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Tag: 1000 BCE

Eco: The Egyptian Alphabet

Rosetta_Stone

The Rosetta Stone, inscribed with a decree by Pharaoh Ptolemy V at Memphis, is dated to 196 BCE. Featuring three scripts, ancient Egyptian, Demotic and ancient Greek, the stele was discovered in 1799 by French soldier Pierre-Françoise Bouchard of the Napoleonic expedition to Egypt. Transferred to British control after the Capitulation of Alexandria in 1801, the stele has been on continual exhibition at the British Museum since 1802. The script was finally transliterated by Jean-Françoise Champollion in 1822, decrypting the mysteries of the Egyptian hieroglyphs. This photo © Hans Hillewaert in 2007, and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less.  

“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 only the remotest resemblance to the things that they are supposed to represent–the little square that stands for a seat, the sign of folded cloth, or the semicircle that represents bread.

All these signs are not icons (representing a thing by direct similarity) but rather ideograms, which work by a sort of rhetorical substitution. Thus an inflated sail serves to represent the wind; a man seated with a cup means to drink; a cow’s ear means to understand; the head of a cynocephalus stands for the god Thoth and for all his various attributes, such as writing and counting.

Not everything, however, can be represented ideographically. One way that the ancient Egyptians had found to circumvent this difficult was to turn their ideograms into simple phonograms.

In order to represent a certain sound they put the image of a thing whose name sounded similar. To take an example from Jean-Françoise Champollion‘s first decipherment (Lettre à Dacier, 17 September 1822, 11-12), the mouth, in Egyptian ro, was chosen to represent the Greek consonant P (rho).

It is ironic to think that while, for Renaissance Hermeticists, sounds had to represent the nature of things, for the Egyptians, things (or their corresponding images) were representing sounds (see, for a similar procedure, my remarks in chapter 6 on Bruno’s mnemonics).

By the time interest in Egyptian hieroglyphics had revived in Europe, however, knowledge of the hieroglyphic alphabet had been lost for over a thousand years. The necessary premise for the decipherment of hieroglyphs was a stroke of pure fortune, like the discovery of a bilingual dictionary.

In  fact, as is well known, decipherment was made possible by the discovery not of a dictionary, but of a trilingual text, the famous Rosetta Stone, named after the city of Rashid where it was found by a French soldier in 1799, and, as a result of Napoleon’s defeat at the hands of Nelson, soon transferred to London.

The stone bore an inscription in hieroglyphic, in demotic (a cursive, administrative script elaborated about 1,000 BCE), and in Greek.

Working from reproductions, Champollion, in his Lettre à Dacier, laid the foundation for the decipherment of hieroglyphs. He compared two cartouches which, from their position in the text, he guessed must refer to the names of Ptolemy (ΠΤΟΛΟΜΑΙΟΣ) and Cleopatra (ΚΛΟΠΑΤΡΑ).

He identified the five letters that both names have in common (Π, Τ, Ο, Λ, Α), and found that the two cartouches had five hieroglyphs in common as well. By supposing that each other instance of the same sign represented the same sound, Champollion could easily infer the phonetic value of the remaining text.

Champollion’s decipherment does not, however, explain a series of phenomena which can justify the interpretation of Horapollo. Greek and Roman colonizers had imposed on Egypt their commerce, their technology and their gods.

By the time of the spread of Christianity, Egypt had already abandoned many of its ancient traditions. Knowledge of sacred writing was still preserved and practiced only by priests living within the sacred enclosures of the ancient temples.

These were a dwindling breed: in those last repositories of a lost knowledge, cut off from the rest of the world, they cultivated the monuments of their ancient culture.

Since the sacred writing no longer served any practical use, but only initiatory purposes, these last priests began to introduce complexities into it, playing with the ambiguities inherent in a form of writing that could be differently read either phonetically or ideographically.

To write the name of the god Ptah, for example, the P was expressed phonetically and placed at the top of the name with the ideogram for sky (p[t]), the H was placed in the middle and represented by the image of the god Heh with his arms raised, and the T was expressed by the ideogram for the earth (ta).

It was an image that not only expressed Ptah phonetically, but also carried the visual suggestion that the god Ptah had originally separated the earth from the sky.

The discovery that, by combining different hieroglyphs, evocative visual emblems might be created inspired these last scribes to experiment with increasingly complicated and abstruse combinations.

In short, these scribes began to formulate a sort of kabbalistic play, based, however, on images rather than on letters.

Around the term represented by a sign (which was given an initial phonetic reading) there formed a halo of visual connotations and secondary senses, a sort of chord of associated meanings which served to amplify the original semantic range of the term.

The more the sacred text was enhanced by its exegetes, the more the conviction grew that they expressed buried truths and lost secrets (Sauneron 1957: 123-7).

Thus, to the last priests of a civilization sinking into oblivion, hieroglyphs appeared as a perfect language. Yet their perfection could only be understood by visually reading them; if by chance still pronounced, they would have lost any magic (Sauneron 1982: 55-6).”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 146-9.

Gane: A Study of Mischwesen in the Neo-Babylonian Period

“This study investigates the contribution of iconographic depictions of composite beings, commonly referred to by the German term Mischwesen, toward an understanding of the worldview of the Neo-Babylonians. This important aspect of their art provides access, albeit limited, to Babylonian ideology.

Anthony Green, Mischwesen. B, Reallexikon der Assyriologie, 1994, p. 245.

Anthony Green, Mischwesen. B, Reallexikon der Assyriologie, 1994, p. 245.

Unlike previous scholarly treatments of Mesopotamian supernatural hybrids, this study focuses on all extant, provenanced composite beings of a single period.

Focusing on a narrow one-period corpus facilitates the possibility of identifying correlations between emblematic visual elements and evidence for the perspectives of those who produced and viewed them, namely, the Neo-Babylonians.

The Neo-Babylonian Empire lasted from 626 to 539 BC. However, the present cultural research follows Edith Porada’s chronological framework for the iconography of NB material, which begins about 1000 BC and extends just past the fall of the Babylonian Empire in the sixth century BC.

(Edith Porada, “Suggestions for the Classification of Neo-Babylonian Cylinder Seals,” Orientalia 16 (1947): 145-165, pls. III- VIII.)

Anthony Green, Mischwesen. B, Reallexikon der Assyriologie, 1994, p. 246.

Anthony Green, Mischwesen. B, Reallexikon der Assyriologie, 1994, p. 246.

This study gathers and builds on several branches of previous scholarship, such as publications of examples of NB composite beings that provide the data for this research, general investigations of such depictions over their entire history, textual and lexical sources that elucidate aspects of such beings, and explorations of methodology relevant to interpretation of such emblematic art.

Previous works have exposed a number of key concepts applicable to NB composite beings (see further in “Literature Review” below). Most basic is the function of such portrayals as metaphors for supernatural beings, with hybrid body parts representing various attributes.

Anthony Green, Mischwesen. B, Reallexikon der Assyriologie, 1994, p. 260.

Anthony Green, Mischwesen. B, Reallexikon der Assyriologie, 1994, p. 260.

Also foundational is the principle that a symbolic depiction should be appropriate to its referent (in this case a supernatural being) and the function of the object on which it is portrayed. Another significant concept is the occultization (sic) of some primordial personalities represented by mixed beings.

Any attempt to draw immutable conclusions in this area of research is fraught with inherent limitations.

First, the extant NB set of data is only a partial representation of all the hybrids produced during this period, and does not include items that have been destroyed, remain undiscovered, or are at least inaccessible to scholars.

In particular, it is important to avoid making arguments from silence.

Second, even if all NB composite beings were available, they did not comprise or belong to a thoroughly unified or consistent system.

Anthony Green, Mischwesen. B, Reallexikon der Assyriologie, 1994, p. 261.

Anthony Green, Mischwesen. B, Reallexikon der Assyriologie, 1994, p. 261.

(Cf. Jean Bottéro, Religion in Ancient Mesopotamia (trans. Teresa Lavander Fagan; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001), pp. 26-28. A. Leo Oppenheim states, “A systematic presentation of Mesopotamian religion cannot and should not be written” (Ancient Mesopotamia: Portrait of a Dead Civilization [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1964], p. 172).

Rather, the NB repertoire of hybrid creatures results from complex accretions over millennia. Therefore, we should be cautious about making generalizations.

Nevertheless, in this study I will explore patterns emerging from the data that will illuminate the place of composite beings in the cosmic community.

This will shed light on the nature of the cosmos and the degree to which its elements are interconnected in the worldview of the Babylonians, as reflected in their iconography.

Constance Ellen Gane, Composite Beings in Neo-Babylonian Art, Doctoral Dissertation, University of California at Berkeley, 2012, pp. 1-2.

Lenzi: A Fault Line Where Legend and History Collides

“If this were the only instance of apkallū in a ritual context, this difference in genre would be of little consequence. But, in fact, it is not.

The seven apkallū are mentioned, for example, in anti-witchcraft incantations in Maqlû II 124,36 V 110,37 VII 49,38 VIII 38 (though without names). (Note that the next line…has “the wisdom, the ingenuity of Ea they spoke.”)

They also occur in a medical incantation in LKA 146 that gives a mythological account of Ea communicating poultices to humans.

(W. G. Lambert, “The Twenty-one ‘Poultices,’” Anatolian Studies 30 (1980), 77-83. See also, e.g., Bīt rimki (Rykle Borger, “Das Dritte ‘Haus’ der Serie Bīt Rimki [VR 50-51, Schollmeyer HGS Nr.1],” Journal of Cuneiform Studies 21 [1967], 11:25 + a); the rituals treated by Wiggermann, Mesopotamian Protective Spirits; and the (overlapping) attestations noted by J. J. A. van Dijk, La Sagesse Sumero-Accadienne, Commentationes Orientales 1 (Leiden: Brill, 1953), 20, n.56.)

In this bas relief from Nimrud, human apkallū, the ummánū, kneel and tend to a sacred tree.<br />  Both ummânū wear horned tiaras and display rosette bracelets on their wrists. Bracelets are also apparent on their upper arms.<br />  In the lower register, bird-apkallū raise mulillu cones to sprinkle water in a gesture of exorcism and liberation of sin.<br />  As is typical, the banduddu buckets are in their left hands.<br />  Interestingly in this case, the bracelets are atypical, and only one rosette insignia can potentially be discerned. This sort of specificity must be deliberate. What it portends, however, remains speculative.

In this bas relief from Nimrud, human apkallū, the ummánū, kneel and tend to a sacred tree.
Both ummânū wear horned tiaras and display rosette bracelets on their wrists. Bracelets are also apparent on their upper arms.
In the lower register, bird-apkallū raise mulillu cones to sprinkle water in a gesture of exorcism and liberation of sin.
As is typical, the banduddu buckets are in their left hands.
Interestingly in this case, the bracelets are atypical, and only one rosette insignia can potentially be discerned. This sort of specificity must be deliberate. What it portends, however, remains speculative.

From such evidence Sanders has argued that the seven apkallū are restricted to myths (they are found in Erra I 162 and Gilgamesh I 21 and XI 326 (called muntalkū)) and rituals during the Neo-Assyrian period (and earlier), and this fact, in his opinion, speaks against their use in a scholarly genealogy before the Seleucid era.

(He writes, “[t]he human sages, ummânu, appear for the first time in Neo-Assyrian king lists, and in the bīt mēseri fragments of the Neo-Assyrian period the superhuman apkallū are for the first time listed by name and correlated with legendary and historical kings.

While Mesopotamian kings remain on the throne, the apkallū remain confined to myth and ritual. In the Seleucid period, after the loss of native kingship, the apkallū enter history. . . .

Evidence of a historically developing identification between the Mesopotamian ritual practitioner and the apkallū in general and Adapa in particular finally emerges in Seleucid Uruk” (Sanders, “Writing, Ritual, and Apocalypse,” 144-45).

In this Nimrud bas relief from the Louvre an ummânū sprinkles water with a mullilu cone, holding his banduddu bucket in his other hand. This ummânū wears bracelets with a different design, as rosettes are not apparent. In this case, the design appears to consist of concentric circles.  This ummânū also wears the common horned headdress, but in this case the headdress is surmounted by an object that resembles a partial fleur de lis. The detail on this bas relief is unusually good, revealing details about the earrings that are blurry in most other examples.  Bracelets are also apparent on the upper arms, and the banduddu bucket reveals cross-hatching detail which rarely appears on other depictions.  The realistic portrayal of fine detail on the fingernails, the toenails, and the tassels are singular. In no other example does the embroidery on the garment stand out as well.  The fine detail on the wings and the braided hair is exceptional, and this ummânū appears to be wearing a medallion or other object at his sternum, a detail not noted elsewhere.  From Nimrud, capital of king Ashurnarzipal.  Louvre, AO 19845

In this Nimrud bas relief from the Louvre an ummânū sprinkles water with a mullilu cone, holding his banduddu bucket in his other hand.
This ummânū wears bracelets with a different design, as rosettes are not apparent. In this case, the design appears to consist of concentric circles.
This ummânū also wears the common horned headdress, but in this case the headdress is surmounted by an object that resembles a partial fleur de lis.
The detail on this bas relief is unusually good, revealing details about the earrings that are blurry in most other examples.
Bracelets are also apparent on the upper arms, and the banduddu bucket reveals cross-hatching detail which rarely appears in other depictions.
The realistic portrayal of fine detail on the fingernails, the toenails, and the tassels is singular. In no other example does the embroidery on the garment stand out so well.
The fine detail on the wings and the braided hair is exceptional, and this ummânū appears to be wearing a medallion or other object at his sternum, a detail not noted elsewhere.
From Nimrud, capital of king Ashurnarzipal.
Louvre, AO 19845

Sanders’ objection reminds us of the need for sensitivity to genre in adducing evidence, something few others have taken seriously when discussing the issue of scholarly genealogy.

There is, however, other non-ritual evidence that both alleviates the problem he raises and provides more support for the earlier apkallūummânū association suggested by the Bīt mēseri material.

A textual variant between the only two manuscripts of the Akkadian literary composition “Advice to a Prince,” which is clearly a non-ritual text, supports the close association of the apkallū and ummânū in the early first millennium. A comparison of the two tablets at lines 4 and 5 reveals our variant of interest.

(In the standard edition of the text, Lambert expresses the opinion that the text is from Babylon and should be dated to roughly 1000 to 700 BCE. He also notes, “(t)he text is written on a tablet from the libraries of Assurbanipal [i.e., DT 1], and no duplicate has yet been found” (W. G. Lambert, Babylonian Wisdom Literature [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1960; reprinted, Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1996], 110, 111).

Steven Cole has recently published a duplicate to DT 1 (Nippur IV. The Early Neo-Babylonian Governor’s Archive from Nippur, Oriental Institute Publications 114 [Chicago: The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, 1996], no. 128 [= OIP 114 128]); the tablet was found among a cache from Nippur.)

(If) he does not listen to his sage, his days will be short.

(If ) he does not listen to (his) scholar, his land will rebel against him.

In the standard edition based on DT 1 (the Ninevite version), Lambert took the ME in NUN.ME-šú as a plural marker and read the word as rubû, “princes, nobles.” (Babylonian Wisdom Literature, 112-13.)

This is understandable in light of line 10 which sets NUN.ME alongside DI.KUD.ME (dayyānū, “judges”).

In the orthography of the latter term ME must indicate plurality. But Reiner has noted that DT 1 typically uses MES to express the plural (line 10’s DI.KUD.ME being the one indisputable exception); thus, it seemed likely to her that NUN.ME in both lines 4 and 10 should be read apkallū (singular.) (See Erica Reiner, “The Etiological Myth of the ‘Seven Sages,’” Orientalia 30 (1961), 9 and n.1.)”

Alan Lenzi, The Uruk List of Kings and Sages and Late Mesopotamian ScholarshipJANER 8.2, Brill, Leiden, 2008. pp. 146-8.

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