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

By Theodor H. Gaster | Go to book overview

3. The Poem of Aqhat or The Myth of the Divine Bow

INTRODUCTION

§1. With the third of our long Canaanite texts -- the Poem of Aqhat -- we move from the phase of primitive sacred drama to that of developed literary myth. No one who reads this text will doubt that in the form in which it has come down to us it was never formally acted and probably not even formally recited as a liturgical chant. It is a piece of literature pure and simple. Nevertheless, its roots lie in the ancient Ritual Pattern, and the very reason why it became part of the sacred repertoire of Ugarit (in the temple library of which city it was found) is that it was, au fond, nothing but an artistic transformation of the time-honored seasonal drama.


A. SYNOPSIS

§2. The essential portion of the story is preserved on three clay tablets and runs to approximately four hundred and fifty lines. Although it seems reasonably certain that the tablets which we possess follow one another consecutively, they preserve but a fraction of the original text, and even what has survived is frequently preserved in poor condition, full of breaks and of passages which are now illegible, now unintelligible. Nevertheless, sufficient remains to make out the general drift of the tale, and this may be summarized as follows:

§3. Once upon time there was a chieftain named Daniel, who had no son and badly desired one. He therefore repaired to the temple of the god Baal and performed the rite of incubation, serving as an acolyte for seven days and sleeping at night in the sacred precincts. His devotion was rewarded. Upon the intercession of Baal, the supreme deity El promised him issue. Thereupon he returned home and summoned professional songstresses (called kôṯarât, or "artistes") to celebrate the impending birth of his heir. In due course the child was born and was named Aqhat.

One day, while Daniel was sitting at the city-gate exercising his judicial functions ("judging the cause of the widow, dispensing justice to the orphan"), he chanced to espy Kôshar-wa-Ḫasis ("Sir Adroit and Cunning"), the divine smith and artisan, passing by on the way from his forge in Egypt, carrying a consignment of bows and arrows destined for the gods and goddesses. With true Oriental hospitality, Daniel invited him into his house

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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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