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Tag: 1963

Eco: The Gift to Adam

Ibn Hazm, Tawq al-hamama fi al-ulfa

Ibn Hazm (994-1064), The Ring of the Dove (Tawq al-Hanamah), circa 1022, held in the University Library Leiden, Oriental Collections. 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. 

“What was the exact nature of the gift of tongues received by the apostles? Reading St. Paul (Corinthians 1:12-13) it seems that the gift was that of glossolalia–that is, the ability to express oneself in an ecstatic language that all could understand as if it were their own native speech.

Reading the Acts of the Apostles 2, however, we discover that at the Pentecost a loud roar was heard from the skies, and that upon each of the apostles a tongue of flame descended, and they started to speak in other languages.

In this case, the gift was not glossolalia but xenoglossia, that is, polyglottism–or, failing that, at least a sort of mystic service of simultaneous translation. The question of which interpretation to accept is not really a joking matter: there is a major difference between the two accounts.

In the first hypothesis, the apostles would have been restored to the conditions before Babel, when all humanity spoke but a single holy dialect.

In the second hypothesis, the apostles would have been granted the gift of momentarily reversing the defeat of Babel and finding in the multiplicity of tongues no longer a wound that must, at whatever cost, be healed, but rather the key to the possibility of a new alliance and of a new concord.

So many of the protagonists in our story have brazenly bent the Sacred Scriptures to suit their purposes that we should refrain ourselves from doing likewise. Ours has been the story of a myth and of a wish. But for every myth there exists a counter-myth which marks the presence of an alternative wish.

If we had not limited ourselves from the outset to Europe, we might have branched out into other civilizations, and found other myths–like the one located in the tenth-eleventh century, at the very confines of European civilization, and recounted by the Arab writer Ibn Hazm (cf. Arnaldez 1981: Khassaf 1992a, 1992b).

In the beginning there existed a single language given by God, a language thanks to which Adam was able to understand the quiddity of things. It was a language that provided a name for every thing, be it substance or accident, and a thing for each name.

But it seems that at a certain point the account of Ibn Hazm contradicts itself, when saying that–if the presence of homonyms can produce equivocation–an abundance of synonyms would not jeopardize the perfection of a language: it is possible to name the same thing in different ways, provided we do so in an adequate way.

For Ibn Hazm the different languages could not be born from convention: if so, people would have to have had a prior language in which they could agree about conventions.

But if such a prior language existed, why should people have undergone the wearisome and unprofitable task of inventing other tongues? The only explanation is that there was an original language which included all others.

The confusio (which the Koran already regarded not as a curse but as a natural event–cf. Borst 1957-63: I, 325) depended not on the invention of new languages, but on the fragmentation of a unique tongue that existed ab initio and in which all the others were already contained.

It is for this reason that all people are still able to understand the revelation of the Koran, in whatever language it is expressed. God made the Koranic verses in Arabic in order that they might be understood by his chosen people, not because the Arabic language enjoyed any particular privilege. In whatever language, people may discover the spirit, the breath, the perfume, the traces of the original polylinguism (sic).

Let us accept the suggestion that comes from afar. Our mother tongue was not a single language but rather a complex of all languages. Perhaps Adam never received such a gift in full; it was promised to him, yet before his long period of linguistic apprenticeship was through, original sin severed the link.

Thus the legacy that he has left to all his sons and daughters is the task of winning for themselves the full and reconciled mastery of the Tower of Babel.”

FIN.

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 351-3.

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: Esperanto

1908-kl-t-zamenhof

L.L. Zamenhof (1859-1917), creator of the IAL Esperanto. This photo from the Congressional Book of the 4th World Esperanto Congress in Dresden, 1908. 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. 

Esperanto was first proposed in 1887 in a book, written in Russian and published in Warsaw at the Kelter Press, entitled The International Language. Preface and Complete Manual (for Russians). The author’s name was Dr. Ledger Ludwik Zamenhof; yet he wrote the book under the pseudonym Dr. Esperanto (Dr. Hopeful), and this was soon adopted as the name of his language.

Zamenhof, born in 1859, had been fascinated with the idea of an international language since adolescence. When his uncle Josef asked him what was the non-Hebrew name he had, according to custom, chosen for his contacts with Gentiles, the seventeen year old Zamenhof replied that he had chosen Ludwik because he had found a reference to Lodwick (also spelled Lodowick) in a work by Comenius (letter of 31 March 1876; see Lamberti 1990: 49).

Zamenhof’s origins and personality helped shape both his conception of the new language and its eventual success. Born of a Jewish family in Bialystok, an area of Polish Lithuania then part of the Tsarist empire, Zamenhof passed his childhood in a crucible of races and languages continually shaken by nationalist ferment and lasting waves of anti-Semitism.

The experience of oppression, followed by the persecution of intellectuals, especially Jewish, at the hands of the Tsarist government, ensured that Zamenhof’s particular fascination with international languages would become mixed with a desire for peace between peoples.

Besides, although Zamenhof felt solidarity towards his fellow Jews and forecast their return to Palestine, his form of secular religiosity prevented him from fully supporting Zionist ideas; instead of thinking of the end of the Diaspora as a return to Hebrew, Zamenhof hoped that all the Jews could be, one day, reunited in an entirely new language.

In the same years in which, starting in the Slavic-speaking lands, Esperanto began its spread throughout Europe–while philanthropists, linguists and learned societies followed its progress with interest, devoting international conferences to the phenomenon–Zamenhof had also published an anonymous pamphlet, which extolled a doctrine of international brotherhood, homaranism.

Some of his followers successfully insisted on keeping the Esperanto movement independent of ideological commitments, arguing that if Esperanto were to succeed, it would do so only by attracting to its cause men and women of different religious, political and philosophical opinions.

They even sought to avoid any public reference to Zamenhof’s own Jewish origins, given that–it must be remembered–just at that historical moment there was growing up the theory of a great “Jewish conspiracy.”

Even so, despite the movement’s insistence on its absolute neutrality, the philanthropic impulse and the non-confessional religious spirit that animated it could not fail to influence the followers of the new language–or samideani, that is, participating in the same ideal.

In the years immediately following its emergence, moreover, the language and its supporters were almost banned by the Tsarist government, congenitally suspicious towards idealism of any sort, especially after Esperanto had had the fortune / misfortune to obtain the passionate support of Tolstoy, whose brand of humanist pacifism the government regarded as a dangerous form of revolutionary ideology.

Even the Nazis followed suit, persecuting Esperanto speakers in the various lands under their occupation (cf. Lins 1988). Persecution, however, only reinforces an idea: the majority of international languages represented themselves as nothing more than instruments of practical utility; Esperanto, by contrast, came increasingly to gather in its folds those religious and pacifist tensions which had been characteristics of many quests for a perfect language, at least until the end of the seventeenth century.

Esperanto came to enjoy the support and sympathy of many illustrious figures–linguists such as Baudoin de Courtenay and Otto Jespersen, scientists such as Peano, or philosophers such as Russell. Rudolf Carnap‘s comments are particularly revealing; in his Autobiography (in Schilpp 1963: 70) he described feeling moved by a sense of solidarity when he found himself able to converse with people of other countries in a common tongue.

He noted the quality of this living language which managed to unify a surprising degree of flexibility in its means of expression with a great structural simplicity. Simplest perhaps was the lapidary formulation of Antoine Meillet: “Toute discussion théoretique est vaine: l’Esperanto fonctionne” (Meillet 1918: 268).

Today the existence of the Universala Esperanto-Asocio in all of the principal cities of the world still testifies to the success of Zamenhof’s invention. Over one hundred periodicals are currently published in Esperanto, there is an original production of poetry and narrative, and most of the world literature has been translated into this language, from the Bible to the tales of Hans Christian Andersen.

Like Volapük, however, especially in the first decades, the Esperanto movement was nearly torn apart by battles raging over proposed lexical and grammatical reforms. In 1907, Couturat, as the founder and secretary of the Delégation pour l’adoption d’une langue auxiliaire internationale, attempted what Zamenhof considered a coup de main: he judged Esperanto to be the best IAL, but only in its approved version, that is, only in the version that had been reformed by the French Esperanto enthusiast, Louis De Beaufront, and renamed Ido.

The majority of the movement resisted the proposed modifications, according to a principle stated by Zamenhof: Esperanto might accept enrichments and lexical improvements, but it must always remain firmly attached to what we might call the “hard core” as set down by its founder in Fundamento de Esperanto (1905).

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 324-6.

Eco: Some Ghosts of the Perfect Language

Gregor Reisch, Margarita philosophica, Pearl of Wisdom, 1503

Gregor Reisch (1467-1525), title page of Margarita philosophica, or the Pearl of Wisdom, Freiburg, 1503. Multiple copies of this work are preserved. 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. 

“We have often paused to draw attention to side-effects. Without forced comparisons and without exaggerated claims, it seems permissible at this point to ask informed readers to reconsider various chapters of the history of philosophy, especially those concerning the advent of contemporary logic and linguistic analysis.

Would these developments have been possible without the secular debate on the nature of the perfect language, and, in particular, the various projects for philosophical a priori languages?

In 1854, George Boole published his Investigations of the Laws of Thought. He announced his intention to discover the fundamental laws governing the mental operations of the process of reasoning. He observed that without presupposing these laws, we could not explain why the innumerable languages spread around the globe have maintained over the course of centuries so many characteristics in common (II, 1).

Frege began his Begriffsschrift (on ideography, 1879) with a reference to Leibniz’s characteristica. In The Philosophy of Logical Atomism (1918-9), Russell noted that in a perfectly logical language, the relation of a word to its meaning would always be one to one (excepting words used as connectives).

When he later wrote Principia mathematica with Whitehead, he noted that, although their language possessed a syntax, it could, with the addition of a vocabulary, become a perfect language (even though he also admitted that is such a language were to be constructed it would be intolerably prolix).

For his part, Wittgenstein, renewing Bacon’s complaint concerning the ambiguity of natural languages, aspired to create a language whose signs were univocal (Tractatus logico-philosophicus, 1921-2, 3.325ff) and whose propositions mirrored the logical structure of reality itself (4.121).

Carnap proposed constructing a logical system of objects and concepts such that all concepts might be derived from a single nucleus of prime ideas (Der logische Aufbau der Welt, 1922-5). In fact, the entire logical positivist movement was heir to the Baconian polemic against the vagaries of natural languages productive of nothing but metaphysical illusions and false problems (cf. Recanati 1979).

These philosophers all hoped to construct a scientific language, perfect within its chosen range of competence, a language that would be universal as well; none, however, claimed that such a language would ever replace natural language.

The dream had changed, or, perhaps, its limitations had finally, reluctantly been accepted. From its search for the lost language of Adam, philosophy had by now learned to take only what it could get.

In the course of centuries through which our particular story has run, another story began to disentangle itself as well–the search for a general or universal grammar. I said in the introduction that this was not a story that I intended to tell here.

I shall not tell it because the search for a single corpus of rules underneath and common to all natural languages entailed neither the invention of a new language nor a return to a lost mother tongue. None the less, the search for what is constant in all languages can be undertaken in two ways.

The first way is to follow empirical and comparative methods; this requires compiling information on every language that exists–or existed (cf. Greenberg 1963).

The second way can be traced back to the time in which Dante (influenced or not by the doctrines of the Modists) attributed the gift of a forma locutionis to Adam. On this line of thought, scholars have more often tried to deduce the universal laws of all languages, and of human thought, from the model of the only language they knew–scholastic Latin–and in 1587 Francisco Sanchez Brocense was still doing so with his Minerva, seu causis linguae latinae.

The novelty of the Grammaire générale et raisonnée of Port Royal (1660) was simply the decision of taking as a model a modern language–French.

Choosing this way requires never being brushed by the scruple that a given language represents only a given way of thinking and of viewing the world, not universal thought itself.

It requires regarding what is called the “genius” of a language as affecting only the surface structures rather than the deep structure, allegedly the same for all languages.

Only in this way will be be possible to regard as universal, because corresponding to the only logic possible, the structures discovered in the language in which one is used to think.

Nor does it necessarily alter the problem to concede that–certainly–the various languages do exhibit differences at their surface level, are often corrupted through usage or agitated by their own genius, but still, if universal laws exist, the light of natural reason will uncover them because, as Beauzée wrote in his article on grammar in the Encyclopédie, “la parole est une sorte de tableau dont la pensée est l’original.”

Such an argument would be acceptable, but in order to uncover these laws one needs to represent them through a metalanguage applicable to every other language in the world. Now, if one chooses as metalanguage one’s own object language, the argument becomes circular.

In fact, as Simone has put it (1969: XXXIII), the aim of the Port Royal grammarians…

“…is therefore, in spite of the appearances of methodological rigor, prescriptive and evaluative, in so far as it is rationalist. Their scope was not to interpret, in the most adequate and coherent way possible, the usages permitted by the various languages.

If it were so, a linguistic theory should coincide with whole of the possible usages of a given tongue, and should take into account even those that native speakers consider as “wrong.”

Instead, their aim was to emend this variety of uses in order to make them all conform to the dictates of Reason.”

What makes the search for a universal grammar of interest in our story is, as Canto has noted (1979), that in order to be caught within the vicious circle, it is only necessary to make one simple assumption: the perfect language exists, and it is identical to one’s own tongue.

Once this assumption is made, the choice of the metalanguage follows: Port Royal anticipates de Rivarol.

This is a problem that remains for all attempts–contemporary ones included–to demonstrate that syntactic or semantic universals exist by deducing them from a given natural language, used simultaneously both as a metalanguage and as object language.

It is not my argument here that such a project is desperate: I merely suggest that it represents but another example of the quest for a philosophical a priori language in which, once again, a philosophical ideal of grammar presides over the study of a natural language.

Thus (as Cosenza has shown, 1993) those modern day branches of philosophy and psychology which deliberately appeal to a language of thought are also descendants of those older projects.

Such a “mentalese” would supposedly reflect the structure of mind, would be purely formal and syntactical calculus (not unlike Leibniz’s blind thought), would use non-ambiguous symbols and would be based upon innate primitives, common to all species.

As happened with Wilkins, it would be deduced according to a “folk psychology,” naturally within the framework of a given historical culture.

There are perhaps more remote descendants of the a priori projects, which have sought to found a language of mind not upon Platonic abstractions but upon the neuro-physiological structures of the brain.

Here the language of mind is the language of the brain; the software is founded upon the hardware. This is a new departure; since the “ancestors” of our story never dreamed of venturing this far, and many of them were not even certain that the res cogitans was located in the brain rather than the heart or the liver (even though an attractive wood cut showing the localization of the faculty of language in the brain–as well as those for imagination, estimation and memory–already appears in the fifteenth century in Gregor Reysch’s Margarita philosophica.

Differences are sometimes more important than identities or analogies; still, it would hardly be a waste of time if sometimes even the most advanced students in the cognitive sciences were to pay a visit to their ancestors.

It is frequently claimed in American philosophy departments that, in order to be a philosopher, it is not necessary to revisit the history of philosophy. It is like the claim that one can become a painter without having seen a single work of Raphael, or a writer without having ever read the classics.

Such things are theoretically possible; but the “primitive” artist, condemned to an ignorance of the past, is always recognizable as such and rightly labelled as a naïf. It is only when we reconsider past projects revealed as utopian or as failures that we are apprised of the dangers and possibilities for failure for our allegedly new projects.

The study of the deeds of our ancestors is thus more than an antiquarian pastime, it is an immunological precaution.”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 312-6.

Eco: Beck and Becher

Cave Beck, The Universal Character, London, 1657

Cave Beck (1623-1702), The Universal Character, London, 1657. An eBook available on GoogleBooks, The Universal Character proposes a universal language based on a numerical system consisting of the ten Arabic numerals up to 10,000 combinations long, which was considered sufficient to include all words in common usage. As each word was assigned a unique number and the number was the same regardless of language, words ended up unmanageably long. 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. 

“In 1657 Cave Beck had published The Universal Character, by which All the Nations of the World may Understand One Another’s Conceptions, Reading out of one Common Writing their Own Mother Tongues, presenting a project which was not so different from Kircher’s. Here is an example from his system:

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, p. 201.png

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, 1995, p. 201. 

The numbers specified nouns and verbs, p stood for the personal pronoun, second person, with pf as the feminine form (which permits one to use the same term, 2477 = “parent,” in both cases); leb indicated imperative plural.

Beck tried to turn his pasigraphy into a pasilaly as well, that is a system of universal pronunciation. Thus the above sentence was to be pronounced leb totreónfo pee tofosénsen and pif tofosénsen.

The only difficulty was that, in order to pronounce the sentence, one had to memorize the whole dictionary, remembering the right number for every word.

In 1661, two years before Kircher’s Polygraphia (but some of Kircher’s ideas had circulated in manuscript form since 1660), Joachim Becher published his Character pro notitia linguarum universalis (sometimes known under its frontispiece title of Clavis convenientiae linguarum).

Becher’s project was not unlike Kircher’s; the major difference was that Becher constructed a Latin dictionary that was almost ten times more vast (10,000 items). Yet he did not include synonyms from other languages, expecting the accommodating reader to make them up for him.

As in Kircher, nouns, verbs and adjectives composed the main list, with a supplementary list of proper names of people and places making up an appendix.

For each item in Becher’s dictionary there is an Arabic number: the city of Zürich, for example, is designated by the number 10283. A second Arabic number refers the user to grammatical tables which supply verbal endings, the endings for the comparative and superlative forms of adjectives, or adverbial endings.

A third number refers to case endings. The dedication “Inventum Eminentissimo Principi” is written 4442. 2770:169:3. 6753:3, that is, “(My) Invention (to the) Eminent + superlative + dative singular, Prince + dative singular.”

Unfortunately Becher was afraid that his system might prove difficult for peoples who did not know the Arabic numbers; he therefore thought up a system of his own for the direct visual representation of numbers.

The system is atrociously complicated and almost totally illegible. Some authors have imagined that it is somehow akin to Chinese. This is hardly true. What we have, in fact, is a basic graphical structure where little lines and dots at various points on the figure represent different numbers.

Lines and points affixed to the right and center of the figure refer to grammatical categories. Figure 9.1 provides only an excerpt of a list that keeps going for four tables.

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, Figure 9.1, p. 202

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, 1995, Figure 9.1, p. 202.

In the chapter “Mirabilia graphica” in his Technica curiosa (1664), Gaspar Schott tried to improve on Becher’s project.

He simplified the system for the representation of numbers and added partial lexicons for other languages. Schott proposed using small grids of eight cases each, where the lower horizontal line represents units, the next one up tens, the next hundreds, and the top thousands.

Units were represented by dots; fives were represented by strokes. Numbers on the left referred to lexical units, while those on the right to grammatical morphemes. Thus figure 9.2 must be read as 23:1, 15:15, 35:4, and can be translated as “The horse eats the fodder.”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, Figure 9.2, p. 203

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, 1995, Figure 9.2, p. 203. 

Becher’s and Schott’s systems appear totally impracticable for normal human use, but have been seen as tentative models for future practices of computer translation (cf. Heilman 1963; De Mauro 1963).

In fact, it is sufficient to think of Becher’s pseudo-ideograms as instructions for electronic circuits, prescribing to a machine which path to follow through the memory in order to retrieve a given linguistic term, and we have a procedure for a word-for-word translation (with all the obvious inconveniences of such a merely mechanical program).”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 201-3.

Eco: New Prospects for the Monogenetic Hypothesis

kircher_021

Athanasius Kircher (1602-80), frontispiece to Magnes sive De Arte Magnetica, 1641 and 1643 editions, digitized by the University of Lausanne and 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.

“Doubting the possibility of obtaining scientific agreement upon an argument whose evidence had been lost in the mists of time, about which nothing but conjectures might be offered, the Société de Linguistique of Paris 1866 decided that it would no longer accept scientific communications on the subject of either universal languages or origins of language.

In our century that millenary debate took the form of research on the universals of language, now based on the comparative analysis of existing languages. Such a study has nothing to do with more or less fantastic historic reconstructions and does not subscribe to the utopian ideal of a perfect language (cf. Greenberg 1963; Steiner 1975: I, 3).

However, comparatively recent times have witnessed a renewal of the search for the origins of language (cf., for example, Fano 1962; Hewes 1975, 1979).

Even the search for the mother tongue has been revived in this century by Vitalij Ševorškin (1989), who has re-proposed the Nostratic hypothesis, originally advanced in Soviet scientific circles in the 1960s, and associated with the names of Vladislav Il’ič-Svitych and Aron Dolgoposkiji.

According to this hypothesis, there was a proto-Indo-European, one of the six branches of a larger linguistic family deriving from Nostratics–which in its turn derives from a proto-Nostratics, spoken approximately ten thousand years ago. The supporters of this theory have compiled a dictionary of several hundred terms of this language.

But the proto-Nostratics itself would derive from a more ancient mother tongue, spoken perhaps fifty thousand years ago in Africa, spreading from there throughout the entire globe (cf. Wright 1991).

According to the so-called “Eve’s hypothesis,” one can thus imagine a human couple, born in Africa, who later emigrated to the Near East, and whose descendants spread throughout Eurasia, and possibly America and Australia as well (Ivanov 1992:2). To reconstruct an original language for which we lack any written evidence, we must proceed like

“molecular biologists in their quest to understand the evolution of life. The biochemist identifies molecular elements that perform similar functions in widely divergent species, to infer the characteristics of the primordial cell from which they are presumed to have descended.

So does the linguist seek correspondences in grammar, syntax, vocabulary, and vocalization among known languages in order to reconstruct their immediate forebears and ultimately the original tongue. (Gamkrelidze and Ivanov 1990: 110).”

Cavalli-Sforza’s work on genetics (cf., for example, 1988, 1991) tends to show that linguistic affinities reflect genetic affinities. This supports the hypothesis of a single origin of all languages, reflecting the common evolutionary origin of all human groups.

Just as humanity evolved only once on the face of the earth, and later diffused across the whole planet, so language. Biological monogenesis and linguistic monogenesis thus go hand in hand and may be inferentially reconstructed on the basis of mutually comparable data.

In a different conceptual framework, the assumption that both the genetic and the immunological codes can, in some sense, be analyzed semiotically seems to constitute the new scientific attempt to find a language which could be defined as the primitive one par excellence (though not in historical but rather in biological terms).

This language would nest in the roots of evolution itself, of phylogenesis as of onto-genesis, stretching back to before the dawn of humanity (cf. Prodi 1977).”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 115-6.

Eco: The Nationalistic Hypothesis, 3

kircher_062

Athanasius Kircher (1602-80), his interpretation of the legendary sphere of Archimedes, using magnets to simulate the rotation of the planets. From Magnes, sive de Arte Magnetica, 1643, p. 305. 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.  

 

“Ideas similar to these were expressed by Schottel (Teutsche Sprachkunst, 1641), who celebrated the German language as the one which, in its purity, remained closest to the language of Adam (adding to this the idea that language was the expression of the native genius of a people).

Others even claimed that Hebrew had derived from German. They repeated the claim that their language had descended from Japheth, who, in this rendition, had supposedly settled in Germany.

The name of the exact locality changed, of course, to fit the needs of different authors; yet Japheth’s grandson, Ascenas, was said to have lived in the principality of Anhalt even before the confusio. There he was the progenitor of Arminius and Charlemagne.

In order to understand these claims, one must take into account the fact that, during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Protestant Germany rallied to the defense of the language of Luther’s Bible.

It was in this period that claims to the linguistic primacy of German arose, and many of these assumptions “should be seen within the context of Germany’s political fragmentation after the Thirty Years War. Since the German nation was one of the main forces capable of uniting the nation, its value had to be emphasized and the language itself had to be liberated from foreign influences” (Faust 1981: 366).

Leibniz ironized on these and other theories. In a letter of 7 April 1699 (cited in Gensini 1991: 113) he ridiculed those who wished to draw out everything from their own language–Becanus, Rudbeck, a certain Ostroski who considered Hungarian as the mother tongue, an abbé Francois and Pretorius, who did respectively the same for Breton and Polish.

Leibniz concluded that if one day the Turks and Tartars became as learned as the Europeans, they would have no difficulty finding ways to promote their own idioms to the rank of mother tongue for all humanity.

Despite these pleasantries, Leibniz was not entirely immune himself to nationalist temptations. In his Nouveaux essais (III, 2) he made a good-natured jibe at Goropius Becanus, coining the verb goropiser for the making of bad etymologies.

Still, he conceded, Becanus might not always have been entirely wrong, especially when he recognized in the Cimbrian, and, consequently, in Germanic, a language that was more primitive than Hebrew.

Leibniz, in fact, was a supporter of the Celto-Scythian hypothesis, first advanced in the Renaissance (cf. Borst 1957-63: III/1, iv, 2; Droixhe 1978).

In the course of over ten years collecting linguistic materials and subjecting them to minute comparisons, Leibniz had become convinced that at the root of the entire Japhetic stock there lay a Celtic language that was common to both the Gauls and the Germans, and that “we may conjecture that this [common stock] derives from the time of the common origin of all these peoples, said to be among the Scythians, who, coming from the Black Sea, crossed the Danube and the Vistula, and of whom one part may have gone to Greece, while the other filled Germany and Gaul” (Nouveaux essais, III, 2).

Not only this: Leibniz even discovered analogies between the Celto-Scythian languages and those which we would today call the Semitic languages, due, he conjectured, to successive migrations.

He held that “there was nothing that argues either against or for the idea of a single, common origin of all nations, and, in consequence, of one language that is radical and primitive.”

He admitted that Arabic and Hebrew seemed closer than others, their numerous alterations notwithstanding. He concluded, however, that “it seems that Teutonic has best preserved its natural and Adamitic aspect (to speak like Jacques Böhm [sic]).”

Having examined various types of German onomatopoeia, he finally concluded that the Germanic language seemed most primitive.

In presenting this scheme in which a Scythian language group progressively diffused throughout the Mediterranean world, and in distinguishing this group from the other group of southern or Aramaic languages, Leibniz designed a linguistic atlas.

Most of the conjectures in Leibniz’s own particular scheme were, in the end, erroneous; nevertheless, in the light of comparative linguistic work which would come afterwards, he had some brilliant intuitions (cf. Gensini 1990: 41).”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 99-102.

Eco: The Return to Hebrew

Hildegard_von_Bingen_Liber_Divinorum_Operum

Hildegard von Bingen, Universal Man, Liber Divinorum Operum, or Book of Divine Works, 1165. 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.   

“From Origen to Augustine, almost all of the church Fathers assumed, as a matter of incontrovertible fact, that, before the confusion, humanity’s primordial language was Hebrew.

The most notable dissenting voice was Gregory of Nyssa (Contra Eunomium). God, he thought, could not have spoken Hebrew; were we to imagine, he said ironically, a schoolmaster God drilling our forefathers in the Hebrew alphabet (cf. Borst 1957-63: I, 2, and II/1, 3.1)?

Despite this, the image of Hebrew as the divine language survived through the Middle Ages (cf. De Lubac 1959: II, 3.3).

By the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, however, it no longer seemed enough simply to maintain that Hebrew was the photo-language (little being known thereof): it was deemed necessary to promote its study, and, if possible, its diffusion.

By now we are in a climate very different from that of St. Augustine: not only do the interpreters wish to go back to the text in its original version, but they do it with the conviction that the original and holy language of scripture was the only one capable of expressing its sacred truth.

What has happened in the meantime is, of course, the Reformation. Protestants refused to accept the claim of the Catholic church to be the sole mediator and interpreter, placing itself, with its canonic Latin translations, between the believer and the Holy Writ.

Out of this refusal to accept the church’s traditional interpretation of scripture arose the stimulus to study the languages in which the sacred texts had first been formulated.

The contemporary debate over this was varied and complex. The most comprehensive treatment is contained perhaps in Brian Walton’s In biblia polyglotta prolegomena (1673: especially 1-3).

However, the story of this debate during the Renaissance is so complex (see Demonet 1992) that we shall limit ourselves to a gallery of exemplary portraits.”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 73-5.

Eco: The Arbor Scientarium, 2

Ramon Llull, Arbor Scientiae, Rome, 1295

Ramon Llull, Arbor Scientiae, Rome, 1295. 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.  

“Between the first and last versions of his art, Lull’s thought underwent a long process of evolution (described by Carreras y Artau 1939: I, 394), in order to render his art able to deal not only with theology and metaphysics, but also with cosmology, law, medicine, astronomy, geometry and psychology.

Increasingly, the art became a means of treating the entire range of knowledge, drawing suggestions from the numerous medieval encyclopedias, and anticipating the encyclopedic dreams of the Renaissance and the baroque.

All this knowledge, however, needed to be ordered hierarchically. Because they were determinations of the first cause, the dignities could be defined circularly, in reference to themselves; beyond the dignities, however, began the ladder of being. The art was designed to permit a process of reasoning at every step.

The roots of the Tree of Science were the nine dignities and the nine relations. From here, the tree then spread out into sixteen branches, each of which had its own, separate tree. Each one of the sixteen trees, to which there was dedicated a particular representation, was divided into seven parts–roots, trunk, major branches, lesser branches, leaves, fruits and flowers.

Eight of the trees clearly corresponded to eight of the subjects of the tabula generalis: these are the Arbor elementalis, which represents the elementata, that is, objects of the sublunary world, stones, trees and animals composed of the four elements; the Arbor vegetalis;  the Arbor sensualis; the Arbor imaginalis, which represents images that replicate in the mind whatever is represented on the other trees; the Arbor humanalis et moralis (memory, intellect and will, but also the various sciences and arts); the Arbor coelestialis (astronomy and astrology); the Arbor angelicalis; and the Arbor divinalis, which includes the divine dignities.

To this list are added another eight: the Arbor mortalis (virtues and vices); the Arbor eviternalis (life after death); the Arbor maternalis (Mariology); the Arbor Christianalis (Christology); the Arbor imperialis (government); the Arbor apostolicalis (church); the Arbor exemplificalis (the contents of knowledge); and the Arbor quaestionalis, which contains four thousand questions on the various arts.

To understand the structure of these trees, it is enough to look at only one–the Arbor elementalis. Its roots are the nine dignities and nine relations. Its trunk represents the conjoining of these principles, out of which emerges the confused body of primordial chaos which occupies space.

In this are the species of things and their dispositions. The principle branches represent the four elements (earth, air, fire and water) which stretch out into the four masses which are made from them (the seas and the lands).

The leaves are the accidents. The flowers are the instruments, such as hands, feet and eyes. The fruits represent individual things, such as stone, gold, apple, bird.

Calling this a “forest” of trees would be an improper metaphor: the trees overlay one another to rise hierarchically like the peaked roof of a pagoda. The trees at the lower levels participate in those higher up.

The vegetable tree, for example, participates in the tree of elements; the sensual tree participates in the first two; the tree of imagination is built up out of the first three, and it forms the base from which the next tree, the human one, will arise (Llinares 1963: 211-2).

The system of trees reflects the organization of reality itself; it represents the great chain of being the way that it is, and must metaphysically be. This is why the hierarchy constitutes a system of “true” knowledge.

The priority of metaphysical truth over logical validity in Lull’s system also explains why he laid out his art the way he did: he wished his system to produce, for any possible argument, a middle term that would render that argument amenable to syllogistic treatment; having structured the system for this end, however, he proceeded to discard a number of well-formed syllogisms which, though logically valid, did not support the arguments he regarded as metaphysically true.

For Lull, the significance of the middle term of the syllogism was thus not that of scholastic logic. Its middle term served to bind the elements of the chain of being: it was a substantial, not a formal, link.

If the art is a perfect language, it is so only to the extent to which it can speak of a metaphysical reality, of a structure of being which exists independently of it. The art was not a mechanism designed to chart unknown universes.

In the Catalan version of his Logica Algazelis, Lull writes, “De la logic parlam tot breau–car a parlor avem Deu.” (“About logic we will be brief, for it is to talk about God”).

Much has been written about the analogy between Lull’s art and the kabbala. What distinguishes kabbalistic thought from Lull’s is that, in the kabbala, the combination of the letters of the Torah had created the universe rather than merely reflected it.

The reality that the kabbalistic mystic sought behind these letters had not yet been revealed; it could be discovered only through whispering the syllables as the letters whirled.

Lull’s ars combinatoria, by contrast, was a rhetorical instrument; it was designed to demonstrate what was already known, and lock it for ever in the steely cage of the system of trees.

Despite all this, the art might still qualify as a perfect language if those elementary principles, common to all humanity, that it purported to expound really were universal and common to all peoples.

As it was, despite his effort to assimilate ideas from non-Christian and non-European religions, Lull’s desperate endeavor failed through its unconscious ethnocentrism. The content plane, the universe which his art expounded, was the product of the western Christian tradition.

It could not change even though Lull translated it into Arabic or Hebrew. The legend of Lull’s own agony and death is but the emblem of that failure.”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 67-9.

Izre’el: Listing the Fragments

Previous Studies and the Present Study

“The scholarly world first became aware of the myth of Adapa and the South Wind when its largest fragment was discovered among the scholarly tablets of the El-Amarna archive in 1887 (Harper 1891; Scheil 1891; cf. Zimmern 1892; Sayce 1892; Izre’el 1997: 1-13, 43-50).

A fragment of the myth (now known as Fragment D) had, in fact, already been published before that time by one of the pioneers of Mesopotamian studies, George Smith (Smith 1876:125-6).

Smith, however, did not have at his disposal enough data to identify this fragment as part of the myth to which it belonged and attributed it to the Ea narrative (for which see Cagni 1969, 1977). While discussing the Berossus account of Oannes, Smith stated that “it is a curious fact the legend of Oannes, which must have been one of the Babylonian stories of the Creation, has not yet been discovered” (Smith 1876: 306).

Sayce, who said he had copied this fragment, “related to an otherwise unknown individual named Adapa,” “many years ago,” was able to attribute this fragment to the Adapa myth only after the discovery of the Amarna fragment (Sayce 1892; cf. Sayce in Morgan 1893: 183-4; Bezold 1894a: 114 n. 1, 1894b: 405 n. 1; Strong 1894; 1895).

We now have at our disposal six fragments of the myth. The largest and most important fragment is the one discovered at Amarna (“Fragment B”) and thus dated to the 14th century BCE (see further pp. 47-9).

Five other fragments (A, A1, C, D, and E) were part of the Ashurbanipal library and are representative of this myth as it was known in Assyria about seven centuries later. Only two of the extant fragments (A and A1) are variants of the same text. Fragments C and D come from different sections of the text.

Fragment E represents another recension of the myth, which also seems to be similar to the known versions.

K 15072, British Museum. Another extremely sparse entry for this Akkadian cuneiform tablet, provenance Nineveh, modern Kuyunjik.<br /> http://www.cdli.ucla.edu/cdlisearch/search_beta/search_results.php?SearchMode=Text&ObjectID=401152

K 15072, British Museum. Another extremely sparse entry for this Akkadian cuneiform tablet, provenance Nineveh, modern Kuyunjik.
http://www.cdli.ucla.edu/cdlisearch/search_beta/search_results.php?SearchMode=Text&ObjectID=401152

The following is a list of the extant fragments edited in this volume, with their museum numbers and main previous editions.

  • Fragment A: MLC 1296 (Pierpont Morgan Library, New York);
  • Scheil 1898: 124-33;
  • Clay 1922: 39-41, pls IV, VI (cf. Clay 1923: 10-11);
  • Picchioni 1981: 112-5, 127-31 (figure 1), tav. 1.
  • Fragment A1: K 15072 (British Museum, London).
  • Parallel to the last extant section Fragment A. Schramm 1974;
  • Picchioni 1981: 114-5, 131, tav. IV-V.
  • Fragment B: VAT 348 (Vorderasiatisches Museum, Berlin);
  • Winkler and Abel 1889-90: 240;
  • Schroeder 1915: #194;
  • Harper 1894: 418-25;
  • Jensen 1900: 94-9, with comments on pp. 411-3;
  • Knudtzon 1915: 964-9 (= EA 356);
  • Picchioni 1981: 114-21, 131-6, 162-3 (figures 2-3 = Schroeder 1915: #194, tav. II-III;
  • Izre’el 1997: 43-50, copy (= Schroeder 1915: #194 with collations = pp. 177, 179 below), photographs.
  • Fragment C: K 8743 (British Museum, London). Expanded parallel to part of Fragment B.
  • Langdon 1915: pl. IV, #3, and p. 42 n. 2;
  • Thompson 1930: pl. 31;
  • Jensen 1900: xvii-xviii;
  • Picchioni 1981: 120-1, 136-7, 164 (figure 4), tav. IV-V.
  • Photograph also in Böhl 1959: Taf. 12.
  • Fragment D: K 8214 (British Museum, London). Virtual parallel to the end of Fragment B with additions.
  • Strong 1894;
  • Furlani 1929: 132;
  • Picchioni 1981: 122-3, 137-41, 165 (figure 5), tav. VI.
  • Photograph also in Böhl 1959: Taf. 12.
  • Fragment E: K 9994 (British Museum, London). A small fragment probably representing a different recension of the myth.
  • Von Soden 1976: 429-30;
  • Picchioni 1981: 95-6, tav. IV-V.

A cuneiform copy is published here for the first time, courtesy of the Trustees of the British Museum.

The notation “Fragment E” is introduced here.

In addition to these fragments, one may note a possible title to the myth. The catalogue of literary texts Rm 618 (Bezold 1889-99: 4.1627) lists a title of a work on Adapa (line 3):

Adapa into heaven ( . . . )

Picchioni (1981: 87 n. 244) suggested that this might be an incipit of the first verse of the myth; Talon (1990: 44, 54) agrees (see further Hallo 1963: 176; cf. Lambert 1962: 73-4).

It is difficult to see how this line could have been the opening verse of any of the versions known to us, since both Fragment A and Fragment B seem to have opened differently (cf., for Fragment B, p. 108, and, for a literary analysis of Fragment A, pp. 112-3).

It may perhaps be suggested that this was a title rather than an incipit (thus also Röllig 1987: 50), because we know that Adapa’s ascent to heaven is also referred to elsewhere (p. 4).

British Museum K 10147. Notes on this fragment are sparse. It was sourced at Nineveh, modern Kuyunjik, and marked Neo-Assyrian (ca. 911-612 BC).<br /> http://www.cdli.ucla.edu/cdlisearch/search_beta/archival_view.php?ObjectID=P398516

British Museum K 10147. Notes on this fragment are sparse. It was sourced at Nineveh, modern Kuyunjik, and marked Neo-Assyrian (ca. 911-612 BC).
http://www.cdli.ucla.edu/cdlisearch/search_beta/archival_view.php?ObjectID=P398516

Von Soden, while suggesting the attribution of K 9994 (= Fragment E) to this myth (cf. also Borger 1975: 62, following Lambert), also made some observations concerning K 10147, saying that although the attribution of this fragment to the myth is doubtful, it may have formed part of the beginning of the text, before the extant Fragment A (von Soden 1976: 431; already Bezold 1894b: 405 n. 1).

This and other small fragments mentioning Adapa or relating to this figure have been collected by Picchioni (1981).”

(Ed. note: Links on this page are far from perfect. I have done my best to at least show a direction if you are seeking a specific citation or a particular work. Many of the cited works are not on the web. If you want them, you will have to complete your citations and then request them through an interlibrary loan at a physical library. If you have updated links to citations or to complete works, or images of the fragments themselves, please share them with me through the comments feature below. It would be a selfless contribution to scholarship if you could scan them and upload them to the internet. I will integrate them into this page. Please remember to mention if you would like to be credited.)

Schlomo Izre’el, Adapa and the South Wind: Language Has the Power of Life and Death, Eisenbrauns, 2001, pp. 5-7.

Izre’el: The Tale of the Adapa Myth

“Moreover, there is further textual evidence for the identification of the two figures in the combined name u-an(-na) adapa or u-ma-a-num a-da-pa (Lambert 1962: 73-4; van Dijk 1962: 44-8; Hallo 1963: 176; Bottéro 1969-70: 106; Borger 1974: 186; Picchioni 1981: 97-101; Kvanvig 1988: 202-4; Denning-Bolle 1992: 44-5; cf. Albright 1926).

The mythological figure Adapa has, thus, two variants: one is called Uan; another is called Adapa. The myth of the seven primordial sages shares with the Berossus tradition the mytheme of emergence from water. The etymological equation between Adapa and ù.tu.a.ab.ba is related to a similar tradition, while his having ascended to heaven is perhaps recalled by the name Uan, which includes a direct reference to heaven (An).

Purādu-fish apkallū were antediluvian sages, the famous Seven Sages of Sumeria were purādu-fish. The genotype is also attested in Berossus, as the form of the mentor of mankind, Oannes.

Purādu-fish apkallū were antediluvian sages, the famous Seven Sages of Sumeria were purādu-fish.
The genotype is also attested in Berossus, as the form of the mentor of mankind, Oannes.

Thus it was Oannes-Adapa who instructed people about the ordinance of the earth. It is with this theme that the myth of Adapa and the South Wind opens.

The Story

The myth as we know it opens with a description of the background to the main narrative. This background has reached us through what is now called Fragment A, of which the very first line or lines are missing (for the find and the extant fragments, see below).

The first legible lines refer to the power of divine speech, and it is said that Ea—known to us as the Mesopotamian god of fresh water and wisdom—perfected Adapa “with great intelligence, to give instruction about the ordinance of the earth. To him he gave wisdom, he did not give him eternal life” (lines 3’-4’).

Adapa was a servant of Ea. Respected and adored by his community, he performed the chores necessary to the daily rituals, which included, among others, supplying fish from the nearby sea.

One day Adapa’s journey to the wide sea ended unexpectedly in a sudden burst of the South Wind. Adapa was plunged into the sea. Here begins the narrative as we know it from Fragment B. This fragment has some close, albeit broken, parallels in Fragment C and at the beginning of Fragment D.

Adapa, who for the first time in his life had met with some difficulty, could do nothing other than to threaten the blowing wind that he would break its wing. As soon as he uttered this threat, the wing of the South Wind broke.

Click to zoom.<br /> A solid basalt tub recovered from outside the Temple of Ishtar at Nineveh, now in the collection of the Pergamon Museum.<br />  Ea is readily identified at the center with water flowing from his shoulders. Ea is surrounded by apkallu, puradu-fish apkallu.<br />  The puradu-fish apkallu have a fish head and fish skin flowing down their backs. They raise rectangular objects of unknown etiology in their right hands, in their traditional acts of purification and blessing. The banduddu buckets are, as usual, in their lowered left hands.<br />  This tub probably portrays the Seven Sages of antediluvian Sumeria.

Click to zoom.
A solid basalt tub recovered from outside the Temple of Ishtar at Nineveh, now in the collection of the Pergamon Museum.
Ea is readily identified at the center with water flowing from his shoulders. Ea is surrounded by apkallu, puradu-fish apkallu.
The puradu-fish apkallu have a fish head and fish skin flowing down their backs. They raise rectangular objects of unknown etiology in their right hands, in their traditional acts of purification and blessing. The banduddu buckets are, as usual, in their lowered left hands.
This tub probably portrays the Seven Sages of antediluvian Sumeria.

Nothing could be done against Adapa’s spell, and Anu, the sky god and the head of the Mesopotamian pantheon, called Adapa to task. The situation was indeed unpleasant for the disciple of Ea. Yet, a god such as Ea would not risk a meeting between his loyal servant and Anu without proper preparation.

As might be appropriate for the god of wisdom, Ea, well known also for his artful character, supplied Adapa with minute instructions that were intended to save his life. Among these were strict orders to avoid any food or drink offered to him in heaven, any of which Ea said would bring death on Adapa.

However the situation turned out to be rather different from what Adapa anticipated. While in heaven, Anu’s anger was appeased by two deities, Dumuzi and Gizzida, who were standing at the gate of heaven. Following Ea’s instructions, Adapa had paid a tribute of flattering words to them. Instead of being offered deadly food and water, he was offered the food and water of life.

Adapa refused it, and thus—at least according to one recension, recorded in Fragment B—lost a unique and irreversible chance for eternal life.

However, according to another version of the story, recorded in Fragment D, Anu seems to have shown Adapa the awesomeness of heaven and to have installed Adapa in his own rather than in Ea’s service. This fragment also adds to the myth a healing incantation that is based on the very fact that Adapa, “a seed of humankind,” succeeded in breaking the wing of the South Wind.”

Schlomo Izre’el, Adapa and the South Wind: Language Has the Power of Life and Death, Eisenbrauns, 2001, pp. 2-5.

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.

Lenzi: On the apkallū–ummânū Association

“There are of course quite early precedents for king lists, antediluvian or otherwise; there are also several earlier examples of kings being listed with their chief scholarly advisor (see the overview in A. Kirk Greyson, “Königslisten und Chroniken,” Reallexikon der Assyriologie 6 (1980) 86-135).

But there is nothing that traces the royal scholars back through antediluvian times to the apkallū as clearly as does the ULKS. We need not require the evidence for the earlier viability of this tradition, however, to conform to this explicit and systematic presentation of the “mythology of scribal succession.”

The three types of apkallū are portrayed, with the human ummânū at far left, the bird-apkallū type in the middle, and the antediluvian purādu-fish type at far right.  The human ummânū is attested in the Uruk List of Kings and Sages, while other references to bird-apkallū are legion, as documented in Wiggermann and other authorities. The purādu-fish apkallū is principally attested in Berossus, though other authorities confirm them, as well.

The three types of apkallū are portrayed, with the human ummânū at far left, the bird-apkallū type in the middle, and the antediluvian purādu-fish type at far right.
The human ummânū is attested in the Uruk List of Kings and Sages, while other references to bird-apkallū are legion, as documented in Wiggermann and other authorities. The purādu-fish apkallū is principally attested in Berossus, though other authorities confirm them, as well.

Our list’s formulation of the genealogical tradition should not be made the measure of its earlier existence. As others have done, we shall use one of the most basic features of the ULKS as our guide into earlier material: the close association between mythical apkallū and their human counterparts.

Finding this concept as well as hints of succession between the two groups in earlier cuneiform material gives us good reason to believe the “mythology of scribal succession” existed at an earlier time.

(The novel contribution here is to highlight two new evidential ideas, in Bīt mēseri and in “Advice to a Prince,” and to respond to an important objection raised by Seth Sanders, “Writing, Ritual, and Apocalypse: Studies in the Theme of Ascent to Heaven in Ancient Mesopotamia and Second Temple Judaism” (Ph.D. Dissertation, The Johns Hopkins University, 1999), 125, 144-45.

Many scholars treating the subject of scholarly genealogy often appeal to the Enmeduranki text (e.g., Beaulieu, “The Social and Intellectual Setting of Babylonian Wisdom Literature,” 15 and Rochberg, Heavenly Writing, 183-184; see W. G. Lambert, “The Qualifications of Babylonian Diviners,” in Festschrift für Rykle Borger zu seinem 65. Geburtstag am 24. Mai 1994: Tikip santakki mala bašmu . . ., ed. Stefan M. Maul; Cuneiform Monographs 10 [Groningen: Styx, 1998], 141-58 for an edition of this text).

Purādu-fish apkallū were antediluvian sages, the famous Seven Sages of Sumeria were purādu-fish.  The genotype is also attested in Berossus, as the form of the mentor of mankind, Oannes.

Purādu-fish apkallū were antediluvian sages, the famous Seven Sages of Sumeria were purādu-fish.
The genotype is also attested in Berossus, as the form of the mentor of mankind, Oannes.

Although that tradition is clearly related to the issue of antediluvian knowledge and its transmission to scholars, its formulation is a minority view that places an antediluvian king at the center of mediation to scholars rather than the antediluvian apkallū (see my Secrecy and the Gods, 122-127, which also shows the relevance of LKA 147 and its unique formulation of the issue). This tradition will not factor into the discussion below.)

The list of apkallū in an incantation belonging to the apotropaic series Bīt mēseri is sometimes cited as evidence for the connection between sages and scholars before the Seleucid era.

(See, e.g., Parpola, Letters from Assyrian and Babylonian Scholars, XVIII.) This text names the same seven apkallū as the ULKS, but here they are given an ichthyological (fish-like) description. (This recalls Berossus’ description of the sages.)

Tablet III 10-13 reads:

“They are the seven brilliant purādu-fish, purādu-fish from the sea, the seven sages, who were created in the river,

who ensure the correct execution of the plans of heaven and earth.”

The text continues with a list of four human apkallū, Nungalpirigal, Pirigalnungal, Pirigalabzu, and Lu-Nana, who are then described in lines 28-29 of the same tablet as:

Four sages of human descent, whom Ea,
the lord, perfected with wide understanding.

The presence of these four humans in this text, even though called apkallū, suggests several points of similarity with the ULKS that advance our understanding of the apkallūummânū association.

(The artificiality of the first three names in this list has been noted repeatedly in the literature; the pirig– element is probably related to the u4-element in some of the antediluvian sages’ names.

On these names, see, e.g., W. W. Hallo, “On the Antiquity of Sumerian Literature,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 83 (1963), 167-76, here 175; Sanders, “Writing, Ritual, and Apocalypse,” 117; and Wiggermann, Mesopotamian Protective Spirits, 74 (each citing nearly the same earlier secondary literature).

In the present context, however, I will limit my comments to a textual feature that others have noted but not utilized as evidence for understanding the apkallūummânū tradition; namely, unlike the seven non-human sages, the four human sages in Bīt mēseri have no place in the ritual instructions associated with this incantation.”

Alan Lenzi, The Uruk List of Kings and Sages and Late Mesopotamian ScholarshipJANER 8.2, Brill, Leiden, 2008. pp. 143-5.