The earliest extant flood
legend is contained in the fragmentary
Sumerian Eridu Genesis,
datable by its script to the 17th century BCE.
The story tells how the god Enki warns Ziusudra (meaning "he saw
life," in reference to the gift of immortality given him by the
gods), of the gods' decision to destroy mankind in a flood - the
passage describing why the gods have decided this is lost.
instructs Ziusudra (also known as Atrahasis) to build a large
boat - the text describing the instructions is also lost. After
which he is left to repopulate the earth, as in many other flood
After a flood of seven days, Zi-ud-sura makes appropriate
sacrifices and prostrations to An (sky-god) and Enlil (chief of
the gods), and is given eternal life in Dilmun (the Sumerian
Eden) by An and Enlil.
Babylonian (Epic of Gilgamesh)
In the Babylonian
Gilgamesh, toward the end of the He who saw the deep version by
Sin-liqe-unninni, there are references to the great flood
(tablet 11). This was a late addition to the Gilgamesh cycle,
largely paraphrased or copied verbatim from the Epic of
The hero Gilgamesh, seeking immortality, searches out
Utnapishtim in Dilmun, a kind of paradise on earth.
tells how Ea (equivalent of the Sumerian Enki) warned him of the
gods' plan to destroy all life through a great flood and
instructed him to build a vessel in which he could save his
family, his friends, and his wealth and cattle.
After the Deluge
the gods repented their action and made Utnapishtim immortal.
The best-known version of the
Jewish deluge legend is contained in the Book of Genesis
(Genesis 6–9). Two non-canonical books,
the Enoch and Jubilees,
both later than Genesis, contain elaborations on the Genesis
Genesis tells how,
"...the Lord saw that the wickedness of man
was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of
his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that
He had made man on the earth, and was grieved in His heart.
the Lord said, 'I will blot out man whom I have created from the
face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to
birds of the sky; for I am grieved that I have made them.'"
God selects Noah, a man who "found favor in the eyes of
the Lord" and commands him to build an ark to save Noah, his
family, and the Earth's animals and birds. After Noah builds the
ark, "all the fountains of the great deep burst open, and the
floodgates of the sky were opened".
Rain falls for 40 days, the
water rises 150 days, and all the high mountains are covered. On
the 27th of Cheshvan of the year 1657 from Creation "the earth
dried" (Genesis 8:14) completing the 365-day duration of the
The ark rests on the mountains, the water recedes
for 150 days, until the waters are gone and Noah opens up the
ark. At this point Noah sends out a raven and then a dove to see
if the flood waters have receded. Noah and the animals leave the
ark, Noah offers a sacrifice to God, and God places a rainbow in
the clouds as a sign that he will never again destroy the Earth
The apocryphal 2nd century BCE 1st Book of Enoch adds to the
Genesis flood story by saying that God sent the Great Flood to
rid the earth of the Nephilim, the titanic children of the
Grigori, the "sons of God" mentioned in Genesis, and of human
The Quran tells a similar
story to the Judeo-Christian Genesis flood story, the major
differences being only Noah and few believers from the laity
enter the ark.
Noah's son (one of four) and his wife refused to
enter the ark thinking they will manage the flood by himself.
The Quranic ark comes to rest on Mount Judi, traditionally
identified with a mountain near Mosul in modern Iraq; the name
appears to derive from the local name of the Kurdish people,
although this is not certain.
There are many sources of
flood legends in ancient Chinese literature. Some appear to
refer to a worldwide deluge but most versions record only a
Shujing, or "Book of History", probably written around 500 BCE
or earlier, states in the opening chapters that Emperor Yao is
facing the problem of flood waters that "reach to the Heavens".
This is the backdrop for the intervention of the famous Da Yu,
who succeeded in controlling the floods. He went on to found the
first Chinese dynasty. Shanhaijing, "Classic of the Mountain &
Seas", ends with the Chinese ruler Da Yu spending ten years to
control a deluge whose "floodwaters overflowed heaven"
Chuci, Liezi, Huainanzi, Shuowen Jiezi, Siku Quanshu, Songsi
Dashu, and others, as well as many folk legends, all contain
references to a woman named Nüwa. Nüwa repairs the broken
heavens after a great flood or calamity, and repopulates the
world with people. There are many versions of this legend.
The ancient Chinese civilization concentrated at the bank of
Yellow River near present day Xian also believed that the severe
flooding along the river bank was caused by dragons
(representing gods) living in the river being angered by the
mistakes of the people.
According to the
Shatapatha Brahmana (1-8, 1-6), the mantri to the
king of pre-ancient Dravida, Satyavata who later becomes known
as Manu was washing his hands in a river when a little fish swam
into his hands and begged him to save its life.
He put it in a
jar, which it soon outgrew; he successively moved it to a tank,
a river and then the ocean. The fish then warned him that a
deluge would occur in a week that would destroy all life. Manu
therefore built a boat which the fish towed to a mountaintop
when the flood came, and thus he survived along with some "seeds
of life" to re-establish life on earth.
tradition holds the
Bhagavata Purana to be one of the works of
Vyasa written at the beginning of Kali Yuga.
In legends of the aboriginal
tribes inhabiting the Andaman Islands people became remiss of
the commands given to them at the creation.
Puluga, the god
creator, ceased to visit them and then without further warning
sent a devastating flood. Only four people survived this flood:
two men, Loralola and Poilola, and two women, Kalola and
Rimalola. When they landed they found they had lost their fire
and all living things had perished.
Puluga then recreated the
animals and plants but does not seem to have given any further
instructions, nor did he return the fire to the survivors.
In Batak traditions, the
earth rests on a giant snake, Naga-Padoha.
One day, the snake
tired of its burden and shook the Earth off into the sea.
However, the God Batara-Guru saved his daughter by sending a
mountain into the sea, and the entire human race descended from
her. The Earth was later placed back onto the head of the snake.
According to the
aborigines, in the
Dreamtime a huge frog drank all the water in
the world and a drought swept across the land.
The only way to
finish the drought was to make the frog laugh. Animals from all
over Australia gathered together and one by one attempted to
make the frog laugh. When finally the eel succeeded, the frog
opened his sleepy eyes, his big body quivered, his face relaxed,
and, at last, he burst into a laugh that sounded like rolling
The water poured from his mouth in a flood. It filled
the deepest rivers and covered the land. Only the highest
mountain peaks were visible, like islands in the sea. Many men
and animals were drowned.
The pelican who was blackfella at that
time painted himself with white clay and went from island to
island in a great canoe, rescuing other blackfellas. Since that
time pelicans have been black and white in remembrance of the
In a tradition of the
Porou, a Maori tribe of the east coast of New Zealand's North
Island, Ruatapu became angry when his father Uenuku elevated his
younger half-brother Kahutia-te-rangi ahead of him.
lured Kahutia-te-rangi and a large number of young men of high
birth into his canoe, and took them out to sea where he drowned
them. He called on the gods to destroy his enemies and
threatened to return as the great waves of early summer. As he
struggled for his life, Kahutia-te-rangi recited an incantation
invoking the southern humpback whales (paikea in Maori) to carry
Accordingly, he was renamed Paikea, and was the only
survivor (Reedy 1997:83-85).
Some versions of the Maori story of Tawhaki contain episodes
where the hero causes a flood to destroy the village of his two
jealous brothers-in-law. A comment in Grey's Polynesian
Mythology may have given the Maori something they did not have
before - as A.W Reed put it,
Mythology Grey said that when Tawhaki's ancestors released the
floods of heaven, the earth was overwhelmed and all human beings
perished - thus providing the Maori with his own
version of the universal flood".
(Reed 1963:165, in a footnote).
Christian influence has led to the appearance of genealogies
where Tawhaki's grandfather Hema is reinterpreted as Shem, son
of Noah of the biblical deluge.
According to the legend of
the Temuan, one of the 18 indigenous tribes of peninsular
Malaysia, the "celau" (storm of punishment) is for the sin of
the people who angered the gods and ancestors so much that a
great flood was sent in punishment.
Only two of the Temuan
tribes, Mamak and Inak Bungsuk, survived the flood by climbing
the Eaglewood tree at "Gunung Raja" (Royal Mountain), which
thereafter became the birth place and ancestral home of the
Greek mythology knows three
floods. The flood of Ogyges, the flood of Deucalion and the
flood of Dardanus, two of which ended two Ages of Man:
The Ogygian flood is so called because it occurred in the time
of Ogyges, a mythical king of Attica.
Ogyges is somewhat
synonymous with "primeval", "primal" and "earliest dawn". Others
say he was the founder and king of Thebes. In many traditions
the Ogygian flood is said to have covered the whole world and
was so devastating that Attica remained without kings until the
reign of Cecrops.
Plato in his Laws, Book III, estimates that this flood occurred
10,000 years before his time.
Also in Timaeus and in Critias
(111-112) he describes the "great deluge of all" happening 9,000
years before the time of Solon, during the 10th millennium BCE.
In addition, the texts report that "many great deluges have
taken place during the nine thousand years" since Athens and
Atlantis were preeminent
The theory of the flood in the Aegean Basin proposes that a
great flood occurred at the end of the Late Pleistocene or
beginning of the Holocene. The Holocene is a geological period
that began approximately 11,550 calendar years BP (or about 9600
BCE) and continues to the present.
This flood would coincide
with the end of the last ice age, estimated at approximately
10,000 years ago, when the sea level rose as much as 130 meters,
particularly during Melt-water pulse 1A when sea level rose by
about 25 meters in some parts of the northern hemisphere over a
period of less than 500 years.
The Peloponnese was connected to the mainland and the Corinthian
Gulf was not formed. Islands around Attica, such as Aegina,
Salamis and Euboea, were part of the mainland. The Cyclades
formed a big island known as Aegeis, while the Bosporus and
Hellespont were not formed yet.
These geological findings support the hypothesis that the
Ogygian Deluge may well be based on a real event.
Deucalion legend as told
by Apollodorus in The Library has some similarity to Noah's Ark:
Prometheus advised his son Deucalion to build a chest.
men perished except for a few who escaped to high mountains. The
mountains in Thessaly were parted, and all the world beyond the
Isthmus and Peloponnese was overwhelmed. Deucalion and his wife Pyrrha, after floating in the chest for nine days and nights,
landed on Parnassus. An older version of the story told by
Hellanicus has Deucalion's "ark" landing on Mount Othrys in
Another account has him landing on a peak, probably Phouka, in
Argolis, later called Nemea. When the rains ceased, he
sacrificed to Zeus. Then, at the bidding of Zeus, he threw
stones behind him, and they became men, and the stones which
Pyrrha threw became women. Appollodorus gives this as an
etymology for Greek Laos "people" as derived from laas "stone".
The Megarians told that Megarus, son of Zeus, escaped
Deucalion's flood by swimming to the top of Mount Gerania,
guided by the cries of cranes.
This one has the same basic
story line. According to Dionysius of Halicarnassus,
left Pheneus in Arcadia to colonize a land in the North-East
When the Dardanus' deluge occurred, the land was
flooded and the mountain on which he and his family survived,
formed the island of Samothrace. He left Samothrace on an
inflated skin to the opposite shores of Asia Minor and settled
at the foot of Mount Ida. Due to the fear of another flood they
didn't build a city, but lived in the open for fifty years.
grandson Tros eventually built a city, which was named Troy
The Theogony of Apollodorus
This one has the same basic
story line as Deucalion. Prometheus molded men out of water and
earth and gave them also fire, which, unknown to Zeus, he had
hidden in a stalk of fennel.
But when Zeus learned of it, he
ordered Hephaestus to nail his body to Mount Caucasus, which is
a Scythian mountain. On it Prometheus was nailed and kept bound
for many years. Every day an eagle swooped on him and devoured
the lobes of his liver, which grew by night. That was the
penalty that Prometheus paid for the theft of fire until
Hercules afterwards released him.
And Prometheus had a son Deucalion. He reigning in the regions
about Phthia, married Pyrrha, the daughter of Epimetheus and
Pandora, the first woman fashioned by the gods. And when Zeus
would destroy the men of the Bronze Age, Deucalion by the advice
of Prometheus constructed a chest, and having stored it with
provisions he embarked in it with Pyrrha.
But Zeus by pouring
heavy rain from heaven flooded the greater part of Greece, so
that all men were destroyed, except a few who fled to the high
mountains in the neighborhood and Peloponnesus was overwhelmed.
But Deucalion, floating in the chest over the sea for nine days
and as many nights, drifted to Parnassus, and there, when the
rain ceased, he landed and sacrificed to Zeus, the god of
Escape. And Zeus sent Hermes to him and allowed him to choose
what he would, and he chose to get men.
And at the bidding of Zeus he took up stones and threw them over
his head, and the stones which Deucalion threw became men, and
the stones which Pyrrha threw became women. Hence people were
called metaphorically people (Laos) from laas, "a stone."
Deucalion had children by Pyrrha, first Hellen, whose father
some say was Zeus, and second Amphictyon, who reigned over
Attica after Cranaus, and third a daughter Protogonia, who
became the mother of Aethlius by Zeus. Hellen had Dorus, Xuthus,
and Aeolus by a nymph Orseis. Those who were called Greeks he
named Hellenes after himself, and divided the country among his
Xuthus received Peloponnese and begat Achaeus and Ion by
Creusa, daughter of Erechtheus, and from Achaeus and Ion the
Achaeans and lonians derive their names. Dorus received the
country over against Peloponnese and called the settlers Dorians
Aeolus reigned over the regions about Thessaly and named the
inhabitants Aeolians. He married Enarete, daughter of Deimachus,
and begat seven sons, Cretheus, Sisyphus, Athamas, Salmoneus,
Deion, Magnes, Perieres, and five daughters, Canace, Alcyone,
Pisidice, Calyce, Perimede. Perimede had Hippodamas and Orestes
by Achelous; and Pisidice had Antiphus and Actor by Myrmidon.
Alcyone was married by Ceyx, son of Lucifer.
These perished by
reason of their pride, for he said that his wife was Hera, and
she said that her husband was Zeus. But Zeus turned them into
birds; her he made a kingfisher (alcyon) and him a gannet (ceyx).
In Norse mythology, there are
two separate deluges.
According to the
Prose Edda by Snorri
Sturluson, the first occurred at the dawn of time before the
world was formed. Ymir, the first giant, was killed by the god
Odin and his brothers Vili and Ve, and when he fell, so much
blood flowed from his wounds that it drowned almost the entire
race of giants with the exception of the frost giant Bergelmir
and his wife.
They escaped in a ship and survived, becoming the
progenitors of a new race of giants. Ymir's body was then used
to form the earth while his blood became the sea.
The second, in the Norse mythological time cycle, is destined to
occur in the future during the final battle between the gods and
giants, known as
Ragnarök. During this apocalyptic event,
Jormungandr, the great World Serpent that lies beneath the sea
surrounding Midgard, the realm of mortals, will rise up from the
watery depths to join the conflict, resulting in a catastrophic
flood that will drown the land.
However, following Ragnarök the
earth will be reborn and a new age of humanity will begin.
The mythologist Brian Branston noted the similarities between
this legend and an incident described in the Anglo-Saxon epic
poem Beowulf, which had traditionally been associated with the
biblical flood, so there may have been a corresponding incident
in the broader Germanic mythology as well as in Anglo-Saxon
According to the apocryphal
history of Ireland
Lebor Gabála Érenn, the first inhabitants of
Ireland led by Noah's granddaughter Cessair were all except one
wiped out by a flood 40 days after reaching the island.
after Partholon's and Nemed's people reached the island, another
flood rose and killed all but thirty of the inhabitants, who
scattered across the world. As it was Christian monks who first
wrote the story down (it had previously been oral tradition), it
is likely that references to the Biblical Noah were inserted
into the story, in an attempt to christianize it.
In the Kalevala rune entitled
"Haava" (The Wound, section 8), Väinämöinen attempts a heroic
feat that results in a gushing wound, the blood from which
covers the entire earth.
This deluge is not emphasized in the Kalevala version redacted by Elias Lönnrot, but the global
quality of the flood is evident in original variants of the
In one variant collected in Northern
Ostrobothnia in 1803/04, the rune tells:
The blood came forth like a
the gore ran like a river:
there was no hummock
and no high mountain
that was not flooded
all from Väinämöinen's toe
from the holy hero's knee.
In the analysis by Matti Kuusi, he
notes that the rune's motifs of constructing a boat, a wound,
and a flood have parallels with flood legends from around the
When the Sun Age came, there
had passed 400 years. Then came 200 years, then 76.
mankind was lost and drowned and turned to fishes. The water and
the sky drew near each other. In a single day all was lost, and
Four Flower consumed all that there was of our flesh. The very
mountains were swallowed up in the flood, and the waters
remained, lying tranquil during fifty and two springs.
But before the flood began,
Titlachahuan had warned the man Nota and his wife Nena, saying,
'Make no more pulque, but hollow
a great cypress, into which you shall enter the month
Tozoztli. The waters shall near the sky.' They entered, and
when Titlacahuan had shut them in he said to the man, 'Thou
shalt eat but a single ear of maize, and thy wife but one
also'. And when they had each eaten one ear of maize, they
prepared to go forth, for the water was tranquil.
Codex Chimalpopoca, translated by Abbé
Charles Étienne Brasseur de Bourbourg.
Caddo mythology, four
monsters grew in size and power until they touched the sky.
that time, a man heard a voice telling him to plant a hollow
reed. He did so, and the reed grew very big very quickly. The
man entered the reed with his wife and pairs of all good
animals. Waters rose, and covered everything but the top of the
reed and the heads of the monsters. A turtle then killed the
monsters by digging under them and uprooting them.
subsided, and winds dried the earth.
Hopi mythology, the people
moved away from Sotuknang, the creator, repeatedly. He destroyed
the world by fire, and then by cold, and recreated it both times
for the people that still followed the laws of creation, who
survived by hiding underground.
People became corrupt and
warlike a third time. As a result, Sotuknang guided the people
to Spider Woman, and she cut down giant reeds and sheltered the
people in the hollow stems. Sotuknang then caused a great flood,
and the people floated atop the water in their reeds. The reeds
came to rest on a small piece of land, and the people emerged,
with as much food as they started with.
The people traveled on
in their canoes, guided by their inner wisdom (which is said to
come from Sotuknang, through the door at the top of their head).
They travelled to the northeast, passing progressively larger
islands, until they came to the Fourth World.
When they reached
the fourth world, the islands sank into the ocean.
In Inca mythology,
destroyed the giants with a Great Flood, and two people
repopulated the earth. Uniquely, they survived in sealed caves.
In Maya mythology, from
the Popol Vuh, Part 1, Chapter 3, Huracan ("one-legged") was a wind
and storm god who caused the Great Flood after the first humans
angered the gods.
He supposedly lived in the windy
mists above the floodwaters and spoke the word "earth" until
land came up again from the seas.
Four men & four women
repopulate the Quiche world after the flood
all speaking the same language (but a confusing
and gather together in the same location
where their speech is changed (affirmed several times)
after which they disperse throughout the world.
In Mapuche mythology, the
Legend of Trentren Vilu and Caicai Vilu says that a battle
between two mythical serpents provoked a Great Flood; and
subsequently created the Mapuche world as we know it today.
Menominee mythology, Manabus, the trickster, "fired by his lust for revenge" shot two
underground gods when the gods were at play. When they all dived
into the water, a huge flood arose.
"The water rose up... It knew
very well where Manabus had gone."
He runs, he runs; but the water,
coming from Lake Michigan, chases him faster and faster, even as
he runs up a mountain and climbs to the top of the lofty pine at
Four times he begs the tree to grow just a little
more, and four times it obliges until it can grow no more. But
the water keeps climbing "up, up, right to his chin, and there
it stopped": there was nothing but water stretching out to the
And then Manabus, helped by diving
animals, and especially the bravest of all, the Muskrat, creates
the world as we know it today.
Mi'kmaq mythology, evil
and wickedness among men causes them to kill each other.
causes great sorrow to the creator-sun-god, who weeps tears that
become rains sufficient to trigger a deluge. The people attempt
to survive by traveling in bark canoes, but only a single old
man and woman survive to populate the earth.
The people of
of two friends, Te-aho-aroa and Ro'o, who went fishing and
accidentally woke the ocean god Ruahatu with their fish hooks.
Angered, he vowed to sink Ra'iatea below the sea.
and Ro'o begged for forgiveness, and Ruahatu warned them that
they could escape only by bringing their families to the islet
of Toamarama. These set sail, and during the night, the island
slipped under the ocean, only to rise again the next morning.
Nothing survived except for these families, who erected sacred
marae (temples) dedicated to the god Ruahatu.
A similar legend is found on Tahiti. No reason for the tragedy
is given, but the whole island sank beneath the sea except for
Mount Pitohiti. One human couple managed to flee there with
their animals and survived.
A human couple, Nu'u and
Lili-noe, survived a flood on top of Mauna Kea on the Big
Island. Nu'u made sacrifices to the moon, to whom he mistakenly
attributed his safety.
Kane, the creator god, descended to earth
on a rainbow, explained Nu'u's mistake, and accepted his
The great war god Tu was
angered by critical remarks made by his sister Hii-hia. His
tears tore through heaven's floor to the world below and created
a torrent of rain carrying everything in its path.