World Treasures of the Library of Congress - Beginnings

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Earth with its mountains, rivers and seas, Sky with its sun, moon and stars: in the beginning all these were one, and the one was Chaos. Nothing had taken shape, all was a dark swirling confusion, over and under, round and round. For countless ages this was the way of the universe, unformed and illumined, until from the midst of Chaos came P'an Ku....[H]e raised his great arm and struck out blindly in the face of the murk, and with one great crashing blow he scattered the elements of Chaos.

“Heaven and Earth and Man” Chinese Myths and Fantasies, 1996.

The Opening Word of the Bible

The Hebrew word Beresheet, which means "in the beginning," opens the Book of Genesis. This decorated initial word is from the first volume of a planned multi-volume edition of the Hebrew Bible. The volume was published by the Society of Jewish Bibliophiles, the Soncino Gesellschaft, in Germany in 1933. Hitler's rise to power prevented the Society from completing what would have been the first bibliophilic edition of the Hebrew Scriptures.

Hamishah Humshei Torah (The Five Books of the Torah). Berlin: Soncino Gesellschaft, 1933. Hebraic Section, African and Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress (4)

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Celebrating First Moon Orbit

This book is one of 100 copies printed at a New Jersey monastery to commemorate Apollo 8, the first manned mission to the Moon. The spacecraft entered lunar orbit on Christmas Eve,1968. That evening, the astronauts did a live television broadcast, in which they showed pictures of the earth and moon as seen from Apollo 8. They ended the broadcast by reading from the first chapter of Genesis and with a prayer by mission commander Frank Borman. The verses from Genesis and the prayer are the text of this book. The illustrations are watercolors hand-painted over photographs taken on the expedition.

In the Beginning God. . . . . Flemington, New Jersey: St. Teresa's Press, Carmelite Monastery, 1969. Rosenwald Collection, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (7)

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A Poet's Version of Creation

"The Creation" is one of seven poems in God's Trombones through which African American poet James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938) paid tribute to the black preachers he remembered from childhood. Each free-verse poem presents in lyrical but colloquial language a version of a classic sermon, such as "The Creation" or "Noah Built an Ark." Johnson rejected the use of broad Negro dialect as comic and derogatory and revealed the old-time black preacher as a folk hero of dignity and eloquence.

James Weldon Johnson. “The Creation,” from God's Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse. New York: Viking Press, 1927. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (11)

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Creation Out of Chaos

The Roman poet Ovid (43 B.C.-17 A.D.), in his Metamorphoses, elaborated an account of cosmic beginnings—the creation of the world out of chaos—that had obvious affinities with both Hebrew and Greek explanatory traditions. Questions of origins were especially topical during Ovid's time when Rome was transforming itself from a republic into an empire. The edition of the Metamorphoses on the left, accompanied by engravings and translated into French, was published in Paris in 1661. The edition of the Metamorphoses on the right was published in Lyon in 1557. The edition (centered, below) was accompanied by engravings by Niccolo Agostini. It was translated into Italian and published in Venice in 1538.

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In the beginning (if there was such a thing), God created Newton's laws of motion together with the necessary masses and forces. This is all; everything beyond this follows from the development of appropriate mathematical methods by means of deduction.

Albert Einstein, 1949.

Vishnu Resting

In Hinduism, Vishnu is the deity responsible for maintaining the universe once created. The entire universe is periodically destroyed by fire and dissolved for a time into an infinite ocean. Vishnu rests upon this ocean until it is time for the universe to be re-emanated. In this illustration the god rests on the serpent Shesha, whose other function is to hold up the world. Vishnu is attended by his wife, Lakshmi, and the monkey-faced sage Narada. Brahma, the deity responsible for beginning the world in each cycle, rests on a lotus coming out of Vishnu's navel.

Atha Naradiyamahapuranam. (Narada's Great Ancient Tale). Mumbayyam: Sri Venkatesvara Stim-Yantragare, 1923. Southern Asian Section, Asian Division, Library of Congress (17)

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Dialogues of Creation

This woodcut illustrates the first edition of Dialogus Creaturarum (Dialogues of Creation), a popular fifteenth-century collection of creation stories. Composed as fables using the sun, moon, stars, fish, birds and animals as characters, the moral tales are presented in 123 dialogues. The book was noteworthy for the imaginative way in which the fables were told and for the accompanying woodcuts characterized by clever depictions, natural flowing lines, and a sense of humor. Throughout the work the anonymous woodcut artist combined elements of the fables into his design so the stories could be understood even by those who were unable to read the text.

Dialogus Creaturarum (Dialogues of Creation). Gouda: Gerard Leeu, 1480. Rosenwald Collection, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (17.1)

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The Balinese Cosmos

This work by the important Balinese painter Togog (ca. 1915-1989) depicts the Balinese conception of the cosmos while reflecting the emphasis on balance in that culture. In Balinese cosmology, the World Serpent (Antaboga) created the World Turtle (Bedawang) through meditation. On the turtle are coiled two snakes; this is the foundation of the world. This painting, also a design for a funeral pall, depicts the turtle and snakes, with the Supreme Being above.

Ida Bagoes Madé Togog of Batoean. “Pall design: traditional for Brahman or Satrya body.” Ink on paper. Margaret Mead Papers and South Pacific Ethnographic Archives, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (15)

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Yoruba Creation Legend

At one time, professional storytellers in Africa collected and told the stories of their day and of past times. This oral tradition has preserved the story of the Yoruba people of West Africa who regard the city of Ife as their place of origin and, according to Yoruba mythology, as the site of earth's creation. This poem retells the ancient story of the creation of Yoruba and features Olodumare, the Lord of Heaven and the Creator, and Orisanla, deities in the Yoruba pantheon of gods.

Molefi Kete Asante and Abu S. Abarry, eds. African Intellectual Heritage. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996. African and Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress (16.1)

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God's Hand in the Creation

Called the Nuremberg Chronicle by modern day historians, this book is considered one of the most important histories published in the fifteenth century. Illustrated with more than 1800 woodcuts, Schedel's work tells the story of mankind from the creation of the world to the end of the Middle Ages. The woodcut displayed here illustrates the fourth day when God created light--the greater light to rule the day, the lesser light to rule the night, and the stars to divide the light from darkness.

Hartmann Schedel. Liber Chronicarum (Book of Chronicles). Nuremberg: Anton Koberger, 1493. Rosenwald Collection, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (18)

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Haydn's The Creation

In 1796 Franz Josef Haydn (1732-1809), by then the most famous composer in Europe, began work on what he would regard as his masterpiece--The Creation, with a libretto based on the biblical account of creation as well as passages from John Milton's Paradise Lost. First performed in 1798, it was an immediate and unprecedented success. This first edition orchestral score was privately published, sponsored by friends and admirers of the composer.

Franz Josef Haydn. Die Schoepfung (The Creation). Vienna, 1800. Music Division, Library of Congress (20.1)

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Blake's Image of the Creation

William Blake's (1757-1827) image of the creation is one of the most enduring ever conceived. In it he depicts the monumental figure of the creator set within the framework of the blazing sun and by the use of the set of huge calipers (a measuring instrument) incorporates the concept of rationality in what was about to be wrought. This relief etching is further enhanced by Blake's brilliant application of color, which heightens the drama of the story of the beginning of the world.

William Blake. “Urizen as the Creator of the Material World” from Europe, A Prophecy. Title Page. Lambeth: Printed by W. Blake, 1794. Rosenwald Collection, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (21)

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Image from The Song of Los

The archetype of the "creator" is a familiar image in the illuminated books of William Blake. At left, Blake depicts an almighty creator stooped in prayer contemplating the world he has forged. The Song of Los is the third in a series of illuminated books, hand-painted by Blake and his wife, known as the "Continental Prophecies," considered by most critics to contain some of Blake's most powerful imagery. Only six copies of The Song of Los are known to exist. This copy is the most brilliantly colored version and is continually consulted by scholars studying Blake's work.

In the right-hand image, Los resting on a cloud, leans on his hammer, the symbol of his creative energy. He stares down at the bright red sun that he has fashioned out of components of his own soul. The sun represents the giver of life, that most fundamental of elements which keeps the world in balance and nurtures the development of all physical matter.

William Blake. The Song of Los. Image 2. Lambeth: Printed by W. Blake, 1794. Rosenwald Collection, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (21.2)

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Kalevala Cosmology

The Finnish epic, the Kalevala, tells the story of the creation. This opening shows Ilmatar, maiden daughter of Air, lying lonely in the sea. A golden-eyed duck builds a nest on her knee and lays eggs, which fall and break to pieces, forming the earth, the heavens, the sun, the moon, stars, and the clouds. Compiled from Finnish folk poems in the mid-nineteenth century, this epic was important for fostering Finnish nationalism under Russian rule. This copy is an Italian edition in the Library's Russian Imperial Collection.

Elias Lönnrot. Kalevala; Kàlevala: poema finnico. Igino Cocchi, translator. Page 2 . Città di Castello: Società tipografica editrice cooperativa, 1909. Russian Imperial Collection, Rare Books and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (21.1)

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Santal Creation Account

The Santals are a numerous tribal people living in several states in eastern India. Among them live itinerant Hindu professional storytellers and painters (jadupatuas), who recount Santal stories, religious beliefs, and festivals using narrative scrolls that they paint. This recently acquired scroll shows the Santal creation story. In the top panel are the three principal Santal deities, Maran Buru, Jaher Era, and Sin Cando. In the next are the water and water creatures made by the creator, Thakur ("the Lord"). From the mating of two geese come the first human couple and from them their seven sons and daughters, who marry each other and then divide into clans so that siblings may no longer marry each other.

Santal creation account. Scroll, ink, and watercolors on paper. Bengal, India: mid-twentieth century. Southern Asia Section, Asian Division, Library of Congress (21.4)

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Finnish National Epic

This opening depicts the creation goddess as a young girl celebrating her attributes of air and light. The best-loved illustrations of the epic are by Akseli Gallen-Kallela (1865-1931), and this special edition includes twenty-four illustrations of his paintings. Compiled by Elias Lonnrot (1802-1884) from Finnish folk poems, the Kalevala advanced the cause of Finnish nationalism.

Kalevala, liitteenä kaksikymmentäneliä kuuva Akseli Gallen-Kallelan maalauksista. Helsinki: Otava, 1965. General Collections, Library of Congress (22)

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A Cosmogonic Hymn

The earliest and most basic of the Hindu scriptures is the Rgveda, usually dated to about 1500 B.C. This hymn tells of an original male (purusa) of a thousand heads, eyes, and feet, which the gods cut up to produce the world. This volume is the first complete printed version and the first complete critical edition of the Rgveda, by the German-English scholar Friedrich Max Müller (1823-1900).

Rig-Veda-sanhita, the Sacred Hymns of the Brahmans. Friedrich Max Müller, ed. Page 2. London: 1874. Southern Asian Section, Asian Division, Library of Congress (24)

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Stories of the Creation of Japan

This book is one of a three-volume set of Japanese mythology containing stories of the creation of Japan. This volume tells the story of the two deities--the male Izanagi and the female Izanami--who descend from heaven and create the islands of Japan through their marital union. Eventually Izanagi produces the Sun Goddess (Amaterasu Omikami), whose descendants are said to rule Japan.

Tominobu Hosoda. Kamiyo no masagoto tokiwagusa (Mythological Story of the Creation of Japan). Page 1. Page 2. Page 3. Kyoto: 1827. Japanese Section, Asian Division, Library of Congress (13)

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