Wednesday, October 15, 2014


The Weight of Mankind

M.L. West, Indo-European Poetry and Myth (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), p. 23:
Some myths that occur both in India and in Greece can be traced to the far-reaching influence of Mesopotamia. For instance, in one of the poems of the Greek Epic Cycle, the Cypria, it was related that once upon a time Earth was oppressed by the excessive numbers of people milling about on top of her. Zeus took pity on her and conceived the plan of lightening the burden by means of the Trojan War. A similar myth is found in the Mahābhārata. The earth once complained to Brahmā of the ever-increasing weight of mankind, and Brahmā created death to alleviate the problem. Some have inferred from the coincidence that an Indo-European tradition lies behind the story, although it appears only in a late phase of the Greek epic tradition and at an even later date in India. What is more to the point is that a similar myth is attested over a thousand years earlier in Mesopotamia. The natural conclusion is that the Greek and the Indian poets were both using a motif somehow derived from Mesopotamia, not one inherited from Graeco-Aryan antiquity.56

56 Cypria fr. 1; MBh. 1.58, 3.142, 11.8.20–6, 12.248–50, etc.; V. Pisani, ZDMG 103 (1953), 127 f. = Schmitt (1968), 156 f.; id. (1969), 64 f.; Durante (1976), 61; W. Ruben, Sitzb. Ak. Wiss. DDR 1973 (24), 50–5; C. Vielle in L. Isebaert and R. Lebrun (edd.), Quaestiones Homericae (Louvain–Namur 1998), 275–90; West (1997), 480–2.

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