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Category: Dragons

Gane: Neo-Babylonian Monsters, Demons & Dragons From a Narrow Slice of Time & Space

A number of scholars have already correlated Mesopotamian iconography with cuneiform texts to identify and illuminate composite beings over a wide range of periods in terms of their historical development, association with deities, and impact on humans within ancient systems of religion and mythology.

The present research draws heavily on their work, but uniquely focuses on basically synchronic, tightly controlled, comprehensive analysis of the iconographic repertoire of hybrid beings in a narrow slice of time and space.

Mesopotamian composite beings have been the focus of several formative works. One of the most influential scholars in the field has been Frans A. M. Wiggermann.

This is Figure 2, K2987B+ and K9968+, from Professor F.A.M. Wiggermann, Mesopotamian Protective Spirits: The Ritual Texts, 1992, pp. 195-7.

This is Figure 2, K2987B+ and K9968+, from Professor F.A.M. Wiggermann, Mesopotamian Protective Spirits: The Ritual Texts, 1992, pp. 195-7.

In his Mesopotamian Protective Spirits: The Ritual Texts (1992), he examines the identities and histories of those Mesopotamian supernatural creatures mentioned in the Neo-Assyrian texts K 2987B+ and KAR 298.

Regarding this partial representation of all Mesopotamian hybrids, Wiggermann summarizes:

“The texts treated are rituals for the defence of the house against epidemic diseases, represented as an army of demonic intruders. The gates, rooms, and corners of the house are occupied by prophylactic figures of clay or wood, that the texts describe in detail.”

(Frans A. M. Wiggermann, Mesopotamian Protective Spirits: The Ritual Texts (CM 1; Groningen: Styx & PP, 1992), p. xii. (This is a second edition of Wiggermann’s dissertation, originally published as Babylonian Prophylactic Figures: The Ritual Texts [Amsterdam: Free University Press, 1986].)

As he points out, these figures described in the texts have been discovered in archaeological excavations, providing a significant link between text and material remains.

Although Wiggermann’s monograph is difficult to navigate (due to the nature of its organization), it has been the backbone of much of my research.

An excerpt from the introduction to F.A.M. Wiggermann's Mesopotamian Protective Spirits: The Ritual Texts, 1992, p. xi.

An excerpt from the introduction to F.A.M. Wiggermann’s Mesopotamian Protective Spirits: The Ritual Texts, 1992, p. xi.

An important systematic treatment of composite creatures by Wiggermann is his 1997 Reallexikon der Assyriologie (RlA) article titled “Mischwesen. A. Philologisch. Mesopotamien.”

(Frans A. M. Wiggermann, “Mischwesen. A. Philologisch. Mesopotamien,” Reallexikon der Assyriologie (RlA) 8:222-246.)

Here he provides numerous textual, philological, and archaeological examples of most of the known Mesopotamian creatures, and clarifies terms for categories.

Modern scholarship identifies distinct categories of subdivine (but superhuman) creatures. Those that walk on all fours, like quadruped natural animals, are identified as monsters while those that walk on two legs, like humans, are designated as demons.

Dragons, which belong to a separate class, are hybrid creatures that are essentially snakes.

(Cf. Joan G. Westenholz, ed., Dragons, Monsters, and Fabulous Beasts (Jerusalem: Bible Lands Museum, 2004), p. 11.)

According to Wiggermann, monsters are neither gods nor demons.

(Wiggermann, “Mischwesen. A,” RlA 8:231.)

Although their names are occasionally written with the divine determinative, they usually do not wear the horned crown of divinity.

They are not included in god-lists, not found in the list of “evil spirits” (utukkū lemnūti), and not mentioned in medical texts as demons of diseases.”

(Cf. Chikako E. Watanabe, Animal Symbolism in Mesopotamia: A Contextual Approach (WOO 1; Vienna: Institut für Orientalistik der Universität Wien, 2002), p. 39.)

Constance Ellen Gane, Composite Beings in Neo-Babylonian Art, Doctoral Dissertation, University of California at Berkeley, 2012, pp. 2-3.

Kvanvig: The Apkallu List from Bīt Mēseri

“Reiner numbers the lines 1’-31’, which covers the lines 9-31 in Weiher’s edition. Borger knew Weiher’s work on the Uruk recension of Bīt Mēseri when he translated the text, even though Weiher’s final edition was published afterwards. We will return to the different aspects of the text later.

  • 1-2: Incantation: Uanna, who completed the plans of heaven and earth;
  • 3-4: Uannedugga, who is given broad understanding;
  • 5: Enmedugga, to whom a good fate is decreed;
  • 6: Enmegalamma, who was born in a house;
  • 7: Enmebulugga, who grew up on a river-flat;
  • 8: Anenlilda, the purification priest from Eridu;
  • 9. Utuabzu, who ascended to heaven;
  • 10-11: the pure carps, the carps from the sea, the seven,
  • 12-13: the seven apkallus, born in the river, who keep in order the plans of heaven and earth.
  • 14-15: Nungalpiriggaldim, the apkallu of Enmerkar, who brought down Ištar from heaven into the sanctuary;
  • 16-17: Piriggalnungal, born in Kiš, who angered the god Iškur / Adad in heaven,
  • 18-19: so he allowed neither rain nor growth in the land for three years;
  • 20-23:Piriggalabzu, born in Adab / Utab, who hung his seal on a “goat-fish” and thereby angered the god Enki / Ea in the fresh water sea, so that a fuller struck him with his own seal;
  • 24-25: the fourth, Lu-Nanna, two-thirds apkallu,
  • 26-27: who expelled a dragon from É-Ninkiagnunna, the temple of Ištar and Šulgi;
  • 28-29: the four apkallus, of human descent, whom the Lord Enki / Ea has endowed with broad understanding.

(Bīt Mēseri III, 1’-29’).

Now compare this Nimrud bas relief from the Louvre: an ummânū sprinkles water with a mullilu cone in his right hand, holding his banduddu bucket in his left. This ummânū wears bracelets with a concentric circular design, and rosettes are not apparent. This ummânū also wears the common horned headdress of Anu, but with three stacked layers of horns. As noted elsewhere, this headdress is surmounted by an object that resembles a partial fleur de lis. From Nimrud, capital of king Ashurnarzipal.  Louvre, AO 19845

Now compare this Nimrud bas relief from the Louvre: an ummânū sprinkles water with a mullilu cone in his right hand, holding his banduddu bucket in his left.
This ummânū wears bracelets with a concentric circular design, and rosettes are not apparent.
This ummânū also wears the common horned headdress of Anu, but with three stacked layers of horns.
As noted elsewhere, this headdress is surmounted by an object that resembles a partial fleur de lis.
From Nimrud, capital of king Ashurnarzipal.
Louvre, AO 19845

We have a stable tradition extending over several hundred years about the names and order of the seven apkallus living before the flood. The list in Bīt Mēseri is the oldest one, and is Neo-Assyrian; the list in Berossos is from around 290; the Uruk list is dated to 164 / 165.

It is, however, clear that the Greek text of Berossos’ Babyloniaca is in no way part of a line of transmission. In this respect Berossos is of interest because his list is a witness to a cuneiform textual tradition that existed in Babylon at this time.

It shows, together with the Uruk tablet and the Babylonia recension of Bīt Mēseri, that the list of antediluvian sages did not only belong to the Assyrians, but was adopted by the Babylonians in later centuries.

The names of the apkallus are not as old as the names of the antediluvian kings. They have similarities with the names of known literary works.

(cf. W.W. Hallo, “On the Antiquity of Sumerian Literature,” JAOS 83 (1963): 167-76, 175f.)

Moreover, three of the sages have names constructed of en-me. Three of the kings in the lists have similar constructions: Enmenluanna, Enmegalanna, Enmeduranna (Enmeduranki). These three names can tentatively be translated as follows: “Lord of the me, man of heaven; Lord of the great me, of heaven; Lord of the me, band of heaven.”

(Cf. Kvanvig, Roots of Apocalyptic, 193, note 109 for a suggested translation of the whole Antediluvian King List, based on D. O. Edzard, “Enmebaragesi von Kiš,” ZA (NF) 19 (43) (1959): 9-26, 18.)

Helge Kvanvig, Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical, and Enochic: An Intertextual Reading, Brill, 2011, pp. 108-10.

Magicians Were Poets, and Poets Were Magicians

” … The numerous incantations which were inscribed on clay tablets and treasured in libraries, do not throw much light on the progress of medical knowledge, for the genuine folk cures were regarded as of secondary importance, and were not as a rule recorded.

But these metrical compositions are of special interest, in so far as they indicate how poetry originated and achieved widespread popularity among ancient peoples. Like the religious dance, the earliest poems were used for magical purposes.

They were composed in the first place by men and women who were supposed to be inspired in the literal sense; that is, possessed by spirits. Primitive man associated “spirit” with “breath,” which was the “air of life,” and identical with wind.

The poetical magician drew in a “spirit,” and thus received inspiration, as he stood on some sacred spot on the mountain summit, amidst forest solitudes, beside a’ whispering stream, or on the sounding shore. …

Or, perhaps, the bard received inspiration by drinking magic water from the fountain called Hippocrene, or the skaldic mead which dripped from the moon.

The ancient poet did not sing for the mere love of singing: he knew nothing about “Art for Art’s sake.” His object in singing appears to have been intensely practical. The world was inhabited by countless hordes of spirits, which were believed to be ever exercising themselves to influence mankind.

The spirits caused suffering; they slew victims; they brought misfortune; they were also the source of good or “luck.” Man regarded spirits emotionally; he conjured them with emotion; he warded off their attacks with emotion; and his emotions were given rhythmical expression by means of metrical magical charms.

Poetic imagery had originally a magical significance; if the ocean was compared to a dragon, it was because it was supposed to be inhabited by a storm-causing dragon; the wind whispered because a spirit whispered in it.

Love lyrics were charms to compel the love god to wound or possess a maiden’s heart–to fill it, as an Indian charm sets forth, with “the yearning of the Apsaras (fairies);” satires conjured up evil spirits to injure a victim; and heroic narratives chanted at graves were statements made to the god of battle, so that he might award the mighty dead by transporting him to the Valhal of Odin or Swarga of Indra.

Similarly, music had magical origin as an imitation of the voices of spirits–of the piping birds who were “Fates,” of the wind high and low, of the thunder roll, of the bellowing sea. So the god Pan piped on his reed bird-like notes, Indra blew his thunder horn, Thor used his hammer like a drumstick, Neptune imitated on his “wreathed horn” the voice of the deep, the Celtic oak god Dagda twanged his windy wooden harp, and Angus, the Celtic god of spring and love, came through budding forest ways with a silvern harp which had strings of gold, echoing the tuneful birds, the purling streams, the whispering winds, and the rustling of scented fir and blossoming thorn.

Modern-day poets and singers, who voice their moods and cast the spell of their moods over readers and audiences, are the representatives of ancient magicians who believed that moods were caused by the spirits which possessed them–the rhythmical wind spirits, those harpers of the forest and songsters of ocean.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915.

The Unearthly Lotuses of Life

” … The quest of the plant, flower, or fruit of life is referred to in many folk tales.

In the Mahabharata, Bhima, the Indian Gilgamesh or Hercules, journeys to north-eastern Celestial regions to find the lake of the god Kuvera (Kubera), on which grow the “most beautiful and unearthly lotuses,” which restore health and give strength to the weary.

As Gilgamesh meets with Pir-napishtim, who relates the story of the Deluge which destroyed the “elder race,” Bhima meets with Hanuman, who informs him regarding the Ages of the Universe and the races which were periodically destroyed by deluges.

When Bhima reaches the lotus lake he fights with demons. To heal his wounds and recover strength he plunges into the lake. “As he drank of the waters, like unto nectar, his energy and strength were again fully restored.”

Hercules similarly sets out to search for the golden apples which grow in

” … those Hesperian gardens famed of old,

Fortunate fields, and groves and flowery vales.”

As Bhima slew Yakshas which guarded the lotuses, Hercules slew Ladon, the guardian of the apples. Other heroes kill treasure-protecting dragons of various kinds.

There is a remarkable resemblance between the Babylonian account of Gilgamesh’s journey through the mountain tunnel to the garden and seashore, and the Indian story of the demigod Hanuman passing through the long cavern to the shoreland palace of the female ascetic, when he was engaged searching for Sita, the wife of Rama, who had been carried away by Ravana, the demon king of Ceylon.

In the version of the latter narrative which is given in the Mahabharata, Hanuman says:

“I bring thee good news, O Rama; for Janaka’s daughter hath been seen by me. Having searched the southern region with all its hills, forests, and mines for some time, we became very weary. At length we beheld a great cavern. And having beheld it, we entered that cavern which extended over many yojanas. It was dark and deep, and overgrown with trees and infested by worms.

And having gone a great way through it, we came upon sunshine and beheld a beautiful palace. It was the abode of the Daitya (sea demon) Maya. And there we beheld a female ascetic named Parbhvati engaged in ascetic austerities. And she gave us food and drink of various kinds. And having refreshed ourselves therewith and regained our strength, we proceeded along the way shown by her. At last we came out of the cavern and beheld the briny sea, and on its shores, the Sahya, the Malaya, and the great Dardura mountains.

And ascending the mountains of Malaya, we beheld before us the vast ocean (or, “the abode of Varuna”). And beholding it, we felt sorely grieved in mind…. We despaired of returning with our lives…. We then sat together, resolved to die there of starvation.”

Hanuman and his friends, having had, so far, experiences similar to those of Gilgamesh, next discovered the eagle giant which had burned its wings when endeavouring to soar to the sun. This great bird, which resembles the Etana eagle, expressed the opinion that Sita was in Lanka (Ceylon), whither she must have been carried by Ravana. But no one dared to cross the dangerous ocean.

Hanuman at length, however, obtained the assistance of Vayu, the wind god, his divine father, and leapt over the sea, slaying monsters as he went. He discovered where the fair lady was concealed by the king of demons.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915.

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