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The Ka, the Ghost of the Egyptians

The peculiar ideas which the Egyptians held about the composition of man greatly favoured the belief in apparitions and ghosts. According to them a man consisted of a physical body, a shadow, a double, a soul, a heart, a spirit called the khu, a power, a name, and a spiritual body. When the body died […]

Roger Zelazny, Creatures of Light and Darkness

A review of Roger Zelazny’s Creatures of Light and Darkness, Doubleday, 1966.

Eco: Later Critics

“About a century later, Vico took it for granted that the first language of humanity was in the form of hieroglyphics–that is, of metaphors and animated figures. He saw the pantomime, or acted-out rebus, with which the king of the Scythians replied to Darius the Great as an example of hieroglyphic speech. He had intimated […]

Eco: Kircher’s Chinese, 2

“Why did the problem of memory arise only here, and not in regard to Egyptian hieroglyphs? The reason was that hieroglyphs discharged their allegorical and metaphorical force immediately, in virtue of what Kircher held to be their inherent power of revelation, since they “integros conceptos ideales involvebant.” By using the verb involvere (to wind or […]

Eco: Kircher’s Egyptology

“When Kircher set out to decipher hieroglyphics in the seventeenth century, there was no Rosetta stone to guide him. This helps explain his initial, mistaken, assumption that every hieroglyph was an ideogram. Understandable as it may have been, this was an assumption which doomed his enterprise at the outset. Notwithstanding its eventual failure, however, Kircher […]

Eco: The Egyptian Alphabet, 3

“Alciati’s commentary refers to the passage describing the stork in the Hieroglyphica. Yet we have just seen that there is no reference either to the feeding of the young or to the transport of the parents. These features are, however, mentioned in a fourth century AD text, the Hexaemeron of Basil (VIII, 5). In other […]

Eco: The Egyptian Alphabet, 2

“Now we can understand what Horapollo sought to reveal. He wished to preserve and transmit a semiotic tradition whose key was, by now, entirely lost. He still managed to grasp certain features at either the phonetic or the ideographic level, yet much of his information was confused or scrambled in the course of transmission. Often […]

Eco: The Egyptian Alphabet

“The hieroglyphic script is undoubtedly composed, in part, of iconic signs: some are easily recognizable–vulture, owl, bull, snake, eye, foot, man seated with a cup in hand; others are stylized–the hoisted sail, the almond-like shape for a mouth, the serrated line for water. Some other signs, at least to the untrained eye, seem to bear […]

Eco: Horapollo’s Hieroglyphica

“In 1419 Cristoforo de’ Buondelmonti acquired from the island of Andros a mysterious manuscript that was soon to excite the curiosity of philosophers such as Ficino: the manuscript was the Greek translation (by a certain Philippos) of the Horapòllonos Neiloùs ieroglyphikà. The original author, Horapollo–or Horus Apollos, or Horapollus–was thus qualified as “Nilotic.” Although it […]

Eco: The Perfect Language of Images

“Already in Plato, as in Pythagoras before him, there appeared a veneration for the ancient wisdom of the Egyptians. Aristotle was more skeptical, and when he came to recount the history of philosophy in the first book of the Metaphysics, he started directly with the Greeks. Influenced by Aristotle, the Christian authors of the Middle […]

Eco: Bruno: Ars Combinatoria and Infinite Worlds

“Giordano Bruno’s cosmological vision presented a world without ends, whose circumference, as Nicholas of Cusa had already argued, was nowhere to be found, and whose center was everywhere, at whatever point the observer chose to contemplate the universe in its infinity and substantial unity. The panpsychism of Bruno had a Neoplatonic foundation: there was but […]

Eco: The Nationalistic Hypothesis, 2

  “Despite its improbability, the so-called “Flemish thesis” proved remarkably long-lasting. It survived even into the nineteenth century. It did so, however, less on its scientific merits than because it was part of a larger nationalistic polemic. In his La province de Liège . . . Le flamand langue primordiale, mère de toutes les langues of […]

Eco: Conventionalism, Epicureanism and Polygenesis, 2

“During these same years, thinkers also returned to reflect upon an older suggestion by Epicurus, who, in a letter to Herodotus, gave his opinion that the names of things were not  originally due to convention; human beings themselves had rather created them from their own natures. Those of differing tribes, “under the impulse of special […]

Eco: Before and After Europe, 2

“Despite this, by the second century AD, there had begun to form the suspicion that Latin and Greek might not be the only languages which expressed harmoniously the totality of experience. Slowly spreading across the Greco-Roman world, obscure revelations appeared; some were attributed to Persian magi, others to an Egyptian divinity called Thoth-Hermes, to Chaldean […]

Eco: Before and After Europe

“Stories accounting for the multiplicity of tongues appear in divers mythologies and theogonies (Borst 1957-63: I, 1). None the less, it is one thing to know why many languages exist; it is quite another to decide that this multiplicity is a wound that must be healed by the quest for a perfect language. Before one […]

Asherah, Astarte, Anat, Athirat in Ancient Ugarit

“Some scholars have suggested that El’s two wives in The Birth of the Gracious Gods (Manfred Dietrich, Oswald Loretz, and Joaquín Sanmartín, Cuneiform Alphabetic Texts from Ugarit, Ras Ibn Hani and Other Places (CAT), KTU 2d enlarged edition. Münster: Ugarit-Verlag, 1995, p. 1.23) are mortal women, since they are referred to as ‘attm, “two women.” But it is just […]

Berossus and a Sibyl

“Since these fragments do not express Babylonian astronomical or astrological doctrines, the obvious conclusion is that their attribution to Berossos is not genuine. In a way, this as­tronomical / astrological material can be compared with the work which Annius of Viterbo fabricated under the name of Berosus Chaldaeus. Since these fragments are not genuine, I […]

The Historicity of Berossus

“Some sources suggest that Berossos had, as it were, an international career as an astronomer. According to those sources, he left Babylon and migrated to the Greek world after the publi­cation of his history. Vitruvius states that he moved to the island of Cos and opened a school there (BNJ T 5a-b). Vitruvius also ascribes […]

The Power and Magic of Names

“The voices heard by the Babylonian in nature, however, were not a whit more sacred to him than the inarticulate voice which found expression in the name. Like all primitive peoples, the Chaldeans confounded the person and the name by which he was known. The name, in fact, was the personality, and whatever happened to the […]

Cult of Nabu at Calah

“As for Bel, whose place Merodach usurped in the Babylonian pantheon, he was also recognized in Assyria, and Tiglath-pileser I built him a temple in his city of Asshur. Tiglath prefixes the adjective ‘old’ to the god’s name to show that he means Bel, not Bel-Merodach. Sargon, too, who had antiquarian tastes, also reverts to […]

Herodotus on E-Sagila

“181. This wall then which I have mentioned is as it were a cuirass for the town, and another wall runs round within it, not much weaker for defence than the first but enclosing a smaller space. And in each division of the city was a building in the midst, in the one the king’s […]

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Diorite Statues

“The land of Magána was already known to the inhabitants of Babylonia. The earliest Chaldaean monuments yet discovered are those which have been excavated at Tel-loh in southern Chaldaea by a Frenchman, M. de Sarzec, and are now deposited in the Louvre. Some of them go back almost to the very beginnings of Chaldaean art […]

More on Sargon

“But in spite of the atmosphere of myth which came to enshroud him, as it enshrouded the persons of Kyros, of Charlemagne, and of other heroes of popular history, Sargon was a historical monarch and the founder of a really great empire. The British Museum actually possesses an inscribed egg of veined marble which he dedicated […]

Chaldean Astronomy and Magic

“For more than two thousand years the records of Babylonian and Assyrian astronomy lay buried and forgotten under the ruins of Assyrian palaces, and all that was known of the subject came from a few passages in the Bible and in the works of Greek and Roman writers. To the Hebrews the sorceries of Babylon […]

Babylonian Creation Myths Echo Down the Centuries

” … The evidence furnished by these recently discovered tablets with regard to the date of Babylonian legends in general may be applied to the date of the Creation legends. While the origin of much of the Creation legends may be traced to Sumerian sources, 1 it is clear that the Semitic inhabitants of Mesopotamia at a […]

The Fifty Names of Marduk

” … it is clear that a dispute broke out between Marduk and the gods after he had created them, and the tradition of it has made its way into the religious literatures of the Hebrews, Syrians, Arabs, Copts and Abyssinians. The cuneiform texts tell us nothing about the cause of the dispute, but tradition generally […]

Sumerian Sacred Stories, c. 3500 BCE

” … it is quite as obvious that for the history of the progress of our civilization as we see and know it today, it is the tone and temper, the word and spirit of the ancient mythologies, those of the Greeks and Hebrews, of the Hindus and Iranians, of the Babylonians and Egyptians, which […]

On the Literature of Ancient Sumer

” … Now let us compare this date with that of the various ancient literatures known to us at present. In Egypt, for example, one might have expected an ancient written literature commensurate with its high cultural development. And, indeed, to judge from the pyramid inscriptions, the Egyptians in all probability did have a well […]

Moses, Joseph, and the Jews

OF ABRAHAM AND HIS DESCENDANTS AND OF MOSES AND THE LAND OF ISRAEL. FROM JUSTIN, OUT OF TROGUS POMPEIUS. Book xviii. 3, 3, 5. Book xxxvi. 2, 3, 6. “The origin of the Jews was from Damascus, a most famous city of Syria, whence also the Assyrian kings, and queen Semiramis sprang. The name of […]

On the Neo-Platonic Forgeries

IN giving to the public a new edition of Cory’s Ancient Fragments I have endeavoured to respond to the wishes of numerous literary friends by furnishing a brief account of the several authors to whom we are indebted for these extracts, and, at the same time, some information respecting the decipherment of the hieroglyphic texts […]

I.P. Cory on Egypt, the Basest of Kingdoms

” … The Laterculus or Canon of the Kings of Thebes, was compiled from the archives of that city, by Eratosthenes, the librarian of Ptolemæus Philadelphus. It is followed by the Old Egyptian Chronicle, with a Latin version of the same, from the Excerpta Barbara, and another from the Armenian Chronicle of Eusebius: they contain […]

Desecration of the Dead, Depredations of the Dead

” … Sometimes the bodies of the Sumerians were placed in sarcophagi of clay. The earlier type was of “bath-tub” shape, round and flat-bottomed, with a rounded lid, while the later was the “slipper-shaped coffin,” which was ornamented with charms. There is a close resemblance between the “bath-tub” coffins of Sumeria and the Egyptian pottery coffins of oval shape found […]

Hades, Nifelhel, Put, Underworld.

“There was no Heaven for the Babylonian dead. All mankind were doomed to enter the gloomy Hades of the Underworld, “the land of darkness and the shadow of death; a land of darkness, as darkness itself; and of the shadow of death, without any order, and where the light is darkness,” as Job exclaimed in […]

Tammuz, Attis, Osiris, Adonis, Diarmid Derive from a More Ancient God of Fertility

“The Babylonian myth of Tammuz, the dying god, bears a close resemblance to the Greek myth of Adonis. It also links with the myth of Osiris. According to Professor Sayce, Tammuz is identical with “Daonus or Daos, the shepherd of Pantibibla,” referred to by Berosus as the ruler of one of the mythical ages of Babylonia. We have therefore to […]

Ancient Animism

” … The memorable sermon preached by Paul to the Athenians when he stood “in the midst of Mars’ hill,” could have been addressed with equal appropriateness to the ancient Sumerians and Akkadians. “I perceive,” he declared, “that in all things ye are too superstitious…. God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord […]

What was the Third Image?

” … In this shrine are placed the statues, one of which is Hera, the other Zeus, though they call him by another name. Both of these are golden, both are sitting; Hera is supported by lions, Zeus is sitting on bulls. The effigy of Zeus recalls Zeus in all its details—his head, his robes, […]

The Missing Books of Hippolytus’s The Refutation of All Heresies

” … In the previous chapter we have seen that there is evidence, and abundant evidence, not merely of the existence of Mysteries connected with the worship of Adonis-Attis, but of the high importance assigned to such Mysteries; at the time of the birth of Christianity they were undoubtedly the most popular and the most […]

A Human Head Carried on a River of Blood

” … The first men on earth to receive knowledge of the gods, and to build temples and shrines and to summon meetings for religious observances are said to have been the Egyptians. 5 They were the first, too, to take cognizance of holy names, and to repeat sacred traditions. Not long after them the Assyrians heard […]

The Naassene Fragment, on the Ithyphallus

” … (7) And they say that not only the Mysteries of the Assyrians and Phrygians substantiate this teaching (logos) concerning the Blessed Nature, which is at once hidden and manifest [but also those of the Egyptians 1]. C. 2 [The Nature] which (H. he says) is the Kingdom of the Heavens sought for within man— H. —concerning which […]

Excerpts from the Naassene Fragment

” … In the following analysis H. stands for Hippolytus; C. for the Christian Gnostic final overwriter, the “Naassene” whose MS. lay before H.; J. for the Naassene Jewish mystic who preceded C. and overworked the original; S. for the original Heathen Hellenistic Source. …” “(1) S. “Earth (say the Greeks 3) first brought forth Man—bearing […]


“And as for thee, Joseph, the son of Jacob, shall be a symbol of thee. For his brethren sold him into the land of Egypt from Syria, the country of Laba (Laban), and on his going down into the land of Egypt there arose a famine in Syria and in all the world. And through […]

The Most Religious Nation of Antiquity

“Now the Egyptians believed that as the souls of the departed could assume the form of any living thing or plant, so the “gods,” who in many respects closely resembled them, could and did take upon themselves the forms of birds and beasts; this was the fundamental idea of the so-called “Egyptian animal worship,” which provoked […]

Transformations of the Afterlife

“But the use of the horoscope is much older than the time of Alexander the Great, for to a Greek horoscope (published for the first time by Kenyon, Catalogue of Greek Papyri vol. i. p. 132 ff) in the British Museum is attached “an introductory letter from some master of the art of astrology to his pupil, named […]

The Five Epagomenal Days

“But to the three hundred and sixty days given in the calendars of lucky and unlucky days must be added the five epagomenal days which were considered to be of great importance and had each its peculiar name. On the first Osiris was born, on the second Heru-ur (Aroueris), on the third Set, on the fourth […]


“The Egyptians believed that a man’s fate or destiny was decided before he was born, and that he had no power whatever to alter it. Their sages, however, professed to be able to declare what the fate might be, provided that they were given certain data, that is to say, if they were told the […]

Dreaming at the Base of the Sphinx

In early Christian literatures we find a number of examples of demoniacal possession in which the demon who has entered the body yields it up before a demon of greater power than himself, but the demon who is expelled is invariably hostile to him that expels him, and he departs from before him with every […]

An Infamous Case of Demoniacal Possession

“Incidentally, however, we have one interesting proof that foreign peoples believed that the Egyptians were able to cure the diseases caused by demoniacal possession, and the exercise of their power on the occasion described was considered to be so noteworthy that the narrative of it was inscribed upon a stele (originally published by Prisse, Monuments Égyptiens, Paris, […]

On Mummification

MAGICAL CEREMONIES. “IN the preceding pages we have seen how the Egyptians employed magical stones or amulets, and magical words, and magical pictures, and magical names, in the performance of deeds both good and evil; it remains to consider these magical ceremonies in which the skill of the magician-priest was exerted to its fullest extent, […]

Gnostic Magical Names From the Metternich Stele and the Harris Magical Papyrus

“The examples of the use of names possessing magical powers described above illustrate the semi-religious views on the subject of names which the Egyptians held, and we have now to consider briefly the manner in which the knowledge of a name was employed in uses less important than those which had for their object the […]