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Eco: Theoretical Objections and Counter-objections

Projet_d'éléments_d'idéologie_par_le_[...]Destutt_de_bpt6k10455061

Antoine-Louis-Claude Destutt de Tracy (1754-1836), Projet d’éléments d’idéologie, Paris, 1801. This copy in the Bibliothèque nationale de France. This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less. 

“A fundamental objection that can be applied to any of the a posteriori projects generically is that they can make no claim to having identified and artificially reorganized a content system.

They simply provide an expression system which aims at being easy and flexible enough to express the contents normally expressed in a natural language. Such a practical advantage is also a theoretical limit. If the a priori languages were too philosophical, their a posteriori successors are not philosophical enough.

The supporters of an IAL have neither paid attention to the problem of linguistic relativism, nor ever been worried by the fact that different languages present the world in different ways, sometimes mutually incommensurable.

They have usually taken it for granted that synonymous expressions exist from language to language, and the vast collection of books that have been translated into Esperanto from various of the world’s languages is taken as proof of the complete “effability” of this language (this point has been discussed, from opposite points of view, by two authors who are both traditionally considered as relativist, that is, Sapir and Whorfcf. Pellerey 1993: 7).

To accept the idea that there is a content system which is the same for all languages means, fatally, to take surreptitiously for granted that such a model is the western one. Even if it tries to distance itself in certain aspects from the Indo-European model, Esperanto, both in its lexicon and in its syntax, remains basically an Indo-European tongue.

As Martinet observed, “the situation would have been different if the language had been invented by a Japanese” (1991: 681).

One is free to regard all these objections as irrelevant. A theoretical weak point may even turn out to be a practical advantage. One can hold that linguistic unification must, in practice, accept the use of the Indo-European languages as the linguistic model (cf. Carnap in Schlipp 1963:71).

It is a view that seems to be confirmed by actual events; for the moment (at least) the economic and technological growth of Japan is based on Japanese acceptance of an Indo-European language (English) as a common vehicle.

Both natural tongues and some “vehicular” languages have succeeded in becoming dominant in a given country or in a larger area mainly for extra-linguistic reasons. As far as the linguistic reasons are concerned (easiness, economy, rationality and so on), there are so many variables that there are no “scientific” criteria whereby we might confute the claim of Goropius Becanus that sixteenth century Flemish was the easiest, most natural, sweetest and most expressive language in the entire universe.

The predominate position currently enjoyed by English is a historical contingency arising from the mercantile and colonial expansion of the British Empire, which was followed by American economic and technological hegemony.

Of course, it may also be maintained that English has succeeded because it is rich in monosyllables, capable of absorbing foreign words and flexible in forming neologisms, etc.: yet had Hitler won World War II and had the USA been reduced to a confederation of banana republics, we would probably today use German as a universal vehicular language, and Japanese electronics firms would advertise their products in Hong Kong airport duty-free shops (Zollfreie Waren) in German.

Besides, on the arguable rationality of English, and of any other vehicular language, see the criticism of Sapir (1931).

There is no reason why an artificial language like Esperanto might not function as an international language, just as certain natural languages (such as Greek, Latin, French, English, Swahili) have in different historical periods.

We have already encountered in Destutt de Tracy an extremely powerful objection: a universal language, like perpetual motion, is impossible for a very “peremptory” reason: “Even were everybody on earth to agree to speak the same language from today onwards, they would rapidly discover that, under the influence of their own use, the single language had begun to change, to modify itself in thousands of different ways in each different country, until it produced in each a different dialect which gradually grew away from all the others” (Eléments d’idéologie, II, 6, 569).

It is true that, just for the above reasons, the Portuguese of Brazil today differs from the Portuguese spoken in Portugal so much that Brazilian and Portuguese publishers publish two different translations of the same foreign book, and it is a common occurrence for foreigners who have learned their Portuguese in Rio to have difficulty understanding what they hear on the streets of Lisbon.

Against this, however, one can point out the Brazilians and Portuguese still manage to understand each other well enough in practical, everyday matters. In part, this is because the mass media help the speakers of each variety to follow the transformations taking place on the other shore.

Supporters of Esperanto like Martinet (1991: 685) argue that it would be, to say the least, naive to to suppose that, as an IAL diffused into new areas, it would be exempt from the process through which languages evolve and split up into varieties of dialects.

Yet in so far as an IAL remained an auxiliary language, rather than the primary language of everyday exchange, the risks of such a parallel evolution would be diminished.

The action of the media, which might reflect the decisions of a sort of international supervisory association, could also contribute to the establishment and maintenance of standards, or, at least, to keeping evolution under control.”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 330-2.

Eco: The International Auxiliary Languages

Couturat & Leau, Histoire de la Langue Universelle, 1903

Louis Couturat (1868-1914) & Léopold Leau (1868-1943), Histoire de la langue universelle, Hachette, Paris, 1903, held in the Bibliothèque nationale de France, and archive.org. This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less. 

“The dawn of the twentieth century witnessed a revolution in transport and communications. In 1903 Couturat and Leau noted that it was now possible to voyage around the world in just forty days; exactly one half of the fateful limit set by Jules Verne just thirty years before.

Now the telephone and the wireless knitted Europe together and as communication became faster, economic relations increased. The major European nations had acquired colonies even in the far-flung antipodes, and so the European market could extend to cover the entire earth.

For these and other reasons, governments felt as never before the need for international forums where they might meet to resolve an infinite series of common problems, and our authors cite the Brussels convention on sugar production and international accord on white-slave trade.

As for scientific research, there were supranational bodies such as the Bureau des poides et  mesures (sixteen states) or the International Geodesic Association (eighteen states), while in 1900 the International Association of Scientific Academies was founded.

Couturat and Leau wrote that such a growing of scientific information needed to be organized “sous peine de revenir à la tour de Babel.”

What could the remedy be? Couturat and Leau dismissed the idea of choosing a living language as an international medium as utopian, and found difficulties in returning to a dead language like Latin.

Besides, Latin displays too many homonyms (liber means both “book” and “free”), its flexions create equivocations (avi might represent the dative and ablative of avis or the nominative plural of avus), it makes it difficult to distinguish between nouns and verbs (amor means both love and I am loved), it lacks a definite article and its syntax is largely irregular . . . The obvious solution seemed to be the invention of an artificial language, formed on the model of natural ones, but which might seem neutral to all its users.

The criteria for this language should be above all a simple and rational grammar (as extolled by the a priori languages, but with a closer analogy with existing tongues), and a lexicon whose terms recalled as closely as possible words in the natural languages.

In this sense, an international auxiliary language (henceforth IAL) would no longer be a priori but a posteriori; it would emerge from a comparison with and a balanced synthesis of naturally existing languages.

Couturat and Leau were realistic enough to understand that it was impossible to arrive at a preconceived scientific formula to judge which of the a posteriori IAL projects was the best and most flexible. It would have been the same as deciding on allegedly objective grounds whether Portuguese was superior to Spanish as a language for poetry or for commercial exchange.

They realized that, furthermore, an IAL project would not succeed unless an international body adopted and promoted it. Success, in other words, could only follow from a display of international political will.

What Couturat and Leau were facing in 1903, however, was a new Babel of international languages invented in the course of the nineteenth century; as a matter of fact they record and analyze 38 projects–and more of them are considered in their further book, Les nouvelles langues internationales, published in 1907.

The followers of each project had tried, with greater or lesser cohesive power, to realize an international forum. But what authority had the competence to adjudicate between them?

In 1901 Couturat and Leau had founded a Delégation pour l’adoption d’une langue auxiliaire internationale, which aimed at resolving the problem by delegating a decision to the international Association of Scientific Academies.

Evidently Couturat and Leau were writing in an epoch when it still seemed realistic to believe that an international body such as this would be capable of coming to a fair and ecumenical conclusion and imposing it on every nation.”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 317-9.

Eco: The Last Flowering of Philosophic Languages, 2

Giovan Giuseppe Matraja, Genigrafia italiana, 1831

Giovanni Giuseppe Matraja, Genigrafia italiana, 1831. Original held at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, with a glorious eBook format posted by the Hathitrust and GoogleBooks among others. This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less. 

Vismes was not the only one to fall foul of this seemingly elementary snare. In 1831 Father Giovan Giuseppe Matraja published his Genigrafia italiana, which is nothing other than a polygraphy with five (Italian) dictionaries, one for nouns, one for verbs, one for adjectives, one for interjections and one for adverbs.

Since the five dictionaries account for only 15,000 terms, Matraja adds another dictionary that lists 6,000 synonyms. His method managed to be both haphazard and laborious: Matraja divided his terms into a series of numbered classes each containing 26 terms, each marked by an alphabetical letter: thus A1 means “hatchet,” A2 means “hermit,” A1000 means “encrustation,” A360 means “sand-digger,” etc.

Even though he had served as a missionary in South America, Matraja was still convinced that all cultures used the same system of notions. He believed that western languages (all of which he seemed to imagine were derived from Latin grammar) might perfectly well serve as the basis for another language, because, by a special natural gift, all peoples used the same syntactic structures when speaking–especially American Indians.

In fact, he included a genigraphical translation of the Lord’s Prayer comparing it with versions in twelve other languages including Nahuatl, Chilean and Quechua.

In 1827 François Soudre invented the Solresol (Langue musicale universelle, 1866). Soudre was also persuaded that the seven notes of the musical scale composed an alphabet comprehensible by all the peoples of the world, because the notes are written in the same way in all languages, and could be sung, recorded on staves, represented with special stenographic signs, figured in Arabic numerals, shown with the seven colors of the spectrum, and even indicated by the touch of the fingers of the right and left hands–thus making their representation comprehensible even for the deaf, dumb and blind.

It was not necessary that these notes be based on a logical classification of ideas. A single note expresses terms such as “yes” (musical si, or B) and “no” (do, or C); two notes express pronouns (“mine” = redo, “yours” = remi); three notes express everyday words like “time” (doredo) or “day” (doremi).

The initial notes refer to an encyclopedic class. Yet Soudre also wished to express opposites by musical inversion (a nice anticipation of a twelve-tone music procedure): thus, if the idea of “God” was naturally expressed by the major chord built upon the tonic, domisol, the idea of “Satan” would have to be the inversion, solmido.

Of course, this practice makes nonsense of the rule that the first letter in a three-note term refers to an encyclopedic class: the initial do refers to the physical and moral qualities, but the initial sol refers back to arts and sciences (and to associate them with Satan would be an excess of bigotry).

Besides the obvious difficulties inherent in any a priori language, the musical language of Soudre added the additional hurdle of requiring a good ear. We seem in some way to be returning to the seventeenth century myth of the language of birds, this time with less glossolalic grace, however, and a good deal more pure classificatory pedantry.

Couturat and Leau (1903: 37) awarded to the Solresol the encomium of being “the most artificial and most impracticable of all the a priori languages.” Even its number system is inaccessible; it is based on a hexadecimal system which, despite its claims to universality, still manages to indulge in the French quirk of eliminating names for 70 and 90.

Yet Soudre labored for forty-five years to perfect his system, obtaining in the meantime testimonials from the Institut de France, from musicians such as Cherubini, from Victor Hugo, Lamartine and Alexander von Humboldt; he was received by Napoleon III; he was awarded 10,000 francs at the Exposition Universale in Paris in 1855 and the gold medal at the London Exposition of 1862.

Let us neglect for the sake of brevity the Système de langue universelle of Grosselin (1836), the Langue universelle et analytique of Vidal (1844), the Cours complet de langue universelle by Letellier (1832-55), the Blaia Zimandal of Meriggi (1884), the projects of so distinguished a philosopher as Renouvier (1885), the Lingualumina of Dyer (1875), the Langue internationale étymologique of Reimann (1877), the Langue naturelle of Maldant (1887), the Spokil of Dr. Nicolas (1900), the Zahlensprache of Hilbe (1901), the Völkerverkehrsprache of Dietrich (1902), and the Perio of Talundberg (1904).

We will content ourselves with a brief account of the Projet d’une langue universelle of Sotos Ochando (1855). Its theoretical foundations are comparatively well reasoned and motivated; its logical structure could not be of a greater simplicity and regularity; the project proposes–as usual–to establish a perfect correspondence between the order of things signified and the alphabetical order of the words that express them.

Unfortunately–here we go again–the arrangement is empirical: A refers to inorganic material things, B to the liberal arts, C to the mechanical arts, D to political society, E to living bodies, and so forth.

With the addition of the morphological rules, one generates, to use the mineral kingdom as an example, the words Ababa for oxygen, Ababe for hydrogen, Ababi for nitrogen, Ababo for sulphur.

If we consider that the numbers from one to ten are siba, sibe, sibi, sibo, sibu, sibra, sibre, sibri, sibro, and sibru (pity the poor school children having to memorize their multiplication tables), it is evident that words with analogous meanings are all going to sound the same.

This makes the discrimination of concepts almost impossible, even if the formation of names follows a criterion similar to that of chemistry, and the letters stand for the components of the concept.

The author may claim that, using his system, anyone can learn over six million words in less than an hour; yet as Couturat and Leau remark (1903: 69), learning a system that can generate six million words in an hour is not the same as memorizing, recognizing, six million meanings.

The list could be continued, yet towards the end of the nineteenth century, news of the invention of a priori languages was becoming less a matter for scientific communications and more one for reports on eccentric fellows–from Les fous littéraires by Brunet in 1880 to Les fous littéraires by Blavier in 1982.

By now, the invention of a priori languages, other than being the special province of visionaries of all lands, had become a game (see Bausani 1970 and his language Markuska) or a literary exercise (see Yaguello 1984 and Giovannoli 1990 for the imaginary languages of science fiction).

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 305-8.

Eco: The Last Flowering of Philosophic Languages

Anne-Pierre-Jacques De Vismes, Pasilogie, ou de la musique, consideree comme langue universelle, 1806

Anne-Pierre-Jacques De Vismes (1745-1819), Pasilogie, ou de la musique, considérée comme langue universelle, Paris, 1806. This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less. 

“Nor was even this the end of attempts at creating a philosophic language. In 1772 there appeared the project of Georg Kalmar, Praecepta grammatica atque specimina linguae philosophicae sive universalis, ad omne vitae genus adcomodatae, which occasioned the most significant discussion on our topic written in Italian.

In 1774, the Italian-Swiss Father Francesco Soave published his Riflessioni intorno alla costituzione di una lingua universaleSoave, who had done much to spread the sensationalist doctrine to Italy, advanced a criticism of the a priori languages that anticipated those made by the Idéologues (on Soave see Gensini 1984; Nicoletti 1989; Pellerey 1992a).

Displaying a solid understanding of the projects from Descartes to Wilkins and from Kircher to Leibniz, on the one hand Soave advanced the traditional reservation that it was impossible to elaborate a set of characters sufficient to represent all fundamental concepts; on the other hand, he remarked that Kalmar, having reduced these concepts to 400, was obliged to give different meanings to the same character, according to the context.

Either one follows the Chinese model, without succeeding in limiting the characters, or one is unable to avoid equivocations.

Unfortunately, Soave did not resist the temptation of designing a project of his own, though outlining only its basic principles. His system of classification seems to have been based on Wilkins; as usual he sought to rationalize and simplify his grammar; at the same time, he sought to augment its expressive potential by adding marks for new  morphological categories such as dual and the neuter.

Soave took more care over his grammar than over his lexicon, but was mainly interested in the literary use of language: from this derives his radical skepticism about any universal language; what form of literary commerce, he wondered, could we possibly have with the Tartars, the Abyssinians or the Hurons?

In the early years of the next century, Soave’s discussion influenced the thinking of Giacomo Leopardi, who had become an exceptionally astute student of the Idéologues.

In his Zibaldone, Leopardi treated the question of universal languages at some length, as well as discussing the debate between rationalists and sensationalists in recent French philosophy (see Gensini 1984; Pellerey 1992a).

Leopardi was clearly irritated by the algebraic signs that abounded in the a priori languages, all of which he considered as incapable of expressing the subtle connotations of natural languages:

“A strictly universal language, whatever it may be, will certainly, by necessity and by its natural bent, be both the most enslaved, impoverished, timid, monotonous, uniform, arid, and ugly language ever.

It will be incapable of beauty of any type, totally uncongenial to imagination [ . . . ] the most inanimate, bloodless, and dead whatsoever, a mere skeleton, a ghost of a language [ . . . ] it would lack life even if it were written by all and universally understood; indeed it will be deader than the deadest languages which are no longer either spoken or written.” (23 August 1823, in G. Leopardi, Tutte le opere, Sansoni: Florence 1969: II, 814).

Despite these and similar strictures, the ardor of the apostles of philosophic a priori languages was still far from quenched.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Anne-Pierre-Jacques de Vismes (Pasilogie, ou de la musique considérée come langue universelle, 1806) presented a language that was supposed to be a copy of the language of the angels, whose sounds derived from the affections of the soul.

Vismes argued that when the Latin translation of Genesis 11:1-2 states that “erat terra labii unius” (a passage to which we usually give the sense that “all the world was of one language”), it used the word labium (lip) rather than lingua (tongue) because people first communicated with each other by emitting sounds through their lips without articulating them with their tongue.

Music was not a human invention (pp. 1-20), and this is demonstrated by the fact that animals can understand music more easily than verbal speech: horses are naturally roused by the sound of trumpets as dogs are by whistles. What is more, when presented with a musical score, people of different nations all play it the same way.

Vismes presents enharmonic scales of 21 notes, one for each letter of the alphabet. He did this by ignoring the modern convention of equal temperament, and treating the sharp of one note as distinct from the flat of the note above.

Since Vismes was designing a polygraphy rather than a spoken language, it was enough that the distinctions might be exactly represented on a musical stave.

Inspired, perhaps, indirectly by Mersenne, Vismes went on to demonstrate that if one were to combine his 21 sounds into doublets, triplets, quadruplets, etc., one would quickly arrive at more syntagms than are contained in any natural language, and that “if it were necessary to write down all the combinations that can be generated by the seven enharmonic scales, combined with each other, it would take almost all of eternity before one could hope to come to an end.” (p. 78).

As for the concrete possibility of replacing verbal sounds by musical notes, Vismes devotes only the last six pages of his book to such a topic–not a great deal.

It never seems to have crossed Visme’s mind that, in taking a French text and substituting tones for its letters, all he was doing was transcribing a French text, without making it comprehensible to speakers of other languages.

Vismes seems to conceive of a universe that speaks exclusively in French, so much so that he even notes that he will exclude letters like K, Z and X because “they are hardly ever used in languages” (p. 106).”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 302-4.

Eco: Magic Language

speculum 01

Teophilus Schweighardt Constantiens, aka Daniel Mögling (1596-1635), Speculum Sophicum Rhodostauroticum (The Mirror of the Wisdom of the Rosy Cross), 1618. This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less.

“In a climate of extraordinary spiritual tension, the seventeenth century awaited change–a general reform of knowledge and morals, a reawakening of religions sensibility.

The period was dominated by a belief that a new, golden century was dawning; Postel had already used the term “golden century” in the title of one of his works. This was, moreover, an expectation shared by Catholics and Protestants alike, though each in different forms.

Authors from Campanella to Andreae had drawn up projects for an ideal republic. Not only Postel but other thinkers in different countries had designed schemes for a universal monarchy.

The Thirty Years War acted as a catalyst: conflict had flared in one region after another, creating, on the one hand, confessional hatreds and nationalist rivalries, engendering the modern notion of the raison d’état, on the other producing a pleiad of mystic spirits dreaming of universal peace (cf. De Mas 1982).

It was in this climate, then, that in 1614, there appeared an anonymous tract written in German: Allgemeine und general Reformation der gantzen weiten Welt. Though this was only discovered later, the first part was largely a re-elaboration of a satire written by Traiano Boccalini and published in 1612-3, called Ragguagli di Parnaso.

The second part, however, took the form of a manifesto, entitled Fama fraternitatis R.C. In this, the mysterious confraternity of the Rosicrucians openly declared its existence, supplying details concerning its own history as well as that of its mythical founder, Christian Rosencreutz.

In the following year, 1615, the German manifesto was republished together with a second manifesto, written this time in Latin, with the title Confessio fraternitatis Roseae crucis. Ad eruditos Europae (we shall use the first English translation, The Fame and the Confession of the Fraternity of R.C., London, 1652).

The first manifesto proclaimed its wish that there should be “a Society in Europe [ . . . ] with which such as be Governors might be brought up, for to learn all that which God hath suffered Man to know” (p. 9).

Both the manifestos emphasized the secret character of the confraternity and the fact that their members were not permitted to reveal its true aims and nature. It was a call, addressed to the learned of Europe, beseeching them to make contact with the writers of the manifesto; this made the final appeal of the Fama even more ambiguous:

“And although at this time we make no mention either of our names, or meetings, yet nevertheless every ones opinion shal assuredly come to our hands, in what language so ever it be, nor any body shal fail. who so gives but his name to speak with some of us, either by word of mouth, or else if there be some lett in writing [ . . . ] Also our building (although one hundred thousand people had very near seen and beheld the same) shal for ever remain untouched, undestroyed, and hidden to the wicked world.” (pp. 31-2).

Immediately, from almost every corner of Europe, responses to the Rosicrucian appeal were written. No one claimed to be a Rosicrucian. Almost no one claimed even to know who the Rosicrucians were. Yet almost everyone tried to claim that his own programme was synonymous with that of the Rosicrucian brotherhood.

Some authors professed an extreme humility. In his Themis aurea (1618), for example, Michael Maier insisted that though the brotherhood really existed, he was too humble an individual to be admitted as a member.

Yet, as Yates observed, this was typical of the behavior of Rosicrucian authors: not only did they deny being Rosicrucians, they claimed never to have encountered a single member of the confraternity.

Thus when, in 1623, a set of –naturally anonymous–manifestos appeared in Paris, announcing the arrival of the Rosicrucians, a furious polemic ensued in which the common opinion emerged that the Rosicrucians were worshippers of Satan.

It was said of Descartes that, in the course of a trip to Germany, he had tried (unsuccessfully of course) to make contact with the brotherhood. On his return to Paris, he even fell under suspicion of being a member.

He readily found a logical argument to exculpate himself, however; since it was well known that the Rosicrucians were invisible, Descartes showed up (making himself visible) in public places and on public occasions (see A. Baillet, Vie de Monsieur Descartes, 1693).

In 1623, a certain Neuhaus published, first in German and then in French, an Advertissiment pieux et utile des frères de la Rosee-Croix, in which he asked whether or not they existed, and if so, who they were and what was the origin of their name.

Neuhaus proved their existence by means of a rather startling argument: “By the very fact that they change and alter their name and that they mask their age, and that, by their own confession, they come and go without making themselves known, there is no Logician that could deny the necessity that they exist” (p. 5).

It would be tedious to recount here the entire story of books and tracts contradicting each other in an endeavor to reveal the truth about the Rosicrucians (it has sometimes been claimed, for instance, that the same author, using two different pseudonyms, was responsible for two or more tracts pro- and anti-Rosicrucians: see Arnold 1955; Edighoffer 1982).

It means that, when conditions are ripe, it takes but one spark–be it an obscure and ambiguous appeal for the spiritual reform of all humanity–to set off unexpected reactions. It almost seemed that everyone had been waiting for the Rosicrucian manifesto to appear as the missing piece in a polemic in which all sides–Catholic and Protestant–were waiting to join.

Thus, although the Jesuits were soon in the forefront of the battle against the Rosicrucians, there were not lacking those who insinuated that behind the Rosicrucians was the Society of Jesus itself, seeking to smuggle Catholic dogma into the Protestant world (see Rosa jesuitica, 1620).

The most intriguing aspect of the whole story was that the people immediately suspected of being the authors of the manifestos–Johann Valentin Andreae and his circle of friends in Tubingen–spent the rest of their lives either denying their involvement, or minimizing it as nothing more than a literary exercise.

As one might expect, given the spirit of the time, it was impossible to offer to the people of all lands a new philosophy without also offering them a perfect language in which to express it.

The manifestos, of course, spoke of this language; yet its perfection was mirrored by its secrecy (Fama, 287). According to the Confessio, the four founders of the brotherhood had “created the magic language and writing:”

“…and thenceforth our Trumpet shall publiquely sound with a loud sound, and great noise, when namely the fame (which at this present is shewed by few, and is secretly, as thing to come, declared in Figures and Pictures) shall be free, and publiquely proclaimed, and the whole World be filled withall [ . . . ]

So, the secret hid Writings and Characters are most necessary for all such things which are found out by Men: Although that great Book of Nature stand open to all Men, yet there are but few that can read and understand the same [ . . . ]

The Characters and Letters, as God hath here and there incorporated them in the Holy Scripture the Bible, so hath he imprinted them most apparently into the wonderful Creation of Heaven and Earth, yea in all Beasts [ . . . ]

From the which Characters and Letters we have borrowed our Magick writing, and have found out, and made a new Language for our selves, in the which withall is expressed and declared the Nature of all Things; so that it is no wonder that we are not so eloquent in other Languages, the which we know that they are altogether disagreeing to the Language of our forefathers, Adam and Enoch, and were through the Babylonical Confusion wholly hidden.” (pp. 43, 47, 48).

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 178-82.

Eco: The Egyptian vs. The Chinese Way, 2

kircher_099-590x1024

Athanasius Kircher (1602-80), origins of the Chinese characters, China Illustrata, 1667, p. 229, courtesy of Stanford University. This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less.

“On the subject of signatures, Della Porta said that spotted plants which imitated the spots of animals also shared their virtues (Phytognomonica, 1583, III, 6): the bark of a birch tree, for example, imitated the plumage of a starling and is therefore good against impetigo, while plants that have snake-like scales protect against reptiles (III, 7).

Thus in one case, morphological similarity is a sign for alliance between a plant and an animal, while in the next it is a sign for hostility.

Taddeus Hageck (Metoscopicorum libellus unus, 1584: 20) praises among the plants that cure lung diseases two types of lichen: however, one bears the form of a healthy lung, while the other bears the stained and shaggy shape of an ulcerated one.

The fact that another plant is covered with little holes is enough to suggest that this plant is capable of opening the pores. We are thus witnessing three very distinct principles of relation by similarity: resemblance to a healthy organ, resemblance to a diseased organ, and an analogy between the form of a plant and the therapeutic result that it supposedly produced.

This indifference as to the nature of the connection between signatures and signatum holds in the arts of memory as well. In his Thesaurus atificiosae memoriae (1579), Cosma Roselli endeavored to explain how, once of a system of loci and images had been established, it might actually  function to recall the res memoranda.

He thought it necessary to explain “quomodo multis modis, aliqua res alteri sit similis” (Thesaurus, 107), how, that is, one thing could be similar to another. In the ninth chapter of the second part he tried to construct systematically a set of criteria whereby images might correspond to things:

“according to similarity, which, in its turn, can be divided into similarity of substance (such as man as the microcosmic image of the macrocosm), similarity in quantity (the ten fingers for the Ten Commandments), according to metonymy or antonomasia (Atlas for astronomers or for astronomy, a bear for a wrathful man, a lion for pride, Cicero for rhetoric):

by homonyms: a real dog for the dog constellation;

by irony and opposition: the fatuous for the wise;

by trace: the footprint for the wolf, the mirror in which Titus admired himself for Titus;

by the name differently pronounced: sanum for sane;

by similarity of name: Arista [awn] for Aristotle;

by genus and species: leopard for animal;

by pagan symbol: the eagle for Jove;

by peoples: Parthians for arrows, Scythians for horses, Phoenicians for the alphabet;

by signs of the zodiac: the sign for the constellation;

by the relation between organ and function;

by common accident: the crow for Ethiopia;

by hieroglyph: the ant for providence.”

The Idea del teatro by Giulio Camillo (1550) has been interpreted as a project for a perfect mechanism for the generation of rhetorical sentences.

Yet Camillo speaks casually of similarity by morphological traits (a centaur for a horse), by action (two serpents in combat for the art of war), by mythological contiguity (Vulcan for the art of fire), by causation (silk worms for couture), by effects (Marsyas with his skin flayed off for butchery), by relation of ruler to ruled (Neptune for navigation), by relation between agent and action (Paris for civil courts), by antonomasia (Prometheus for man the maker), by iconism (Hercules drawing his bow towards the heavens for the sciences regarding celestial matters), by inference (Mercury with a cock for bargaining).

It is plain to see that these are all rhetorical connections, and there is nothing more conventional that a rhetorical figure. Neither the arts of memory nor the doctrine of signatures is dealing, in any degree whatsoever, with a “natural” language of images.

Yet a mere appearance of naturalness has always fascinated those who searched for a perfect language of images.

The study of gesture as the vehicle of interaction with exotic people, united with a belief in a universal language of images, could hardly fail to influence the large number of studies which begin to appear in the seventeenth century on the education of deaf-mutes (cf. Salmon 1972: 68-71).

In 1620, Juan Pablo Bonet wrote a Reducción de las letras y arte para enseñar a hablar los mudos. Fifteen years later, Mersenne (Harmonie, 2) connected this question to that of a universal language. John Bulwer suggested (Chirologia, 1644) that only by a gestural language can one escape from the confusion of Babel, because it was the first language of humanity.

Dalgarno (see ch. 11) assured his reader that his project would provide an easy means of educating deaf-mutes, and he again took up this argument in his Didascalocophus (1680). In 1662, the Royal Society devoted several debates to Wallis’s proposals on the same topic.”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 171-3.

Eco: New Prospects for the Monogenetic Hypothesis

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Athanasius Kircher (1602-80), frontispiece to Magnes sive De Arte Magnetica, 1641 and 1643 editions, digitized by the University of Lausanne and Stanford University. This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less.

“Doubting the possibility of obtaining scientific agreement upon an argument whose evidence had been lost in the mists of time, about which nothing but conjectures might be offered, the Société de Linguistique of Paris 1866 decided that it would no longer accept scientific communications on the subject of either universal languages or origins of language.

In our century that millenary debate took the form of research on the universals of language, now based on the comparative analysis of existing languages. Such a study has nothing to do with more or less fantastic historic reconstructions and does not subscribe to the utopian ideal of a perfect language (cf. Greenberg 1963; Steiner 1975: I, 3).

However, comparatively recent times have witnessed a renewal of the search for the origins of language (cf., for example, Fano 1962; Hewes 1975, 1979).

Even the search for the mother tongue has been revived in this century by Vitalij Ševorškin (1989), who has re-proposed the Nostratic hypothesis, originally advanced in Soviet scientific circles in the 1960s, and associated with the names of Vladislav Il’ič-Svitych and Aron Dolgoposkiji.

According to this hypothesis, there was a proto-Indo-European, one of the six branches of a larger linguistic family deriving from Nostratics–which in its turn derives from a proto-Nostratics, spoken approximately ten thousand years ago. The supporters of this theory have compiled a dictionary of several hundred terms of this language.

But the proto-Nostratics itself would derive from a more ancient mother tongue, spoken perhaps fifty thousand years ago in Africa, spreading from there throughout the entire globe (cf. Wright 1991).

According to the so-called “Eve’s hypothesis,” one can thus imagine a human couple, born in Africa, who later emigrated to the Near East, and whose descendants spread throughout Eurasia, and possibly America and Australia as well (Ivanov 1992:2). To reconstruct an original language for which we lack any written evidence, we must proceed like

“molecular biologists in their quest to understand the evolution of life. The biochemist identifies molecular elements that perform similar functions in widely divergent species, to infer the characteristics of the primordial cell from which they are presumed to have descended.

So does the linguist seek correspondences in grammar, syntax, vocabulary, and vocalization among known languages in order to reconstruct their immediate forebears and ultimately the original tongue. (Gamkrelidze and Ivanov 1990: 110).”

Cavalli-Sforza’s work on genetics (cf., for example, 1988, 1991) tends to show that linguistic affinities reflect genetic affinities. This supports the hypothesis of a single origin of all languages, reflecting the common evolutionary origin of all human groups.

Just as humanity evolved only once on the face of the earth, and later diffused across the whole planet, so language. Biological monogenesis and linguistic monogenesis thus go hand in hand and may be inferentially reconstructed on the basis of mutually comparable data.

In a different conceptual framework, the assumption that both the genetic and the immunological codes can, in some sense, be analyzed semiotically seems to constitute the new scientific attempt to find a language which could be defined as the primitive one par excellence (though not in historical but rather in biological terms).

This language would nest in the roots of evolution itself, of phylogenesis as of onto-genesis, stretching back to before the dawn of humanity (cf. Prodi 1977).”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 115-6.

Eco: Postel’s Universalistic Utopia, 2

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An unattributed and undated portrait of Guillaume Postel (1510-84), published by George Saliba. This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less. 

“After various peregrinations, Postel found himself in Venice, where, in 1547, he was appointed chaplain of the Hospital of Sts. John and Paul (called the Ospedaletto), and censor of books published in the Hebrew language in that city.

While in the Ospedaletto, he was appointed confessor to its founder, the fifty year old Johanna, or Mother Zuana, a woman who had dedicated her life to helping the poor. Gradually, the conviction grew on Postel that in meeting Johanna, he had come into contact with a great prophetic spirit.

He conceived for her a mystic passion in which he saw her as the mother of the world, destined to redeem humanity from its original sin.

After rereading the kabbalist text, the Zohar, Postel identified Johanna as Shekinah as well as with the angelical pope whose coming had been foretold in the prophecies of Joachim a Fiore.

Finally, he identified her as the second Messiah. According to Postel, the feminine component of humanity, guilty of the sin of Eve, had not been saved by Christ. The salvation of the daughters of Eve would only occur with the coming of a second Messiah (on Postel’s “feminism” cf. Sottile 1984).

The question whether Johanna was truly a mystic with extraordinary capacities or whether these were just qualities that Postel projected into her is hardly an important issue for us.

What is important rather is that there was now established an intense spiritual communion: Johanna, the kabbala, universal peace, the last age foretold by Joachim, were all thrown into a single crucible; what emerged was Johanna in the role formerly held by Ignatius Loyola in Postel’s utopian schemes.

What is more, “Johanna’s “immaculate conception” produces her “little son,” Postel, the new Elias” (Kuntz 1981: 91).

Rumors of singular goings on at the Ospedaletto soon spread, however, and in 1549, Postel was forced to leave Venice. He resumed his wanderings in the Orient, returning to Venice the following year only to learn of the death of Johanna.

According to tradition, on hearing the news he fell into a state of prostration mixed with ecstasy in which he claimed to be able to stare into the sun for an hour. He felt the spirit of Johanna gradually invading his body (Kuntz: 1981: 104). He began to proclaim his belief in metempsychosis.

Postel next returned to Paris where, with great public acclaim, he resumed his teaching. Yet soon he was announcing the advent of the era of Restitution, a golden century under the sign of Johanna.

Once again, he found himself at the center of a philosophical and religious turmoil. When the king forced him to abandon teaching, he set off on a new journey through various cities, ending up again in Venice, arriving just in time to prevent his books from being placed on the Index.

He was questioned by the Inquisition, which tried to induce him to recant. In 1555, in recognition of his services to science and politics, he was declared “non malus sed amens,” not guilty but insane.

His life was spared, but he was imprisoned, first in Ravenna and afterwards in Rome.

At the request of the French religious authorities, Postel was later transferred to Paris, in 1564. He retired to the monastery of Saint-Martin-des-Champs where he lived until his death in 1587. During this period, he wrote a repudiation of his heretical doctrines concerning Mother Johanna.

Apart from this final capitulation, Postel seems to have been a relentless defender of ideas which, for this period, were quite unconventional. His particular vision of utopia must be regarded within the cultural context of his time.

Demonet (1992: 337ff) underlines that his idea of the “restitution” of Hebrew as the language of universal concord also required that infidels recognize their error and accept the Christian revelation.

None the less, as Kuntz notes (1981: 49), Postel was neither an orthodox Catholic nor an orthodox Protestant; his moderate and pacifist positions infuriated, in fact, extremists of both persuasions.

Some of his doctrines were theologically ambiguous: he claimed that Christianity was the only religion that verified the message of Judaism, but–at the same time–that to be a good Christian it was not necessary to belong to a sect (Catholic church included), but rather to feel the presence of the divine within.

It followed that a true Christian could, and even should, observe Jewish law, and that the Muslims could be considered half-Christians.

More than once, Postel condemned the persecution of the Jews. He spoke of the Jewishness of all men, talking of Christian-Jews instead of Jewish Christians (Kuntz 1981: 130).

He claimed that the true tradition of Christianity was Judaism with its name changed, and lamented that Christianity had lost its Judaic roots.

Such positions could only be seen as extremely provocative by a church still clinging to the pre-Renaissance doctrine that Christianity represented both the correction and the cancellation of Judaism.

In order to affirm, as Postel did in his De orbis, the existence of a harmony between the faiths, it was necessary to exercise a tolerance on a number of theological issues. Postel’s doctrine has thus been described as a universalistic theism (Radetti 1936).”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 77-80.

Eco: Dante and Abulafia, 2

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Bartolomeu Velho (d.1568), Figure of the Heavenly Bodies, an illuminated illustration of the Ptolemaic geocentric conception of the Universe, from Cosmographia, 1568. Held in the Bibliotèque Nationale de France, Paris. This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less.  

“Yet could Dante have known the theories of Abulafia?

Abulafia visited Italy on several occasions: he was in Rome in 1260; he remained on the peninsula until 1271, when he returned to Barcelona; he returned to Rome in 1280 with the project of converting the pope.

He journeyed afterwards to Sicily, where we lose trace of him somewhere near the end of the 1290s. His ideas incontestably exercised an influence on contemporary Italian Jewish thought. We have a record of a debate in 1290 between Hillel of Verona (who had probably met Abulafia twenty years earlier) and Zerakhya of Barcelona, who arrived in Italy at the beginning of the 1270s (cf. Genot-Bismuth 1988: II).

Hillel, who had contacts in the world of Bologna intellectuals, had written to Zerakhya to ask him the question first posed by Herodotus: in what language would a child speak if it were brought up with no linguistic stimuli?

Hillel maintained that such a child would naturally speak Hebrew, because Hebrew was humanity’s original natural language. Hillel either did not know, or else disregarded, the fact that Abulafia was of a different opinion. Not so with Zerakhya.

He sarcastically remarked that Hillel had been taken in by the siren song of the “uncircumcised” of Bologna. The first sounds emitted by a child without linguistic education, he asserted, would resemble the barking of dogs. It was madness to maintain that the sacred language could be naturally bestowed on human beings.

Humanity possessed a linguistic potential, but it was a potential that could be activated only through education of the vocal organs. This, however, required instruction.

At this point, Zerakhya brought forward a proof that we shall find in a number of post-Renaissance Christian authors (for example, in the In Biblia polyglotta prolegomena by Walton in 1673, or the De sacra philosophia of 1652 by Vallesio): had there been the primordial gift of an original sacred language, then all human beings, regardless of their native tongue, would have the innate ability to speak it.

The existence of such a debate is enough to show, without needing to invent a meeting between Dante and Abulafia, that Abulafia’s ideas were subject to discussion in Italy, especially in the Bolognese intellectual circles which influenced Dante, and from which, according to Maria Corti, he absorbed his notion of the forma locutionis.

Nor does the Bologna debate constitute the only point of encounter between Dante and Jewish thought.

Genot-Bismuth has given us a vivid picture of the close of the thirteenth century in which we will later find a Yehuda Romano giving a series of lectures on the Divine Comedy for his co-religionists, a Lionello di Ser Daniele who did likewise using a Divine Comedy transliterated into Hebrew script, not to mention the surprising personage of Immanuel da Roma, who, in his own poetic compositions, seemed to launch an attack on Dante’s ideals almost aspiring to produce a sort of counter-Comedy in Hebrew.

Naturally this only establishes the influence of Dante on Italian Jewish culture, not the other way around. Yet Genot-Bismuth is able to show opposing influences as well, even to the point of suggesting that Dante’s theory of the four senses of scripture, found in his Epistula, XIII (cf. Eco 1985), had a Jewish origin.

Such a hypothesis may be too bold: there were any number of Christian sources from which Dante might have drawn this doctrine. What seems less daring, and, in fact, entirely plausible, is the suggestion that, in Bologna, Dante would have heard echoes of the debate between Hillel and Zerakhya.

One could say that in DVE he appears still close to the position of the former (or of his Christian inspirers, as Zerakhya reproaches him), while in Paradise he turns towards the positions of the latter, that is, the position of Abulafia (even though, when writing DVE, he already had the opportunity to know both theses).

However, it is not necessary to document direct links (even though Genot-Bismuth finds the presence of Jewish influences in certain passages of the De regimine principium of Giles of Rome), but rather to demonstrate the existence of a cultural climate in which ideas could circulate and within which a formal and informal debate between the church and the synagogue might ensue (cf. Calimani 1987: viii).

We should remember that, before the Renaissance, a Christian thinker would scarcely wish to admit publicly that he drew on Hebrew doctrine.

Like heretics, the Jewish community belonged to a category of outcasts that–as Le Goff shrewdly observes–the Middle Ages officially despised but at the same time admired; regarding them with an admixture of attraction and fear, keeping them at a distance, but making sure that the distance was fixed near enough so they would always remain close at hand.

“What was termed charity in their regard more resembled the game that cats play with mice” (Le Goff 1964:373).

Before the kabbala was rehabilitated by humanist culture, Christianity knew little of it. It was often simply regarded as a branch of the black arts. Even so, as Gorni has pointed out (1990: vii), in the Divine Comedy, Dante seems to share a great deal of knowledge about magic and divinatory practices (astrology, chiromancy, physiognomy, geomancy, pyromancy, hydromancy and, not least, the black arts of magic themselves).

In one way or another, Dante seems to have been informed about an excluded and underground culture in which, at least according to vulgar opinion, the kabbala somehow belonged.

In this way, it becomes ever more plausible that, even if it does not derive directly from the theories of the Modistae, Dante’s forma locutionis is not a language but the universal matrix for all language.”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 49-52.

Eco: Language and Linguistic Behavior

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Salvador Dalí (1904-89), Tower of Babel, from the series Biblia Sacra: Ancien Testament, 1967-9, held in the Espace Dali, Dali Museum, Paris. Photo by hanneorla on Flickr. © All rights reserved. This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less.

“In referring to his conception of the vernacular, in the opening chapter of his treatise Dante uses terms such as vulgaris eloquentia, locutio vulgarium gentium and vulgaris locutio, while reserving the term locutio secundaria for grammar.

We can probably take eloquentia as generically “ability to speak fluently.” Nevertheless, the text contains a series of distinctions, and these are probably not casual. In certain instances, Dante speaks of locutio, in others of ydioma, of lingua or of loquela.

He uses the term ydioma whenever he refers to the Hebrew language (I, iv, 1; I, vi, 1; I, vi, 7) and when he expresses his notion of the branching off of the various languages of the world–the Romance languages in particular. In vi, 6-7, in speaking of the confusion after Babel, Dante uses the term loquela.

In this same context, however, he uses ydioma for the languages of the confusion as well as for the Hebrew language which remained intact. He can speak of the loquela of the Genovese and of the Tuscans while, at the same time, using lingua both for Hebrew and for the Italian vernacular dialects.

It thus seems that the terms ydioma, lingua and loquela are all to be understood as meaning a tongue or a given language in the modern, Saussurian sense of langue.

Often locutio is used in this sense too. When he wishes to say that, after the destruction of Babel, the workers on the tower began to speak imperfect languages, he writes, “tanto rudius nunc barbariusque locuntur.” A few lines later, referring to the Hebrew language in its original state, he uses the phrase, “antiquissima locutione.” (I, vi, 6-8).

Nevertheless, although ydioma, lingua and loquela are “marked” forms (used only where langue in the Saussurian sense is meant), the term locutio  seems to have another, more elastic sense.

It is used whenever the context seems to suggest either the activity of speaking, or the functioning of the linguistic faculty. Dante often uses locutio to mean the act of speaking: for example, he says of animal sounds that they cannot be construed as locutio, meaning by this that they do not qualify as proper linguistic activity. (I, ii, 6-7).

Dante also uses locutio every time that Adam addresses God.

These distinctions are clearest in the passage (I, iv, 1) where Dante asks himself “to what man was the faculty of speech [locutio] first given, and what he said at the beginning [quod primus locutus fuerit], and to whom, and where, and when, and in what language [sub quo ydiomate] were the first acts of linguistic behavior [primiloquium] emitted?”

I think I am justified here in giving primiloquium this sense of “first linguistic behavior” on the analogy of Dante’s use of the terms tristiloquium and turpiloquium to characterize the evil way of speaking of the Romans and the Florentines.

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 38-40.

Eco: The Perfect Language of Dante

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Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), De vulgari eloquentia Libri Duo (1301-5). This edition was printed in Paris, Ex libris Corbinelli, 1577. It is held by the University of Mannheim under call number Sch 072/212. This copy includes manuscript notes by Gilles Ménage, Aegidius Menagius, 1613-92. The last private owner of this book was François-Josephe Terrace Desbillons (1711-89). The Latin text of this book is available on the Latin Library website.

“The first occasion on which the world of medieval Christianity had to confront a systematic project for a perfect language was De vulgari eloquentia (hereafter DVE) of Dante Alighieri, written presumably between 1301 and 1305.

Dante’s text opens with an observation which, obvious thought it may be, is still fundamental for us: there is a multitude of vulgar tongues, all of them are natural languages, and all are opposed to Latin–which is a universal but artificial grammar.

Before the blasphemy of Babel, humanity had known but one language, a perfect language, a language spoken by Adam with God and by his posterity. The plurality of tongues arose as the consequence of the confusio linguarum.

Revealing a knowledge of comparative linguistics exceptional for his time, Dante sought to demonstrate how this fragmentation had actually taken place. The division of the languages born from the confusion, he argued, had proceeded in three stages.

First he showed how languages split up into the various zones of the world; then, using the vernacular word for yes as his measuring rod, he showed how languages (within what we today call the Romance area) had further split into the oc, oil and groups.

Finally, within this last subdivision, Dante showed how particular languages were even further fragmented into a welter of  local dialects, some of which might, as in Bologna, even vary from one part of a city to another.

All of these divisions had occurred, Dante observed, because the human being is–by custom, by habit, by language, and according to differences in time and space–a changeable animal.

If the aim of his project was to discover one language more decorous and illustrious than the others, Dante had to take each of the various vernaculars in turn and subject it to a severe critical analysis.

Examining the work of the best Italian poets, and assuming that each in his own way had always gone beyond his local dialect, Dante thought to create a vernacular (volgare) that might be more illustre (illustrious, in the sense of “shining with light”), cardinale (useful as a guiding rule or cardine), regale (worthy of being spoken in the royal palace of the national king–if the Italians were ever to obtain one), and curiale (worthy to be a language of government, of courts of law, and of wisdom).

Such a vernacular belonged to every city in Italy, yet to none. It existed only as an ideal form, approached by the best poets, and it was according to this ideal form that all the vulgar dialects needed to be judged.

The second, and uncompleted, part of DVE sketches out the rules of composition for the one and only vernacular to which the term illustrious might truly apply–the poetic language of which Dante considered himself to be the founder.

Opposing this language to all other languages of the confusion, Dante proclaimed it as the one which had restored that primordial affinity between words and objects which had been the hallmark of the language of Adam.”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 34-5.

Eco: The Kabbalistic Pansemioticism

 

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Lucas van Valckenborch (1535-97), The Tower of Babel (1594), Musée du Louvre, Paris. This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less.  

“Our story opened with a reference to an eastern text, the Bible. By the time of the last church Fathers, however, knowledge of the language in which this text was composed had been lost. Thus we were able to begin our story by reading the Bible directly in the Latin of the Vulgate.

The Christian West would begin to come to terms with Hebrew only from the Renaissance onwards. However, in the same centuries in which Hebrew was forgotten by Christian scholars, in the Jewish milieu of Provence and Spain there flowered a current of Hebrew mysticism destined to have a profound influence  on Europe’s search for the perfect language: kabbala, a mystical current that regarded creation itself as a linguistic phenomenon.”

Editorial Note

There are many ways to write Kabbala, but Eco in this text writes it that way. I will include tags for “kabbalah” as well, so you can search for affiliated texts, which are numerous. Other ways to write it include “cabala” and “qabbalah” and “qabala,” but in the case of Cabala and similar transliterations like Cabbala the reference is to a completely separate system of thought which Eco addresses below.

 The Reading of the Torah

“The kabbala (from qabbalah, which might be rendered as “tradition”) was a technique of interpretation grafted onto the practice of commenting  on the Torah, that is, on the books of the Pentateuch, together with the practice of rabbinical commentary known as the Talmud.

In this way, the kabbala appears pre-eminently as a technique of reading and interpreting the sacred text. Yet the actual Torah rolls upon which the kabbalistic scholar labored served him merely as a point of departure: underneath the letters in which the Torah was written, the kabbalist sought to descry the shape of the eternal Torah, created by God before all worlds, and consigned to his angels.

According to some, the primordial Torah was inscribed in black flames upon white fire. At the moment of its creation, it appeared as a series of letters not yet joined up in the form of words.

For this reason, in the Torah rolls there appear neither vowels, nor punctuation, nor accents; for the original Torah was nothing but a disordered heap of letters. Furthermore, had it not been for Adam’s sin, these letters might have been joined differently to form another story.

For the kabbalist, God will abolish the present ordering of these letters, or else will teach us how to read them according to a new disposition, only after the coming of the Messiah.

One school of the kabbalistic tradition, characterized in recent studies as the theosophical kabbala, endeavored to find beneath the letters of the sacred text references to the ten Sefirot, or the ten hypostases of the divinity.

The theosophy of the Sefirot might be compared to the various theories of cosmic chains appearing in the Hermetic, Gnostic and Neo-Platonic traditions; the ten Sefirot were hypostases in the sense of representing either increasing grades of emanation, and, therefore, ten intermediate steps between God and the world, or ten internal aspects of the divinity itself.

In either case, in so far as they represented various ways in which the infinite expands itself, actually or potential, into the finite universe, they also constituted a series of channels or steps through which the soul passes on its journey of return to God.

The kabbalist uses the Torah as a symbolic instrument; beneath the letters of the Torah, beneath the events to which, to the uninstructed, its words seem to allude, there is a text which reveals a mystic and metaphysical reality.

To use this instrument to uncover this reality, however, the text needs to be read not only literally but also in three other senses: allegorical-philosophical, hermeneutic and mystic. This is reminiscent of the four ways of reading scripture in Christian exegetical tradition.

Beyond this point, however, all analogies between the kabbala and Christian exegesis break down, and kabbalism proceeds by its own, radically individual, route.”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 25-7.

 

Umberto Eco: Search for the Perfect Language, 3

El_jardín_de_las_Delicias,_de_El_Bosco

Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516), Garden of Earthly Delights. The left tablet of the triptych depicts Paradise, with the creation of Eve and the Fountain of Life. The central tablet portrays the pleasures of life, and the rightmost tablet Hell. Held in the collection of the Prado. Accession number P02823, this work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries where the copyright term is the life of the author plus 100 years or less.

“Having established the boundaries of my discourse, I must pay my debts. I am indebted to the studies of Paolo Rossi for first awakening my interest in the subjects of classical mnemonics, pansophia and world theaters; to Alessandro Bausani’s witty and learned overview on invented languages; to Lia Formigari’s book on the linguistic problems of English empiricism; and to many other authors whom, if I do not cite every time that I have drawn on them, I hope, at least, to have cited on crucial points, as well as to have included in the bibliography.

My only regret is that George Steiner had already copyrighted the most appropriate title for this book–After Babel–nearly twenty years ago. Hats off.

I would also like to thank the BBC interviewer who, on 4 October 1983, asked me what semiotics meant. I replied that he ought to know the answer himself, since semiotics was defined by Locke in 1690, in Great Britain, and since in the same country was published in 1668 the Essay towards a Real Character by Bishop Wilkins, the first semiotic approach to an artificial language.

Later, as I left the studio, I noticed an antiquarian bookstore, and, out of curiosity, I walked into it. Lying there I saw a copy of Wilkin’s Essay. It seemed a sign from heaven; so I bought it. That was the beginning of my passion for collecting old books on imaginary, artificial, mad and occult languages, out of which has grown my personal ‘Bibliotheca Semiologica Curiosa, Lunatica, Magica et Pneumatica,’ which has been a mainstay to me in the present endeavor.

In 1987, I was also encouraged to undertake the study of perfect languages by an early work of Robert Pellerey, and I shall often be referring to his recent volume on perfect languages in the eighteenth century. I have also given two courses of lectures on this topic in the University of Bologna and one at the Collège de France.

Many of my students have made contributions about particular themes or authors. Their contributions appeared, as the rules of academic fairness require, before the publication of this book, in the final issue of VS (1992), 61-3, ‘Le lingue perfette.’

A final word of thanks to the antiquarian booksellers on at least two continents who have brought to my attention rare or unknown texts. Unfortunately–considering the size prescribed for this book–as rich as the most exciting of these trouvailles are, they could receive only passing mention, or none at all. I console myself that I have the material for future excursions in erudition.

Besides, the first draft of this research totaled twice the number of pages I am now sending to the printer. I hope that my readers will be grateful for the sacrifice that I have celebrated for their comfort, and that the experts will forgive me the elliptic and panoramic bent of my story.

Umberto Eco

Bologna, Milan, Paris”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 5-6.

Eco: Search for the Perfect Language, 2.

Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1526/1530-1569 CE), The Tower of Babel. Brueghel painted three versions of the Tower of Babel. One is kept in the Museum Bojimans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam, the second, this one, is held in the Kunsthistoriches Museum in Vienna, while the disposition of the third version, a miniature on ivory, is unknown. Faithful reproductions of two-dimensional public domain works of art are public domain.

Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1526/1530-1569 CE), The Tower of Babel. Brueghel painted three versions of the Tower of Babel. One is kept in the Museum Bojimans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam, the second, this one, is held in the Kunsthistoriches Museum in Vienna, while the disposition of the third version, a miniature on ivory, is unknown. Faithful reproductions of two-dimensional public domain works of art are public domain.

“Beyond this, I have decided to consider only projects concerning true and proper languages. This means that, with a bitter sigh of relief, I have decided to consider only the following:

  1. the rediscovery of languages postulated as original or as mystically perfect — such as Hebrew, Egyptian or Chinese;
  2. the reconstruction of languages postulated, either fancifully or not, as original or mother tongues, including the laboratory model of Indo-European;
  3. languages constructed artificially for one of three ends: (a) perfection in terms of either function or structure, such as the a priori philosophical languages of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, which were designed to express ideas perfectly and to discover thereby new connections between the diverse aspects of reality; (b) perfection in terms of universality, such as the a posteriori international languages of the nineteenth century; (c) perfection in terms of practicality, if only presumed, such as the so-called polygraphies;
  4. more or less magic languages, whether they be discovered or fabricated, whose perfection is extolled on account of either their mystic affability or their initiative secrecy.

By contrast, I can give no more than bare notice to any of the following:

  1. oneiric languages, not expressly invented, such as the languages of the insane, or of trance states, or of mystic revelations (like the Unknown Language of Saint Hildegarde of Bingen), as well as all the cases of glossolalia or xenoglossia (cf. Samara 1972); Goodman 1972);
  2. fictitious languages, either in narrative (from Rabelais to Foigny up to Orwell’s ‘Newspeak’ and Tolkien), or in poetry (like Chlebnikov’s transmental speech). In the majority of these cases, we are presented with only short stretches of speech, supposedly representing an actual language, for which, however, there is provided neither a lexicon nor a syntax (cf. Pons 1930, 1931, 1932, 1979; Yaguello 1984).
  3. bricolage languages, that is languages that are created spontaneously by the encounter of two linguistically distinct cultures. Typical examples are the pidgins arising in areas of colonialism. As cross-national as they may be, they are not universal. They are, rather, partial and imperfect because they have a limited lexicon and an oversimplified syntax; they are used to facilitate simple activities such as barter, but are unable to express higher types of experience (cf. Waldman 1977);
  4. natural tongues or jargons serving as vehicular languages in multilingual zones. An example of such a language of exchange might be Swahili, the lingua franca of large areas of East Africa. Modern English would be another example. French was formerly an example, if one considers that, during the Convention, the Abbé Gregoire revealed that, out of a population of twenty-six million, fifteen million French men and women spoke a language other than that of Paris (Calvet 1981: 110);
  5. formal languages whose use is limited to special scientific purposes, such as the languages of chemistry, algebra and logic (these will be considered only as they derive from projects defined by category 3(a) above;
  6. the immense and delectable category of the so-called fous du language (see, for example, Blavier 1982; Yaguello 1984). Admittedly, in such cases it is not always easy to distinguish between technical insanity and mild glottomania, and many of my own characters may sometimes show some aspects of lunacy. Still, it is possible to make a distinction. We will not consider belated glottomaniacs. Nevertheless, I have not always been able to keep down my taste for whimsicality, especially when (even though the belatedness was hardly justifiable) those attempts had, anyway, a certain, traceable, historic influence, or, at least, they documented the longevity of a dream.

Similarly, I do not claim here to examine the whole of the researches on a universal grammar (except in cases in which they clearly intersect with my topic), because they deserve a separate chapter of the history of linguistics.

Likewise, this is not (except, again, where the subject intersects with that of the perfect language) a book about the secular, or rather, millennial, question of the origins of language.

There are infinite discussions on the origins of human language which do not consider the possibility or the opportunity of returning back to the language of our origins, either because they assume that it had definitely disappeared, or because they consider it as radically imperfect.

Finally, were it up to me to decide under which heading this book should be filed in a library catalogue (an issue which, for Leibniz, was bound up with the problem of a perfect language), I would pick neither ‘linguistics’ nor ‘semiotics’ (even though the book employs semiotics as its instrument, and demands a certain degree of semiotic interest from its reader).

I would rather pick ‘history of ideas.’ This explains why I make no attempt to construct a rigorous semiotic typology for the various types of a priori and a posteriori languages: this would require a detailed examination of each and every project, a job for students of what is now called ‘general inter linguistics.’

The present book aims instead at delineating, with large brushstrokes and selected examples, the principle episodes of the story of a dream that has run now for almost two thousand years.”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 2-5.

Selz: Victory Steles, Dreams and the Erra Epic

“A further consequence is that the appearance of the ruler was perceived as perfect in every sense, physically and mentally, he is strong and wise, these being the preconditions for his rule.

(Compare, for example, I.J. Winter, “The Body of the Able Ruler: Towards an Understanding of the Statues of Gudea,” in DUMU-E2-DUB-BA-A: Studies in Honor of Ake W. Sjöberg (ed. H. Behrens, D. Loding, and M.T. Roth; Publications of the Samuel Noah Kramer Fund 11; Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum, 1989), pp. 573-84.)

Such perfection is also mentioned repeatedly as a feature of the kings of Ur III; the best sources for this are provided by their hymns.

(See already S.N. Kramer, “Kingship in Sumer and Akkad: The Ideal King,” in Le palais et la royauté: Archéologie et civilization: Compte rendu de la XIXe Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale organisée par le Groupe François Thureau-Dangin, Paris, 29 juin–2 juillet 1971 (ed. P. Garelli; Paris: Geithner, 1974), pp. 163-76.

J. Klein, The Royal Hymns of Šulgi, King of Ur: Man’s Quest for Immortal Fame (Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 71.7; Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1981); and numerous other works.)

Therefore it does not come as a surprise that in the texts from the last years of his reign, king Shulgi-r was marked with the divine classifier, which was traditionally reserved for all sorts of deities.

Roughly two centuries earlier the Old Akkadian king Narām-Sîn established this practice when he asserts that after rescuing the land from dire straits the people from various cities asked their gods to name him as their god and built him even a temple in the capital city Agade.

Victory Stele of Naram-Sin Brought back from Sippar to Susa as a war prize in the 12th century BCE.  Louvre Museum Accession number Sb 4 Found by J. de Morgan Photo: Rama This work is free software; you can redistribute it or modify it under the terms of the CeCILL. The terms of the CeCILL license are available at www.cecill.info. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Victory_stele_of_Naram_Sin_9068.jpg

Victory Stele of Naram-Sin
Brought back from Sippar to Susa as a war prize in the 12th century BCE.
Louvre Museum
Accession number Sb 4
Found by J. de Morgan
Photo: Rama
This work is free software; you can redistribute it or modify it under the terms of the CeCILL. The terms of the CeCILL license are available at http://www.cecill.info.
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Victory_stele_of_Naram_Sin_9068.jpg

Such (self-)deification of the ruler was not accepted unanimously in Mesopotamia: In the later cuneiform tradition Narām-Sîn’s attempt to obliterate the border between the human and the divine spheres was branded as blasphemous.

Like the giants, the rulers of Mesopotamia could have dreams. Dreams do, of course, play a major role all over the ancient Near East. For lack of space I just mention some very early examples here. The observable parallels may speak for themselves.

One fragment of the victory stele of the king Eannatum of Lagash over Umma, called « Stele of Vultures ». Historical side. Limestone, circa 2450 BC, Sumerian archaic dynasties. Found in 1881 in Girsu (now Tello, Iraq), Mesopotamia, by Édouard de Sarzec. Louvre Museum. Department of Mesopotamian antiquities, Richelieu, ground floor, room 1a AO 16 IO9, AO 50, AO 2246 and AO 2348 (for the whole stele) Donation of the British Museum. Eric Gaba (User:Sting), July 2005. Any use of this photograph can be made as long as you credit me (Eric Gaba – Wikimedia Commons user: Sting) as the author and distribute the copies and derivative works under the same license(s) that the one(s) stated below. A message with a reply address would also be greatly appreciated. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled GNU Free Documentation License.

One fragment of the victory stele of the king Eannatum of Lagash over Umma, called « Stele of Vultures ». Historical side. Limestone, circa 2450 BC, Sumerian archaic dynasties. Found in 1881 in Girsu (now Tello, Iraq), Mesopotamia, by Édouard de Sarzec.
Louvre Museum.
Department of Mesopotamian antiquities, Richelieu, ground floor, room 1a
AO 16 IO9, AO 50, AO 2246 and AO 2348 (for the whole stele)
Donation of the British Museum.
Eric Gaba (User:Sting), July 2005.
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled GNU Free Documentation License.

The earliest attestation for a dream is attested in the famous stele of vultures of the pre-Sargonic king of Lagash, E’anatum. In E’anatum 1, 6:28 we read: “to the one who has lain down, to the one who has lain down (the deity) stood at (his) head.”

Reconstitution of the victory stele of the king Eannatum of Lagash over Umma, called « Stele of Vultures ». Historical side. Limestone, circa 2450 BC, Sumerian archaic dynasties. Found in 1881 in Girsu (now Tello, Iraq), Mesopotamia, by Édouard de Sarzec. AO 16 IO9, AO 50, AO 2246 and AO 2348 (for the whole stele) https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Stele_of_the_Vultures#/media/File:Stele_of_Vultures_historical_side.jpg Eric Gaba (User:Sting), July 2005. Any use of this photograph can be made as long as you credit me (Eric Gaba – Wikimedia Commons user: Sting) as the author and distribute the copies and derivative works under the same license(s) that the one(s) stated below. A message with a reply address would also be greatly appreciated. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled GNU Free Documentation License.

Reconstitution of the victory stele of the king Eannatum of Lagash over Umma, called « Stele of Vultures ». Historical side. Limestone, circa 2450 BC, Sumerian archaic dynasties. Found in 1881 in Girsu (now Tello, Iraq), Mesopotamia, by Édouard de Sarzec.
AO 16 IO9, AO 50, AO 2246 and AO 2348 (for the whole stele)
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Stele_of_the_Vultures#/media/File:Stele_of_Vultures_historical_side.jpg
Eric Gaba (User:Sting), July 2005.
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled GNU Free Documentation License.

(We note that this passage follows the miraculous birth of the ruler E’anatum; presumably he was thus especially fitted for the dream message.)

For our purpose, here it is noteworthy, that a deity was the sender or transmitter of the dream. The dream was of divine origin, considered as revelation of the divine will.”

(The clearest reference to the divine revelation of a text is attested in the late Erra Epic with his evident “apocalyptic” theme where the author Kabti-ilāni-Marduk actually asserts in the colophon of the text: (5:40):

Reconstitution of the victory stele of the king Eannatum of Lagash over Umma, called « Stele of Vultures ». Mythological side. Limestone, circa 2450 BC, Sumerian archaic dynasties. Found in 1881 in Girsu (now Tello, Iraq), Mesopotamia, by Édouard de Sarzec. AO 16 IO9, AO 50, AO 2246 and AO 2348 (for the whole stele) https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Stele_of_Vultures_mythological_side.jpg Eric Gaba (User:Sting), July 2005. Any use of this photograph can be made as long as you credit me (Eric Gaba – Wikimedia Commons user: Sting) as the author and distribute the copies and derivative works under the same license(s) that the one(s) stated below. A message with a reply address would also be greatly appreciated. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled GNU Free Documentation License.

Reconstitution of the victory stele of the king Eannatum of Lagash over Umma, called « Stele of Vultures ». Mythological side. Limestone, circa 2450 BC, Sumerian archaic dynasties. Found in 1881 in Girsu (now Tello, Iraq), Mesopotamia, by Édouard de Sarzec.
AO 16 IO9, AO 50, AO 2246 and AO 2348 (for the whole stele)
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Stele_of_Vultures_mythological_side.jpg
Eric Gaba (User:Sting), July 2005.
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled GNU Free Documentation License.

“For (the god) Erra had burned with wrath and planned to lay waste the countries and slay their peoples, but Ishum, his counsellor, appeased him and (Erra) left a remnant! Kabti-ilāni-Marduk, the son of Dabibi, (was) the composer of this tablet (= of this poem):

(The deity) revealed it to him during the night, and in the morning, when he recited (it), he did not skip a single (line) nor a single line (of his own) did he add to it ….” (5:55)

[Erra speaks] “The scribe who commits it to memory shall escape the enemy country (and) shall be honoured in his own country. In the sanctuary of (those) sages where they constantly mention my name, I will grant them wisdom.

To the house in which this tablet is placed—however furious Erra may be, however murderous the Sebettu (pleaiades or seven sisters) may be—the sword of destruction shall not come near.”

(English translation by L. Cagni, The Poem of Erra [Sources of the Ancient Near East 1.3; Malibu: Undena Publications, 1974).”

Gebhard J. Selz, “Of Heroes and Sages–Considerations of the Early Mesopotamian Background of Some Enochic Traditions,” in Armin Lange, et alThe Dead Sea Scrolls in Context, v. 2, Brill, 2011, pp. 796-7.

Kvanvig: On Šēp lemutti, Averting Evil

“The apkallus were also an essential part of the composition Šēp lemutti. The composition starts by defining the purpose of the ritual as to avert evil from the house.

Then the text prescribes the types of figures to be fashioned and buried at set locations in the house. This section contains a long passage describing wooden figures of seven apkallus, from seven Babylonian cities. Since these figures should be made of wood, no remains of them are found, of course.

Bird Apkallū and Fish Apkallū, the so-called purādu-fish, side by side. Apkallū statuettes of this design were buried in appropriate places in the home of a Babylonian exorcist. They were believed to have prophylactic qualities, guarding the home from evil.

Bird Apkallū and Fish Apkallū, the so-called purādu-fish, side by side. Apkallū statuettes of this design were buried in appropriate places in the home of a Babylonian exorcist. They were believed to have prophylactic qualities, guarding the home from evil.

The next passages describe apkallus with well-known features; seven figures with faces and wings of birds and seven figures cloaked in the skin of a fish. (Cf. Green, “Neo-Assyrian Apotropaic Figures,” 87-96, 87-90.)

In total the apkallus as groups of seven are described five times according to where they should be buried: at the head of the bed, in the foundation of the house, at the threshold to the chapel, in front of the door behind the chair and in the middle of the house in front of the chair (the chair may here be the throne of the palace).

 As noted by Professor Dalley, "The type occurs as a group of six or more clay figurines placed in brick boxes in foundations at Assur, Nimrud, and Nineveh," citing Dessa Rittig as her source (Assyrisch-babylonische Kleinplastik magischer Bedeutung vom 13.-6. Jh. v. Chr. München, 1977).


As noted by Professor Dalley, “The type occurs as a group of six or more clay figurines placed in brick boxes in foundations at Assur, Nimrud, and Nineveh,” citing Dessa Rittig as her source (Assyrisch-babylonische Kleinplastik magischer Bedeutung vom 13.-6. Jh. v. Chr. München, 1977).

The first invocation addresses the arrival of the apkallus: “the apkallus have arrived at the first location.” (Cf. P. Hibbert in Kolbe, Die Reliefprogramme, 200-1.) Then follows an invocation that is similar in all the other four instances: šiptu attunu salmānu apkallu massarī, “Incantation: “you are the statues of the apkallus, the watchers.” (Wiggermann, Mesopotamian Protective Spirits, 48.)

The designation massaru follows the intention of the whole ritual closely: the apkallus are invoked to protect the palace or the house. Accordingly, there is a close correspondence between the invocation of the apkallus as watchers and how they were represented materially.

The statues of them were initiated through proper rituals and either placed in the room of the ill person to free him from evil demons, or they were buried in a house, to guard the house against demonic attack.

As monumental reliefs at the entrances to palaces they remind people and demons that the palace, the king, and the inhabitants of the palace lived in a house which was protected against evil intruders through the proper rituals.

Since the apkallus appear in apotropaic rituals, they are closely connected to the practice of the āšipū, the exorcists. In an ancient Babylonian myth the sixth sage An-enlilda made poultices for medical means. They would be brought to the upper world of humans as protection against diseases. (Lambert, “The Twenty-One “Poultices,” obv. 11-4, 78.)

A bas relief in the Louvre.  In this case the bird-apkallū tends to a sacred tree. Considering the mullilu in his right hand and the banduddu in his left, (tree cone and water bucket), he is engaged in a water ritual intended to sanctify the sacred tree. This is a common motif in Sumerian and Neo-Assyrian idols.  This bas relief is in the Louvre.  Primary publicationNimrud NW Palace I-24 = RIMA 2.0.101.023, ex. 189 (f) Collection	Nimrud, Iraq (a); British Museum, London, UK (b); Louvre Museum, Paris, France (c); Nimrud, Iraq (d); Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, Michigan, USA (e); British Museum, London, UK; Louvre Museum, Paris, France  Museum no.	Nimrud fragment no. 42 (a); BM 098061 (b); AO 22198 (c); Nimrud fragment no. 43 and 45 (d); DIA 47.181 (e) (photo: DIA); AO 19849  Accession no.	1903-10-10, 0002 (b) Provenience	Kalhu (mod. Nimrud) Period	Neo-Assyrian (ca. 911-612 BC)

A bas relief in the Louvre.
In this case the bird-apkallū tends to a sacred tree. Considering the mullilu in his right hand and the banduddu in his left, (tree cone and water bucket), he is engaged in a water ritual intended to sanctify the sacred tree. This is a common motif in Sumerian and Neo-Assyrian idols.
This bas relief is in the Louvre.
Primary publication Nimrud NW Palace I-24 = RIMA 2.0.101.023, ex. 189 (f)
Collection Nimrud, Iraq (a); British Museum, London, UK (b); Louvre Museum, Paris, France (c); Nimrud, Iraq (d); Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, Michigan, USA (e); British Museum, London, UK; Louvre Museum, Paris, France
Museum no. Nimrud fragment no. 42 (a); BM 098061 (b); AO 22198 (c); Nimrud fragment no. 43 and 45 (d); DIA 47.181 (e) (photo: DIA); AO 19849
Accession no. 1903-10-10, 0002 (b)
Provenience Kalhu (mod. Nimrud)
Period Neo-Assyrian (ca. 911-612 BC)

We know that experts in medicine and incantations against disease demons could either designate themselves as apkallu, or place themselves as a descendant of an apkallu, in this case used as honorary title for an expert of highest rank. (Cf. A. Tuskimoto, “By the Hand of Madi-Dagan, the Scribe and Apkallu-Priest,” in Priests and Officials in the Ancient Near East, K. Watanabe, ed., Heidelberg, 1999, pp. 187-200. Also Finkel, “Adad-apla-iddina,” 144f.)

In the commentary to diagnostic omens that explains the word pirig that occurs in the names of the postdiluvian apkallus meaning “light,” it is also stated that ka.pirig means āšipu.”

Helge Kvanvig, Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical, and Enochic: An Intertextual Reading, Brill, 2011, pp. 132-3.

Kvanvig: The Apkallus as Protective Spirits

“The apkallus are especially known from two incantation rituals: the one is Bīt Mēseri, as already stated; the other is called: šēp lemutti ina bit amēli parāsu, “to block the foot of evil into a man’s house” (KAR 298).

The two incantation series have a different scope. Bīt Mēseri prescribes the procedures to be performed when someone is ill, i.e. has come under demonic attack. Šēp Lemutti (“The Foot of Evil”) describes the procedures to be performed when a house should be protected from demonic attack. Consequently the rituals described have some common denominators, but also clear differences.

The rituals describe in great detail how figurines should be made of the seven apkallus. These figurines should then be addressed in an invocation to make them represent the apkallus themselves. In the case of Bīt Mēseri, where an ill person is concerned, the figurines should be arranged in the ill person’s room, close to his bed; in the case of Šēp Lemutti the figurines should be deposited in the foundation of the house.

Apotropaic figurine deposit found in room S57 of Fort Shalmaneser at Nimrud. Adapted from Curtis and Read (1995:112). (From Nakamura).

Apotropaic figurine deposit found in room S57 of Fort Shalmaneser at Nimrud. Adapted from Curtis and Read (1995:112). (From Nakamura).

We are here at a point where textual and archeological evidence support one another. An abundance of such small figurines are found in boxes buried in the foundations of houses and palaces from the Neo-Assyrian and the Neo-Babylonian period.

Nakamura: "By burying figurines of powerful beings, the āšipu preserves an expressed belief in a present reality of supernatural power, mythological origin and divine order."

Nakamura: “By burying figurines of powerful beings, the āšipu preserves an expressed belief in a present reality of supernatural power, mythological origin and divine order.”

Because of the detailed description of their appearance in the rituals, it is not difficult to identify the excavated figurines as the same entities described in the rituals. The excavated figurines are representations of the seven apkallus.

(Cf. F.A.M. Wiggermann, “Mischwesen A,” Reallexikon der Assyriologie und Vorderasiatischen Archäologie (RLA) 8, Berlin, 1993-7, pp. 222-25, 222, 224.)

Moreover, having identified the small figurines, it is also possible to identify many of the large reliefs that flanked the entrances to the palaces of the Neo-Assyrian kings. Here the small figurines were blown up in large scale representations of figures with the same appearance as the small figurines, corresponding to the descriptions in the rituals.

(Cf. For a detailed examination of the evidence, Dieter Kolbe, Die Reliefprogramme religiös-mythologischen Characters in neu-assyrischen Palästen, EH, Reihe 38, Frankfurt am Main, 1981, III-VII, 14-30.)

The three types of apkallū are portrayed, with the human ummânū at far left, the Nisroc bird-apkallū type in the middle, and the antediluvian purādu-fish type at far right.  The human ummânū is attested in the Uruk List of Kings and Sages, while other references to bird-apkallū are legion, as documented in Wiggermann and other authorities.  The purādu-fish apkallū is principally attested in Berossus, though other authorities confirm them, as well.  The anthropomorphic qualities of the purādu-fish and the Nisroc apkallu remain unexplained, though the eagle is sacred to Enki / Ea.

The three types of apkallū are portrayed, with the human ummânū at far left, the Nisroc bird-apkallū type in the middle, and the antediluvian purādu-fish type at far right.
The human ummânū is attested in the Uruk List of Kings and Sages, while other references to bird-apkallū are legion, as documented in Wiggermann and other authorities.
The purādu-fish apkallū is principally attested in Berossus, though other authorities confirm them, as well.
The anthropomorphic qualities of the purādu-fish and the Nisroc apkallu remain unexplained, though the eagle is sacred to Enki / Ea.

There are three kinds of apkallus: fish-apkallus, bird-apkallus, and human apkallus. The fish-apkallu is represented as a fish-garbed figure, with a human body and a carp cloak (cf. the description in Berossos).

The bird-apkallu is represented as a griffin; he has a human body, wings and a bird’s head.

A bas relief in the Louvre.  In this case the bird-apkallū tends to a sacred tree. Considering the mullilu in his right hand and the banduddu in his left, (tree cone and water bucket), he is engaged in a water ritual intended to sanctify the sacred tree. This is a common motif in Sumerian and Neo-Assyrian idols.  This bas relief is in the Louvre.  Primary publicationNimrud NW Palace I-24 = RIMA 2.0.101.023, ex. 189 (f) Collection	Nimrud, Iraq (a); British Museum, London, UK (b); Louvre Museum, Paris, France (c); Nimrud, Iraq (d); Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, Michigan, USA (e); British Museum, London, UK; Louvre Museum, Paris, France  Museum no.	Nimrud fragment no. 42 (a); BM 098061 (b); AO 22198 (c); Nimrud fragment no. 43 and 45 (d); DIA 47.181 (e) (photo: DIA); AO 19849  Accession no.	1903-10-10, 0002 (b) Provenience	Kalhu (mod. Nimrud) Period	Neo-Assyrian (ca. 911-612 BC)

A bas relief in the Louvre.
In this case the bird-apkallū tends to a sacred tree. Considering the mullilu in his right hand and the banduddu in his left, (tree cone and water bucket), he is engaged in a water ritual intended to sanctify the sacred tree. This is a common motif in Sumerian and Neo-Assyrian idols.
This bas relief is in the Louvre.
Primary publication Nimrud NW Palace I-24 = RIMA 2.0.101.023, ex. 189 (f)
Collection Nimrud, Iraq (a); British Museum, London, UK (b); Louvre Museum, Paris, France (c); Nimrud, Iraq (d); Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, Michigan, USA (e); British Museum, London, UK; Louvre Museum, Paris, France
Museum no. Nimrud fragment no. 42 (a); BM 098061 (b); AO 22198 (c); Nimrud fragment no. 43 and 45 (d); DIA 47.181 (e) (photo: DIA); AO 19849
Accession no. 1903-10-10, 0002 (b)
Provenience Kalhu (mod. Nimrud)
Period Neo-Assyrian (ca. 911-612 BC)

(Cf. Anthony Green, “Mischwesen B,” Reallexikon der Assyriologie und Vorderasiatischen Archäologie (RLA)  8, Berlin, 1993-7, pp. 246-64, 252; Anthony Green, “Neo-Assyrian Apotropaic Figures,” Iraq 45, 1983, pp. 87-96.)

The representation of the human apkallu is more uncertain. A. Green suggests that these apkallus were imagined as genii, figures with human bodies and wings, holding a bucket in the one hand and a cone in the other.

Now compare this Nimrud bas relief from the Louvre: an ummânū sprinkles water with a mullilu cone in his right hand, holding his banduddu bucket in his left. This ummânū wears bracelets with a concentric circular design, and rosettes are not apparent. This ummânū also wears the common horned headdress of Anu, but with three stacked layers of horns. As noted elsewhere, this headdress is surmounted by an object that resembles a partial fleur de lis. From Nimrud, capital of king Ashurnarzipal.  Louvre, AO 19845

Now compare this Nimrud bas relief from the Louvre: an ummânū sprinkles water with a mullilu cone in his right hand, holding his banduddu bucket in his left.
This ummânū wears bracelets with a concentric circular design, and rosettes are not apparent.
This ummânū also wears the common horned headdress of Anu, but with three stacked layers of horns.
As noted elsewhere, this headdress is surmounted by an object that resembles a partial fleur de lis.
From Nimrud, capital of king Ashurnarzipal.
Louvre, AO 19845

Figures of fish-apkallus and bird-apkallus are found in Babylonian Ur and in several of the major Assyrian cities, Nimrud, Aššur and Nineveh. They are found in royal palaces and in houses assumed to belong to the guild of the āšipū, “exorcists.”

This depiction of a fish-apkallū of the purādu-fish type guarded the entrance to the temple of Ninurta at Nimrud.<br /> A fish's head can be seen on the Apkallu's head, and its skin hangs down over the back of his body.<br /> It is important to recall that the so-called Seven Sages of Sumeria were apkallū of this type.<br /> Neo-Assyrian era, 865-860 BCE.<br /> From the Temple of Ninurta, Nimrud (ancient Kalhu; Biblical Calah), northern Mesopotamia, Iraq. (The British Museum, London).<br /> Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP (Glasg)<br /> http://www.ancient.eu/image/2708/

This depiction of a fish-apkallū of the purādu-fish type guarded the entrance to the temple of Ninurta at Nimrud.
A fish’s head can be seen on the Apkallu’s head, and its skin hangs down over the back of his body.
It is important to recall that the so-called Seven Sages of Sumeria were apkallū of this type.
Neo-Assyrian era, 865-860 BCE.
From the Temple of Ninurta, Nimrud (ancient Kalhu; Biblical Calah), northern Mesopotamia, Iraq. (The British Museum, London).
Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP (Glasg)
http://www.ancient.eu/image/2708/

(Cf. Dessa Rittig, Assyrisch-babylonische Kleinplastik magischer Bedeutung vom 13.-6. Jh. v. Chr., MVS. München, 1977, pp. 70-85, and pictures 20-31.)

The apkallus were, as stated, not only manufactured as prophylactic figurines. It is possible to find them in numerous examples of monumental art in Assyrian palaces. The fish-apkallu is also found in Persian Persagadae, placed at the entrance to the Audience Hall.

(Cf. Trudy S. Kawami, “A Possible Source for the Sculptures of the Audience Hall, Pasargadae,” Iran 10, 1972, pp. 146-8.)

In this bas relief from Nimrud, human apkallū, the ummánū, kneel and tend to a sacred tree.  Both ummânū wear horned tiaras and display rosette bracelets on their wrists. Bracelets are also apparent on their upper arms.  In the lower register, bird-apkallū raise mulillu cones to sprinkle water in a gesture of exorcism and liberation of sin.  As is typical, the banduddu buckets are in their left hands.  Interestingly in this case, the bracelets of the bird-apkallū are atypical. No rosettes are apparent.

In this bas relief from Nimrud, human apkallū, the ummánū, kneel and tend to a sacred tree.
Both ummânū wear horned tiaras and display rosette bracelets on their wrists. Bracelets are also apparent on their upper arms.
In the lower register, bird-apkallū raise mulillu cones to sprinkle water in a gesture of exorcism and liberation of sin.
As is typical, the banduddu buckets are in their left hands.
Interestingly in this case, the bracelets of the bird-apkallū are atypical. No rosettes are apparent.

In the Assyrian palaces the apkallus are guarding the sacred tree, the king, and deities. Thus the apkallus were not only invisible present in rituals (sic); they were manufactured as figures and represented in impressive monumental art.”

Helge Kvanvig, Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical, and Enochic: An Intertextual Reading, Brill, 2011, pp. 129-31.

Kvanvig: Limitations of Human Wisdom and the Loss of Eternal Life

“As we have seen, the fragments B and D then continue the story in different ways, although there is one common trait before they diverge: in both places Adapa is offered, and accepts “garment and oil” (Amarna fragment B rev. 60-5; Nineveh fragment D rev. 1-3).

We think Izre’el is right here pointing out that there is a difference between the “food and water” that Ea denied Adapa, and the “garment and oil” that he allowed Adapa in his instruction before Adapa went to heaven.

A bas relief in the Louvre.  In this case the bird-apkallū tends to a sacred tree. Considering the mullilu in his right hand and the banduddu in his left, (tree cone and water bucket), he is engaged in a water ritual intended to sanctify the sacred tree. This is a common motif in Sumerian and Neo-Assyrian idols.  This bas relief is in the Louvre.  Primary publicationNimrud NW Palace I-24 = RIMA 2.0.101.023, ex. 189 (f) Collection	Nimrud, Iraq (a); British Museum, London, UK (b); Louvre Museum, Paris, France (c); Nimrud, Iraq (d); Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, Michigan, USA (e); British Museum, London, UK; Louvre Museum, Paris, France  Museum no.	Nimrud fragment no. 42 (a); BM 098061 (b); AO 22198 (c); Nimrud fragment no. 43 and 45 (d); DIA 47.181 (e) (photo: DIA); AO 19849  Accession no.	1903-10-10, 0002 (b) Provenience	Kalhu (mod. Nimrud) Period	Neo-Assyrian (ca. 911-612 BC)

A bas relief in the Louvre.
In this case the bird-apkallū tends to a sacred tree. Considering the mullilu in his right hand and the banduddu in his left, (tree cone and water bucket), he is engaged in a water ritual intended to sanctify the sacred tree. This is a common motif in Sumerian and Neo-Assyrian idols.
This bas relief is in the Louvre.
Primary publication Nimrud NW Palace I-24 = RIMA 2.0.101.023, ex. 189 (f)
Collection Nimrud, Iraq (a); British Museum, London, UK (b); Louvre Museum, Paris, France (c); Nimrud, Iraq (d); Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, Michigan, USA (e); British Museum, London, UK; Louvre Museum, Paris, France
Museum no. Nimrud fragment no. 42 (a); BM 098061 (b); AO 22198 (c); Nimrud fragment no. 43 and 45 (d); DIA 47.181 (e) (photo: DIA); AO 19849
Accession no. 1903-10-10, 0002 (b)
Provenience Kalhu (mod. Nimrud)
Period Neo-Assyrian (ca. 911-612 BC)

“Food and water” symbolize eternal life, while “garment and oil” symbolize wisdom.

(Izre’el refers here to clothes as the distinctive marker of human civilization, as seen for instance in the myth about the creation of Enkidu, Schlomo Izre’el, Adapa and the South Wind: Language Has the Power of Life and Death, Eisenbrauns, 2001, pp. 122-3.)

Thus, according to both versions, the wisdom Adapa already has is confirmed in heaven. Then Adapa, according to fragment B, returns to the earth and his wisdom is confirmed, but he has lost the possibility for eternal life.

Fragment D continues:

Adapa, from the foundation of heaven to the summit of heaven,

looked at it all and saw his (Anu’s) awesomeness.

At that time Anu estab[lished] Adapa as watcher.

He established his freedom from Ea.

[An]u se[t] a decree to make glorious his lordship forever:

[ … ] Adapa, seed of humankind,

[ … ] he broke the South Wind’s wing triumphantly,

(and) ascended to heaven, —so be it forever!

(Nineveh fragment D rev. 7-14).

The scene is a scene of inauguration. Immediately before, as we have seen, Adapa is given a new garment and is anointed. In light of what comes next, this is in D not only a confirmation of the wisdom Adapa already has; it is the preparation for introducing Adapa to the highest office any human was given.

Adapa, belonging to primeval time, and being the chosen one of Ea, already had a wisdom that superseded ordinary human wisdom, according to Fragment A. His broad understanding did, however, not include insight in the heavenly domain.

In our text Adapa is first equipped with the proper attire for the inauguration and then comes a description of the new insight he is given. Now his eyes are opened to the whole spectrum of divine understanding. If he previously only had insight into earthly matters, he now got what he was missing, full insight into the whole of Anu’s domain: “Adapa, from the foundation of heaven to the summit of heaven, looked at it all and saw his (Anu’s) awesomeness.”

Against the background of this new perception of the whole coherence, the proclamation of Adapa’s new status is given. He is inaugurated into massartu, “the office of being a watcher.” The expression has two contexts. On the one hand it refers to the cosmic order, which he now has received full insight into; on the other hand it refers to his magical competence, which is clear from the references dealing with illness that follow the inauguration.

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.

There is no contradiction between these two competences; the one who has insight into the hidden divine realm is also the one who is capable of fighting the evil demons causing misery on earth.

The sentence, “[An]u se[t] a decree to make glorious his lordship forever,” can be interpreted in two ways. The bēlūssu, “his lordship,” can refer to Anu; through this act Anu establishes his lordship. This seems a bit odd, since nowhere in the myth is Anu’s lordship challenged. It seems more likely that the pronoun refers to Adapa. The lordship refers to Adapa’s role as watcher, since he broke the South Wind’s wing so triumphantly.

This is the version of the myth lying behind the first apkallu in Bīt Mēseri. The name of this apkallu is U-an, “the light of An.” This is simply a naming according to what takes place in the inauguration.

He was the one who could complete “the plans of heaven and earth,” because he was the heavenly watcher who had seen everything, from the foundation to the summit of heaven. On the other hand, the seven apkallus occur in a special setting in Bīt Mēseri; the apkallus were invoked to protect human beings from diseases caused by demons.

In a similar context, the incantation series “to block the foot of evil into a man’s house” (cf. below), the apkallus are repeatedly called massarū; they are the watchers of health and life. As already stated, there is no contradiction here, because the insight in the divine real is the precondition for fighting demons.

Thus we have reached the conclusion that the different versions of the Adapa Myth are reflected in two ways in Bīt Mēseri. The apkallu who went up to and down from heaven is the Adapa from fragment B; the apkallu who had the name “Light of An” was the Adapa from fragment D. This explains the curious twin roles between the first and seventh apkallu. It also explains the double name Uandapa, simply expressing this is the first Adapa, named Uan.

And it is to be noted that even though we must assume that this quibbling with versions, roles, and names was Assyrian, it is through the name Uan that the first apkallu is known both in Berossos and in the Uruk list in the Babylonian environment.”

Helge Kvanvig, Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical, and Enochic: An Intertextual Reading, Brill, 2011, pp. 126-9.

Timeline: Sumer

Timeline: Sumer

5400 BCE: The City of Eridu is founded.

5000 BCE: Godin Tepe settled.

5000 BCE – 1750 BCE: Sumerian civilization in the Tigris-Euphrates valley.

5000 BCE: Sumer inhabited by Ubaid people.

5000 BCE – 4100 BCE: The Ubaid Period in Sumer.

5000 BCE: Evidence of burial in Sumer.

4500 BCE: The Sumerians built their first temple.

4500 BCE: The City of Uruk founded.

4100 BCE – 2900 BCE: Uruk Period in Sumer.

3600 BCE: Invention of writing in Sumer at Uruk.

3500 BCE: Late Uruk Period.

3500 BCE: First written evidence of religion in Sumerian cuneiform.

2900 BCE – 2334 BCE: The Early Dynastic Period in Sumer.

2900 BCE – 2300 BCE: Early Dynastic I.

2750 BCE – 2600 BCE: Early Dynastic II.

2600 BCE -2300 BCE: Early Dynastic III. (Fara Period).

2600 BCE – 2000 BCE: The Royal Graves of Ur used in Sumer.

2500 BCE: First Dynasty of Lagash under King Eannutum is the first empire in Mesopotamia.

A fragment of the victory stele of king Eannutum of Lagash over Umma, called «Stele of Vultures». Circa 2450 BC, Sumerian archaic dynasties. Found in 1881 in Girsu (now Tello, Iraq), Mesopotamia, by Édouard de Sarzec.

 CC BY-SA 3.0 File:Stele of Vultures detail 02.jpg Uploaded by Sting Uploaded: 18 December 2007 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eannatum#/media/File:Stele_of_Vultures_detail_02.jpg



A fragment of the victory stele of king Eannutum of Lagash over Umma, called «Stele of Vultures».
Circa 2450 BC, Sumerian archaic dynasties. Found in 1881 in Girsu (now Tello, Iraq), Mesopotamia, by Édouard de Sarzec.


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2330 BCE -2190 BCE: Akkadian Period.

2350 BCE: First code of laws by Urukagina, king of Lagash.

Fragment of an inscription of Urukagina; it reads as follows:

Fragment of an inscription of Urukagina; it reads as follows: “He [Uruinimgina] dug (…) the canal to the town-of-NINA. At its beginning, he built the Eninnu; at its ending, he built the Esiraran.” (Musée du Louvre)


Public Domain
Clay cone Urukagina Louvre AO4598ab.jpg
Uploaded by Jastrow
Created: circa 2350 BC

Victory Stele of Naram-Sin. The original Akkadian states that the six foot tall stele commemorates the victory of King Naram-Sin of Akkad over King Satuni, ruler of the Lullubi people of the mountainous Zagros. Naram-Sin was the grandson of Sargon, founder of the Akkadian empire, and the first potentate to unite the entirety of Mesopotamia in the late 24th century BCE.  Naram-Sin was the fourth sovereign of his line, following his uncle Rimush and his father Manishtusu. The Sumerian King List ascribes his rule of 36 years to 2254 BCE to 2218 BCE, a long reign not otherwise confirmed by extant documents.  The stele depicts the Akkadian army climbing the Zagros Mountains, eradicating all resistance. The slain are trampled underfoot or thrown from a precipice. Naram-Sin is portrayed wearing the horned crown of divinity, symbolic of a ruler who aspires to divinity himself. In official documentation, the name of Naram-Sin was preceded by the divine determinative. He styled himself the King of the Four Regions, or King of the World.  The stele was removed from Sippar to Susa, Iran a thousand years later by the Elamite King Shutruk-Nahhunte, as a war prize after his victorious campaign against Babylon in the 12th century BCE.  Alongside the preexisting cuneiform inscription, King Shutruk-Nahhunte appended another one glorifying himself, recording that the stele was looted during the pillage of Sippar.  Jacques de Morgan, Mémoires, I, Paris, 1900, p. 106, 144 sq, pl. X. Victor Scheil, Mémoires, II, Paris, 1900, p. 53 sq, pl. II.  Victor Scheil, Mémoires, III, Paris, 1901, p. 40 sq, pl. II.  André Parrot, Sumer, Paris, 1960, fig. 212-213.  Pierre Amiet, L’Art d'Agadé au musée du Louvre, Paris, Ed. de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1976 - p. 29-32. Louvre Museum Accession number Sb 4 Found by J. de Morgan Photo: Rama This work is free software; you can redistribute it or modify it under the terms of the CeCILL. The terms of the CeCILL license are available at www.cecill.info. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Victory_stele_of_Naram_Sin_9068.jpg http://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/victory-stele-naram-sin

Victory Stele of Naram-Sin.
The original Akkadian states that the six foot tall stele commemorates the victory of King Naram-Sin of Akkad over King Satuni, ruler of the Lullubi people of the mountainous Zagros. Naram-Sin was the grandson of Sargon, founder of the Akkadian empire, and the first potentate to unite the entirety of Mesopotamia in the late 24th century BCE.
Naram-Sin was the fourth sovereign of his line, following his uncle Rimush and his father Manishtusu. The Sumerian King List ascribes his rule of 36 years to 2254 BCE to 2218 BCE, a long reign not otherwise confirmed by extant documents.
The stele depicts the Akkadian army climbing the Zagros Mountains, eradicating all resistance. The slain are trampled underfoot or thrown from a precipice. Naram-Sin is portrayed wearing the horned crown of divinity, symbolic of a ruler who aspires to divinity himself. In official documentation, the name of Naram-Sin was preceded by the divine determinative. He styled himself the King of the Four Regions, or King of the World.
The stele was removed from Sippar to Susa, Iran a thousand years later by the Elamite King Shutruk-Nahhunte, as a war prize after his victorious campaign against Babylon in the 12th century BCE.
Alongside the preexisting cuneiform inscription, King Shutruk-Nahhunte appended another one glorifying himself, recording that the stele was looted during the pillage of Sippar.
Jacques de Morgan, Mémoires, I, Paris, 1900, p. 106, 144 sq, pl. X.
Victor Scheil, Mémoires, II, Paris, 1900, p. 53 sq, pl. II.
Victor Scheil, Mémoires, III, Paris, 1901, p. 40 sq, pl. II.
André Parrot, Sumer, Paris, 1960, fig. 212-213.
Pierre Amiet, L’Art d’Agadé au musée du Louvre, Paris, Ed. de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1976 – p. 29-32.
Louvre Museum
Accession number Sb 4
Found by J. de Morgan
Photo: Rama
This work is free software; you can redistribute it or modify it under the terms of the CeCILL. The terms of the CeCILL license are available at http://www.cecill.info.
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Victory_stele_of_Naram_Sin_9068.jpg
http://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/victory-stele-naram-sin

2218 BCE – 2047 BCE: The Gutian Period in Sumer.

2150 BCE – 1400 BCE: The Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh written on clay tablets.

Library of Ashurbanipal / The Flood Tablet / The Gilgamesh Tablet Date15 July 2010 Current location: British Museum wikidata:Q6373 Source/Photographer Fæ (Own work) Other versions File:British Museum Flood Tablet 1.jpg British Museum reference K.3375 Detailed description: Part of a clay tablet, upper right corner, 2 columns of inscription on either side, 49 and 51 lines + 45 and 49 lines, Neo-Assyrian., Epic of Gilgamesh, tablet 11, story of the Flood. ~ Description extract from BM record. Location Room 55

 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Library_of_Ashurbanipal_The_Flood_Tablet.jpg

Library of Ashurbanipal / The Flood Tablet / The Gilgamesh Tablet
Date 15 July 2010
Current location: British Museum wikidata:Q6373
Source/Photographer Fæ (Own work)
Other versions File:British Museum Flood Tablet 1.jpg
British Museum reference K.3375
Detailed description:
Part of a clay tablet, upper right corner, 2 columns of inscription on either side, 49 and 51 lines + 45 and 49 lines, Neo-Assyrian., Epic of Gilgamesh, tablet 11, story of the Flood. ~ Description extract from BM record.
Location Room 55


https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Library_of_Ashurbanipal_The_Flood_Tablet.jpg

2100 BCE: The Reign of Utu-Hegal at Uruk in Sumer and creation of the Sumerian King List.

2095 BCE – 2047 BCE: King Shulgi reigns in Ur, (following Gane).

Among all the extant exemplars of the Sumerian King List, the Weld-Blundell prism in the Ashmolean Museum cuneiform collection represents the most extensive version as well as the most complete copy of the King List. In this depiction, all four sides of the Sumerian King List prism are portrayed. http://cdli.ox.ac.uk/wiki/doku.php?id=the_sumerian_king_list_sklid=the_sumerian_king_list_skl

Among all the extant exemplars of the Sumerian King List, the Weld-Blundell prism in the Ashmolean Museum cuneiform collection represents the most extensive version as well as the most complete copy of the King List.
In this depiction, all four sides of the Sumerian King List prism are portrayed.
http://cdli.ox.ac.uk/wiki/doku.php?id=the_sumerian_king_list_sklid=the_sumerian_king_list_skl

2047 BCE – 2030 BCE: Ur-Nammu’s reign over Sumer. The legal Code of Ur-Nammu dates to 2100 BCE – 2050 BCE.

From the Stele of Ur-Nammu. <br /> This image (or other media file) is in the public domain because its copyright has expired.<br /> 
This applies to Australia, the European Union and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 70 years.

<br /> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ur-Nammu#/media/File:Stela_of_Ur-Nammu_detail.jpg

From the Stele of Ur-Nammu.
This image (or other media file) is in the public domain because its copyright has expired.

This applies to Australia, the European Union and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 70 years.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ur-Nammu#/media/File:Stela_of_Ur-Nammu_detail.jpg

"In all probability I would have missed the Ur-Nammu tablet altogether had it not been for an opportune letter from F. R. Kraus, now Professor of Cuneiform Studies at the University of Leiden in Holland...  His letter said that some years ago, in the course of his duties as curator in the Istanbul Museum, he had come upon two fragments of a tablet inscribed with Sumerian laws, had made a "join" of the two pieces, and had catalogued the resulting tablet as No. 3191 of the Nippur collection of the Museum...  Since Sumerian law tablets are extremely rare, I had No. 3191 brought to my working table at once. There it lay, a sun-baked tablet, light brown in color, 20 by 10 centimeters in size. More than half of the writing was destroyed, and what was preserved seemed at first hopelessly unintelligible. But after several days of concentrated study, its contents began to become clear and take shape, and I realized with no little excitement that what I held in my hand was a copy of the oldest law code as yet known to man." 

Samuel Noah Kramer, History begins at Sumer, pp. 52–55.

CC0 File:Ur Nammu code Istanbul.jpg Uploaded by Oncenawhile Created: 1 August 2014

 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Code_of_Ur-Nammu#/media/File:Ur_Nammu_code_Istanbul.jpg

“In all probability I would have missed the Ur-Nammu tablet altogether had it not been for an opportune letter from F. R. Kraus, now Professor of Cuneiform Studies at the University of Leiden in Holland…
His letter said that some years ago, in the course of his duties as curator in the Istanbul Museum, he had come upon two fragments of a tablet inscribed with Sumerian laws, had made a “join” of the two pieces, and had catalogued the resulting tablet as No. 3191 of the Nippur collection of the Museum…
Since Sumerian law tablets are extremely rare, I had No. 3191 brought to my working table at once. There it lay, a sun-baked tablet, light brown in color, 20 by 10 centimeters in size. More than half of the writing was destroyed, and what was preserved seemed at first hopelessly unintelligible. But after several days of concentrated study, its contents began to become clear and take shape, and I realized with no little excitement that what I held in my hand was a copy of the oldest law code as yet known to man.”


Samuel Noah Kramer, History Begins at Sumer, pp. 52–55.

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File:Ur Nammu code Istanbul.jpg
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Created: 1 August 2014


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Code_of_Ur-Nammu#/media/File:Ur_Nammu_code_Istanbul.jpg

2047 BCE – 1750 BCE: The Ur III Period in Sumer, known as the Sumerian Renaissance, or the Neo-Sumerian Empire.

This tablet glorifies king Shulgi and his victories over the Lullubi peoples. It mentions the city of Erbil and the district of Sulaymaniayh. 2111-2004 BCE.  The Sulaymaniyah Museum, Iraq. 

CC BY-SA 4.0 File:Tablet of Shulgi.JPG Uploaded by Neuroforever Created: 20 January 2014

 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shulgi#/media/File:Tablet_of_Shulgi.JPG

This tablet glorifies king Shulgi and his victories over the Lullubi peoples. It mentions the city of Erbil and the district of Sulaymaniayh. 2111-2004 BCE.
The Sulaymaniyah Museum, Iraq.


CC BY-SA 4.0
File:Tablet of Shulgi.JPG
Uploaded by Neuroforever
Created: 20 January 2014


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shulgi#/media/File:Tablet_of_Shulgi.JPG

2038 BCE: King Shulgi of Ur builds his great wall in Sumer.

2000 BCE – 1600 BCE: Old Babylonian Period.

2000 BCE – 1800 BCE: Isin – Larsa.

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, 8,1x6,5x2,7 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.

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 in 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 Publishing 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.

1861 BCE – 1837 BCE: King Enlil-bāni reigns in Isin.

1792 BCE – 1750: Reign of King Hammurabi (Old Babylonian Period).

1772 BCE: The Code of Hammurabi: One of the earliest codes of law in the world.

The Code of Hammurabi was discovered by archaeologists in 1901, with its editio princeps translation published in 1902 by Jean-Vincent Scheil. This nearly complete example of the Code is carved into a diorite stele in the shape of a huge index finger, 2.25-metre (7.4 ft) tall. The Code is inscribed in Akkadian, using cuneiform script. It is currently on display in the Louvre, with exact replicas in the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, the library of the Theological University of the Reformed Churches (Dutch: Theologische Universiteit Kampen voor de Gereformeerde Kerken) in The Netherlands, the Pergamon Museum of Berlin and the National Museum of Iran in Tehran. CC BY-SA 2.0 fr File:Code-de-Hammurabi-1.jpg Uploaded by Rama Uploaded: 8 November 2005

 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Code_of_Hammurabi#/media/File:Code-de-Hammurabi-1.jpg

The Code of Hammurabi was discovered by archaeologists in 1901, with its editio princeps translation published in 1902 by Jean-Vincent Scheil. This nearly complete example of the Code is carved into a diorite stele in the shape of a huge index finger, 2.25-metre (7.4 ft) tall. The Code is inscribed in Akkadian, using cuneiform script. It is currently on display in the Louvre, with exact replicas in the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, the library of the Theological University of the Reformed Churches (Dutch: Theologische Universiteit Kampen voor de Gereformeerde Kerken) in The Netherlands, the Pergamon Museum of Berlin and the National Museum of Iran in Tehran.
CC BY-SA 2.0 fr
File:Code-de-Hammurabi-1.jpg
Uploaded by Rama
Uploaded: 8 November 2005


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Code_of_Hammurabi#/media/File:Code-de-Hammurabi-1.jpg

1750 BCE: Elamite invasion and Amorite migration ends the Sumerian civilization.

Cuneiform tablet with the Sumerian tale of The Deluge, dated to circa 1740 BCE, from the ruins of Nippur.  From the permanent collection of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology, Philadelphia.  Text and photo © The Metropolitan Museum of Art. All rights reserved.

Cuneiform tablet with the Sumerian tale of The Deluge, dated to circa 1740 BCE, from the ruins of Nippur.
From the permanent collection of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology, Philadelphia.
Text and photo © The Metropolitan Museum of Art. All rights reserved.

1600 BCE – 1155 BCE: Kassite Period.

1595 BCE: King Agum-kakrime, aka Agum II, Kassite Kingdom.

1350 BCE – 1050 BCE: Middle Assyrian Period.

A gypsum memorial slab from the Middle Assyrian Period (1300 - 1275 BCE), findspot Kalah Shergat, Aššur.  The inscription records the name, titles and conquests of King Adad-Nirari, his father Arik-den-ili, his grandfather Enlil-nirari, and his great-grandfather Ashur-uballit I.  Memorializing the restoration of the Temple of Aššur in the city of Aššur, the text invokes curses upon the head of any king or other person who alters or defaces the monument.  The artifact was purchased from the French Consul in Mosul in 1874 for £70, the British Museum notes reference Mr. George Smith and The Daily Telegraph with an acquisition date of 1874.  Bezold, Carl, Catalogue of the Cuneiform Tablets in the Kouyunjik Collection of the British Museum, IV, London, BMP, 1896. Furlani, G, Il Sacrificio Nella Religione dei Semiti di Babilonia e Assiria, Rome, 1932. Rawlinson, Henry C; Smith, George, The Cuneiform Inscriptions of Western Asia, IV, London, 1861. Budge, E A W, A Guide to the Babylonian and Assyrian Antiquities., London, 1922. Budge, E A W, The Rise and Progress of Assyriology, London, Martin Hopkinson & Co, 1925. Grayson, Albert Kirk, Assyrian Rulers of the Third and Second Millennia BC (to 1115 BC), 1, Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 1987. http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?assetId=32639001&objectId=283138&partId=1

A gypsum memorial slab from the Middle Assyrian Period (1300 – 1275 BCE), findspot Kalah Shergat, Aššur.
The inscription records the name, titles and conquests of King Adad-Nirari, his father Arik-den-ili, his grandfather Enlil-nirari, and his great-grandfather Ashur-uballit I.
Memorializing the restoration of the Temple of Aššur in the city of Aššur, the text invokes curses upon the head of any king or other person who alters or defaces the monument.
The artifact was purchased from the French Consul in Mosul in 1874 for £70, the British Museum notes reference Mr. George Smith and The Daily Telegraph with an acquisition date of 1874.
Bezold, Carl, Catalogue of the Cuneiform Tablets in the Kouyunjik Collection of the British Museum, IV, London, BMP, 1896.
Furlani, G, Il Sacrificio Nella Religione dei Semiti di Babilonia e Assiria, Rome, 1932.
Rawlinson, Henry C; Smith, George, The Cuneiform Inscriptions of Western Asia, IV, London, 1861.
Budge, E A W, A Guide to the Babylonian and Assyrian Antiquities., London, 1922.
Budge, E A W, The Rise and Progress of Assyriology, London, Martin Hopkinson & Co, 1925.
Grayson, Albert Kirk, Assyrian Rulers of the Third and Second Millennia BC (to 1115 BC), 1, Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 1987.
http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?assetId=32639001&objectId=283138&partId=1

1330 BCE – 1295 BCE: Reign of King Muršili II (Hittite Kingdom).

1126 BCE – 1104 BCE: Reign of King Nebuchadnezzar I (Old Babylonian Period).

1120 BCE: The Sumerian Enuma Elish (creation story) is written.

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 on excavations in Nineveh.
http://www.creationmyths.org/enumaelish-babylonian-creation/enumaelish-babylonian-creation-3.htm

930 BCE – 612 BCE: Neo-Assyrian Period.

884 BCE – 859 BCE: Reign of King Ashurnasirpal II.

860 BCE – 850 BCE: Reign of King Nabû-apla-iddina (Babylonian Period).

858 BCE – 824 BCE: Reign of King Shalmaneser III.

854 BCE – 819 BCE: Reign of King Marduk-zākir-šumi (Babylonian Period).

823 BCE – 811 BCE: Reign of King Shamsi-Adad V.

810 BCE – 783 BCE: Reign of King Adad-nirari III.

782 BCE – 773 BCE: Reign of King Shalmaneser IV.

772 BCE – 755 BCE: Reign of King Assur-dan III.

Venus Tablet Of Ammisaduqa, 7th Century The Venus Tablet of Ammisaduqa (Enuma Anu Enlil Tablet 63) refers to a record of astronomical observations of Venus, as preserved in numerous cuneiform tablets dating from the first millennium BC. This astronomical record was first compiled during the reign of King Ammisaduqa (or Ammizaduga), with the text dated to the mid-seventh century BCE.  The tablet recorded the rise times of Venus and its first and last visibility on the horizon before or after sunrise and sunset in the form of lunar dates. Recorded for a period of 21 years, this Venus tablet is part of Enuma anu enlil ("In the days of Anu and Enlil"), a long text dealing with Babylonian astrology, which mostly consists of omens interpreting celestial phenomena. http://fineartamerica.com/featured/2-venus-tablet-of-ammisaduqa-7th-century-science-source.html

Venus Tablet Of Ammisaduqa, 7th Century
The Venus Tablet of Ammisaduqa (Enuma Anu Enlil Tablet 63) refers to a record of astronomical observations of Venus, as preserved in numerous cuneiform tablets dating from the first millennium BC. This astronomical record was first compiled during the reign of King Ammisaduqa (or Ammizaduga), with the text dated to the mid-seventh century BCE.
The tablet recorded the rise times of Venus and its first and last visibility on the horizon before or after sunrise and sunset in the form of lunar dates. Recorded for a period of 21 years, this Venus tablet is part of Enuma anu enlil (“In the days of Anu and Enlil”), a long text dealing with Babylonian astrology, which mostly consists of omens interpreting celestial phenomena.
http://fineartamerica.com/featured/2-venus-tablet-of-ammisaduqa-7th-century-science-source.html

754 BCE – 745 BCE: Reign of King Assur-nirari V.

744 BCE – 727 BCE: Reign of King Tiglath-Pileser III.

726 BCE – 722 BCE: Reign of King Shalmaneser V.

721 BCE – 705 BCE: Reign of King Sargon II.

704 BCE – 681 BCE: Reign of King Sennacherib.

This stone water basin in the collection of the Vorderasiatisches Museum, Berlin came from the forecourt of the Temple of Aššur at Assur. The sides are inscribed with images of Enki / Ea, the Mesopotamian god of wisdom and exorcism, and puradu-fish apkallu. The textual references on the basin refer to the Assyrian king Sennacherib.<br /> The Temple of Aššur was known as the Ešarra, or Temple of the Universe.<br /> The Corpus of Mesopotamian Anti-Witchcraft Rituals online notes that water was rendered sacred for ritual purposes by leaving it exposed outside overnight, open to the stars and the purifying powers of the astral deities. The subterranean ocean, or apsû, was the abode of Enki / Ea, and the source of incantations, purification rites and demons, disease, and witchcraft.<br /> Adapted from text © by Daniel Schemer 2014, (CC BY-NC-ND license).<br /> http://www.cmawro.altorientalistik.uni-wuerzburg.de/magic_witchcraft/gods_stars/<br /> https://books.google.co.th/books?id=LSaeT9CloGIC&amp;pg=PA19&amp;lpg=PA19&amp;dq=water+basin+assur+temple+assur+vorderasiatisches+Museum+Berlin&amp;source=bl&amp;ots=9fw1d16kjb&amp;sig=4ufIF4Ev9MiZl1QUQ8Rv3QU_BZU&amp;hl=en&amp;sa=X&amp;ved=0CB8Q6AEwAGoVChMIysSB25rYyAIVUFmOCh1G7QKS#v=onepage&amp;q&amp;f=false

This stone water basin in the collection of the Vorderasiatisches Museum, Berlin came from the forecourt of the Temple of Aššur at Assur. The sides are inscribed with images of Enki / Ea, the Mesopotamian god of wisdom and exorcism, and puradu-fish apkallu. The textual references on the basin refer to the Assyrian king Sennacherib.
The Temple of Aššur was known as the Ešarra, or Temple of the Universe.
The Corpus of Mesopotamian Anti-Witchcraft Rituals online notes that water was rendered sacred for ritual purposes by leaving it exposed outside overnight, open to the stars and the purifying powers of the astral deities. The subterranean ocean, or apsû, was the abode of Enki / Ea, and the source of incantations, purification rites and demons, disease, and witchcraft.
Adapted from text © by Daniel Schwemer 2014, (CC BY-NC-ND license).
http://www.cmawro.altorientalistik.uni-wuerzburg.de/magic_witchcraft/gods_stars/
https://books.google.co.th/books?id=LSaeT9CloGIC&pg=PA19&lpg=PA19&dq=water+basin+assur+temple+assur+vorderasiatisches+Museum+Berlin&source=bl&ots=9fw1d16kjb&sig=4ufIF4Ev9MiZl1QUQ8Rv3QU_BZU&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0CB8Q6AEwAGoVChMIysSB25rYyAIVUFmOCh1G7QKS#v=onepage&q&f=false

680 BCE – 669 BCE: Reign of King Esarhaddon.

668 BCE – 627 BCE: Reign of King Ashurbanipal.

626 BCE – 539 BCE: Neo-Babylonian Period.

625 BCE – 605 BCE: Reign of King Nabopolassar.

604 BCE – 562 BCE: Reign of King Nebuchadnezzar II.

Astronomical Diary VAT 4956 in the collection of the Berlin Museum sets the precise date of the destruction of Jerusalem.  This tablet details the positions of the moon and planets during the year 37 of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, which was 567 BCE. Jerusalem was destroyed in 586 BCE. http://www.lavia.org/english/archivo/vat4956en.htm

Astronomical Diary VAT 4956 in the collection of the Berlin Museum sets the precise date of the destruction of Jerusalem.
This tablet details the positions of the moon and planets during the year 37 of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, which was 567 BCE. Jerusalem was destroyed in 586 BCE.
http://www.lavia.org/english/archivo/vat4956en.htm

561 BCE – 560 BCE: Reign of King Evil-Merodach.

559 BCE – 556 BCE: Reign of King Neriglissar.

556 BCE: Reign of King Labashi-Marduk.

555 BCE – 539 BCE: Reign of King Nabonidus.

550 BCE – 331 BCE: Achaemenid (Early Persian) Period.

538 BCE – 530 BCE: Reign of King Cyrus II.

529 BCE – 522 BCE: Reign of King Cambyses II.

522 BCE: Reign of King Bardiya.

522 BCE: Reign of King Nebuchadrezzar III.

521 BCE: Reign of King Nebuchadrezzar IV.

521 BCE – 486 BCE: Reign of King Darius I.

485 BCE – 465 BCE: Reign of King Xerxes I.

482 BCE: Reign of King Bel-shimanni.

482 BCE: Reign of King Shamash-eriba.

464 BCE – 424 BCE: Reign of King Artaxerxes.

424 BCE: Reign of King Xerxes II.

423 BCE – 405 BCE: Reign of King Darius II.

404 BCE – 359 BCE: Reign of King Artaxerxes II Memnon.

358 BCE – 338 BCE: Reign of King Artaxerxes III Ochus.

337 BCE – 336 BCE: Reign of King Arses.

336 BCE – 323 BCE: Reign of Alexander the Great (Greek Period, below).

335 BCE – 331 BCE: Reign of King Darius III.

323 BCE – 63 BCE: Seleucid (Hellenistic) Period.

333 BCE – 312 BCE: Macedonian Dynasty.

281 BCE – 261 BCE: Reign of Antiochus I.

Antiochus Cylinder BM36277

The Cylinder of Antiochus I Soter from the Ezida Temple in Borsippa (Antiochus Cylinder) is an historiographical text from ancient Babylonia, dated 268 BCE, that recounts the Seleucid crown prince Antiochus, the son of king Seleucus Nicator, rebuilding the Ezida Temple.

Lenzi: “The opening lines read: “I am Antiochus, great king, strong king, king of the inhabited world, king of Babylon, king of the lands, the provider of Esagil and Ezida, foremost son of Seleucus, the king, the Macedonian, king of Babylon.”
https://therealsamizdat.com/category/alan-lenzi/

The cuneiform text itself (BM 36277) is now in the British Museum.

 The document is a barrel-shaped clay cylinder, which was buried in the foundations of the Ezida temple in Borsippa.
The script of this cylinder is inscribed in archaic ceremonial Babylonian cuneiform script that was also used in the well-known Codex of Hammurabi and adopted in a number of royal inscriptions of Neo-Babylonian kings, including. Nabopolassar, Nebuchadnezzar and Nabonidus (cf. Berger 1973).
The script is quite different from the cuneiform script that was used for chronicles, diaries, rituals, scientific and administrative texts.

(Another late example is the Cyrus Cylinder, commemorating Cyrus’ capture of Babylon in 539 BCE (Schaudig 2001: 550-6). This cylinder, however, was written in normal Neo-Babylonian script.)
The Antiochus Cylinder was found by Hormuzd Rassam in 1880 in Ezida, the temple of the god Nabu in Borsippa, in what must have been its original position, “encased in some kiln-burnt bricks covered over with bitumen” in the “doorway” of Koldewey’s Room A1: probably this was built into the eastern section of the wall between A1 and Court A, since the men of Daud Thoma, the chief foreman, seem to have destroyed much of the brickwork at this point.
Rassam (1897: 270) mistakenly records this as a cylinder of Nebuchadnezzar II (Reade 1986: 109). The cylinder is now in the British Museum in London.

 (BM 36277).
http://www.livius.org/cg-cm/chronicles/antiochus_cylinder/antiochus_cylinder1.html

This timeline is modified from an original on the ancient.eu site. I added links and illustrations, and tagged and categorized timeframes, which should bring up useful search results when surfing among the tags and categories at the bottom of the page.

I also integrated chronological periods and a selected list of kings from Constance Ellen Gane’s Composite Beings in Neo-Babylonian Art, 2012, p. xxii – xxiii, and de-conflicted the entry for the Ur III Period, aka The Sumerian Renaissance, which Gane dates with more precision than the original.

Lenzi: More on the Exaltation of the Anu Cult

“Beaulieu believes this development also provides an explanation for the great number of scholarly texts that have turned up in Seleucid-level excavations at Uruk, both traditional kinds known from elsewhere as well as those with an explicitly Urukean bias.

(See François Thureau-Dangin, Tablettes d’Uruk à l’usage des Prêtres du Temple d’Anu au Temps des Séleucides, Textes Cunéiformes du Louvre 6 (Paris: Librairie Orientaliste Paul Geuthner, 1922) (= TCL 6); SpBTU 1-5, BaMB 2, etc. The Uruk Prophecy is an example of a distinctively Urukean text.)

In fact, as Beaulieu explains, one colophon, attached to TCL 6 38, seems to offer justification for the new rituals of the Anu cult via the familiar “pious fraud” trick: Kidin-Anu “found” some ritual tablets in Elam, where the sinister Nabopolassar had taken them much earlier. He copied them there in order to return to Uruk and properly restore the Anu cult.

Ziggurat at Ur.

Ziggurat at Ur.

(See Beaulieu, “Uruk Prophecy,” 47 for the analysis. The text may be found in Thureau-Dangin, Rituels Accadiens, 79-80, 85-86 and Hunger, Babylonische und assyrische Kolophone, #107.)

The archaizing tendency was also deployed in Kephalon’s temple dedicatory inscription from 201 BCE mentioned above. (Also mentioned by Beaulieu in connection with antiquarianism (see “Antiquarian Theology,” 68).

Although not so much as hinted at in the earlier Nikarchos inscription of 244 BCE, the later inscription names Adapa himself, the first of the antediluvian apkallū, as the founder of the Bīt Rēs temple. (See Falkenstein, Topographie, 6 and van Dijk, “Die Inschriftenfunde,” 47 (improving Falkenstein) for the text.)

With this and the other two contextual points in mind, we may now attempt to answer the questions I posed at the beginning of this study.

A schematic of remains at Uruk.

A schematic of remains at Uruk.

The ULKS clearly draws upon earlier ideas to formulate its list. What I have emphasized in the foregoing is that its formulation of the list, although unique, is better viewed not as a new invention from old material, but as a very systematic and explicit formulation of an old association, one that is evidenced already in early first millennium materials.

Given the deliberate and learned antiquarian interests identified in texts by Beaulieu, it seems quite reasonable to include the ULKS in that intellectual current, too.

Thus, just as the scholars responsible for moving Anu to the head of the pantheon utilized the Kassite period An = Anum god-list for that purpose, so too they used earlier traditions about apkallūummânū relations to further their religious authority and other aspects of their agenda, especially their standing vis-à-vis political leadership.

A scrutiny of the precise manner in which the scribes behind the ULKS formulated their genealogy reveals the cultic and especially political aspects of their aspirations.

An aerial view of the Uruk ziggurat. My purpose in posting pics of the temple remains in Ur and Uruk is to compare their relative sizes and comparative majesty.

An aerial view of the Uruk ziggurat. My purpose in posting pics of the temple remains in Ur and Uruk is to compare their relative sizes and comparative majesty.

As for the cultic aspect of the agenda, it is surely significant that Nungalpirigal, the first postdiluvian apkallū, makes a bronze lyre that finds its final resting place in front of Anu. This creates a connection between our text and the renewal of the cult of Anu as discussed by Beaulieu.

But there is more to matters than this simple fact. By placing this cultic act of devotion first in the list, right after the flood, the ULKS intends to give the Anu cult prominence; the first human sage was a devotee of Anu.

Moreover, the list probably supplies an etiology for the relationship between Nungalpirigal, the Eana temple, and Anu, thus answering any would be critics of the novel idea that Anu’s house could displace Eana.”

Alan Lenzi, The Uruk List of Kings and Sages and Late Mesopotamian ScholarshipJANER 8.2, Brill, Leiden, 2008. pp. 160-1.

Statues in Private Rooms, the apkallū, “Sages.”

“In the bedroom (kummu, cf. III.B.6), the “place of life” (AAA 22 88:146f.), at the head of the bed of the threatened man, the seven anthropomorphic ūmu-apkallū, the “leading sages” (cf. II.A.3.1), are stationed. The seven bird-apkallū are buried against the wall at the head of the bed, but in an adjoining room (uncertain, cf. II.A.3.9).

This depiction of a fish-apkallū (Apkallu, Abkallu) guarded the entrance to the temple of Ninurta at Nimrud. A fish's head can be seen on Apkallu's head, and its skin hangs down over the back of Apkallu's body.  Neo-Assyrian era, 865-860 BCE. From the Temple of Ninurta, Nimrud (ancient Kalhu; Biblical Calah), northern Mesopotamia, Iraq. (The British Museum, London). Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP (Glasg) http://www.ancient.eu/image/2708/

This depiction of a fish-apkallū (Apkallu, Abkallu) guarded the entrance to the temple of Ninurta at Nimrud. A fish’s head can be seen on Apkallu’s head, and its skin hangs down over the back of Apkallu’s body.
Neo-Assyrian era, 865-860 BCE. From the Temple of Ninurta, Nimrud (ancient Kalhu; Biblical Calah), northern Mesopotamia, Iraq. (The British Museum, London).
Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP (Glasg)
http://www.ancient.eu/image/2708/

At the threshold of the bedroom seven fish-apkallū guard the entrance; two further groups of seven fish-apkallū are buried in front of, and behind the chair. The chair may have been in the bedroom or perhaps rather in an adjoining living-room or dining-room (the furniture of a dining room in the Neo-Assyrian period has been studied by K. Deller and I. Finkel in ZA 74 86f.; it includes a kussiu, “chair”, but no bed).

Material: the ūmu-apkallū are made of e’ru, a kind of wood well known for its magical properties, but as yet not identified with certainty; Thompson DAB 298f.: “Laurel”, CAD E 318ff.: a variety of cornel (followed by AHw 247a), Salonen Wasserfahrzeuge 99, 152: “Lorbeer” (cf., Oppenheim Eames 54), Civil apud Landsberger Datepalm 26: “(dwarf)ash” (followed by CAD M/1 221a, M/2 220b, S 202a, AHw 676a), see further Sollberger Genava 26 61 and Snell Ledgers and Prices 211.

The god Ea is portrayed at far left, with water coursing from his shoulders.  Two fish-apkallu hold banduddu buckets. This bas relief is atypical in that the left-side fish-apkallu holds his banduddu in his right hand, rather than the left, as is portrayed in most other depictions.  This bas relief is also unusual in that it portrays the fish-apkallu with different objects in their raised hands. The raised hand of the fish-apkallu on the left is indistinct, partially covered by the water flowing from the shoulders of the god Ea, while the other fish-apkallu raises an object that I have not yet identified.

The god Ea is portrayed at far left, with water coursing from his shoulders.
Two fish-apkallu hold banduddu buckets. This bas relief is atypical in that the left-side fish-apkallu holds his banduddu in his right hand, rather than the left, as is portrayed in most other depictions.
This bas relief is also unusual in that it portrays the fish-apkallu with different objects in their raised hands. The raised hand of the fish-apkallu on the left is indistinct, partially covered by the water flowing from the shoulders of the god Ea, while the other fish-apkallu raises an object that I have not yet identified.

In the incantation UDUG HUL EDiN.NA DAGAL LA (cf. text III.C), that accompanies the fabrication of the statues of the ūmu apkallū, the e’ru of which they are to be made is called: gis HUL.DÚB.BA GIŠ NAM.TI.LA, “mace that hits evil (cf. Grayson Iraq 37 69), wood of life” (AAA 22 88:152f.).

Analogous to the designation of the tamarisk of which the gods were made as the “bone of divinity” (above A), the designation of the material of the ūmu apkallū reveals something of their character: they chase evil away, and procure life.

Probably relevant is the “mystical” commentary (cf. below note 3e) gis TUKUL MA.NU: VII u4-mu gis TUKUL dAMAR.UTU, “the mace of e’ru: the seven ūmu-demons, the mace of Marduk“. Here “the mace of cornel” may refer to the seven ūmu-apkallū holding an e’ru stick or mace in their right hands. In straight-forward ritual contexts (notes 2, 13c, d, e) “mace of cornel” is rather an alternative designation of the e’ru (stick/mace) itself.

The ūmu-apkallū certainly did not belong to the bīnūt apsê, “creatures of apsû” (I 144); they probably did not belong to the bīnūt šamê, “creatures of heaven”, either, since the preceding designation salmī annūti, “these statues”, refers to the statues of tamarisk made the same day, and not to the statues of cornel made the day before (I 143).

The line closing the description of the statues of cornel does not contain a general term analogous to I 143 closing the tamarisk section; perhaps I 28 did contain such a term, or perhaps no such term was used.

A bas relief in the Louvre.  In this case the bird-apkallū tends to a sacred tree. Considering the mullilu in his right hand and the banduddu in his left, (tree cone and water bucket), he is engaged in a water ritual intended to sanctify the sacred tree. This is a common motif in Sumerian and Neo-Assyrian idols.  This bas relief is in the Louvre.  Primary publicationNimrud NW Palace I-24 = RIMA 2.0.101.023, ex. 189 (f) Collection	Nimrud, Iraq (a); British Museum, London, UK (b); Louvre Museum, Paris, France (c); Nimrud, Iraq (d); Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, Michigan, USA (e); British Museum, London, UK; Louvre Museum, Paris, France  Museum no.	Nimrud fragment no. 42 (a); BM 098061 (b); AO 22198 (c); Nimrud fragment no. 43 and 45 (d); DIA 47.181 (e) (photo: DIA); AO 19849  Accession no.	1903-10-10, 0002 (b) Provenience	Kalhu (mod. Nimrud) Period	Neo-Assyrian (ca. 911-612 BC)

A bas relief in the Louvre.
In this case the bird-apkallū tends to a sacred tree. Considering the mullilu in his right hand and the banduddu in his left, (tree cone and water bucket), he is engaged in a water ritual intended to sanctify the sacred tree. This is a common motif in Sumerian and Neo-Assyrian idols.
This bas relief is in the Louvre.
Primary publication Nimrud NW Palace I-24 = RIMA 2.0.101.023, ex. 189 (f)
Collection Nimrud, Iraq (a); British Museum, London, UK (b); Louvre Museum, Paris, France (c); Nimrud, Iraq (d); Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, Michigan, USA (e); British Museum, London, UK; Louvre Museum, Paris, France
Museum no. Nimrud fragment no. 42 (a); BM 098061 (b); AO 22198 (c); Nimrud fragment no. 43 and 45 (d); DIA 47.181 (e) (photo: DIA); AO 19849
Accession no. 1903-10-10, 0002 (b)
Provenience Kalhu (mod. Nimrud)
Period Neo-Assyrian (ca. 911-612 BC)

The bird- and fish-apkallū are made of clay, and are included among the bīnūt apsê, “the creatures of apsû” (I 144). They and the other statues of clay are the salmū sākip lemnūti ša Ea u Marduk, “the statues repelling the evil ones, of Ea and Marduk“, stationed in the house “to expel the foot of evil” (I 160f. 165f.). The bird- and fish-apkallū are separated, however, from the other figures of clay by a line indicating the end of a section (I 183).

In text I the clay of the bird-apkallū is mixed with wax.”

F.A.M. Wiggermann, Mesopotamian Protective Spirits: The Ritual Texts, STYX&PP Publications, Groningen, 1992, p. 65.

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.)

Ibn Wayshiyya and Magic

“Magic has always had a role to play in Islamic society. Its use has often been condemned by religious scholars, yet the efficacy of magic has never been contested; the early tenth-century religious scholar al-Ash’arī (d. 324/936), to take but one example, wrote in his dogmatical work Ibána (p. 19): «(…) and we belíeve that there are magicians and magic in this world, and that magic is an existing entity in this world».

During the Middle Ages magic always kept this role not only among common people but also among the learned. In the tenth century the Brethren of Purity wrote extensively on magic in their Rasā’il (esp. IV:283- 335) and magical elements can easily be detected from a variety of sources, including the biography of the prophet Muhammad.

One of the learned authors who was very much interested in magic and esoterica was the early tenth-century Abū Bakr Ibn Wahshiyya (alive in 318/930), the author or translator of many «Nabatean» books, among them the famous al-Filāha an-Nabatiyya, «the Nabatean Agriculture>.

The Nabatean books (also called the Nabatean corpus in the following) of Ibn Wahshiyya claim to be translations from «ancient Syriac». Both the author and his book, mainly Filāha, have been controversial since the nineteenth century, when the corpus was first enthusiatically received in Europe as deriving from the ancient Babylonians, though subsequently exposed as a forgery.

There is no need to cover once again the history of the controversy, and it is enough to draw attention to the present situation. The majority of scholars have more or less ignored both Ibn Wahshiyya and his works, whereas a few, especially Toufic Fahd, have courageously but not always coherently defended the authenticity of Filāha, not as a remnant of ancient Babylonian literature but as an authentic Arabic translation of a fourth/fifth century AD pseudepigraphic Aramic text.

The other works of Ibn Wahshiyya have received extremely scant attention, despite their obvious importance as a source for the almost unknown rural and parochial life in Iraq.

Hiéroglyphe reproduits par Ibn Wahshiyyah, Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, MS Arabe 6805 folios 92b. ff http://www.esoblogs.net/6946/ibn-wahshiyya-et-la-magie-2/

Hiéroglyphe reproduits par Ibn Wahshiyyah, Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, MS Arabe 6805 folios 92b. ff
http://www.esoblogs.net/6946/ibn-wahshiyya-et-la-magie-2/

In the final analysis the question of the texts’ exact provenence must still be left open, though the lack of any signs of translation in the texts as well as the absence of similar genuine texts in Aramaic argues against their authenticity.

Nevertheless, we must make a difference between the works and their material. Whether the works of the Nabatean corpus are authentic or not, that is whether they indeed derive from complete books written in Syriac or some other form of Aramaic or not, there are features that speak in favour of the authenticity of (some of) the material in these books.

First, there are several prayers in Aramaic, in Arabic script, in, eg., Sumūm, which clearly sound Aramaic; their present corruption is most probably due to later copyists. Ibn Wahshiyya himself could hardly have composed these prayers, so they must have come to him in either written or oral form.

Second, the local setting is given accurately, which proves that Ibn Wahshiyya did know the area he was speaking about and thus there is nothing ínherently improbable in presuming that he had access to local traditions.

Third, and most importantly, much of the material has to be genuine as parallels can be found in Babylonian and Assyrian sources—I am referring to the Tammūz/Dumuzi description in particular—which proves that it cannot be a product of Muslim fiction but a report of practices in semipagan rural areas.

Some of these descriptions are more detailed and accurate in the works of Ibn Wahshiyya than in any of the other extant Muslim sources, which makes it improbable that Ibn Wahshiyya could have found them in the Arabic literature at his disposal.

Thus they must stem from a living tradition—although obviously an already dying one.”

Jaakko Hāmeem-Anttila, “Ibn Wahshiyya and Magic,” Anaquel de Estudios Árabes X, 1999, pp. 39-41.

More on Sargon

“But in spite of the atmosphere of myth which came to enshroud him, as it enshrouded the persons of Kyros, of Charlemagne, and of other heroes of popular history, Sargon was a historical monarch and the founder of a really great empire.

The British Museum actually possesses an inscribed egg of veined marble which he dedicated to the Sun-god of Sippara (ed note: Shamash), and the seal of his librarian Ibni-sarru is in the hands of M. Le Clercq of Paris. What may be termed the scientific literature of the library of Nineveh makes frequent reference to him, and we learn that it was for the great library which he established in his capital city of Accad that the two standard Babylonian works on astronomy and terrestrial omens were originally compiled.

Sargon's inscribed egg for the Sun God Shamash at Sippara in the British Museum.

Sargon’s inscribed egg for the Sun God Shamash at Sippara in the British Museum.

 The work on astronomy was entitled The Observations of Bel, and consisted of no less than seventy-two books, dealing with such matters as the conjunction of the sun and moon, the phases of Venus, and the appearances of comets.

It was translated in later days into Greek by the historian Berossus and though supplemented by numerous additions in its passage through the hands of generations of Babylonian astronomers, the original work contained so many records of eclipses as to demonstrate the antiquity of Babylonian astronomy even in the remote age of Sargon himself.

But besides our knowledge of Sargon’s patronage of learning, we also know something about the civil history of his reign. A copy of its annals has come down to us. We gather from these that he was not only successful in overthrowing all opposition at home, he was also equally successful abroad.

His first campaign was against the powerful kingdom of Elam in the East, where he overthrew the enemy and mutilated their slain. Next he turned to the West, laying his yoke on Syria, and subjugating “the four quarters” of the world. Then the rival kings of Babylon and other Chaldean cities felt his power; and out of the spoil of the vanquished he built the city of Accad and gave it its name.

From this time forward his attention was chiefly devoted to the West. Year after year he penetrated into Syria, until at last, we are told, “he had neither equal nor rival;” he crossed the Mediterranean to the island we now call Cyprus, and “in the third year,” at the bounds of the setting sun, his hands conquered all peoples and his mouth decreed a single empire.

Here on the shores of Cyprus the great conqueror erected images of himself, and then carried the booty of the island to the opposite coast of Asia. Such a glimpse into the history of what became afterwards a Grecian sea, when as yet no Greeks had made their ray to their later home, is startling to those whose conceptions of authentic history have been limited by the narrow horizon of the classical world. Its trustworthiness, however, has been curiously verified by a discovery made by General de Cesnola in the treasure-vaults of a Kyprian temple among the ruins of the ancient Kurion.

A god in horned cap brandishes a mace and the forked lightening of Iva-Vul, Thunder God, and sets foot on a recumbent bull.  Behind him is a leaping ibex. In front, a man, perhaps the king, in a short coat, standing full face. Behind him a man on bended knee, possibly the owner of the cylinder. Above him, a small deer is recumbent and inverted.  Then a figure in a long garment, and 3 rows of cuneiform writing:  "Arba Istar: son of Ibu Beled: servant of the god Naram-Sin."  The king Naram-Sin, to whom a divine determinative prefix is given here, reigned in Babylonia no later than 2600 BCE.  Cyprus, plate 4300.  John L. Myres, Handbook of the Cesnola Collection of Antiquities from Cyprus, 1914.

A god in horned cap brandishes a mace and the forked lightening of Iva-Vul, Thunder God, and sets foot on a recumbent bull.
Behind him is a leaping ibex. In front, a man, perhaps the king, in a short coat, standing full face. Behind him a man on bended knee, possibly the owner of the cylinder. Above him, a small deer is recumbent and inverted.
Then a figure in a long garment, and 3 rows of cuneiform writing:
“Arba Istar: son of Ibu Beled: servant of the god Naram-Sin.”
The king Naram-Sin, to whom a divine determinative prefix is given here, reigned in Babylonia no later than 2600 BCE.
Cyprus, plate 4300.
John L. Myres, Handbook of the Cesnola Collection of Antiquities from Cyprus, 1914.

Here, among other hematite cylinders of early Babylonian origin, he found one the first owner of which describes himself as a ” servant” or ”worshipper” of “the deified Naram- Sin.” Naram-Sin was the son and successor of Sargon, and it is not likely that he would have received divine honours after the fall of the dynasty to which he belonged.

The fact that the cylinder was discovered in Cyprus seems to show that even after Sargon’s death a connection continued to exist between Cyprus and the imperial power of Babylonia. Naram-Sin, however, was more bent on the conquest of Magána, or the Sinaitic Peninsula, than upon further campaigns in the West.

Sinai, with its mines of turquoise and copper, had been a prize coveted by the Egyptians ever since the age of the Third Dynasty, and one of the first efforts of the rising rival power on the banks of the Euphrates was to gain possession of the same country.

Naram-Sin, so runs the annalistic tablet, “marched to the land of Magána; the land of Magána he conquered, and overcame its king.”

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. 29-31.

Sumerian Archeology

“Arriving in 1878, Rassam went to work with a will. Over a period of four years he opened excavations not only at Nineveh but at sites ranging from eastern Anatolia to southern Iraq, leaving the day-to-day excavation to his assistants and rarely visiting the sites.

Bronze band from the Palace Gates of Shalmaneser III in the British Museum.  The scenes show in the upper tier the king receiving tribute from Tyre and Sidon in Lebanon and in the lower tier the conquest of the town of Hazuzu in Syria. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balawat_Gates

Bronze band from the Palace Gates of Shalmaneser III in the British Museum.
The scenes show in the upper tier the king receiving tribute from Tyre and Sidon in Lebanon and in the lower tier the conquest of the town of Hazuzu in Syria.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balawat_Gates

His discoveries included panels of embossed bronze sheeting that had originally covered the great gates erected by Shalmaneser III at Balawat near Nimrud, and around 50,000 cuneiform cylinders and tablets in the Shamash temple at Sippar near Babylon. But times had changed since the cavalier days of the 1850s.

Relief image on the Tablet of Shamash, British Library room 55. Found in Sippar (Tell Abu Habbah), in Ancient Babylonia; it dates from the 9th century BC and shows the sun god Shamash on the throne, in front of the Babylonian king Nabu-apla-iddina (888-855 BC) between two interceding deities. The text tells how the king made a new cultic statue for the god and gave privileges to his temple. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tablet_of_Shamash#/media/File:Tablet_of_Shamash_relief.jpg

Relief image on the Tablet of Shamash, British Library room 55. Found in Sippar (Tell Abu Habbah), in Ancient Babylonia; it dates from the 9th century BC and shows the sun god Shamash on the throne, in front of the Babylonian king Nabu-apla-iddina (888-855 BC) between two interceding deities. The text tells how the king made a new cultic statue for the god and gave privileges to his temple.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tablet_of_Shamash#/media/File:Tablet_of_Shamash_relief.jpg

Considerable advances had been made in excavation techniques and recording methods. It was no longer enough to plunder sites for antiquities; buildings and other contexts had to be carefully investigated and recorded, and objects had to be recovered with care, without allowing them to “crumble to dust.”

Rassam was seriously criticized by other scholars in the field, and his departure largely saw the end of crude excavation methods in Mesopotamia—until the wanton destruction by bandits with bulldozers following the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which threatens utterly to obliterate a huge number of sites.

As a native of the region, Rassam was very aware of the threat to the ancient cities from treasure hunters and brick robbers. When he left for Britain, therefore, he hired guardians to prevent future plundering in the important sites, including Kuyunjik and Sippar. Over the following decade, however, antiquities, and particularly tablets, that seemed likely to have come from these sites appeared in some numbers on the international market. The British Museum sent out Wallis Budge to investigate.

Budge arrived in Baghdad in 1888, armed with a permit to excavate Kuyunjik as a cover for his detective work. Within days, he purchased many tablets from local dealers, most of whom he found to be the very people appointed to guard the ancient sites, and skillfully foiled a plan to prevent him from exporting them.

Later in the year he reopened excavations at Kuyunjik, recovering some 200 tablets from the spoil of previous excavations. His luck turned the following year, however, when he excavated at ed-Der, part of ancient Sippar. The procedures involved in obtaining an excavation permit were long-winded and public: By the time Budge could start work, ed-Der had been thoroughly “examined” by the Vali of Baghdad, with the result that 10,000 tablets had found their way into the hands of dealers.

A similar fate befell the Frenchman Ernest de Sarzec, who excavated Telloh (ancient Girsu) in 1877–1881 and 1888–1900. This was the first serious investigation of a site belonging to Mesopotamia’s original Sumerian civilization, and the objects found here created great excitement in Europe, where they were displayed in the 1880s Paris exhibition.

     Stele of Vultures detail 01-transparent.png One fragment of the victory stele of the king Eannatum of Lagash over Umma, Sumerian archaic dynasties. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stele_of_the_Vultures#/media/File:Stele_of_Vultures_detail_01-transparent.png


Stele of Vultures detail 01-transparent.png
One fragment of the victory stele of the king Eannatum of Lagash over Umma, Sumerian archaic dynasties.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stele_of_the_Vultures#/media/File:Stele_of_Vultures_detail_01-transparent.png

The powerful and austere art style typified by the diorite statues strongly impressed European art critics, and a sculptured slab, dubbed the “Stele of the Vultures,” sparked great interest, because it showed for the first time in history an organized army going to war.

Telloh also yielded numerous tablets, some relating to border disputes with neighboring Umma, the fascinating first contemporary account of warfare—but most of them were not recovered by de Sarzec. During de Sarzec’s frequent absences, local people, often sponsored by Baghdad dealers, abstracted around 40,000 tablets from one of the mounds. These provided the first substantial body of works in the Sumerian language, whose very existence had been doubted in earlier decades.

The first U.S. expedition to work in Mesopotamia experienced an even more dramatic mixture of success and failure. Sponsored by Pennsylvania University, a team headed by John Peters arrived in 1887 to excavate Nippur, the holy city of ancient Sumer.

Hopelessly out of their depth in the complexities of dealing with the local villagers and authorities, their first season ended in an all-out attack in which their camp was set on fire, half their horses perished, and they lost $1,000 in gold—although they saved their antiquities.

Work resumed in 1890, under more auspicious circumstances, and continued intermittently until 1900. Among the 30,000 tablets recovered from Nippur were around 2,100 whose subject matter was literature, in contrast to the ubiquitous economic texts: These opened a window onto the fascinating world of the Sumerians and to this day form the bulk of known Sumerian literature.”

Jane R. McIntosh, Ancient Mesopotamia, 2005, pp. 30-2.

I.P. Cory on Paganism

” … But the internal heresies of the Church were not the only ill effects which the misguided zeal of the fathers, in forcing upon Plato the doctrine of the Trinity, brought about.

Though it is possible, that by pointing out some crude similarity of doctrine, they might have obtajned some converts by rendering Christianity less unpalatable to the philosophical world of that day, yet the weapon was skilfully turned against them, and with unerring effect, when the Pagans took upon them to assert that nothing new had been revealed in Christianity; since, by the confessions of its very advocates, the system was previously contained in the writings of Plato.

In the third century, Ammonius Saccas, universally acknowledged to have been a man of consummate ability, taught that every sect, Christian, Heretic or Pagan, had received the truth, and retained it in their varied legends. He undertook, therefore, to unfold it from them all, and to reconcile every creed.

And from his exertions sprung the celebrated Eclectic school of the later Platonists. Plotinus, Amelius, Olympius, Porphyrius, Jamblichus, Syrianus, and Proclus, were among the celebrated professors who succeeded Ammonius in the Platonic chair, and revived and kept alive the spirit of Paganism, with a bitter enmity to the Gospel, for near three hundred years.

The Platonic schools were at length closed by the edict of Justinian; and seven wise men, the last lights of Platonism, Diogenes, Hermias, Eulalius, Priscianus, Damascius, Isidorus and Simplicius retired indignantly from the persecutions of Justinian, to realize the shadowy dreams of the republic of Plato, under the Persian despotism of Chosroes.16

From the writings of these philosophers is collected the bulk of the Oracles of Zoroaster. A few of them were first published by Ludovicus Tiletanus at Paris, with the commentaries of Pletho, to which were subsequently added those of Psellus. Chief part of them, however, were collected by Franciscus Patricius, and published with the Hermetic books at the end of his Nova Philosophia.

To the labours of Mr. Taylor we are indebted for the addition of about fifty more, and for the references to the works from whence all were extracted. I have arranged them according to the subjects, which are said to be occultly discussed in the Parmenides of Plato, viz.: Cause or God, the Ideal Intelligible or Intellectual world, Particular Souls, and the Material world.

And I have placed under a separate head the Magical and Philosophical precepts and directions. There can be no question but that many of these Oracles are spurious; all those, for instance, which relate to the Intelligible and Intellectual orders, which were confessedly obtained in answers given by dæmons, raised for that purpose by the Theurgists;17 who, as well as all the later Platonists, made pretensions to magic, not only in its refinements, which they were pleased to designate Theurgy, but also in that debased form which we should call common witchcraft.

Nevertheless, several of the Oracles seem to be derived from more authentic sources, and, like the spurious Hermetic books which have come down to us, probably contain much of the pure Sabiasm of Persia, and the doctrines of the Oriental philosophy.”

I.P. Cory, Ancient Fragments, 1832, Introduction.

The Stele of Hammurabi

Cuneiform Excerpt Stele of Hammurabi

Our knowledge of the social life of Babylon and the territory under its control is derived chiefly from the Hammurabi Code of laws, of which an almost complete copy was discovered at Susa, towards the end of 1901, by the De Morgan expedition.

Full Stele of Hammurabi

The laws were inscribed on a stele of black diorite 7 ft. 3 in. high, with a circumference at the base of 6 ft. 2 in. and at the top of 5 ft. 4 in. This important relic of an ancient law-abiding people had been broken in three pieces, but when these were joined together it was found that the text was not much impaired.

On one side are twenty-eight columns and on the other sixteen. Originally there were in all nearly 4000 lines of inscriptions, but five columns, comprising about 300 lines, had been erased to give space, it is conjectured, for the name of the invader who carried the stele away, but unfortunately the record was never made.

Apex Stele of Hammurabi

On the upper part of the stele, which is now one of the treasures of the Louvre, Paris, King Hammurabi salutes, with his right hand reverently upraised, the sun god Shamash, seated on his throne, at the summit of E-sagila, by whom he is being presented with the stylus with which to inscribe the legal code.

Both figures are heavily bearded, but have shaven lips and chins. The god wears a conical headdress and a flounced robe suspended from his left shoulder, while the king has assumed a round dome-shaped hat and a flowing garment which almost sweeps the ground.

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915.

An Infamous Case of Demoniacal Possession

“Incidentally, however, we have one interesting proof that foreign peoples believed that the Egyptians were able to cure the diseases caused by demoniacal possession, and the exercise of their power on the occasion described was considered to be so noteworthy that the narrative of it was inscribed upon a stele (originally published by Prisse, Monuments Égyptiens, Paris, 1817, pl. 24) and setup in the temple of the god Khonsu at Thebes, so that all men might read and know what a marvellous cure his priests had effected.

(It is now preserved in the Bibliotèque Nationale at Paris; for a full description and translation of it see E. de Rougé, Étude sur une stele Égyptienne, Paris, 1858).

It appears that king Rameses I was in Mesopotamia “according to his wont, year by year,” and all the chiefs of the countries round about came to pay their respects to him, and they sought to obtain his goodwill and protection, probably even an alliance, by bringing to him gifts of gold, and lapis-lazuli, and turquoise, and of every kind of valuable thing which the land produced, and every man sought to outdo his neighbour by the lavishness of his gifts.

Among others there came the Prince of Bekhten, and at the head of all the offerings which he presented to His Majesty he placed his eldest daughter, who was very beautiful.

When the king saw her he thought her the most beautiful girl he had ever seen, and he bestowed upon her the title of “Royal spouse, chief lady, Râ-neferu” (i.e., “the beauties of Râ,” the Sun-god), and took her to Egypt; and when they arrived in that country the king married her.

One day during the fifteenth year of the king’s reign, when His Majesty was in Thebes celebrating the festival of Amen-Râ, a messenger came to the king and reported the arrival of an ambassador from the Prince of Bekhten who had brought rich gifts for the royal lady Râ-neferu.

When he had been led into the king’s presence, he did homage before him, saying, “Glory and praise be unto thee, O thou Sun of the nations; grant that we may live before thee!”

Having said these words be bowed down and touched the ground with his head three times, and said, “I have come unto thee, O my sovereign Lord, on behalf of the lady Bent-ent-resht, the younger sister of the royal spouse Râ- neferu, for, behold, an evil disease hath laid hold upon her body; I beseech thy Majesty to send a physician (Bekh khet, “knower of things”) to see her.”

Stele recording the casting out of the devil from the Princess of Bekhten. On the right the king is offering Incense to Khonsu Nefer-hetep, and on the left a priest is offering incense to Khonsu, "the great god who driveth away devils." (From Prisse, Monuments, plate 24.)

Stele recording the casting out of the devil from the Princess of Bekhten. On the right the king is offering Incense to Khonsu Nefer-hetep, and on the left a priest is offering incense to Khonsu, “the great god who driveth away devils.” (From Prisse, Monuments, plate 24.)

Then the king straightway ordered the books of the “double house of life” to be brought and the learned men to appear, and when they had come into his presence he ordered them to choose from among their number a man “wise of heart and cunning of finger,” that he might send him to Bekhten; they did so, and their choice fell upon one Tehuti- em-heb.

This sage having come before the king was ordered to set out for Bekhten in company with the ambassador, and he departed; and when they had arrived there the Egyptian priest found the lady Bent-ent-resht to be possessed of a demon or spirit over which he was powerless.”

 E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. Pp. 206-11.

Le Rituel de l’Embaumement

“He believed that he would feed upon the celestial and imperishable food whereon the gods lived, but at the same time he spared no effort or expense to provide for his tomb being supplied at stated intervals throughout the year with perishable food in the shape of offerings of oxen, feathered fowl, cakes, bread, and the like.

He mummified his dead and swathed them in linen bandages, and then by the performance of magical ceremonies and by the recital of words of power sought to give back to their members the strength to eat, and drink, and talk, and think, and move at will.

Indeed, all the evidence now forthcoming seems to prove that he never succeeded in bringing himself to think that the gods could do without his help, or that the pictures or representations of the scenes which took place in the life, and death, and burial, and resurrection of Osiris, upon which he relied so implicitly, could possibly fail to be as efficacious as the actual power of the god himself.

The examination of mummies has shown us with tolerable clearness what methods were adopted in preparing bodies for bandaging and final ornamentation, and the means adopted for disposing of the more corruptible portions of the body are well known from classical and other writers.

But for an account of the manner in which the body was bandaged, and a list of the unguents and other materials employed in the process, and the words of power which were spoken as each bandage was laid in its place, we must have, recourse to a very interesting papyrus which has been edited and translated by M. Maspero under the title of Le Rituel de l’Embaumement. (In Mémoire sur quelques Papyrus du Louvre, Paris, 1875).

The first part of the papyrus, which probably gave instructions for the evisceration of the body, is wanting, and only the section which refers to the bandaging is at all perfect.

The text opens with an address to the deceased in which it is said, “The perfume of Arabia hath been brought to thee to make perfect thy smell through the scent of the god.”

“Here are brought to thee liquids which have come forth from Râ, to make perfect . . . thy smell in the Hall [of Judgment].

O sweet-smelling soul of the great god, thou dost contain such a sweet odour that thy face shall neither change nor perish. . . .

Thy members shall become young in Arabia, and thy soul shall appear over thy body in Ta-neter (i.e., the ‘divine land’).”

 After this the priest or mummifier was to take a vase of liquid which contained ten perfumes, and to smear therewith the body from head to foot twice, taking especial care to anoint the head thoroughly. He was then to say, “Osiris (i.e., the deceased), thou hast received the perfume which shall make thy members perfect.”

“Thou receivest the source [of life] and thou takest the form of the great Disk (i.e., Aten), which uniteth itself unto thee to give enduring form to thy members; thou shalt unite with Osiris in the great Hall.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. P. 184-6.

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

The Divine Book of Ptah

From a papyrus of the Ptolemaic period we obtain some interesting facts about the great skill in working magic and about the knowledge of magical formulæ which were possessed by a prince called Setnau Khâ-em-Uast.

He knew how to use the powers of amulets and talismans, and how to compose magical formulæ, and he was master both of religious literature and of that of the “double house of life,” or library of magical books.

One day as he was talking of such things one of the king’s wise men laughed at his remarks, and in answer Setnau said, “If thou wouldst read a book possessed of magical powers come with me. and I will show it to thee, the book was written by Thoth himself, and in it there are two formulæ. The recital of the first will enchant (or bewitch) heaven, earth, hell, sea, and mountains, and by it thou shalt see all the birds, reptiles, and fish, for its power will bring the fish to the top of the water. The recital of the second will enable a man if he be in the tomb to take the form which he had upon earth,” etc.

When questioned as to where the book was, Setnau said that it was in the tomb of Ptah-nefer-ka at Memphis. A little later Setnau went there with his brother and passed three days and three nights in seeking for the tomb of Ptah-nefer-ka, and on the third day they found it; Setnau recited some words over it, and the earth opened and they went down to the place where the book was.

When the two brothers came into the tomb they found it to be brilliantly lit up by the light which came forth from the book; and when they looked they saw not only Ptah-nefer-ka, but his wife Ahura, and Merhu their son.

Now Ahura and Merhu were buried at Coptos but their doubles had come to live with Ptah- nefer-ka by means of the magical power of Thoth.

Setnau told them that he had come to take away the book, but Ahura begged him not to do so, and related to him the misfortunes which had already followed the possession of it.

She was, it seems, the sister of Ptah-nefer-ka whom she married, and after the birth of her son Merhu, her husband seemed to devote himself exclusively to the study of magical books, and one day a priest of Ptah promised to tell him where the magical book described above might be found if he would give him a hundred pieces of silver, and provide him with two handsome coffins.

When the money and the coffins had been given to him, the priest of Ptah told Ptah-nefer-ka that the book was in an iron box in the middle of the river at Coptos.

“The iron box is in a bronze box, the bronze box is in a box of palm-tree wood, the palm tree wood box is in a box of ebony and ivory, the ebony and ivory box is in a silver box, the silver box is in a gold box, and in the gold (sic) box lies the book.

The box wherein is the book is surrounded by swarms of serpents and scorpions and reptiles of all kinds, and round it is coiled a serpent which cannot die.”

Ptah-nefer-ka told his wife and the king what he had heard, and at length set out for Coptos with Ahura and Merhu in the royal barge; having arrived at Coptos he went to the temple of Isis and Harpocrates and offered up a sacrifice and poured out a libation to these gods.

Five days later the high priest of Coptos made for him the model of a floating stage and figures of workmen provided with tools; he then recited words of power over them and they became living, breathing men, and the search for the box began.

Having worked for three days and three nights they came to the place where the box was. Ptah-nefer-ka dispersed the serpents and scorpions which were round about the nest of boxes by his words of power, and twice succeeded in killing the serpent coiled round the box, but it came to life again; the third time he cut it into two pieces, and laid sand between them, and this time it did not take its old form again.

He then opened the boxes one after the other, and taking out the gold box with the book inside it carried it to the royal barge. He next read one of the two formula in it and so enchanted or bewitched the heavens and the earth that he learned all their secrets; he read the second and he saw the sun rising in the heavens with his company of the gods, etc.

His wife Ahura then read the book and saw all that her husband had seen. Ptah-nefer-ka then copied the writings on a piece of new papyrus, and having covered the papyrus with incense dissolved it in water and drank it; thus he acquired the knowledge which was in the magical book.

Meanwhile these acts had stirred the god Thoth to wrath, and he told Râ what Ptah-nefer-ka had done. As a result the decree went forth that Ptah-nefer-ka and his wife and child should never return to Memphis, and on the way back to Coptos Ahura and Merhu fell into the river and were drowned; and while returning to Memphis with the book Ptah-nefer-ka himself was drowned also.

Setnau, however, refused to be diverted from his purpose, and he insisted on having the book which he saw in the possession of Ptah-nefer-ka; the latter then proposed to play a game of draughts and to let the winner have the book.

The game was for fifty-two points, and although Ptah-nefer-ka tried to cheat Setnau, he lost the game. At this juncture Setnau sent his brother Anhaherurau up to the earth to bring him his talismans of Ptah and his other magical writings, and when he returned he laid them upon Setnau, who straightway flew up to heaven grasping the wonderful book in his hand.

As he went up from the tomb light went before him, and the darkness closed in behind him; but Ptah-nefer-ka said to his wife, “I will make him bring back this book soon, with a knife and a rod in his hand and a vessel of fire upon his head.”

Of the bewitchment of Setnau by a beautiful woman called Tabubu and of his troubles in consequence thereof we need make no mention here: it is sufficient to say that the king ordered him to take the book back to its place, and that the prophecy of Ptah-nefer-ka was fulfilled. (For translations see Brugsch, Le Roman de Setnau (in Revue Archéologique, 2nd series, Vol. xvi., 1867, p. 161 ff.); Maspero, Contes Égyptiens, Paris, 1882, pp. 45-82; Records of the Past, vol. iv., pp. 129-148; and for the original Demotic text see Mariette, Les Papyrus du Musée de Boulaq, tom. i., 1871, pll. 29-32; Revillout, Le Roman de Setna, Paris, 1877; Hess, Roman von Sfne Ha-m-us. Leipzig, 1888).

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. Pp. 142-6.

Tracing the Kabbalistic Idea

Next came Guillaume Postel of Paris (1510-1581), who published the Sefer Yazira with a Latin translation and a commentary. He also translated several sections of the Zohar. Christian Knorr von Rosenroth compiled an extensive anthology of kabbalistic works in Kabbala Denudata (1677-1684), followed by the German mystic Jacob Boehme. Dan characterizes all of these as “Lurianic kabbalah.” He cites no specific texts by Boehme, but states that “In England, some thinkers in the Cambridge school of neo-platonists–Henry More and Robert Fludd, among many others–used kabbalah.”

He then refers to theologian Franciscus Mercurius van Helmont from Holland, and he claims that Mercurius “collaborated in this field with Gottfried Wilhem Leibnitz (1646-1716).” He introduces alchemy into the mix, saying that Gershom Scholem “described the work of the german philosopher Franz Josef Molitor (1779-1861) on the philosophy of tradition as “the crowning and final achievement of the Christian kabbalah.”

Dan then notes that after the seventeenth century, kabbalah, employing various spellings, became a “common term” that indicated in an “imprecise manner anything that was ancient, mysterious, magical, and to some extent dangerous.” The term “cabal” then emerged, describing secret groups engaged in conspiracies. He observes that interest in esoterica diminished during the Enlightenment, but then resurged in the nineteenth century.

Amazingly, he observes that “Carl Gustav Jung could…combine admiration of the kabbalah with enmity toward Jewish culture.”

–Joseph Dan, Kabbalah: A Very Short Introduction, pg. 66-70.

The Moral Precepts of Ptah-hetep

Moral Precepts of Ptah-hetep, Governor of Memphis, Advisor to King Pharaoh Assa, 5th Dynasty, 3500 BCE

CHAPTER XIII
MORAL AND PHILOSOPHICAL LITERATURE

Side by side with the great mass of literature of a magical and religious character that flourished in Egypt under the Ancient Empire, we find that there existed also a class of writings that are remarkably like those contained in the Book of Proverbs, which is attributed to Solomon, the King of Israel, and in “Ecclesiasticus,” and the “Book of Wisdom.”

The priests of Egypt took the greatest trouble to compose Books of the Dead and Guides to the Other World in order to help the souls of the dead to traverse in safety the region that lay between this world and the next, or Dead Land, and the high officials who flourished under the Pharaohs of the early dynasties drew up works, the object of which was to enable the living man to conduct himself in such a way as to satisfy his social superiors, to please his equals, and to content his inferiors, and at the same time to advance to honours and wealth himself.

These works represent the experience, and shrewdness, and knowledge which their writers had gained at the Court of the Pharaohs, and are full of sound worldly wisdom and high moral excellence. They were written to teach young men of the royal and aristocratic classes to fear God, to honour the king, to do their duty efficiently, to lead strictly moral, if not exactly religious, lives, to treat every man with the respect due to his position in life, to cultivate home life, and to do their duty to their neighbours, both to those who were rich and those who were poor.

The oldest Egyptian book of Moral Precepts, or Maxims, or Admonitions, is that of Ptah-hetep, governor of the town of Memphis, and high confidential adviser of the king; he flourished in the reign of Assa, a king of the fifth dynasty, about 3500 B.C. His work is found, more or less complete, in several papyri, which are preserved in the British Museum and in the National Library in Paris, and extracts from it, which were used by Egyptian pupils in the schools attached to the temples, and which are written upon slices of limestone, are to be seen in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and elsewhere.

The oldest copy of the work contains many mistakes, and in some places the text is unintelligible, but many parts of it can be translated, and the following extracts will illustrate the piety and moral worth, and the sagacity and experience of the shrewd but kindly “man of the world” who undertook to guide the young prince of his day. The sage begins his work with a lament about the evil effects that follow old age in a man–

“Depression seizeth upon him every day, his eyesight faileth, his ears become deaf, his strength declineth, his heart hath no rest, the mouth becometh silent and speaketh not, the intelligence diminisheth, and it is impossible to remember to-day what happened yesterday.

“The bones are full of pain, the pursuit that was formerly attended with pleasure is now fraught with pain, and the sense of taste departeth. Old age is the worst of all the miseries that can befall a man. The nose becometh stopped up and one cannot smell at all.”

At this point Ptah-hetep asks, rhetorically, “Who will give me authority to speak? Who is it that will authorise me to repeat to the prince the Precepts of those who had knowledge of the wise counsels of the learned men of old?”

“In answer to these questions the king replies to Ptah-hetep, “Instruct thou my son in the words of wisdom of olden time. It is instruction of this kind alone that formeth the character of the sons of noblemen, and the youth who hearkeneth to such instruction will acquire a right understanding and the faculty of judging justly, and he will not feel weary of his duties.”

Immediately following these words come the “Precepts of beautiful speech” of Ptah-hetep, whose full titles are given, viz. the Erpa, the Duke, the father of the god (i.e. the king), the friend of God, the son of the king. Governor of Memphis, confidential servant of the king.

These Precepts instruct the ignorant, and teach them to understand fine speech; among them are the following:

“Be not haughty because of thy knowledge. Converse with the ignorant man as well as with him that is educated.

“Do not terrify the people, for if thou dost, God will punish thee. If any man saith that he is going to live by these means, God will make his mouth empty of food. If a man saith that he is going to make himself powerful (or rich) thereby, saying, ‘I shall reap advantage, having knowledge,’ and if he saith, ‘I will beat down the other man,’ he will arrive at the result of being able to do nothing. Let no man terrify the people, for the command of God is that they shall enjoy rest.

“If thou art one of a company seated to eat in the house of a man who is greater than thyself, take what he giveth thee [without remark]. Set it before thee. Look at what is before thee, but not too closely, and do not look at it too often. The man who rejecteth it is an ill-mannered person.

“Do not speak to interrupt when he is speaking, for one knoweth not when he may disapprove. Speak when he addresseth thee, and then thy words shall be acceptable.

“When a man hath wealth he ordereth his actions according to his own dictates. He doeth what he willeth…. The great man can effect by the mere lifting up of his hand what a [poor] man cannot. Since the eating of bread is according to the dispensation of God, a man cannot object thereto.

“If thou art a man whose duty it is to enter into the presence of a nobleman with a message from another nobleman, take care to say correctly and in the correct way what thou art sent to say; give the message exactly as he said it. Take great care not to spoil it in delivery and so to set one nobleman against another. He who wresteth the truth in transmitting the message, and only repeateth it in words that give pleasure to all men, gentleman or common man, is an abominable person.

“If thou art a farmer, till the field which the great God hath given thee. Eat not too much when thou art near thy neighbours…. The children of the man who, being a man of substance, seizeth [prey] like the crocodile in the presence of the field labourers, are cursed because of his behaviour, his father suffereth poignant grief, and as for the mother who bore him, every other woman is happier than she. A man who is the leader of a clan (or tribe) that trusteth him and followeth him becometh a god.

“If thou dost humble thyself and dost obey a wise man, thy behaviour will be held to be good before God. Since thou knowest who are to serve, and who are to command, let not thy heart magnify itself against the latter. Since thou knowest who hath the power, hold in fear him that hath it….

“Be diligent at all times. Do more than is commanded. Waste not the time wherein thou canst labour; he is an abominable man who maketh a bad use of his time. Lose no chance day by day in adding to the riches of thy house. Work produceth wealth, and wealth endureth not when work is abandoned.

“If thou art a wise man, beget a son who shall be pleasing unto God.

“If thou art a wise man, be master of thy house. Love thy wife absolutely, give her food in abundance, and raiment for her back; these are the medicines for her body. Anoint her with unguents, and make her happy as long as thou livest. She is thy field, and she reflecteth credit on her possessor. Be not harsh in thy house, for she will be more easily moved by persuasion than by violence. Satisfy her wish, observe what she expecteth, and take note of that whereon she hath fixed her gaze. This is the treatment that will keep her in her house; if thou repel her advances, it is ruin for thee. Embrace her, call her by fond names, and treat her lovingly.

“Treat thy dependants as well as thou art able, for this is the duty of those whom God hath blessed.

“If thou art a wise man, and if thou hast a seat in the council chamber of thy lord, concentrate thy mind on the business [so as to arrive at] a wise decision. Keep silence, for this is better than to talk overmuch. When thou speakest thou must know what can be urged against thy words. To speak in the council chamber [needeth] skill and experience.

“If thou hast become a great man having once been a poor man, and hast attained to the headship of the city, study not to take the fullest advantage of thy situation. Be not harsh in respect of the grain, for thou art only an overseer of the food of God.

“Think much, but keep thy mouth closed; if thou dost not how canst thou consult with the nobles? Let thy opinion coincide with that of thy lord. Do what he saith, and then he shall say of thee to those who are listening, ‘This is my son.'”

The above and all the other Precepts of Ptah-hetep were drawn up for the guidance of highly-placed young men, and have little to do with practical, every-day morality. But whilst the Egyptian scribes who lived under the Middle and New Empires were ready to pay all honour to the writings of an earlier age, they were not slow to perceive that the older Precepts did not supply advice on every important subject, and they therefore proceeded to write supplementary Precepts.

–E.A. Wallis Budge, The Literature of the Ancient Egyptians, pp. 101-3.