Deluge!

Flood myths abound. From the Abrahamic myth of Noah and the deluge to the Inca flood myths that Spanish conquistadors encountered upon arriving in Cuzco to Kammu flood myths in northern Thailand, a great deluge has been a powerful archetype for understanding the world’s cycle of destruction and creation. In the nineteenth century, not long after Mary G. MacDonogh made this map, the beginnings of the field of geology tested itself against the accepted truths of this story and, in turn, challenged the cycle of creation, destruction, and repopulation that MacDonogh illustrates. In turn, when great floods do happen, they cannot escape the symbolism of the biblical deluge, whether it is Mark Bradford’s “Mithra” (2008)—an ark fashioned for a post-Katrina New Orleans—or the comparison between a victim of the Johnstown Flood and Noah in Zora Neale Hurston’s Mules and Men. Floods, we might say, are the prototypical disaster.