Orally transmitted stories share with this mythical sea god a “protean” character. Handed on by word of mouth, each time a story is told the teller gives it a slightly different form and a different shade of meaning, so that over time many different versions of the same story emerge. The literary author who works from an oral tradition is like the hero who captures Procrustes: first he must wrestle with the many versions of the story, but when he finally confers upon it a fixed form, he is able to make it serve him to convey a particular truth.
Taken out of context, the accounts of a great flood that nearly destroyed all living things bear a striking similarity to one another. But in this blog series, I’ve taken pains to put each story in its proper context, in order to see what meaning each writer found in it. I hope that, having looked at the meaning in the Epic of Gilgamesh and in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, we will now be able to see more clearly what makes the Biblical story of the Great Flood stand out from the others. First, though, it might be good to recap what we have learned about the significance of the Flood as it is presented in the other two poems.