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Tag: Composite Beings

Gane: Neo-Babylonian Monsters, Demons & Dragons From a Narrow Slice of Time & Space

A number of scholars have already correlated Mesopotamian iconography with cuneiform texts to identify and illuminate composite beings over a wide range of periods in terms of their historical development, association with deities, and impact on humans within ancient systems of religion and mythology.

The present research draws heavily on their work, but uniquely focuses on basically synchronic, tightly controlled, comprehensive analysis of the iconographic repertoire of hybrid beings in a narrow slice of time and space.

Mesopotamian composite beings have been the focus of several formative works. One of the most influential scholars in the field has been Frans A. M. Wiggermann.

This is Figure 2, K2987B+ and K9968+, from Professor F.A.M. Wiggermann, Mesopotamian Protective Spirits: The Ritual Texts, 1992, pp. 195-7.

This is Figure 2, K2987B+ and K9968+, from Professor F.A.M. Wiggermann, Mesopotamian Protective Spirits: The Ritual Texts, 1992, pp. 195-7.

In his Mesopotamian Protective Spirits: The Ritual Texts (1992), he examines the identities and histories of those Mesopotamian supernatural creatures mentioned in the Neo-Assyrian texts K 2987B+ and KAR 298.

Regarding this partial representation of all Mesopotamian hybrids, Wiggermann summarizes:

“The texts treated are rituals for the defence of the house against epidemic diseases, represented as an army of demonic intruders. The gates, rooms, and corners of the house are occupied by prophylactic figures of clay or wood, that the texts describe in detail.”

(Frans A. M. Wiggermann, Mesopotamian Protective Spirits: The Ritual Texts (CM 1; Groningen: Styx & PP, 1992), p. xii. (This is a second edition of Wiggermann’s dissertation, originally published as Babylonian Prophylactic Figures: The Ritual Texts [Amsterdam: Free University Press, 1986].)

As he points out, these figures described in the texts have been discovered in archaeological excavations, providing a significant link between text and material remains.

Although Wiggermann’s monograph is difficult to navigate (due to the nature of its organization), it has been the backbone of much of my research.

An excerpt from the introduction to F.A.M. Wiggermann's Mesopotamian Protective Spirits: The Ritual Texts, 1992, p. xi.

An excerpt from the introduction to F.A.M. Wiggermann’s Mesopotamian Protective Spirits: The Ritual Texts, 1992, p. xi.

An important systematic treatment of composite creatures by Wiggermann is his 1997 Reallexikon der Assyriologie (RlA) article titled “Mischwesen. A. Philologisch. Mesopotamien.”

(Frans A. M. Wiggermann, “Mischwesen. A. Philologisch. Mesopotamien,” Reallexikon der Assyriologie (RlA) 8:222-246.)

Here he provides numerous textual, philological, and archaeological examples of most of the known Mesopotamian creatures, and clarifies terms for categories.

Modern scholarship identifies distinct categories of subdivine (but superhuman) creatures. Those that walk on all fours, like quadruped natural animals, are identified as monsters while those that walk on two legs, like humans, are designated as demons.

Dragons, which belong to a separate class, are hybrid creatures that are essentially snakes.

(Cf. Joan G. Westenholz, ed., Dragons, Monsters, and Fabulous Beasts (Jerusalem: Bible Lands Museum, 2004), p. 11.)

According to Wiggermann, monsters are neither gods nor demons.

(Wiggermann, “Mischwesen. A,” RlA 8:231.)

Although their names are occasionally written with the divine determinative, they usually do not wear the horned crown of divinity.

They are not included in god-lists, not found in the list of “evil spirits” (utukkū lemnūti), and not mentioned in medical texts as demons of diseases.”

(Cf. Chikako E. Watanabe, Animal Symbolism in Mesopotamia: A Contextual Approach (WOO 1; Vienna: Institut für Orientalistik der Universität Wien, 2002), p. 39.)

Constance Ellen Gane, Composite Beings in Neo-Babylonian Art, Doctoral Dissertation, University of California at Berkeley, 2012, pp. 2-3.

Gane: Composite Beings in Neo-Babylonian Art

“An examination of all the extant, provenanced depictions of composite beings, Mischwesen, in Neo-Babylonian (NB) iconography sheds important new light on the worldview of the last great Mesopotamian civilization.

Wall relief depicting a winged and eagle-headed Apkallu (Sage). This protective spirit holds a cone and a bucket for religious ceremonial purposes. From the North-West Palace of Ashurnasirpal II at Nimrud (Biblical Calah; ancient Kalhu), modern day Ninawa Governorate, Iraq (Mesopotamia). Neo-Assyrian period, 865-850 BCE. The British Museum, London. Photo by Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Wall_relief_depicting_an_eagle-headed_and_winged_man,_Apkallu,_from_Nimrud..JPG

Wall relief depicting a winged and eagle-headed Apkallu (Sage). This protective spirit holds a cone and a bucket for religious ceremonial purposes.
From the North-West Palace of Ashurnasirpal II at Nimrud (Biblical Calah; ancient Kalhu), modern day Ninawa Governorate, Iraq (Mesopotamia). Neo-Assyrian period, 865-850 BCE.
The British Museum, London.
Photo by Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin.
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Wall_relief_depicting_an_eagle-headed_and_winged_man,_Apkallu,_from_Nimrud..JPG

The types of hybrids that are portrayed include such disparate forms as the apkallu and the genius in human form, as well as creatures based on bulls, lions, canines, winged quadrupeds, fish, birds, scorpions, and snakes.

Demons, monsters, and minor apotropaic deities, from Jeremy Black and Anthony Green, Demons & Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia, 1992, p. 64. https://books.google.co.th/books?id=pr8-i1iFnIQC&redir_esc=y

Demons, monsters, and minor apotropaic deities, from Jeremy Black and Anthony Green, Demons & Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia, 1992, p. 64.
https://books.google.co.th/books?id=pr8-i1iFnIQC&redir_esc=y

Each composite being is analyzed in terms of its physical components, its context within scenes, its historical development, and its interpretation in NB texts.

Within the hierarchical cosmic community, some lower deities and sub-divine beings appear in composite form. These play a key role in the cosmos by interacting with gods, with each other, with humans, and with natural animals.

Their behavior parallels dynamics found in natural life, such as in competition, conflict, predation, protection, and in the service of others who are more powerful.

In hybrids the capabilities of natural animals and humans are heightened by the selective addition of features derived from other species. There is no consistent correlation, however, between the strength of a natural creature and the relative power of the superhuman being that it symbolizes, or between its physical complexity and its placement in the cosmic hierarchy.

Pazuzu: a demon-god of the underworld, sometimes invoked for beneficial ends. The inscription covering the back of his wings states: "I am Pazuzu, son of Hanpa, king of the evil spirits of the air which issue violently from mountains, causing much havoc.” <br />  Pazuzu was particularly associated with the west wind which brought the plague. Under certain circumstances Pazuzu was a protective spirit, particularly to drive his wife Lamashtu back to the underworld. Lamashtu was a demoness who infected men with various diseases.<br />  Pazuzu first appeared in the 1st millennium BC with the body of a man and the head of a scowling dragon-snake, with two pairs of wings and talons of a bird of prey. He has a scorpion's tail and his body is covered in scales.<br />  http://wayback.archive.org/web/20090628125910/<br />  http://www.louvre.fr/llv/oeuvres/detail_notice.jsp?CONTENT%3C%3Ecnt_id=10134198673225951&amp;CURRENT_LLV_NOTICE%3C%3Ecnt_id=10134198673225951&amp;FOLDER%3C%3Efolder_id=9852723696500800&amp;baseIndex=56&amp;bmLocale=en<br />  Bronze statuette of Pazuzu, circa 800 BC –- circa 700 BC, Louvre Museum.

Pazuzu: a demon-god of the underworld, sometimes invoked for beneficial ends. The inscription covering the back of his wings states: “I am Pazuzu, son of Hanpa, king of the evil spirits of the air which issue violently from mountains, causing much havoc.”
Pazuzu was particularly associated with the west wind which brought the plague. Under certain circumstances Pazuzu was a protective spirit, particularly to drive his wife Lamashtu back to the underworld. Lamashtu was a demoness who infected men with various diseases.
Pazuzu first appeared in the 1st millennium BC with the body of a man and the head of a scowling dragon-snake, with two pairs of wings and talons of a bird of prey. He has a scorpion’s tail and his body is covered in scales.
http://wayback.archive.org/web/20090628125910/
http://www.louvre.fr/llv/oeuvres/detail_notice.jsp?CONTENT%3C%3Ecnt_id=10134198673225951&CURRENT_LLV_NOTICE%3C%3Ecnt_id=10134198673225951&FOLDER%3C%3Efolder_id=9852723696500800&baseIndex=56&bmLocale=en
Bronze statuette of Pazuzu, circa 800 BC –- circa 700 BC, Louvre Museum.

In fact, the transcendence of high gods is often emphasized by their simple representation through attribute animals in natural form.

Ishtar receives the worship of an Amazon. Ishtar stands on a lion, holding a bow with arrows at her back. Her eight-pointed star is atop her head. Lusty antelopes rear on the right side, perhaps signifying the god Ea. The portrayal of the tree is somewhat problematic, as it differs from the iconic depictions of the sacred tree common in Neo-Assyrian art.

Ishtar receives the worship of an Amazon. Ishtar stands on a lion, holding a bow with arrows at her back. Her eight-pointed star is atop her head.
Lusty antelopes rear on the right side, perhaps signifying the god Ea.
The portrayal of the tree is somewhat problematic, as it differs from the iconic depictions of the sacred tree common in Neo-Assyrian art. Drawing © 2008 S. Beaulieu, after Leick, 1998: Plate 38. Used by kind permission.

 

Portrayals of composite beings often express the need for protection from malevolent powers by beneficent beings, some of whom can be accessed only through human mediators, such as ritual functionaries.

BM 118918, courtesy of the British Museum, plate XId. Green identifies the ugallu at the center, the

BM 118918, courtesy of the British Museum, plate XId.
Green identifies the ugallu at the center, the “lion-man,” and lahmu at left. He speculates that the “House god” appears at far right.
Limestone relief, one of a pair flanking a doorway in the N. Palace at Nineveh.
Previously published: H.R. Hall, Babylonian and Assyrian Sculptures in the British Museum, Pls. VI-IX; Cf. also Gadd, The Stones of Assyria, 191.

Special relationships between supernatural beings and elite humans, especially the king, make such humans indispensable and therefore support their roles in the existing social order.

It appears that the choice of a particular being portrayed on a given object could be influenced by factors such as its owner’s profession, religious and/or political affiliations, and especially by the apotropaic function(s) of specific composite beings.”

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

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