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Tag: Stoics

Eco: The Mother Tongue

1130px-Hebrew_Alphabet.svg

The Hebrew alphabet. Compiled and posted by Assyrio on Wikipedia. The copyright holder releases this work into the public domain, granting anyone the right to use this work for any purpose without any conditions, unless such conditions are required by law.  

Humiliter dedicata a amico miles Georgius Hand IV, polyglottis et πολυμαθής.

“Despite this, Abulafia did not think that this matrix of all languages (which coincides with the eternal, but not with the written, Torah) corresponded yet to Hebrew. Here Abulafia made a distinction between the twenty-two letters as a linguistic matrix, and Hebrew as the mother tongue of humanity.

The twenty-two Hebrew letters represented the ideal sounds which had presided over the creation of the seventy existing languages. The fact that other languages had more vowels depended on the variations in pronouncing the twenty-two letters. In modern terminology, the new foreign sounds would be called allophones of the fundamental Hebrew phonemes.

Other kabbalists had observed that the Christians lacked the letter Kheth, while the Arabs lacked Peh. In the Renaissance, Yohanan Alemanno argued that the origins of these phonetic deviations in non-Hebrew languages were the noises of beasts; some were like the grunting of pigs, others were like the croaking of frogs, still others were like the sound of a crane.

The assimilation of bestial sounds showed that these were the languages of peoples who had abandoned the right path and true conduct of their lives. In this sense, another result of the confusion of Babel was the multiplication of letters.

Alemanno was aware that there were also other peoples who considered their languages as superior to all others. He cited Galen, who claimed that Greek was the most pleasing of all languages and the one that most conformed to the laws of reason.

Not daring to contradict him, he attributed this fact to affinities he saw as existing between Greek, Hebrew, Arabic and Assyrian.

For Abulafia, the twenty-two Hebrew letters represented the entire gamut of sounds naturally produced by the human vocal organs. It was the different ways of combining these letters that had given rise to the different languages.

The word zeruf (combination) and the word lashon (language) had the same numerical value (386): it followed that the rules of combination provided the explanation to the formation of each separate language.

Abulafia admitted that the decision to represent these sounds according to certain graphic signs was a matter of convention; it was, however, a convention established between God and the prophets.

Being aware that there existed other theories which claimed that the sounds which expressed ideas or things were conventional (he could have encountered such an Aristotelian and Stoic notion in Jewish authors like Maimonides), Abulafia, nevertheless, invoked a rather modern distinction between conventionality and arbitrariness.

Hebrew was a conventional but not an arbitrary language. Abulafia rejected the claim, maintained, among others, by certain Christian authors, that, left entirely to itself, a child would automatically begin to speak Hebrew: the child would be unaware of the convention.

Yet Hebrew remained the sacred mother tongue, because the names given by Adam, though conventional, were in accordance with nature. In this sense, Hebrew was the proto-language.

Its existence was a precondition for all the rest, “For if such a language did not precede it, there couldn’t have been mutual agreement to call a given object by a different name from what it was previously called, for how would the second person understand the second name if he doesn’t know the original name, in order to be able to agree to the changes.” (Sefer or ha-Sekhel; cf. Idel 1989: 14).

Abulafia lamented that his people in the course of their exile had forgotten their original language. He looked on the kabbalist as a laborer working to rediscover the original matrix of all the seventy languages of the world.

Still, he knew that it would not be until the coming of the Messiah that all the secrets of the kabbala would be definitively revealed. Only then, at the end of time, would all linguistic differences cease, and languages be reabsorbed back into the original sacred tongue.”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 32-3.

Eco: Cosmic Permutability and the Kabbala of Names, 2

Athanasius Kircher (1602-80), The Bembine Table of Isis, Oedipus Aegypticiacus

Athanasius Kircher (1602-80), The Bembine Table of Isis, Oedipus Aegypticiacus, or Mensa Isiaca, N. Inv. C. 7155, Museo Egizio, photo by Fuzzypeg from Manly Palmer Hall, The Secret Teachings of All Ages (1928), all rights released. The Bembine Table was acquired by Cardinal Bembo after the sack of Rome in 1527, then purchased by the Savoy King Carlo Emanuele I in 1630 in Turin. A Roman interpretation of a bronze and silver altar table in an Egyptian style, early scholars surmised that the table pertained to an Isis cult. Kircher relied upon it for the third volume of his masterwork. It was ultimately determined to be an antique forgery, and not a work of ancient Egypt. This image is in the public domain. The author died over 70 years ago.   

 

“What justified  this process of textual dissolution was that, for Abulafia, each letter, each atomic element, already had a meaning of its own, independent of the meaning of the syntagms in which it occurred.

Each letter was already a divine name: “Since, in the letters of the Name, each letter is already a Name itself, know that Yod is a name, and YH is a name” (Perush Havdalah de-Rabbi ‘Akivà).

This practice of reading by permutation tended to produce ecstatic effects:

“And begin by combining this name, namely, YHWH, at the beginning alone, and examining all its combinations and move it, turn it about like a wheel, returning around, front and back, like a scroll, and do not let it rest, but when you see its matter strengthened because of the great motion, because of the fear of confusion of your imagination, and rolling about of your thoughts, and when you let it rest, return to it and ask [it] until there shall come to your hand a word of wisdom from it, do not abandon it.

Afterwards go on to the second one from it, Adonay, and ask of it its foundation [yesodo] and it will reveal to you its secret [sodo]. And then you will apprehend its matter in the truth of its language. Then join and combine the two of them [YHWH and Adonay] and study them and ask them, and they will reveal to you the secrets of wisdom . . .

Afterwards combine Elohim, and it will also grant you wisdom, and then combine the four of them, and find the miracles of the Perfect One [i.e. God], which are miracles of wisdom.” (Hayyê ha-Nefes, in Idel 1988c:21).

If we add that the recitation of the names was accompanied by special techniques of breathing, we begin to see how from recitation the adept might pass into ecstasy, and from ecstasy to the acquisition of magic powers; for the letters that the mystic combined were the same sounds with which God created the world.

This latter aspect came especially into prominence during the fifteenth century. For Yohanan Alemanno, friend and inspirer of Pico della Mirandola, “the symbolic cargo of language was transformed into a kind of quasi-mathematical command. Kabbalistic symbolism thus turned into–or perhaps returned to–a magical language of incantation” (Idel 1988b: 204-5).

For the ecstatic kabbala, language was a self-contained universe in which the structure of language represented the structure of reality itself. Already in the writings of Philo of Alexandria there had been an attempt to compare the intimate essence of the Torah with the Logos as the world of ideas.

Such Platonic conceptions had even penetrated into the Haggidic and Midrashic literature in which the Torah was conceived as providing the scheme according to which God created the world.

The eternal Torah was identified with wisdom and, in many passages, with the world of forms or universe of archetypes. In the thirteenth century, taking up a decidedly Averroist line, Abulafia equated the Torah with the active intellect, “the form of all the forms of separate intellects” (Sefer Mafteakh ha-Tokhahot).

In contrast, therefore, with the main philosophical tradition (from Aristotle to the Stoics and to the Middle Ages, as well as to Arab and Judaic philosophers), language, in the kabbala, did not represent the world merely by referring to it.

It did not, that is, stand to the world in the relation of signifier to signified or sign to its referent. If God created the world by uttering sounds or by combining written letters, it must follow that these semiotic elements were not representations of pre-existing things, but the very forms by which the elements of the universe are moulded.

The significance of this argument in our own story must be plain: the language of creation was perfect not because it merely happened to reflect the structure of the universe in some exemplary fashion; it created the universe.

Consequently it stands to the universe as the cast stands to the object cast from it.”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 30-2.

Eco: Before and After Europe

Cleve-van_construction-tower-babel

Hendrick van Cleve III (1525-89), The Tower of Babel, 16th Century, Kröller-Müller Museum. 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. 

“Stories accounting for the multiplicity of tongues appear in divers mythologies and theogonies (Borst 1957-63: I, 1). None the less, it is one thing to know why many languages exist; it is quite another to decide that this multiplicity is a wound that must be healed by the quest for a perfect language.

Before one decides to seek a perfect language, one needs, at the very least, to be persuaded that one’s own is not so.

Keeping, as we decided, strictly to Europe–the classical Greeks knew of peoples speaking languages other than theirs: they called these peoples barbaroi, beings who mumble in an incomprehensible speech.

The Stoics, with their more articulated notion of semiotics, knew perfectly well that the ideas to which certain sounds in Greek corresponded were also present in the minds of barbarians.

However, not knowing Greek, barbarians had no notion of the connection between the Greek sound and the particular idea. Linguistically and culturally speaking, they were unworthy of any attention.

For the Greek philosophers, Greek was the language of reason. Aristotle’s list of categories is squarely based on the categories of Greek grammar. This did not explicitly entail a claim that the Greek language was primary: it was simply a case of the identification of thought with its natural vehicle.

Logos was thought, and Logos was speech. About the speech of barbarians little was known; hence, little was known about what it would be like to think in the language of barbarians.

Although the Greeks were willing to admit that the Egyptians, for example, possessed a rich and venerable store of wisdom, they only knew this because someone had explained it to them in Greek.

As Greek civilization expanded, the status of Greek as a language evolved as well. At first, there existed almost as many varieties of Greek as there were Greek texts (Meillet 1930:4). In the period following the conquests of Alexander the Great, however, there arose and spread a common Greek–the koiné.

This was the language of Polybius, Strabo, Plutarch and Aristotle; it was the language taught in the schools of grammar. Gradually it became the official language of the entire area of the Mediterranean bounded by Alexander’s conquests.

Spoken by patricians and intellectuals, Greek still survived here under Roman domination as well, as the language of commerce and trade, of diplomacy, and of scientific and philosophical debate.

It was finally the language in which the first Christian texts were transmitted (the Gospels and the Septuagint translation of the Bible in the third century BCE), and the language of the early church fathers.

A civilization with an international language does not need to worry about the multiplicity of tongues. Nevertheless such a civilization can worry about the “rightness” of its own.

In the Cratylus, Plato asks the same question that a reader of the Genesis story might: did the nomothete choose the sounds with which to name objects according to the object’s nature (physis)?

This is the thesis of Cratylus, while Ermogene maintains that they were assigned by law or human convention (nomos). Socrates moves among these theses with apparent ambiguity.

Finally, having subjected both to ironical comment, inventing etymologies that neither he (nor Plato) is eager to accept, Socrates brings forward his own hypothesis: knowledge is founded not on our relation to the names of things, but on our relation to the things themselves–or, better, to the ideas of those things.

Later, even by these cultures that ignored Cratylus, every discussion on the nature of a perfect language has revolved around the three possibilities first set out in this dialogue.

None the less, the Cratylus is not itself a project for a perfect language: Plato discusses the preconditions for semantic adequacy within a given language without posing the problem of a perfect one.

While the Greek koiné continued to dominate the Mediterranean basin, Latin was becoming the language of the empire, and thus the universal language for all parts of Europe reached by Roman legions.

Later it became the language of the Roman church. Once again, a civilization with a common language was not troubled by the plurality of tongues.

Learned men might still discourse in Greek, but, for the rest of the world, speaking with barbarians was, once again, the job of a few translators, and this only until these same barbarians began to speak their Latin.”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 10-2.

The Historicity of Berossus

“Some sources suggest that Berossos had, as it were, an international career as an astronomer. According to those sources, he left Babylon and migrated to the Greek world after the publi­cation of his history.

Vitruvius states that he moved to the island of Cos and opened a school there (BNJ T 5a-b). Vitruvius also ascribes the invention of a specific type of sundial to Berossos (BNJ 680 T 5c).

The Bull of Heaven, Taurus, is drawn on an "esoteric tablet" dated to the Seleucid era. See Textes cuneiform du Louvre by Francois Thureau-Dangin, Tome VI (Tablets d'Uruk, a la usage des pretres du temple d'Anu au temps des Seleucides), (Plate 91), 1922. The same plate is reproduced in Astrological Reports to Assyrian Kings, Herman Hunger, 1992, p. 40.  http://members.westnet.com.au/gary-david-thompson/page11-10.html

The Bull of Heaven, Taurus, is drawn on an “esoteric tablet” dated to the Seleucid era. See Textes cuneiform du Louvre by Francois Thureau-Dangin, Tome VI (Tablets d’Uruk, a la usage des pretres du temple d’Anu au temps des Seleucides), (Plate 91), 1922. The same plate is reproduced in Astrological Reports to Assyrian Kings, Herman Hunger, 1992, p. 40.
http://members.westnet.com.au/gary-david-thompson/page11-10.html

Josephus agrees with the Roman architect that Berossos propagated Babylonian lore: he says that the Chaldaean was famed among those who were engaged in learning, because he published for the Greeks works on astronomy and on the philosophy of the Chaldaeans (BNJ 680 T3).

Pliny the Elder presents Berossos as the most important scholar of astronomy/astrology and adds that the Athenians honoured him with a statue with a gilded tongue because of his divine predictions (BNJ 680 T 6).

The historicity of these biographical data is subject to debate. Burstein and Verbrugghe / Wickersham accept the ‘second’ life of Berossos as historical. Schwartz rejects the testimony according to which Berossos opened a school on Cos, because he thinks it unlikely that the Babylonian priest would have abandoned his prebendary income in Babylon.

Leo with Corvus standing on Hydra (VAT 7847 (= VAN 784 Staatliche Museen zu Berlin) VAT 7847, Obverse.  A Seleucid era astrological tablet. Two astrological texts from Uruk, VAT 7847 and Louvre Museum's AO 6448, have long been recognized as two pieces of one large tablet (zodiac compilation tablet). The tablet deals with the division of Zodiac into subzodiacs, and the connection of these subzodiacs to different cities/towns, temples plants, trees and stones. (In tabular form, for each constellation of the zodiac, a tradition of the connection of each constellation of the zodiac with a certain city, temple name, and the designations for wood and stones are dealt with.) AO6448 has drawings of the constellations Corvus and Virgo with the planet Mercury in attendance.   VAT 7847 (= VAN 784 Staatliche Museen zu Berlin) contains drawings with names of stars/constellations.  VAT 7847, Obverse. Constellation depiction on a Seleucid astrological tablet (from 2nd-century BCE Uruk). The depiction shows a lion standing on the back of a winged serpent. The two constellations depicted are Hydra and Leo. (They are shown "from the other side" - facing left instead of right.) The eight-pointed star to the left is captioned dingirSAG.ME.GAR (Jupiter). (However, some persons have mistakenly identified the bright star as Procyon.) VAT 7847 is a part of a larger tablet that had broken into two parts. The join for VAT 7847 appeared in Textes cunéiformes du Louvre by François Thureau-Dangin, Tome XII (Tablettes d'Uruk, à l'usage des prêtres du temple d'Anu au temps des Séleucides), 1922, catalogued as AO 6448. VAT 7847 is in the State Museum, Berlin, and AO 6448 is in the Louvre Museum, Paris. Both sides show in their upper part drawings of labelled drawings of constellations. As a completed tablet VAT 7847 and AO 6448 form an astrological calendar. The text contains omens and hemerological predictions. The tablet deals with the Babylonian zodiac and depicts 12 divisions corresponding to the months and the signs of the zodiac and is concerned with lunar eclipses near zodiacal constellations. The tablet is dated to the Hellenistic period circa 200 BCE by one source and circa 323-363 by Klaus Wagensonner, University of Oxford, and originates from Uruk (modern Warka). http://members.westnet.com.au/gary-david-thompson/page11-10.html

Leo with Corvus standing on Hydra (VAT 7847 (= VAN 784 Staatliche Museen zu Berlin)
VAT 7847, Obverse.
A Seleucid era astrological tablet. Two astrological texts from Uruk, VAT 7847 and Louvre Museum’s AO 6448, have long been recognized as two pieces of one large tablet (zodiac compilation tablet). The tablet deals with the division of Zodiac into subzodiacs, and the connection of these subzodiacs to different cities/towns, temples plants, trees and stones. (In tabular form, for each constellation of the zodiac, a tradition of the connection of each constellation of the zodiac with a certain city, temple name, and the designations for wood and stones are dealt with.) AO6448 has drawings of the constellations Corvus and Virgo with the planet Mercury in attendance.
VAT 7847 (= VAN 784 Staatliche Museen zu Berlin) contains drawings with names of stars/constellations. VAT 7847, Obverse. Constellation depiction on a Seleucid astrological tablet (from 2nd-century BCE Uruk). The depiction shows a lion standing on the back of a winged serpent. The two constellations depicted are Hydra and Leo. (They are shown “from the other side” – facing left instead of right.) The eight-pointed star to the left is captioned dingir SAG.ME.GAR (Jupiter). (However, some persons have mistakenly identified the bright star as Procyon.)
VAT 7847 is a part of a larger tablet that had broken into two parts. The join for VAT 7847 appeared in Textes cunéiformes du Louvre by François Thureau-Dangin, Tome XII (Tablettes d’Uruk, à l’usage des prêtres du temple d’Anu au temps des Séleucides), 1922, catalogued as AO 6448. VAT 7847 is in the State Museum, Berlin, and AO 6448 is in the Louvre Museum, Paris. Both sides show in their upper part drawings of labelled drawings of constellations. As a completed tablet VAT 7847 and AO 6448 form an astrological calendar. The text contains omens and hemerological predictions. The tablet deals with the Babylonian zodiac and depicts 12 divisions corresponding to the months and the signs of the zodiac and is concerned with lunar eclipses near zodiacal constellations. The tablet is dated to the Hellenistic period circa 200 BCE by one source and circa 323-363 by Klaus Wagensonner, University of Oxford, and originates from Uruk (modern Warka).
http://members.westnet.com.au/gary-david-thompson/page11-10.html

Some judge it impossible that Berossos would have migrated to an island that was under control of the Ptolemies, bitter enemies of the Seleucids. These are not convincing arguments to discard the historicity of the biographical information. In itself, it is not impossible that Berossos migrated to the west and taught Babylonian astronomy / astrology.

The question of historicity should, however, be connected with the question of whether the astronomical / astrological fragments transmitted under the name of Berossos are authentic (BNJ 680 F 15-22). As Kuhrt and the present author have shown, these fragments reflect Greek, not Babylonian doctrines and are, therefore, not authentic.

Babylonians believed that gods grouped the stars into constellations and gave them names, not men, as BNJ 680 F 17 states. There are no indications that they believed in a cyclical destruction of the universe by fire or water (BNJ 680 F21), whereas this was a popular doctrine of the Stoics.

A drawing of VAT 7847 (= VAN 784 Staatliche Museen zu Berlin).

A drawing of VAT 7847 (= VAN 784 Staatliche Museen zu Berlin).

Several ancient authors ascribe a lunar theory to Berossos that explains the lunar phases and lunar eclipses (BNJ 680 F 18-20). In short, this theory asserts that the moon has its own light and consists of a luminous hemisphere and a dark one. It rotates around its own axis. The lunar phases are the result of the attraction of the moon’s luminous hemisphere by the sun, which depends on the distance between both celestial bodies.

The closer the moon is to the sun, the more the fiery hemisphere is attracted by the latter and is turned toward it. The moon’s dark side is correspondingly turned towards the earth. So far, there is no evidence in the cunei­form sources that this theory, which other classical authors attribute to the Babylonians in general (Lucretius, De rerum natura, 720-7 and Apuleius, De deo Socratis, 1.1), has a Babylonian background; it seems that it is a Greco-Roman creation.

Finally, no astrological cuneiform texts have been preserved that determine the maximum lifetime of a human being by calculating the sum of the rising times of the zodiacal sign in which that person was born, and of the two subsequent signs (BNJ 680 F22).

On the other hand, it was a popular doctrine in Greek and Roman astrology. Pliny the Elder, who mentions Berossos’ calculation (BNJ 680 F22a), ascribes the origin of this theory not to the Babylonians, but to two Egyptians Nechepso and Petosiris, themselves fictitious characters.”

Geert de Breucker, “Berossos: His Life and Work,” from Johannes Haubold, Giovanni B. Lanfranchi, Robert Rollinger, John Steele (eds.), The World of Berossos, Proceedings of the 4th International Colloquium on the Ancient Near East Between Classical and Ancient Oriental Traditions, Harrassowitz Verlag, Wiesbaden, 2013, 19-20.

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