Floodlighting the Deluge: Traditions in Comparison

Paolo Magnone

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The deluge myth, while enjoying a wide diffusion all over the Eurasian continent, has found its most important literary developments in the Near-eastern, Classical and Indian worlds. Apropos of these traditions, the question has often been raised of their mutual relationship. As regards the Indian tradition in particular, several renowned scholars of the past have postulated its dependance on the sumero-semitic tradition, but nowadays the prevailing opinion speaks in favour of its autonomous development. Nevertheless, the structure of the Indian myth, whose careful recognition should indeed constitute the requisite basis for any further insight into the problem of its relationships, has not been adequately investigated. In my paper I purpose first of all a survey of the extant material by presenting, besides the well-known versions of the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa, Mahābhārata, Matsya and Bhāgavata Purāṇa, to which the analysis has usually been confined so far, some other less known versions, like those of the Viṣṇudharmottara and Kālikā Purāṇa, which add highly significant traits to the picture. Secondly, on the basis of that material, I intend to show as the Indian myth as a whole exhibits its own peculiar structure, quite different from the structure of the myths of the other great traditions, except for a couple of very generic features, which are, I should think, almost unavoidable in any deluge myth by reason of its very internal structure, and are as such quite worthless in either establishing or denying any historical relationship whatsoever. It had already been remarked, in this connection, that the Indian myth lacks all kind of ethical motivation, as the deluge itself is part of the ongoing cosmogonic process, hence naturally grounded; or that the closing sacrifice has an utterly different meaning in the Indian and semitic myth. However, scholars had hitherto failed to notice, as I believe, the specifically Indian import of the symbolism of the ship — tipically preexistent, and not fashioned by the protégé —, the peculiarity of the symbolic plexus of the ship and fish, later enriched by the rope as third element, and its solidarity with other mythical representations, with which a deep-rooted homology unexpectedly comes to light in spite of the seeming eterogeneity. In conclusion, the Indian deluge myth shows unmistakable original traits in its indissoluble connection with such typically Indian themes as (to mention but a few) the multilevel cyclical cosmic structure, the notion of residue, the avatāra, the divine monoceros, the earth foundering under the burden of the living.
Lingua originaleEnglish
pagine (da-a)233-244
Numero di pagine12
Stato di pubblicazionePubblicato - 2000
Pubblicato esternamente


  • Sanskrit Literature
  • deluge myth


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