Samizdat

"Samizdat: Publishing the Forbidden."

Tag: Monsters

Gane: Review of the Literature on Monsters, Demons and gods

“When a monster is associated with an anthropomorphic deity, it operates in the same field of action or part of nature as that of the deity.

Whereas the deity functions in the entire domain of his or her rule, the monster’s activity is limited to only part of the god’s realm. Thus, a monster that is associated with a deity as its attribute creature represents part of the divine nature or a particular aspect of the divine function of the god.

Wiggermann observes that after a developmental period, during which Mesopotamian gods and monsters evolved, they eventually settled into “complementary” opposition in which “the gods represent the lawfully ordered cosmos, monsters represent what threatens it, the unpredictable.”

Detail from a drawing of a bronze plaque held in the Louvre.  Puradu-fish apkallu minister to an ill patient in bed. The lamp of Nusku is depicted at far left, and ugallu attack with upraised fists in concert with Lulal, identified by Wiggerman as "a minor apotropaic god." I believe that this plaque portrays an exorcism.  Drawn by Faucher-Gudin, from a bronze plaque of which an engraving was published by Clermont-Ganneau.  The original, which belonged to M. Péretié, is now in the collection of M. de Clercq. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17323/17323-h/17323-h.htm#linkBimage-0039

Detail from a drawing of a bronze plaque held in the Louvre.
Puradu-fish apkallu minister to an ill patient in bed. The lamp of Nusku is depicted at far left, and ugallu attack with upraised fists in concert with Lulal, identified by Wiggerman as “a minor apotropaic god.”
I believe that this plaque portrays an exorcism.
Drawn by Faucher-Gudin, from a bronze plaque of which an engraving was published by Clermont-Ganneau.
The original, which belonged to M. Péretié, was in the collection of M. de Clercq before it was acquired by the Louvre.
http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17323/17323-h/17323-h.htm#linkBimage-0039%5B/caption%5D

Wiggermann’s 2007 article, “Some Demons of Time and Their Functions in Mesopotamian Iconography,” in Die Welt der Götterbilder, updates research on a number of the hybrid creatures under discussion in the present study.

[caption width="432" id="attachment_2864" align="aligncenter"]This is the actual bronze frieze from which the illustration above is extracted, held in the collection of the Louvre as AO 22205. This is the actual bronze frieze from which the illustration above is extracted, held in the collection of the Louvre as AO 22205.

(Frans A. M. Wiggermann, “Some Demons of Time and Their Functions in Mesopotamian Iconography,” in Die Welt der Götterbilder (ed. Hermann Spieckermann and Brigitte Groneberg; Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 376; Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2007).

The 1992 illustrated dictionary written by Jeremy A. Black and Anthony Green, Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia, has provided an initial launching point for dealing with the maze of interrelated deities, demons, and composite creatures of ancient Mesopotamia.

(Jeremy A. Black and Anthony Green, Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia (illustrated by Tessa Richards); Austin: University of Texas Press, 1992).

While the work is far from exhaustive and does not provide references for its sources, it has proven to be a valuable guide through the daunting complexities of the topic.

This lion-headed eagle was called Anzu in Akkadian and Imdugud in Sumerian. It was symbolic of the god Ningursu.  In the Myth of Anzu, the Anzu steals the me, the Tablet of Destinies, from the god Ea, when he disrobed to bathe.  The Tablet of Destinies was a cuneiform tablet upon which the fates of all creatures were written, granting its holder supreme power.  It was Ningursu who defeated the Anzu and recovered the me. Other versions of the myth claim that Anzu stole the me from Enlil, with Ninutra recovering it.  Source: Stephanie Dalley, Myths From Mesopotamia: Creation, The Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others, Oxford University Press, 1991.  http://www.piney.com/Babmythanzu.html This panel was excavated from the ruins at the base of the Temple of Goddess Ninhursag at Tell-Al-Ubaid in Southern Mesopotamia (Iraq).  Dated to the Early Dynastic Period, circa 2500 BCE, this artifact is currently held by The British Museum.  Photo by Osama Shukir Myhammed Amin, this file is licensed under the Creative Common Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Frieze_of_Imdugud_(Anzu)_grasping_a_pair_of_deer,_from_Tell_Al-Ubaid..JPG

This lion-headed eagle was called Anzu in Akkadian and Imdugud in Sumerian. It was symbolic of the god Ningursu.
In the Myth of Anzu, the Anzu steals the me, the Tablet of Destinies, from the god Ea, when he disrobed to bathe.
The Tablet of Destinies was a cuneiform tablet upon which the fates of all creatures were written, granting its holder supreme power.
It was Ningursu who defeated the Anzu and recovered the me. Other versions of the myth claim that Anzu stole the me from Enlil, with Ninutra recovering it.
Source: Stephanie Dalley, Myths From Mesopotamia: Creation, The Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others, Oxford University Press, 1991.
http://www.piney.com/Babmythanzu.html
This panel was excavated from the ruins at the base of the Temple of Goddess Ninhursag at Tell-Al-Ubaid in Southern Mesopotamia (Iraq).
Dated to the Early Dynastic Period, circa 2500 BCE, this artifact is currently held by The British Museum.
Photo by Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin, this file is licensed under the Creative Common Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Frieze_of_Imdugud_(Anzu)_grasping_a_pair_of_deer,_from_Tell_Al-Ubaid..JPG%5B/caption%5D

A number of works by Green are formative in the study of composite creatures. He has written numerous articles, among which the most significant are his 1984 article, “Beneficent Spirits and Malevolent Demons: The Iconography of Good and Evil in Ancient Assyria and Babylonia,” and his 1997 RlA article on “Mischwesen. B. Archäologie.”

(Anthony Green, “Beneficent Spirits and Malevolent Demons: The Iconography of Good and Evil in Ancient Assyria and Babylonia,” Visible Religion 3 (1984): pp. 80-105.

Anthony Green, “Mischwesen. B. Archäologie,” Reallexikon der Assyeriologie (RlA) 8: pp. 246-264.)

In 2003, Paul-Alain Beaulieu published The Pantheon of Uruk During the Neo-Babylonian Period. This work provides a systematic, period-specific treatment of Neo-Babylonian religion at the ancient site of Uruk.

(Paul-Alain Beaulieu, The Pantheon of Uruk During the Neo-Babylonian Period (CM 23; Leiden: Brill, 2003.  Note: this book in its entirety is available for free download from archive.org in multiple formats including .pdf. Say thank you to the publishers, Brill.)

One of the most important current resources is Iconography of Deities and Demons in the Ancient Near East, edited by Jürg Eggler, which is still under development, but available in electronic pre-publication form.

(Jürg Eggler, ed., Iconography of Deities and Demons in the Ancient Near East, Electronic Pre-Publication ed., n.p. [cited 11 July 2012 and verified 21 October, 2015]. Online: http://www.religionswissenschaft.uzh.ch/idd/index.php.)

[caption width="600" id="attachment_2344" align="aligncenter"]Amulet with a figure of Lamashtu From Mesopotamia, around 800 BC A demonic divinity who preys on mothers and children This is a protective image of Lamashtu, a fearsome female divinity of the underworld, intended to keep evil at bay. Although she is usually described in modern works as a demon, the writing of her name in cuneiform suggests that in Babylonia and Assyria she was regarded as a kind of goddess. Unlike the majority of demons, who acted only on the commands of the gods, Lamashtu practised evil apparently for its own sake and on her own initiative. There is a cuneiform incantation on the reverse to frighten her away. Lamashtu's principal victims were unborn and new-born babies. Slipping into the house of a pregnant woman, she tries to touch the woman's stomach seven times to kill the unborn baby, or she kidnaps the child. Magical measures against Lamashtu included wearing a bronze head of Pazuzu. Some of these plaques show a bedridden man rather than a pregnant woman, so they seem to relate to Lamashtu as a bringer of disease. Lamashtu is described in texts as having the head of a lion, the teeth of a donkey, naked breasts, a hairy body, stained hands, long fingers and finger nails, and the talons of a bird. Plaques also show her suckling a piglet and a whelp while she holds snakes in her hands. She stands on her sacred animal, the donkey, which is sometimes shown in a boat, riding through the underworld. H.W.F. Saggs, Babylonians (London, The British Museum Press, 1995) J. Black and A. Green, Gods, demons and symbols (London, The British Museum Press, 1992) http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/me/a/amulet_with_figure_of_lamashtu.aspx Amulet with a figure of Lamashtu
From Mesopotamia, around 800 BC
A demonic divinity who preys on mothers and children
This is a protective image of Lamashtu, a fearsome female divinity of the underworld, intended to keep evil at bay. Although she is usually described in modern works as a demon, the writing of her name in cuneiform suggests that in Babylonia and Assyria she was regarded as a kind of goddess. Unlike the majority of demons, who acted only on the commands of the gods, Lamashtu practised evil apparently for its own sake and on her own initiative. There is a cuneiform incantation on the reverse to frighten her away.
Lamashtu’s principal victims were unborn and new-born babies. Slipping into the house of a pregnant woman, she tries to touch the woman’s stomach seven times to kill the unborn baby, or she kidnaps the child. Magical measures against Lamashtu included wearing a bronze head of Pazuzu. Some of these plaques show a bedridden man rather than a pregnant woman, so they seem to relate to Lamashtu as a bringer of disease.
Lamashtu is described in texts as having the head of a lion, the teeth of a donkey, naked breasts, a hairy body, stained hands, long fingers and finger nails, and the talons of a bird. Plaques also show her suckling a piglet and a whelp while she holds snakes in her hands. She stands on her sacred animal, the donkey, which is sometimes shown in a boat, riding through the underworld.
H.W.F. Saggs, Babylonians (London, The British Museum Press, 1995)
J. Black and A. Green, Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia (Austin, University of Texas Press, 1992)
http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/me/a/amulet_with_figure_of_lamashtu.aspx

Its production is a research project of the History of Religions Chair of the University of Zurich, Switzerland, in collaboration with Brill Academic Publishers. I have gained much from this rich and high quality resource as far as it goes, but IDD treatment of many of the composite creatures discussed in my study is still pending.

The 2004 catalogue accompanying the exhibition titled “Dragons, Monsters and Fabulous Beasts in the Bible Lands Museum, Jerusalem” and compiled by Joan Goodnick Westenholz illustrates the formation and function of hybrid creatures in the ancient Near East and the classical world.

The catalogue, following the format of the exhibition, is divided into four main areas: “creatures of the sea, creatures of the earth, creatures of the air, and the battles of the gods and mortals against the monsters.”

(Joan Goodnick Westenholz, Dragons, Monsters and Fabulous Beasts, Rubin Mass, 2007, p. 9.)

The treatment of selected composite beings is detailed, but limited to the examples specific to the exhibit.

A History of the Animal World in the Ancient Near East, edited by Billie Jean Collins (2002), focuses on animals found in Anatolia, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Iran, and Syro-Palestine, with particular attention to the native fauna; animals in art, literature, and religion; and the cultural use of animals.

(Billie Jean Collins, ed., A History of the Animal World in the Ancient Near East (Handbook of Oriental Studies 64; Leiden: Brill, 2002). Note: Chapter 5 by Margaret Cool Root, “Animals in the Art of Ancient Iran,” is available for download from archive.org.)

The volume is more a historical narrative of human relations with animals than a history of animals in the ancient world. As such, it provides insights into rationales behind selection of certain animals to represent particular characteristics of divine or sub-divine beings.

Collins builds on the work of E. Douglas Van Buren, whose formative study, The Fauna of Ancient Mesopotamia as Represented in Art (1939), focuses on forty-eight animal species, but without discussing their significance.”

(E. Douglas Van Buren, The Fauna of Ancient Mesopotamia as Represented in Art (AnOr 18; Rome: Institutum Biblicum, 1939).

Constance Ellen Gane, Composite Beings in Neo-Babylonian Art, Doctoral Dissertation, University of California at Berkeley, 2012, pp. 3-4.

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.

Nakamura: The Figurines as Magical Objects

The Hybrid

“The magical power of the āšipu also allows him to identify certain mythological and supernatural beings appropriate for the task of protection; these are ancient sages (apkallū), warrior deities and monsters, associated with civilized knowledge and the formidable forces of life, death, peace, and destruction of divine will and rule (Green 1993; Wiggermann 1993).

These figures take on different protective attributes depending on the nature of the represented being; the apkallū act as purifiers and exorcists to expel and ward off evil forces, while monsters, gods, and dogs tend to the defense of the house from demonic intruders (Wiggermann 1992:96–97).

Lahmu, “Hairy,” is a protective and beneficent deity, the first-born son of Apsu and Tiamat. He and his sister Laḫamu are the parents of Anshar and Kishar, the sky father and earth mother, who birthed the gods of the Mesopotamian Pantheon. Laḫmu is depicted as a bearded man with a red sash-usually with three strands- and four to six curls on his head. He is often associated with the Kusarikku or “Bull-Man.” In Sumerian times Laḫmu may have meant “the muddy one”. Lahmu guarded the gates of the Abzu temple of Enki at Eridu. He and his sister Laḫamu are primordial deities in the Babylonian Epic of Creation –Enuma Elis and Lahmu may be related to – or identical with- ‘Lahamu’ one of Tiamat’s Creatures in that epic. http://foundfact.com/portfolio-view/lahmu/#!prettyPhoto http://foundfact.com/library/beings-people-and-gods/page/6/#!prettyPhoto

All of these figures find some association either with the underworld or the freshwater ocean under the earth (apsû) which was the domain of Enki, the god associated with wisdom, magic, incantation, and the arts and crafts of civilization (Black and Green 1992:75), and notably, all but the lahmu portray composite human–animal physiognomies (Figure 2.2).

Figure 2.2. Apotropaic figures with associated features.  1. Drawing after Richards in Black and Green (1992:65).  2. The identification of the lahmu figure is controversial; it names both a cosmogonic deity and one of Tiamat’s creatures (Wiggermann 1992:155–156), and may also represent an apkallu sage (Ellis 1995:165; Russell 1991:184, fn. 27)

Figure 2.2. Apotropaic figures with associated features.
1. Drawing after Richards in Black and Green (1992:65).
2. The identification of the lahmu figure is controversial; it names both a cosmogonic deity and one of Tiamat’s creatures (Wiggermann 1992:155–156), and may also represent an apkallu sage (Ellis 1995:165; Russell 1991:184, fn. 27)

Such forms manifest a communion of things generally held to be opposed to each other. The blending of humans and animals in this context might capitalize on the tension between Mesopotamian conceptions of a structured, civilized human world and a chaotic, untamed natural world (Bottéro 1992).

Hybrids materialize a unity of self and other, human and animal as a strange being that is at once knowable and controllable and unknowable and incontrollable.

Fish-man known as a Kulullû. Terracotta figurine (8th-7th BCE) in the Louvre collection, Nr. 3337.  The Kulullû is distinct from the fish-Apkallū. They are not the same.

Fish-man known as a Kulullû. Terracotta figurine (8th-7th BCE) in the Louvre collection, Nr. 3337.
The Kulullû is distinct from the fish-Apkallū. They are not the same.

As beings in-between, hybrids embody potential, transition, and similarity in difference. Such liminality is often associated with dangerous power, a power that obeys the apotropaic economy of the supplement, since it terrifies and yet provides the surest protection against that terror (Derrida 1974:154).

Another depiction of the Kulullû, or fish-man.

Another depiction of the Kulullû, or fish-man.

By miming such beings in clay figurines, the āšipu brings forth their active life and force in petrified form. Capitalizing on the apotropaic logic of defense, this gesture captures self-defeating force and suspends it in space, material, and time.

Many of the figurine types are depicted in movement with hands gesturing and a foot forward to suggest forward movement. Following Susan Stewart (1984:54), I submit that the force of animated life does not diminish when arrested in the fixity and exteriority of the figurine, but rather, is captured as a moment of hesitation always on the verge of forceful action.

The apotropaic figurine is a magical object — what Michael Taussig calls a “time–space compaction of the mimetic process” — doubled over since its form and matter, creation and presentation capture certain inherent energies that humans desire to control.

The magical object, which encounters the unknown by presenting its form and image “releases a force capable of vanquishing it, or even befriending it” (Deleuze 2003:52). But as ritual texts and archaeological deposits confirm, it was not just the images themselves that rendered power, but something in the process of their creation.

While such apotropaic figures appear in grand scale and idealized form on wall reliefs flanking entrances of kingly palaces purifying all who passed through the gates, the figures standing guard in floor deposits performed an additional task.”

Carolyn Nakamura, “Mastering matters: magical sense and apotropaic figurine worlds of Neo-Assyria,” Archaeologies of materiality (2005): 34-6.

%d bloggers like this: