Assaults on heaven

The heavenly gods live in regions that no one can reach from earth. But according to the mythologies of various peoples they have on occasion had to take action against attempts to climb to heaven. The Rigveda mentions one Rauhina who was struck down by Indra the thunderbolt-armed as he was climbing to the sky (2. 12. 12, cf. 1. 103. 2). In another hymn Rauhina's place is taken by the Dasyus, the dark-skinned Dravidian people who preceded the Aryans in northern India and were subjected by them:

146 Ynglinga saga 1 f., 4 f.; Skaldsk. G57; allusions in Vgluspa 21-4; VafpruBnismdl 38 f.; Lokasenna 34; de Vries (1956), ii. 174 f., 208-14; Lorenz (1984), 329-32. On the nature of the Vanir cf. de Vries (1956), ii. 203; Meid (1991), 23; M. E. Huld, SIGL 2 (1999), 139-46.

Those ones seeking by magic arts to creep up, Indra, and mount to heaven, the Dasyus, thou didst shake down. (8. 14. 14; cf. 1. 78. 4)

The Taittirlya Brahmana (1. 1. 2. 4-6) relates that the Kalakanja demons tried to reach heaven by piling up bricks in a great altar. Indra put in a brick of his own, and when their work was nearly complete he withdrew it so that it all collapsed.

In Greek myth Otos and Ephialtes, the colossal sons of Poseidon and Aloeus' wife Iphimedeia, tried to pile Ossa upon Olympus and Pelion upon Ossa so that they could climb to heaven and attack the gods. Apollo killed them before they could grow to their full size and strength.147 Latin poets transfer the mountain-stacking to the Giants.

The motif of piling things up to reach the sky, which may remind us of the Biblical Tower of Babel (Genesis 11: 4), appears again in a West Circassian story about the Narts, perhaps an offshoot of the Iranian tradition represented by the Nart sagas of Ossetia. The Narts tried to reach the sky by going to a mountain-top and standing on one another. As that did not suffice, they added other people, dwarfs, animals, birds, trees, and stones to the pile, whatever they could lay their hands on. The hero Pataraz climbed on top of the heap, and he would have been able to reach the sky if only he had had one more cat's tail at his disposal.148

The Norse gods have Giants as their perpetual enemies: not the Gigantes of Classical myth, but hrimpursar and bergrisar, Frost Giants and Mountain Giants. Thor is always decimating them with his flying hammer. Snorri (Gylf 15) avers that they would climb up to heaven across the Rainbow Bridge if the way were not barred by fire.

Once again we must wonder if this is not ultimately an Indo-European myth, whatever its original form. It would have a clear purpose: to emphasize, by means of a paradigmatic story, that the division separating the Celestials from the Terrestrials is unbridgeable.149

147 Od. 11. 309-20; cf. 'Hes.' fr. 19-21, Pind. fr. 162, Apollod. 1. 7. 4.

148 Colarusso (2002), 153.

149 For more on this theme see West (1997), 121 f.

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