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TIAMAT'S BROOD - An Investigation into the Dragons of Ancient Mesopotamia

By Alastair McBeath, published by Dragon's Head Press, PO Box 3369, London, SW6 6JN at £10.99. 218pp. ISBN: 0-9524387-5-5

Tiamat's Brood is by far the most ambitious publishing project yet undertaken by Dragon's Head Press. It is also unquestionably the most substantial. As McBeath explains in his introduction, the Mesopotamian society and culture, including its myths and thought, are much less well known than those of Egypt and much of the area's ideas, literature and myths are still unfamiliar to the vast majority of people. However, it is a measure of just how central the idea of the dragon and its related kindred was to this culture that McBeath has been able to find enough material to jam pack his 200 or so pages with solid information and numerous illustrations taken from seals and relief-carved stone plaques.

He gives considerable attention to Tiamat, the original Goddess of Creation in Sumerian myth whose image and myths were subsequently overturned so that in later eras she took became an image of primeval chaos which had to be overcome and destroyed by, and to the satisfaction of, various previously less significant gods, most notably Marduk, who were said to have fashioned the world from her remains. McBeath challenges the popular image of Tiamat as a draconian beast and examines the Sumerian and Babylonian evidence for how she was perceived and understood. The Mesopotamian languages were rich in the language of dragons, serpents and similar creatures, and it is by exploring the vocabulary and how it is used in the myths and surviving texts, and by matching this to the images which are found on vast numbers of cylinder seals from all over ancient Mesopotamia that McBeath is able to construct a veritable bestiary of dragons and their kin as they were imagined and symbolised in the myths and literature. McBeath is also a professional astronomer and has had a longstanding fascination with the instances in which things draconic and things celestial meet, and not surprisingly he also explores the image and role of the dragon in ancient Mesoptamian astronomy.

Lavishly illustrated with line drawings and meticulously researched and referenced, this is an excellent offering which deserves to be widely read.