The Babylonian religion was on a higher level than the Egyptian, which, according to Maspero, one of the greatest of Egyptologists, was close to the animism and fetichism of the African tribes. Yet the Sumerians and Babylonians, compared with the Egyptians, had a very faint conception of a life beyond the grave. "They imagined the lower world to be a place of darkness, where the departed, retaining their consciousness, were condemned to lie motionless for ages, under the stem rule of a goddess who reigned in that world." Then Professor Rostovtzeff goes on to say:
The hymns and prayers addressed to the gods of Babylon and Assyria are full of religious inspiration and unfeigned religious feeling. The Babylonians in their epic poetry sought to explain the mighty secrets of nature, connected with the life of gods and men. 6
Their stories of the struggles of the gods against Chaos and the monsters produced by Chaos, of Gilgamish's adventures, of Ishtar's descent into the World of the Dead, are comparable to nothing else but their sculptures--those carvings in which kings and soldiers, horses and lions, chariots and spears, are rendered with such power as seems to us terrifying.
[paragraph continues] We owe the preservation of the Babylonian and Sumerian stories, in a large measure, to an Assyrian king of the neo-Babylonian epoch, to Ashur-bani-pal, who reigned in Nineveh B.C. 668. Says a pamphlet published by the British Museum:
Having determined to form a Library in his palace he set to work in a systematic manner to collect literary works. He sent scribes to ancient seats of learning, e.g., Ashur, Babylon, Cutah, Nippur, Akkad, Erech, to make copies of the ancient works that were preserved there, and when the copies came to Nineveh he either made transcripts of them himself, or caused his scribes to do so for the Palace Library. In any case he collated the texts himself and revised them before placing them in his Library. The appearance of the tablets from his Library suggests that he established a factory in which the clay was cleaned and kneaded and made into homogeneous, well-shaped tablets, and a kiln in which they were baked, after they had been inscribed. The uniformity of the script upon. them is very remarkable, and texts with mistakes in them are rarely found. . . . Ashur-bani-pal was greatly interested in the literature of the Sumerians, i.e., the non-Semitic people who occupied Lower Babylonia about B.C. 3500 and later. He and his scribes made bilingual lists of signs and words and objects of all classes and kinds, all of which are of priceless value to the modern student of the Sumerian and Assyrian languages. 8
The Greeks borrowed one myth from the Babylonians--the myth of Adonis who is Tammuz. "Every year," says Frazer in "The Golden
[paragraph continues] Bough," "Tammuz was believed to die, passing away from the cheerful earth to the gloomy subterranean world, and every year his divine mistress journeyed in quest of him." Tammuz's death was mourned by men and women at midsummer. The story of Ishtar's descent into the World of the Dead was probably made up from the hymns chanted during the mourning ceremonies. Like Osiris, Tammuz personified the vegetable life that dies and rises up again.
xi:6 "A History of the Ancient World, Vol. I.
xi:7 George Darley, Nepenthe.
xi:8 The Babylonian Story of the Deluge and the Epic Gilgamish: 1920.