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Several pre-flood myths seem to mention humans being able to live for extremely long periods of time. IIRC, the Sumerians had a list of kings that lived for thousands of years pre-flood, and post-flood the kings had their lifespans reduced, although why or how does not appear to be mentioned.

The Hindus have the same thing in the form of humans living for thousands of years in a golden age before steadily deteriorating to our current lifespan for the age of Kali. No explanation seems to have been offered for this other than that it's predestined/part of the cycle.

Is this a common theme in pre-flood myths? I think it would be pretty interesting if humans really did live for that long before the flood, but had their lifespans reduced through, I don't know, some kind of disease/mutation/evolution/etc.

  • How do you account for different races I wonder? – William Jan 4 '17 at 5:08
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It could certainly fit under the general idea of devolution by which species degrade instead of advance.

There is also the idea of idealization of previous generations (which exists commonly as old folks taking about how much better things were back in their day) but which also exists in philosophy concepts such as the noble savage.

You may be interested in Hesiod's take on the 5 ages of mankind, which starts in a golden age and is all downhill from there.

THE GOLDEN AGE: This was the Age of the first race of mortals, who were dubbed by Hesiod “the golden race”. This golden race was created by the gods. The Golden Age was populated by men who did not grow old, and lived during an era of endless abundance and prosperity. Since they were mortals, however, in time the members of the golden race died peaceful deaths. After death, the golden race continued to wander the earth as benevolent spirits.

THE AGE OF IRON: Hesiod names this, the fifth and last race of men he lists in his Works and Days the race of iron, and counts himself among its number, for his was the Age of Iron. It is a time of turmoil, and strife, and sadness for mortals.

In the Greek tradition, you also have Pandora, whom Hesiod also wrote about. The "box" she opened contained all manner off ills—death and disease among them. (Zeus ordered this as scourge to mankind, in vengeance for Prometheus' stealing of fire.

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The Ancient Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh, the oldest surviving written tablets of which are dated to 1800 BC, written in Akkadian (language of the Assyrians and Babylonians) and based on earlier Sumerian tales, includes a flood story that has differences from the Biblical story of Noah but enough similarities there is surely a common source.

In Gilgamesh, the first people could die in accidents or from violence but not from old age, so they had no natural limit to how long they could live. This meant that eventually the human population became so large that the noise of them disturbed the gods, most of whom therefore decided to get rid of mankind by drowning the lot of them in a world flood.

However, one god Ea thought differently and warned one man, Uta-Napishtim to build a boat in which to save himself and family, plus animals of every kind and also craftsmen of every trade so the knowledge of them would be preserved.

Once the flood, which had drowned everyone else, began to recede and Uta-Napishtim and his party found land, he made sacrifice to the gods, who had by then begun to miss the sacrifices that men used to make to them.

The gods then relented and let Uta-Napishtim and his party re-establish human society but this time on condition that everyone born from then on must be mortal, so the human population could never again grow too impossibly large.

In the Epic, the hero, Gilgamesh, centuries later, learns this story from Uta-Napishtim himself, who, since he and his wife were born in the days before the flood, have an unlimited lifespan, although hundreds of years old are still alive and living on an island at the end of the Earth.

So, much less moral content than the parallel Bible story of Noah, in which the flood is a punishment for Man's sins.

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