References to eastern Asia Minor and the Caucasus appear in the most ancient extant myths of humanity. These references and/or allusions, which are not numerous, nonetheless bespeak some acquaintance by diverse peoples with the area east of the Halys river and west of the Caspian Sea, an area including what is today central and eastern Turkey, Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan. Trade and migrations were the two principal conduits by which goods and people passed to and from this area, and impressions were left in the early literature of the Greeks, Mesopotamians, Hurrians and Indo-Iranians. Archaeological evidence confirms the existence of trade relations between the southern shore of the Black Sea and Greek city-states in the 9-5th centuries B.C.(1). Areas south of the Armenian highlands, as well, provide archaeological evidence for trade with parts of the highlands even farther back, as early as the 8th millennium B.C. (2). Migrations of peoples from eastern Asia Minor and the Caucasus to lands to the south, east, and west, are the other likely source for references to this area in mythology. Evidence of migrations, however, is not complete and controversy surrounds every aspect, from the participants and the languages they spoke, to their motives, and especially the directions of the migrations (3).
This study examines the geographical references and allusions to eastern Asia Minor and the Caucasus in the ancient myths of the Greeks, Sumerians, Hurrians, Iranians, and Indians, and analyzes the images they define. During the past century,  significant comparative analysis has been done on the Armenian and Georgian deities and their would-be counterparts in the pantheons of neighboring societies. The works of scholars such as the Armenists Abeghian, Adontz, Ananikian, Karst, Khalatiants', and Matikian, and the Caucasiologists Allen, Charachidze, Grigolia, Inadze, and Tseretheli, belong in this category (4). Similarly, the works of mythologists such as W. Burkert, G. Dumezil, and K. Kerenyi have at their base comparative analyses of deities, their functions, and the shared themes found in western and eastern mythologies (5). The geographical focus adopted in the present study both expands the volume of pertinent source material and, simultaneously, frees it from the requirement of having to possess some echo in the extant mythologies of the Armenians and Georgians.
Before turning to an examination of the relevant myths, two topics must be discussed briefly for the light they shed on the myths themselves: (1) the ecology of the area in antiquity, and (2) difficulties involved with using mythological material for research in general. During the third through first millennia B.C., when most of the myths discussed below evolved, eastern Asia Minor differed in important ways from its modern incarnation. First, many now-extinct or dormant volcanoes were then active. The two Ararats, Aragats, Nemrut, Suphan, Rewanduz, and Savalan were among the more prominent volcanoes spewing molten lava and rocks into the night sky, surely stimulating the awe and imaginations of observers. Second, the flora and fauna were richer in this early period. Large parts of the area were covered with forests so dense that later  Akkadian sources (8th century B.C.) describe Sargon's troops having to literally hack their way in. Herds of wild elephants roamed in the Van-Urmiah area and as far west as the Euphrates river, while throughout eastern Asia Minor there was a profusion of types of birds, fish, bears, and mountain cats no longer found there. Not only were the flora and fauna richer in antiquity relative to the present but, in antiquity, this area was richer relative to its contemporary neighbors. Because of its favorable cool climate, eastern Asia Minor was home to prized varieties of hardwood trees essential for building, trees which did not grow in the hotter Mesopotamian lands to the south (6). According to the naturalist V. Hehn, quite a number of plants and animals passed from or through this area to lands to its west and south (7). In addition to such botanical and biological diversity, eastern Asia Minor and the Caucasus were (and remain) blessed with great mineral wealth. The abundance of copper, iron, gold, silver, lead and zinc, and their presence in outcroppings of rocks which did not require extensive mining, led to the early development of metallurgy here (8). In the past sixty years, some scholars have suggested that the horse-drawn war chariot was developed or perfected in eastern Asia Minor (9). Built from native hardwoods and strengthened with metal alloys, this invention gave the local populations such a military advantage that they were easily able to subdue or control their neighbors, who fought as horseless infantry. In the view of a recent study, sometime in the second millennium B.C., bands of armed warriors, riding in horse-drawn chariots left eastern Asia Minor, eventually reaching Greece, the Levant, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Iran, and India (10). During the past two centuries, hypotheses which  make central and eastern Asia Minor a point of diffusion have enjoyed popularity among certain historians, linguists, archaeologists, botanists and others (11). Whatever the validity of the diffusionist hypotheses, the features of ancient Asia Minor and the Caucasus mentioned above: volcanic activity, dense forests, botanical and biological diversity, and metallurgical advances are clearly reflected in the myths referring or alluding to this area.
Finally, a few words are in order about using mythological material for research in general. First, there is no consensus concerning the meaning, significance, or purpose of myths. Are myths a society's equivalent of an individual's dreams or fantasies? Are they belles-lettres intended to be read and enjoyed or epic utterances recited on important occasions? How reliable are they for historical and/or economic information? Answers to such often unanswerable questions vary from myth to myth. Clearly, it is the richness and multifaceted nature of many of the earliest myths which has contributed to their popularity and durability, and has permitted diverse investigators from Stith Thompson to Sigmund Freud to find in them reflections of their own categories (12). Second, despite the fact that this study follows the traditional designation of myth as "Greek", "Sumerian", etc., the actual origins of the oldest myths are unknown. The Theogony of the 8th-7th century B.C. Greek author Hesiod is a case in point. For generations regarded as an original early Greek account of the origin of the gods, it today is considered a Greek reworking of a Middle Eastern myth (13). A number of other Greek myths have also been paired with Middle Eastern sources(14). The Gilgamesh cycle  of stories is an example of another type of difficulty. Considered a Sumerian creation, versions exist in several Middle Eastern languages—each version substituting local names for the cities, mountains, and rivers found in the exemplar (15). A myth such as "Jason and the Argonauts" illustrates yet another problem. This myth, which is merely alluded to by Homer in the 8th century B.C. clearly predates him, but by how much? Fifty years, five hundred years? Because of such considerations and the present limits of archaeology, it is impossible to accurately date most of the mythological material presented below.
This exposition will examine the following topics under the general headings of Greek, Middle Eastern (Sumerian/Akkadian, Hurrian), and Indo-Iranian mythology: myths concerning Aia, the Caucasus, the land of the Arimi, the Amazons, Mount Mashu, Aratta, Kumiya, Zalpa, Airyanem Vaejah and the Arax river. The major primary sources, which are discussed in greater detail where appropriate, include, for the Greek section, the Odyssey, and Iliad, of the 8th century B.C. Greek poet Homer, the Theogony of the 8th-7th century Hesiod, the Odes of the 6th-5th century Pindar, Prometheus Bound by the 5th century Aeschuylus, and the Argonautica by the third century Apollonius of Rhodes; for the Middle Eastern section, the third-second millennia cycles of stories about the heroes Gilgamesh, Enmerkar, and Kumarbi; and for the Indo-Iranian section, the Rig Veda and the Avesta, both generally assigned to the mid-second millennium B.C.
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