Samizdat

"Samizdat: Publishing forbidden literature."

Tag: 1931

Eco: Theoretical Objections and Counter-objections

Projet_d'éléments_d'idéologie_par_le_[...]Destutt_de_bpt6k10455061

Antoine-Louis-Claude Destutt de Tracy (1754-1836), Projet d’éléments d’idéologie, Paris, 1801. This copy in the Bibliothèque nationale de France. 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. 

“A fundamental objection that can be applied to any of the a posteriori projects generically is that they can make no claim to having identified and artificially reorganized a content system.

They simply provide an expression system which aims at being easy and flexible enough to express the contents normally expressed in a natural language. Such a practical advantage is also a theoretical limit. If the a priori languages were too philosophical, their a posteriori successors are not philosophical enough.

The supporters of an IAL have neither paid attention to the problem of linguistic relativism, nor ever been worried by the fact that different languages present the world in different ways, sometimes mutually incommensurable.

They have usually taken it for granted that synonymous expressions exist from language to language, and the vast collection of books that have been translated into Esperanto from various of the world’s languages is taken as proof of the complete “effability” of this language (this point has been discussed, from opposite points of view, by two authors who are both traditionally considered as relativist, that is, Sapir and Whorfcf. Pellerey 1993: 7).

To accept the idea that there is a content system which is the same for all languages means, fatally, to take surreptitiously for granted that such a model is the western one. Even if it tries to distance itself in certain aspects from the Indo-European model, Esperanto, both in its lexicon and in its syntax, remains basically an Indo-European tongue.

As Martinet observed, “the situation would have been different if the language had been invented by a Japanese” (1991: 681).

One is free to regard all these objections as irrelevant. A theoretical weak point may even turn out to be a practical advantage. One can hold that linguistic unification must, in practice, accept the use of the Indo-European languages as the linguistic model (cf. Carnap in Schlipp 1963:71).

It is a view that seems to be confirmed by actual events; for the moment (at least) the economic and technological growth of Japan is based on Japanese acceptance of an Indo-European language (English) as a common vehicle.

Both natural tongues and some “vehicular” languages have succeeded in becoming dominant in a given country or in a larger area mainly for extra-linguistic reasons. As far as the linguistic reasons are concerned (easiness, economy, rationality and so on), there are so many variables that there are no “scientific” criteria whereby we might confute the claim of Goropius Becanus that sixteenth century Flemish was the easiest, most natural, sweetest and most expressive language in the entire universe.

The predominate position currently enjoyed by English is a historical contingency arising from the mercantile and colonial expansion of the British Empire, which was followed by American economic and technological hegemony.

Of course, it may also be maintained that English has succeeded because it is rich in monosyllables, capable of absorbing foreign words and flexible in forming neologisms, etc.: yet had Hitler won World War II and had the USA been reduced to a confederation of banana republics, we would probably today use German as a universal vehicular language, and Japanese electronics firms would advertise their products in Hong Kong airport duty-free shops (Zollfreie Waren) in German.

Besides, on the arguable rationality of English, and of any other vehicular language, see the criticism of Sapir (1931).

There is no reason why an artificial language like Esperanto might not function as an international language, just as certain natural languages (such as Greek, Latin, French, English, Swahili) have in different historical periods.

We have already encountered in Destutt de Tracy an extremely powerful objection: a universal language, like perpetual motion, is impossible for a very “peremptory” reason: “Even were everybody on earth to agree to speak the same language from today onwards, they would rapidly discover that, under the influence of their own use, the single language had begun to change, to modify itself in thousands of different ways in each different country, until it produced in each a different dialect which gradually grew away from all the others” (Eléments d’idéologie, II, 6, 569).

It is true that, just for the above reasons, the Portuguese of Brazil today differs from the Portuguese spoken in Portugal so much that Brazilian and Portuguese publishers publish two different translations of the same foreign book, and it is a common occurrence for foreigners who have learned their Portuguese in Rio to have difficulty understanding what they hear on the streets of Lisbon.

Against this, however, one can point out the Brazilians and Portuguese still manage to understand each other well enough in practical, everyday matters. In part, this is because the mass media help the speakers of each variety to follow the transformations taking place on the other shore.

Supporters of Esperanto like Martinet (1991: 685) argue that it would be, to say the least, naive to to suppose that, as an IAL diffused into new areas, it would be exempt from the process through which languages evolve and split up into varieties of dialects.

Yet in so far as an IAL remained an auxiliary language, rather than the primary language of everyday exchange, the risks of such a parallel evolution would be diminished.

The action of the media, which might reflect the decisions of a sort of international supervisory association, could also contribute to the establishment and maintenance of standards, or, at least, to keeping evolution under control.”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 330-2.

Eco: Search for the Perfect Language, 2.

Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1526/1530-1569 CE), The Tower of Babel. Brueghel painted three versions of the Tower of Babel. One is kept in the Museum Bojimans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam, the second, this one, is held in the Kunsthistoriches Museum in Vienna, while the disposition of the third version, a miniature on ivory, is unknown. Faithful reproductions of two-dimensional public domain works of art are public domain.

Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1526/1530-1569 CE), The Tower of Babel. Brueghel painted three versions of the Tower of Babel. One is kept in the Museum Bojimans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam, the second, this one, is held in the Kunsthistoriches Museum in Vienna, while the disposition of the third version, a miniature on ivory, is unknown. Faithful reproductions of two-dimensional public domain works of art are public domain.

“Beyond this, I have decided to consider only projects concerning true and proper languages. This means that, with a bitter sigh of relief, I have decided to consider only the following:

  1. the rediscovery of languages postulated as original or as mystically perfect — such as Hebrew, Egyptian or Chinese;
  2. the reconstruction of languages postulated, either fancifully or not, as original or mother tongues, including the laboratory model of Indo-European;
  3. languages constructed artificially for one of three ends: (a) perfection in terms of either function or structure, such as the a priori philosophical languages of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, which were designed to express ideas perfectly and to discover thereby new connections between the diverse aspects of reality; (b) perfection in terms of universality, such as the a posteriori international languages of the nineteenth century; (c) perfection in terms of practicality, if only presumed, such as the so-called polygraphies;
  4. more or less magic languages, whether they be discovered or fabricated, whose perfection is extolled on account of either their mystic affability or their initiative secrecy.

By contrast, I can give no more than bare notice to any of the following:

  1. oneiric languages, not expressly invented, such as the languages of the insane, or of trance states, or of mystic revelations (like the Unknown Language of Saint Hildegarde of Bingen), as well as all the cases of glossolalia or xenoglossia (cf. Samara 1972); Goodman 1972);
  2. fictitious languages, either in narrative (from Rabelais to Foigny up to Orwell’s ‘Newspeak’ and Tolkien), or in poetry (like Chlebnikov’s transmental speech). In the majority of these cases, we are presented with only short stretches of speech, supposedly representing an actual language, for which, however, there is provided neither a lexicon nor a syntax (cf. Pons 1930, 1931, 1932, 1979; Yaguello 1984).
  3. bricolage languages, that is languages that are created spontaneously by the encounter of two linguistically distinct cultures. Typical examples are the pidgins arising in areas of colonialism. As cross-national as they may be, they are not universal. They are, rather, partial and imperfect because they have a limited lexicon and an oversimplified syntax; they are used to facilitate simple activities such as barter, but are unable to express higher types of experience (cf. Waldman 1977);
  4. natural tongues or jargons serving as vehicular languages in multilingual zones. An example of such a language of exchange might be Swahili, the lingua franca of large areas of East Africa. Modern English would be another example. French was formerly an example, if one considers that, during the Convention, the Abbé Gregoire revealed that, out of a population of twenty-six million, fifteen million French men and women spoke a language other than that of Paris (Calvet 1981: 110);
  5. formal languages whose use is limited to special scientific purposes, such as the languages of chemistry, algebra and logic (these will be considered only as they derive from projects defined by category 3(a) above;
  6. the immense and delectable category of the so-called fous du language (see, for example, Blavier 1982; Yaguello 1984). Admittedly, in such cases it is not always easy to distinguish between technical insanity and mild glottomania, and many of my own characters may sometimes show some aspects of lunacy. Still, it is possible to make a distinction. We will not consider belated glottomaniacs. Nevertheless, I have not always been able to keep down my taste for whimsicality, especially when (even though the belatedness was hardly justifiable) those attempts had, anyway, a certain, traceable, historic influence, or, at least, they documented the longevity of a dream.

Similarly, I do not claim here to examine the whole of the researches on a universal grammar (except in cases in which they clearly intersect with my topic), because they deserve a separate chapter of the history of linguistics.

Likewise, this is not (except, again, where the subject intersects with that of the perfect language) a book about the secular, or rather, millennial, question of the origins of language.

There are infinite discussions on the origins of human language which do not consider the possibility or the opportunity of returning back to the language of our origins, either because they assume that it had definitely disappeared, or because they consider it as radically imperfect.

Finally, were it up to me to decide under which heading this book should be filed in a library catalogue (an issue which, for Leibniz, was bound up with the problem of a perfect language), I would pick neither ‘linguistics’ nor ‘semiotics’ (even though the book employs semiotics as its instrument, and demands a certain degree of semiotic interest from its reader).

I would rather pick ‘history of ideas.’ This explains why I make no attempt to construct a rigorous semiotic typology for the various types of a priori and a posteriori languages: this would require a detailed examination of each and every project, a job for students of what is now called ‘general inter linguistics.’

The present book aims instead at delineating, with large brushstrokes and selected examples, the principle episodes of the story of a dream that has run now for almost two thousand years.”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 2-5.

Kvanvig: Assurbanipal Studied Inscriptions on Stone from Before the Flood

“The first thing to notice is the strange expression salmīšunu, “their images.” The pronoun refers back to the primeval ummanus / apkallus. They had “images,” created by Ea on earth. A line from Bīt Mēseri sheds light on the issue.

šiptu šipat Marduk āšipu salam Marduk

“The incantation is the incantation of Marduk, the āšipu is the image of Marduk.”

(Bīt Mēseri II, 226. Cf. Gerhard Meier, “Die zweite Tafel der Serie bīt mēseri,” AfO 14, 1941-4, pp. 139-52, 150).

In his role as exorcist, the āšipu is here an image of the deity itself. In the Poem of Erra something similar must have been thought. The āšipu and other priests with responsibility for the divine statues were the earthly counterparts of the transcendent ummanus / apkallus. They were their images on earth.

"Sometimes animal hybrids ... appear to take part in rituals....some types are clearly minor deities, since they wear the horned cap as a mark of their divinity...others may be human. A ...winged god, standing or kneeling, holds a bucket and cone ... in the scenes of "ritual" centered on the stylized tree. A similar female figure holds a chaplet of beads....A third figure carries a flowering branch, sometimes also a sacrificial (?) goat. Sometimes he wears the horned cap, and even when does not he often has wings. Presumably, therefore, such figures are also non-mortal; they may represent the Seven Sages in human guise." From Jeremy Black and Anthony Green, Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia, 1992, pp. 86-8.

“Sometimes animal hybrids … appear to take part in rituals….some types are clearly minor deities, since they wear the horned cap as a mark of their divinity…others may be human. A …winged god, standing or kneeling, holds a bucket and cone … in the scenes of “ritual” centered on the stylized tree. A similar female figure holds a chaplet of beads….A third figure carries a flowering branch, sometimes also a sacrificial (?) goat. Sometimes he wears the horned cap, and even when does not he often has wings. Presumably, therefore, such figures are also non-mortal; they may represent the Seven Sages in human guise.”
From Jeremy Black and Anthony Green, Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia, 1992, pp. 86-8.

We must admit that the following text from line 34 is not very clear. Does the ummanus from line 34 mean the primeval apkallus, or does it refer to the priests as ummanus? If we follow the interpretation underlying Foster’s translation, the second option is preferable.

“He himself gave those same (human) craftsmen

great discretion and authority;

he gave them wisdom and great dexterity.

They have made (his) precious image radiant,

even finer than before.”

(Poem of Erra II, pp. 34-6. Foster, Before the Muses, p. 892).

The text thus describes how Ea equips the earthly ummanus with wisdom and dexterity to make them able to restore Marduk’s statue.

To care for the divine statue, to make sure that it is qualified for the manifestation of the divinity, is to secure cosmic stability. This was the great responsibility of the āšipu when they acted as earthly images of the apkallus, the guardians of the cosmic order.

Marduk, the supreme god of Babylon. At his feet the Mushhushshu Serpent-dragon, which he overpowered when he defeated Tiamat, mother of the gods, who sought to destroy the land-dwelling gods.<br /> In this myth the Serpent-dragon was a creature of Tiamat's (for the image cf. p. 301. Stephen Herbert Langdon. The Mythology of All Races- Semitic. Vol. 5. Boston. Marshall Jones Company. 1931).<br /> This drawing is after a 9th century BCE Babylonian cylinder seal. The Assyrians later declared their God Asshur as the god who defeated Tiamat, and Marduk's serpent-dragon was portrayed as accompanying Asshur.<br /> Marduk's robe depicts the heavenly night sky with all its stars.<br /> I believe that the circular medallions hanging from his neck are among the few portrayals of the me, the tablets of destinies, in all Assyrian art.<br /> Marduk was also called "the son of the Sun," "the Sun" and "bull-calf of the Sun" (Babylonian amar-utu).<br /> http://www.bibleorigins.net/SerpentDragonMardukAsshur.html

Marduk, the supreme god of Babylon. At his feet the Mushhushshu Serpent-dragon, which he overpowered when he defeated Tiamat, mother of the gods, who sought to destroy the land-dwelling gods.
In this myth the Serpent-dragon was a creature of Tiamat’s (for the image cf. p. 301. Stephen Herbert Langdon. The Mythology of All Races- Semitic. Vol. 5. Boston. Marshall Jones Company. 1931).
This drawing is after a 9th century BCE Babylonian cylinder seal. The Assyrians later declared their God Asshur as the god who defeated Tiamat, and Marduk’s serpent-dragon was portrayed as accompanying Asshur.
Marduk’s robe depicts the heavenly night sky with all its stars.
I believe that the circular medallions hanging from his neck are among the few portrayals of the me, the tablets of destinies, in all Assyrian art.
Marduk was also called “the son of the Sun,” “the Sun” and “bull-calf of the Sun” (Babylonian amar-utu).
http://www.bibleorigins.net/SerpentDragonMardukAsshur.html

The supreme responsibility on earth for cosmic stability rested on the king. Therefore the king needed to be depicted as wise, having insight into the hidden laws of the cosmos. This is a reoccurring topic in descriptions of kings and their own self-presentations.

It reaches as far back as the third millennium, but shows an increasing tendency in the first millennium.

(Cf. R.F.G. Sweet, “The Sage in Akkadian Literature: A Philological Study,” in The Sage in Israel and the Ancient Near East, eds. J.G. Gammie and L.G. Perdue, Winona Lake, 1990, pp. 45-65, 51-7).

In their boasting of superior wisdom the kings of the first millennium compared their own wisdom with the wisdom of the primary apkallu, Adapa:

Sargon claims to be: “a wise king, skilled in all learning, the equal of

the apkallu, who grew up in wise counsel and attained full stature in good judgement.”

(Cylinder Inscription, 38. Cf. David Gordon Lyon, Keilschriftentexte Sargon’s Königs von Assyrien, (722-705 v. CHR), AB. Leipzig, 1883, pp. 34-5. Translation according to Sweet, “The Sage in Akkadian Literature,” p. 53).

Sennacherib presents himself as one to whom “Ninšiku gave wide understanding and equality with the apkallu, Adapa, and granted profound wisdom.”

(Bull Inscription, 4. Cf. D.D. Luckenbill, The Annals of Senacherib, Chicago, 1924, p. 117; translation according to Sweet, “The Sage in Akkadian Literature,” p. 53).

Prism of Sennacherib, the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago.  Daniel David Luckenbill, The Annals of Sennacherib, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1924. https://oi.uchicago.edu/sites/oi.uchicago.edu/files/uploads/shared/docs/oip2.pdf

Prism of Sennacherib, the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago.
Daniel David Luckenbill, The Annals of Sennacherib, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1924.
https://oi.uchicago.edu/sites/oi.uchicago.edu/files/uploads/shared/docs/oip2.pdf

Assurbanipal describes his comprehensive wisdom in the following way:

Marduk, the apkallu of the gods, gave me wide understanding and extensive intelligence (and) Nabu, the scribe (who knows) everything, granted me his wise teachings ….

I have learned the art of the apkallu, Adapa, (so that now) I am familiar with the secret storehouse of all scribal learning, (including) celestial and terrestrial portents.

I can debate in an assembly of ummanus and discuss with the clever apkal šamni (oil diviners) (the treatise) “if the liver is a replica of the sky.” I used to figure out complicated divisions and multiplications that have no solutions.

Time and again I have read the cleverly written compositions in which the Sumerian is obscure and the Akkadian is difficult to interpret correctly.

I have studied inscriptions on stone from before the Flood which are sealed, obscure and confused.”

(Tablet L4 obv. I, 10-8. Cf. M. Streck, Assurbanipal und die letzen assyrischen König bis zum Untergange Nineveh’s, vol. II, Leipzig, 1916, 254-7.)

Helge Kvanvig, Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical, and Enochic: An Intertextual Reading, Brill, 2011, pp. 138-9.

Nakamura–Rimbaud’s Derangement of All the Senses, Magic, and Archeology

“Curiously, archaeological research has not fully exploited the evocative cooperation between text, iconography, material, and deposition in this apotropaic practice. Rather, it has been the art historical and Assyriological traditions that have provided the most thorough deliberations on the ritual.

Iconographic analyses present detailed visual descriptions of the figurines (Klengel-Brandt 1968; Rittig 1977; Van Buren 1931), and trace out a visual typology of apotropaic images (Green 1993; Wiggermann 1993), while textual analysis investigates the symbolic logic of apotropaic prescription and the mythological identities of the figures (Wiggermann 1992).

Two long-awaited volumes no doubt will provide further analyses of particular site assemblages (Green forthcoming) and the apotropaic figurines in general (Ellis forthcoming). Despite the richness of textual and archaeological data, an anthropological perspective is distinctly lacking; however, such research would considerably enrich our views of this remarkable ancient practice.

Regrettably, studies of previously excavated materials have not exploited the diverse range of approaches afforded by modern social sciences. While previously excavated sites and materials admittedly do not often lend themselves to the analytical and interpretive techniques most favored by archaeologists, such data should not be omitted from modern reconsideration and inquiry simply because they present a special challenge for substantive interpretation (see Meskell 1999).

There is, in fact, adequate data to perform detailed contextual and spatial analyses of the apotropaic practice at certain Neo-Assyrian sites. Furthermore, I would argue that conventional interpretations in archaeology — still oriented toward explanation and meaning — fail to get at the most compelling aspects of ancient magic, exactly that which makes it magical.

Magic surely presents something beyond the reach of representational or functional interpretations and thus demands a different perspective. What is required is an evocation of magic that aims directly at the caesura between meaning and matter and delves into the shadowy processes of materializing experience, belief, and value.

Perhaps it is not surprising that archaeology, with only material traces of human activity to work with, has left the critical study of magic to other disciplines. It is revealing that “magic” is generally invoked as an explanation for those slippery things, processes, and occurrences that our rational and linguistic varieties of logic can’t quite master.

From this vantage, magic has become something more suitable for explaining than for being explained. But as Mauss (1972) decisively observed in A General Theory of Magic, magic is as much a way of doing as a way of thinking.

We should consider, then, not a logic but an aesthetics of magical practice, as a particular way of making sense (Gosden 2001). And this way of doing engages a radical materiality that not only enacts the mutual constitution of subjects and objects, but provides the condition for such discursive practices.

A consideration of materiality vis-à-vis magic, then, does not presume and continue the anthropological pursuit of finding meaning in matter, the well-rehearsed terrain of discovering how various cultures construct and inscribe meaning in their artifacts.

What is magical or forceful in certain artifacts evades such fixed and flattened analyses since processes of abstraction do not account for the “untranscended materiality” or “plastic power” of the object that derives from the thing’s materialness itself (Pels 1998:101).

Impoverished attempts to discover the meaning or social context of a magical artifact, as it were, fall short not only because of an opacity of things, but also because our habituated ways of apprehending and constructing meaning threaten a veritable non-recognition of the things themselves.

This purifying analytical gaze effectively eviscerates matter of its very materiality — its innate capacity to continuously engage and enter into new relations. But recovering a recognition of things simply requires embracing the thingness of matter, namely, that insistent sensuousness of things that compels a confrontation with humans.

This move does not return us to problematic theories of materialism, but rather engages a notion of materiality as a dialectic and supplemental aesthetic of relating to.

Humans mime the animate in the inanimate, and the ideal in the real, to create and transform the world around them, only to be created and transformed right back. Such is the reality of matter: it “strikes back” (Pels 1998:91).

Within this framework I suggest that apotropaic figurine magic encompasses a process that enacts both a distinct mode of perception and a material event that renders a protected reality.

This discussion converges specifically on two aspects of magic: first, how magic capitalizes on a tension between the social construction of meaning and the radical autonomy of matter, and second, how magical perception, in the way of poetic action, masters the unknown by recovering and performing a “derangement of all the senses.” (Rimbaud 1967:302 and Deleuze 1993).

From such a viewpoint, Mesopotamian magic neither constitutes nor opposes a “rational” mode of knowing the world, but rather moves alongside in tandem, as counterpoint in a polyphonic system of knowledge. From this perspective, magic engages a sensuous metaphysics and grounds the possibility of a distinct socio-religious worldview.”

Carolyn Nakamura, “Mastering matters: magical sense and apotropaic figurine worlds of Neo-Assyria,” Archaeologies of materiality (2005): 19-22.

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.

Babylonian Astro-Theology

“In the Observations of Bel the stars are already invested with a divine character. The planets are gods like the sun and moon, and the stars have already been identified with certain deities of the official pantheon, or else have been dedicated to them.

The whole heaven, as well as the periods of the moon, has been divided between the three supreme divinities, Anu, Bel and Ea. In fact, there is an astro-theology, a system of Sabaism, as it would have been called half a century ago.

The star constellation of Hydra as a Babylonian Serpent-Dragon called Mushussu meaning "furious snake," with horns and wings from a clay cuneiform tablet of the Persian period.  According to Professor Langdon, Tammuz (Sumerian Dumuzi) was called a "Heavenly Serpent-dragon," he also noted that Ningishzida whose name means "Lord of the Good Tree" according to some scholars, was an aspect of Dumuzi/Tammuz, Dumuzi being called in hymns "Damu, the child Ningishzida."  (For the drawing cf. p. 286. Stephen Herbert Langdon. The Mythology of All Races- Semitic. Vol. 5. Boston. Marshall Jones Company. 1931). http://www.bibleorigins.net/SerpentDragonMardukAsshur.html

The star constellation of Hydra as a Babylonian Serpent-Dragon called Mushussu meaning “furious snake,” with horns and wings from a clay cuneiform tablet of the Persian period.
According to Professor Langdon, Tammuz (Sumerian Dumuzi) was called a “Heavenly Serpent-dragon,” he also noted that Ningishzida whose name means “Lord of the Good Tree” according to some scholars, was an aspect of Dumuzi/Tammuz, Dumuzi being called in hymns “Damu, the child Ningishzida.”
(For the drawing cf. p. 286. Stephen Herbert Langdon. The Mythology of All Races- Semitic. Vol. 5. Boston. Marshall Jones Company. 1931).
http://www.bibleorigins.net/SerpentDragonMardukAsshur.html

This astro-theology must go back to the very earliest times. The cuneiform characters alone are a proof of this. The common determinative of a deity is an eight-rayed star, a clear evidence that at the period when the cuneiform syllabary assumed the shape in which we know it, the stars were accounted divine.

We have seen, moreover, that the sun and moon and evening star were objects of worship from a remote epoch, and the sacredness attached to them would naturally have been reflected upon the other heavenly bodies with which they were associated.

Totemism, too, implies a worship of the stars. We find that primitive peoples confound them with animals, their automatic motions being apparently explicable by no other theory; and that primitive Chaldea was no exception to this rule has been already pointed out.

Here, too, the sun was an ox, the moon was a steer, and the planets were sheep. The adoration of the stars, like the adoration of the sun and moon, must have been a feature of the religion of primeval Shinar.

Marduk, the supreme god of Babylon. At his feet the Mushhushshu Serpent-dragon, associated with him, as he overpowered it when he defeated Tiamat the female personfication of the salty sea or ocean, mother of the gods, who sought to destroy the land-dwelling gods until killed by Marduk.  In this myth the Serpent-dragon was a creature of Tiamat's (for the image cf. p. 301. Stephen Herbert Langdon. The Mythology of All Races- Semitic. Vol. 5. Boston. Marshall Jones Company. 1931).  This drawing is after a 9th century BCE Babylonian cylinder seal. The Assyrians later declared their God Asshur as the god who defeated Tiamat, and Marduk's serpent-dragon was portrayed as accompanying Asshur. Marduk's robe is the heavenly night sky with all its stars. he was also called "the son of the Sun,"  "the Sun" and "bull-calf of the Sun" (Babylonian amar-utu). http://www.bibleorigins.net/SerpentDragonMardukAsshur.html

Marduk, the supreme god of Babylon. At his feet the Mushhushshu Serpent-dragon, associated with him, as he overpowered it when he defeated Tiamat the female personification of the salty sea or ocean, mother of the gods, who sought to destroy the land-dwelling gods until killed by Marduk.
In this myth the Serpent-dragon was a creature of Tiamat’s (for the image cf. p. 301. Stephen Herbert Langdon. The Mythology of All Races- Semitic. Vol. 5. Boston. Marshall Jones Company. 1931).
This drawing is after a 9th century BCE Babylonian cylinder seal. The Assyrians later declared their God Asshur as the god who defeated Tiamat, and Marduk’s serpent-dragon was portrayed as accompanying Asshur. Marduk’s robe is the heavenly night sky with all its stars. he was also called “the son of the Sun,” “the Sun” and “bull-calf of the Sun” (Babylonian amar-utu). I suspect that the medallions hanging from his neck are none other than the Tablets of Fate.
http://www.bibleorigins.net/SerpentDragonMardukAsshur.html

But this primeval adoration was something very different from the elaborate astro-theology of a later day. So elaborate, indeed, is it that we can hardly believe it to have been known beyond the circle of the learned classes.

The stars in it became the symbols of the official deities. Nergal, for example, under his two names of Sar-nem and ‘Sulim-ta-ea, was identified with Jupiter and Mars. It is not difficult to discover how this curious theological system arose.

Its starting-point was the prominence given to the worship of the evening and morning stars in the ancient religion, and their subsequent transformation into the Semitic Istar. The other planets were already divine; and their identification with specific deities of the official cult followed as a matter of course.

As the astronomy of Babylonia became more developed, as the heavens were mapped out into groups of constellations, each of which received a definite name, while the leading single stars were similarly distinguished and named, the stars and constellations followed the lead of the planets. As Mars became Nergal, so Orion became Tammuz.

The priest had succeeded the old Sumerian sorcerer, and was now transforming himself into an astrologer. To this cause we must trace the rise of Babylonian astro-theology and the deification of the stars of heaven.

The Sabianism of the people of Harrân in the early centuries of the Christian era was no survival of a primitive faith, but the last echo of the priestly astro-theology of Babylonia. This astro-theology had been a purely artificial system, the knowledge of which, like the knowledge of astrology itself, was confined to the learned classes.

It first grew up in the court of Sargon of Accad, but its completion cannot be earlier than the age of Khammuragas. In no other way can we explain the prominence given in it to Merodach, the god of Babylon.”

A.H. Sayce, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Religion of the Ancient Babylonians, 5th ed., London, 1898, pp. 400-2.

%d bloggers like this: