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Tag: Seals

Eco: Bruno: Ars Combinatoria and Infinite Worlds

1280px-Relief_Bruno_Campo_dei_Fiori_n1

Ettore Ferrari (1845-1929), The Trial of Giordano Bruno by the Roman Inquisition, bronze relief, Campo de’Fiori, Rome. This bas relief graces the pedestal of the statue of Bruno at Campo de’Fiori in Rome. The collected works of Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) are in the Bibliotheca Bruniana Electronica at the Warburg Institute, with others at the Esoteric Archives. This photo dated 2006 by Jastrow is in the public domain. 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.    

Giordano Bruno’s cosmological vision presented a world without ends, whose circumference, as Nicholas of Cusa had already argued, was nowhere to be found, and whose center was everywhere, at whatever point the observer chose to contemplate the universe in its infinity and substantial unity.

The panpsychism of Bruno had a Neoplatonic foundation: there was but a single divine breath, one principle of motion pervading the whole of the infinite universe, determining it in its infinite variety of forms.

The master idea of an infinite number of worlds was compounded with the notion that every earthly object can also serve as the Platonic shade of other ideal aspects of the universe. Thus every object exists not only in itself, but as a possible sign, deferral, image, emblem, hieroglyph of something else.

This worked also by contrast: an image can lead us back to the unity of the infinite even through its opposite. As Bruno wrote in his Eroici furori, “To contemplate divine things we need to open our eyes by using figures, similitudes, or any of the other images that the Peripatetics knew under the name of phantasms” (Dialoghi italiani, Florence: Sansei, 1958: 1158).

Where they did not emerge directly from his own inflamed imagination, Bruno chose images found in the Hermetic repertoire. These served as storehouses of revelations because of a naturally symbolic relationship that held between them and reality.

Their function was no longer, as in previous arts of memory, that of merely helping to order information for ease of recall, or this was, at least, by now a minor aspect: their function was rather that of helping to understand. Bruno’s images permitted the mind to discover the essence of things and their relations to each other.

The power of revelation stored inside these images was founded on their origin in far-off Egypt. Our distant progenitors worshipped cats and crocodiles because “a simple divinity found in all things, a fecund nature, a mother watching over the universe, expressed in many different ways and forms, shines through different subjects and takes different names” (Lo spaccio della bestia trionfante, Dialoghi italiani, 780-2).

But these images possess more than the simple capacity to reawaken our dormant imagination: they possess an authentic power to effect magical operations on their own, and functioned, in other words, in exactly the same way as the talismans of Ficino.

It is possible, of course, to take many of Bruno’s magical claims in a metaphorical sense, as if he was merely describing, according to the sensibility of his age, intellectual operations. It is also possible to infer that these images had the power to pull Bruno, after prolonged concentration, into a state of mystic ecstasy (cf. Yates 1964: 296).

Still, it is difficult to ignore the fact that some of Bruno’s strongest claims about the theurgic potential of seals appeared in a text that bore the significant title of De Magia:

“nor even are all writings of the same utility as these characters which, by their very configuration, seem to indicated things themselves. For example, there are signs that are mutually inclined to one another, that regard each other and embrace one another; these constrain us to love.

Then there are the opposite signs, signs which repel each other so violently that we are induced to hatred and to separation, becoming so hardened, incomplete, and broken as to produce in us ruin. There are knots which bind, and there are separated characters which release. [ . . . ]

These signs do not have a fixed and determined form. Anyone who, obeying his own furor, or the dictates of his soul, naturally creates his own images, be these of things desired or things to hold in contempt, cannot help but represent these images to himself and to his spirit as if the imagined things were really present.

Thus he experiences his own images with a power that he would not feel were he to represent these things to himself in the form of words, either in elegant oration, or in writing.

Such were the well-defined letters of the ancient Egyptians, which they called hieroglyphs or sacred characters. [ . . . ] by which they were able to enter into colloquies with the gods and to accomplish remarkable feats with them. [ . . . ]

And so, just as, where there lacks a common tongue, men of one race are unable to have colloquies with those of another, but must resort instead to gestures, so relations of any sort between ourselves and certain powers would be impossible were we to lack the medium of definite signs, seals, figures, characters, gestures, and other ceremonies.”

(Opera latine conscripta, Naples-Florence, 1879-1891, vol. III: 39-45).

Concerning the specific iconological material that Bruno employs, we find figures deriving directly from the Hermetic tradition, such as the Thirty-six Decans of the Zodiac, others drawn from mythology, necromantic diagrams that recall Agrippa or John Dee, Lullian suggestions, animals, plants and allegorical figures deriving from the repertoire of emblems and devices.

This is a repertoire with an extraordinary importance in the history of iconology, where the ways in which a certain seal, for example, refers back to a specific idea are largely governed by rhetorical criteria: phonetic similarities (a horse, equus, can correspond to an honest, aequus, man); the concrete for the abstract (a Roman soldier for Rome); antecedent for the consequent; accident for subject (or vice versa); and so on.

Sometimes the analogy  is based upon the similarity of the initial syllable (asinus for asyllum); and certainly Bruno did not know that this procedure, as we shall see in chapter 7, was followed by the Egyptians themselves when using their hieroglyphs.

At other times the relations might be based on kabbalistic techniques such as anagrams or paronomasias (like palatio standing for Latio: cf. Vasoli 1958: 285-6).”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 132-5.

Things that Apkallu Hold

” … we present a survey of the objects in the hands of apkallū on reliefs, seals, and in the Kleinplastik. The survey is not meant to be complete. It is based on the recent treatments of Rittig (Kleinplastik), Kolbe (Reliefprogramme), and Reade (BaM 10 17ff.).

Umu-Apkallu Anthropomorphic and Winged

Lamaštu amulets:

Occasionally on Lamaštu amulets (2, 3, 5, 20 ?, 29′, 37 61) a figure wearing a shawl covering the legs, once clearly with headband (3, cf. the description RA 18 176), appears at the head or feet of the bed of the sick man, together with fish-apkallū (2, 5, 37) or alone (3, 61).

His right hands greets (2′, 3?, 5′, 61?) or holds an angular object, his left hand is placed on the bed (3, 61), on a censer (3, cf. Wiggermann apud Stol Zwangerschap en Geboorte 111) or holds a square object (37) or the bucket. He is never winged.

Frank LSS-III/3 who considered the fish-apkallū a dressed up priest, thought the second figure at the bed to be an assistant priest. Today we no longer view the fish-apkallū as priests, and accordingly the men at the bed are assistant apkallū rather than assistant priests. The “men” are clearly involved in activities similar to those of the fish-apkallū, and the texts prescribing the visual representations of beneficial supernatural powers do not offer another candidate for the identification of this apkallū-like figure than the ūmuapkallū.

Bird Apkallu and Fish Apkallu, side by side. Apkallu 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 Apkallu and Fish Apkallu, side by side. Apkallu 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.

Identification of ūmu-apkallū on reliefs:

The description and incantation of the ūmu-apkallū make it clear that they are anthropomorphic figures of human descent; the material they are made of also distinguishes them from the gods and the monsters and apkallū of non-human lineage.

That the horns of divinity are lacking in the description then is not a coincidence (as it is in the case of the il bīti). On amulets, in a context clearly defined by the bed of the sick man and the presence of fish-apkallū, only one figure is available for identification with the ûmu-apkallū (see above); this figure serves as a check on any identification of the ūmu-apkallū in the less clear context of the palace reliefs.

Umu-Apkallu, with right hand raised in greeting. The banduddu bucket is in the left hand. Later analysts focus on the rosette patterns on the headdress and bracelets of um-apkallu, and their earrings.

Umu-Apkallu, with right hand raised in greeting. The banduddu bucket is in the left hand. Later analysts focus on the rosette patterns on the headdress and bracelets of um-apkallu, and their earrings.

There is no reason why the ūmu-apkallū must appear on reliefs; the text quoted by Reade BaM 10 38i27 may have belonged to fish- or bird-apkallū (text I/7). However, the apparent bearing of our rituals on the apotropaic subject-matter of the reliefs, and more specifically the presence of the bird- and fish-apkallū, leads us to expect them.

Although ritual I/II prescribes specific attributes for each type of apkallū, the actual fish- and bird-apkallū of the Kleinplastik show that this specificity is a forced choice between a number of more or less equivalent attributes; we must not expect the ūmu-apkallū to have held only the object denoted by e’ru, whatever it is; the ūmu-apkallū of the Lamaštu amulets confirm this point.

This well-preserved bas relief retains incredible detail. The daggers carried in the Umu-Apkallu's waistband are clear, as is the rosette styling on his wristbands. The earrings are more distinct than most other examples, and the headdress appears to be of the horned-tiara type. The umu-apkallu appears to wear bracelets on his upper arms. Tassels are apparent on the fringes of his robe, as well as behind the neck.

This well-preserved bas relief retains incredible detail. The daggers carried in the Umu-Apkallu’s waistband are clear, as is the rosette styling on his wristbands. The earrings are more distinct than most other examples, and the headdress appears to be of the horned-tiara type. The umu-apkallu appears to wear bracelets on his upper arms. Tassels are apparent on the fringes of his robe, as well as behind the neck.

The banduddû, identified with certainty with the bucket, thus isolates two groups with anthropomorphic members: the (winged) figures with headband and the (winged) figures with horned tiara (we will return to them below). The other attributes of the members of both groups can be made to match the attributes of the apkallū known from the texts; the horned figures, however, must be gods, and since the apkallū are no gods, the figures with the headband should be the apkallū (so Reade BaM 10 37; differently Kolbe Reliefprogramme 14ff., cf. 41f. 47, 50).

The banduddu buckets are discernible in the left hands of these bird-apkallu statuettes.

The banduddu buckets are discernible in the left hands of these bird-apkallu statuettes.

The ūmu-apkallū of the Lamaštu-amulets confirms this identification: decisive is the headband defining this type of supernatural beings (this band with daisy-like flowers differs from the diadem with two strips of cloth pendant behind, worn by the king or the crown-prince, cf. Reade Iraq 29 46, Iraq 34 92f.).

Unfortunately the headgear of the ūmu-apkallū is described only as agê ramāni-šunu, “crowns (cut out) of their own (wood)”; agû denotes a variety of functionally similar divine or royal headgears (CAD A/1 157a).

The different dress of the apkallū of the Lamaštu amulets cannot be adduced against identification with the apkallū of the reliefs; differences in dress are attested for the bird-apkallū as well, cf. Kolbe Reliefprogramme Pl. IV/1 and 2, Iraq 33 Pl. XiVe, Rittig Kleinplastik Fig. 20ff.; ūmu-apkallū with a shawl covering the legs appear on seals (VAR 675, probably CANES 705).”

F.A.M. Wiggermann, Mesopotamian Protective Spirits: The Ritual Texts, STYX&PP Publications, Groningen, 1992, p. 73-4.

On the Mullilu, the “cleaner,” the Purification Instrument of the Apkallu Exorcist

Apkallu Attributes

“–mullilu, “purification instrument” (literally: “cleaner”).

When it is agreed upon that a word denoting the cone, the most common object in the hands of the bird-apkallū and the fish-apkallū, must appear among the terms denoting objects held by the apkallū in ritual I/II, this word can only be mullilu.

The identification of mullilu as denoting the cone is based on the observation that the cone on reliefs, seals and in the Kleinplastik never occurs as the only object held by an apkallū; thus e’ru, libbi gišimmari, and urigallu, the other objects held by an apkallū, are excluded.

Klengel-Brandt (FuB 10 34, cf. Rittig Kleinplastik 215) thinks mullilu denotes “eine Art kurzen Wedel … der hauptsachlich zum besprengen mit Wasser benutzt worden ist“, and indentifies it with the cone. Correctly, but without justification, Parker (Essays Wilkinson 33) states that mullilu, “purifier”, “may be the cone-shaped object carried by the genii”.

Umu-Apkallū in the characteristic act of purification, sprinkling sacred water from the Banduddu bucket with the Mullilu cone.  From Nimrud, capital of king Ashurnarzipal. AO 19845

Umu-Apkallū in the characteristic act of purification, sprinkling sacred water from the Banduddu bucket with the Mullilu cone.
From Nimrud, capital of king Ashurnarzipal.
AO 19845

Unclear is BBR 26 v 39ff. (restored from 28:9, quoted by CAD M/2 189a), where the king carries a mullilu in his right and in his left hand. Never, on seals, reliefs or as a statue, does a figure carry a cone in both his left and his right hand.

The identity of the cone is still being debated: male inflorescence of the date-palm, or cone of a coniferous tree (cf., with previous literature, Stearns AfOB 15 2443). In a recent study, the second option is hesitantly favoured (Bleibtreu, Flora 61f., 93f., 123f.).

A bird-apkallu with mullilu and banduddu.  Drawn by Faucher-Gudin from an Assyrian bas-relief from Khorsabad. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17323/17323-h/17323-h.htm#linkBimage-0011

A bird-apkallu with mullilu and banduddu.
Drawn by Faucher-Gudin from an Assyrian bas-relief from Khorsabad.
http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17323/17323-h/17323-h.htm#linkBimage-0011

The Akkadian term mullilu does not give a clue. From a philological point of view the fir-cone (terinnu) is preferable to the male inflorescence of the date-palm (rikbu, cf. Landsberger Date Palm 19): terinnu is attested as an instrument bringing about the release of sin (Maqlû I 24, cf. Landsberger Date Palm 14) and thus resembles the other objects carried by the apkallū. For rikbu no such use is known.

Regarding cone and bucket, we conclude with the following:

  • The bucket is always carried in the left hand. The other hand may be empty, or may carry a variety of objects, such as the sprig (Kolbe Reliefprogramme Type VI), which occur also in the hands of figures not carrying buckets. The value of the bucket in the ritual cannot be dependent on the objects held in the other hand. The bucket, or rather its content, is effective simply by being present.
  • One object, the cone, appears only when the figure in question carries a bucket in its left hand. The value of the cone must in some way be dependent on the value of the bucket.
  • The texts indicate that the bucket contained holy water effectuating “release”. As was proposed before, the dependent cone “purifier”(mullilu) held in the right hand activated the holy water: it was a sprinkler (Klengel-Brandt, Rittig, CAD M/1l 189a).
  • The figures carrying buckets (and cones) are engaged in a purification ritual. As will be seen below, this accords well with their function of apkallū.
  • Figures carrying cones point their cone at the sacred tree, the king, or courtiers (Stearns AfOB 15 64f.). Figures standing in doorways and apparently pointing their cones at nothing, are perhaps best thought of as pointing their cones at passing visitors, just as the weapons and the gestures of greeting are directed at the visitors, and not at the building.
  • The sacred tree benefits from the activities of the genii, the genii do not need the tree, cf. Stearns AfOB 15 70ff. It is not necessary to understand the meaning of the tree in order to understand the meaning of the figures with bucket and cone.
  • For the tree we refer to Porada AASOR 24 108ff., Madhloon Sumer 26 137ff., Stearns AfOB 15 70ff. Genge AcOr 33 321ff., Hrouda BaM 3 41ff., Kolbe Reliefprogramme 83ff., Bleibtreu Flora 37ff., and passim, Parker Essays Wilkinson 38. For a doubtful connection with the texts, cf. van Dijk Syncretism 175 f., and Lugal 1 10 ff. (see below 000).”

F.A.M. Wiggermann, Mesopotamian Protective Spirits: The Ritual Texts, STYX&PP Publications, Groningen, 1992, p. 67.

The Luminous Mirrors of the Deity

“Thus the sefiroth are here conceived as worlds but also as seals, as minting stamps of all reality—just as the Platonists speak of the ideas as seals—but they are also the ”luminous mirrors” of the deity through which its light is reflected in all reality.

Some texts specify, much as does the “Book of the Five Substances,” a distinct “world of life,” which is distinguished from the world of the intellect and from that of the soul in the hierarchy of being.

‘En-sof as a name of the hidden God in his transcendence is still unknown in these texts, suggesting that they preceded the writings of the Gerona circle. But they also readily make use of adverbial phrases of the kind we have already discussed with regard to the Infinite and often speak of the “light whose sublimity has no end.”

The fact that the name Araritha was used for the primordial and transcendent being, as we have mentioned, proves that the writers felt the need to find some name for the absolute unity, which is above all these “worlds,” the “One where everything originates, where everything has its existence and to which everything returns.”

The absence of the name ‘en-sof can therefore be no accident.”

Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, p. 330.

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