The eternal struggle between optimism and pessimism is never more apparent than in the comparison of the creation myths of the Yoruba and the Babylonians, The Creation of the Universe and Ife and The Enuma Elish respectively. Humanity springs forth in much the same manner in each story: starting with a world of water and the determination of a single god. Though the structure of both myths is relatively similar, a difference in tone is immediately distinguishable. By studying the motivations of the creator gods, the types of human beings created, and the relationship between the gods and their people, we can see that the societies of Babylon and Yoruba differ more than they resemble each other in regards to culture and world view.
The concept of servitude itself is apparent in both myths, but takes drastically different embodiments in each. The gods of the Enuma Elish, the highest authorities of Babylonian culture, created human beings to serve. Marduk, the great hero, says, “I will create a savage and call him ‘man.’ His job will be to serve the gods so they can rest at ease” (10). This ideal stands as an inevitability in the span of a life, much as death is an unavoidable reality. To believe that death is the only reward for an entire life spent toiling for the sake of superior beings would break the spirit of even the strongest; however, the humans were created to be nothing more than the gods’ slaves. This arrangement reveals a dark sense of pessimism looming over Babylonian culture as well as a low regard for Babylonians themselves as people. In The Creation of the Universe and Ife, Obatala, looking down on an empty earth, dreamt of more than ocean below the heaven in which he resided. He said, “The world below needs something of interest! Everything is water soaked, and not one living thing enlivens the area!” (510). He wanted to create humans because he wanted to make the world a better, livelier place, and in a way the gods serve the people by hearing their prayers and rescuing them from destruction. Obatala thus created humanity with the virtues of creativity and exuberance in mind. This motivation drastically differs from that of the Babylonian gods, who did not create humans for anything more than their ability to do the labor the gods themselves did not want to complete.
The belief that a human’s goal is to serve places a larger emphasis on physicality and strength. This emphasis, consequently, shifts art and spirituality to relatively low priority with regard to everyday life. Babylonians endeavored to be warriors, and this ingrained fighting spirit created strife within themselves. Their myth is a reflection of their gloomy and adversarial lifestyle as much as the lifestyle is the result of a deep-seeded sorrow, which itself springs from the knowledge of their own inferiority. Even the humans created by Obatala are acknowledged as deformed and imperfect as a result of their unfortunately timed creation: “He did not realize it, but the wine made him drunk. Obatala returned to his task of making clay figures, but his fingers were clumsy now. The figures he created were no longer perfect” (512). These people have every reason to suffer from their inferiority, and yet their gods do not condemn them. The drunken mishaps that lead each human to be molded inconsistently from the earthen clay are the roots of their strong connection to their gods. Rather than demanding to be served by the lesser creatures, as did the Babylonian pantheon, the gods of Yoruba look upon the humans as objects of sympathy, as in need of their support. The very material from which the humans were created in each myth demonstrates this division. Obatala’s humans were carved from the clay of the earth, which presents a pleasant connection to nature, vitality, and the gods themselves. The Babylonians were created from the blood of a slain enemy: “Ea killed Kingu, severed his blood vessels, and fashioned the first human beings out of Kingu’s blood” (11). In their own eyes as well as in the eyes of their gods, humans were forever tainted by the evil of the enemies.
As is the case for most ancient people in the imagining of their deities, the gods of the Babylonians and the Yoruba are a reflection of humanity. While the gods in The Creation of the Universe and Ife have many traits that reflect the best of humanity, the Babylonian gods seem to have been imagined from a darker perspective. Owing the ultimate debt to the gods in return for the right of their existence, the people have no choice but to worship and fear the gods with every part of their being. This approach provides a dramatic contrast to the devoted attitude the people have toward their gods in The Creation of the Universe and Ife in return for the gods’ unconditional love and protection. The obvious inferiority of humans is not used as a weapon against them by the gods that created them. Because humanity’s deformities and imperfections were due to a god’s admittedly careless mistake, he vows to be a protector of humans instead of their master: “‘I will devote myself to protecting all the people who have suffered from my drunkenness’ And Obatala became the protector of all those who are born deformed” (512). To the audience of this myth, a god who gets drunk and makes mistakes is an imperfect one. This ideology allows people to have a closer connection to their gods because those same gods can be viewed as flawed. Unlike those of other cultures, whose gods are all-powerful and superior in every way, these gods accept their faults and love even the creatures they make in error. The bond between man and creator is thus warmer and stronger. To humans, who vary in just about every way conceivable, this fact of life is a relief, as the pressure to live up to an impossible standard disappears. After the humans are created, the greatest god orders the gods on earth to hear the prayers of the humans and serve them. and prove themselves to be compassionate gods, a relative rarity in mythology. These relationships reveal the very foundation of the cultures’ respective fundamental world views. Unlike the Yoruba, the Babylonians saw a harsh world, and so naturally the creators of that world were thought to be harsh as well. Understanding, acceptance, and love stand at the core of The Creation of the Universe and Ife, proving that the Yoruba held these values in the highest regard, rather than prioritizing the debt and work that permeated every aspect of Babylonian culture.
Ultimately, the distinction between the creation of humanity in The Creation of the Universe and Ife and The Enuma Elish is one of outlook. To the Babylonians, life is struggle, from the very moment humans were raised from a pool of blood and enslaved. Never condemned nor abandoned by their gods, the Yoruba are left with a sense of community and hope. Positioned opposite to one another, these myths prove to be the sources as well as the products of each society’s view of the world, whether it be violent servitude or prosperity.