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N.S. Gill

Myth Monday - The First Humans

By October 8, 2012

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Image ID: 426395. Full-page miniature of God pointing out the apple tree to Adam and Eve. (1445)
Full-page miniature of God pointing out the apple tree to Adam and Eve.
NYPL Digital Gallery
Many collections of myths from around the world include creation stories. Some include celestial/cosmic eggs or a dualistic conflict between forces of order and chaos or evil. Since the stories are for people, creations stories tend to come around to stories about how we first came to be. Creation stories about the origins of the sexes reveal basic attitudes pervasive in a given society. Or, perhaps, they really reflect our attitudes. Still, it's fun to see how similar, yet different we all are.

For instance, to me, following Nicole Loraux's Children of Athena, the story of Greece's first woman, Pandora, as a treacherous gift for man, and the Greek philosopher Plato's Symposium story about Soul Mates, told at the banquet, by Aristophanes -- about the original man-man, man-woman, and woman-woman humans, separated by the gods and doomed to hunt for their mate -- reveal

  • A distrust of and subordination of woman, in the first case;
  • and
  • An acceptance of different sexual preferences, in the second.

It's not unique to Aristophanes and the tale of the creation of Pandora. If you read more literature of the ancient Greeks, you'll see other examples of the same attitudes towards the genders and sexuality.

GENESIS: In the Judaeo-Christian tradition there are two Biblical versions of the creation of mankind, a fact that is confusing to lay readers, like me.

In the first, the creator god creates one or more men and one or more women to resemble him.

KJV Gen.1.27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

In this version, the creator god is humanoid, like the Greek gods, and the man and woman are equal. However, there is another version, that of Adam and Eve.

In the second version, the creator god created a man out of dust and then took one of his ribs to fashion the first woman.

KJV Gen.2.7 And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

KJV Gen.2.21 And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept; and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof.

KJV Gen.2.22 And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.

In this second Genesis version, there is no necessity for the creator god to be humanoid and Adam has priority over Eve. An outside observer might see these conflicting versions as foreshadowing the modern struggle for gender equality.

Zoroastrian Creation of Humans

I'm not sure what the Zoroastrian version says about the culture, but then, I haven't been reading and re-reading it for decades. Hindu Website's page on Zoroastrian Gender Equality says Zoroastrianism doesn't discriminate between men and women, and while the first human was male, there is another creation of humans where they are formed simultaneously.

Zoroastrian mythology posits four ages of the universe. We're in the last. Each phase is 3000 years long, but the year metric must be taken as an element of mythic time rather than a solar calendar year. It was in the second phase that the universe, including the first man, was created, not described as in any way like the spiritual entity that was their creator deity. Then Evil (the Mazdian "Ako Manah", Zoroastrian "Ahriman") and also a non-physical sort of deity came and destroyed creation:

"There he polluted the water, defiled the earth, poisoned the plants, and killed the first sacred animal. He also killed Gayomart, the first cosmic man."

Fortunately for mankind, the seed of the first cosmic man survived, going to the moon and the sun, which purified it. It then returned to the earth as a rhubarb plant (according to Persian scholar Iraj Bashiri) with two stalks attached at the base.

About these two stalks, Bashiri writes:

As brother-sister/husband-wife, Mashiya (male) and Mashiyanah [female], they produce the races of man.

Although at the time of creation all humans were equal, as their numbers grew, the deity decided to introduce the same hierarchy that governed the lower gods into his creation.

The Bundahishn, a work that describes Zoroastrian cosmology and is sometimes described as Zoroastrian scripture, has a slightly more elaborate story:

CHAPTER 15.

"1. On the nature of men it says in revelation, that Gayomard, in passing away, gave forth seed; that seed was thoroughly purified by the motion of the light of the sun, and Neryosang kept charge of two portions, and Spandarmad received one portion. 2. And in forty years, with the shape of a one-stemmed Rivas-plant, and the fifteen years of its fifteen leaves, Matro [Mashye] and Matroyao [Mashyane] grew up from the earth in such a manner that their arms rested, behind on their shoulders (dosh), and one joined to the other they were connected together and both alike. 3. And the waists of both of them were brought close and so connected together that it was not clear which is the male and which the female, and which is the one whose living soul (nismo) of Ohrmazd is not away. 4. As it is said thus: Which is created before, the soul (nismo) or the body? And Ohrmazd said that the soul is created before, and the body after, for him who was created; it is given into the body that it may produce activity, and the body is created only for activity;' hence the conclusion is this, that the soul (ruban) is created before and the body after. 5. And both of them changed from the shape of a plant into the shape of man, and the breath (nismo) went spiritually into them, which is the soul (ruban); and now, moreover, in that similitude a tree had grown up whose fruit was the ten varieties of man."

"6. Ohrmazd spoke to Mashye and Mashyane thus: 'You are man, you are the ancestry of the world, and you are created perfect in devotion by me; perform devotedly the duty of the law, think good thoughts, speak good words, do good deeds, and worship no demons!'"

Previous 2012 Myth Mondays:

  1. Hercules Hurls His Guest
  2. Scylla
  3. Olympics Origins II: Myrtilos
  4. Hercules the Giant-Killer
  5. The First Tyrant
  6. The King and the Harpies
  7. The Dawn Goddess Loves a Mortal
  8. Vediovis
  9. Even a Boar Wishes to Kiss Adonis
  10. Hero and Leander
  11. Who Were the Argonauts?
  12. The Chimera
  13. Narcissus and Echo
  14. How Perseus Fits In
  15. Hesiod and the Bestiary
  16. The First Olympics Origins I
  17. Dionysus and the Return of Hephaestus
  18. Zeus, the Recent Victor of the Titanomachy, Wins Once More in Hesiod's 'Theogony'
  19. Atlas, the Titan Who Didn't Shrug
  20. Troilus and ... Polyxena
  21. Who Is the Virgo?
  22. Pandora's Box
  23. Achilles and His Heel
  24. Hercules and His Labors

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