Myth of Telepinu

5 May 2017

Telepinu was the god of agriculture of the Hittites, people who lived in the ancient Near East in what is now Syria and Turkey. Like his father the storm god, Telepinu had a quick temper. When he was angry, plants and animals ceased to grow and people suffered. The beginning of the text is broken so we do not know the causes of the god’s anger. The thread of the story is taken up at the point where the rage of Telepinu is described. He is depicted as putting his left shoe on his right foot and his ight shoe on his left foot, implying that he was so angry that he did not know what he was doing.

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Enraged, he stormed off into the countryside. After a while he became tired and lay down in a meadow to sleep. While Telepinu was away, the earth dried up completely. Then we have a description of the effects of his absence: a mist covers the country; all the plants and trees died for lack of water; in the fire-place the logs are stifled; animals and humans stopped giving birth; at the altars the gods are tifled; the sheep neglects its lamb, and the cow neglects its calf; there is drought and famine so that men and gods perish from hunger.

The storm-god becomes anxious about his son Telepinu, and the search begins. The storm-god sends out the swift eagle with orders to search every mountain and valley, but the eagle returns unsuccessful. Finally Nintu, the mother goddess, sent a bee to seek the missing god. The other deities thought the plan was crazy. If they could not locate Telepinu, how could a mere bee do so? The storm-god mocks at the idea and says that the Bee is too small to succeed in an enterprise in which the great gods have failed.

But the bee searched in places the gods did not think to look and eventually found Telepinu asleep in the meadow. Following Nintu’s instructions, the bee stung Telepinu several times. Although the stings woke the god, they only made him angrier. So the sun god sent the goddess of healing, to soothe Telepinu’s temper, and her ritual of purification is described. This purification involved a human male, offering a mortal onnection to the gods. When Telepinu returned to his temple, the plants and animals resumed their growth, and the people thrived again.

An interesting feature of the conclusion of the ritual is the erection of a pole before the god, from which the fleece of a sheep is suspended. The closing lines of the text explain that the pole with its suspended fleece signifies fat of the sheep, grains of corn, wine, cattle, sheep, long life and many children. One major theme in the myth surrounds the bee, offering an emphasis on how omething seemingly so small can accomplish great things.

The lack of the beginning of the original myth leads one into different interpretations of why Telepinu is so angry. One possible reason could be Telepinu taking issue with the way humans treat the earth. Another could be a dispute with another god. An obvious meaning behind the myth is an explanation of seasons. Telepinu’s sleep in the meadow parallels hibernation as winter is occurring across the land caused by Telepinu’s rage.

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