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‘Silver’: A Hurrian Phaethon


It is proposed that the story of the Hurrian deity ‘Silver’, as portrayed in the Late Bronze Age Song of Silver, is a plausible precursor to the classical myth of Phaethon. Shared motifs include the teasing of the young hero, the revelation by his mother of his father’s divine identity, a temporary assumption of power in heaven, a clash with the god of thunder, a disastrous episode involving the Sun and the Moon, and an etymology meaning ‘radiance’. As the Phaethon myth also seems to contain Semitic elements, it is argued that the source of the classical story was the region of northern Phoenicia to Cilicia, or Cyprus.
© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2012 DOI: 10.1163/15692124-12341239
Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions 12 (2012) 237–251
Journal of
Ancient Near
‘Silver’: A Hurrian Phaethon
Peter James and Marinus Anthony van der Sluijs;
It is proposed that the story of the Hurrian deity ‘Silver’, as portrayed in the Late Bronze Age
Song of Silver, is a plausible precursor to the classical myth of Phaethon. Shared motifs include
the teasing of the young hero, the revelation by his mother of his father’s divine identity, a tem-
porary assumption of power in heaven, a clash with the god of thunder, a disastrous episode
involving the Sun and the Moon, and an etymology meaning ‘radiance’. As the Phaethon myth
also seems to contain Semitic elements, it is argued that the source of the classical story was the
region of northern Phoenicia to Cilicia, or Cyprus.
comparative mythology, catastrophe, Phaethon, Hurrian, Sun
1. Introduction
e most detailed account of the Greek myth of Phaethon comes from the
Metamorphoses (1. 750–2. 400) of the Roman poet Ovid (completed by 8 CE).
Despite the late date of this composition, it was appreciated long ago by Sir
James Frazer (1921, 394) that
. . . it is probable that Ovid drew the main pattern of his narrative from Greek origi-
nals, though doubtless many of the picturesque particulars with which he embellished
it are due to the poet’s own imagination. But the more we compare the Metamorphoses
with the parallel stories in extant Greek literature, the more, I think, we shall be
inclined to admire the poet’s learning and the fidelity with which he followed his
sources, always however embroidering their usually plain substance with the many
coloured threads of his exuberant fantasy.
Indeed, it is now agreed that the major motifs in Ovid’s story of Phaethon are
paralleled in much earlier Greek writings, particularly in the surviving
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238 Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions 12 (2012) 237–251
fragments of a drama by Euripides called Phaethon,1 as conveniently sum-
marised by Gantz (1993, 33):
To all this the Metamorphoses has little new to add: as in Euripides Phaethon is brought
up by Merops and Klymene in Aithiopia, and sent by his mother to Helios when her
claim that he is the god’s son is disputed (Met 1. 750–2. 400). Helios’ rash promise of
anything the boy wants leads to Phaethon’s (solo) journey, a scorched Gaia’s appeal to
Zeus and the reluctant hurling of the thunderbolt.
One motif exclusively preserved in Ovid, lacking any precedents in the extant
Greek versions, is the teasing of Phaethon by his peer Epaphus about his par-
enthood, and Phaethon’s petulant reaction: “When this Phaëthon was once
speaking proudly, and refused to give way to him, boasting that Phoebus was
his father, the grandson of Inachus rebelled and said: ‘You are a fool to believe
all your mother tells you, and are swelled up with false notions about your
father.’ Phaëthon grew red with rage, but repressed his anger through very
shame and carried Epaphus’ insulting taunt straight to his mother, Clymene”
(1. 751–756, tr. Miller 1999, 54–55). e latter then mitigated Phaethon’s
anxiety, assuring him that “you are sprung from the Sun, that being
whom you behold, that being who sways the world” (1. 770–771, tr. Miller
1999, 56–57).
2. Parallels between Phaethon and the God Silver
It is possible that the teasing of the ‘fatherless’ young Phaethon was taken by
Ovid from Euripides’ Phaethon. e antiquity of the motif (surely a common
one) is demonstrated, by an Egyptian parallel from the New Kingdom period
in the story e Blinding of Truth by Falsehood: “His (school)mates said to
him: Whose son are you? You don’t have a father. And they would revile him
and mock him: Truly, you don’t have a father” (Wente 1973, 129). e rest
of the Egyptian tale does not, however, bear any resemblance to the Phaethon
myth. e motif also occurs in the Hurrian Song of Silver, preserved in a Hit-
tite version from the archive at Boğhazköy (Ḫattuša),2 and it is on this parallel
1 For text and translation of the fragments of Euripides’ Phaethon, see Kannicht 2004,
798–826; Collard et alii 1997, 195–239; Diggle 1970.
2 HFAC 12 i; KUB 33.91, 115; KUB 36.18 + 18a, 19; KBo 22.80, 82; KBo 26.107, 146;
KUB 17.4—ed. Hoffner 1988. We follow the translation of Hoffner (1998) here. ose of Haas
2006, 148–151 and Ünal 1994, 856–857 follow Hoffner’s edition and agree on the essential
interpretation with few differences (see note 7 below). Hoffner identifies the Song of Silver as part
of the Kumarbi Cycle of Songs, but Polvani (2008, 622) has warned against such an assumption.
See however Archi (2009, 211): “Discussion of whether or not a song belongs to the Kumarbi
P. James and M. A. van der Sluijs /
Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions 12 (2012) 237–251 239
that we should place the greatest emphasis, as this text will prove to have much
else in common with the story of Phaethon. e protagonist of this story is
Ušḫune or “ Silver”:
It is Silver the Fine [. . .] whom I sing. Wise men [told (?)] me [the . . . of ] the fatherless
[boy (?)]. It did not exist. Long ago Silver’s [. . . had disappeared (?)]. And his . . . they
do not know . . .
Silver [struck] an orphan boy [with] a stick. e orphan boy spoke an evil word
against Silver: ‘My Silver, why [are you hitting us]? Why are you striking us? You are
an orphan like us.’ [Now when Silver heard these words], he began to weep. Weeping,
Silver went into his house. Silver began to repeat the words to his mother: ‘e boys
I struck down in front of the gate are defying me. I struck a boy with a stick, and he
spoke an [evil] word back to me. Hear, O my mother, the words which the orphan
boy said to me: ‘Why are you hitting [us? Why are you striking] us? [You are an
orphan like us.]’ (Frs. 1. 2; 3. 2–3, tr. Hoffner 1998, 48–49)
As Hoffner (1998, 48) explains, the insult hurled at Silver, wannumiyas
DUMU, is usually translated by Hittitologists as ‘orphan’, but is better read
as “a child whose father is dead or missing . . . since Silver’s mother is still with
him, he is not an orphan in the usual sense. ere is just a hint that his father-
less condition could be regarded as shameful.” Kloekhorst (2008, 956–957
s. v. ‘u̯annum(m)ii̯a-’) accordingly defines u̯annum(m)ii̯a- as “orphaned
(child), widowed (woman)”, citing Hoffner’s opinion that “u̯annum(m)ii̯
MUNUS and u̯annum(m)ii̯DUMU denote ‘women and children who are
without husbands and fathers either because he has died or because he has
abandoned them’.” Bearing this in mind, the episode offers a striking analogy
to the classical scene in which Phaethon, whose father is alive but absent, is
taunted by Epaphus. e parallel with this episode in Ovid is completed by
the fact that the boy saying ‘the evil word’ is apparently a friend: “He addresses
Silver as ‘My Silver’, which seems friendly” (Hoffner 1998, 150). e com-
parison lays to rest Diggle’s charge (1970, 182–183) that the bullying episode
in Ovid “is unique” and that it was “probably his own invention”.
As the narrative unfolds, the parallels between the Phaethon and Silver sto-
ries continue. As in the case of Phaethon, Silver’s mother goes on to explain
that the youngster’s father is divine. In Phaethon’s case, this was the Sun-god
Phoebus; in Silver’s, it was the former king of heaven, Kumarbi:
Cycle responds only to our own hermeneutical needs.” In this paper we continue to use the term
‘Kumarbi Cycle’ in a loose sense—including all those Songs of the same genre that describe the
successive efforts of Kumarbi and his progeny to disrupt the rule of Tešub.
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240 Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions 12 (2012) 237–251
[His mother (?)] took the stick away from [him . . . His mother] turned around [and]
began to reply [to Silver, her son]: ‘Do [not hit me], O Silver! Do not strike me! e
city (?) [you inquire about] I will tell/describe it to you. [Your father (?) is Kumarbi],
the Father of the city Urkes. [He . . . s], and he resides in Urkes . . . Your brother is Tes-
sub. He is king in heaven. And he is king in the land. Your sister is Sauska, and she is
queen in Nineveh. You must [not] fear any [other god]; only one deity [must you fear.
He (i. e., Kumarbi) stirs up (?)] the enemy land(s), and the wild animals. From top to
bottom [he . . . s]. From bottom to top [he . . . s.’ Silver] listened to his mother’s words.
(Fr. 4. 1, tr. Hoffner 1998, 49)
In both traditions, the impetuous youth now goes in search of his father. In
Euripides’ play, Phaethon did so by travelling to the land of the sunrise which
bordered on his Ethiopian home.3 As for Silver:
He set out for Urkes. He arrived in Urkes, but he did not find [Kumarbi] in his house.
He (Kumarbi) had gone to roam the land(s). He wanders about up (?) in the moun-
tains. (Fr. 4.1, tr. Hoffner 1998, 49)
e implication is that Silver went up the mountains in pursuit of his father.
Likewise, in Ovid’s account, Phaethon ascended to a “high dwelling” (arx),
that he could only reach by climbing “the steep path which leads thither”
(Ovid, Metamorphoses, 2. 19–20, 33, tr. Miller 1999, 60–63), in order to find
In the Greek account, Phaethon soon finds his father. An episode in which
Silver finds his father and speaks with him is missing from our fragmentary
text, but can reasonably be assumed. Whatever the case, Silver then appears to
become king of the gods (Hoffner 1998, 49). Despite Polvani’s assertion that
the text does not give “testimony of any kingship” (Polvani 2008, 622), this
can be inferred from the text (Fr. 2A iii = 5.1), in which Tešub is warned by
his brother that someone has become king (LUGAL-u-ez-zi-it-ta-at). is is
confirmed by a fragment of an extraordinary Hurrian-Hittite ritual text (KUB
27. 38 Rs. iv 19–21, eds. Haas & Wegner 1988, 389, with 25–26), in which
Silver is mentioned in a list of legendary kings (mušḫune eweer=ni šarr(i)=a
uštae [ḫur]-ad ḫurri). Here we seem to have a ‘Euhemeristic’ take on the theme
of heavenly challengers to the rule of Tešub, as the list continues with a king
‘raised up by Kumarbi’ ([wu]ud=t=il=ae? Dkumarwee=ne=š šarr(i)=a) called
3 Euripides’ Phaethon takes place before the palace of Phaethon’s assumed father—Merops,
king of Ethiopia, “at the eastern edge of the world bounded by the river Oceanus (109), close to
the house and stables from which Helios the sun-god daily drives his chariot across the heaven”,
Collard et alii 1997, 196; cf. Ovid, Metamorphoses, 1. 776.
4 Compare Kugler (1927, 4): “. . . so führt der Weg zur Sonne scheinbar bergan (acclivo
limite 19) . . .”
P. James and M. A. van der Sluijs /
Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions 12 (2012) 237–251 241
Ḫidam, who is clearly the Ḫedammu, son of Kumarbi, known from another
song of the ‘Kumarbi Cycle’ (Houwink ten Cate 1992, 111; Wilhelm 2003,
393–395; Haas 2006, 148; superseding de Martino 1993, 129). We conclude
with Houwink ten Cate (1992, 114, cf. 110–111): “ere can be no doubt
that Silver first won and later lost the position of king in heaven.”
Silver’s rule was evidently despotic, as he “[drives (?)] all the deities with a
goad (?) of pistachio wood.” (Fr. 5. 1, tr. Hoffner 1998, 50) Phaethon, of
course, did not seize kingship of the gods, yet tantalising hints indicate that he
may have been portrayed as a much more seditious character in pre-Ovidian
tradition. His brief occupancy of the chariot of the chief luminary of the heav-
ens counts as an act of supreme hubris and, perhaps more tellingly, “Phaethon
stole the chariot of the sun without his father’s consent, a clear act of rebel-
lion”, in “Aeschylus’ lost play, the Heliades, and perhaps also in a lost work of
Hesiod” (Forsyth 1987, 132).5 A version of the myth recorded by Hyginus
(Fabulae, 152A, tr. Grant 1960, 123–124),6 in which the youngster “secretly
mounted his father’s car”, prompted Diggle (1970, 20–21 and note 1) to
conclude that a more aggressive Phaethon is depicted here than in the usual
Phaethon’s aspiration to drive the chariot of the Sun may be construed as an act of
audacity and presumption equally vexatious to the gods as the threats of their better
known antagonists . . . e Phaethon who appropriates the Sun-god’s chariot to his
own use without the permission of his father is a far more formidable figure than the
Phaethon whose request to drive the chariot is chiefly a means of testing his father’s
promise . . . If Phaethon was represented as an impious braggart (in the original of
152A) we can see why it was necessary that he should be struck by the thunderbolt
even after his fall.
Indeed, it begins to look as if, in an earlier version of the story, Phaethon’s
diversion of the ordinary course of the Sun was motivated by a desire to attack
the stronghold of the ruler of the gods. In both cases, the protagonist comes
into conflict with the legitimate king of heaven, Zeus/Jupiter or his equivalent
the storm-god Tešub. In both cases, the dismay of the storm-god’s brother
5 Pausanias 1.3.1 refers to the story of a (possibly related) Phaethon given in Hesiod’s Cata-
logues of Women and Eoiae. For evidence that Hesiod was familiar with the myth of Phaethon’s
fall, see van der Sluijs 2008, 222–225. We have been unable to verify the claim (Diggle 1970,
30; repeated in Forsyth) that theft is referred to in a fragment of Aeschylus’ play.
6 Hyginus’ second account (154, trans. Grant 1960, 124–125) depicts a less mischievous
Phaethon: “Phaethon, son of Clymenus, son of Sol, and the nymph Merope, who, as we have
heard, was an Oceanid, upon being told by his father that his grandfather was Sol, put to bad
use the chariot he asked for.” Compare Grant (1960, 124–125): “Most writers do not say that
Phaethon mounted the chariot secretly”.
P. James and M. A. van der Sluijs /
242 Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions 12 (2012) 237–251
prompts a request for the storm-god to bring down the upstart by using his
thunderbolts. In Ovid’s account (2. 279–280, 290–292, tr. Miller 1999,
78–81), it is Neptune, Jupiter’s brother, whose suffering from the heat inspires
Tellus’ (Gaia’s) desperate plea: “. . . why, O king of all the gods, are thy light-
nings idle? . . . grant that I have deserved destruction, what has the sea, what
has thy brother done? Why are the waters which fell to him by the third lot so
shrunken, and so much further from the sky?” Her request is met, and Jupiter
brings down the mock Sun Phaethon with a thunderbolt. Likewise, in the
Song of Silver (Fr. 2A iii = 5.1), Tešub is implored by his vizier, evidently his
brother Tašmišu, with words beginning KAxIM-an-na-wa-at-ta Ú-U[L? . . .]
(Hoffner 1988, 155), which Hoffner (1998, 50) translates as: “[Is it] not [pos-
sible (?)] for you to thunder?”7
It is fair to assume that Tešub eventually unleashed his thunder against the
usurper, because Silver’s term as heavenly ruler ended and, as the introduction
to the Song notes, he is no longer worshipped despite his former splendour.
Hoffner (1998, 48) opines that the complete text will have included an
account of Silver’s demotion, in accordance with the general pattern of the
Kumarbi cycle (Hoffner 1998, 48).
Phaethon’s misuse of his father’s chariot effectively led to the ‘Sun’ crashing
down to earth. e surviving fragments of the Song, too, show that Silver’s
rebellion was thought to have changed the normal course of the Sun:
Silver [seized (?)] power with his hands. Silver seized the spear. He dragged the Sun
and Moon down from heaven. e Sun and the Moon did reverence. ey bowed to
Silver. e Sun and the Moon began to speak to Silver: ‘[O Silver, our lord], do not
strike/kill us! We are the luminaries [of heaven] and [earth]. We are the torches of
what [lands] you [govern. If you strike/kill us], you will proceed to govern the dark
lands personally.’ [His] soul within [him was filled with] love. [He had] pity on [. . .].
(Fr. 7. 2–3, tr. Hoffner 1998, 50)
ree apparent differences between the Greek and the Hurrian traditions
are that Phaethon was portrayed as a temporary embodiment of the Sun,
whereas the fragments we possess do not immediately suggest a solar aspect for
Silver; that Phaethon’s error caused a universal conflagration, whereas Silver’s
7 e comparison does not hold on some alternative translations of this fragmentary line,
according to which Silver’s reign precludes the god from using his thunder: “[It will] not [hap-
pen (?)] for you to thunder.” (Hoffner 1988, 156); “[Du wirst] nicht donnern [können].” (Ünal
1994, 857); “[Es ist] dir nich[t (mehr) möglich], ein Gewitter hervorzurufen . . .” (Haas 2006,
150). Nevertheless, the role of the thunder-god’s brother in prompting him to act against the
troublemaker is an interesting detail, despite the very different character of Neptune/Poseidon
and Tašmisu.
P. James and M. A. van der Sluijs /
Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions 12 (2012) 237–251 243
move threatened to engulf the world in darkness; and that Silver brought
down not only the Sun, but the Moon as well.8 But even these differences
need not be absolute. Ovid (2. 329–332, tr. Miller 1999, 82–83) stated that
Phaethon’s death was followed by a temporary obscuration of the Sun: “e
wretched father, sick with grief, hid his face; and, if we are to believe report,
one whole day went without the sun. But the burning world gave light, and so
even in that disaster was there some service.” And in Ovid’s narration, the
Moon does play a part, expressing consternation that the Sun, which normally
orbits above her, is now below her: “e Moon in amazement sees her broth-
er’s horses running below her own . . .” (2. 208–209, tr. Miller 1999, 74–75)
Greater involvement of the Moon-goddess in the story is suggested by the
earliest known representation of Phaethon’s downfall, on an Arretine bowl
(Boston 98. 828) from the very early 1st century but thought to be based on
“a Hellenistic model” (Chase 1916, 73; Pl. XIV–XV). is shows Apollo/
Helios trying to rein in the horses of the Sun-chariot as Phaethon falls; on the
other side is Artemis, aiming her bow at Phaethon, “as if she had taken an
active part in his destruction” (Gantz 1993, 34). Clearly, the pair represent
the Sun and Moon as antagonists of Phaethon. Moreover, an obscure
Euhemeristic tradition recorded by Diodorus of Sicily (3. 57. 4–8) features
Helios and Selenē as two mortal children who lent their names to the Sun and
the Moon after Helios had been cast into the river Eridanus and Selenē had
thrown herself down from the roof in agony. As indicated by the role of the
Eridanus, this must be a parallel to the myth of Phaethon, in which the Sun
and the Moon both come down—as in the case of Silver. Finally, in both cases
the disturbance is of cataclysmic proportions, as Haas (2006, 150) under-
scored in the case of the Hurrian version: “Da der Mond die Zeitrechnung
bestimmt und die Sonne den Tag von der Nacht scheidet, steht die Welt in
Gefahr, in das zeitlose und finstere Chaos zu stürzen.”
In short, both accounts clearly describe a catastrophic interruption in the
natural order of things, in which a youthful rebel was instrumental in threat-
ening the power of the Sun and bringing it down.
Finally, the names of the two figures are surely conversant. Silver’s name,
KU.BABBAR, the Hurrian form of was apparently Ušḫune, the Hittite
**Ḫarkiyanza-s (Hoffner 1988, 163–164, from the Proto-Indo-European root
*h2erǵ-, ‘to be glittering, white’, cf. Sanskrit árjunaḥ, ‘bright, white’, Latin
argentum, ‘silver’, Greek argós, ‘white, etc.’), implies a white radiance. is
8 A possible Hattic variation on this myth is the fall of the Moon-god, from the sky: “[e
Moon God] fell from the sky and fell upon the gate complex, [but] no one saw him.” e Moon
that Fell from Heaven, §§6–13 or C. ii. 10–16, A ii. 15–32, trans. Hoffner 1998, 34–36.
P. James and M. A. van der Sluijs /
244 Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions 12 (2012) 237–251
compares to Phaethon’s name, which literally means ‘shining, brightness’.9
e ‘brightness’ expressed etymologically in Phaethon’s name is readily under-
stood in terms of a radiant celestial object (Reckford 1972, 427, note 23;
Forsyth 1987, 133). More specifically, an early tradition appears to have iden-
tified Phaethon with the planet Venus. During the Hellenistic era, astrono-
mers agreed to call the planet Jupiter ‘Phaethon’, although a few dissenting
sources identified Saturn as such (for references, see conveniently van der Slu-
ijs 2006, 71; 2008; James and van der Sluijs 2008, 69 & note 31). Whether
the Hurrians gave Silver a celestial identity is unknown. Certainly, Bossert
(1944, 207; cf. Otten 1959, 32) proposed to read the name of deity number
31 on the frieze of the Hurrian pantheon at Yazılıkaya ideographically as
respectively ‘Silver’ or ‘pure bright’—while the wings attached to this god may
suggest an astral, if not a specifically planetary significance.10 At any rate, it is
worth entertaining Haas’ suspicion (2006, 151, expanding on Hoffner 1988,
161) that “daß Silber auf Grund seines Glanzes glaubt, den Kosmos aus
eigener Kraft erleuchten zu können.” If correct, this undergirds the analogy
with Phaethon’s failed performance as a ‘mock Sun’.
3. Levantine Connections
e parallels listed between the Phaethon and Silver stories are too close to
avoid the conclusion that the two characters are related. In particular, the nexus
of motifs involving a boy hero being teased for having no father, learning from
his mother that his father is a mighty sky being, setting off to find him and
then proceeding to disrupt the natural cosmic order seems too specific to have
arisen independently in two cultures of the ancient Eastern Mediterranean
Greek Φαέθων Phaéthōn is a present participle with th-suffix, based on a thematic aorist
pháe-, ‘to light up, radiate, be bright’. From the same stem were derived the verb phaeínō, ‘to
gleam’, the noun pháos, ‘light’, later contracted in Attic to phōs, and many other words, Frisk
1957, 989–991 s. v. ‘φάος’; Chantraine 1984, 1168–1170 s. v. ‘φάε’; and Rix 2001, 68–69 s. v.
*bheh2-’ and Pokorny 1959, 104–105 s. v. ‘bhā-, bhō-, bhə’ for Indo-European parallels. Non-
nus (Dionysiaca, 38. 142–144, trans. Rouse 1998, 102–103) devised an obvious play on the
name when he related that Phaethon was phaesphóron, “brilliant with light”, upon his birth:
“en Clymene’s womb swelled in that fruitful union, and when the birth ripened she brought
forth a baby son divine and brilliant with light.”
10 e only other deities on the frieze with wings are planets (in the ancient sense): Šaušga
(no. 38), Hurrian equivalent of the Mesopotamian Venus-goddess Ištar; Kušuḫ the Moon-god
(no. 35); and Šimige the Sun-god (no. 34), the latter being surmounted by a winged Sun-disk.
Were the new reading of the hieroglyphs proposed by Masson (1981, 21–23) correct, the name
would not include an ideogram for a silver bar at all. However, Hittitologists (e.g. Gurney &
Hawkins 1982; Alexander 1986, 157) have vociferously criticised both Masson’s methodology
and readings.
P. James and M. A. van der Sluijs /
Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions 12 (2012) 237–251 245
basin. Yet while diffusion of the tale to Greece, ultimately from a Hurrian
source, seems more than likely, we should also bear in mind another acknowl-
edged possible source of the Phaethon story, from Phoenicia—the story of
Hēlēl ben-Šaḥar, the ‘son of Dawn’, who according to Isaiah (14. 12–16) met
his fate after a hubristic bid for kingship of heaven. Isaiah addressed Hēlēl as
a mythical character who attempted to overthrow the regime of the sky-god
‘Elyōn on the pinnacle of Mount Ṣāphōn, but failed miserably and was hurled
into the underworld. It is now generally believed that Isaiah’s source was a
Canaanite-Ugaritic rather than a Babylonian myth, as had initially been con-
sidered (see Grelot 1956, 19; Day 2000, 170), but a precise analogue has not
yet been forthcoming. e most likely parallel to the story of Hēlēl in Ugaritic
literature is the myth of the rebellion of ‘At̠tar.11 e extant fragments (e
Ba‘lu Myth, CTA. 6. I. 53–65, tr. Pardee 1997, 269) tell how ‘At̠tar, upon the
death of Ba‘lu, attempted to seize the empty throne with the help of the god-
dess ‘At̠iratu of the Sea, but was too small and abdicated voluntarily. ere is
no need to repeat the various arguments advanced for and against a compari-
son of Hēlēl with ‘At̠tar,12 and of both with Phaethon.13
As the Greek story of Phaethon seems to reflect motifs from both the Hur-
rian Song of Silver and the Canaanite tale of ‘At̠tar/Hēlēl, this should provide
a clue to the region in which Greeks learnt the story. On the one hand, the
Hurrians localised at least some of the Silver story in the region around Urkeš
in northern Mesopotamia, the only placename mentioned, and Buccellati &
Kelly-Buccellati (2009, 67–69) have argued that the mountains that Silver
wandered in search of his father would have been the range north of Iraq; this
tallies with Singer’s attractive suggestion (2002) that the Mount Kanzura or
Kandurna mentioned in the Song of Ullikummi as the mountain of the divine
assembly was the fortified rock on the shore of Lake Van, or Haas’ (1980, 101,
104) identification of it with Tendürek Dağı, to the northeast of the lake. On
the other hand, both the Ullikummi and Ḫedammu parts of the Cycle involve
Syrian locales: in the Song of Ullikummi, Tešub has his seat at Mount Ḥazzi
11 For an argument that Isaiah’s Hēlēl was the elusive god Hll mentioned in Ugaritic texts, see
van der Sluijs 2009.
12 Heiser 2001; Day 2000, 167–175; Spronk 1998, 718; Page 1996, 139–140; Watson
1995; Smith 1994, 240–250; Gallagher 1994; Oldenburg 1969, 42, 104; 1970, 206–207;
Albright 1968, 187 note 3; Astour 1965, 269, 270 note 1; Grelot 1956, 22–24.
13 Gunkel (1895, 133–134) was perhaps the first to propose a relationship between Hēlēl and
Phaethon, followed by Grelot (1956, 30, 38) with inclusion of ‘At̠tar, but excluding the Ugaritic
Hll; cf. Schmidt 1951, 167; Loretz 1976, 133; Forsyth 1987, 126–139; Watson 1995, 747.
Astour (1965, 268–269, 273; cf. West 1997, 476), while rejecting the parallel with ‘At̠tar, was
adamant that the name, image, and myth of Phaethon all trace back to West Semitic mythology.
McKay (1970, 453–456) argued the reverse, that the myth of Hēlēl was based on that of
P. James and M. A. van der Sluijs /
246 Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions 12 (2012) 237–251
(identified as Casius) near Ugarit and Ḫedammu is a sea-monster, while the
Sea—which certainly refers to the Mediterranean Sea—plays a role in sup-
porting Kumarbi’s schemes (see Archi 2009, 215). e wide range of these
locales was seen by Güterbock (1946, 100) simply as reflecting the geographi-
cal scope of Hurrian culture. Others, such as Haas (1980, 98, 100, 104; cf.
Singer 2002, 130) have suggested that while the stories were originally set in
the region between Urkeš and Lake Van, they were subsequently relocalised
westwards to the area of the Syrian coast. us, Archi (2009, 215) has argued
that, while the songs of Silver and Ullikummi refer to Urkeš as the residence
of Kumarbi, this merely shows that “Hurrians of Syria retained the memory
of one of their first capitals (23rd century), and that Kumarbi had an impor-
tant cultic centre there . . .” Archi (2009, 218) further suggested that another
part of the Cycle, the Song of KAL/LAMMA, was composed by the bards of
Carchemish in northern Syria in order to honour a local deity.
e questions raised by such suggestions may be intractable and will surely
bear much further discussion. What is important to note in this context is that
while there are no extant copies of the ‘Kumarbi Cycle’ from the archive of
Ugarit (as preserved) or from Carchemish (where no literary archive was found),
there is agreement that some version of the Songs in question would have been
familiar at such Syrian centres at least in oral form. Given the parallels between
the Greek Phaethon and both the Hurrian Silver and the Canaanite ‘At̠tar/
Hēlēl, it is reasonable to suggest that the Greek story was borrowed from a
region where Hurrian and Canaanite cultures mingled, such as Cilicia and/or
the neighbouring coast of Syria and northern Phoenicia. Beginning with
Güterbock’s (1948, 133) opinion that “these myths reached the Greeks by
way of Phoenicia” although “the Phoenicians . . . were merely the intermediar-
ies between the Hurrians and the Greeks”, this region has long been fingered
as a conduit for oriental ideas into Greek tradition (Walcot 1966, 19–20,
53–54, 120–121; Barnett 1968, 152; Penglase 1994, 96; West 1997, 2–4).
Precisely such a provenance for the Phaethon story is suggested by some
interesting details in the genealogy given for a Phaethon, grandson of Eōs
(Dawn), who is arguably identical to the Phaethon that rode the chariot (van
der Sluijs 2008). Although many located Phaethon in ‘Ethiopia’,14 in this
case a generalised term for the East and the land of the rising Sun rather than
Africa per se, this genealogical account associates his family precisely with the
region under discussion:
14 In addition to the references given above, Chares of Mytilene (Fr. 3, apud Pliny, Naturalis
Historia 37. 11. 32–33) located Phaethon’s tomb in an Ethiopian temple of Ammon. Moreover,
Hesiod’s introduction of “bronze-helmeted Memnon, the king of the Ethiopians” (eogony
984–985, trans. Most 2006, 80–83) as the step-brother of Phaethon implies a general ‘family
relationship’ to Ethiopia.
P. James and M. A. van der Sluijs /
Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions 12 (2012) 237–251 247
. . . Cephalus, whom Dawn loved and carried off, and consorting with him in Syria
bore a son Tithonus, who had a son Phaethon, who had a son Astynous, who had a
son Sandocus, who passed from Syria to Cilicia and founded a city Celenderis, and
having married Pharnace, daughter of Megassares, king of Hyria, begat Cinyras. is
Cinyras in Cyprus, whither he had come with some people, founded Paphos; and
having there married Metharme, daughter of Pygmalion, king of Cyprus, he begat
Oxyporus and Adonis . . . (Apollodorus, Library 3. 14. 3, tr. Frazer 1921, 82–83)
‘Sandocus’ may be based on the West Semitic root קדצ Ṣdq, ‘righteous’,
known from the Hebrew priestly title קוֹד ָצ Ṣādōq, which is sometimes ren-
dered Saddouk with long d in Greek,15 and a Ugaritic deity of ‘righteousness’
(Astour 1966, 282; Baumgarten 1981, 175 and n. 198). e latter is reflected
in the culture-hero Sydyk in Sanchuniathon’s History, as relayed by Philo of
Byblos (Fr. 809: 7—Baumgarten 1981, 143), who explained the name as
meaning ‘righteousness’ (díkaion). In this context, it is interesting to note that
the Babylonian equivalent (Kittum) of the West Semitic Ṣdq had conspicuous
solar associations (Baumgarten 1981, 176), cf. the šę́męš ṣǝdāqāh or ‘sun of
righteousness’ in Malachi 3. 20.
It may thus be significant that both Syria and Cilicia, long considered as
‘source’ areas for the raw material used by Hesiod and others, figure in this
genealogy for Phaethon. But the family connections also feature Cyprus, adja-
cent to both, where Semitic, Hurrian, Hittite and Greek cultures intermingled
since the Late Bronze Age. e Kinyras of Apollodorus’ Phaethon genealogy
was known as a legendary king of Cyprus since the time of Homer (Iliad 11.
19–23). His name is the undisputed Greek equivalent of that of the Ugaritic
deity Kinnâr, the ‘lyre’ (Albright 1968, 144 and note 91; Franklin 2006, 384–
387). Numerous passages link Kinyras with the Paphian cult of Aphrodite
(see Franklin 2006, 380), a deity who not only acts as the lover of his son,
Adonis, but also as the abductor of Phaethon, son of Cephalus and Eōs, in
Hesiod’s tale (eogony 986–991—see van der Sluijs 2008, 219–221).
Famously, the Greek cult of Aphrodite appears to have been partly borrowed
from a Cypriotised version of the Canaanite/Phoenician Astarte.16 is rela-
tively clear case aside, the paucity of intelligible Bronze and Early Iron Age
inscriptions permits little insight into Cypriot cult and literature during these
15 e dissimilation of the consonant cluster through nasalisation, as required for Sándokos, is
not out of the ordinary in the northwest Semitic language group, being demonstrably systematic
and productive in Imperial Aramaic (c. 600–c. 200 BCE; Garr 2007) and with possible exam-
ples in Punic (K. Jongeling, personal communication 17th December 2007).
16 A connection between Aphrodite and Cyprus is explictly stated as early as Homer (Iliad
5.330; Odyssey 8.362) and Hesiod (eogony 191–199); Herodotus (1. 105) and Pausanias
(1. 14.7) related traditions linking the Aphrodite cults of Cythera, Cyprus, Ashkelon and the
P. James and M. A. van der Sluijs /
248 Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions 12 (2012) 237–251
periods. We have nothing like the rich archives of Ḫattuša/Boğazköy,
provenance of the fragmentary Song of Silver, or Ugarit/Ras Shamra, where
the Ba‘lu cycle, including the story of ‘At̠tar, was found. But it would be
wrong to overlook Cyprus, on e silentio grounds, when considering the trans-
mission of Near Eastern stories to the Greek world—particularly, for reasons
we have seen, in the case of the Phaethon myth.
4. Conclusion
ere is an attractive pattern of correspondences between the well-known
Greek myth of Phaethon and the Hurrian myth of Silver. e comparison of
these sheds fresh light on some hitherto obscure aspects of Phaethon’s story.
e curious motif of the bullying of Phaethon, for instance, far from being a
fabrication of Ovid’s making, may now be claimed to reach beyond a sus-
pected origin in Euripides’ play to a plausible Near Eastern source. If this and
other traits of the classical myth of Phaethon originated in the Near East, their
transmission to the Hellenic world would fit into the wider framework of
apparent Greek borrowings from oriental mythology. e Greek story looks
like an amalgam of various strands of mythology drawn from a culturally
diverse area focussed on northern Syria, Cilicia and Cyprus.
5. Acknowledgments
We are very grateful to Mark Smith and an anonymous JANER referee for
reading and commenting on a draft of this paper, and to Giorgio Buccellati,
Anna Polvani, Itamar Singer and Gernot Wilhelm for kindly providing docu-
ments. Otherwise, the authors are deeply indebted to the Mainwaring Archive
Foundation, without whose support the research and writing of this article
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... On one hand, an extensive body of comparable themes is found in global mythology. On the other, scholars have long sought the origins of the Phaethon tale in the Near East-a line of reasoning we endorse (for references, see van der Sluijs 2006;2009a;James & van der Sluijs 2012; van der Sluijs & James 2013: 306-308). We will review the evidence for both categories of data in turn. ...
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