Man from the earth

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The Birth of Enkidu by Rebecca Yanovskaya.

Man from the earth is a trope found in some of the earliest surviving stories written by humans. The trope describes the origin of humans, primarily men, being molded from the clay, dirt, dust, etc. of the earth. The earliest occurrence of this in mythology that I'm aware of is in the Epic of Gilgamesh which was written around 2100 BCE. Because it's such a seminal trope, it has appeared in countless other forms of fiction.

Personal

Growing up attending an Evangelical Christian church, I was frequently told that the creation of Adam narrative in the Book of Genesis was a factual historical account. However, while reading about other ancient mythologies, I discovered that most of the stories from Genesis are just re-tellings of much older Middle Eastern myths, the creation of man included. I can certainly understand why humans would have come up with this trope as some of the earliest surviving artwork we have is in the form of human sculptures, so the idea of making people out of the earth has been in our collective mind for tens of thousands of years.

Examples

This is not an exhaustive list, but rather a collection of the oldest mythologies that incorporate this trope. For all works which feature this trope, see the category.

Time Work Culture Excerpt
c. 2100 BCE Epic of Gilgamesh Babylonian "Aruru [goddess of fertility] conceived a man of Anu in her mind. Aruru washed her hands, she broke off a piece of clay; she cast it on the ground. Thus she created Enkidu the hero." (Tablet I)
c.1995 BCE A Tale of Two Brothers Egyptian "...Pre-Harakhty [god of the sun] said to Khnum [god of creation and pottery], 'Now make a wife for Bata that he not live alone.' And then Khnum made for him a companion. She was more beautiful of body than any woman in the whole land, the fluid of every god being in her." (9:6-8 Gardiner)
c.1900 BCE Inanna and Enki Babylonian "Ninmah [goddess of fertility] took clay from the top of the abzu in her hand and she fashioned from it first a man..." (58) "Ninmah threw the pinched-off clay from her hand on the ground and a great silence fell. The great lord Enki said to Ninmah: 'I have decreed the fates of your creatures and given them their daily bread. Come, now I will fashion somebody for you, and you must decree the fate of the newborn one!'" (79-82)
c.700 BCE Theogony Greek "Forthwith he [Zeus] made an evil thing for men as the price of fire; for the very famous Limping God [Hephaestus] formed of earth the likeness of a shy maiden as the son of Cronos [Zeus] willed." (ll. 570 Evelyn-White)
c.500 BCE Book of Genesis Hebrew "And the Lord God [Yahweh Elohim] formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." (2:7 KJV).
c.650 CE Quran Arabic "And certainly We created man of an extract of clay, Then We made him a small seed in a firm resting-place, Then We made the seed a clot, then We made the clot a lump of flesh, then We made (in) the lump of flesh bones, then We clothed the bones with flesh, then We caused it to grow into another creation, so blessed be Allah, the best of the creators." (23:12-15 Pickthall)

Links

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