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Tag: 1956

Eco: A Dream that Refused to Die

kircher_117

Athanasius Kircher (1602-80), the Christian interpretation of the Kabbalah and the mystical names of God, Oedipus Aegyptiacus, tom. 2, vol. 1, 1652-4, p. 287. John Mark Ockerbloom curated an entry for all three volumes of this work at the University of Pennsylvania libraries. This illustration courtesy of Stanford University. 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. 

 

“Even faced with the results of the research of comparative linguistics, however, monogenetic theories refuse to give up the ghost. The bibliography of belated monogeneticism is immense. In it, there is to be found the lunatic, the crank, the misfit, the bizarre mystic, as well as a number of students of unimpeachable rigor.

In 1850, for example, the Enlightenment notion of a language of action received a radically monogenetic reading in the Dactylologie et language primitif restitués d’apres les monuments by J. Barrois.

Assuming that the first language of humanity was a language of action and that this language was exclusively gestural, Barrois sought to prove that even the passages of the Bible which referred to God addressing Adam referred not to speaking in a verbal sense, but instead to a non-verbal, mimed language.

“The designation of the divers animals which Adam made was achieved by means of a special miming which recalled their form, instinct, habit, and qualities, and, finally, their essential properties.” (P. 31).

The first time that an unambiguous reference to verbal speech appears in the Bible is when God speaks to Noah; before this, all references seem vague. For Barrois, this was evidence showing that only slowly, in the immediately antediluvian age, did a phonetic form of language become common.

The confusio linguarum arose out of discord between gestural and spoken language. The primitive vocal language was born closely accompanied by gestures which served to underline its most important words–just as occurs today in the speech of negroes and Syrian merchants (p. 36).

A dactylological language (expressed by the movement of the fingers and deriving from the primitive language of action) was born later, as a form of short-hand support for the phonetic language, when this latter emerged as the dominant form.

Barrois examines iconographic documents of all ages, demonstrating that the dactylological language remained unaltered through various civilizations.

As for the everlasting idea of an original Hebrew, we might cite the figure of Fabre d’Olivet, whose La Langue hébraïque restituée, written in 1815, is still a source of inspiration for belated kabbalists today.

He told of a primitive language that no people had ever spoken, of which Hebrew (the Egyptian dialect of Moses) was but the most illustrious offspring. This insight leads him on to the search for a mother tongue in which Hebrew is carefully combed and then subjected to fantastic reinterpretations.

D’Olivet was convinced that, in this language, every phoneme, every single sound, must have its own special meaning. We will not follow d’Olivet as he re-explores this old terrain; it is enough to say that he presents a string of nonsensical etymologies which, though in the spirit of Duret, Guichard and Kircher, are, if anything, even less convincing.

We might, however, provide just one example to show how traces of an original Hebrew mimology can be discovered in a modern language as well. D’Olivet constructed an etymology for the French term emplacement. Place derives from the Latin platea and from the German Platz.

In both these words, the sound AT signifies protection, while the sound L means extension. LAT means, therefore, a “protected extension.” MENT, in its turn, derives from the Latin mens and the English mind.

In this syllable, E is the sign of absolute life, and N stands for reflexive existence. Together, as ENS, they mean “bodily spirit.” M refers to existence at a given point. Therefore, the meaning of emplacement is “la manière dont uno extension fixe et determinée peut être conçue et se presente aux yeux.”

As one critic has put it, Fabre d’Olivet has demonstrated that emplacement means “emplacement” (cf. Cellier 1953: 140; Pallotti 1992).

And yet. No less a figure than Benjamin Lee Whorf took Fabre d’Olivet as the starting point for a series of reflections on the curious subject of “oligosynthesis.”

He was wondering about the possible applications of a science capable of “restoring a possible common language of the human race or [of] perfecting an ideal natural tongue constructed of the original psychological significance of sounds, perhaps a future common speech, into which all our varied languages may be assimilated, or, putting it differently, to whose terms they may be reduced” (Whorf 1956: 12; see also 74-6).

This is neither the first nor the last of the paradoxes in our story: we associate Whorf with one of the least monogenetic of all the various glottogonic hypotheses; it was Whorf who developed the idea that each language was a “holistic” universe, expressing the world in a way that could never be wholly translated into any other language.”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 111-3.

Kvanvig: The mīs pî and pīt pî Rituals of Mouth Washing and Mouth Opening

“The āšipū did not only expel demons; they had one more important duty that they performed together with other specialists, the bārû, “haruspex / diviner” and the kalû, “lamentation chanter.”

They had the primary responsibility for consecration of the divine statue. In this duty they performed ina šipir apkalli, according to the “task” or “office” of the apkallu, apkallu (singular) here to be understood either as a general reference to the transcendent beings, or as R. Borger claims, as a concrete reference to the apkallu par excellence, Adapa.

The material form of the statue was animated in the way that the statue did not only stand for the represented god, but manifested this god.

(R. Borger, Die Inschriften Asarhaddons. Königs von Assyrien, vol. 9, Afo. Graz, 1956, p. 89. Cf. C. Walker and M. Dick, The Induction of the Cult Image in Ancient Mesopotamia, vol. 1, SAALT, Helsinki, 2001, pp. 4-19.)

The ritual had two stages, the mīs pî, “mouth washing,” and the pīt pî, “mouth opening.” The “washing of the mouth” purified the cult image from any human contamination; the “opening of the mouth” enabled the statue to function as a deity.

This is a photograph of Tablet IV of the Poem of Erra. The tablet is dated to 629-539 BCE.<br /> https://tourguidegirl.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/img_0744.jpg

This is a photograph of Tablet IV of the Poem of Erra. The tablet is dated to 629-539 BCE.
https://tourguidegirl.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/img_0744.jpg

The ritual was performed by consecrating a new or restored statue. The dwelling of the god in his statue was necessary to secure cosmic stability. If a god left his image, chaos broke loose. This is clearly illustrated in the Poem of Erra.

Black stone amulet against plague.<br />  A quotation from the Akkadian Epic of Erra.<br />  BM 118998, British Museum, Room 55.<br />  Registration: 1928,0116.1.<br />  Photo by Fae.<br />  This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.<br />  You are free to share – to copy, distribute and transmit the work, to remix – to adapt the work, under the following conditions:<br />  Attribution – You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work).<br />  Share alike – If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under the same or similar license to this one. <br /> https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Amulet_to_ward_off_plague.jpg

Black stone amulet against plague.
A quotation from the Akkadian Epic of Erra.
BM 118998, British Museum, Room 55.
Registration: 1928,0116.1.
Photo by Fae.
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
You are free to share – to copy, distribute and transmit the work, to remix – to adapt the work, under the following conditions:
Attribution – You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work).
Share alike – If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under the same or similar license to this one.
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Amulet_to_ward_off_plague.jpg

The poem draws a clear parallel between the chaotic state of humankind and the poor condition of the statue of Marduk. The god Erra who aspires to take over lordship from Marduk approaches him:

“Why has your precious image, symbol of your lordship,

Which was full of splendor as the stars of heaven,

Lost its brilliance?

Your lordly diadem, which made the inner sanctum shine

Like the outside tower, (why is it) dimmed?”

(Poem of Erra I, 126-7. Translation according to Foster, Before the Muses, p. 887.)

Marduk explains that he once rose from his dwelling and sent the flood with the result that chaos prevailed. His divine statue was reshaped after the flood and he entered lordship again (I, 140-4). When this was done, he sent away the primeval ummanus, who clearly was in charge of the reshaping:

“I made those ummanus go down to the apsû,

and I said they were not to come back up.”

(Poem of Erra I, 147).

Since then his statue had decayed. The ummanus, this time called sebet apkal apsî, “the seven apkallus of the apsû,” were no longer present to take care of his image:

“Where are the Seven apkallus of the apsû, the holy carp

who are perfect in lofty wisdom like Ea’s, their lord,

who can make my body holy?”

(Poem of Erra I, 162).

Entry on Girra, or Gerra, as Kvanvig prefers, from J. Black & A. Green, Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia, p. 88.

Entry on Girra, or Gerra, as Kvanvig prefers, from J. Black & A. Green, Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia, p. 88.

Consequently Erra persuades Marduk to leave his statue and lordship, and hand the power over to him until Marduk’s statue is restored:

“Prince Marduk, until you reenter that house

and Gerra cleanses your robes,

and you return to your place,

until then I shall rule and keep firm control of heaven and earth”

(Poem of Erra I, 180).

Marduk leaves his statue. This is commented by Ea in a passage with several interesting features (Tablet II):

“Now, the prince Marduk has arisen,

he has not commanded those ummanus to come up.

How can their images, which I created among the people,

approach his sublime divinity, where even a god cannot enter?

To those ummanus he gave a broad heart …”

(F.N.H. Al-Rawi and J.A. Black, “The Second Tablet of “Ishum and Erra,” Iraq 51, 1989, pp. 111-22, 114.)”

Helge Kvanvig, Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical, and Enochic: An Intertextual Reading, Brill, 2011, pp. 136-7.

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