Writing Gods & Myths V: East Asia

Since Robert and I attended last August a special symposium on Japanese, Chinese and Korean writing during the AWLL workshop in Japan, I think it would be fair to continue this series of posts with these cultures.

fuxi

Fuxi and Nüwa with measuring tools

We will start with Fuxi, the first of the mythical emperors of China. He is often pictured as half man and half snake, like his wife Nüwa, and he is a mythical civilising character who brought hunting, fishing, cooking and marriage rituals among other things to his descendants: the Chinese people.  Although it was never used as a real means of written communication, he created the written signs of pa kua or ba gua, the trigrams used as the base of the I Ching, the most important divination text in Chinese culture. According to legend he was inspired to create the trigrams by the marks on the back of a tortoise he saw by the Yellow river. Continue reading “Writing Gods & Myths V: East Asia”

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Writing Gods and Myths III: Egypt

Legend has it that it was the Egyptian god Thoth who created writing or, as the Egyptians called it, medu netjer “the words of the gods” (this is what we refer to as hieroglyphics, after the Greek ἱερός “holy” and γλύφω “to carve”). His intention was to give wisdom and a better memory to the Egyptians, but the god Re thought that writing would have the opposite effect, making people rely on written documents for wisdom and memory. However, Thoth still gave writing to a restricted group: the scribes. For this reason, scribes honoured Thoth as their patron.

 

Thoth_Glossary.jpg

The god Thoth with writing tools.

Continue reading “Writing Gods and Myths III: Egypt”

Writing Gods and Myths I: Greece and Rome

Ancient cultures gave great importance to writing as a civilising tool. However, the origins of writing are full of mystery, and they already were for these civilisations. Maybe for these reasons they created myths around the creation of writing and gave gods the attribute of writing. In this and other future posts we will look at some of these divinities and myths related to writing. Pippa already mentioned goddess Reitia, a Venetic goddess of writing, in a previous post of the CREWS blog HERE, and now we will continue with myths and gods from Greece and Rome.

All the stories point to the same hero as introducer of the alphabet in Greece: Cadmus. But he was not himself the creator of the script. He brought it from Phoenicia (or Egypt, depending on the version of the myth) to Boeotia, where he founded Thebes.

cadmus and the ismenian dragon

Figure 1. Cadmus and the Ismenian serpent. Image from 4th century BC calyx krater, Musée du Louvre (HERE).

Continue reading “Writing Gods and Myths I: Greece and Rome”