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Tiamat and Tethys (1)

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04 Religious and philosophical literature and poetry

01 Religious and ideological doctrines and imagery

01 Religious and ideological doctrines and imagery

Greek language
primordial causes
Neo-Assyrian Empire
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Apsu and Tiamat in the Babylonian Enūma Eliš equal Oceanus and Tethys as the original parental couple in Homeric epics (Iliad 14.201, 246, 302). Tethys was not an active figure in Greek mythology, in contrast to the sea goddess Thetis she had no established cults and no further mythology. She apparently existed only by virtue of the Homeric passage, how she achieved the position of the mother of all would be a mystery without the parallel with Mesopotamian Tiamat. The name of the mother “who bore them all” in Enūma Eliš is written normally Ti-amat. The Akkadian word which lies behind this is tiāmtu or tâmtu, the normal word for the sea. The name can also be written in this more phonetic ortography, and in Enūma eliš there is once attested the form taw(a)tu (4.65). If one proceeds from Tawtu, then Tethys is an exact transcription. Tethys’ name on black-figured bowl (dinos) of the Athenian artist Sophilos (ca. 580 BCE) is written Thethys, which in normal Greek ortography would automatically yield Tethys.

Sources (list of abbreviations) (source links will open in a new browser window)
Enūma Eliš 4.65
Homer, Iliad 14.201
Homer, Iliad 14.246
Homer, Iliad 14.302


Burkert 1992, 92-93Burkert, Walter. The Orientalizing Revolution. Near Eastern Influence on Greek Culture in the Early Archaic Period. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press 1992.

Amar Annus

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Fig. 1: Tethys’ name written Thethys on the dinos of Sophilos, ca. 580 BCE.