ONE OF THE OLDEST STORIES IN THE WORLD (Podcasts in English for Advanced Levels)

This podcast is destined for our advanced students and for everyone interested in improving their language skills. We invite readers to focus on difficult vocabulary, we have added a small list with the definition of key words at the end of the text.

The story of the flood is a myth shared by numerous cultures across the world.

The most famous of all the flood myths is the one we find in Genesis, passed on from generation to generation thanks to the bible.

The flood episode of Genesis tells how God used a deluge of cataclysmic proportions to cleanse the earth of his creation: MAN.

God wanted to reward the loyalty of Noah, an exemplary human being, by sparing him and his family from the flood. He ordered Noah to build an ark according to very precise criteria dictated by God and to keep his family there as well as a pair of every species that had been created by God. TheArk was to preserve these beings for a new beginning.

This is a beautiful, dramatic story. However, its claim to depict actual events is challenged from two directions. First, archaeological findings of the 19th century and second, ancient texts (notably those that figure on cuneiform tablets from Mesopotamia).

Indeed, the ancient world was full of flood stories, very similar to the flood story from the bible, but much more ancient.

So ancient memories, pure fiction or a mix of both? In this podcast we will learn the story of Atrahasis and in a second podcast, we will learn the story of the Utanapishtim.

Two myths….dating back to when?

The stories of Atrahasis and Utanapishtim were transmitted to us via two major literary works from the ancient East, the MYTH OF ATRAHASIS OR SUPERSAGE for the first and the EPIC OF GILGAMESH for the second.

The cuneiform tablets of the Myth of Atrahasis date back to at least the 17th century before the Common Era, whereas the flood story contained in the Epic of Gilgamesh was discovered in the grand library of the Assyrian King Assurbanipal in Niveneh, who reigned during the 7th century before the Common Era.

No need to tell you that the stories themselves are older than the actual tablets they were found on. They were probably transmitted orally from generation to generation before the invention of writing in 3200 before the Common Era.


Before we start, let us learn the names of the three main characters of the story. The first is Atrahasis, a MAN and human hero of the story. He is patient, pious, hardworking and dutiful in his sacrifices. The second is Ellil, is a volatile war councillor god who wants to wipe out humanity. The third is Ea, the sagely old father of Marduk, who campaigns tirelessly on behalf of humanity.

The story of Atrahasis is fragmented, complex, and repetitious but ultimately it’s about one god, Ellil, wanting to persecute humankind, another God, Ea, championing and protecting mankind and the human figure at the center of all of this, Atrahasis.

Now that we have been introduced to the main characters, let us learn the story.

Thousands of years ago, before the arrival of mankind, the gods had to work very hard and their burdens were often overwhelming. The gods were compelled to dig trenches for canals, carve out the channels of the Tigris and Euphrates and perform even more difficult work.

Exhausted, the gods convened at the home of Ellil, one of the supreme deities of the Mesopotamian pantheon.

At this meeting, the gods decided that they should create a creature who could carry the burden of the gods. The womb-goddess combined clay together with the flesh and blood of another god to create a divine and MORTAL being: MAN.

Once humans were created, the gods decided how our species would function and they made laws concerning marriage, the term of a pregnancy, fidelity, piety and honesty. Because the gods created humankind for their work, they asked that humans be DUTIFUL AND INDUSTRIOUS.

With proverbs and epic similes, the gods established the roles and duties of humanity and so the first generations of mankind began swarming over the face of the earth. Six hundred years passed, and humankind was a busy, LOUD species. Actually we were so loud that we began annoying Ellil, the HOST of the original meeting where the Gods decided to create us.

In a passage repeated a number of times the noise created by humans prevented the god Ellil from sleeping. Ellil decided that he would bring mankind down with disease.

and plagued humanity with terrible sickness. Ea, the good benevolent God, told Atrahasis that humanity should rebel, stop working, and stop sacrificing. After people did this, the disease remitted. If you were an Ancient Near Eastern god, whether Greek, Israelite, Canaanite or Babylonian, you needed those meaty sacrifices. So, once the gods got their sacrifices again, the numbers of humanity could continue to grow..

However humanity’s noise carried on and Ellil, unable to sleep, caused a drought. After much suffering, humanity, on gentle Ea’s recommendation, made many sacrifices to the rain god, and the drought ended. And thus began a cycle of droughts and sicknesses, collaborations between Ea and Atrahasis, remittance on punishments, and then new punishments.

During this long drought, people resorted to cannibalism but still, Atrahasis sent his sacrifices down the withering canals to his god Ea. Finally, Ea sent rain to the desperate lands. And Ellil was angry because Ea was helping mankind.

Ea then went to Atrahasis and told the pious man to construct a boat, giving him very specific instructions on how to do it. Over the course of a week, Atrahasis and his townspeople built a boat an acre in size. They stocked the ship with animals and skilled craftsmen and Atrahasis after he regaled his townspeople with food and drink, was terribly saddened that they would all be destroyed by the flood.

Then the flood began. Every human was consumed by a turbulent purge. The water washed everyone away. It is written that even the gods were alarmed by the full force of the flood.

Although the whole earth perished beneath the waters, Atrahasis’ boat survived. Looking out at the horrible destruction all around him, he wept. His boat settled on the side of a mountain called Ninush. Worried that all other land in the world was gone, Atrahasis sent out three birds, a dove, a swallow, and a raven, and when the raven did not return, he knew it had found land somewhere.

Gratefully, Atrahasis sacrificed animals. The gods gathered, and although angry Ellil reprimanded kindly Ea for sparing some humans from the deluge, the tide seemed to have turned in the favor of humanity. Ea replied to Ellil with a long, wise speech:

Ultimately, Ea emphasized, people were useful and the gods needed them. Ea told the assembled gods that people should be punished only if they’ve committed a specific infraction and that even though humanity was mortal and suffered from famine, disease, and warfare, we humans should be permitted happiness while we live, enjoying food, mirth, celebrations, accomplishments, children, spouses and so on. Future generations, Ea said in conclusion, should know that the flood happened so that humanity’s limitations, and relationships with the gods, would be clear. And with this statement made, and the promise of a long, collaborative future between gods and men issued, the Atrahasis story comes to a close.


Ark: Ship built by Atrahasis or other characters in flood stories such as Noah.

Cuneiform: System of writing used in the ancient Middle East. Cuneiform means “wedge-shaped,” because people wrote it using a reed stylus cut to make a wedge-shaped mark on a clay tablet.

Cuneiform Tablets: Clay Tablets on which Cuneiform was marked.

Deluge: Severe flood.

Drought: a long period of abnormally low rainfall.

Mortal Being: a being that dies (an immortal being has eternal life).

Pious: very religious.

Sacrifice (in the text sacrificing): the act of slaughtering an animal or human being and offering it to a deity.

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