Walking on water is a common motif in mythology.
The Flash has done it.
Naruto has done it.
General Zod has done it.
Even Jim Carrey has done it.
The list could go on. Mythology pre-dating the Common Era also featured this motif, as I demonstrated in The Perennial Gospel, pp.528, 643-46. Religious apologists, predictably, seem to take issue with this fact. Most likely this is because the divine protagonist of their own scriptures was likewise said to have walked on water, but was rather late to the game. One apologist in particular has recently taken issue with one of the examples that I’ve used before, the Etruscan sun god Usil, which in turn was made into a concise little internet “meme” illustration by some folks in Milwaukee.
“Here”? Well, actually right “here” they most certainly have not inferred such, for this picture “here” never once mentions the name of his god nor even alludes to it. The gods mentioned in this picture are Usil, Helios, Apollo, and Sol Invictus, so far as I can see. Perhaps that Milwaukee gang has elsewhere made this inference? If so, then that is what this apologist should’ve linked to, but given that all he displays in his “here” is this picture, that’s all we can go by for now. And in that “here,” his god is not mentioned at all. Thus any correlation to that god one might infer just from this picture alone would be based entirely on the viewer’s own “pattern seeking” or “parallelomania,” and not from anything actually stated within this picture. And to do so would be an unconscious admission that a conspicuous similarity is in fact there to be seen. But that’s really beside the point here. Moving along, he goes on to write that:
The Etruscans of Italy never saw the dawn break over the sea nor the sun rise out of it; to do so, one must live on an eastern coast.
Dr. Emeline H. Richardson, in Etruscan Life and Afterlife: A Handbook of Etruscan Studies
Anyway, the reasoning employed by the apologist here fails him. First of all, while I have been unable to find a so-called “the mythology” of the Etruscan Usil (and conspicuously the apologist has omitted any citation or link to it), even if there does exist some source that states that Usil rises & sets in water, that does not contradict the notion that Usil likewise walked on water, just as it is no contradiction that his own god both arose out of water (during baptism) and also walked on water. Moreover, to further humor the apologist, even if a source existed which not only says that Usil rises & sets in water while never explicitly stating that he did walk on water, but even went so far as to outright explicitly deny that Usil ever walked on water- that would still pose no problem for us and in no way invalidates the artistic evidence provided which clearly portrays Usil walking on top of water. The reason this is not a problem is explained rather thoroughly by an actual scholar of history, Professor Elizabeth Vandiver:
First of all, let’s think about literature. Even in as well documented and well studied a society as classical Greece, the written versions of myths involve several problems for a scholar of myth. First of all, most obviously, written myths are frozen. By that I mean that once a version of a myth is written down, it’s fixed, there it is. And we, literate people, have a strong tendency to assume that that means that version is somehow the myth, the real myth, the only way the myth was ever told. But that’s not how traditional tales work, in any oral setting. If I asked every one of you watching this lecture to tell me the story of Little Red Riding Hood, I would get as many slightly different versions as there are people watching this lecture. That’s how a living oral tradition works. Once a story is written down, when our only access to it is through writing, we tend to assume that’s the real story.
I can give a clear example of what I mean by this. Everyone knows the story of Oedipus the King, how he killed his father, married his mother, without knowing who they were. When he discovered the terrible thing that he had done, after his mother hanged herself, Oedipus blinded himself, went into exile, never returned home to Thebes again, right?
Well, right according to Sophocles, who wrote the play Oedipus the King. In Homer, in The Odyssey, there’s a very brief reference to Oedipus which agrees that, yes, he killed his father and married his mother. Yes, his mother killed herself after the truth came out, but Oedipus, says Homer, continued to rule in Thebes many years thereafter.
Which is the “real” version of the Oedipus myth?
They both are.
Sophocles’ version dominates our understanding of the myth because it is such a marvelous play, and because it’s so famous. And this is the kind of thing we have to guard against. Often we have only one version of a myth. We have to remember there probably were others.
Another problem is that only a fraction of ancient Greek literature has survived. Most of what was written is now lost, and often the things that survived do not tell us what we would particularly like to know. They weren’t written for us, so they don’t give us the details that would be most helpful to us. One book we will use a great deal in this course is called The Library of Greek Mythology. It was written by a man named Apollodorus, about whom we know absolutely nothing except that he wrote this book. He lived in the first or second century AD, probably, and he compiled brief summaries of all the myths he knew at a time when some of those myths were starting to fragment or be forgotten. So that’s very useful for us. We’ll use Apollodorus as a sourcebook, but even there we have to remember that he’s giving usually only one or at most two versions of myths, and that there may have been myths he chose not to recount or didn’t know, and there may have been other versions of the ones he did recount. So much for literature.
So where does this leave us? Is this a hopeless endeavor? Should we just give up at this point and say there’s no way to study classical mythology? Obviously, I don’t think so, but I think we need to bear these difficulties in mind as we start our survey of classical mythology. We need to remember that we are studying only particular variants of the myths. Sometimes we can reconstruct a fairly full version of how the myth must have operated in its original society when we have all sorts of variants to work from. Other times we can’t. Other times we’ll have only one version of a myth and no others. Some references remain tantalizingly obscure. Sometimes we really just don’t know what a character’s name or what a snippet of a story refers to.
Occasionally a work of art preserves what is clearly a very different version from the only ones known to us by literature. There’s a beautiful classical Greek painting, vase painting, of a character who is quite clearly Jason, Jason who got the golden fleece after his voyage on the Argo. The golden fleece is there on a tree behind Jason; the tree is guarded by a dragon. All of these elements point to the fact that this is very clearly Jason, and yet in this painting the dragon is either swallowing Jason or spitting him back out again. Jason is halfway out of the dragon’s mouth. His arms and head are visible outside the dragon’s mouth.
In no written version of Jason’s story that has survived for us does the dragon eat Jason, or attempt to eat Jason. The whole point is that Jason is helped by Medea, who gives him magic potion so that he can overcome the dragon without being eaten. If this vase painting had not survived, we would not know that there had ever been a variant in which Jason was eaten by the dragon. Because we have the painting, we know this variant existed, but that’s all we know about it. We have no written description of that version of Jason’s story.
Dr. Elizabeth Vandiver, Classical Mythology
There is no ancient text or inscription that explicitly states that Jason was swallowed and regurgitated by the dragon, and there does not need to be- the artistic evidence is enough to establish that as part of the mythos. Likewise, there is no need for there to ever be a text or inscription that explicitly states that Usil walked on water- the artistic evidence is more than enough.
And even if it has irreconcilable differences with textual sources of the mythos, that too is not a problem, just as it is no problem that Jason being eaten might contradict the point of taking Medea’s potion in the written versions, and just as it is no problem that Sophocles’ version of Oedipus has irreconcilable differences with Homer’s version. Neither one is the “wrong” one or the “canonical” one. They are both the “real” version, just as Vandiver stated.
That is, of course, assuming there even is such a contradictory textual version of Usil, a version which the apologist has yet to provide. But no matter, it would be moot for him to do so at this point anyway.
Second of all, that Milwaukee group was not “reading into a picture what they want to find.” Their position was the obvious & succinct interpretation given by the very museums which currently house those artifacts, and by other scholars who have examined them.
With a bent-knee pose that connotes rapid movement, the Etruscan sun god Usil dashes across breaking waves.
The Etruscan sun god, Usil, skims over the surface of a series of crested waves. His legs are bent in a position used by artists in the early 400s B.C. to denote a rapid running motion.
Chased decoration on reverse with a scene showing a naked youth, perhaps Usil the Etruscan sun-god, running over the sea, and a border of ivy scrolls.
A nude winged youth hurries over the waves of the ocean on an engraved Etruscan mirror (now lost, see Gerhard), and a comparable figure appears on a terracotta antefix from Temple B at Pyrgi. The latter has been plausibly identified as Usil, the Etruscan sun-god (see Vacano), and it is likely that the figure on the cista foot represents the same divinity.
Dr. Sybille Haynes, in A Passion for Antiquities
Another Etruscan myth of daybreak is represented in the Pyrgi terracotta antefixes. These I have discussed elsewhere, following Krauskopf’s interpretation of the running youth as Usil. [See below.]
Dr. Erika Simon, in The Religion of the Etruscans
Are we to infer via this apologist’s reasoning that these scholars & curators were likewise as unfamiliar with Usil’s mythology as he asserts of the Milwaukee gang, since these scholars & curators came to the exact same conclusion about the artwork as the Milwaukee gang did? No. No, we should not. One need only to look at the artifacts for such a conclusion to be obvious. It’s just Occam’s Razor.
Third of all, it seems clear that the Milwaukee gang was in fact aware that Usil rises from out of the sea since…
they actually included an image of Usil blatantly doing that very thing!.
And that image of Usil actually rising from out of the water bears no resemblance to the previous two artifacts where Usil is clearly seen walking on top of the water. The apologist is making a rather ridiculous and unjustified conflation of the Milwaukee gang’s third image with the two that preceded it. The foolish reasoning he is attempting to employ to try and deny the obvious is exposed for the fallacy that it is when it is applied in the exact same manner to other mythological figures.
For example, had someone pointed out the obvious by saying that the following images depict Mithras walking on earth-
-the apologist’s reasoning would demand that such a person check the mythology “as they would have realized that [Mithras] was not walking on the [earth], but rising out of it.” After all, just as the Milwaukee group showed Usil rising up out of the water, the same is seen of Mithras rising from out of the earth. And just as no text has yet been provided explicitly stating verbatim that “Usil walked on water,” no Mithraic text has been provided which explicitly states that he “walked on earth.”
So should we deny Occam’s Razor and reinterpret Fig.9-11 not as Mithras walking on earth as our eyes can clearly see, but rather as him rising up from out of it? Even when Fig.9-11 bear no resemblance to Fig.12-13, where Mithras actually is rising up out of the earth?
Likewise here with Gaia, where she is seen standing on the earth next to Atlas in the Garden of the Hesperides:.
Well, that can’t very well be her standing on the earth as our eyes clearly tell us, no, that must be her rising up out of the earth since her mythology elsewhere says she is known to do so, in spite of the fact that it bears no resemblance to the images where she actually is rising up out of the earth..
Or to bring this closer to home for the apologist, when the first man is here shown walking on the earth-
-we must conclude that he is in fact not walking on the earth as our eyes can clearly see him doing, and instead we must conclude that this is a depiction of him rising up out of the earth since we know that elsewhere his mythology indicates that he rises up out of the earth.
After all, just as no text has yet been provided explicitly stating verbatim that “Usil walked on water,” nowhere do the canonized scriptures explicitly state that the first man ever “walked on earth.” Hence he must NEVER have been portrayed as walking on earth, in spite of what our own eyes can clearly see in the artwork and what Occam’s Razor tells us to succinctly deduce. Right?
No, that would be ridiculous to do, and so the apologist’s argument is likewise ridiculous. Talk about someone “reading into a picture what they want to find,” he definitely fits that bill here. Usil most certainly did walk on water in those pre-Common Era artifacts shown by the Milwaukee group, as affirmed by the scholars who have examined them.
So this was not a case of that Milwaukee gang just reading into a picture what they want to find, rather, it was a case of yet another flustered apologist obstinately digging in his heels and engaging in some classic 5-minute Wikipedia research, grasping at the first straw he could find that said anything about Usil & water that did not include walking on it- not anything that contradicted Usil walking on water, not anything that explicitly denied that Usil walked on water, but just the first thing he came across that said something other than Usil walked on water. It could’ve even merely been something that said Usil drank water and it likely still would’ve been dubiously juxtaposed against Usil walking on water as though the former somehow voids out the latter, “if they’d have just familiarized themselves with the mythology they’d know these images are actually showing Usil drinking water rather than walking on it!” Anything to kick against the goads of reality and sear the conscience with a hot iron.
Fourth of all, regardless of how the original artist may or may not have intended his artwork to be interpreted, and even regardless of how scholars & curators today have interpreted the artifacts, and especially regardless of how this apologist would like for them to be interpreted, one question that must not be overlooked is- how would other peoples of that time have interpreted them? How would a passerby from a foreign land like say from (for an entirely random example) the area around Syria or somewhere thereabouts 😉 , who had no knowledge of Etruscan culture or mythology, have interpreted such a depiction of Usil? They see a man walking/running, they see water beneath his feet, what else is such a layperson to conclude but that this character is walking on water? We see such a thing all the time in the arts, and in literature, even to this day. That thing being the fact that regardless of whatever the creator of the original content intended, later artists who are inspired by that content often reuse it in a very different way than the original artist intended. Nevertheless, the original content was in fact a precedent for those artists who were later inspired by it. And in many cases, those later artists even explicitly admit as much. For example, regardless of whatever the authors of the scriptures of this apologist’s religion intended when they portrayed their god walking on water (as well as other motifs in the story), and regardless of how very different that scene was from anything in the original Robocop film by Paul Verhoeven, Mr. Verhoeven nevertheless explicitly stated that when he portrayed Robocop “walking on water,” he did so because he was deliberately copying the story of this apologist’s god.
The differences do not matter, as I have explained many times (see The Perennial Gospel pp.942-60). And the original interpretation does not matter. The inspiration was still there, and the copying was still deliberate.
Finally, last of all, as stated at the beginning of this post, Usil was hardly unique in this attribute of walking on water.
Perhaps most explicitly there was Poseidon’s son, Orion.
Pherecydes [5th cen. BCE] says that he was the son of Poseidon and Euryale. Poseidon had given him the power of walking on the sea.
(Pseudo)Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1.4.3-5 (1st cen. CE)
There was also Poseidon’s son, Euphemus.
After them from Taenarus came Euphemus whom, most swift-footed of men, Europe, daughter of mighty Tityos, bare to Poseidon. He was wont to skim the swell of the grey sea, and wetted not his swift feet, but just dipping the tips of his toes was borne on the watery path.
Apollonius of Rhodes, Argonautica 1.179-84 (3rd cen. BCE)
And since Poseidon provided that ability, that power can be extrapolated to Poseidon himself.
Dressed in gold, he took his well-made golden whip,
climbed in the chariot, then set off across the waves.
From the depths, sea creatures played around him everywhere,
acknowledging their king. The joyful ocean parted.
He sped on quickly, keeping the bronze axle dry.
The prancing horses carried him to the Achaean ships.
Homer, The Iliad 13.26-31(8th cen. BCE)
Then, of course, there are the many Egyptian deities who are seen walking on water in the Duat, as seen in the tomb of Thutmose III. They can especially be observed doing so in the 2nd cavern, and among them is perhaps the most infamous god brought up in discussions on alleged “copycat” motifs- Horus.
So like the Etruscan sun god, Usil, here one of the Egyptian sun gods (the earliest attested of their sun gods), is also seen walking on water, and in a source much earlier than those for Usil. And so it should come as no surprise that the aforementioned religious apologist once again stuck his foot in his mouth when he ignorantly tried to deny this fact about Horus:
And now, for your listening pleasure, Mr. Eddie Money:
 Emeline H. Richardson, “VII: An Archaeological Introduction to the Etruscan Language,” in Etruscan Life and Afterlife: A Handbook of Etruscan Studies, ed. L. Bonfante (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1986), 228.
 Elizabeth Vandiver, Classical Mythology (Chantilly: The Teaching Company LLC, 2000), Lecture 1. (Emph. added.)
 The Art Institute of Chicago, “Collections,” accessed January 16, 2014, http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/artwork/154054/. (Emph. added.)
 The J. Paul Getty Museum, “Vessel Foot with Usil,” accessed October 27, 2014, http://www.getty.edu/art/gettyguide/artObjectDetails?artobj=35571. (Emph. added.)
 The British Museum, “Collection online: mirror,” accessed January 16, 2014, http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details/collection_image_gallery.aspx?partid=1&assetid=1068755&objectid=466661. (Emph. added.)
 Sybille Haynes, “73: Foot of a Cista in the Form of a Winged Youth,” in A Passion for Antiquities: Ancient Art from the Collection of Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman, eds. M. True and K. Hamma (Malibu: The J. Paul Getty Museum, 1994), 161. (Emph. added.)
 Erika Simon, “Gods in Harmony: The Etruscan Pantheon,” in The Religion of the Etruscans, eds. N. Thomson de Grummond and E. Simon (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006), 47. (Emph. added.)
 Ibid. 49.
 Nancy Thomson de Grummond, Etruscan Myth, Sacred History, and Legend (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, 2006), 8. (Emph. added.)
 Theoi, “T20.2 ATLAS & GAIA,” http://www.theoi.com/Gallery/T20.2.html (accessed October 13, 2014).
 Theoi, “T1.5 GAIA & THE GIGANTOMAKHIA,” http://www.theoi.com/Gallery/T1.5.html (accessed October 13, 2014).
 Michael Simpson, Gods & Heroes of the Greeks: The Library of Apollodorus Translated with Introduction and Notes (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1976), 1.
Luke Roman and Monica Roman, Encyclopedia of Greek and Roman Mythology (New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2010), 301.
Wendy Cotter, Miracles in Graeco-Roman Antiquity: A Sourcebook (New York: Taylor & Francis, 1999-2003), 13, 26.
Vandiver, loc. cit.
 Simpson, op. cit., 17.
 Apollonius of Rhodes, Argonautica, trans. R.C. Seaton (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1912-67), 15.
 Homer, The Iliad, trans. Ian Johnston (Arlington: Richer Resources Publications, 2006-07), 269. (Emph. added.)
 Erik Hornung and Theodor Abt, The Egyptian Book of Gates (Zurich: Living Human Heritage Publications, 2014), 120. (Emph. added.)
 Glenn S. Holland, Religion in the Ancient Mediterranean World (Chantilly: The Teaching Company LLC, 2005), Lecture 7.