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Tag: Asia

Eco: The Egyptian Alphabet, 2

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Stephan Michelspacher, Cabala, Spiegel der Kunst und Natur in Alchymia, (Cabala, the Mirror of Art and Nature in Alchemy), Augsburg, 1615. Also hosted courtesy of the Bayerische Staats Bibliothek. 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. 

“Now we can understand what Horapollo sought to reveal. He wished to preserve and transmit a semiotic tradition whose key was, by now, entirely lost. He still managed to grasp certain features at either the phonetic or the ideographic level, yet much of his information was confused or scrambled in the course of transmission.

Often he gives, as the canonical solution, a reading elaborated only by a certain group of scribes during a certain, limited period.

Yoyotte (1955: 87) shows that when Horapollo asserts that Egyptians depicted the father with the ideogram for the scarab beetle, he almost certainly had in mind that, in the Late Period, certain scribes had begun to substitute the scarab for the usual sign for t to represent the sound it (“father”), since, according to a private cryptography developed during the eighteenth dynasty, a scarab stood for t in the name Atum.

Horapollo opened his text by saying that the Egyptians represented eternity with the images of the sun and the moon. Contemporary Egyptologists debate whether, in this explanation, he was thinking of two ideograms used in the Late Period which could be read phonetically as, respectively, r’nb (“all the days”) and r tr.wì (“night and day” that is, “always”); or whether Horapollo was thinking instead of Alexandrine bas reliefs where the two ideograms, appearing together, already signify “eternity” (in which case they would not be an Egyptian symbol, but one derived from Asian, even Hebraic sources).

In other places, Horapollo seems to have misunderstood the voices of tradition. He says, for instance, that the sign to indicate a word is depicted by a tongue and a blood shot eye. There exists a verbal root mdw (“to speak”) in whose ideogram there appears a club, as well as the word dd (“to say”) in whose ideogram appears a snake.

It is possible that either Horapollo or his source has erroneously taken either the club or the snake or both as representing a tongue. He then says that the course of the sun during the winter solstice is represented by two feet stopped together.

In fact, Egyptologists only know a sign representing two legs in motion, which supports the sense “movement” when accompanying signs meaning “to stop,” “to cease activity” or “to interrupt a voyage.” The idea that two stopped feet stand for the course of the sun seems merely to be a whim of Horapollo.

Horapollo says that Egypt is denoted by a burning thurible with a heart over it. Egyptologists have discovered in a royal epithet two signs that indicate a burning heart, but these two signs seem never to have been used to denote Egypt.

It does emerge, however, that (for a Father of the church such as Cyril of Alexandria) a brazier surmounted by a heart expressed anger (cf. Van der Walle and Vergot 1943).

This last detail may be an important clue. The second part of Hieroglyphica is probably the work of the Greek translator, Philippos. It is in this part that a number of clear references appear to the late Hellenistic tradition of the Phisiologus and other bestiaries, herbariums and lapidaries that derive from it.

This is a tradition whose roots lie not only in ancient Egypt, but in the ancient traditions throughout Asia, as well as in the Greek and Latin world.

We can look for this in the case of the stork. When the Hieroglyphica reaches the stork, it recites:

“How [do you represent] he who loves the father.

If they wish to denote he who loves the father, they depict a stork. In fact, this beast, nourished by its parents, never separates itself from them, but remains with them until their old age, repaying them with piety and deference.”

In fact, in the Egyptian alphabet, there is an animal like a stork which, for phonetic reasons, stands for “son.” Yet in I, 85, Horapollo gives this same gloss for the hoopoe. This is, at least, an indication that the text has been assembled syncretistically from a variety of sources.

The hoopoe is also mentioned in the Phisiologus, as well as in a number of classical authors, such as Aristophanes and Aristotle, and patristic authors such as St. Basil. But let us concentrate for a moment on the stork.

The Hieroglyphica was certainly one of the sources for the Emblemata of Andrea Alciati in 1531. Thus, it is not surprising to find here a reference to the stork, who, as the text explains, nourishes its offspring by bringing them pleasing gifts, while bearing on its shoulders the worn-out bodies of its parents, offering them food from its own mouth.

The image that accompanies this description in the 1531 edition is of a bird which flies bearing another on its back. In subsequent editions, such as the one from 1621, for this is substituted the image of a bird that flies with a worm in its beak for its offspring, waiting open-mouthed in the nest.”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 149-51.

Eco: Before and After Europe, 4

1280px-Kmska_Tobias_Verhaecht_(1561–1631)_en_Jan_Brueghel_de_Oude_(1568-1625)_-_Toren_van_Babel_28-02-2010_14-02-24

Tobias Verhaecht (1561-1631) & Jan Brueghel the Elder (1568-1625), The Tower of Babel. Held in the Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp under accession number 947, photographed by Paul Hermans and published on Wikimedia. 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.  

“Why is it, however, that a document asserting the rights and qualities of one language in contrast to others appears at this particular moment? A quick look at the iconographic history increases our curiosity.

There are no known representations of the Tower of Babel before the Cotton Bible (fifth or sixth century CE). It next appears in a manuscript perhaps from the end of the tenth century, and then on a relief from the cathedral of Salerno from the eleventh century.

After this, however, there is a flood of towers (Minkowski 1983). It is a flood, moreover, that has its counterpart in a vast deluge of theoretical speculation originating in precisely this period as well.

It seems, therefore, that it was only at this point that the story of the confusion of tongues came to be perceived not merely as an example of how divine justice humbled human pride, but as an account of a historical (or metahistorical) event.

It was now the story of how a real wound had been inflicted on humanity, a wound that might, in some way, be healed once more.

This age, characterized as “dark,” seemed to witness a reoccurrence of the catastrophe of Babel: hairy barbarians, peasants, artisans, these first Europeans, unlettered and unversed in official culture, spoke a multitude of vulgar tongues of which official culture was apparently unaware.

It was the age that saw the birth of the languages which we speak today, whose documentary traces–in the Serments de Strasbourg (842) or the Carta Capuana (960)–inevitably appear only later.

Facing such texts as Sao ko kelle terre, per kelle fine ke ki contene, trenta anni le possette parte Sancti Benedicti, or Pro Deo amur et pro Christian poblo et nostro commun salvament, the European culture becomes aware of the confusio linguarum.

Yet before this confusion there was no European culture, and, hence, no Europe. What is Europe, anyway? It is a continent, barely distinguishable from Asia, existing, before people had invented a name for it, from the time that the unstoppable power of continental drift tore it off from the original Pangea.

In the sense that we normally mean it, however, Europe was an entity that had to wait for the fall of the Roman Empire and the birth of the Romano-Germanic kingdoms before it could be born. Perhaps even this was not enough, nor even the attempt at unification under the Carolingians.

How are we going to establish the date when the history of Europe begins? The dates of great political events and battles will not do; the dates of linguistic events must serve in their stead.

In front of the massive unity of the Roman Empire (which took in parts of Africa and Asia), Europe first appears as a Babel of new languages. Only afterwards was it a mosaic of nations.

Europe was thus born from its vulgar tongues. European critical culture begins with the reaction, often alarmed, to the eruption of these tongues. Europe was forced at the very moment of its birth to confront the drama of linguistic fragmentation, and European culture arose as a reflection on the destiny of a multilingual civilization.

Its prospects seemed troubled; a remedy for linguistic confusion needed to be sought. Some looked backwards, trying to rediscover the language spoken by Adam. Others looked ahead, aiming to fabricate a rational language possessing the perfections of the lost speech of Eden.”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 17-9.

The Lamentations for Tammuz

“On the one hand, we now know who was that Tammuz in whose honour Ezekiel saw the women of Jerusalem weeping at the gate of “the Lord’s house.”

On the other hand, it is clear that the Tammuz and Istar of the Babylonian legend are the Adonis and Aphrodite of Greek mythology. Like Tammuz, Adonis, the beloved one of Aphrodite, is slain by the boar’s tusk of winter, but eventually ransomed from Hades by the prayers of the goddess.

It has long been recognised that Aphrodite, the Kyprian goddess of love and war, came to Hellas from Phoenicia, whether or not we agree with Dr. Hommel in seeing in her name a mere etymological perversion of the Phoenician Ashtoreth.

Adonis is the Phoenician Adoni, “my lord,” the cry with which the worshippers of the stricken Sun-god mourned his untimely descent into the lower world.

The cry was familiar throughout the land of Palestine. In the valley of Megiddo, by the plain of Jezreel, each year witnessed “the mourning for Hadad-Rimmon” (Zechariah xii. ll),while hard by Amos heard the men of Israel mourning for “the only son” (Amos viii. lo), and the prophet of Judah gives the very words of the refrain: “Ah me, my brother, and ah me, my sister! Ah me, Adonis, and ah me, his lady!” (Jeremiah xxii. 18).

Monument funéraire, Adonis mourant: Museu Gregoriano Etrusco, Vatican. Uploaded by Jean-Pol GRANDMONT http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adonis#/media/File:0_Monument_funéraire_-_Adonis_mourant_-_Museu_Gregoriano_Etrusco.JPG

Monument funéraire, Adonis mourant: Museu Gregoriano Etrusco, Vatican.
Uploaded by Jean-Pol GRANDMONT
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adonis#/media/File:0_Monument_funéraire_-_Adonis_mourant_-_Museu_Gregoriano_Etrusco.JPG

 The words were carried across the western sea to men of an alien race and language. “Cry ailinon, ailinon! woe!” says the Greek poet of Athens, and already in Homeric days the dirge was attributed to a mythic Linos whose magic fate was commemorated in its opening words: “0 Linos, Linos!”

Linos, however, had no existence except in a popular etymology; the Greek ailinos is in reality the Phoenician ai-lénu, “alas for us!” with which the lamentations for the death of the divine Adonis were wont to begin.

Like the refrain quoted by Jeremiah, the words eventually go back to Babylonia, and find their counterpart in the closing lines of the old Babylonian poem I have translated above. When Tillili commences her wail over the dead Tammuz, she cries, like the women of Judah and Phoenicia, “0 my brother, the only one!”

It was, above all, in the Phoenician town of Gebal or Byblos that the death of Adonis was commemorated. Here, eight miles to the north of Beyrût, the ancient military road led from eastern Asia to the shores of the Mediterranean, and brought from early days the invading armies of Babylonia and Assyria to the coasts and cities of Canaan.

Hard by was the river of Adonis, the Nahr Ibrahim of to-day, which rolled through a rocky gorge into the sea. Each year, when the rains and melting snow of spring stained its waters with the red marl of the mountains, the people of Gebal beheld in it the blood of the slaughtered Sun-god.

It was then, in the month of Tammuz or June, that the funeral-festival of the god was held. For seven days it lasted. “Gardens of Adonis,” as they were called, were planted, pots filled with earth and cut herbs, which soon withered away in the fierce heat of the summer sun–fitting emblems of the lost Adonis himself.

Meanwhile, the streets and gates of the temples were filled with throngs of wailing women. They tore their hair, they disfigured the face, they cut the breast with sharp knives, in token of the agony of their grief.

Their cry of lamentation went up to Heaven mingled with that of the Galli, the emasculated priests of Ashtoreth, who shared with them their festival of woe over her murdered bridegroom.

Adonis, the young, the beautiful, the beloved of Ashtoreth, was dead; the bright sun of the springtide, like the verdure of nature which he had called into life, was slain and withered by the hot blasts of the summer.”

A.H. Sayce, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Religion of the Ancient Babylonians, 5th ed., London, 1898, pp. 227-9.

Atlantis

“Many great and wonderful deeds are recorded of your state in our histories. But one of them exceeds all the rest in greatness and valour. For these histories tell of a mighty power which unprovoked made an expedition against the whole of Europe and Asia, and to which your city put an end.

This power came forth out of the Atlantic Ocean, for in those days the Atlantic was navigable; and there was an island situated in front of the straits which are by you called the Pillars of Heracles; the island was larger than Libya and Asia put together, and was the way to other islands, and from these you might pass to the whole of the opposite continent which surrounded the true ocean; for this sea which is within the Straits of Heracles is only a harbour, having a narrow entrance, but that other is a real sea, and the surrounding land may be most truly called a boundless continent.

Now in this island of Atlantis there was a great and wonderful empire which had rule over the whole island and several others, and over parts of the continent, and, furthermore, the men of Atlantis had subjected the parts of Libya within the columns of Heracles as far as Egypt, and of Europe as far as Tyrrhenia.

This vast power, gathered into one, endeavoured to subdue at a blow our country and yours and the whole of the region within the straits; and then, Solon, your country shone forth, in the excellence of her virtue and strength, among all mankind.

She was pre-eminent in courage and military skill, and was the leader of the Hellenes. And when the rest fell off from her, being compelled to stand alone, after having undergone the very extremity of danger, she defeated and triumphed over the invaders, and preserved from slavery those who were not yet subjugated, and generously liberated all the rest of us who dwell within the pillars.

But afterwards there occurred violent earthquakes and floods; and in a single day and night of misfortune all your warlike men in a body sank into the earth, and the island of Atlantis in like manner disappeared in the depths of the sea.

For which reason the sea in those parts is impassable and impenetrable, because there is a shoal of mud in the way; and this was caused by the subsidence of the island.”

Plato, Timaeus, 360 BCE. (Translated by Benjamin Jowett).

Lady Ishtar, Goddess

Ishtar was undoubtedly a goddess of Semitic origin and symbolized the fertility of the earth. She was the great mother’ who fostered all vegetation and agriculture.

It is probable that her cult originated at Erech, and in the course of centuries and under many nominal changes dispersed itself throughout the length and breadth of western Asia and even into Greece and Egypt. It is probable that a number of lesser goddesses, such as Nana and Anunit, may have become merged in the conception of this divinity, and that lesser local deities of the same character as herself may have taken her name and assisted to swell her reputation.

She is frequently addressed as ‘mother of the gods,’ and indeed the name ‘Ishtar’ became a generic designation for ‘goddess.’ But these were later honours. When her cult centred at Erech, it appears to have speedily blossomed out in many directions, and, as has been said, lesser cults probably eagerly identified themselves with that of the great earth-mother, so that in time her worship became more than a Babylonian cult.

Indeed, wherever people of Semitic speech were to be found, there was the worship of Ishtar. As Ashteroth, or Astarte, she was known to Canaanites, Phoenicians, and Greeks, and there is some likelihood that the cult of Aphrodite had also its beginnings in that of Ishtar. We shall enquire later whether she can be the Esther of the Scriptures.

Astrologically she was identified with the planet Venus, but so numerous were the attributes surrounding her taken from other goddesses with which she had become identified that they threatened to overshadow her real character, which was that of the great and fertile mother. More especially did her identification with Nin-lil, the consort of En-lil, the storm-god, threaten to alter her real nature, as in this guise she was regarded as a goddess of war.

It is seldom that a goddess of fertility or love achieves such a distinction. Gods possessing an agricultural significance are nearly always war-gods, but that is because they bring the fertilizing thunder-clouds and therefore possess the lightning arrow or spear. But Ishtar is specifically a goddess of the class of Persephone or Isis, and her identification with battle must be regarded as purely accidental.

In later times in Assyria she was conceived as the consort of Asshur, head of the Assyrian pantheon, in days when a god or goddess who did not breathe war was of little use to a people like the Assyrians, who were constantly employed in hostilities, and this circumstance naturally heightened her reputation as a warlike divinity.

But it is at present her original character with which we are occupied, indeed in some texts we find that, so far from being able to protect herself, Ishtar and her property are made the prey of the savage En-lil, the storm-god.

“His word sent me forth,” she complains; “as often as it comes to me it casts me prostrate upon my face. The unconsecrated foe entered my courts, placed his unwashed hands upon me, and caused me to tremble. Putting forth his hand he smote me with fear. He tore away my robe and clothed his wife therein : he stripped off my jewels and placed them upon his daughter. Like a quivering dove upon a beam I sat. Like a fleeing bird from my cranny swiftly I passed. From my temple like a bird they caused me to fly.”

Such is the plaint of Ishtar, who in this case appears to be quite helpless before the enemy.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 123-5.

The Tel el Amarna Letters Between Assyrian Kings and Egyptian Pharaohs

” … What the Babylonian chronologists called ‘the First Dynasty of Babylon’ fell in its turn, and it is claimed that a Sumerian line of eleven kings took its place. Their sway lasted for 368 years—a statement which is obviously open to question.

These were themselves overthrown and a Kassite dynasty from the mountains of Elam was founded by Kandis (c . 1780 B.C.) which lasted for nearly six centuries. These alien monarchs failed to retain their hold on much of the Asiatic and Syrian territory which had paid tribute to Babylon and the suzerainty of Palestine was likewise lost to them.

It was at this epoch, too, that the high-priests of Asshur in the north took the title of king, but they appear to have been subservient to Babylon in some degree. Assyria grew gradually in power. Its people were hardier and more warlike than the art-loving and religious folk of Babylon, and little by little they encroached upon the weakness of the southern kingdom until at length an affair of tragic proportions entitled them to direct interference in Babylonian politics.

[ … ]

The circumstances which necessitated this intervention are not unlike those of the assassination of King Alexander of Serbia and Draga, his Queen, that happened 3000 years later.

The Kassite king of Babylonia had married the daughter of Assur-yuballidh of Assyria. But the match did not meet with the approval of the Kassite faction at court, which murdered the bridegroom-king.

This atrocious act met with swift vengeance at the hands of Assur-yuballidh of Assyria, the bride’s father, a monarch of active and statesmanlike qualities, the author of the celebrated series of letters to Amen-hetep IV of Egypt, unearthed at Tel-el-Amarna.

This clay tablet is part of a collection of 382 cuneiform documents discovered in 1887 in Egypt, at the site of Tell el-Amarna. ... The majority date to the reign of Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten) (1352-1336 BC), the heretic pharaoh who founded a new capital at Tell el-Amarna. This letter is written in Akkadian, the diplomatic language of Mesopotamia at the time. It is addressed to Amenhotep III from Tushratta, king of Mitanni (centred in modern Syria). Tushratta calls the pharaoh his 'brother', with the suggestion that they are of equal rank. The letter starts with greetings to various members of the royal house including Tushratta's daughter Tadu-Heba, who had become one of Amenhotep's many brides. ... Tushratta goes on to inform Amenhotep that, with the consent of the goddess Ishtar, he has sent a statue of her to Egypt. He hopes that the goddess will be held in great honour in Egypt and that the statue may be sent back safely to Mitanni. Three lines of Egyptian, written in black ink, have been added, presumably when the letter arrived in Egypt. The addition includes the date 'Year 36' of the king. W.L. Moran, The Amarna letters (John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1992) http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/me/l/clay_tablet_letter,_egypt_2.aspx

This clay tablet is part of a collection of 382 cuneiform documents discovered in 1887 in Egypt, at the site of Tell el-Amarna. …
The majority date to the reign of Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten) (1352-1336 BC), the heretic pharaoh who founded a new capital at Tell el-Amarna.
This letter is written in Akkadian, the diplomatic language of Mesopotamia at the time. It is addressed to Amenhotep III from Tushratta, king of Mitanni (centred in modern Syria). Tushratta calls the pharaoh his ‘brother’, with the suggestion that they are of equal rank. The letter starts with greetings to various members of the royal house including Tushratta’s daughter Tadu-Heba, who had become one of Amenhotep’s many brides. …
Tushratta goes on to inform Amenhotep that, with the consent of the goddess Ishtar, he has sent a statue of her to Egypt. He hopes that the goddess will be held in great honour in Egypt and that the statue may be sent back safely to Mitanni.
Three lines of Egyptian, written in black ink, have been added, presumably when the letter arrived in Egypt. The addition includes the date ‘Year 36’ of the king.
W.L. Moran, The Amarna letters (John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1992)
http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/me/l/clay_tablet_letter,_egypt_2.aspx

He led a punitive army into Babylonia, hurled from the throne the pretender placed there by the Kassite faction, and replaced him with a scion of the legitimate royal stock. This king, Burna-buryas, reigned for over twenty years, and upon his decease the Assyrians, still nominally the vassals of the Babylonian Crown, declared themselves independent of it.

Not content with such a revolutionary measure, under Shalmaneser I (1300 B.C.) they laid claim to the suzerainty of the Tigris-Euphrates region, and extended their conquests even to the boundaries of far Cappadocia, the Hittites and numerous other confederacies submitting to their yoke.

Shalmaneser’s son, Tukulti-in-Aristi, took the city of Babylon, slew its king, Bitilyasu, and thus completely shattered the claim of the older state to supremacy. He had reigned in Babylon for some seven years when he was faced by a popular revolt, which seems to have been headed by his own son, Assur-nazir-pal, who slew him and placed Hadad-nadin-akhi on the throne.

This king conquered and killed the Assyrian monarch of his time, Bel-kudur-uzur, the last of the old Assyrian royal line, whose death necessitated the institution of a new dynasty, the fifth monarch of which was the famous Tiglath-pileser I.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 21-3.

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