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From Anthony Green, Neo-Assyrian Apotropaic Figures, 1983

“From Assyria and Babylonia in the first half of the first millennium BCE comes a series of small figurines in the round and relief plaques, which are usually found beneath the floors of buildings within receptacles of baked or unbaked brick or (at Nineveh) stone slabs or (so far restricted to Aššur) pottery jars; the figurines themselves are almost invariably of sun-dried clay, very occasionally, perhaps, of terracotta or metal.

(Note 1: E. Douglas Van Buren, Foundation Figurines and Offerings (Berlin, 1931) [henceforth referred to as FFO] is now outdated on this subject. For a synthesis of material mainly from published sources up to 1973, see Dessa Rittig, Assyrisch-babylonische Kleinplastik magischer Bedeutung vom. 13.-6. Fh v. Chr. (München, 1977) [henceforth Rittig]. The Nimrud corpus remains for the most part unpublished. A certain amount of new material, including Nimrud figurines, will appear in R.S. Ellis, Domestic Spirits: Apotropaic Figurines in Mesopotamian Buildings (Philadelphia, forthcoming)).

Their purpose, as texts prescribing the rituals involved attest, was to avert evil from the buildings and sickness from the inhabitants.

The British School’s Nimrud complement comprises at least 136 relevant pieces from 66 separate deposits discovered in three buildings: the Burnt Palace, the Acropolis Palace (AB) and Fort Shalmaneser, and dating possibly from the reign of Shalmaneser III (?) or, at least, Adad-nirari III down to the fall of the Assyrian Empire in 613 BCE.

In this paper I shall deal with just one, but perhaps the most important, area on which the series sheds light, namely the question of the identification of the creatures represented by the various iconographic types. It can hardly be denied that the study of apotropaic figurines is of somewhat limited importance in itself. Where it succeeds is rather in the light which it throws upon matters of more general and basic interest.

It is vital here to recognize the official nature of the ritual and practice, and the consequent position of the iconography of the figurines in the official religion of the Assyrian state. And while there are no apparent documentary sources directly concerning, for example, the subjects of the apotropaic palace reliefs, there are texts ordaining procedures for apotropaic rituals involving figurines, which often enable identifications of analogous types.

Professor Mallowan was quick to recognize the relationship between the so-called Nisroch or “Griffin-demon” common in the ninth-century palaces and in Middle and Neo-Assyrian art in general (Plate IXa), and the bird-headed human figurines of apkallē from Phase E of the Burnt Palace (Plate IXb).

A bird-apkallū, the so-called Nisroch or "Griffin-demon). Plate IXa.

A bird-apkallū, the so-called Nisroch or “Griffin-demon.” Plate IXa.

A bird-headed human figurine of apkallē from Phase E of the Burnt Palace, Plate IXb.

A bird-headed human figurine of apkallē from Phase E of the Burnt Palace, Plate IXb.

Citing this instance, J.B. Stearns (Reliefs from the Palace of Ashurnasirpal II, AfO Behest 15 (Graz, 1961), 26, n. 44), has remarked that although there is here an isolated, rather superficial, relationship, there are no general correspondences between the figures on the reliefs and the actual or prescribed figurines, and that even in this case the connection does not aid our understanding of the monumental figures:

” . . . it is important to note that they are only one type out of many kinds of statuettes mentioned in these texts. Thus the parallel between the foundation-figures and the reliefs seems far from complete, since only the … winged, eagle-headed genie is present in the texts …

It should also be noted that among the several types of figurines excavated none except the bird-headed type seems to resemble the genies of the reliefs …

In short, the relationship between the apkallē of the typical text here adduced and the excavated figurines seems rather superficial, and the connection of either texts or the figurines with the rites depicted on the reliefs seems too tenuous to warrant basing an explanation of the reliefs upon such evidence.”

But although this appears true when considering the reliefs catalogued in Stearn’s restricted study, it is not the case when the full repertoire of apotropaic figures on the reliefs and in fictile art is considered, when a number of correlations can be found.

The method of using such correlations to identify individual figure types has already been well vindicated, I believe, in Dr. Julian Reade’s reappraisal of the subject-matter of Assyrian sculpture.”

Anthony Green, “Neo-Assyrian Apotropaic Figures,” Iraq, Vol. 45, 1983, pp. 87-8.

Why No Canonical Literature Regarding the Apkallu?

“In adducing the motif of the “wise vizier”, I have only meant to show that the “wise men” of a tradition are not necessarily kings, and furthermore, to show the complexity of a problem that, if I do not pretend to solve, I neither am inclined to embezzle.

In my opinion, the myth of the apkallu’s in all likelihood reflects the etiological story which the Greek accounts attempt to render, but which did not survive in the Mesopotamian canonical literature.

This winged umu-apkallū raises his right arm in the greeting gesture, with the banduddu water bucket in his left hand. The headdress is unusual, not the usual horned tiara, but a headband with a rosette insignia.

This winged umu-apkallū raises his right arm in the greeting gesture, with the banduddu water bucket in his left hand. The headdress is unusual, not the usual horned tiara, but a headband with a rosette insignia.

Beside the reference to the “old sages from before the flood” (AMT 105:22, last cited by Lambert, JCS 11 p. 8), an allusion to the presence on earth, before the flood, of apkallu’s, who after the flood regained the Apsû, is contained in the Epic of Era, where Marduk says that he “made these wise men go down to the Apsû” (ummânī šunūti ana apsî ušēridma, I 147), together with the precious materials needed to fashion the divine statute.

In the following rhetorical questions in which he regrets that neither the materials, nor the craftsmen needed to work them are available, Marduk finally deplores the absence of the sages who, most likely, were the only ones capable of infusing life into the divine statue: ali sibīt apkallī (NUN.ME) apsî purādī ebbūti ša kīma Ea bēlišunu uzna sīrtu šuklulu (I 162) “Where are the seven sages of the Apsû, the pure purādu-fish, who, just as their lord Ea, have been endowed with sublime wisdom?”. […]

In Neo-Assyrian art these bird-headed

In Neo-Assyrian art these bird-headed “genies,” as they were long described, are now known to be apkallū, “bird-apkallū,” in this case, mixed-feature exorcists and creatures of protection created by the god Ea. They traditionally served as advisors to kings. Their association with sacred trees, as they are often portrayed, remains somewhat perplexing.
This apkallū makes the iconic gesture of exorcism and liberation of sin with the mullilu cone in his raised right hand, and the banduddu water bucket in his left hand.
There are three known types of apkallū: the human, with wings; the avian-headed, with wings, and the fish-apkallū, with carp skin draped over their heads.
https://www.flickr.com/photos/lanpernas2/8606000868/

The story here edited cannot be interpreted as an etiological myth. Neither the exploits of the apkallu’s, nor even their names suggest any literary figure known to us, with the exception of Adapa, nor are they said to have existed in the period before the flood.

Meager evidence is the mention of the apkallu from Ur, Lu-Nanna, in the colophon of a text (K 8080, see Lambert, JCS 11 p. 7) listing poultices for magical purposes and of Piriggalabzu in the incipit of a Sumerian t i g i -song. …

On the other hand, two apkallu’s not described among the heroes of our text — who, as the reader must have noted, are only five in number — are mentioned as authors: a certain Enlil-muballit, apkallu of Nippur under Enlil-bani of Isin, in AMT 105:24 (see Lambert, JCS 11 p. 8), and a certain Ur-Gatumduga in the subscript to the Šulgi-hymn PBS 1/1 No. 11 …

There is little hope that we will ever find more ample material dealing with the apkallu’s. Of the legend, or cycle of legends, concerning their exploits what our texts tells us alone survives.

Indeed, we may even assume that at the time of its redaction the details of the legendary events had already faded into the past. Only the legend of Adapa must have still been well known, for concerning him the text contents itself with an even briefer allusion than its report on the other apkallu’s.

The very terseness of the characterization of each apkallu reminds us of the style of the so-called “historical omens” attached to the early kings, many of which are better considered anecdotes, as has been suggested by Güterbock, ZA 42 57 ff.

Just as historical texts never mention the exploits of Narām-Sin, Sargon, and others, that are referred to in these omens, so literary texts, transmitting always the same written tradition, have not recorded the feats of the apkallu’s.

Antediluvian apkallū portrayed as fish-men, such mixed-species creatures were the teachers of men.<br />  These specific statuettes were buried in the foundations of the home of an exorcist, where they were positioned beneath doorways and against particular walls to exert a prophylactic effect, warding off evil.<br />  The antediluvian type of apkallū, the so-called purādu-fish, are often grouped in sevens.

Antediluvian apkallū portrayed as fish-men, such mixed-species creatures were the teachers of men.
These specific statuettes were buried in the foundations of the home of an exorcist, where they were positioned beneath doorways and against particular walls to exert a prophylactic effect, warding off evil.
The antediluvian type of apkallū, the so-called purādu-fish, are often grouped in sevens.

It certainly seems as if the scribes deliberately suppressed a cycle dealing with those human beings who, at one or other of history, and no doubt with the connivance of Ea, revolted against the gods and “brought down Ištar from heaven into Eanna,” or “aroused Adad’s anger” by some forgotten or perhaps unmentionable act, or “angered Ea” through some form of challenge which is still obscure to us, in spite of the three duplicates we now have of this allusion.

Even the learned Lu-Nanna is not included for his literary achievements, but for a feat, we suspect, disrespectful to the goddess.

These acts of hubris seem quite irreconcilable with the picture we have formed of the Mesopotamian attitude towards the gods on the basis of traditional literature, and they must have been the cause of the eventual oblivion from which, however, the memory of some admirable human achievement persistently drew out again the figures of the “possessors of unsurpassed wisdom,” the sages.”

Erica Reiner, “The Etiological Myth of the “Seven Sages,” Orientalia, v. 30, No. 1, 1961, pp. 9-11.

On the Ummânu

“Such an association of the apkallu’s with kings of renown is singularly striking in view of the ancient near eastern motif that links a person of superior wisdom with a famous king.

In Egypt, we have the tradition — or fiction — of viziers who are credited with the authorship of “instructions” or “admonitions” (see J.A. Wilson, ANET 412 ff. and 432 n. 4, see also H. Brunner in Handbuch der Orientalistik I/2 p. 92 f.); for the Old Testament, references are conveniently collected by J. Lindblom, in Supplements to Vetus Testamentum 3, p. 129 f.

The god Ea at far left, wearing the horned headdress indicative of divinity, with water coursing from his shoulders. 

A fish-apkallū is in the iconic posture with right hand raised in blessing or exorcism, with the banduddu bucket in his left hand. 

The next apkallū wields an indistinct and as yet undefined angular object in his right hand, with the typical banduddu bucket in his left. 

The entity at far right, which appears to be wearing a horned tiara indicative of divinty, remains unidentified and undefined.

The god Ea at far left, wearing the horned headdress indicative of divinity, with water coursing from his shoulders. 

A fish-apkallū is in the iconic posture with right hand raised in blessing or exorcism, with the banduddu bucket in his left hand. 

The next apkallū wields an indistinct and as yet undefined angular object in his right hand, with the typical banduddu bucket in his left. 

The entity at far right, which appears to be wearing a horned tiara indicative of divinty, remains unidentified and undefined.

The most famous figure of such a wise man, whose story is the most wide spread, is Ahiqar, whose Mesopotamian origin has repeatedly been stated (for bibliography see Ginsberg in ANET 427), although no Babylonian prototype of the story as a whole is known.

However, there can be proven for Babylonia the existence of at least the theme that serves as a framework for Ahiqar’s sayings: this theme, the “disgrace and rehabilitation of a minister”, has been discussed, with a good comparative bibliography, by  A.H. Krappe in JAOS 61 (1941) 280-84.

The story is included in the “bilingual proverbs” (latest publication with bibliography, by W.G. Lambert, Babylonian Wisdom Literature 239 ff.), where it comprises a section of fourteen lines (ii 50-63, op. cit., p. 241), the longest of the sayings which usually consist of only two to four lines, although there are some as much as eight lines long.

The umu-apkallū at far left has his right hand raised in the iconic gesture of purification and exorcism, but no mullilu cone appears to be present.<br /> The banduddû bucket is present in the left hand. This umu-apkallū wears a horned tiara, indicative of divinity.<br /> The next entity lacks wings, and so is probably not an umu-apkallū. The mace in the right hand could be an e'ru, as it is not yet clear precisely what e'ru means. I do not understand the object in his left hand. The mace could be an indicator of sovereignty, of kingship.<br /> The next entity holds a bowl and the curved staff, known as the gamlu-curved staff. While this entity wears a headdress, it is not horned, and wings are absent, suggesting that it is human rather than umu-apkallū. This is probably a king, Museum notes suggest Ashurnasirpal.<br /> The entity at far right wields a curved stick in his right hand, I am unsure how Wiggermann defines it, and I am completely stumped by the object in his left hand, which appears to be a ladle. The entity appears to be a priest, blessing an offering from the king in a bowl.<br /> Overall, this frieze supports one theme of Erica Reiner's article on the Seven Sages of Sumeria, which is that each king had his associated advisor in the form of an apkallū.

The umu-apkallū at far left has his right hand raised in the iconic gesture of purification and exorcism, but no mullilu cone appears to be present.
The banduddû bucket is present in the left hand. This umu-apkallū wears a horned tiara, indicative of divinity.
The next entity lacks wings, and so is probably not an umu-apkallū. The mace in the right hand could be an e’ru, as it is not yet clear precisely what e’ru means. I do not understand the object in his left hand. The mace could be an indicator of sovereignty, of kingship.
The next entity holds a bowl and the curved staff, known as the gamlu-curved staff. While this entity wears a headdress, it is not horned, and wings are absent, suggesting that it is human rather than umu-apkallū. This is probably a king, Museum notes suggest Ashurnasirpal.
The entity at far right wields a curved stick in his right hand, I am unsure how Wiggermann defines it, and I am completely stumped by the object in his left hand, which appears to be a ladle. The entity appears to be a priest, blessing an offering from the king in a bowl.
Overall, this frieze supports one theme of Erica Reiner’s article on the Seven Sages of Sumeria, which is that each king had his associated advisor in the form of an apkallū.

Since none of the previous translations does justice to the motif expressed in the relevant passage, I suggest the following (the short lines of the bilingual text disposed in two columns are here restored to their assumed full length):

  • 50-51: “Their gods have returned to the ruin,
  • 52-53: the clamor (of daily life) has filled (lit. entered) the deserted house (again);
  • 54-55: (where) the ingrate is tenant, the wise man does not reach old age.
  • 56-58: The wise vizier, whose wisdom his king (or his lord) has not heeded,
  • 59-61: and any valuable (person) forgotten by his master,
  • 62-63: when a need arises for him (i.e., for his wisdom), he will be reinstated.”

The second half of the “saying” has reference to the disgrace and rehabilitation of a wise vizier, and, unless the first three lines (ii. 50-55) should be taken as a separate saying (so last J. Pereman, The Book of Assyro-Babylonian Proverbs [in Hebrew], p. 58), the reference to the “ingrate” (raggu) would indicate that the other basic theme of the Ahiqar-story, that of the “ungrateful nephew” (see Krappe, loc. cit., p. 281), had already been fused in the Mesopotamian tradition, as in the Ahiqar-story, with that of the “disgrace and rehabilitation of a minister”.

The argument for the existence in Babylonia of a tradition linking wisdom to a high official (“vizier”) of the king can be strengthened by the philological evidence of the alternation of the terms apkallu and ummânu, which has been adduced in other contexts.

In the top register, Ummiamu, (a variant spelling of Reiner's ummânu), human apkallū that are postdiluvian, tend to a sacred tree. In the lower register, antediluvian apkallū with avian heads tend to a sacred tree.<br />  The cones and buckets in their hands are now understood to be standard devices used to sprinkle water. Called mullilu and banduddu, respectively, the water sprinkling ritual was intended to liberate sin, or as part of a rite of exorcism.

In the top register, Ummiamu, (a variant spelling of Reiner’s ummânu), human apkallū that are postdiluvian, tend to a sacred tree. In the lower register, antediluvian apkallū with avian heads tend to a sacred tree.
The cones and buckets in their hands are now understood to be standard devices used to sprinkle water. Called mullilu and banduddu, respectively, the water sprinkling ritual was intended to liberate sin, or as part of a rite of exorcism.

The usual acceptation of the latter is “master craftsman,” often referring to scribes, authors or copyists of literary texts. References to both have been collected by van Dijk, La Sagesse Suméro-Accadienne, p. 20 n. 56, and note that Adapa, besides his more common epithet apkallu, is also called ummânu . . .

Moreover, it has been shown the term ummânu serves not only as the designation of a learned man or craftsman, but also refers, although in late texts, to a high official . . . In our connection most relevant is the mention of the ummânu beside the king in the Synchronistic King List (see simply Oppenheim in ANET 272 ff.), and the passage from the Fürstenspiegel (see now Lambert, BWL 112:5): šarru . . . ana UM.ME A la iqūl “if the king does not heed the vizier (or wise man).”

Note in the same text . . . is most likely to be read apkallišu.”

Erica Reiner, “The Etiological Myth of the “Seven Sages,” Orientalia, v. 30, No. 1, 1961, pp. 7-9.

Each King had his Apkallu

“The fish-figurines would seem to confirm the theory attractively put forward by Zimmern (KAT 535 ff. and subsequently ZA 35 151 ff.), that the apkallu’s, often occurring in groups of seven and sometimes identified with purādu-fish (Sumerian s u h u r . k u), represent Oannes and the other fish-like monsters who, according to Berosso’s account, taught mankind all crafts and civilization.

This depiction of a fish-apkallū (Apkallu, Abkallu) guarded the entrance to the temple of Ninurta at Nimrud. A fish's head can be seen on Apkallu's head, and its skin hangs down over the back of Apkallu's body.  Neo-Assyrian era, 865-860 BCE. From the Temple of Ninurta, Nimrud (ancient Kalhu; Biblical Calah), northern Mesopotamia, Iraq. (The British Museum, London). Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP (Glasg) http://www.ancient.eu/image/2708/

This depiction of a fish-apkallū (Apkallu, Abkallu) guarded the entrance to the temple of Ninurta at Nimrud. A fish’s head can be seen on Apkallu’s head, and its skin hangs down over the back of Apkallu’s body.
Neo-Assyrian era, 865-860 BCE. From the Temple of Ninurta, Nimrud (ancient Kalhu; Biblical Calah), northern Mesopotamia, Iraq. (The British Museum, London).
Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP (Glasg)
http://www.ancient.eu/image/2708/

Furthermore, the apkallu-figurines of the ritual KAR 298 discussed by Zimmern loc. cit. (see also Gurney, AAA 22 38 ff.) are each associated with a city in Mesopotamia and addressed as ūmu; Güterbock’s suggestion that the element p i r i g in the names of three apkallu’s in our text corresponds to this ūmu and refers to their character as mythological creatures (ZA 42 10 n. 3) would thus strengthen the argument in favor of the identification of the apkallu’s with the monsters described by Berossos.

What in the Greek account clearly reflects an etiological myth finds no correspondence in any of the texts dealing with apkallu’s in Mesopotamia. The exploits of the apkallu’s, as we shall see, are on a different mythological plane.

Nergal appears at the top, leering over a top register which contains the eight-pointed star of Ishtar and the inverted half-moon crescent of the Moon God Sin.  In the second register, seven demons appear to support the heavens.  The middle register depicts the burial rites for new arrivals in the underworld, presided over by two fish-apkallū.  The lower register depicts the goddess Allat, or Ereshkigal, sister of Ishtar, who reigns in the underworld. She kneels upon a horse, which appears to be oppressed by her burden, in a boat which floats upon the waters of life. Note the lion pups suckling at her breast.  Drawn by Faucher-Gudin, from a bronze plaque of which an engraving was published by Clermont-Ganneau.  The original, which belonged to M. Péretié, is now in the collection of M. de Clercq. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17323/17323-h/17323-h.htm#linkBimage-0039

Nergal appears at the top, leering over a top register which contains the eight-pointed star of Ishtar and the inverted half-moon crescent of the Moon God Sin.
In the second register, seven demons appear to support the heavens.
The middle register depicts the burial rites for new arrivals in the underworld, presided over by two fish-apkallū.
The lower register depicts the goddess Allat, or Ereshkigal, sister of Ishtar, who reigns in the underworld. She kneels upon a horse, which appears to be oppressed by her burden, in a boat which floats upon the waters of life. Note the lion pups suckling at her breast.
Drawn by Faucher-Gudin, from a bronze plaque of which an engraving was published by Clermont-Ganneau.
The original, which belonged to M. Péretié, is now in the collection of M. de Clercq.
http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17323/17323-h/17323-h.htm#linkBimage-0039

The connection between them and wisdom and the crafts lies in the term ummânu, which is one of their epithets, and to which I shall presently return.

First, however, we shall have to dispel the misconception originating with Zimmern’s article in KAT, and repeated in the discussions connected with the apkallu’s by others, namely, the assumed identity of the “wise men” — or some of them — with the early kings.

Besides a certain juggling of names inevitable when dealing with Berossos, the allusion to the “man who ascended to heaven” in the text published by Gurney, JRAS 1935 459 ff., was taken to refer to Etana, the more easily so since the phrase used in the Sumerian version, l ú a n . š è  b a . a n . e x (DU+DU) echoes the very words of the Sumerian King List: E t a n a   s i p a  l ú  a n . š è  b a . e x . d è (see Jacobsen, AS 11 p. 80: 16 f. and n. 67).

Antediluvian apkallu portrayed as fish-men, such mixed-species creatures were the teachers of men.

Antediluvian apkallu portrayed as fish-men, such mixed-species creatures were the teachers of men. Small figurines of this type were buried beneath doorways and beneath walls for prophylactic purposes, warding off evil. In some cases, they were buried in a set of seven statuettes, indicative of the so-called “Seven Sages” of Sumeria.

The view of Güterbock, ZA 42 9f., that the tradition of the apkallu’s is separate from that of the historical kings, and his assumption that the phrase “who ascended to heaven” refers to Adapa — of whom the same words are used in one of the versions of the Adapa legend (PSBA 16 [1894] 275:14, latest translation by Speiser, ANET 101 ff.) — is vindicated against his critics by the structure of the present text.

Since each personage is described by a group of at least four lines, the third and fourth lines, “[ . . . ] who ascended to heaven”, must be part of the description of the same person mentioned in the first and second lines as the purification priest of Eridu (išippu Eridu).

Because this is a well-known title of Adapa, the section must refer to him rather than to Etana. Indeed, none of the apkallu’s mentioned is himself a king, but is only associated with a famed king of old: the text states clearly that Nunpiriggaldim was the apkallu of Enmerkar, that Lu-Nanna was apkallu under Šulgi, allowing us only to conjecture that each was a noted person during a particular reign, excelling in superior wisdom — a topos later taken up by the Assyrian kings when they boast of being endowed with a wisdom equal to that of the apkallu’s.”

Erica Reiner, “The Etiological Myth of the “Seven Sages,” Orientalia, v. 30, No. 1, 1961, pp. 6-7.

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