Samizdat

Publishing the Forbidden. All Rights Reserved. © Samizdat 2014-21.

Tag: Phoenician

Eco: The Etymological Furor, 2

tower-to-the-moon

Athanasius Kircher (1602-80), Turris Babel, Amsterdam, 1679. The illustrations in Turris Babel were engraved by C. Decker. This copy is held by the University of St. Andrews, under call number 417f BS1238.B2K5. The librarian at St. Andrews, who signed himself simply as “DG,” quoted from a narrative posted on the site of the Museum of Jurassic Technology, recounting Genesis 10-11, in which Nimrod attempted to build a tower that reached the heavens. The Museum observes, “This model illustrates Kircher’s proof that Nimrod’s ambition was intrinsically flawed: in order to reach the nearest heavenly body; the Moon, the tower would have to be 178,672 miles high, comprised of over three million tons of matter. The uneven distribution of the Earth’s mass would tip the balance of the planet and move it from its position at the center of the universe, resulting in a cataclysmic disruption in the order of nature.” 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 thousand or so pages of Guichard are really little more than an extensive raiding expedition in which languages, dead and living, are pillaged for their treasures. More or less by chance, Guichard sometimes manages to hit upon a real etymological connection; but there is little scientific method in his madness.

Still, the early attempts by authors such as Duret and Guichard to prove the monogenetic hypothesis did lead to a conception of Hebrew as less “magical,” and this eventually helped clear the way for a more modern conception of comparative linguistics (cf. Simone 1990: 328-9).

During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, fantasy and science remained inextricably entangled. In 1667, Mercurius van Helmont published an Alphabeti veri naturalis Hebraici brevissima delineatio, which proposed to examine methods for the teaching to speak of deaf-mutes.

This was the sort of project which, during the Enlightenment in the following century, might have been the occasion for valuable reflections upon the nature of language. For van Helmont, however, science was subordinated to his own monogenetic fantasies.

He started with the presumption that there must be a primitive language, easy to learn, even for those who had never learned to speak a language at all, and that it could not be but Hebrew.

Then van Helmont proceeded to demonstrate that the sounds of Hebrew were the ones most easily produced by the human vocal organs. Then, with the assistance of thirty-three woodcuts, he showed how, in making the sounds of Hebrew, the movements of tongue, palate, uvula and glottis reproduced the shapes of the corresponding Hebrew letters.

The result was a radical version of the mimological theory: not only did the Hebrew sounds reflect the inherent nature of things themselves, but the very mud from which the human vocal organs were formed had been especially sculpted to emit a perfect language that God pressed on Adam in not only its spoken but evidently its written form as well (see figure 5.1).

wls0041_enlarge

Baron Franciscus Mercurius van Helmont (1614-98), Alphabet verè Naturalis Hebraici brevissima delineation, A Brief Delineation of the True Nature of the Hebrew Alphabet, Sulzbach: Abraham Lichtenthaler, 1667. Held in the Hebraic Section of the African and Middle Eastern Division of the Library of Congress under call number 041.00.00. Reproduced as Figure 5.1 in Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, p. 84. 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 Turris Babel of 1679, Kircher presented a synthesis of the various positions which we have been reviewing. After an examination of the history of the world from the Creation to the Flood, and, from there, to the confusion of Babel, Kircher traced its subsequent historical and anthropological development through an analysis of various languages.

Kircher never questioned Hebrew’s priority as the lingua sancta; this had been explicitly revealed in the Bible. He held it as self-evident that Adam, knowing the nature of each and every beast, had named them accordingly, adding that “sometimes conjoining, sometimes separating, sometimes permutating the letters of the divers names, he recombined them according to the nature and properties of the various animals” (III, 1, 8).

Since this idea is based on a citation from the kabbalistic writings of the Rabbi R. Becchai, we can infer that Kircher was thinking of Adam defining the properties of the various animals by permutating the letters of their names.

To be precise, first the names themselves mimic some property of the animals to which they refer: lion, for example, is written ARYH in Hebrew; and Kircher takes the letters AHY as miming the heavy sound of a lion panting.

After naming the lion “ARYH,” Adam rearranged these letters according to the kabbalist technique of temurah. Nor did he limit himself to anagrams: by interpolating letters, he constructed entire sentences in which every word contained one or more of the letters of the Hebrew word.

Thus Kircher was able to generate a sentence which showed that the lion was monstrans, that is, able to strike terror by his sole glance; that he was luminous as if a light were shining from his face, which, among other things, resembled a mirror . . . We see here Kircher playing with etymological techniques already suggested in Plato’s Cratylus (which he, in fact, cites, p. 145) to twist names to express a more or less traditional lore about people and animals.

At this point, Kircher took the story up to the present. He told how, after the confusion, five dialects arose out of Hebrew: Chaldean, Samaritan (the ancestor of Phoenician), Syriac, Arabic and Ethiopic.

From these five he deduced, by various etymological means, the birth of various other languages (explaining the successive stages by which the alphabet developed along the way) until he reached the European languages of his own time.

As the story approaches the present, the argument becomes more plausible: linguistic change is seen as caused by the separation and mixture of peoples. These, in turn, are caused by the rise and fall of empires, migrations due to war and pestilence, colonialization and climatic variation.

He is also able to identify the process of creolization which can occur when two languages are put into contact with one another. Out of the multiplication of languages, moreover, are born the various idolatrous religions, and the multiplication of the names of the gods (III, I, 2).”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 82-5.

Nebo, God of Prophecy

“A knowledge of Babylonian letters and learning was accompanied by a knowledge of the Babylonian god of letters and learning.

In Assyria, Nebo was honoured as much as he was in Babylonia itself. The Assyrian kings and scribes might be silent about the name of Merodach, but the name of Nebo was continually in their mouths.

His name and worship passed even to the distant Semitic tribes of the west. The names of places in Palestine in which his name occurs, proves that the god of prophecy was adored by Canaanites and Moabites alike. Moses, the leader and prophet of Israel, died on the peak of Mount Nebo, and cities bearing the name stood within the borders of the tribes of Reuben and Judah.

When the Israelites entered upon their literary era, the old name of roch, or “seer,” was exchanged for the more literary one of Nēbi, or “prophet.”

The Semites of Babylonia provided Nebo with a wife, Tasmitu, “the hearer.” She helped to open and enlarge the ears which received the divine mysteries her husband’s inspiration enabled his devout servants to write down.

The revolution which transferred the learning of the Babylonians from the Accadians to the Semites, transferred the patronage of the literary class from the old god Ea to his younger rivals Nebo and Tasmit.

[ … ]

The Semites of Babylonia thus closely resembled their brother Semites of Canaan in their fundamental conception of religion. As the Canaanite or Phoenician had “lords many,” the multitudinous Baalim who represented the particular forms of the Sun-god worshipped in each locality, so too the gods of Semitic Babylonia were equally multitudinous and local–Merodach, for example, being merely the Bel or Baal of Babylon, just as Mel-karth (Melech-kiryath) was the Baal of Tyre.

But the parallelism extends yet further. We have seen that the rise of the prophet-god in Babylonia marks the growing importance of literature and a literary class, just as the beginning of a literary age in Israel is coeval with the change of the seer into the prophet.

Now the literary age of Israel was long preceded by a literary age among their Phoenician neighbours, and its growth is contemporaneous with the closer relations that grew up between the monarchs of Israel and Hiram of Tyre.

What Israel was in this respect to the Phoenicians, Assyria was to Babylonia. The Assyrians were a nation of warriors and traders rather than of students; their literature was for the most part an exotic, a mere imitation of Babylonian cuiture.

In Babylonia, education was widely diffused; in Assyria, it was confined to the learned class. We must remember, therefore, that in dealing with Assyrian documents we are dealing either with a foreign importation or with the thoughts and beliefs of a small and special class.”

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. 119-122.

Worshipping Virility

“While it is only of comparatively recent date that information as to the exact character of the worship directed to Tammuz has been available and the material we at present possess is but fragmentary in character, the corresponding cult of the Phoenician-Greek divinity we know as Adonis has for some years been the subject of scholarly research.

Not only have the details of the ritual been examined and discussed, and the surviving artistic evidence described and illustrated, but from the anthropological side attention has been forcibly directed to its importance as a factor in the elucidation of certain widespread Folk-beliefs and practices 2.

We know now that the worship of Adonis, which enjoyed among the Greeks a popularity extending to our own day, was originally of Phoenician origin, its principal centres being the cities of Byblos, and Aphaka.

From Phoenicia it spread to the Greek islands, the earliest evidence of the worship being found in Cyprus, and from thence to the mainland, where it established itself firmly.

The records of the cult go back to 700 B.C., but it may quite possibly be of much earlier date. Mr Langdon suggests that the worship of the divinity we know as Adonis, may, under another name, reach back to an antiquity equal with that we can now ascribe to the cult of Tammuz.

In its fully evolved classical form the cult of Adonis offers, as it were, a halfway house, between the fragmentary relics of Aryan and Babylonian antiquity, and the wealth of Medieval and Modern survivals to which the ingenuity and patience of contemporary scholars have directed our attention.

We all know the mythological tale popularly attached to the name of Adonis; that he was a fair youth, beloved of Aphrodite, who, wounded in the thigh by a wild boar, died of his wound.

The goddess, in despair at his death, by her prayers won from Zeus the boon that Adonis be allowed to return to earth for a portion of each year, and henceforward the youthful god divides his time between the goddess of Hades, Persephone, and Aphrodite. But the importance assumed by the story, the elaborate ceremonial with which the death of Adonis was mourned, and his restoration to life fêted, the date and character of the celebrations, all leave no doubt that the personage with whom we are dealing was no mere favourite of a goddess, but one with whose life and well-being the ordinary processes of Nature, whether animal or vegetable, were closely and intimately concerned.

In fact the central figure of these rites, by whatever name he may be called, is the somewhat elusive and impersonal entity, who represents in anthropomorphic form the principle of animate Nature, upon whose preservation, and unimpaired energies, the life of man, directly, and indirectly, depends 1.

Before proceeding to examine these rites there is one point, to which I have alluded earlier, in another connection, upon which our minds must be quite clear, i.e., the nature of the injury suffered. Writers upon the subject are of one accord in considering the usual account to be but a euphemistic veiling of the truth, while the close relation between the stories of Adonis and Attis, and the practices associated with the cult, place beyond any shadow of a doubt the fact that the true reason for this universal mourning was the cessation, or suspension, by injury or death, of the reproductive energy of the god upon whose virile activity vegetable life directly, and human life indirectly, depended.” 2

Jessie L. Weston, From Ritual to Romance, 1920. Pp. 39-41.

%d bloggers like this: