Thespis: Ritual, Myth, and Drama in the Ancient Near East

By Theodor H. Gaster | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR
THE SEASONAL PATTERN IN MYTH

In course of time, as urban life develops and new conceptions emerge, the urgency of the primitive seasonal rituals tends to recede. But the Pattern lingers on in increasingly meaningless folk- customs and in literature.

Recent studies have shown that the Pattern may be recognized behind the conventional structure of Greek comedy and tragedy and behind the European Mummers' Play. Using the same line of argument, it is here shown that several of the longer mythological texts recently recovered from the Ancient Near East are likewise but literary adaptations of the Seasonal Pattern, and therefore essentially dramatic, each incident of the plot being projected from an element of the original ritual. It is therefore possible to claim these texts as ancient dramas and as the prototypes of Greek comedy and tragedy and, indeed, of modern theatrical forms.

The material covered is as follows: The Canaanite Poem of Baal, from Ras Shamra; The Canaanite Poem of the Gracious Gods; The Canaanite Poem of Aqhat; The Babylonian Myth of Creation; The Babylonian Akîtu-drama [VAT 9555]; The Hittite Myth of the Combat of Weather-god and Dragon; The Hittite Legend of Telipinu; The Hittite Yuzgat Text; The Hittite Account of the Mock Combat; The Egyptian Ramesseum Drama; The Egyptian Memphite Drama; The Egyptian Edfu Drama.

§1. Ritual is but one of the parents of Drama. The other is Myth. The function of Myth, in this context, is to bring out in articulate fashion the inherent durative significance of the ritual program.1 Its method is to construe the punctual order of ceremonies in terms of an ideal situation involving "gods" or similar transcendent and preterpunctual beings. Its effect is to turn presentation into representation, to introduce the element of mimesis and to confer upon the participants the added and parallel rôle of actors, so that they are at one and the same time both protagonists of a direct experience and impersonators of characters other than their own. Ritual and Myth are thus correlatives in a single whole, and it is their organic combination that, in fact, produces Drama.2

It follows that (with due allowance for artistic embellishment) the "plot" of the Seasonal Myth will be basically identical with the pattern of the Seasonal Ritual. Moreover, just as the latter fall, as a rule, into the two well- defined types of the Combat and the Death-and-Resurrection, so too do the former, and just as the latter is usually epitomized in the activities of a central representative figure, i.e. the king, so too is the former in that

____________________
1
See above, Ch. I, U+00A77.
2
It is not without significance that ancient speech recognizes no such concept as 'myth' in the usually accepted sense of the term. Greek mythos means simply 'the thing told.' However, Aristotle, Poetics 1459a, 19 speaks of dramatikoi mythoi.

-49-

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Thespis: Ritual, Myth, and Drama in the Ancient Near East
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Foreword vii
  • Author's Preface ix
  • Table of Contents xiii
  • Part One 1
  • Chapter One - The Components of Drama 3
  • Chapter Two - The Seasonal Pattern in Ritual 6
  • Chapter Three - The Seasonal Pattern in the Ancient Near East 34
  • Chapter Four - The Seasonal Pattern in Myth 49
  • Chapter Five - The Seasonal Pattern in Literature 73
  • Part Two 109
  • Canaanite Texts 113
  • Appendix - Unplaced Fragments 223
  • Introduction 225
  • Introduction 257
  • Hittite Texts 315
  • Appendix 336
  • Introduction 337
  • 3. the Myth of Telipinu 353
  • Egyptian Texts 381
  • Introduction 405
  • Act One 407
  • Act Four 409
  • Act Six 410
  • Hebrew Texts 413
  • Greek Texts 429
  • The English Mummers' Play 439
  • Appendix - Philological Notes 445
  • Index of Motifs 461
  • Index of Subjects and Authors 467
  • Bibliography 483
  • Abreviations 497
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