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Tag: Menant

Syncretic Istar

“But who, all this while, was the goddess, whom one legend made the faithful wife enduring even death for her husband’s sake, while another regarded her as the most faithless and cruel of coquettes?

I have already spoken of her as the goddess of love, and such, indeed, she was to the Babylonian or Assyrian of later days. In the story of her descent into Hades, her residence in the lower world is marked by all cessation of intercourse between male and female in the animal creation, as well as among the gods of heaven.

It was this feature of the story which caused it to find its way into the literature of another people, and to survive the days when the clay tablets of Assyria and Babylon could still be read. We find it serving to point a moral in the pages of the Talmud.

We are there told how a pious rabbi once prayed that the demon of lust should be bound, and how his petition was granted. But society quickly fell into a state of anarchy. No children were born; no eggs even could be procured for food; and the rabbi was at length fain to confess that his prayer had been a mistaken one, and to ask that the demon should again be free.

But though a moral signification thus came to be read into the old Babylonian myth, it was a signification that was originally entirely foreign to it. Prof. Tiele has clearly shown that the legend of Istar’s descent into Hades is but a thinly-veiled description of the earth-goddess seeking below for the hidden waters of life, which shall cause the Sun-god and all nature with him to rise again from their sleep of death.

Drawn by Faucher-Gudin, from an intaglio at Rome. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17323/17323-h/17323-h.htm#linkBimage-0018

Drawn by Faucher-Gudin, from an intaglio at Rome.
http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17323/17323-h/17323-h.htm#linkBimage-0018

The spirits of earth, the gnomes that guard its treasures below, watch over the waters, and not until they are led forth and placed on their golden throne can their precious treasure be secured. It is the earth who loses her adornments, one by one, as she passes slowly downward into the palace-prison of the infernal goddess, and it is the earth who is once more gladdened at spring-time with the returning love of the youthful Sun-god.

Istar, then, must primitively have been the goddess of the earth, and the bride of Tammuz at Eridu must accordingly have been his mother Dav-kina. This alone will explain the persistent element in the myth as it made its way to the Greeks, according to which the mother of Tammuz was also his sister.

Istar, Tillili, Dav-kina, were all but different names and forms of the same divinity. We have just seen that Tillili, at all events, was the primordial earth.

Drawn by Faucher-Gudin, from a heliogravure in Ménant's Recherches sur la Glyptique orientale. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17323/17323-h/17323-h.htm#linkBimage-0018

Drawn by Faucher-Gudin, from a heliogravure in Ménant’s Recherches sur la Glyptique orientale.
http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17323/17323-h/17323-h.htm#linkBimage-0018

What Istar was primitively, however, will not explain what she became in those later ages of Babylonian history to which our monuments belong. Her origin faded more and more into the background; new elements entered into her character; and she absorbed the attributes and functions of numberless local divinities. The Istar of Assur-bani-pal or Nabonidos was the inheritress of cults and beliefs which had grown up in different localities and had gathered round the persons of other deities.”

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. 250-2.

On the Neo-Platonic Forgeries

IN giving to the public a new edition of Cory’s Ancient Fragments I have endeavoured to respond to the wishes of numerous literary friends by furnishing a brief account of the several authors to whom we are indebted for these extracts, and, at the same time, some information respecting the decipherment of the hieroglyphic texts of Egypt, and the cuneiform records of Nineveh and Babylon.

The first edition of this work appeared in 1828, the second in 1832; therefore, at a time when Egyptian scholarship was still in its infancy, while cuneiform research had not yet seen the light. The discoveries of Champollion, Young, Birch, Bunsen, Brugsch, Chabas, Le Page Renouf, Godwin, and a host of other scholars in the former field of research, and of Layard, Botta, Rawlinson, Norris, Oppert, Menant, George Smith, Sayce, Fox Talbot, and Schrader in the latter, have furnished so much valuable information respecting the ancient empires of Egypt and Assyria, that we can no longer rest satisfied with the meagre accounts transmitted to us by the classic writers concerning times and people with which they were themselves but imperfectly acquainted.

At a time, therefore, when, thanks to the labours of the distinguished scholars above named, we can read with considerable facility and astonishing certainty the papyri of Egypt and the clay-tablets of Babylon, it behoves us to pause for a moment, and consider how this wonderful mine of ancient treasures was discovered, and the means by which it has been worked.

Cory’s Fragments constitute a fitting supplement to the fragments which have been exhumed from the mounds of Nineveh, and rescued from the tombs and mummy-pits of Egypt. Considered in this light they will be found to explain and complete one another; for, in the one we have Assyrians and Egyptians speaking for themselves each in his own tongue; in the other the information is supplied through a Greek channel, and reaches us, no doubt, more or less coloured by the media through which it has passed.

It is only when we place the two accounts side by side that we are in a position to estimate their respective values, and reproduce the half obliterated lines. “The contents of this volume,” says Cory, in his preface, “are fragments, which have been translated from foreign languages into Greek, or have been quoted, or transcribed, by Greeks from foreign authors; or, have been written in the Greek language by foreigners who have had access to the archives of their own countries.”

[ … ]

I have also referred the student to authorised translations of cuneiform and hieroglyphic texts, whenever I thought that any additional light was thrown by them upon the statements contained in these Fragments. Lastly, it remains only for me to say in this place that I have omitted Cory’s preface entirely, as resting chiefly upon the long-exploded learning of Jacob Bryant, Faber, and Parkhurst; and have dispensed altogether with the Neo-Platonic forgeries which Cory had placed at the end, bearing the titles respectively of, Oracles of Zoroaster, the Hermetic Creed, the Orphic, Pythagorean, and other fragments, of doubtful authenticity and of little value.

We now possess, thanks to the labours of MM. Anquetil Duperron, Spiegel, and Haug, all the remains of the so-called Zend-Avesta, of which only a small portion the Gathas are regarded by competent scholars as genuine. Comparing these so-called Oracles of Zoroaster with the genuine fragments, we have every reason to reject them as spurious.

Such as they are, however, they will be found, translated into English, in Stanley’s Lives of the Philosophers. I have preferred, therefore, in the present edition, to omit this farrago of metaphysico-philosophical nonsense, and have added several fragments of other ancient authors containing matter of greater importance.”

E. Richmond Hodges, Cory’s Ancient Fragments of the Phoenician, Carthaginian, Babylonian, Egyptian and Other Authors, London: Reeves & Turner, 1876, pp. vii-xiii.

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