Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 75.djvu/616

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610
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

MEDIEVAL CREATION MYTHS
By Professor B. K. EMERSON

AMHERST COLLEGE

THERE is perhaps more reserve than formerly in assuming the westward wandering of great hordes out of Asia, but, whether the peoples have or have not migrated, the myths certainly have, and all through western Asia and southern Europe the old biblical stories are strongly blended with dualistic traits that have all the ear marks of Iran. As the light conquers the darkness and ushers in the day, so the darkness conquers the light and ushers in the night. Thus Ormuzd and Ahriman are equal to the confines of eternity and God and Satanael become equal in the blended stories.

Of the many variations of these creation myths which have taken root especially among Slavic peoples in the Caucasus, across southern Russia and the Balkans, I have wilfully chosen those parts which have a geological flavor, and illustrate or parody, in quaint and naive manner, many earth forms or earth-forming processes.

I owe most of this material to Oscar Dähnhardt,[1] who has collected many medieval stories of the creation of curious interest. In north and west Russia, in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the "Roll of the Divine Books" tells how, while there was still neither heaven nor earth, the Sea of Tiberias existed, solitary and alone, and it was shoreless.

The story is continued thus in Ukraine (p. 55):

As God would create the world, he spoke to the oldest of his angels, Satanael, with whom he wandered over the sea, and bade him dive to the bottom and bring him up a handful of sand. As he grasped the sand he should say, "I seize thee, Earth, in the name of the Lord!" But as Satanael came to the bottom the wicked thought came to him, and he said, "In the Lord's and in my name!" But as he arose again the sand ran out of his hand and he brought up nothing.

The Lord, who noticed what had happened, bade him dive again and forbade him to use his own name. He did this, nevertheless, and again brought up nothing. Only the third time he left out his own name and brought up sand in his open hand. God took it; went out over the sea and scattered it upon the waters and it became land.

But Satanael licked his hand and said, "I will keep back just a little and also make land." And God asked him if he had any sand and he answered, "No!"

Now God blessed the earth in all four directions and it began to grow. But the earth that Satanael had in his mouth began to grow also and became so great that his lips stretched apart.

  1. "Sagen zum Alten Testament."