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Tag: Constellations

Gane: Applying Black’s Theory of Metaphor

“Composite creatures are found on various cosmic levels. For that reason, Mesopotamian Cosmic Geography, by Wayne Horowitz (1998; rev. 2011), has informed the present study, especially with regard to the “Babylonian Map of the World” and Enuma Elish texts, which mention a significant number of mixed beings found in the Neo-Babylonian iconographic repertoire.

This cuneiform inscription and map of the Mesopotamian world depicts Babylon in the center, ringed by a global ocean termed the “salt sea.” The map portrays eight regions, though portions are missing, while the text describes the regions, and the mythological creatures and legendary heroes that live in them. Sippar, Babylonia, 700 - 500 BCE. Photo by Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin. Licensed under the Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareaAlike license.  http://www.ancient.eu/image/2287/

This cuneiform inscription and map of the Mesopotamian world depicts Babylon in the center, ringed by a global ocean termed the “salt sea.” The map portrays eight regions, though portions are missing, while the text describes the regions, and the mythological creatures and legendary heroes that live in them. Sippar, Babylonia, 700 – 500 BCE.
Photo by Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin. Licensed under the Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareaAlike license.
http://www.ancient.eu/image/2287/

(Wayne Horowitz, Mesopotamian Cosmic Geography (Mesopotamian Civilizations 8; Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1998).

Regarding Sumero-Babylonian religion in ancient Mesopotamia, two foundational studies are Wilfred Lambert’s essay on “The Historical Development of the Mesopotamian Pantheon: A Study in Sophisticated Polytheism” (1975) and Thorkild Jacobsen’s trail-blazing book titled The Treasures of Darkness (1976).

Enuma Elish means “when above”, the two first words of the epic.  This Babylonian creation story was discovered among the 26,000 clay tablets found by Austen Henry Layard in the 1840's at the ruins of Nineveh.  Enuma Elish was made known to the public in 1875 by the Assyriologist George Adam Smith (1840-76) of the British Museum, who was also the discoverer of the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh. He made several of his findings on excavations in Nineveh. http://www.creationmyths.org/enumaelish-babylonian-creation/enumaelish-babylonian-creation-3.htm

Enuma Elish means “when above”, the two first words of the epic.
This Babylonian creation story was discovered among the 26,000 clay tablets found by Austen Henry Layard in the 1840’s at the ruins of Nineveh.
Enuma Elish was made known to the public in 1875 by the Assyriologist George Adam Smith (1840-76) of the British Museum, who was also the discoverer of the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh. He made several of his findings from excavations in Nineveh.
http://www.creationmyths.org/enumaelish-babylonian-creation/enumaelish-babylonian-creation-3.htm

(Wilfred G. Lambert, “The Historical Development of the Mesopotamian Pantheon: A Study in Sophisticated Polytheism,” in Unity in Diversity: Essays in the History, Literature, and Religion of the Ancient Near East (ed. Hans Goedicke and J. J. M. Roberts; Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1975), pp. 191-200.)

(Thorkild Jacobsen, The Treasures of Darkness (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1976).

Since these publications appeared, still others have contributed to a greater understanding of the complexities of Mesopotamian religion, with its thousands of named gods and demons, but a comprehensive, systematic understanding still eludes modern scholarship.

Of particular importance to the methodological framework of the present research are the works of two scholars, Chikako E. Watanabe and Mehmet-Ali Ataç.

Watanabe’s Animal Symbolism in Mesopotamia: A Contextual Approach (2002), drawing upon her doctoral dissertation (University of Cambridge, 1998), aims “to examine how animals are used as ‘symbols’ in Mesopotamian culture and to focus on what is intended by referring to animals in context.”

(Watanabe, Animal Symbolism in Mesopotamia, Institut für Orientalistik d. Univ., 2002, p. 1.

Zu or Anzu (from An 'heaven' and Zu 'to know' in Sumerian language), as a lion-headed eagle, ca. 2550–2500 BCE, Louvre.  Votive relief of Ur-Nanshe, king of Lagash, representing the bird-god Anzu (or Im-dugud) as a lion-headed eagle.  Alabaster, Early Dynastic III (2550–2500 BCE). Found in Telloh, ancient city of Girsu.  H. 21.6 cm (8 ½ in.), W. 15.1 cm (5 ¾ in.), D. 3.5 cm (1 ¼ in.)  http://bharatkalyan97.blogspot.com/2013/07/legend-of-anzu-which-stole-tablets-of.html

Zu or Anzu (from An ‘heaven’ and Zu ‘to know’ in Sumerian language), as a lion-headed eagle, ca. 2550–2500 BCE, Louvre.
Votive relief of Ur-Nanshe, king of Lagash, representing the bird-god Anzu (or Im-dugud) as a lion-headed eagle.
Alabaster, Early Dynastic III (2550–2500 BCE). Found in Telloh, ancient city of Girsu.
H. 21.6 cm (8 ½ in.), W. 15.1 cm (5 ¾ in.), D. 3.5 cm (1 ¼ in.)
http://bharatkalyan97.blogspot.com/2013/07/legend-of-anzu-which-stole-tablets-of.html

The scope of her investigation is limited to the symbolic aspects of two natural animals, the lion and bull, and two composite creatures, the Anzu bird and the horned lion-griffin. Watanabe’s narrow but deep analysis provides an excellent paradigm for study of Mesopotamian iconographic creatures in general.

Watanabe maintains that “the best way to interpret meanings belonging to the past is to pay close attention to the particular contexts in which symbolic agents occur.”

She does this through application of an approach known as the interaction view of metaphor, also called the theory of metaphor, developed by Max Black.

According to Watanabe, this approach aims to interpret the meanings of objects, whether occurring in figurative statements or iconographic representations, from within the contexts of their original functions, “by examining their internal relationships with other ideas or concepts expressed within the same contextual framework.”

As she points out, “the treatment of symbolic phenomena on a superficial level” does “not explain the function of symbolism.”

Watanabe observes that the names of animals mentioned in ancient texts generally carry meaning beyond references to the natural creatures themselves.

When a creature is repeatedly found in a specific context, this context provides a link or clue to the meaning attached to it.

Watanabe’s treatment of composite creatures, the Imdugud/Anzu and the horned lion-griffin, in Chapter 5 of her work provides a case study for analysis of similar mixed beings.

Each composite creature is derived from two or more species, with each animal part embodying a concept associated with the given animal’s natural behavior.

This illustration of a god walking his human-headed lion lacks the wings on the lion mentioned in Watanabe's example. A detail from a cylinder seal of the Akkadian period, this exemplar is from Jeremy Black and Anthony Green, Gods, Demons & Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia, 1992, p. 39.

This illustration of a god walking his human-headed lion lacks the wings on the lion mentioned in Watanabe’s example. A detail from a cylinder seal of the Akkadian period, this exemplar is from Jeremy Black and Anthony Green, Gods, Demons & Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia, 1992, p. 39.

Thus, for instance, a winged, human-headed lion possesses attributes that include human intelligence, leonine power and ferocity, and eagle wings to provide swiftness and access to the realm of the sky.

Watanabe finds that “the study of these animals provides a model for the way in which the characteristics of two or more animals are integrated into one animal body, as a result of which multiple divine aspects, perceived in one deity, are effectively conveyed by a single symbolic animal.”

Wings are a frequent physical component of Mesopotamian composite creatures. Watanabe maintains that when animals that are ordinarily wingless are portrayed with wings, the intent in some cases may be to represent the constellation that is symbolized by that creature.

Constellations of stars were understood by the Babylonians as images of “earthly objects projected onto the evening sky.”

(Cf. Hope B. Werness, The Continuum Encyclopedia of Animal Symbolism in Art (New York: Continuum, 2006), p. 433.)

Additionally, wings could personify the abstract concepts of wind or the flying of time. While wings often belong to the realm of the gods, they can also be associated with night, death, and evil.”

Constance Ellen Gane, Composite Beings in Neo-Babylonian Art, Doctoral Dissertation, University of California at Berkeley, 2012, pp. 5-6.

Hesiod, the Great Year, and the Phoenix

“In the discussion of the Classical conception of the Great Year it was mentioned that Plato was the first author to make a clear statement about this cosmic period. He referred to an almost inconceivably long time, which he could characterize only by saying that at the completion of such a cosmic revolution the perfect number of time comprises the perfect year. It remains possible, however, that in another connection he assigned a specific duration to the Great Year.

In the eighth book of Politeia, Plato discusses the question of how an aristocracy can become degraded into a timocracy, i.e. a form of government in which ambition is the dominant principle of the rulers. (Plato, Politeia, VIII, 3, 544d-547c).

This occurs, he says, because the Guardians will not be able, by calculation and observation, to determine the appropriate times for birth. In an extremely difficult passage which has given rise to many commentaries he then gives the computation of what is incorrectly called the “nuptial number.” (A. Diès, Le nombre de Platon, essai d’exégèse et d’histoire, Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, XIV, Paris, 1936, and others).

Plato begins by remarking that for the divine creature there is a period embraced by a perfect number. (Plato, Politeia, VIII, 3, 546b). This is reminiscent of his statement that the duration of the Great Year can be expressed in a perfect number.

The zodiac is a planisphere or map of the stars on a plane projection, showing the 12 constellations of the zodiacal band forming 36 decans of ten days each, and the planets. These decans are groups of first-magnitude stars. These were used in the ancient Egyptian calendar, which was based on lunar cycles of around 30 days and on the heliacal rising of the star Sothis (Sirius). The celestial arch is represented by a disc held up by four pillars of the sky in the form of women, between which are inserted falcon-headed spirits. On the first ring 36 spirits symbolize the 360 days of the Egyptian year. On an inner circle, one finds constellations, showing the signs of the zodiac. Some of these are represented in the same Greco-Roman iconographic forms as their familiar counterparts (e.g. the Ram, Taurus, Scorpio, and Capricorn, albeit most in odd orientations in comparison to the conventions of ancient Greece and later Arabic-Western developments), whilst others are shown in a more Egyptian form: Aquarius is represented as the flood god Hapy, holding two vases which gush water. Rogers noted the similarities of unfamiliar iconology with the three surviving tablets of a "Seleucid zodiac" and both relating to kudurru, "boundary-stone" representations: in short, Rogers sees the Dendera zodiac as "a complete copy of the Mesopotamian zodiac". http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dendera_zodiac

The zodiac is a planisphere or map of the stars on a plane projection, showing the 12 constellations of the zodiacal band forming 36 decans of ten days each, and the planets. These decans are groups of first-magnitude stars. These were used in the ancient Egyptian calendar, which was based on lunar cycles of around 30 days and on the heliacal rising of the star Sothis (Sirius).
The celestial arch is represented by a disc held up by four pillars of the sky in the form of women, between which are inserted falcon-headed spirits. On the first ring 36 spirits symbolize the 360 days of the Egyptian year.
On an inner circle, one finds constellations, showing the signs of the zodiac. Some of these are represented in the same Greco-Roman iconographic forms as their familiar counterparts (e.g. the Ram, Taurus, Scorpio, and Capricorn, albeit most in odd orientations in comparison to the conventions of ancient Greece and later Arabic-Western developments), whilst others are shown in a more Egyptian form: Aquarius is represented as the flood god Hapy, holding two vases which gush water. Rogers noted the similarities of unfamiliar iconology with the three surviving tablets of a “Seleucid zodiac” and both relating to kudurru, “boundary-stone” representations: in short, Rogers sees the Dendera zodiac as “a complete copy of the Mesopotamian zodiac”.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dendera_zodiac

For the elucidation of “the divine creature,” reference can be made to the statement in the Timaeus that the Demiurge himself was only the creator of the fixed stars, the planets, and the earth. (Plato, Timaeus, 39e-40b.)

It is therefore probable that the reference in the Politeia to a period comprising a perfect number as belonging to that which the deity generates, should be seen as the duration of the complete cosmic revolution of the Great Year.

But for human creatures, says Plato, there is a geometric number, and this is the one for which he supplies the complex computation already mentioned. Especially since the research done by Diès there has been general agreement that this geometric number, which can be computed in several different ways, is 12,960,000.

To provide the long-sought harmony between the various components of this passage, it has been assumed that the perfect number of the divine creature is the same as the whole geometric number holding for human procreation, the component factors of the geometrical number having special relevance for the latter. (Ahlvers, 19-20, basing himself on 12,960,000 days = 36,000 years).

If this is valid, it may be concluded that in the Politeia Plato assumed a duration of 12,960,000 years for the Great Year.

Even if Plato did not mean that the perfect number of the rotation of that which the deity generates is equal to the geometric number, it would nevertheless have to be taken as probable that the number 12,960,000 originally pertained to the duration of the Great Year and that there is a relationship to the concept underlying Hesiod, frg. 304, since this fragment assumes a cycle of four successive world eras forming together a Great Year of 1,296,000 years. The Platonic number—which, incidentally, is a Babylonian sar squared—is thus ten times Hesiod’s value.”

R. van den Broek, The Myth of the Phoenix: According to Classical and Early Christian Traditions, Brill Archive, 1972, pp. 98-9.)

The Zodiac is Babylonian

” … Each month was also controlled by a zodiacal constellation.

In the Creation myth of Babylon it is stated that when Merodach engaged in the work of setting the Universe in order he “set all the great gods in their several stations,” and “also created their images, the stars of the Zodiac, and fixed them all.”

Our signs of the Zodiac are of Babylonian origin. They were passed on to the Greeks by the Phoenicians and Hittites. “There was a time,” says Professor Sayce, “when the Hittites were profoundly affected by Babylonian civilization, religion, and art….”

They “carried the time-worn civilizations of Babylonia and Egypt to the furthest boundary of Egypt, and there handed them over to the West in the grey dawn of European history…. Greek traditions affirmed that the rulers of Mykenae had come from Lydia, bringing with them the civilization and treasures of Asia Minor.

The tradition has been confirmed by modern research. While certain elements belonging to the prehistoric culture of Greece, as revealed at Mykenae and elsewhere, were derived from Egypt and Phoenicia, there are others which point to Asia Minor as their source. And the culture of Asia Minor was Hittite.”

The early Babylonian astronomers did not know, of course, that the earth revolved round the sun. They believed that the sun travelled across the heavens flying like a bird or sailing like a boat. In studying its movements they observed that it always travelled from west to east along a broad path, swinging from side to side of it in the course of the year.

This path is the Zodiac–the celestial “circle of necessity.” The middle line of the sun’s path is the Ecliptic. The Babylonian scientists divided the Ecliptic into twelve equal parts, and grouped in each part the stars which formed their constellations; these are also called “Signs of the Zodiac.” Each month had thus its sign or constellation.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915, pp. 305-7.

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