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Tag: 1969

On the Ineffable

yama_tibet

This 18th century depiction of Yamantaka, a violent expression of the Bodhisattva Manjushri, defeats Yama, god of death, and demolishes the cycle of samsara on the path to enlightenment. This painting, in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, was purchased in 1969 courtesy of a bequest by Florence Waterbury. Its Accession Number is 69.71. This is a faithful photographic reproduction of a two-dimensional public domain work of art. 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.

This is my review of Nick Stockton’s “Time Might Only Exist in Your Head. And Everyone Else’s.” From Wired, 26 September, 2016. Published at 0600 hrs. I later modified this piece on 17 October, 2016. It keeps bothering me like a splinter in my mind. In its current revision, it comprises 2,537 words.

“Some physicists blame gravity for time. Others blame observers. Time, the arrow of time, the linearity of time flowing from the infinite past through the present into the indefinite future, cannot exist unless an intelligence, something sentient, exists to observe it, they say.

The moment when particle physics and classical mechanics merge is called “decoherence,” and it also happens to be the moment when time’s direction becomes mathematically important.

Mr. Stockton’s article points out that superposition in quantum mechanics means that an electron can exist in either of two places, a property called probability, but it is impossible to say where an electron is until that electron is actually observed.

Some physicists also say that what matters is not whether time exists, but what direction that time flows. (Claus Kiefer, “Can the Arrow of Time Be Understood From Quantum Cosmology?” in L. Mersini-Houghton and R. Vaas, The Arrow of Time, Springer, Berlin, 2010.)

I marvel that anything can move at all, as any distance can incorporate an infinitude simply by holding your fingers a centimeter apart.

Your fingertips are not necessary, of course. You can imagine an infinite digression between any two points. You can even imagine the digression without the points, which is where things get interesting for me.

Not surprisingly, this reminds me of Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986), in the academic tradition of droll footnotes, citing “the last magician,” Isaac Newton, saying that “Each particle of space is eternal, each indivisible moment of duration is everywhere.” Principia, III, 42. (Isaac Newton, Newton’s Principia, New York: Daniel Adee, 1846. Borges wrote his 1946 revision of “A New Refutation of Time” in Sur, 1944. Jorge Luis Borges, Selected Non-Fictions, Penguin, 1999.)

How anything can leap across the infinitudes separating all things from everything else mystifies me, and how we can imagine infinity without beginning or without end leaves me without words.

Miraculously, everything in this multiverse can leap infinities, and so we have progression, which is synonymous with time. Even using a term like “infinity” forces a compromise upon us, it is a convention, and these are the paradoxes that compel some physicists to suspect that time emerges from decoherence.

Mr. Stockton’s article explains that the most prominent theory addressing decoherence is the 1960’s-era Wheeler-DeWitt equation, by Dr. Bryce DeWitt and Dr. John Archibald Wheeler. Dr. Wheeler claimed that this equation “erases the seams between quantum and classical mechanics.”

Then Mr. Stockton acknowledges the weirdness underlying decoherence and “so-called quantum gravity.” I love the fact that physicists use a term like “weird” and nobody thinks that it is strange. Because these matters are supremely weird.

The second law of thermodynamics ordains that the amount of disorder, or entropy, in our multiverse will always increase. In 1865 Rudolf Clausius (1822-1888) infamously observed: “The energy of the universe is constant; the entropy of the universe tends to a maximum.” This is the source of the directionality of time: disorder always increases, so time can only move in one direction.

The Wheeler-DeWitt equation notoriously does not include a variable for time. Time, it says, is something that cannot be measured in terms of itself: in physics it is measured as correlations between an object’s location.

In this article, however, the writers (Dr. Robert Lanza and Dr. Yasunori Nomura) insist that gravity is too slow to account for a universal arrow of time.

Worse, because the Wheeler-DeWitt equations do not explain why time moves from the past through the present to the future–in other words, the directionality of time is not explained by the Wheeler-DeWitt equations–all that remains to be examined is us, meaning we, the observers.

One of the writers, Dr. Robert Lanza, founded biocentrism, a theory that space and time are constructs of biological sensory limitations.

Dr. Lanza speculates that time moves as it does because humans, and other sentient beings, for that matter, are biologically, neurologically and philosophically hardwired to experience time in that way.

In fact, Dr. Lanza says, “In his papers on relativity, Einstein showed that time was relative to the observer.”

I do not see how it could be otherwise. While you can claim that mathematics exists independently of human perception, because equations do not depend upon witnesses to observe them, we obviously only know about mathematics because we perceive such equations.

I will go one step further and say that equations, all the equations in an infinitude of mathematics, already exist, and merely await a conjunction of time and sentience to be discovered. But they are already there. We are just not yet smart enough to discern them.

Tibetan Buddhism, in fact, features a category of knowledge of this kind, calling it terma. It refers to objects or ideas which are surfaced to human knowledge when we as a species are ready for them. Some believe that we knew this information in earlier incarnations, and we forgot it, as we submerged into ignorance and amnesia. Now we are gradually, slowly, reawakening.

Dr. Lanza, this article says, goes even further, saying that we the observers create time and its directionality. This is actually a very old idea, and I discuss it in an article that I published on this site almost a year ago, Smoke Signals: Borges, Tzahi Weiss, Kabbalah.

Is it possible to say that there is an independent time, a time that exists without anyone or anything to perceive it? I suppose so. Is there also a time that exists because we perceive it? I think that this is inescapable.

Borges says:

” … Denying temporal succession, denying the self, denying the astronomical universe, are apparent desperations and secret consolations.

Our destiny (as contrasted with the hell of Swedenborg and the hell of Tibetan mythology) is not frightful by being unreal; it is frightful because it is irreversible and ironclad.

Time is the substance I am made of. Time is a river which sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger which destroys me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire which consumes me, but I am the fire.”

(Jorge Luis BorgesSelected Non-Fictions, 1999, p. 290.)

The time that you experience is not the same time that I experience. Neither of us experiences time as Borges did. Can “the concept of time be defined mathematically without including observers in the system?”

One stance says no, as there is no way to subtract observers from the equations, as equations by default, almost by definition, you could say, are performed by sentient intelligences.

Dr. Yasunori Nomura states that these equations also fail to consider that the entire multiverse as we perceive it exists in a medium that we call spacetime.

By definition, when you talk about spacetime, he says, “you are already talking about a decohered system.”

This article concludes, like most interpretations of spacetime, that everything is relative, everything is subjective.

We are in self-defined prisons of perception, but we imagine paradises where we share the same perceptions, the same spacetime, and we perceive the same physics. The sad thing is, this is maya, or illusion. Some of us know better, and we have been told.

We do not need these physics, not for awakening from the stupor of the mind to anatta, the emptiness of the self, the realization of the non-duality of the absolute and the relative.

Think on this for a moment. The absolute and the relative form a duality that is artificial, this is a construct that we create to help us understand what we perceive. It is, in a sense, a filter. We need no such filters.

Borges, in the quote above, in a denial of denial, refused to renounce temporal succession, rejected the renunciation of the self, repudiated the rejection of the astronomical universe, and dismissed the effort as an “apparent desperation,” slyly condemning it as a “secret consolation.”

It was long a secret, as Tibet was closed to mankind for centuries, but Borges understood what he was rejecting. Borges referred to “the hell of Tibetan mythology” for precisely this reason, and that is why I illustrated this article with a painting depicting Yamantaka, just one aspect of the Bodhisattva Manjushri, vanquishing Yama, the god of death. Borges was telling those of us with eyes to see that he was an idealist, not a nihilist. Borges concluded that we manifest everything.

It is useful, I think, to consider Borges’ reference to fire by juxtapositioning it to this excerpt from the Buddha’s Fire Sermon:

Bikkhus, form is burning, feeling is burning, perception is burning, volitional formations are burning, consciousness is burning. Seeing this, bikkhus, the instructed noble disciple experiences revulsion towards form … feeling … perception …. volitional formations … consciousness …Through dispassion [this mind] is liberated…”

Adittapariyaya Sutta, or the Aditta Sutta, aka The Fire Sermon

In Theravada Buddhism, anatta is considered the no-self or no-soul doctrine. In Mahayana Buddhism, true knowledge is comprehending emptiness.

It is not understood by laymen, much less by our physicists in this article, but Buddhism is inimical to the concept of a soul. Nirvana is the state attained when the practitioner realizes that he has no self, and he has no soul. Self-negation attains its ultimate realization as it vanishes.

In Sanskrit and Pali, nirvana means “blown out,” in the same sense that a candle flame is snuffed. I am certain that Borges knew. Borges knew everything, he read all books, and he made few mistakes.

These ideas contradict the Western philosophical tradition, our mathematics, our physics, our spacetime, even though Hinduism insists that there is an eternal atman, and an ultimate metaphysical reality. Contradictions and confusions abound.

In the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.4.1, the atman is expressed as “I am” at an eternal moment when nothing existed at the beginning of the multiverse. Because we built the Hubble telescope, we estimate that this eternal moment transformed into the Big Bang and this multiverse approximately 13.7 billion years ago.

Using Hubble, we can measure the speed and distances of galaxies, and hence how fast our multiverse is expanding. Comparing these measurements to the age of the oldest globular star clusters gives us a figure of 13 billion years, which compares favorably to the 14 billion years of our observable multiverse.

Due to the speed of light, Hubble cannot see further than 14 billion years away. When the James W. Webb telescope comes online, we expect to confirm that our observable multiverse represents a tenth of the theoretical galaxies on the near side of our cosmological horizon.

But when you consider that the Big Bang might have been just the latest in an infinite series of singularities, interspersed by an unknowable number of periods of quantum potential, the possibility that the multiverse is infinite, literally without end, looms.

So is consciousness 14 billion years old? The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad is one of the oldest, dated to approximately 700 BCE, but this is a compromise, as scholarly estimates range between 900 BCE to 600 BCE, preceding Buddhism.

Human consciousness is very young, even assuming that the priests of Neith who admonished Solon in the Timaeus were correct, the Timaeus is dated to 360 BCE, and I am mindful that when the Temple of Neith in Sais was excavated no records of ancient conflagrations or deluges were recovered. But how old is cosmic consciousness? It is absurd that we even imagine the question.

When the atman awakes, the Hindu say, it is synonymous with Brahman, the basis of everything, indistinguishable in my mind from God, and this is the path to liberation, or so they say.

It is helpful to cite this Upanishad’s verse 1.4.1 in its entirety, as it redolently presages Genesis.

“In the beginning, this (universe) was but the self (Virāj) of a human form. He reflected and found nothing else but himself. He first uttered, ‘I am he.’ Therefore he was called Aham (I). Hence, to this day, when a person is addressed, he first says, ‘It is I,’ and then says the other name that he may have. Because he was first and before this whole (band of aspirants) burnt all evils, therefore he is called Puruṣa. He who knows thus indeed burns one who wants to be (Virāj) before him.”

(Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.4.1.)

As perplexed as I am by yet another reference to fire, the Buddhist Suttas, or Sutras, as I prefer, insist that everything, especially nirvana, is non-self, total non-attachment. The Suttas in Pali refer exclusively to the scriptures of the early Pali Canon, the canonical works of Theravada Buddhism, which are said to be the oral teachings of the Buddha.

The Buddha himself admonished the Sangha not to deify his person, so I prefer the Sutras, the less exclusive, more encompassing genre of ancient Indian texts, which include the foundational works of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.

The Buddha started the Wheel of Karma turning as he preached his first sermon at  the Deer Park in Sarnath near Benares, early in the 5th century BCE. It was in his second sermon that he expounded on the no-soul thesis, anatta-vada, which some Western academics criticize as “an extreme empiricist doctrine.” (Brian Morris, Religion and Anthropology: A Critical Introduction (London: Cambridge University Press, 2006, p. 51.)

Anatta is one of the three characteristics of existence in Buddhism, with anicca, or impermanence, and dukkha, or suffering. The three comprise the samsara cycle of existence, addressed in canonical Buddhist texts like the Dhammapada.

The Four Noble Truths insist that there is a way out of samsara. I interpret spacetime as samsara, yet another filter created by subjective consciousness, to help us make sense of our multiverse.

In anatta, the mind returns to its original prelinguistic emptiness of non-attachment, non-discrimination, and non-duality, and the awakening, as it is described, entails the absorption of cessation: it is tantamount to the dissolution of the self.

This “pure consciousness event” is wakeful, without content, and completely non-intentional. It goes without saying that our spacetime and our cosmological horizon are irrelevant to it: It is ineffable. (Yaroslav Komarkovski, Tibetan Buddhism and Mystical Experience, (London: Oxford University Press, 1995, p. 28.)

As Borges said, we are indistinguishable from spacetime. We do not need eyes to see, so death, transformation, is dissolution into nothingness, which many religious traditions summarize as the godhead.

Ironically, it was William James who said:

“The subject of it immediately says that it defies expression, that no adequate report of its contents can be given in words.”

(William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature (New York: Penguin, 1982.)”

Estéban Trujillo de Gutiérrez, “On the Ineffable”

Bangkok, 17 October, 2016

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: The Last Flowering of Philosophic Languages

Anne-Pierre-Jacques De Vismes, Pasilogie, ou de la musique, consideree comme langue universelle, 1806

Anne-Pierre-Jacques De Vismes (1745-1819), Pasilogie, ou de la musique, considérée comme langue universelle, Paris, 1806. 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. 

“Nor was even this the end of attempts at creating a philosophic language. In 1772 there appeared the project of Georg Kalmar, Praecepta grammatica atque specimina linguae philosophicae sive universalis, ad omne vitae genus adcomodatae, which occasioned the most significant discussion on our topic written in Italian.

In 1774, the Italian-Swiss Father Francesco Soave published his Riflessioni intorno alla costituzione di una lingua universaleSoave, who had done much to spread the sensationalist doctrine to Italy, advanced a criticism of the a priori languages that anticipated those made by the Idéologues (on Soave see Gensini 1984; Nicoletti 1989; Pellerey 1992a).

Displaying a solid understanding of the projects from Descartes to Wilkins and from Kircher to Leibniz, on the one hand Soave advanced the traditional reservation that it was impossible to elaborate a set of characters sufficient to represent all fundamental concepts; on the other hand, he remarked that Kalmar, having reduced these concepts to 400, was obliged to give different meanings to the same character, according to the context.

Either one follows the Chinese model, without succeeding in limiting the characters, or one is unable to avoid equivocations.

Unfortunately, Soave did not resist the temptation of designing a project of his own, though outlining only its basic principles. His system of classification seems to have been based on Wilkins; as usual he sought to rationalize and simplify his grammar; at the same time, he sought to augment its expressive potential by adding marks for new  morphological categories such as dual and the neuter.

Soave took more care over his grammar than over his lexicon, but was mainly interested in the literary use of language: from this derives his radical skepticism about any universal language; what form of literary commerce, he wondered, could we possibly have with the Tartars, the Abyssinians or the Hurons?

In the early years of the next century, Soave’s discussion influenced the thinking of Giacomo Leopardi, who had become an exceptionally astute student of the Idéologues.

In his Zibaldone, Leopardi treated the question of universal languages at some length, as well as discussing the debate between rationalists and sensationalists in recent French philosophy (see Gensini 1984; Pellerey 1992a).

Leopardi was clearly irritated by the algebraic signs that abounded in the a priori languages, all of which he considered as incapable of expressing the subtle connotations of natural languages:

“A strictly universal language, whatever it may be, will certainly, by necessity and by its natural bent, be both the most enslaved, impoverished, timid, monotonous, uniform, arid, and ugly language ever.

It will be incapable of beauty of any type, totally uncongenial to imagination [ . . . ] the most inanimate, bloodless, and dead whatsoever, a mere skeleton, a ghost of a language [ . . . ] it would lack life even if it were written by all and universally understood; indeed it will be deader than the deadest languages which are no longer either spoken or written.” (23 August 1823, in G. Leopardi, Tutte le opere, Sansoni: Florence 1969: II, 814).

Despite these and similar strictures, the ardor of the apostles of philosophic a priori languages was still far from quenched.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Anne-Pierre-Jacques de Vismes (Pasilogie, ou de la musique considérée come langue universelle, 1806) presented a language that was supposed to be a copy of the language of the angels, whose sounds derived from the affections of the soul.

Vismes argued that when the Latin translation of Genesis 11:1-2 states that “erat terra labii unius” (a passage to which we usually give the sense that “all the world was of one language”), it used the word labium (lip) rather than lingua (tongue) because people first communicated with each other by emitting sounds through their lips without articulating them with their tongue.

Music was not a human invention (pp. 1-20), and this is demonstrated by the fact that animals can understand music more easily than verbal speech: horses are naturally roused by the sound of trumpets as dogs are by whistles. What is more, when presented with a musical score, people of different nations all play it the same way.

Vismes presents enharmonic scales of 21 notes, one for each letter of the alphabet. He did this by ignoring the modern convention of equal temperament, and treating the sharp of one note as distinct from the flat of the note above.

Since Vismes was designing a polygraphy rather than a spoken language, it was enough that the distinctions might be exactly represented on a musical stave.

Inspired, perhaps, indirectly by Mersenne, Vismes went on to demonstrate that if one were to combine his 21 sounds into doublets, triplets, quadruplets, etc., one would quickly arrive at more syntagms than are contained in any natural language, and that “if it were necessary to write down all the combinations that can be generated by the seven enharmonic scales, combined with each other, it would take almost all of eternity before one could hope to come to an end.” (p. 78).

As for the concrete possibility of replacing verbal sounds by musical notes, Vismes devotes only the last six pages of his book to such a topic–not a great deal.

It never seems to have crossed Visme’s mind that, in taking a French text and substituting tones for its letters, all he was doing was transcribing a French text, without making it comprehensible to speakers of other languages.

Vismes seems to conceive of a universe that speaks exclusively in French, so much so that he even notes that he will exclude letters like K, Z and X because “they are hardly ever used in languages” (p. 106).”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 302-4.

Eco: Language and Linguistic Behavior

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Salvador Dalí (1904-89), Tower of Babel, from the series Biblia Sacra: Ancien Testament, 1967-9, held in the Espace Dali, Dali Museum, Paris. Photo by hanneorla on Flickr. © All rights reserved. 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 referring to his conception of the vernacular, in the opening chapter of his treatise Dante uses terms such as vulgaris eloquentia, locutio vulgarium gentium and vulgaris locutio, while reserving the term locutio secundaria for grammar.

We can probably take eloquentia as generically “ability to speak fluently.” Nevertheless, the text contains a series of distinctions, and these are probably not casual. In certain instances, Dante speaks of locutio, in others of ydioma, of lingua or of loquela.

He uses the term ydioma whenever he refers to the Hebrew language (I, iv, 1; I, vi, 1; I, vi, 7) and when he expresses his notion of the branching off of the various languages of the world–the Romance languages in particular. In vi, 6-7, in speaking of the confusion after Babel, Dante uses the term loquela.

In this same context, however, he uses ydioma for the languages of the confusion as well as for the Hebrew language which remained intact. He can speak of the loquela of the Genovese and of the Tuscans while, at the same time, using lingua both for Hebrew and for the Italian vernacular dialects.

It thus seems that the terms ydioma, lingua and loquela are all to be understood as meaning a tongue or a given language in the modern, Saussurian sense of langue.

Often locutio is used in this sense too. When he wishes to say that, after the destruction of Babel, the workers on the tower began to speak imperfect languages, he writes, “tanto rudius nunc barbariusque locuntur.” A few lines later, referring to the Hebrew language in its original state, he uses the phrase, “antiquissima locutione.” (I, vi, 6-8).

Nevertheless, although ydioma, lingua and loquela are “marked” forms (used only where langue in the Saussurian sense is meant), the term locutio  seems to have another, more elastic sense.

It is used whenever the context seems to suggest either the activity of speaking, or the functioning of the linguistic faculty. Dante often uses locutio to mean the act of speaking: for example, he says of animal sounds that they cannot be construed as locutio, meaning by this that they do not qualify as proper linguistic activity. (I, ii, 6-7).

Dante also uses locutio every time that Adam addresses God.

These distinctions are clearest in the passage (I, iv, 1) where Dante asks himself “to what man was the faculty of speech [locutio] first given, and what he said at the beginning [quod primus locutus fuerit], and to whom, and where, and when, and in what language [sub quo ydiomate] were the first acts of linguistic behavior [primiloquium] emitted?”

I think I am justified here in giving primiloquium this sense of “first linguistic behavior” on the analogy of Dante’s use of the terms tristiloquium and turpiloquium to characterize the evil way of speaking of the Romans and the Florentines.

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 38-40.

Melvin: On the Role of Divine Counsel

“Elements of civilization are also attributed to the semi-divine hero, Gilgamesh. The opening lines of the Epic of Gilgamesh celebrate his great wisdom:

“He who saw the Deep, the country’s foundation, [who] knew…, was wise in all matters! [Gilgamesh, who] saw the Deep, the country’s foundation, [who] knew…, was wise in all matters! [He …] everywhere […] and [learnt] of everything the sum of wisdom. He saw what was secret, discovered what was hidden, he brought back a tale of before the Deluge.”

(The Epic of Gilgamesh, SBV I.1–8 (Andrew George, The Epic of Gilgamesh: A New Translation [London: Penguin, 2000], p.1).

The text goes on to describe Gilgamesh’s achievements in building the edifices of the city of Uruk, especially its wall. Here the text highlights the great wisdom required for such construction by ascribing the foundations of the city wall to the wisdom of the “Seven Sages” (apkallus).

Cuneiform tablet with the Atrahasis Epic. Babylonian, about 17th century BCE. From Sippar, southern Iraq. A version of the Flood story. The story outlines the structure of the universe according to Babylonian beliefs. Heaven is ruled by the god Anu, the earth by Enlil and the subterranean sweet water by Enki. The text then explains how the minor gods work in the fields but then rebel. As a result, humans are made from clay, saliva and divine blood to act as servants of the gods. This does not prove a perfect solution, as the humans reproduce and their noise disturbs Enlil's sleep. He decides to destroy them with plague, famine, drought and finally a flood.  However, each time Enki instructs one of the humans, Atrahasis, to survive the disasters. The god gives Atrahasis seven days warning of the flood, and he builds a boat, loads it with his possessions, animals and birds. He is subsequently saved while the rest of humankind is destroyed.  However, the gods are unhappy as they no longer receive the offerings they used to.  There is a gap in the text at this point but it does end with Atrahasis making an offering and Enlil accepting the existence and usefulness of humans. Copies of this story have survived from the seventeenth to the seventh century BCE showing that it was copied and re-copied over the centuries. This is the most complete version. There are clear similarities between this Flood story and others known in Mesopotamian literature, for example, the Epic of Gilgamesh. T.C. Mitchell, The Bible in the British Museum (London, The British Museum Press, 1988) S. Dalley, Myths from Mesopotamia (Oxford University Press, 1991) W.G. Lambert and A.R. Millard, Atra-hasis (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1969) http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/me/c/cuneiform_the_atrahasis_epic.aspx

Cuneiform tablet with the Atrahasis Epic.
Babylonian, about 17th century BCE.
From Sippar, southern Iraq.
A version of the Flood story.
The story outlines the structure of the universe according to Babylonian beliefs. Heaven is ruled by the god Anu, the earth by Enlil and the subterranean sweet water by Enki. The text then explains how the minor gods work in the fields but then rebel. As a result, humans are made from clay, saliva and divine blood to act as servants of the gods.
This does not prove a perfect solution, as the humans reproduce and their noise disturbs Enlil’s sleep. He decides to destroy them with plague, famine, drought and finally a flood.
However, each time Enki instructs one of the humans, Atrahasis, to survive the disasters. The god gives Atrahasis seven days warning of the flood, and he builds a boat, loads it with his possessions, animals and birds. He is subsequently saved while the rest of humankind is destroyed.
However, the gods are unhappy as they no longer receive the offerings they used to.
There is a gap in the text at this point but it does end with Atrahasis making an offering and Enlil accepting the existence and usefulness of humans.
Copies of this story have survived from the seventeenth to the seventh century BCE showing that it was copied and re-copied over the centuries. This is the most complete version. There are clear similarities between this Flood story and others known in Mesopotamian literature, for example, the Epic of Gilgamesh.
T.C. Mitchell, The Bible in the British Museum (London, The British Museum Press, 1988)
S. Dalley, Myths from Mesopotamia (Oxford University Press, 1991)
W.G. Lambert and A.R. Millard, Atra-hasis (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1969)
http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/me/c/cuneiform_the_atrahasis_epic.aspx

Moreover, within the epic, the greatest achievements of Gilgamesh are the building of the wall of Uruk and the wisdom he obtained and passed on to subsequent generations.

(Jeffrey H. Tigay, The Evolution of the Gilgamesh Epic (Phildelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1982), pp.142–49; 213.)

The source of this wisdom is his encounter with the divinized Flood hero, as the Sumerian text The Death of Bilgames indicates:

“…you reached Ziusudra in his abode! The rites of Sumer, forgotten there since distant days of old, the rituals and customs—it was you brought them down to the land. The rites of hand-washing and mouth-washing you put in good order, [after the] Deluge it was you made known all the tasks of the land […].”

(The Death of Bilgames, M 57–62 (George, The Epic of Gilgamesh, pp.198– 99).

Thus, Gilgamesh acts as a mediating figure between the divine source of the knowledge necessary for aspects of civilization and the people of Sumer. The source of his divine knowledge is the divinized Flood hero, who had in turn received his knowledge from Enki / Ea, as well as perhaps his divine mother, Ninsun.

Library of Ashurbanipal / The Flood Tablet / The Gilgamesh Tablet Date15 July 2010 Current location: British Museum wikidata:Q6373 Source/Photographer	Fæ (Own work) Other versions	File:British Museum Flood Tablet 1.jpg British Museum reference	K.3375 Detailed description:	 Part of a clay tablet, upper right corner, 2 columns of inscription on either side, 49 and 51 lines + 45 and 49 lines, Neo-Assyrian., Epic of Gilgamesh, tablet 11, story of the Flood. ~ Description extract from BM record. Location	Room 55

 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Library_of_Ashurbanipal_The_Flood_Tablet.jpg

Library of Ashurbanipal / The Flood Tablet / The Gilgamesh Tablet
Date 15 July 2010
Current location: British Museum wikidata:Q6373
Source/Photographer Fæ (Own work)
Other versions File:British Museum Flood Tablet 1.jpg
British Museum reference K.3375
Detailed description:
Part of a clay tablet, upper right corner, 2 columns of inscription on either side, 49 and 51 lines + 45 and 49 lines, Neo-Assyrian, Epic of Gilgamesh, tablet 11, story of the Flood. ~- Description extract from BM record.
Location Room 55


https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Library_of_Ashurbanipal_The_Flood_Tablet.jpg

(See Atrahasis OBV I.364–67; III.11–35 (Benjamin R. Foster, Before 􏰂􏰕􏰇􏰃􏰄􏰖􏰆􏰇􏰆􏰛􏰃􏰙􏰋􏰃􏰙􏰋􏰂􏰕􏰌􏰒􏰌􏰞􏰚􏰃􏰌􏰘􏰃􏰙􏰝􏰝the Muses: An Anthology of Akkadian Literature [3rd ed.; Bethesda, MD: CDL Press, 2005], pp. 329, 247–48).

(In The Death of Bilgames, Enki, following the recounting of Gilgamesh’s great achievements and wisdom, states, “And now we look on Bilgames: despite his mother we cannot show him mercy!” (M 78–79 [George, The Epic of Gilgamesh, 199 (sic)]).

In the Epic of Gilgamesh, Ninsun counsels Gilgamesh by her divine wisdom following his dreams portending Enkidu’s arrival, and, like the apkallus, Gilgamesh is said to have been granted “broad understanding” by the gods (SBV I.242–98 [George, The Epic of Gilgamesh, pp. 9–11]).

In similar fashion, Enmerkar acts as a mediator of divine knowledge which benefits humanity by aiding in the rise of civilization. In the Sumerian myth Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta, Enmerkar competes with the Lord of Aratta for supremacy in the region.

They engage in a battle of wits in which the Lord of Aratta issues various seemingly impossible challenges for Enmerkar, and in each case, Enmerkar succeeds by receiving divine inspiration from a deity.

Thus, for example, when the Lord of Aratta challenges Enmerkar to carry grain from Uruk to Aratta in a net, he receives the solution from the grain goddess, Nidaba, who “open[s] for him her ‘Nidaba’s holy house of understanding.’”

(Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta, lines 324–26 (Thorkild Jacobsen, The Harps That Once…: Sumerian Poetry in Translation [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987], p. 301).

By his reception of divine knowledge, Enmerkar is able not only to meet the Lord of Aratta’s challenges, he also invents several new technologies (e.g., writing) along the way.

Because of the crucial role divine counsel plays in Enmerkar’s cultural achievements, his accomplishments become, indirectly, the work of the gods in bringing about human civilization.”

David P. Melvin, “Divine Mediation and the Rise of Civilization in Mesopotamian Literature and in Genesis 1-11,” Journal of Hebrew Scriptures, 2010, pp. 4-5.

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.

Kvanvig: Dates the apkallu to the Beginning of the 1st Millennium BCE

“Most of the sources we have to these imaginations developed around the apkallus are Assyrian. This does not, however, mean that the imaginations only belonged to Assyrian mythology. Of the three lists of the apkallus known, two are Babylonian, and Bīt Mēseri was known in Babylonia. The most extensive description of their role we find in Berossos and the most systematic transition from apkallus to ummanus exists on the Uruk tablet.

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

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

The apkallus play an important role in the Poem of Erra, which according to most scholars is Babylonian. The tendency to ascribe compositions to apkallus is also attested in Babylonian sources. Berossos knows the reliefs of fish-apkallus existed. This motif is generally well attested in Late Babylonian representations.

(Cf. Green, “Mischwesen,” p. 252.)

Excerpt from Anthony Green, "Mischwesen. B." (Fish-garbed figure). Reallexikon der Assyriologie, 1994, p. 252.

Excerpt from Anthony Green, “Mischwesen. B.” (Fish-garbed figure). Reallexikon der Assyriologie, 1994, p. 252.

Clay figurines of the apkallus are found at Ur. There is also no reason to think that these imaginations were esoteric, belonging to a limited class of scholars. Imaginations of the apkallus are not limited to a certain genre of literature, but appear in all sorts of written compositions and in a variety of practices and depictions.

(Cf. Rittig, Assyrisch-babylonische Kleinplastik, pp. 72, 83.)

When I first gathered and analyzed the sources to the apkallus preparing for my dissertation in 1984, later published in Roots of Apocalyptic in 1989, I concluded:

“The distinction between the group of seven sages and the group of four in Bīt Mēseri, and between apkallus and ummanus in W 20 030, 7, demonstrates a special way of interpreting history: the primeval history is “the history of revelation,” and the history which follows is the time when this revelation is transmitted and unfolded.”

(Kvanvig, Roots of Apocalyptic, p. 201.)

Parpola explicitly supported this argument in his edition of the Assyrian and Babylonian letters.

(Parpola, Letters from Assyrian and Babylonian Scholars, XVIII.)

The textual and iconographic basis for understanding this part of Assyrian and Babylonian mythology is now considerably widened. But this extension of the source material has not undermined the assumption in the quotation above, but has provided the opportunity to give a much more refined and comprehensive presentation of a fairly late development in Mesopotamian religion.

At the present it is difficult to draw a diachronic picture of the origin and development of the apkallu tradition. We find the oldest reference to the seven apkallus in Eridu in a Sumerian temple hymn, where the tablet is dated to the Old Babylonian period.

(Cf. A.W. Sjöberg and E. Bergmann, The Collection of the Sumerian Temple Hymns, New York, 1969, p. 25.)

The text is hard to interpret, but the context of the apkallus is both the apsû, the me, and Enki’s son Asarluhi. The time is about the same as the date of the Sumerian tablet with the Adapa Myth, Adapa also coming from Eridu. The fact that these two sources are Sumerian does not necessarily indicate that the concept of the apkallus in Eridu is older than the Old Babylonian period.

All the other sources come from the first millennium. The archeological evidence also points in the same direction; the depictions of apkallus in figurines, on cylinder seals and on reliefs start in the beginning of the first millennium.

Bird Apkallū and Fish Apkallū, the so-called purādu-fish, side by side. Apkallū statuettes of this design were buried in appropriate places in the home of a Babylonian exorcist. They were believed to have prophylactic qualities, guarding the home from evil.

Bird Apkallū and Fish Apkallū, the so-called purādu-fish, side by side. Apkallū statuettes of this design were buried in appropriate places in the home of a Babylonian exorcist. They were believed to have prophylactic qualities, guarding the home from evil.

The first textual witness from the first millennium might be the Poem of Erra. Here the apkallus are placed in the framework of primeval history. They were responsible for Marduk’s attire before the flood; they survived the flood and were sent back to the apsû after the flood.

This composition is held to be Babylonian. Thus it is not likely to regard the development of the apkallu tradition as simply an Assyrian matter. The pairing of kings and apkallus as found in the two Babylonian lists, Berossos and the Uruk tablet, seems to reflect the position of the ummanus at the royal courts also in Babylonia.

As shown, there existed a chronography pairing Assyrian kings and ummanus, which demonstrated their position in the first millennium. Thus the expansion of the apkallu tradition seems intimately connected to the increasing importance of the scholarly guilds, in their attempt to systemize and legitimize the lore of their professions from the beginning of the first millennium.”

Helge Kvanvig, Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical, and Enochic: An Intertextual Reading, Brill, 2011, pp. 156-8.

Curnow: Ziusudra Divides Invented Myth from Mythologized Fact

“After this, the story begins to become more confused. According to the legend preserved in a surviving fragmentary text (Dalley 2000, pp. 184-7), Adapa was the priest of Ea in his temple at Eridu. Eridu was regarded as one of the most ancient cities of Mesopotamia and the place where kingship first appeared as a gift from the gods.

Although the narrative is not without its lacunae and ambiguities, it seems that Ea chose to make Adapa omniscient and wise, but not immortal. As such, he is an heroic figure, but nothing more.

The Scheil dynastic tablet or "Kish Tablet" is an ancient Mesopotamian cuneiform text containing a variant form of the Sumerian King List. The Assyriologist Jean-Vincent Scheil purchased the Kish Tablet from a private collection in France in 1911. The tablet is dated to the early 2d millennium BCE.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scheil_dynastic_tablet

The Scheil dynastic tablet or “Kish Tablet” is an ancient Mesopotamian cuneiform text containing a variant form of the Sumerian King List.
The Assyriologist Jean-Vincent Scheil purchased the Kish Tablet from a private collection in France in 1911. The tablet is dated to the early 2d millennium BCE.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scheil_dynastic_tablet

However, another very different story is told of Uan by Berossus (Hodges 1876, p. 57). According to this one, Uan emerged from the sea with the body of a fish, although added to this were a human head and human feet.

At night, this amphibious creature returned to the sea to rest. All the apkallu took this form. As they were created and / or sent by Ea, who was closely associated with the fresh water of his great-great-grandfather Apsu, there is a certain logic in the apkallu having something in common with freshwater fish.

Iconographical evidence indicates the apkallu could also be portrayed with the heads of birds, or with wings, or both. The one thing they were certainly not, according to this version of the myth, is human beings who were made wise. They were supernatural creatures, not gods, but bearing gifts from the gods.

Bird Apkallū and Fish Apkallū, the so-called purādu-fish, side by side. Apkallū statuettes of this design were buried in appropriate places in the home of a Babylonian exorcist. They were believed to have prophylactic qualities, guarding the home from evil.

Bird Apkallū and Fish Apkallū, the so-called purādu-fish, side by side. Apkallū statuettes of this design were buried in appropriate places in the home of a Babylonian exorcist. They were believed to have prophylactic qualities, guarding the home from evil.

So far only Adapa / Uan has been mentioned by name. For the sake of completeness, something can be said about the other apkallu, although little can be said with any certainty. They are known by various names, and different lists are not entirely consistent with each other.

Berossus, writing in Greek in the third century BCE, calls them Annedotus, Euedocus, Eneugamus, Eneubolus, Anementus and Anodaphus (Hodges 1876, pp. 53-4), while a much older Sumerian king list calls them Uanduga, Enmeduga, Enmegalamma, Anenlilda, Enmebulugga and Utuabzu (Wilson 1977, p. 150).

Although the myth relating to Adapa might generously be described as sketchy, virtually nothing is known of the others at all apart from their names, the names of the kings they served as counsellors, and the city-states in which they discharged this function.

Collectively it is said that they angered the gods and were banished back to the waters whence they came (Dalley 2000, p. 182). And other sources relating to the myth suggest that it was not Ea who sent them but Marduk, or Nabu or Ishtar.

There is a further myth that bears on the subject of wisdom, and this one concerns the individual variously known as Atrahasis, Utnapishtim and Ziusudra. With him we perhaps begin to approach the ill-defined threshold that divides invented myth from mythologized fact.

Cuneiform tablet with the Atrahasis Epic. Babylonian, about 17th century BCE. From Sippar, southern Iraq. A version of the Flood story. The story outlines the structure of the universe according to Babylonian beliefs. Heaven is ruled by the god Anu, the earth by Enlil and the subterranean sweet water by Enki. The text then explains how the minor gods work in the fields but then rebel. As a result, humans are made from clay, saliva and divine blood to act as servants of the gods. This does not prove a perfect solution, as the humans reproduce and their noise disturbs Enlil's sleep. He decides to destroy them with plague, famine, drought and finally a flood.  However, each time Enki instructs one of the humans, Atrahasis, to survive the disasters. The god gives Atrahasis seven days warning of the flood, and he builds a boat, loads it with his possessions, animals and birds. He is subsequently saved while the rest of humankind is destroyed.  However, the gods are unhappy as they no longer receive the offerings they used to.  There is a gap in the text at this point but it does end with Atrahasis making an offering and Enlil accepting the existence and usefulness of humans. Copies of this story have survived from the seventeenth to the seventh century BCE showing that it was copied and re-copied over the centuries. This is the most complete version. There are clear similarities between this Flood story and others known in Mesopotamian literature, for example, the Epic of Gilgamesh. T.C. Mitchell, The Bible in the British Museum (London, The British Museum Press, 1988) S. Dalley, Myths from Mesopotamia (Oxford University Press, 1991) W.G. Lambert and A.R. Millard, Atra-hasis (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1969) http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/me/c/cuneiform_the_atrahasis_epic.aspx

Cuneiform tablet with the Atrahasis Epic.
Babylonian, about 17th century BCE.
From Sippar, southern Iraq.
A version of the Flood story.
The story outlines the structure of the universe according to Babylonian beliefs. Heaven is ruled by the god Anu, the earth by Enlil and the subterranean sweet water by Enki. The text then explains how the minor gods work in the fields but then rebel. As a result, humans are made from clay, saliva and divine blood to act as servants of the gods.
This does not prove a perfect solution, as the humans reproduce and their noise disturbs Enlil’s sleep. He decides to destroy them with plague, famine, drought and finally a flood.
However, each time Enki instructs one of the humans, Atrahasis, to survive the disasters. The god gives Atrahasis seven days warning of the flood, and he builds a boat, loads it with his possessions, animals and birds. He is subsequently saved while the rest of humankind is destroyed.
However, the gods are unhappy as they no longer receive the offerings they used to.
There is a gap in the text at this point but it does end with Atrahasis making an offering and Enlil accepting the existence and usefulness of humans.
Copies of this story have survived from the seventeenth to the seventh century BCE showing that it was copied and re-copied over the centuries. This is the most complete version. There are clear similarities between this Flood story and others known in Mesopotamian literature, for example, the Epic of Gilgamesh.
T.C. Mitchell, The Bible in the British Museum (London, The British Museum Press, 1988)
S. Dalley, Myths from Mesopotamia (Oxford University Press, 1991)
W.G. Lambert and A.R. Millard, Atra-hasis (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1969)
http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/me/c/cuneiform_the_atrahasis_epic.aspx

If the name of Atrahasis (meaning “extra-wise”) is unfamiliar, his story is less so. The surviving text (Dalley 2000, pp. 9-35), which includes its own creation myth, tells of the gods sending a great flood to destroy humanity, but thanks to a warning from Ea, Atrahasis builds a boat and so is saved.

It is this flood that ends the period when the apkallu walked upon the earth, and the distinction between the antediluvian and the postdiluvian seems to have remained firmly established in the Mesopotamian mindset. That parts of Mesopotamia suffered serious flooding from time to time is hardly implausible, but what, if any basis, the story of a great flood bears to real events remains a matter for speculation.”

Trevor Curnow, Wisdom in the Ancient World, Bloomsbury, 2010, pp. 40-1.

Lenzi: The Uruk List of Kings and Sages

THE URUK LIST OF KINGS AND SAGES AND LATE MESOPOTAMIAN SCHOLARSHIP

ALAN LENZI

University of the Pacific

Abstract

“The Uruk List of Kings and Sages is best known for its genealogy connecting human scholars to antediluvian sages. Since its publication in 1962, however, questions pertaining to the text’s specific purpose within the context of Hellenistic Uruk have been neglected.

This study seeks to understand two such questions: why is the most explicit scholarly genealogy written in the Hellenistic period?; and who is the last named person in the text?

Seeking answers to these questions sheds new light on the text’s purpose: it is an attempt by scholars to gain support for themselves and their novel cultic agenda.

Keywords: Hellenistic Uruk, Mesopotamian scholars, Nicharkos, Antiquarianism, Anu cult

The cuneiform tablet (IM 65066) is in the Bagdad Museum.

 A.K. Grayson, from the Reallexikon der Assyriologie, s.v. "Königslisten und Chroniken". A.K. Grayson, 'Assyrian and Babylonian King Lists,' in: Lišan mithurti. (Festschrift Von Soden) (Kevelaer : Neukirchen-Vluyn : Butzon & Bercker; 1969) Plate III.

 http://www.livius.org/source-content/uruk-king-list/

The cuneiform tablet (IM 65066) is in the Bagdad Museum.


A.K. Grayson, from the Reallexikon der Assyriologie, s.v. “Königslisten und Chroniken”.
A.K. Grayson, ‘Assyrian and Babylonian King Lists,’ in: Lišan mithurti. (Festschrift Von Soden) (Kevelaer : Neukirchen-Vluyn : Butzon & Bercker; 1969) Plate III.


http://www.livius.org/source-content/uruk-king-list/

The “Uruk List of Kings and Sages” (ULKS) was discovered in Anu’s Bīt Rēš temple by German archaeologists during the 1959/60 season and published in 1962 by van Dijk. (The tablet bears the excavation number W.20030, 7. For an edition of the text, see Jan van Dijk, “Die Inschriftenfunde,” Vorläufiger Bericht über die . . . Ausgrabungen in Uruk-Warka 18 (1962), 44-52 and plate 27).

Since then Assyriologists have cited this Seleucid-era text as the clearest cuneiform evidence that Mesopotamian scholars (ummânū) traced their professional ancestry explicitly back to the mythological sages (apkallū) of antediluvian fame and thereby implicitly to a relationship with the god Ea.

Setting this evidence alongside earlier historical data, it becomes clear that this scholarly genealogy was already functioning in the Neo-Assyrian period but probably even earlier in the late second millennium. (See, e.g., Helge S. Kvanvig, Roots of Apocalyptic: The Mesopotamian Background of the Enoch Figure and of the Son of Man, Wissenschaftliche Monographien zum Alten und Neuen Testament 61 (Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1988), 202, etc.)

An ummânu, or sage of human descent. The ummânu raises his right hand in the iconic gesture of greeting, with uncertain plants in his left hand. Note the rosette design on his wristband, and the horned tiara headdress, indicative of divinity. 

Such human apkallū are invariably portrayed with wings.

An ummânu, or sage of human descent. The ummânu raises his right hand in the iconic gesture of greeting, with uncertain plants in his left hand. Note the rosette design on his wristband, and the horned tiara headdress, indicative of divinity. 

Such human apkallū are invariably portrayed with wings.

Despite its historical importance, this genealogical aspect of our text has over-shadowed other basic questions about the Seleucid historical context in which it arose. Two such questions provide the impetus for this study:

  1. Despite the well-known importance of scholars in the earlier Neo-Assyrian period and the abundance of materials relating to their activities, why does one find the most explicit and systematic connection between the ummânū and apkallū in the Seleucid period?
  2. How does the last named and oft-overlooked individual fit into this text’s plan and into the social context of Hellenistic Uruk? (Van Dijk recognized right away that this last person is of utmost significance for the interpretation of the text and offered tentative ideas about his identity and purpose (see “Die Inschriftenfunde,” 45-46, 50, 52). I know of no other explicit treatment of this particular issue since van Dijk’s. This study attempts to build on his suggestions.)

In order to formulate a plausible answer to these questions I raise three issues very briefly that provide context. First, I review some of the earlier first millennium evidence for the genealogical connection between the ummânū and apkallū; second, I survey the Seleucid dynasty’s relationship to indigenous institutions in Mesopotamia, especially with regard to temples; and finally, I consider aspects of the archaizing theological tendencies of Urukean scribes in the late Persian and Hellenistic periods.

In light of this contextualization, I interpret the ULKS as a tendentious document written by scholars who needed to reassert their importance to the community leadership in order to advance their cultic-political agenda. Unfortunately, due to the circumstantial and at times fragmentary evidence, this interpretation can only be offered as a plausible reading and must therefore remain tentative.”

Alan Lenzi, The Uruk List of Kings and Sages and Late Mesopotamian Scholarship, JANER 8.2, Brill, Leiden, 2008. pp. 137-40.