Classical Myths in Children's Writing's the Oral Essay

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The oral tradition of storytelling has existed perhaps since the times when human beings began to gather in groups around fires long before the dawn of what we would now call civilization. Eventually these stories became the mythology of the culture and eventually were written down, in one form or another, for posterity. One of the earliest renditions of this literature can be found in the clay tablets from the Mesopotamian civilization retelling the tale of Gilgamesh.

The first known and recorded epic would appear to be the legend of Gilgamesh sung to the harp by Sumerians and recorded in clay some 3,000 years before Christ. It exalts the wondrous exploits of Gilgamesh, King of Uruk, and celebrates his friendship with Enkidu. It probes the mysteries of life and whatever is beyond it. (Saxby 2004:254)

While it is true that in many cases parts of the clay tablets are still lost (See figure 1) and the full length text of much of the myth is not directly known, but has been pieced together out of other sources to complete it. For instance we know that Gilgamesh was the, "Semi-legendary King of Uruk and hero of the Akkadian Gilgamesh Epic which was based on myths that had existed for centuries in Sumer." (Cotterell 1986:27)

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In the edubba ('tablethouse'), or school, the ancient works (epics, omen literature, prayers, etc., as well as the wisdom corpus) were copied diligently by the scribes, who were themselves organized in a kind of guild system and deeply imbued with the idea of tradition. The schools were associated with temple and palace, and served the purposes of these institutions. (Murphy 1981:10)

These clay tablets, were produced by the Sumerian and Babylonian scribes.

Essay on Classical Myths in Children's Writing's the Oral Assignment

The ancient land of Mesopotamia was situated between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers (see Figure 2) and was the site of many different cultures such as the Assyrain Empire in the north and the Babylonian kingdom in the south. The two most well know capitals of these were Ninevah, to the former and Babylon, to the latter. Both have been the speculation of myth, fact and fiction over the succeeding centuries. (Thomas 2008: 899)

Mesopotamia was an area where many different ethnic groups and cultures mingled. This original melting pot blended and re-imagined many traditions while an also subconscious force also shaped these divergent cultures into a "common mold:"

…in a kind of ever-renewing synthesis, into which was absorbed, to a large extent, the heritage of more ancient cultures, at once assimilated and modified. Thus we may speak of Sumerian, Amorite, Babylonian, or Assyrian historiographies. Furthermore, wherever a temple or palace was built, intellectual activity flourished; schools grew up in all cities where the literate strove to cultivate their particular skills. (Glassner 2005:3)

Many scholars believe that the influence of the Mesopotamian mythology is predominant in Western Culture and has influenced not only that mythology but the parables of many religions as well. Perhaps, as Jung might say, these stories represent archetypal allegories that resonate with all cultures and it is natural to adopt them as meaning interpretations of deeper philosophical resonance.

Jung, whose theory has been criticized for demanding a vast amount of knowledge of myth, did not perceive the unconscious as an instinctual and libidinal battleground, although he posited a 'primitive psyche' in the child which functions in dreams and fantasies comparable to the physical evolution of mankind in the embryo (Bosmajian 1999:103)

Take for instance the simple Mesopotamian proverb, "The tallest man cannot reach heaven; the widest man cannot cover the mountain (or earth')." This single sentence espouses themes and phrases found throughout many mythological literatures that express the limitations of human existence. (Greenspahn 1994: 33) The tower of Babel comes to mind in the bible, a smilax reach to heaven that was unsuccessful reflecting the limitations of corporeal existence as compared to that of God.

For the Bible, the line between the human and the divine may not be breached - at least not by humans, who must stay in their place and wait for God to make His presence known. Presented in poetry and in prose, this concept was often communicated using the language of an ancient Mesopotamian proverb, which provided the imagery with which Biblical authors expressed this profound conviction of Israelite theology. (Greenspahn 1994:41)

No less so with the tales of human creation as well as destruction that are presented in the various forms of the Great Flood mythology that appears in almost all cultural mythology in one form or another with strikingly similar narrative. For instance, "Hunab Or Hunab Ku, 'the single god' the remote creator deity in Maya belief, he renewed the world after the three deluges, which poured from the mouth of the sky serpent." (Cotterell 1986:212) There are also the Aztec Creation Legends that tell that the 'first earth' with its inhabitants was destroyed by a great flood caused by Atonatiuh, the water sun. (Sykes 1993:23) Furthermore, Nu'u (The Hawaiian Noah) escaped this cultures great flood in a large vessel with a house on top of it. "Having landed at the summit of a mountain on Hawaii and sacrificed kava, pig, and coconuts to heaven, the god Kane descended on a rainbow." (Cotterell 1986:285)

There is also a tendency in many cultures to create several manifestations of creation, not just one, as in the example of the "first earth" in the Aztec legend cited above. This has several effects, one, of periodization, that crates the impression of order to the universe springing from seeming chaos. Everything in creation proceeds in a preordained way from start to finish, often again and again. This periodization also makes it possible to find the present in the order of event, to know where one is in the scheme of things is a comforting effect of this tendency. (Collins 1998:64)

The tale of the great flood has also been a favorite story in Children's literature as well. This is possible due to the inclusion of the many animals as well as the heroic effort to save them that is also a part of the tale. This will be discussed in further detail later in this paper as the example story presented by this author will be the tale of the Great Flood as retold from the versions that have survived from ancient Iraq, written in both Sumerian and Akkadian (See Appendix I).

While these Mesopotamian myth's and tales have been transferred into our culture via transliterations into other tales, the original, perhaps even more poetic stories have been lost. It is the concern of this paper that this no longer be the case and that these wonderful stories and allegories make their way back into the twenty-first century and into the stories and tales of children's literature. While Greek and even Roman mythology still has a foothold in this genre, these Mesopotamian anecdotes and parables do not. Even Beowulf has conquered a new generation of moviegoers but Gilgamesh is still more alien, than Alien to most. However, this writer must note that a Mesopotamian deity did make an appearance in a quite popular book turned movie, the Exorcist. "The demon, identified in the novel as Pazuzu, was a genuine character in Mesopotamian mythology: a demon associated with the wind." (Cull 2000:46)


In order to further understand the importance of these lost texts in the realm of children's literature, an exploration of that genre is in order. While a part of civilizations literary content since the beginning, children stories have had many forms and variance over time ranging from instructional tomes to fantastic allegories, the latter usual more popular than the former. But for the purposes of this study, the literary content of children's literature is the main focus. That is its narrative import, the allegorical representations and the further inferences into the realm of culture itself are the main impetus under scrutiny.

Initially the definition seems simple, as stated here, "The definition of 'children's literature' lies at the heart of its endeavor: it is a category of books the existence of which absolutely depends on supposed relationships with a particular reading audience: children." (Lesnik-Oberstein 1999:15) Yet this is certainly the adult categorization of the genre and not the true meaning behind the literature. "The evolution of the word "books" to "literature" reveals the increasing sacralization of discourse on reading for children. For a good long time, "children's books" seemed like a suitable phrase to describe the genre." (Lundin 2004:142) As Ludin also points out, sometime in the 1950's the genre actually changed from "Children's Books" to Children's Literature. She claims it is the direct effect of two key works on the subject: Meigs's Critical History of American Children's Literature and Lillian Smith's The Unreluctant Years: A Critical Approach to Children's Literature. "Both texts highlight the genre as part of literature." (Lundin 2004:143)

The children's illustrator and writer, F.J. Harvey Darton, delineated the split between instructive books for children and… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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