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Tag: 1964

Eco: Blind Thought, 2

Wittgenstein, Ludwig

Ludwig Wittgenstein (1899-1951), portrait by Moritz Nähr (1859-1945), 1930, held by the Austrian National Library under Accession Number Pf 42.805: C (1). 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 70 years or less. 

“As Leibniz observed in the Accessio ad arithmeticum infinitorum of 1672 (Sämtliche Schriften und Briefen, iii/1, 17), when a person says a million, he does not represent mentally to himself all the units in that number. Nevertheless, calculations performed on the basis of this figure can and must be exact.

Blind thought manipulates signs without being obliged to recognize the corresponding ideas. For this reason, increasing the power of our minds in the manner that the telescope increases the power of our eyes, it does not entail an excessive effort.

“Once this has been done, if ever further controversies should arise, there should be no more reason for disputes between two philosophers than between two calculators. All that will be necessary is that, pen in hand, they sit down together at a table and say to each other (having called, if they so please, a friend) “let us calculate.” (In Gerhardt 1875: VII, 198ff).

Leibniz’s intention was thus to create a logical language, like algebra, which might lead to the discovery of unknown truths simply by applying syntactical rules to symbols. When using this language, it would no more be necessary, moreover, to know at every step what the symbols were referring to than it was necessary to know the quantity represented by algebraic symbols to solve an equation.

Thus for Leibniz, the symbols in the language of logic no longer stood for concrete ideas; instead, they stood in place of them. The characters “not only assist reasoning, they substitute for it.” (Couturat 1901: 101).

Dascal has objected (1978: 213) that Leibniz did not really conceive of his characteristica as a purely formal instrument apparatus, because symbols in his calculus are always assigned an interpretation. In an algebraic calculation, he notes, the letters of the alphabet are used freely; they are not bound to particular arithmetical values.

For Leibniz, however, we have seen that the numerical values of the characteristic numbers were, so to speak, “tailored” to concepts that were already filled with a content–“man,” “animal,” etc.

It is evident that, in order to demonstrate that “man” does not contain “monkey,” the numerical values must be chosen according to a previous semantic decision. It would follow that what Leibniz proposed was really a system both formalized and interpreted.

Now it is true that Leibniz’s posterity elaborated such systems. For instance, Luigi Richer (Algebrae philosophicae in usum artis inveniendi specimen primum, “Melanges de philosophie et de mathématique de la Societé Royale de Turin,” 1761: II/3), in fifteen short and extremely dry pages, outlined a project for the application of algebraic method to philosophy, by drawing up a tabula characteristica containing a series of general concepts (such as aliquid, nihil, contingens, mutabile) and assigning to each a conventional sign.

The system of notation, semicircles orientated in various ways, makes the characters hard to distinguish from one another; still, it was a system of notation that allowed for the representation of philosophical combinations such as “This Possible cannot be Contradictory.”

This language is, however, limited to abstract reasoning, and, like Lull, Richer did not make full use of the possibilities of combination in his system as he wished to reject all combinations lacking scientific utility (p. 55).

Towards the end of the eighteenth century, in a manuscript dating 1793-4, we also find Condorcet toying with the idea of a universal language. His text is an outline of mathematical logic, a langue des calculs, which identifies and distinguishes intellectual processes, expresses real objects, and enunciates the relations between the expressed objects and the intellectual operations which discover the enunciated relations.

The manuscript, moreover, breaks off at precisely the point where it had become necessary to proceed to the identification of the primitive ideas; this testifies that, by now, the search for perfect languages was definitively turning in the direction of a logico-mathematical calculus, in which no one would bother to draw up a list of ideal contents but only to prescribe syntactic rules (Pellerey 1992a: 193ff).

We could say that Leibniz’s characteristica, from which Leibniz had also hoped to derive metaphysical truths, is oscillating between a metaphysical and ontological point of view, and the idea of designing a simple instrument for the construction of deductive systems (cf. Barone 1964: 24).

Moreover, his attempts oscillate between a formal logic (operating upon unbound variables) and what will later be the project of many contemporary semantic theories (and of artificial intelligence as well), where syntactic rules of a mathematical kind are applied to semantic (and therefore interpreted) entities.

But Leibniz ought to be considered the forerunner of the first, rather than of the second, line of thought.

The fundamental intuition that lies behind Leibniz’s proposal was that, even if the numbers were chose arbitrarily, even if it could not be guaranteed that the primitives posited for the same of argument were really primitive at all, what still guaranteed the truth of the calculus was the fact that the form of the proposition mirrored an objective truth.

Leibniz saw an analogy between the order of the world, that is, of truth, and the grammatical order of the symbols in language. Many have seen in this a version of the picture theory of language expounded by Wittgenstein in the Tractatus, according to which “a picture has logico-pictorial form in common with what it depicts” (2.2).

Leibniz was thus the first to recognize that the value of his philosophical language was a function of its formal structure rather than of its terms; syntax, which he called habitudo or propositional structure, was more important than semantics (Land 1974: 139).

“It is thus to be observed that, although the characters are assumed arbitrarily, as long as we observe a certain order and certain rule in their use, they give us results which always agree with each other. (Dialogus in Gerhardt 1875: VII, 190-3).

Something can be called an “expression” of something else whenever the structure [habitudines] subsisting in the expression corresponds to the structure of that which it wishes to express [ . . . ].

From the sole structure of the expression, we can reach the knowledge of the properties of the thing expressed [ . . . ] as long as there is maintained a certain analogy between the two respective structures.” (Quid sit idea in Gerhardt 1875: VII, 263-4).

What other conclusion could the philosopher of preestablished harmony finally have reached?”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 281-4.

Eco: The Egyptian vs. The Chinese Way

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Athanasius Kircher (1602-80), frontispiece depicting Adam Schall and Matteo Ricci holding a map of China, China Illustrata, 1667, 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.

“Although today many are still of the opinion that images provide a means of communication that can overcome language barriers, the explanation of the way in which images can accomplish this by now takes one of two forms: the Egyptian and the Chinese way.

The Egyptian way today belongs only to art history. We believe that visual media such as paintings, sequences in films, etc. are “texts” which convey emotions and feelings that could not be expressed verbally: we cannot represent by mere words Mona Lisa to a blind person.

The meanings that such texts can express are multiple, because there is no universal code: the rules of representation (and of recognizability) for an Egyptian mural, an Arab miniature, a painting by Turner or a comic strip are simply not the same in each case.

It is true that some ideograms have been used as characters of a universal code, for instances many road signals; in the same vein we are using more or less universal pictograms (think of the schematic crossed knives and forks which signal a restaurant in an airport, or of the stylized “ladies” and “gentlemen” on public lavatory doors).

Sometimes visual signs are merely substituting alphabetical letters, as happens with semaphores or flag signals; sometimes a yellow flag meaning “contagious disease on board” simply stands for a verbal sentence (cf. Prieto 1966).

Likewise, the gestural languages of Trappist monks, Indian merchants, gypsies or thieves, as well as the drummed and whistled languages of certain tribes (cf. Le Barre 1964), are equally dependent on the model of natural languages.

As useful, convenient and ingenious as some of these systems of communication may be, they make no claims to being “perfect” languages in which philosophers might one day wish to compose a treatise.

Any language of images is based on the alleged fact that images exhibit some properties of the represented things. Yet in any representable thing there will always be a multitude of properties, and there are infinite points of view under which an image can be judged similar to something else. Moreover, “that a picture looks like nature often means only that it looks the way nature is usually painted” (Goodman 1968: 39).

We can see this by looking at the various versions of a semiotic apparatus (if not a true language) which remained alive for centuries and which flowered in the same period when the western culture was looking for perfect visual languages: the arts of memory (cf. Rossi 1960; Yates 1966).

An art of memory establishes at its expression-plane a system of loci (that is, of places in the literal sense of the word) which may be imagined as the rooms of a building or palace, or as an urban street or square.

This system of loci is destined to house a set of images, drawn from the same iconographical field, which will play the role of lexical units. The content-plane is given by a system of res memoranda, in other words, of things to be remembered, usually belonging to the same conceptual framework. In this way, an art of memory is a semiotic system.

For instance, in mnemonic systems like those presented by the Congestorius artificiosae memoriae by Romberch (1520), the Dialogo del modo di accrescerce e conservare la memoria by Dolce (1575), or the Artificiosae memoriae fundamenta by Paepp (1619), the system of grammatical cases is expressed (and thus recalled) by the different parts of the human body.

Not only is this a case of one system expressing another system; it is also a case where the two planes are (in Hjelmslev‘s sense) conformal. It is not arbitrary that the head stands for nominative, the chest, which can receive blows, stands for accusative, and the hands, which possess and offer, stand for genitive and dative, and so on.

This shows that a mnemonic image, in order to express its content easily, should evoke it by similarity. But no mnemonic system was ever able to find a univocal criterion of resemblance.

The criteria are the same as those that linked the signature to its signatum. If we look back and see (ch. 6) what Paracelsus had to say about the language of Adam, the Protoplastus, we see that he represented him as naming one animal on the basis of a morphological similarity (from which a virtue derived), while, in another case, the name derived directly from a virtue not manifested by the form of the object.

In other cases, the name that Adam gave reflected neither morphology nor causal relations, but was inferred symptomatically: for instance, the horn of the stag permitted us to infer the age of the animal from the complexity of its branching.”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 168-71.

Eco: Infinite Songs & Locutions

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Giordano Bruno (1548-1600), memory wheel, De Umbris Idearum, 1582, reconstructed by Dame Frances Yates, Warburg Institute. Frances Yates wrote Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, Chicago, 1964. 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 Lull and Bruno might be placed the game invented by H.P. Harsdörffer in his Matematische und philosophische Erquickstunden (1651: 516-9). He devises 5 wheels containing 264 units (prefixes, suffixes, letters and syllables).

This apparatus can generate 97,209,600 German words, including many that were still non-existent but available for creative and poetic use (cf. Faust 1981: 367). If this can be done for German, why not invent a device capable of generating all possible languages?

The problem of the art of combination was reconsidered in the commentary In spheram Ioannis de sacro bosco by Clavius in 1607. In his discussion of the four primary qualities (hot, cold, dry and wet), Clavius asked how many pairs they might form.

Mathematically, we know, the answer is six. But some combinations (like “hot and cold,” “dry and wet”) are impossible, and must be discarded, leaving only the four acceptable combinations: “Cold and dry” (earth), “hot and dry” (fire), “hot and wet” (air), “cold and wet” (water).

We seem to be back with the problem of Lull: a conventional cosmology limits the combinations.

Clavius, however, seemed to wish to go beyond these limits. He asked how many dictiones, or terms, might be produced using the 23 letters of the Latin alphabet (u being the same as v), combining them 2, 3, 4 at a time, and so on until 23.

He supplied a number of mathematical formulae for the calculations, yet he soon stopped as he began to see the immensity of the number of possible results–especially as repetitions were permissible.

In 1622, Paul Guldin wrote a Problema arithmeticum de rerum combinationibus (cf. Fichant 1991: 136-8) in which he calculated the number of possible locutions generated by 23 letters. He took into account neither the question of whether the resulting sequences had a sense, nor even that of whether they were capable of being pronounced at all.

The locutions could consist of anything from 2 to 23 letters; he did not allow repetitions. He arrived at a result of more than 70,000 billion billion. To write out all these locutions would require more than a million billion billion letters.

To conceive of the enormity of this figure, he asked the reader to imagine writing all these words in huge notebooks: each of these notebooks had 1,000 pages; each of these pages had 100 lines; each of these lines could accommodate 60 characters.

One would need 257 million billion of these notebooks. Where would you put them all? Guldin then made a careful volumetric study, imagining shelf space and room for circulation in the libraries that might store a consignment of these dimensions.

If you housed the notebooks in large libraries formed by cubes whose sides measured 432 feet, the number of such cubic buildings (hosting 32 million volumes each) would be 8,050,122,350. And where would you put them all? Even exhausting the total available surface space on planet earth, one would still find room for only 7,575,213,799!

In 1636 Father Marin Mersenne, in his Harmonie universelle, asked the same question once again. This time, however, to the dictiones he added “songs,” that is, musical sequences.

With this, the conception of universal language has begun to appear, for Mersenne realizes that the answer would necessarily have to include all the locutions in all possible languages. He marveled that our alphabet was capable of supplying “millions more terms than the earth has grains of sand, yet it is so easy to learn that one hardly needs memory, only a touch of discernment” (letter to Peiresc, c. April 1635; cf. Coumet 1975; Marconi 1992).

In the Harmonie, Mersenne proposed to generate only pronounceable words in French, Greek, Arabic, Chinese and every other language. Even with this limitation one feels the shudder provoked by a sort of Brunian infinity of possible worlds.

The same can be said of the musical sequences that can be generated upon an extension of 3 octaves, comprising 22 notes, without repetitions (shades of future 12-tone compositions!).

Mersenne observed that to write down all these songs would require enough reams of paper to fill in the distance between heaven and earth, even if every sheet contained 720 of these 22-note songs and every ream was so compressed as to be less than an inch thick.

In fact the number of possible songs amounted to 1,124,000,727,777,607,680,000 (Harmonie, 108). By dividing this figure by the 362,880 songs contained in each ream, one would still obtain a 16-digit figure, whilst the number of inches between the center of the earth and the stars is only 28,826,640,000,000 (a 14-digit figure).

Anyone who wished to copy out all these songs, a thousand per day, would have to write for 22,608,896,103 years and 12 days.”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 139-41.

Eco: Bruno: Ars Combinatoria and Infinite Worlds

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Ettore Ferrari (1845-1929), The Trial of Giordano Bruno by the Roman Inquisition, bronze relief, Campo de’Fiori, Rome. This bas relief graces the pedestal of the statue of Bruno at Campo de’Fiori in Rome. The collected works of Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) are in the Bibliotheca Bruniana Electronica at the Warburg Institute, with others at the Esoteric Archives. This photo dated 2006 by Jastrow is in the public domain. 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.    

Giordano Bruno’s cosmological vision presented a world without ends, whose circumference, as Nicholas of Cusa had already argued, was nowhere to be found, and whose center was everywhere, at whatever point the observer chose to contemplate the universe in its infinity and substantial unity.

The panpsychism of Bruno had a Neoplatonic foundation: there was but a single divine breath, one principle of motion pervading the whole of the infinite universe, determining it in its infinite variety of forms.

The master idea of an infinite number of worlds was compounded with the notion that every earthly object can also serve as the Platonic shade of other ideal aspects of the universe. Thus every object exists not only in itself, but as a possible sign, deferral, image, emblem, hieroglyph of something else.

This worked also by contrast: an image can lead us back to the unity of the infinite even through its opposite. As Bruno wrote in his Eroici furori, “To contemplate divine things we need to open our eyes by using figures, similitudes, or any of the other images that the Peripatetics knew under the name of phantasms” (Dialoghi italiani, Florence: Sansei, 1958: 1158).

Where they did not emerge directly from his own inflamed imagination, Bruno chose images found in the Hermetic repertoire. These served as storehouses of revelations because of a naturally symbolic relationship that held between them and reality.

Their function was no longer, as in previous arts of memory, that of merely helping to order information for ease of recall, or this was, at least, by now a minor aspect: their function was rather that of helping to understand. Bruno’s images permitted the mind to discover the essence of things and their relations to each other.

The power of revelation stored inside these images was founded on their origin in far-off Egypt. Our distant progenitors worshipped cats and crocodiles because “a simple divinity found in all things, a fecund nature, a mother watching over the universe, expressed in many different ways and forms, shines through different subjects and takes different names” (Lo spaccio della bestia trionfante, Dialoghi italiani, 780-2).

But these images possess more than the simple capacity to reawaken our dormant imagination: they possess an authentic power to effect magical operations on their own, and functioned, in other words, in exactly the same way as the talismans of Ficino.

It is possible, of course, to take many of Bruno’s magical claims in a metaphorical sense, as if he was merely describing, according to the sensibility of his age, intellectual operations. It is also possible to infer that these images had the power to pull Bruno, after prolonged concentration, into a state of mystic ecstasy (cf. Yates 1964: 296).

Still, it is difficult to ignore the fact that some of Bruno’s strongest claims about the theurgic potential of seals appeared in a text that bore the significant title of De Magia:

“nor even are all writings of the same utility as these characters which, by their very configuration, seem to indicated things themselves. For example, there are signs that are mutually inclined to one another, that regard each other and embrace one another; these constrain us to love.

Then there are the opposite signs, signs which repel each other so violently that we are induced to hatred and to separation, becoming so hardened, incomplete, and broken as to produce in us ruin. There are knots which bind, and there are separated characters which release. [ . . . ]

These signs do not have a fixed and determined form. Anyone who, obeying his own furor, or the dictates of his soul, naturally creates his own images, be these of things desired or things to hold in contempt, cannot help but represent these images to himself and to his spirit as if the imagined things were really present.

Thus he experiences his own images with a power that he would not feel were he to represent these things to himself in the form of words, either in elegant oration, or in writing.

Such were the well-defined letters of the ancient Egyptians, which they called hieroglyphs or sacred characters. [ . . . ] by which they were able to enter into colloquies with the gods and to accomplish remarkable feats with them. [ . . . ]

And so, just as, where there lacks a common tongue, men of one race are unable to have colloquies with those of another, but must resort instead to gestures, so relations of any sort between ourselves and certain powers would be impossible were we to lack the medium of definite signs, seals, figures, characters, gestures, and other ceremonies.”

(Opera latine conscripta, Naples-Florence, 1879-1891, vol. III: 39-45).

Concerning the specific iconological material that Bruno employs, we find figures deriving directly from the Hermetic tradition, such as the Thirty-six Decans of the Zodiac, others drawn from mythology, necromantic diagrams that recall Agrippa or John Dee, Lullian suggestions, animals, plants and allegorical figures deriving from the repertoire of emblems and devices.

This is a repertoire with an extraordinary importance in the history of iconology, where the ways in which a certain seal, for example, refers back to a specific idea are largely governed by rhetorical criteria: phonetic similarities (a horse, equus, can correspond to an honest, aequus, man); the concrete for the abstract (a Roman soldier for Rome); antecedent for the consequent; accident for subject (or vice versa); and so on.

Sometimes the analogy  is based upon the similarity of the initial syllable (asinus for asyllum); and certainly Bruno did not know that this procedure, as we shall see in chapter 7, was followed by the Egyptians themselves when using their hieroglyphs.

At other times the relations might be based on kabbalistic techniques such as anagrams or paronomasias (like palatio standing for Latio: cf. Vasoli 1958: 285-6).”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 132-5.

Eco: Magic Names and Kabbalistic Hebrew

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Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim (1486-1535), man inscribed within a Pentagram with an astrological symbol at each pointDe occulta philosophia, 1533 edition, p. 163, digitized as call number Z1f9 by the Historical Medical Library of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less.  

“The date 1492 is an important one for Europe: it marks not only the discovery of America, but also the fall of Granada, through which Spain (and thus all Europe) severed its last link with Islamic culture.

As a consequence of Granada, moreover, their Christian majesties expelled the Jews from Spain, setting them off on a journey that carried them across the face of Europe. Among them there were the kabbalists, who spread their influence across the whole continent.

The kabbala of the names suggested that the same sympathetic links holding between sublunar objects and celestial bodies also apply to names.

According to Agrippa, Adam took both the properties of things and the influence of the stars into account when he devised his names; thus “these names contain within them all the remarkable powers of the things that they indicate” (De occulta philosophia, I, 70).

In this respect, Hebrew writing must be considered as particularly sacred; it exhibits perfect correspondence between letters, things and numbers (I, 74).

Giovanni Pico della Mirandola attended the Platonic academy of Marsilio Ficino where he had, in the spirit of the times, begun his study of the languages of ancient wisdom whose knowledge had gone into eclipse during the Middle Ages; Greek, Hebrew, Arabic and Chaldean.

Pico rejected astrology as a means of divination (Disputatio adversos astrologicos divinatores), but accepted astral magic as a legitimate technique for avoiding control by the stars, replacing it with the illuminated will of the magus.

If it were true that the universe was constructed from letters and numbers, it would follow that whoever knew the mathematical rules behind this construction might act directly on the universe.

According to Garin (1937: 162), such a will to penetrate the secrets of nature in order to dominate it presaged the ideal of Galileo.

In 1486 Pico made the acquaintance of the singular figure of a converted Jew, Flavius Mithridates, with whom he began an intense period of collaboration (for Mithridates see Secret 1964: 25ff).

Although Pico could boast a certain familiarity with Hebrew, he needed the help of the translations that Mithridates prepared for him to plumb the depths of the texts he wished to study.

Among Pico’s sources we find many of the works of Abulafia (Wirszubski 1989). Mithridates‘ translations certainly helped Pico; at the same time, however, they misled him–misleading all succeeding Christian kabbalists in his wake.

In order for a reader to use properly the kabbalist techniques of notariqon, gematria and temurah, it is obvious that the texts must remain in Hebrew: as soon as they are translated, most of the kabbalistic wordplays become unintelligible or, at least, lose their flavor.

In the translations he provided for Pico, Mithridates did often insert original Hebrew terms into his text; yet Pico (in part because typesetters of this period lacked Hebrew characters) often translated them into Latin, so augmenting the ambiguity and the obscurity of the text itself.

Beyond this, Mithridates, in common with many of the first Christian kabbalists, also had the vice of interpolating into the Hebrew texts references supposedly demonstrating that the original author had recognized the divinity of Christ. As a consequence, Pico was able to claim: “In any controversy between us and the Jews we can confute their arguments on the basis of the kabbalistic books.”

In the course of his celebrated nine hundred Conclusiones philosophicae, cabalisticae et theologicae, among which are included twenty-six Conclusiones magicae (1486), Pico demonstrated that the tetragrammaton, the sacred name of God, Yahweh, turned into the name of Jesus with the simple insertion of the letter sin.

This proof was used by all successive Christian kabbalists. In this way, Hebrew, a language susceptible to all the combinatory manipulations of the kabbalist tradition, was raised, once again, to the rank of a perfect language.

For example, in the last chapter of the Heptaplus (1489) Pico, taking off with an interpretation of the first word of Genesis (Bereshit, “In the beginning”), launches himself on a series of death-defying permutational and anagrammatical leaps.

To understand the logic of Pico’s reading, notice that in the following quotation the Hebrew characters have been substituted with the current name of the letters, Pico’s transliterations have been respected, and he is working upon the Hebrew form of the word: Bet, Resh, Alef, Shin, Yod, Tau.

“I say something marvelous, unparalleled, incredible . . . If we take the third letter and unite it with the first, we get [Alef Bet] ab. If we take the first, double it, and unite it with the second, we get [Bet Bet Resh] bebar. If we read all except the fourth with the first and the last, we get [Shin Bet Tau] sciabat.

If we place the first three in the order in which they appear, we get [Bet Resh Alef] bara. If we leave the first and take the next three, we get [Resh Alef Shin] rosc. If we leave the first two and take the two that follow, we get [Alef Shin] es.

If, leaving the first three, we unite the fourth with the last, we get [Shin Tau] seth. Once again, if we unite the second with the first, we get [Resh Bet] rab. If we put after the third, the fifth and the fourth, we get [Alef Yod Shin] hisc.

If we unite the first two letters with the last two, we get [Bet Resh Yod Tau] berith. If we unite the last to the first, we obtain the twelfth and last letter, which is [Tau Bet] thob, turning the thau into the letter theth, an extremely common procedure in Hebrew . . .

Ab means the father; bebar in the son and through the son (in fact, the beth put before means both things); resith indicates the beginning; sciabath means rest and end; bara means he created; rosc is head; es is fire; seth is fundament; rab means of the great; hisc of the man; berith with a pact; tob with goodness.

Thus taking the phrase all together and in order, it becomes: “The father in the son and for the son, beginning and end, that is, rest, created the head, the fire, and the fundament of the great man with a good pact.”

When Pico (in his “Magic Conclusion” 22) declared that “Nulla nomina ut significativa, et in quantum nomina sunt, singula et per se sumpta, in Magico opere virtutem habere possunt, nisi sint Hebraica, vel inde proxima derivata” (“No name, in so far as it has a meaning, and in so far as it is a name, singular and self-sufficient, can have a virtue in Magic, unless that name be in Hebrew or directly derived from it”), he meant to say that, on the basis of the supposed correspondence between the language of Adam and the structure of the world, words in Hebrew appeared as forces, as sound which, as soon as they are unleashed, are able to influence the course of events.”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 119-22.

Eco: Dante and Abulafia, 2

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Bartolomeu Velho (d.1568), Figure of the Heavenly Bodies, an illuminated illustration of the Ptolemaic geocentric conception of the Universe, from Cosmographia, 1568. Held in the Bibliotèque Nationale de France, Paris. 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.  

“Yet could Dante have known the theories of Abulafia?

Abulafia visited Italy on several occasions: he was in Rome in 1260; he remained on the peninsula until 1271, when he returned to Barcelona; he returned to Rome in 1280 with the project of converting the pope.

He journeyed afterwards to Sicily, where we lose trace of him somewhere near the end of the 1290s. His ideas incontestably exercised an influence on contemporary Italian Jewish thought. We have a record of a debate in 1290 between Hillel of Verona (who had probably met Abulafia twenty years earlier) and Zerakhya of Barcelona, who arrived in Italy at the beginning of the 1270s (cf. Genot-Bismuth 1988: II).

Hillel, who had contacts in the world of Bologna intellectuals, had written to Zerakhya to ask him the question first posed by Herodotus: in what language would a child speak if it were brought up with no linguistic stimuli?

Hillel maintained that such a child would naturally speak Hebrew, because Hebrew was humanity’s original natural language. Hillel either did not know, or else disregarded, the fact that Abulafia was of a different opinion. Not so with Zerakhya.

He sarcastically remarked that Hillel had been taken in by the siren song of the “uncircumcised” of Bologna. The first sounds emitted by a child without linguistic education, he asserted, would resemble the barking of dogs. It was madness to maintain that the sacred language could be naturally bestowed on human beings.

Humanity possessed a linguistic potential, but it was a potential that could be activated only through education of the vocal organs. This, however, required instruction.

At this point, Zerakhya brought forward a proof that we shall find in a number of post-Renaissance Christian authors (for example, in the In Biblia polyglotta prolegomena by Walton in 1673, or the De sacra philosophia of 1652 by Vallesio): had there been the primordial gift of an original sacred language, then all human beings, regardless of their native tongue, would have the innate ability to speak it.

The existence of such a debate is enough to show, without needing to invent a meeting between Dante and Abulafia, that Abulafia’s ideas were subject to discussion in Italy, especially in the Bolognese intellectual circles which influenced Dante, and from which, according to Maria Corti, he absorbed his notion of the forma locutionis.

Nor does the Bologna debate constitute the only point of encounter between Dante and Jewish thought.

Genot-Bismuth has given us a vivid picture of the close of the thirteenth century in which we will later find a Yehuda Romano giving a series of lectures on the Divine Comedy for his co-religionists, a Lionello di Ser Daniele who did likewise using a Divine Comedy transliterated into Hebrew script, not to mention the surprising personage of Immanuel da Roma, who, in his own poetic compositions, seemed to launch an attack on Dante’s ideals almost aspiring to produce a sort of counter-Comedy in Hebrew.

Naturally this only establishes the influence of Dante on Italian Jewish culture, not the other way around. Yet Genot-Bismuth is able to show opposing influences as well, even to the point of suggesting that Dante’s theory of the four senses of scripture, found in his Epistula, XIII (cf. Eco 1985), had a Jewish origin.

Such a hypothesis may be too bold: there were any number of Christian sources from which Dante might have drawn this doctrine. What seems less daring, and, in fact, entirely plausible, is the suggestion that, in Bologna, Dante would have heard echoes of the debate between Hillel and Zerakhya.

One could say that in DVE he appears still close to the position of the former (or of his Christian inspirers, as Zerakhya reproaches him), while in Paradise he turns towards the positions of the latter, that is, the position of Abulafia (even though, when writing DVE, he already had the opportunity to know both theses).

However, it is not necessary to document direct links (even though Genot-Bismuth finds the presence of Jewish influences in certain passages of the De regimine principium of Giles of Rome), but rather to demonstrate the existence of a cultural climate in which ideas could circulate and within which a formal and informal debate between the church and the synagogue might ensue (cf. Calimani 1987: viii).

We should remember that, before the Renaissance, a Christian thinker would scarcely wish to admit publicly that he drew on Hebrew doctrine.

Like heretics, the Jewish community belonged to a category of outcasts that–as Le Goff shrewdly observes–the Middle Ages officially despised but at the same time admired; regarding them with an admixture of attraction and fear, keeping them at a distance, but making sure that the distance was fixed near enough so they would always remain close at hand.

“What was termed charity in their regard more resembled the game that cats play with mice” (Le Goff 1964:373).

Before the kabbala was rehabilitated by humanist culture, Christianity knew little of it. It was often simply regarded as a branch of the black arts. Even so, as Gorni has pointed out (1990: vii), in the Divine Comedy, Dante seems to share a great deal of knowledge about magic and divinatory practices (astrology, chiromancy, physiognomy, geomancy, pyromancy, hydromancy and, not least, the black arts of magic themselves).

In one way or another, Dante seems to have been informed about an excluded and underground culture in which, at least according to vulgar opinion, the kabbala somehow belonged.

In this way, it becomes ever more plausible that, even if it does not derive directly from the theories of the Modistae, Dante’s forma locutionis is not a language but the universal matrix for all language.”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 49-52.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Melvin: Who Built the First City? Cain? Enoch? Chousor? Or Nimrod?

“The portrayal of the rise of civilization in Genesis 1–11, on the other hand, is generally negative and is devoid of any hint of divine assistance or bestowal of the arts of civilization. A key text in this regard is Genesis 4:20–22, in which the descendants of Cain found the guilds of nomadic shepherding, music, and metallurgy.

The statements are brief, merely indicating that Jabal was the founder of nomadic shepherding, Jubal was the founder of the art of music, and Tubal-cain was the first to work with metals.

If one considers the entirety of Genesis 4, one may also add to the list of new developments animal husbandry (v. 2), agriculture (v 2), city-building and urbanism (v 17), and polygamy (v 19).

An aerial view of the Ziggurat of Ur.

An aerial view of the Ziggurat of Ur.

Gunkel, following Wellhausen, reads the account as brief fragments of what were originally much fuller mythological narratives and suggests that they may originally have referred to deities, but even if this reading is correct for the original myths, the text in its present form has been largely de-mythologized, and the individuals and their accomplishments are completely human.

(Hermann Gunkel, Genesis (trans. Mark E. Biddle; Macon: Mercer University Press, 1997), p. 50. Wellhausen argues that the genealogies in Genesis 4 and Genesis 5 refer to the same individuals and were originally identical.

See Julius Wellhausen, Prolegomena to the History of Israel􏰦􏰈􏰌􏰒􏰇􏰞􏰌􏰏􏰇􏰋􏰎􏰃􏰂􏰌􏰃􏰂􏰕􏰇􏰃􏰧􏰉􏰆􏰂􏰌􏰈􏰚􏰃􏰌􏰘􏰃􏰓􏰆􏰈􏰎􏰇􏰒 (New York: Meridian, 1957), pp. 308–09; see also E. A. Speiser, Genesis (AB 1; Garden City: Doubleday, 1964), pp. 35–36. If this is the case, then it is important to note that Cain’s genealogy has been distinguished from Seth’s by the insertion of episodes which give the entire list a negative overtone (e.g., Cain’s fratricide, Lamech’s murders).

See John Skinner, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Genesis (2d ed.; ICC; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1930), p. 115. Since the statements concerning the arts of civilization appear only in the Cainite genealogy, it is likely that their inclusion is for the sake of bringing upon them “guilt by association” with the dark line of Cain.

Ruins and Plan of the Anu Ziggurat and the White Temple. Uruk ( Present-day Warka, Iraq). c. 3300-3000 BCE.

 https://www.pinterest.com/pin/168814686005734256/

Ruins and Plan of the Anu Ziggurat and the White Temple. Uruk ( Present-day Warka, Iraq). c. 3300-3000 BCE.


https://www.pinterest.com/pin/168814686005734256/

Seth’s genealogy, by contrast, includes a number of statements which give a more positive impression to the whole list (e.g., humans calling on the name of Yahweh, Enoch walking with God). However, Gordan J. Wenham makes a case against seeing the two genealogies as originally identical. See Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15 (WBC, 1; Waco: Word, 1987), p. 110.)

Further indication of the human origin of civilization in Genesis 1–11 appears in the motif of city-building and urbanism. Interestingly, Mesopotamian myths attribute the origin of the earliest cities to the work of gods (e.g., Marduk’s construction of Babylon) or semi-divine heroes (e.g., Gilgamesh’s building of the walls of Uruk), while Genesis 4:17 attributes the first city to Cain, who names it after his first son, Enoch, with no indication of divine assistance.

(Westermann notes that the reading of the Hebrew text seems to indicate that it was actually Enoch who built the city, rather than Cain, until one reaches the phrase 􏰣􏰦􏰢􏰃כשם כנן “according to the name of his son,” which he suggests may originally have read simply כשמו􏰣􏰄􏰎􏰧 “according to his name” (Genesis 1–11, 327).

He further argues that it would be unusual for Cain to have been both the founder of agriculture and the first city-builder. Such accounts of the development of civilization typically do so by a succession of births in which each generation makes but one new contribution.

But this is not always the case, as The Phoenician History shows by attributing to Chousor (Kothar) the arts of magic, divination, prophecy, sailing, and fishing (see Albert I. Baumgarten, The Phoenician History of Philo of Byblos: A Commentary [Leiden: Brill, 1981], p. 143).)

Similarly, the building of several key cities in Mesopotamia, as well as the formation of the world’s first empire, is attributed to Nimrod in Genesis 10:8–12.”

David P. Melvin, “Divine Mediation and the Rise of Civilization in Mesopotamian Literature and in Genesis 1-11,” Journal of Hebrew Scriptures, 2010, pp. 7-9.

Kvanvig: On the Destiny of Adapa

“The problem in the fragments to the Adapa Myth is that there is one crucial place where Amarna fragment B and the Nineveh fragment D overlap and they are significantly different. The last visible part of fragment B reads as follows, according to Izre’el’s translation:

“Come Adapa, why did you not eat and drink? Hence

you shall not live! Alas for inferior humanity!” “Ea my lord

told me: “Do not eat, do not dr[i]nk!”

“Take him (?) and [retu]rn him to (his) earth.”

(Amarna fragment B, rev. 67-70. Schlomo Izre’el, Adapa and the South Wind: Language Has the Power of Life and Death, Eisenbrauns, 2001, p. 21).

In the crucial last sentence here, we must admit that the only clearly visible signs are ana qaqqarišu, “to the,” or “his, earth.” Together with the traces left of verbs they nevertheless show the destination: Adapa is returning to the earth. As we shall see below, the outcome in exactly the same scene in fragment D is the opposite: Adapa will remain in heaven as the chosen of Anu.

The umu-apkallū at far left has his right hand raised in the iconic gesture of purification and exorcism, but no mullilu cone appears to be present.  The banduddû bucket is present in the left hand. This umu-apkallū wears a horned tiara, indicative of divinity.  The next entity lacks wings, and so is probably not an umu-apkallū. The mace in the right hand could be an e'ru, as it is not yet clear precisely what e'ru means. I do not understand the object in his left hand. The mace could be an indicator of sovereignty, of kingship.  The next entity holds a bowl and the curved staff, known as the gamlu-curved staff. While this entity wears a headdress, it is not horned, and wings are absent, suggesting that it is human rather than umu-apkallū. This is probably a king, Museum notes suggest Ashurnasirpal.  The entity at far right wields a curved stick in his right hand, I am unsure how Wiggermann defines it, and I am completely stumped by the object in his left hand, which appears to be a ladle. The entity appears to be a priest, blessing an offering from the king in a bowl.  Overall, this frieze supports one theme of Erica Reiner's article on the Seven Sages of Sumeria, which is that each king had his associated advisor in the form of an apkallū.

The umu-apkallū at far left has his right hand raised in the iconic gesture of purification and exorcism, but no mullilu cone appears to be present.
The banduddû bucket is present in the left hand. This umu-apkallū wears a horned tiara, indicative of divinity.
The next entity lacks wings, and so is probably not an umu-apkallū. The mace in the right hand could be an e’ru, as it is not yet clear precisely what e’ru means. I do not understand the object in his left hand. The mace could be an indicator of sovereignty, of kingship.
The next entity holds a bowl and the curved staff, known as the gamlu-curved staff. While this entity wears a headdress, it is not horned, and wings are absent, suggesting that it is human rather than umu-apkallū. This is probably a king, Museum notes suggest Ashurnasirpal.
The entity at far right wields a curved stick in his right hand, I am unsure how Wiggermann defines it, and I am completely stumped by the object in his left hand, which appears to be a ladle. The entity appears to be a priest, blessing an offering from the king in a bowl.
Overall, this frieze supports one theme of Erica Reiner’s article on the Seven Sages of Sumeria, which is that each king had his associated advisor in the form of an apkallū.

If we do not read the myths according to their deepest structures, synchronically, but according to their plots on a narrative level, the difference between the older preserved variant of the story, fragment B, and the younger preserved variant, fragment D, cannot be overlooked.

To safeguard the argument, if the version of the scene in fragment D in the future should be found in an older tablet, the version would still be different from fragment B. In reading plots in narratives the beginning and end of the narrative are crucial.

Here we approach a problem in the Adapa myth; we do not have the exact beginning and the end of the story in any of the fragments, and we do not know exactly how they relate to one another, so we must make assumptions.

If we presume that the order of the fragments is rightly put together, there seems to be a scholarly agreement at this point; we are close to a beginning in fragment A, starting in line 2:

“Let (?) his [s]peech be (?) … […] like the speech of [Anu.]

He perfected him with great intelligence, to give instruction about the ordinance of the earth.

To him he gave wisdom, he did not give him eternal life.

In those days, in those years, the sage, a native of Eridu,

Ea made him (his) follower among people.”

(Nineveh fragment A obv. i, 2-6. Schlomo Izre’el, Adapa and the South Wind: Language Has the Power of Life and Death, Eisenbrauns, 2001, p. 10).

Here the basic themes that continue in the other fragments are introduced: the power of speech that made Adapa capable of breaking the South Wind’s wing, and changing the order of nature; the question about what kind of wisdom Adapa got from Ea, since only “the earth” and not the all-encompassing “heaven and earth” is mentioned; and the relationship between wisdom and eternal life. The rest of the fragments, including D, follow the story line fairly smoothly in relation to this beginning.

This illustration is cited as appearing as Figure 446 in “Cook (1964 Vol. 1 p.576-7),” which I take to refer to Cook H. J., “Pekah," Vetus Testamentum 14 1964, figure 446, "Ramman the Bellowing One,” pp. 576-7. I have not been able to locate a copy to verify the reference. <br /> This illustration allegedly portrays Ramman, “The Bellowing One,”or Adad, who is “commonly represented on the cylinders as standing on the back of a bull (Figure 446) or as planting one foot on a bull.”<br />  I am not certain that the deity is standing on a bull at all. It could be Mushshushu, a dog-shaped dragon from Mesopotamian legend. <br />  To my eye, this illustration portrays the Moon God, Sin, whose inverted crescent appears above his head. <br />  The Assyrian national god Ashur appears in his winged conveyance, next to the seven celestial bodies of Babylonian cosmogony.<br />  The goddess Ishtar appears at far right, her eight-pointed star at her head, and her typical warlike regalia on her back. Before her is a sacred tree. I do not know who the figure at the center of this illustration portrays.

This illustration is cited as appearing as Figure 446 in “Cook (1964 Vol. 1 p.576-7),” which I take to refer to Cook H. J., “Pekah,” Vetus Testamentum 14 1964, figure 446, “Ramman the Bellowing One,” pp. 576-7. I have not been able to locate a copy to verify the reference.
This illustration allegedly portrays Ramman, “The Bellowing One,”or Adad, who is “commonly represented on the cylinders as standing on the back of a bull (Figure 446) or as planting one foot on a bull.”
I am not certain that the deity is standing on a bull at all. It could be Mushshushu, a dog-shaped dragon from Mesopotamian legend.
To my eye, this illustration portrays the Moon God, Sin, whose inverted crescent appears above his head.
The Assyrian national god Ashur appears in his winged conveyance, next to the seven celestial bodies of Babylonian cosmogony.
The goddess Ishtar appears at far right, her eight-pointed star at her head, and her typical warlike regalia on her back. Before her is a sacred tree. I do not know who the figure at the center of this illustration portrays.

We do not come so close to an end in either fragments B or D, because they are broken. In both places, however, we have a statement of the destiny of Adapa. In B this was to return to the earth, as we have seen; the last sentences in D concerning Adapa’s fate read as follows:

[An]u se[t] a decree to make glorious his lordship forever:

[ … ] Adapa, seed of humankind,

[ … ] he who broke the South Wind’s wing triumphantly

(and) ascended to heaven, —so be it forever!

(Nineveh fragment D rev. 11-14. Schlomo Izre’el, Adapa and the South Wind: Language Has the Power of Life and Death, Eisenbrauns, 2001, p. 38).

The end of a story matters. What takes place in a story moves between its beginning and end. If you change the end, you change the plot, even though the beginning and the events after the beginning are the same in a similar story.

Both the beginning and the succeeding events get another meaning when the end is totally different. In the fragment B the destiny was the return to the earth, which implies a dividing line between Adapa’s wisdom and eternal life, whatever structural level in the myth we place it in.

Adapa did not surpass the realm of the human getting eternal life, even with his extensive wisdom, and even though he became the patron of the magicians. Certainly, this has a meaning in relation to expelling demons, not only gods were able to do this; the power was given to humans, following the wisdom of Adapa.

The meaning of the destiny in D changes the plot. The focus is the elevation of Adapa as the one among humans who stayed in heaven with Anu forever.”

Helge Kvanvig, Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical, and Enochic: An Intertextual Reading, Brill, 2011, pp. 121-3.

Epigenes and Berosus

“Like Aristarchus, Berosus was interested in sundials. His dial is said to have been semicircular, hollowed out of a square block, and cut under to correspond to the polar altitude. The Babylonian was also interested in astrology, for Vitruvius (Vitruvius, The Ten Books on Architecture, 9.8.1) declares that Berosus founded an astrological school in Cos, and a remark by Pliny (Natural History, 7.160) confirms that he had a knowledge of technical astrology. According to Pliny, Epigenes held that a man could not live as long as 112 years, but Berosus claimed that a man could not live more than 116.

We have here an allusion to the astrological doctrine that the number of years in a human life can never exceed the maximal possible number of degrees which is necessary for one quarter of the ecliptic to rise.

As Neugebauer has shown, Epigenes’s remark applies to the latitude of Alexandria, but Berosus is speaking of Babylon. It is just, I think, to regard Berosus as an astrologer who brought his doctrines to Cos, but there is no sign that he helped to advance the study of astronomy amongst the Greeks.

He belongs rather to the genethlialogists at Babylon, whom, Strabo reports, the geniune astronomers did not admit to their number. Yet there may still be some truth in the statement of Josephus that Berosus introduced astronomical doctrines of the Chaldaeans to the Greeks, as well as their philosophical doctrines; just as there is perhaps a sound basis for the remark of Moses of Chorene that Ptolemy II Philadelphus (in whose empire Cos lay) incited Berosus to translate Chaldaean records into Greek.

By Georgios Synkellos also the same Ptolemy, who reigned from 283 to 247 B.C., is said to have had Chaldaean works collected for his library and to have had them translated.

If Berosus was not the bringer of Chaldaean astronomical knowledge to Aristarchus, then a possible intermediary is Epigenes. This scholar, who came from Byzantium, is almost certainly a near contemporary of Aristarchus and Berosus, though various views about his date have been held.

His views are twice mentioned next to those of Berosus, once on the antiquity of Babylonian astronomical records and once on the greatest length of human life. His remark that a man could not live more than 112 years applies to the latitude of Alexandria, and shows that Epigenes had worked there.

From Seneca we learn also that he and Apollonius of Myndus had studied amongst the Chaldaeans, in Babylon itself presumably, as Epigenes’s reference to astronomical cuneiform texts–observationes siderum coctilibus laterculis inscriptas–suggests.

His statement that the astronomical records went back 720 years, not 480, looks like an attempt to correct Berosus. When we add that Epigenes believed that children could be born in the seventh month, a view also held by Strata, Aristarchus’s teacher; and find that Epigenes was, like Strata, interested in comets, the case for dating him early in the third century looks strong, if not conclusive.

But it is pointless to speculate about any ties he may have had with Aristarchus.”

George Huxley, Aristarchus of Samos and Graeco-Babylonian AstronomyGreek, Roman and Byzantine Studies, Duke University, Vol 5, No 2 (1964), pp. 127-9.

Tracing the Doctrine of Cataclysms of Berossus

“The context in Censorinus shows that the interval of 2434 years was in Aristarchus’s opinion the interval between alternate conflagrations and inundations of the world when the sun, moon, and stars all return to the same zodiacal sign.

It is very difficult to trace exactly the adoption of Babylonian ideas by the Greek astronomers. An active part in the diffusion of Babylonian astronomy is often ascribed to Berosus the Chaldaean, who was a contemporary of Aristarchus, and had a doctrine of cataclysms similar to his; for Berosus claimed that when all the planets were in Cancer the earth would be burned, and when they were in Capricorn there would be a flood.

But an examination of the astronomical fragments of Berosus suggests that he had a very inadequate knowledge of the subject. His views on the moon’s phases are reported by Vitruvius, who contrasts them with the explanation given by Aristarchus.

It looks indeed as though Aristarchus set out deliberately to refute the views of his Babylonian contemporary, who settled in Cos, not far from Samos, the home of Aristarchus. Berosus supposed that the moon had light of her own, one half of her orb being luminous and the rest of a blue colour. The moon’s phases thus in his view were caused by her luminous half being turned towards or away from the earth.

Aristarchus, however, maintained that the moon receives her light from the sun, so that on the fourteenth day of the month when she is in opposition to the sun, she is full and rises when the sun is setting.

Vitruvius shows that Aristarchus explained the first and last quarters and the new moons as well; and it is obvious from Aristarchus’s book on the sizes and distances of the sun and moon that Berosus had nothing to teach the Samian about the phases of the moon.

No doubt Aristarchus applied what he had learned from Strato and his own theory about light and shadow to the moon’s phases and to eclipses also. The most obvious objection to Berosus’s doctrine was that it failed to explain lunar eclipses, as Cleomedes [2.4] pointed out.

It is most unlikely that Berosus had anything worth while to teach the Greeks about theoretical astronomy, though he did have a cursory interest in the subject, having treated it in the first book of the Babyloniaca (P. Schnabel, Berossos und die babylonisch-hellenistische LiteraturLeipzig 1923, p. 19.)

We are told also that he maintained that Babylonian astronomical records did not go back before the time of Nabonasar, that king having destroyed the earlier ones. In view of this clear statement it is surprising to find that according to our texts of Pliny, Berosus held that observations of the stars had been inscribed on baked tablets for 480,000 (!) years (490,000 in some copies).

If we read CCCCLXXX for CCCCLXXX we can reduce the period to 480 years. Now Berosus dedicated his Babyloniaca to Antiochus I Soter, who reigned from 281/0 to 262/1 B.C., and if we add 480 to a year in the reign of that king we are brought close to the epoch of Nabonasar.

I think it likely therefore that Berosus stated that accurate observations had been made in Babylonia for 480 years from the time of Nabonasar, and that earlier observations were not available to him. This suggestion is supported by the failure of Ptolemy in the Almagest to cite any Chaldaean observations earlier than the time of Nabonasar.

If Ptolemy’s dating of the first year of Nabonasar to 747 B.C. was the same as Berosus’s, then we have a date for the publication of the Babyloniaca, 480 years after 747 B.C. or 267 B.C., a year well within the reign of Antiochus I to whom the work was dedicated.”

George Huxley, “Aristarchus of Samos and Graeco-Babylonian Astronomy,” Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies, Duke University, Vol 5, No 2 (1964), pp. 125-7.

End of the Digression on Berossus and the Babyloniaca

“Can the Babyloniaca tell us anything about the chronicles? It is the one work which demonstrably made use of them. We have Berossus‘ own word that he transcribed “the records which had been kept with great care by the priests in Babylon for a long time, embracing more than 2,150,000 (var. 150,000) years, and that these records contain the history of the sky and sea, and the first creation, and of the kings, and of the deeds done under them”.

That the chronicles were among these records cannot be doubted …

Surely the chronicles were not compiled to be published in a work like the Babyloniaca. In fact, Berossus‘ publication may have been looked upon with disfavour by his fellow-scholars, and it may be that Berossus did indeed end his days on the island of Cos.

But Berossus‘ presentation of their contents in the Babyloniaca increases rather than diminishes the probability that they were drawn up in the service of astrology.

Both the chronicles and the Babyloniaca, I would suggest, were based on the presupposition that since what had happened in the past would happen again, it would be useful to have compiled a record of the past.”

This illustration is cited as appearing as Figure 446 in “Cook (1964 Vol. 1 p.576-7),” which I take to refer to Cook H. J., “Pekah," Vetus Testamentum 14 1964, figure 446, "Ramman the Bellowing One,” pp. 576-7. I have not been able to confirm this.  It allegedly portrays Ramman, “The Bellowing One,”or Adad, who is “commonly represented on the cylinders as standing on the back of a bull (Figure 446) or as planting one foot on a bull.”  To my eye, this illustration portrays the Moon God, Sin, whose inverted crescent appears above his head. The Assyrian national god Ashur appears in his winged conveyance, next to the seven celestial bodies of Babylonian cosmogony.  The goddess Ishtar appears at far right, her eight-pointed star at her head, and her typical warlike regalia on her back. Before her is a tree of life, or a tree of knowledge. I do not know who the figure at the center of this illustration portrays.

This illustration is cited as appearing as Figure 446 in “Cook (1964 Vol. 1 p.576-7),” which I take to refer to Cook H. J., “Pekah,” Vetus Testamentum 14 1964, figure 446, “Ramman the Bellowing One,” pp. 576-7. I have not been able to confirm this.
It allegedly portrays Ramman, “The Bellowing One,”or Adad, who is “commonly represented on the cylinders as standing on the back of a bull (Figure 446) or as planting one foot on a bull.”
To my eye, this illustration portrays the Moon God, Sin, whose inverted crescent appears above his head. The Assyrian national god Ashur appears in his winged conveyance, next to the seven celestial bodies of Babylonian cosmogony.
The goddess Ishtar appears at far right, her eight-pointed star at her head, and her typical warlike regalia on her back. Before her is a tree of life, or a tree of knowledge. I do not know who the figure at the center of this illustration portrays. I note that she stands on the ground, she is not elevated as the deities are, and she has no regalia or insignia of divinity. She is not a goddess. 

(Editorial Note: Here is a long footnote, with which Robert Drews ends his article. I include it for obvious reasons).

“W. G. Lambert, whose insights I have long admired, and on whose Assyriological expertise I have so often depended in this article, recently wrote (Orientalia 39 (1970), 175, n. 7): “The reviewer would like to take this opportunity to say that he does not and has never accepted the idea that the Babylonians conceived history cyclically.”

In making this statement Lambert relied on Jacoby’s well-founded authority on historiographical fragments. For on p. 177 he writes, “The only evidence for any Babylonian concept to an end to history occurs in a quotation ascribed to Berossus by Seneca, where it was taught that the world would end in a cosmic cataclysm when the stars all converged on Cancer.

Jacoby attributed this to Pseudo-Berossus, and certainly there were faked versions of Berossus in the ancient world.”

To these statements I would offer three objections:

(1) Frag. 21 does not, strictly speaking, teach that the “world would end” in a cosmic conflagration, but only that cosmic conflagrations and deluges do occur; the world, the passage assumes, went on.

(2) There is evidence only for interpolations (by a Jew or a Christian, in Berossus‘ account of creation) and not for “faked versions” in the sense that Jacoby implies with his “Pseudo-Berossus“. And, of course, a Jewish or Christian interpolator was not the source of Seneca’s quotation.

(3) If by “cyclical” one means what the fourth-century Greek, Eudoxus, attributed to the Pythagoreans (a belief that in the Eternal Return of things I will once again be writing this article, and you–God help us all–will again be reading it), then the Babylonians did not have a “cyclical” view of history.

If, on the other hand, the term means only that what happened to x under such and such celestial circumstances will happen to y when those circumstances again obtain, and that those circumstances will obtain in regular periods, then I would not consider “cyclical” a misleading description of the Babylonian scholars’ view of history.”

Robert Drews, “The Babylonian Chronicles and Berossus,” Iraq, Vol. 37, No. 1 (Spring, 1975), pp. 54-5.