blame as the trigger for the famous Trojan War.
Enough of that, the gods Apollo and Poseidon became angry with King Laomedon when he refused to pay his tribute to the gods for the construction of Troy’s walls. Fair enough, if you don’t pay, we’ll send a plague and a giant sea monster after you to collect.
After consulting the Oracles for what he could do to set things right, Laomedon was told he would need to sacrifice his daughter Hesione to the monster Cetus. Some versions say a series of pulling lots saw Hesione get this fate. Like Andromeda, Hesione too is chained to the rocks near the ocean for Cetus to come and get.
The hero Hercules along with Oicles and Telamon were returning from their campaign against the Amazons when they come across Hesione chained up and exposed. Hercules finds out what’s going on and goes to her father, Laomedon saying that he can save her for a price.
What price? The horses Laomedon received from Zeus as compensation when Ganymede was abducted. Though it’s Tros who is often given as the father of Ganymede and Laomedon is a nephew of said Ganymede. This story follows the lineage with Laomedon as Ganymede’s father rather than a nephew.
Back on track, Laomede agrees to Hercules’ price of giving the horse and the hero sets off to kill the sea monster Cetus.
When it came time for Hercules to collect his reward, Laomedon refused to pay. Why am I not surprised by that? Some people just don’t learn.
Hercules and his companions are angry enough that they come back to attack Troy, killing Laomedon and all his sons except for Podarces. Telamon takes Hesione for his wife and Podarces, becoming king of Troy, changes his name to Priam.
The whole famous Trojan War fits in as Priam wanted Hesione returned to Troy. When Antenor and Anchises, both sent by Priam, couldn’t get Hesione, they return. Paris is then sent to Greece to bring Hesione back and while on the way, brings back Helen, Queen of Sparta and wife to Menelaus.
Other Grecian Legends
Gates of the Underworld – With Cetus’ location under the ecliptic, it’s stars, along with those of Pisces are connected to the capture of Cerberus in The Twelve Labors of Hercules. Having written a post for Pisces, this is the first I’ve come across this story being connected to either constellation. It seems to me, part of a series of connection several constellations to the story of Hercules and his labors.
The constellation known as Cetus is one of 48 constellations listed by the 2nd-century astronomer Ptolemy in his book, Almagest. Today it remains as one of the 88 current or modern constellations. The Cetus constellation is found in region of the sky called “The Sea” with other water-based constellations of: Aquarius, Capricornus, Eridanus, Piscis Austrinus, and Pisces.
17th-century astronomer, Johannes Bayers thought Cetus resembled a dragonfish. In his star map or Uranographia, Johann Elert Bode gives an alternative name of Monstrum Marinum for Cetus. Other astronomers, Willem Jansson Blaeu and Cellarius saw a Whale in the Cetus constellation. It’s not unusual either for Cetus to be shown as a giant, monstrous fish with varying animal heads on it.
The Cetus constellation is found in the southern hemisphere where it can most likely be seen during autumn evenings, especially in November, along with several other constellations named after characters in the myth of Perseus. Because of its southern location, Cetus is visible between the 70° and -90° latitude lines and for observers farther south it lies below the horizon. It is 4th largest constellation found in the night sky. Bordering constellations to Cetus are: Aquarius, Aries, Eridanus, Fornax, Pisces, Sculptor and Taurus.
Arab astronomers were aware of Ptolemy’s constellations, in their star lore, one of the hands from the Pleiades (Al-Thurayya) is said to extend into part of the Cetus constellation. Additionally, two pearl necklaces were seen as making up the stars of Cetus. One necklace is intact and whole while the other is depicted as broken and the pearls scattered.
The Tukano and Kobeua people see a jaguar in the Cetus constellation. This jaguar is the god of hurricanes and violent storms. The stars Lambda, Mu, Xi, Nu, Gamma and Alpha Ceti make up the head. The stars Omicron, Zeta and Chi Ceti make up the body with the stars Eta Eri, Tau Ceti and Upsilon Ceti making up the legs and feet. Lastly, the stars Theta, Eta, and Beta Ceti mark the tail of the jaguar.
The stars of Cetus are located in two areas of the Chinses Night Sky, the Black Tortoise of the North or Bei Fang Xuán Wu and the White Tiger of the West or Xi Fang Bái Hu.
The area of the night sky that Cetus occupies is associated with Autumn, agriculture and the harvest season, especially with the need for storing grains and cereals.
Bakui – This is an old asterism comprised of the stars 2, 6 and 7 Ceti that represents a bird catching net. In older maps, this asterism will be placed further south in the constellations of Sculptor and Phoenix. It’s thought that perhaps Chinese astronomers have moved this asterism further north with the slow precession of stars in the night sky.
Chuhao – Or called Chugao, it is located south of Tianjun. This asterism is made up of six stars, two of which are Epsilon and Rho Ceti that border with Eridanus. This asterism represents either a measure of animal feed or medicinal herbs.
Tiancang – Is a square granary, made up of six stars from main body of Cetus, including Iota, Eta, Theta, Zeta, Tau and Upsilon Ceti form this asterism.
Tianhun – This asterism is a loop of seven stars near Eta Ceti and represents either a manure pit or pig sty.
Tianjun – Is a circular granary, made up of thirteen stars from the head and neck of Cetus, including Alpha, Gamma, Delta and Xi Ceti form this asterism.
Tianlin – Is a third granary that borders between the Cetus and Taurus constellations. It is comprised of four stars Omicron, Xi, 4 and 5 Tauri. This storehouse or granary is used to store millet or rice.
Tusikong – One star, Beta Ceti marks this asterism that represents the Minister of Works and Land Usage Overseer.
It’s thought that this constellation was called Na Kuhi and the star, Omicron Ceti might have been called Kane.
As I study the old Grecian myths and the history behind them, the stronger a connection and correlation between the Greek and Mesopotamian myths appears. The story of Andromeda and Perseus is just one set of myths the Greeks inherited from the Mesopotamian cultures.
The constellation of Cetus has been identified with Tiamat, the dragon goddess of Chaos. She bore many demons for her husband, Apsu, but eventually she decided to destroy them in a war that ended when Marduk killed her. He used her body to create the constellations as markers of time for humans.
Biblical Connection – Lost In Translation!
The Greeks weren’t the only ancient people that the Mesopotamians influenced. We see another interesting connection come in the Torah or Hebrew Bible and with the Canaanites.
Jonah and the Whale – This is the story that many people are most likely familiar with for any connection of Cetus with the Bible. If you don’t really dig any further, that can be good enough for people when linking this constellation to the Bible.
If we go a little further, yes, the Hebrew text in Jonah calls the whale a dag gadol, meaning “great fish.” And yes, when the Old Testament was translated to the Greek Bible or Septuagint, the translation is “mega ketos.” Then translated again, in the Latin Vulgate, it translates to Cetus and then later to “piscis grandis.”
Torah – What gets interesting, is another creature, Tanninim (or Tannin for singular) that gets mentioned in the Hebraic Books of Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, Psalms, Job, Ezekiel, Isaiah, and Jeremiah. Now, the translation into the King James Bible will translate many of these instances to mean a serpent or whale.
Why mention one particular creature, Tannin in all of these other passages and books and call it a dag gadol in Jonah? It’s assumed that whales are what’s being mentioned. Yet when we get into Isaiah, tannin is again mentioned as a sea monster that will be slain by God or Yahweh. When we go into the King James Bible, that translation of tannin becomes dragon.
If dag gadol is a whale or rather, a great fish; then what’s tannin? Sticking to just Jewish mythology, tannin is often linked to the sea monsters Leviathan, Lotan and Rehab. In modern Hebrew, tannin means crocodile.
Canaanite Mythology – Tannin also appears in Canaanite myths, specifically the Baal Cycle. It is a story very similar to the Mesopotamian myth of Marduk (or Enlil) slaying Tiamat and the Grecian Perseus slaying Cetus.
Tannin is a monstrous servant of the sea god Yam who is defeated by Baal or is bound by his sister Anat. This serpentine sea monster is used in Canaanite, Hebrew and Phoenician mythologies as being symbolic of chaos and evil. Much like how Tiamat is equated as a symbol of chaos. It is this part of being a sea monster or dragon and chaos that has modern scholars identifying Tiamat with Tannin.
Nautical Lore & Superstitions
A ship or a ship’s maidenhead will be called Cetus to indicate a ship undaunted by the sea or a fearsome and ruthless pirate ship.
By sailors, the name Cetus is an omen and harbinger of a bad storm or misfortune. The name could also mean lost cargo, the presence of pirates or getting steered/pulled off course. The superstition was so great, that sailors would avoid mentioning the name Cetus.
Here Be Dragons! – Continuing the bit of nautical connection, some retellings of Perseus and Andromeda will refer to Cetus as being a sea serpent or outright calling it a dragon.
Release The Kraken!
Thanks to the 1981 stop-motion movie Clash of the Titans and it’s later 2010 remake, the part that Cetus played is replaced with an even scarier and more compelling monster, the now famous Kraken that rises up to destroy a coastline and kill Andromeda.
Think about it, “Release the Cetus!” just doesn’t have as dramatic of flair as “Release the Kraken!” does. Even the old stop-motion Kraken is more ominous to see on the screen then a giant whale or monstrous sea serpent rising up out of the ocean. It’s more exciting for a modern audience whether seen in theaters or on the small screen to watch.
This also simply shows how Hollywood will often change the source material for what they think is more exciting and action-oriented. Then, when enough people are familiar with this version as the story of Perseus and Andromeda, it shows how these stories and mythologies are still active and evolve with the different cultures that retell them.
It’s been pointed out that the Kraken isn’t even Greek in origin, it’s from Norse & Icelandic lore and mythologies.
Even in Renaissance paintings depicting Perseus, this is where we see the hero going from wearing Hermes’ flying sandals to riding the winged horse Pegasus.
All these constellations have some connection to the overall legend and myth of the Grecian hero Perseus.
Stars Of Cetus
Alpha Ceti – Also known as Menkar that means “nose.” It is a giant red star. It forms a double star with 93 Ceti. Alpha Ceti gets to have a bit of a claim to fame with it’s use in Science Fiction, particularly the original Star Trek series. It is Alpha Ceti V where Khan and his crew are exiled. Then in Star Trek: Enterprise, Alpha Ceti V is the planet that humans find refuge at after the Xindi destroy Earth.
Beta Ceti – Also known as Deneb Kaitos and Diphda is the brightest star found within Cetus. It is an orange star. The name Deneb Kaitos comes from the Arabic phrase Al Dhanab al Ḳaiṭos al Janūbīyy meaning: “the whale’s tail.” The name Diphda comes from the Arabic: “aḍ-ḍafdaʿ aṯ-ṯānī” meaning: “the second frog.” It should be noted that the star Fomalhaut found within Piscis Austrinus is the first frog.
Gamma Ceti – This a double star, the main star is yellow while the secondary star is blue.
Omicron Ceti – Also known as Mira, meaning “The Wonderful,” is the first variable star to have been discovered. Because this star seems to appear and disappear to the unaided eye, it was given the common name of “The Amazing One.” It was discovered by David Fabricius in 1596.
Tau Ceti – Is only notable for being a star similar to the Earth’s own sun. There aren’t any known planets for this star.
AA Ceti – Is a triple star system. The third star is only known by the shadow it casts when passing in front of the primary star.
NGC 246 also known as the Cetus Ring, is a planetary nebula found within the Cetus constellation. It’s roughly 1600 light-years away from Earth. It earns the nickname of Pac-Man Nebula due to how its central stars and surrounding star field appear.
There are a series of three meteor shows associated as originating out of Cetus, they are the October Cetids, the Eta Cetids and finally, the Omicron Cetids.