National Geographic : 1951 Jan
Even the Gods Were Guided by Democracy T HE ANCIENT Mesopotamian made his gods much in his own image. He portrayed them as subject to all the ordinary human emotions love and hatred, good will and ill, moderation and excess. Life among the gods was merely an idealized re flection of life among men. The basic feature of Mesopotamian society was a profound regard for the rights of the individual. The king was no supernatural being, no god like the Egyptian Pharaoh. Because he lacked autocratic powers, he was de pendent in matters of consequence upon the favor of his gods and the consent of his Council of Elders. This emphasis on consultation and council approval is met with through out Mesopotamian history. And it is this same essential democratic feature that gave Mesopotamian civilization its dynamic drive and carried its bene fits to many lands and peoples. Since the gods of Mesopotamia were little more than idealized mor tals, we expect the ideal of rudimen tary democracy to be evident among them. That such was indeed the case is shown with rare simplicity and charm by the main religious work of Mesopotamia, the Creation Epic. This epic concerns itself largely with the battle which the benign gods wage against the powers of chaos, who are led by the destructive god dess Tiamat. None of the opposing gods had the courage to face her. In desperation, shrewd Ea desig nated young Marduk as the leader most likely to succeed. Marduk was resolute, but his price was staggering. If he was to champion the fight, he must be rewarded with the permanent chieftaincy of the gods. There was no alternative but to accept Marduk's terms. Yet no act of such importance could be valid unless approved by the full Assembly of the Gods. Foreseeing objections from the old guard, Ea first entertained the par liament at a banquet. When at length he broached his plan, his guests were too far gone in their cups to demur. The motion was carried unanimously. Armed with his new authority, Marduk vanquished Tiamat and re mained supreme forever after. The scene before us is the divine banquet of the epic. All the attend ants have been transferred from re liefs of the Early Dynastic period: the men carrying the heavy jars of beverages; the pottery stands for the jars; the servants bearing mounds of pancakes on their heads; the musi cians; and the boy with the sheep. The divine guests are distinguished chiefly by their horned miters, four horns for the leading deities and two for the minor gods in the background. The drinking is done through tubes, as frequently shown on cylinder seals. The older of the two standing gods is Ea, explaining his plan. He is identified by his favorite symbol of the vase with the flowing waters, which we have taken the liberty of depicting as embroidered on his waist band. The youthful god behind him is Marduk. He holds the ring-and-rod symbol, and his saw-toothed dagger is in his belt. His robe is decorated with starlike rosettes, a feature of Marduk in Assyrian times. The significant thing about this scene is, of course, not how consent was obtained, but the fact that con sent was necessary even among the gods. Representative authority, not autocracy, was the foundation of Mesopotamian society.