The Great Floods: Surviving the Waters of Time


Spencer Johnston
World Literature
Dr. Northam
Troy University
Fall 2011

The Great Floods: Surviving The Waters of Time

Literature has served as a great tool in most of the world’s cultural realms. The literary tale of the Great Flood is of great cultural significance and part of the earliest words in written history. This story first appeared in Mesopotamia as early as 2700 BC and has made its way into many other works of literature as well. And, as a result, it remains popular and relevant even into the 21st century, thanks to translations and cultural adaptations. The Literary aspects and themes of this story are the key enduring qualities of the work.

In particular, the Great Flood has made its significant contributions to literature and art in The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Holy Bible and recently, Evan Almighty. Essentially, the qualities of the story that transcend the ages are those of heroics, omnipresence, morality, idealism, human nature and sacrifice.

The central protagonist in each literary interpretation of the tale is conspicuously heroic. Achieving superhuman feats such as building an ark in itself, serves as a literary building block, from which to build and extend the readership’s respect for such heroic achievements. After all, the ark’s “ground-space was one acre” (Gilgamesh). This task of constructing an ark purposely reads as insurmountable and perhaps only achievable by someone of heroic proportions. This forms together a sense of enchantment, which alludes to the divine depiction of these literary figures.

In each respective writing, the hero is brushing with divinity. The relationship that Utnapishtim, Noah and Evan each have with God is one that confirms this through its unique make up. The attributes that lend to this depiction include moral fortitude, discarding of worldly things and immaculate selection. These qualities adorn Utnapishtim, Noah and Evan, in their respective stories. The omnipresence of God(s) reveals dissatisfaction with “the wickedness of man”(Holy Bible) in general, with the overall exception of the chosen hero and his offspring. From here, our heroes accomplish great achievements, lending to their seemingly endless source of wherewithal and idealistic abilities.

Sacrifice is an important literary message being conveyed in each of the three interpretations. As we know, the heroes of our tales had a great number of desirable attributes. This was meant to be indicative of wealth or material possession, because ultimately, the heroes’ homes would have to be sacrificed in order to construct the ark. This would have been important to the ancient reader, because of their cultural stances on sacrifice and its place in everyday life. Also, the creation of God(s) was to be “exterminate[d]”, ironically by said God(s). This is a sacrifice as well, meant to draw parallels between God(s) and their subjects.

Because the commands came from God(s), obedience, morality and omnipresence were lessons actuated in The Great Flood. Eventually, as readership through the ages has evolved, so have many of the interpretations of these tales. Perhaps, obedience as a literary tool can be learned as civil obedience as well. In keeping with the concept of social harmony, in 2007’s Evan Almighty, the term “ark” is cleverly incorporated as an acronym, meaning “acts of random kindness” (Evan Almighty). This is a really important aspect to the evolutionary tone of the Great Flood and its sense of usefulness to its subjects, who presumably live in a largely secular world.

The world that readers reside in is determinative in the literary conveyance and understanding of the manifestation of omnipresence. The qualities of the stories’ guiding leaders amount to similar, but different interpretations. “Gods in council”(Gilgamesh) were ultimately appropriate for Mesopotamians around the year 2700 BC. However, by the time Noah came around, his audience would identify more with monotheism, thus “God” (Holy Bible) lent his omnipresence. Similarly, “God”, in Evan Almighty served a singular role. In order to remain appropriate for modern day audiences, inevitable changes were made concerning the literary depiction of God. For instance, God appeared in physical form as opposed to speaking from the heavens. This is likely in response to much of the 21st century’s need for explanation and strong response to visual representation of literary forms.

Ultimately, the results of our tales’ literary triumphs are instrumental teaching tools. They continue to convey meaningful values to current generations, while maintaining the literary framework constructed nearly 5000 years ago. From this culturally important work of literature, we become aware that much of the adversity humankind faces today transcends all spans of time and culture. This is precisely the reason that The Great Flood remains appropriate for readers of literature even today.

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