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Curnow: Boundaries of Legend and History

“In this chapter I shall be concerned with wise characters from myth and legend. I would not wish to pretend that the dividing line between myth, legend and history can be established with any certainty, and it may be that some of the characters who appear here have been unfairly removed from the historical record.

On the other hand, some cases do appear to be clear cut. In the end, if some characters find themselves in the wrong places, no harm is done as everyone who needs to appear somewhere will appear somewhere. Where it is appropriate and available, I have used the distinction between antediluvian and postdiluvian to mark the boundary between legend and history.

Text:<br />  "IN ERIDU: ALULIM RULED AS KING 28,800 YEARS. ELALGAR RULED 43,200 YEARS. ERIDU WAS ABANDONED. KINGSHIP WAS TAKEN TO BAD-TIBIRA. AMMILU'ANNA THE KING RULED 36,000 YEARS. ENMEGALANNA RULED 28,800 YEARS. DUMUZI RULED 28,800 YEARS. BAD-TIBIRA WAS ABANDONED. KINGSHIP WAS TAKEN TO LARAK. EN-SIPA-ZI-ANNA RULED 13,800 YEARS. LARAK WAS ABANDONED. KINGSHIP WAS TAKEN TO SIPPAR. MEDURANKI RULED 7,200 YEARS. SIPPAR WAS ABANDONED. KINGSHIP WAS TAKEN TO SHURUPPAK. UBUR-TUTU RULED 36,000 YEARS. TOTAL: 8 KINGS, THEIR YEARS: 222,600"<br />  MS in Sumerian on clay, probably Larsa Babylonia, 2000-1800 BC, 1 tablet, 8,1x6,5x2,7 cm, single column, 26 lines in cuneiform script.<br />  5 other copies of the Antediluvian king list are known only: MS 3175, 2 in Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, one is similar to this list, containing 10 kings and 6 cities, the other is a big clay cylinder of the Sumerian King List, on which the kings before the flood form the first section, and has the same 8 kings in the same 5 cities as the present.<br />  A 4th copy is in Berkeley: Museum of the University of California, and is a school tablet. A 5th tablet, a small fragment, is in Istanbul.<br />  The list provides the beginnings of Sumerian and the world’s history as the Sumerians knew it. The cities listed were all very old sites, and the names of the kings are names of old types within Sumerian name-giving. Thus it is possible that correct traditions are contained, though the sequence given need not be correct. The city dynasties may have overlapped.<br />  It is generally held that the Antediluvian king list is reflected in Genesis 5, which lists the 10 patriarchs from Adam to Noah, all living from 365 years (Enoch) to 969 years (Methuselah), altogether 8,575 years.<br />  It is possible that the 222,600 years of the king list reflects a more realistic understanding of the huge span of time from Creation to the Flood, and the lengths of the dynasties involved.<br />  The first of the 5 cities mentioned, Eridu, is Uruk, in the area where the myths place the Garden of Eden, while the last city, Shuruppak, is the city of Ziusudra, the Sumerian Noah.<br />  Jöran Friberg: A Remarkable Collection of Babylonian Mathematical Texts. Springer 2007.<br />  Sources and Studies in the History of Mathematics and Physical Sciences.<br />  Manuscripts in the Schøyen Collection, vol. 6, Cuneiform Texts I. pp. 237-241.  <br /> Andrew George, ed.: Cuneiform Royal Inscriptions and Related Texts in the Schøyen Collection, Cornell University Studies in Assyriology and Sumerology, vol. 17,<br />  Manuscripts in the Schøyen Collection, Cuneiform texts VI. CDL Press, Bethesda, MD, 2011, text 96, pp. 199-200, pls. LXXVIII-LXXIX.<br />  Andrew E. Hill &amp; John H. Walton: A Survey of the Old Testament, 3rd ed., Grand Rapids, Mi., Zondervan Publ. House, 2009, p. 206.<br />  Zondervan Illustrated Bible, Backgrounds, Commentary. John H. Walton, gen. ed. Grand Rapids, Mich., Zondervan, 2009, vol 1, p. 482, vol. 5, p. 398.

Text:
“IN ERIDU: ALULIM RULED AS KING 28,800 YEARS. ELALGAR RULED 43,200 YEARS. ERIDU WAS ABANDONED. KINGSHIP WAS TAKEN TO BAD-TIBIRA. AMMILU’ANNA THE KING RULED 36,000 YEARS. ENMEGALANNA RULED 28,800 YEARS. DUMUZI RULED 28,800 YEARS. BAD-TIBIRA WAS ABANDONED. KINGSHIP WAS TAKEN TO LARAK. EN-SIPA-ZI-ANNA RULED 13,800 YEARS. LARAK WAS ABANDONED. KINGSHIP WAS TAKEN TO SIPPAR. MEDURANKI RULED 7,200 YEARS. SIPPAR WAS ABANDONED. KINGSHIP WAS TAKEN TO SHURUPPAK. UBUR-TUTU RULED 36,000 YEARS. TOTAL: 8 KINGS, THEIR YEARS: 222,600”
MS in Sumerian on clay, probably Larsa Babylonia, 2000-1800 BC, 1 tablet, 8,1×6,5×2,7 cm, single column, 26 lines in cuneiform script.
5 other copies of the Antediluvian king list are known only: MS 3175, 2 in Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, one is similar to this list, containing 10 kings and 6 cities, the other is a big clay cylinder of the Sumerian King List, on which the kings before the flood form the first section, and has the same 8 kings in the same 5 cities as the present.
A 4th copy is in Berkeley: Museum of the University of California, and is a school tablet. A 5th tablet, a small fragment, is in Istanbul.
The list provides the beginnings of Sumerian and the world’s history as the Sumerians knew it. The cities listed were all very old sites, and the names of the kings are names of old types within Sumerian name-giving. Thus it is possible that correct traditions are contained, though the sequence given need not be correct. The city dynasties may have overlapped.
It is generally held that the Antediluvian king list is reflected in Genesis 5, which lists the 10 patriarchs from Adam to Noah, all living from 365 years (Enoch) to 969 years (Methuselah), altogether 8,575 years.
It is possible that the 222,600 years of the king list reflects a more realistic understanding of the huge span of time from Creation to the Flood, and the lengths of the dynasties involved.
The first of the 5 cities mentioned, Eridu, is Uruk, in the area where the myths place the Garden of Eden, while the last city, Shuruppak, is the city of Ziusudra, the Sumerian Noah.
Jöran Friberg: A Remarkable Collection of Babylonian Mathematical Texts. Springer 2007.
Sources and Studies in the History of Mathematics and Physical Sciences.
Manuscripts in the Schøyen Collection, vol. 6, Cuneiform Texts I. pp. 237-241.
Andrew George, ed.: Cuneiform Royal Inscriptions and Related Texts in the Schøyen Collection, Cornell University Studies in Assyriology and Sumerology, vol. 17,
Manuscripts in the Schøyen Collection, Cuneiform texts VI. CDL Press, Bethesda, MD, 2011, text 96, pp. 199-200, pls. LXXVIII-LXXIX.
Andrew E. Hill & John H. Walton: A Survey of the Old Testament, 3rd ed., Grand Rapids, Mi., Zondervan Publ. House, 2009, p. 206.
Zondervan Illustrated Bible, Backgrounds, Commentary. John H. Walton, gen. ed. Grand Rapids, Mich., Zondervan, 2009, vol 1, p. 482, vol. 5, p. 398.

Mesopotamia

I shall begin again in Mesopotamia with the enigmatic figures known as the apkallu. As has been noted [2.2], technically apkallu simply seems to mean “wisest” or “sage.”

However in Mesopotamian mythology, the term is also applied to a strange and complex group of individuals.

Unfortunately, the legends about them survive in only a fragmentary and not entirely coherent form, although the fundamental core of the stories told about them is fairly clear.

In the days between the creation of mankind and the great flood that destroyed nearly all of it, Ea sent seven sages, the apkallu, for the instruction of mankind. There was a tradition that each was a counsellor to an early king, but it is unclear whether this was an original feature of the myth or a later addition.

Central to the myth is the idea that they brought the skills and knowledge necessary for civilization.

The god Ea at far left, wearing the horned headdress indicative of divinity, with water coursing from his shoulders. 

A fish-apkallū is in the iconic posture with right hand raised in blessing or exorcism, with the banduddu bucket in his left hand. 

The next apkallū wields an indistinct and as yet undefined angular object in his right hand, with the typical banduddu bucket in his left. 

The entity at far right, which appears to be wearing a horned tiara indicative of divinty, remains unidentified and undefined.

The god Ea at far left, wearing the horned headdress indicative of divinity, with water coursing from his shoulders. 

A fish-apkallū is in the iconic posture with right hand raised in blessing or exorcism, with the banduddu bucket in his left hand. 

The next apkallū wields an indistinct and as yet undefined angular object in his right hand, with the typical banduddu bucket in his left. 

The entity at far right, which appears to be wearing a horned tiara indicative of divinty, remains unidentified and undefined.

The first of the apkallu was Adapa, a name that itself meant wise (Bottéro 1992, p. 248). He was also known as Uan, perhaps a pun on the word ummanu meaning “craftsman” (Dalley 2000, p. 328). According to the principal source for this, the ancient historian Berossus:

“… he gave them an insight into letters and sciences, and every kind of art. He taught them to construct houses, to found temples, to compile laws, and explained to them the principles of geometrical knowledge. He made them distinguish the seeds of the earth, and showed them how to collect fruits. In short he instructed them in everything which could tend to soften manners and humanise mankind. From that time, so universal were his instructions, nothing material has been added by way of improvement.” (Hodges 1876, p. 57).

These gifts to mankind are sometimes referred to by the Sumerian word “me,” and comprised all that was required for civilization. They were perceived as much as rules for correct living as knowledge, and behind these rules stood the gods as enforcing agents.

In the complex concept of me can be seen, perhaps, a fundamental principle of human social order backed up by divine sanction. Soden (1994, p. 177) suggests that the order associated with me extended far beyond the human and encompassed the entire cosmos.

In any event, the story of Adapa clearly suggests that the wise bring what is required for civilization to exist.”

Trevor Curnow, Wisdom in the Ancient World, Bloomsbury, 2010, pp. 39-40.

The Names of the Great Mother

“THE dawn of history in all parts of Western Asia discloses the established worship of a nature-goddess in whom the productive powers of the earth were personified. 1 She is our Mother Earth, known otherwise as the Mother Goddess or Great Mother. Among the Babylonians 2 and northern Semites she was called Ishtar: she is the Ashtoreth of the Bible, and the Astarte of Phœnicia. In Syria her name was ‘Athar, and in Cilicia it had the form of ‘Ate (‘Atheh). At Hierapolis, with which we are primarily concerned, it appears in later Aramaic as Atargatis, a compound of the Syrian and Cilician forms.

In Asia Minor, where the influence of the Semitic language did not prevail, her various names have not survived, though it is recorded by a later Greek writer as “Ma” at one of her mountain shrines, and as Agdistis amongst one tribe of the Phrygians and probably at Pessinus. These differences, however, are partly questions of local tongue; for in one way and another there was still a prevailing similarity between the essential attributes and worship of the nature-goddess throughout Western Asia.

The “origins” of this worship and its ultimate development are not directly relevant to our present enquiry; but we must make passing allusion to a point of special interest and wide significance. As regards Asia Minor, at least, a theory that explains certain abnormal tendencies in worship and in legend would attribute to the goddess, in the primitive conception of her, the power of self-reproduction, complete in herself, a hypothesis justified by the analogy of beliefs current among certain states of primitive society.

However that may be, a male companion is none the less generally associated with her in mythology, even from the earliest historical vision of Ishtar in Babylonia, where he was known as Tammuz. While evidence is wanting to define clearly the original position of this deity in relation to the goddess, the general tendency of myth and legend in the lands of Syria and Asia Minor, with which we are specially concerned, reveals him as her offspring, the fruits of the earth.

The basis of the myth was human experience of nature, particularly the death of plant life with the approach of winter and its revival with the spring. In one version accordingly “Adonis” descends for the six winter months to the underworld, until brought back to life through the divine influence of the goddess. The idea that the youth was the favoured lover of the goddess belongs to a different strain of thought, if indeed it was current in these lands at all in early times. In Asia Minor at any rate the sanctity of the goddess’s traditional powers was safeguarded in popular legend by the emasculation of “Attis,” and in worship by the actual emasculation of her priesthood, perhaps the most striking feature of her cult.

The abnormal and impassioned tendencies of her developed worship would be derived, according to this theory, from the efforts of her worshippers to assist her to bring forth notwithstanding her singleness. However that may be, the mourning for the death of the youthful god, and rejoicing at his return, were invariable features of this worship of nature. It is reasonable to believe that long before the curtain of history was raised over Asia Minor the worship of this goddess and her son had become deep-rooted.”

Herbert A. Strong and John Garstang, Lucian’s the Syrian Goddess, A Translation of De Dea Syria  with a Life of Lucian, 1913, pp. 1-4.

The Tarot

“I have already referred to the fact, first pointed out by the late Mr Alfred Nutt, 1 that the four treasures of the Tuatha de Danann correspond generally with the group of symbols found in the Grail romances; this correspondence becomes the more interesting in view of the fact that these mysterious Beings are now recognized as alike Demons of Fertility and Lords of Life.

As Mr Nutt subsequently pointed out, the ‘Treasures’ may well be, Sword and Cauldron certainly are, ‘Life’ symbols.

Of direct connection between these Celtic objects and the Grail story there is no trace; as remarked above, we have no Irish Folk or Hero tale at all corresponding to the Legend; the relation must, therefore, go back beyond the date of formation of these tales, i.e., it must be considered as one of origin rather than of dependence.

But we have further evidence that these four objects do, in fact, form a special group entirely independent of any appearance in Folk-lore or Romance. They exist to-day as the four suits of the Tarot.

Students of the Grail texts, whose attention is mainly occupied with Medieval Literature, may not be familiar with the word Tarot, or aware of its meaning. It is the name given to a pack of cards, seventy-eight in number, of which twenty-two are designated as the ‘Keys.’

These cards are divided into four suits, which correspond with those of the ordinary cards; they are:

Cup (Chalice, or Goblet)–Hearts.

Lance (Wand, or Sceptre)–Diamonds.

Sword–Spades.

Dish (Circles, or Pentangles, the form varies)–Clubs.

To-day the Tarot has fallen somewhat into disrepute, being principally used for purposes of divination, but its origin, and precise relation to our present playing-cards, are questions of considerable antiquarian interest.

Were these cards the direct parents of our modern pack, or are they entirely distinct therefrom? 1

Some writers are disposed to assign a very high antiquity to the Tarot. Traditionally, it is said to have been brought from Egypt; there is no doubt that parallel designs and combinations are to be found in the surviving decorations of Egyptian temples, notably in the astronomic designs on the ceiling of one of the halls of the palace of Medinet Abou, which is supported on twenty-two columns (a number corresponding to the ‘keys’ of the Tarot), and also repeated in a calendar sculptured on the southern façade of the same building, under a sovereign of the XXIII dynasty.

This calendar is supposed to have been connected with the periodic rise and fall of the waters of the Nile.” 2

Jessie L. Weston, From Ritual to Romance, 1920. Pp. 73-4.

The Lance of Longinus and the Chalice of Christian Liturgy Represent Pagan Antecedents

“Reference to some recent studies in the Legend will make my meaning clear. A reviewer of my small Quest of the Holy Grail volume remarked that I appeared to be ignorant of Miss Peebles’s study The Legend of Longinus “which materially strengthens the evidence for the Christian origin.” 1

Now this is precisely what, in my view, the study in question, which I knew and possessed, does not do. As evidence for the fact that the Grail legend has taken over certain features derived from the popular ‘Longinus’ story (which, incidentally, no one disputed), the essay is, I hold, sound, and valuable; as affording material for determining the source of the Grail story, it is, on the other hand, entirely without value.

On the principle laid down above no theory which purports to be explanatory of the source of one symbol can be held satisfactory in a case where that symbol does not stand alone. We cannot accept for the Grail story a theory of origin which concerns itself with the Lance, as independent of the Grail. In the study referred to the author has been at immense pains to examine the different versions of the ‘Longinus’ legend, and to trace its development in literature; in no single instance do we find Longinus and his Lance associated with a Cup or Vase, receptacle of the Sacred Blood.

The plain fact is that in Christian art and tradition Lance and Cup are not associated symbols. The Lance or Spear, as an instrument of the Passion, is found in conjunction with the Cross, Nails, Sponge, and Crown of Thorns, (anyone familiar with the wayside Crosses of Catholic Europe will recognize this), not with the Chalice of the Mass 1.

This latter is associated with the Host, or Agnus Dei. Still less is the Spear to be found in connection with the Grail in its Food-providing form of a Dish.

No doubt to this, critics who share the views of Golther and Burdach will object, “but what of the Byzantine Mass? Do we not there find a Spear connected with the Chalice 2?”

I very much doubt whether we do–the so-called ‘Holy Spear’ of the Byzantine, and present Greek, liturgy is simply a small silver spear-shaped knife, nor can I discover that it was ever anything else. I have made careful enquiries of liturgical scholars, and consulted editions of Oriental liturgies, but I can find no evidence that the knife (the use of which is to divide the Loaf which, in the Oriental rite, corresponds to the Wafer of the Occidental, in a manner symbolically corresponding to the Wounds actually inflicted on the Divine Victim) was ever other than what it is to-day.”

Jessie L. Weston, From Ritual to Romance, 1920. Pp. 66-7.

Submarine of Alexander the Great

“The Arab historian Mas’ûdî has preserved (see Les Prairies d’Or, ed. B. de Meynard and Pavet de Courteille, Paris, 1861, tom. ii. p. 425 ff) a curious legend of the talismans which were employed by Alexander the Great to protect the city of Alexandria whilst it was being built, and as the legend is of Egyptian origin, and dates from a period not greatly removed from that in which the Metternich stele was made, it is worthy of mention.

When the foundations of the city had been laid, and the walls had begun to rise up, certain savage animals came up each night from the sea, and threw down everything which had been built during the day; watchmen were appointed to drive them away, but in spite of this each morning saw the work done during the previous day destroyed.

After much thought Alexander devised a plan whereby he might thwart the sea monsters, and he proceeded to carry it into effect.

He made a box ten cubits long and five cubits wide with sides made of sheets of glass fastened into frames by means of pitch, resin, etc.

Metternich Stele.

Metternich Stele.

In this box Alexander placed himself, together with two skilful draughtsmen, and having been closed it was towed out to sea by two vessels; and when weights of iron, lead, and stone had been attached to the under part of it, it began to sink, being guided to the place which Alexander wished it to reach by means of cords which were worked from the ships.

When the box touched the bottom of the sea, thanks to the clearness of the glass sides and the water of the sea, Alexander and his two companions were able to watch the various marine monsters which passed by, and he saw that although they had human bodies they had the heads of beasts; some had axes, some had saws, and some had hammers, and they all closely resembled workmen.

As they passed in front of the box Alexander and his two draughtsmen copied their forms upon paper with great exactness, and depicted their hideous countenances, and stature, and shape; this done, a signal was made, and the box was drawn up to the surface.

As soon as Alexander reached the land he ordered his stone and metal workers to make reproductions of the sea monsters according to the drawings which he and his friends had made, and when they were finished he caused them to be set up on pedestals along the sea-shore, and continued his work of building the city.

When the night came, the sea monsters appeared as usual, but as soon as they saw that figures of themselves had been put up on the shore they returned at once to the water and did not shew themselves again.

When, however, the city had been built and was inhabited, the sea monsters made their appearance again, and each morning a considerable number of people were found to be missing; to prevent this Alexander placed talismans upon the pillars which, according to Mas’ûdî, were there in his day.

Each pillar was in the shape of an arrow and was eighty cubits in height, and rested upon a plinth of brass; the talismans were placed at their bases, and were in the form of figures or statues of certain beings with suitable inscriptions, and as they were put in position after careful astronomical calculations had been made for the purpose we may assume that they produced the effect desired by the king.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. Pp. 147-56

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