Summer 2015

Water in Mythology

Michael Witzel

Water in its various forms–as salty ocean water, as sweet river water, or as rain–has played a major role in human myths, from the hypothetical, reconstructed stories of our ancestral “African Eve” to those recorded some five thousand years ago by the early civilizations to the myriad myths told by major and smaller religions today. With the advent of agriculture, the importance of access to water was incorporated into the preexisting myths of hunter-gatherers. This is evident in myths of the ancient riverine civilizations of Egypt, Mesopotamia, India, and China, as well as those of desert civilizations of the Pueblo or Arab populations.

MICHAEL WITZEL, a Fellow of the American Academy since 2003, is the Wales Professor of Sanskrit at Harvard University. His many publications include The Origins of the World's Mythologies (2012), Linguistic Evidence for Cultural Exchange in Prehistoric Western Central Asia (2003), and On Magical Thought in the Veda (1979).

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