According to Livius, there is an ancient Mesopotamian myth. It was believed that the gods created humankind to cultivate the soil and make sure that the gods – by means of sacrifice – would receive their meals. However, the first people did not really understand how to perform the tasks they were supposed to perform, and therefore, the gods sent the Apkallū, the seven sages, as teachers. These creatures came to the human world from the sea.
The first one of these was Uanna, or Oannes who had not only the body of a fish, but also the feet, arms, head, and voice of a man. He explained how to read and write and how to do mathematics, but also how to build cities and temples. He taught them how to make laws, draw borders, divide land, plant seeds, and harvest fruits. Uanna also explained to the first humans how the gods had created the world.
There were other Apkallū. Each of them were associated with one of the cities of old, and they taught the people everything.
The story of the Apkallū is told by Berossus. In the Epic of Gilgameš, they are mentioned as the builders of the walls of Uruk. They are also mentioned in ritual texts and are represented in Palace S in Pasargadae. A parallel can be drawn in Jewish apocalypticism, in which sometimes beasts are presented, coming from the sea.
*****Plaques of the Apkallū were placed in Mesopotamian houses and were believed to ward off evil. It is likely that the Greeks copied the idea, and created their seven sages after the mythological heptad.*****
According to Ancient Origins, One of the great riddles in Mesopotamian sacred art concerns the image of anthropomorphic winged figures Apkallu holding a mullilu (fruit) in one hand, and a banduddû — a container — in the other.
The purpose of this container is mysterious.
This container appears throughout Sumerian and Babylonian cultures, and half a world away in the Yucatan.
Six thousand years earlier, it had been carved in a relief upon Pillar 43 at Gobekli Tepe, one of the world’s oldest standing stone enclosures in Turkey.
Apkallu came after the Great Flood
The Apkallu, as previously stated, are a group of seven sages, emissaries and mediating figures entrusted by a creator god to bring the civilizing arts to humanity following a catastrophic flood (Epic of Gilgamesh).
Their story is repeated almost verbatim in diluvial myths of many ancient cultures, the only changeable aspect being their names.
The quintessential image of the Apkallu is that of two eagles-, or perhaps falcon-headed hybrid people standing on either side of a flowering tree, picking its fruit, and the manner in which they hold the mysterious container suggests the fruit are to be placed inside. Sometimes the figure of the supreme deity Ahura Mazda is depicted inside of a winged disc which is above the axis of the tree, implying it is close to God, and thus, close to wisdom.
This is another widely shared image – known as the World Tree or the Tree of Knowledge, and served both as a focal point and a foundation of all mysteries, teachings and traditions across many faiths and traditions.
To solve the riddle of the meaning of the container, it is important to see some of the images together, because, placed in context, they appear to form a kind of triptych conveying a running commentary. Such a series of panels, removed from one of the rooms in Nimrud, is now housed in the British Museum.
One panel shows two Apkallu administering to the sacred tree; in the next, an Apkallu has turned from the tree and bestows a king with fruit, all the while holding that mysterious container.
The featured king is identified as Ashunarsipal, who was also a priest, a high initiate of the temple, and thus privy to secret knowledge that only such a position could allow.
We know he held this position because in a separate frieze he is depicted holding a beehive above his head, a clear indication he has been initiated into the ‘secrets of the beehive.’
In a next panel Ashunarsipal is no longer surrounded by the Apkallu, he himself has been transformed into a winged figure holding a fruit from the tree of knowledge and holding a container.
In the following image he stands in direct contact with the Tree of Knowledge and points directly at Ahura Mazda inside his solar disc.
Obviously the king has partaken of the fruit, and the knowledge it contains has transformed him into an Apkallu, allowing him direct access to God. Does the container represent the soul…the mind…the eternal spirit?
What do you think?
If you find this article fun and interesting and you decide to expand on this story, using the Apkallu in your work- let me know about it in the comment section below, and as usual…happy writing!