Marduk and Tiamat
Marduk did many miracles, and are they not written elsewhere—particularly in the Book of Marduk? But the greatest of the works of Marduk, the singular act for which all humanity gives thanks to the Hero made God is this one, for this is the ultimate myth of humanity†, in which Marduk comes into his divinity and slays a god more ancient than the ground on which they fight:
After many days Marduk was wearied. And so in a cave beneath a great pond he rested. But the mind of Marduk that night was full of nightmares from Tiamat and the darkness of the world. For what mortal man could slay an elder god? What mortal man indeed, born of a slave woman beneath the most undignified yolk of servitude, could hope to rise to the very heights of the planet and the very heights of the heavens above? Marduk’s heart was moved as if to fear. But, as he lay in wait, a bright soul from the underworld returned to give Marduk solace for the last time. It was the spirit of Enkidu, who had perished at the hand of the first Dragon. He comforts his friend:
“Be calm, Marduk, for all the gods in the heavens, and all the devils of the hells are more sleepless than you tonight.”
Marduk, startled by a voice from the past, cried out then, “What manner of spirit comes to comfort me in my fear?”
Said Enkidu, “It is the spirit of one who has died beside you, blessed Marduk. From the underworld I have come to offer solace and peace.”
Comforted already by the words of his friend, Marduk merely sighed.
Continued Enkidu, “As I say, the world quakes at the power you bring as you ascend. For a thousand generations of worship has made the Queen of Dragons overconfident in her hubris. Take up your sword with the morning sun, Marduk, and give the dragon a blow for all mankind.”
Marduk, no longer in the grip of his fear, but strengthened in caution, asked then, “But if I should fail, will not all I have done be for naught?”
Said Enkidu, “Marduk, they already sing your praises in the underworld; for who among all humankind has done as you have done? We are thankful for the deliverance you have already brought. Sleep now, for your flesh is stiff with tiredness. The morning sun shall be your guide.”
And so, bolstered by the words of a friend in dark places, Marduk gave himself over to the sleep of the ready.
The morning came, and the first ray of sunlight reached down to Marduk’s waiting eyes. And so he rose up with the dawn. In that moment, again the soul of Enkidu appeared, this time as a whispering friend.‡ Said the spirit of Enkidu, “Now is the morning of your ascent, Marduk, rise now, and strike thy blow for freedom.”
Said Marduk in reply, “You will soon place your foot on the neck of Tiamat.”
Again bolstered by his friend in counsel, Marduk rose up. Taking the winding paths around that great lake-bed which faces the sunlight.†† All morning he climbed, for his path was yet long, but his feet never tired and his spirit was full of Enkidu’s granted confidence. At the hour when the sun was right overhead, he strode out of the lakebed depression to the top of a hill. There he sat, with weapons readied. He had his sling, his mace, his sword, Enkidu’s shield and his‡‡ net. Then he murmured a prayer to the world, a prayer of sorrow.
There, with eyes unlike any mortal, he saw in the far off distance of the sky the dragon-head which would try to end him. Her many mouths extended and flying toward him, the greatest of Goddesses approached, her mouths white hot with fury at the person who stood defiant before her might. Crying out, Marduk issued his challenge to the Queen of Dragons:
“Thy tyranny ends here, Dragon Queen! Wilt thou descend and face the champion of mortals on this field of battle?”
Then did answer the Queen, “Who is this who shouts complaints into ears which do not hear? Who comes here, to the realm where Dragons rule? What mortal may challenge a god and live? Thou has heard of me, and to know the name of thy killer is enough!”
Then the many heads of Tiamat opened, and from deep inside the Dragon Queen did burst a great-gross tons of fire and lightning and smoke and acid. The great many-headed breath of Tiamat flew in an instant the distance between the Queen of Dragons and her mortal challenger, who defiantly did raise his dead companion’s shield skyward.
As shield and breath met, neither the diving and charging Dragon could the other see. Then, in another instant, the smoke and ash cleared away and the Champion stood strong. His shield dissolving away in his hand, Marduk gave a benediction of thanks, “Enkidu, thou hast spared me once this day” as he let the shield fall and threw his net against the diving Dragon Goddess. One of her great heads he did then ensnare.
With a howl of vengeance and terror the other heads waited. Swooping back upward, the Dragon Goddess pulled taught the net-string of the Champion. Not so heavy as to remain on the ground against such a force, Marduk was pulled skyward and into the many-headed menace behind his net.
How many men would cower in fear at the mere thought of where he went then; deep into the height of Tiamat’s form, where many heads could reach, and arms bound to a net unable to defend! Tooth after tooth sunk into him, tearing away much flesh, as the sun above wept tears. But this too he endured.
Then monstrous Tiamat scourge of worlds saw Marduk’s blood spilled and she knew that she had seized the upper-most of hands; for what God bleeds?—this was flesh of mortal man!
Holding fast, the Champion let go at last of the net, still snared about the gaping maw which prophesied his doom. In a moment, then he saw his chance and swung, as from his belt his sword came up in a flash. Deep in an mouth he struck, and was rewarded in bile and blood. Then did the Dragon Queen cry out, as two heads recoiled anguish. The mortal had given to the god a wound! Wings faltering, the Dragon Queen braced to land, but not before she’d made scraps of the man.
Still struggling to find a place to stand, our champion was then beset by many heads again. Unwilling to settle for mere wounds this time, the heads grabbed every one for his throat like rabid dogs below. But now the mortal had his sword in hand. One he parried, then another and again and the last, as Tiamat’s great swarm of bites drew then from him not a single drop of mortal blood.
Falling as they were, the pair remained in combat long, but Marduk’s sword was wet with the blood of the mouths of the Dragon.
At impact, Marduk was thrown upward, his grip for just a moment lost. The heads of Tiamat in a moment turned and blew. Threw all the blasts he fell, and truly another scourge of breath did Marduk feel. This time there was no shield to save him. One can hardly know and live the pain that our champion then did. Every muscle wreathed in flame, and every hair in lightning. His life for a moment flashed before him, but then the maws of Dragons were above him and closing.
He fell back earthward and seized the last chance. With a defiant cry, “For Freedom!” he drove his great blade home. Into the heart of Tiamat a mortal’s blade did fall.
In that second the Queen of Dragons knew she’d died. She tried to cry out but was finally silenced, as the boot of Enkidu pressed upon the last standing neck. Then the body faded, as if if the world was not there at all. But the scales which covered the body, these remained.
At last bowed Marduk then in prayer. And so the god of all men was by his own sword born.
Then, he arose and to those who came from the world beneath, his companions on his long walk, he gave the oration, on that day proclaiming…
†This particular version of the tale, emphasizing the humanity of Marduk and his deep friendship with Enkidu, is translated from an ancient manuscript in the ancient archives of the Dwarves of Deep River. It is not known why this particular version has these emphases. Perhaps this explains the later insertion of Fharlanghn in the majority of texts.
‡It is unknown what this phrase is supposed to signify. Perhaps it is a category of friendship deeper than usual. It is not found in other manuscripts.
††This is probably an early reference to the significance of the building site which would later be called Mourning.
‡‡Clearer in the original, it is Marduk’s net.