by E Kasak · Cited by 12 — 7 haldjas.folklore.ee/folklore/vol16/planets.pdf. UNDERSTANDING PLANETS IN. ANCIENT MESOPOTAMIA. Enn Kasak, Raul Veede. On our planet time
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6UNDERSTANDING PLANETS IN ANCIENT MESOPOTAMIA Enn Kasak, Raul Veede This is a copy of the article from printed version of electronic journal Folklore Vol. 16 ISSN 1406-0957Editors Mare Kõiva & Andres KuperjanovPublished by the Folk Belief and Media Group of ELM Electronic Journal of FolkloreElectronic version ISSN 1406-0949 is available fromhttp://haldjas.folklore.ee/folkloreIt™s free but do give us credit when you cite! © Folk Belief and Media Group of ELM, Andres KuperjanovTartu 2001
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7http://haldjas.folklore.ee/folklore/vol16/planets.pdfUNDERSTANDING PLANETS IN ANCIENT MESOPOTAMIA Enn Kasak, Raul Veede On our planet time flows evenly everywhere but the history as weknow it has different length and depth in every place. Maybe the deepest layer of history lies in the land between Tigris and Eufrat Œ Mesopotamia (Greek ‚the land between two rivers™). Itis hard to grasp how much our current culture has inherited from the people of that land Œ be it either the wheel, the art of writing, or the units for measuring time and angles. Science and knowledge of stars has always Œ though with varying success Œ been important in European culture. Much from the Babylonian beliefs about con- stellations and planets have reached our days. Planets had an im- portant place in Babylonian astral religion, they were observed as much for calendrical as astrological purposes, and the qualities of the planetary gods were carried on to Greek and Rome.The following started out as an attempt to compose a list of planetstogether with corresponding gods who lend their names and quali- ties to the planets. Though it was easy to find such a list about Greece and Rome, texts concerning Mesopotamia included miscel- laneous facts subdivided into general categories only (e.g. Pannekoek 1961). The reasons of this vagueness later became evident with the compiling of such a table starting to look like Sisyphean work.As we aim to systematise the names of planets and their gods usedin Mesopotamia, let us have a brief look at Mesopotamian history since there have been many changes in them.MESOPOTAMIAN HISTORY, LANGUAGES AND SCRIPT Though Mesopotamian prehistory reaches at least 60,000 years, wecan only date permanent settlements there beginning with the Sumerians in the 4th millennium BC. Events since then are dated differently in different sources in addition to which in those times time was reckoned from some important event or the enthrone- ment of the ruler currently in power. The situation would be hope-
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8Table 1. Periods in Mesopotamian history. If both Assyria and Babylonia are mentioned then the dominating power is written in bold; italic indicates foreign rule. Brackets include some renowned rulers and their time of ruling. Of course, it would be possible to further specify much, e.g. the Neo-Sumerian period can be subdivided into three, but for our purposes this table is sufficient.Sumerian period 3500 Œ2300 BC Akkadian period (Sar gon I , 2275Œ2219)2275 Œ2094Neo-Sumerian period (Sumerian renaissance, 2094 Œ1939 )2094 Œ1750Old Babylonian (Hammurabi 1728 Œ1686)/ Old Assyrian period 1850 Œ1531Middle Bab ylonian / Middle Ass yrian period1531 Œ1000Neo-Babylonian / Neo-Assyrian period (Assurbanipal 668 Œ631)1000 Œ626Late Babylonian period (Nebuchadnezzar II 604 Œ562 )626Œ539Persian period (Achaemenides)539 Œ331Macedonian period (Alexander the Great 331 Œ323 ) 331Œ150Parthian period150 BC Œ 226 ADless if we did not have astronomic data about observing Venus pre- served on cuneiform tablets to compare to other sources to deter- mine dates. Unfortunately, there is not enough material to deter- mine everything: up to ca 1500 BC, observation data allow at least three different interpretations with the difference between the long and short chronology is 120 years. Though many reference books, e.g. Encyclopaedia Britannica use the middle chronology as a com- promise, the majority of historians tend to use the short chronol- ogy; so shall we.Leaving details to historians, we will focus on the most importantevents in Mesopotamian history (Table 1). Before the Akkadian rule, dates can vary within a big interval; the beginning of Akkadian dynasty is fixed fairly certainly. The possible error of the Assyrian dating from the beginning of 15th c BC onwards is 10 years, from 1180 BC onwards 1Œ2 years, and the dates are quite certain from900 BC on; Babylonian dates are completely fixed from 747 BC on- wards (Soden 1991).
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9Writing was invented by Sumerians ca 3200 BC. Cuneiform 1 tablets of Sumerian period give us very interesting material but unfortu- nately no astronomical or astrological texts. Though some texts have been thought to originate from former periods, they have been only found in later copies, making dating extremely difficult. The oldest existing texts about stars, one astrological and one astro- nomical, both come from the Old Babylonian period. Analysis of religious texts has led some scientists to suppose Semitic or even West-Semitic origin for the concept connecting stars and earthly phenomena, because Akkadians (the term is hereby used to denote linguistically close Semitic peoples Œ Babylonians, Assyrians and their predecessors) take a much more personal approach to gods than Sumerians. On the other hand, the Akkadian use of Sumerian names of constellations, stars, and planets weighs against this theory; however, such names could issue from the period when Semites had not yet accustomed enough to using the Sumerian-invented cuneiform script for their own language, so Sumerian was used for writing. It is possible that some sumerograms concerning stars have never been pronounced in Sumerian, but only in Akkadian. Later on, the symbols remained in use because of their shortness: e.g. the Sumerian name for the Scales is RIN 2, which corresponds toAkkadian Zi-ba-nh-tu(m) , so it can be written as a Sumerogramwith one sign instead of four signs for Akkadian. As another mat- ter, the interpretation of such different names can be difficult, but in this case it seems that in both languages, in the first place scales were meant, as Sumerian GI−RIN2 and Akkadian girinnu both mean primarily the most ordinary scales. An epithet of the Scales con- stellation, ﬁStar of justice of −amaﬂ (Reiner 1995: 4) can be consid- ered indirect proof Œ scales are a symbol of justice. Also in Greece, Virgo Œ which lies besides Scales Œ was connected to Dike, goddess of justice.2 In any case, to talk about planet names, we have to start from the Babylonians, not Sumerians, though we have to consider the influence of Sumerian language and writing.The term Akkadian is used as a common name for the related Semitic languages Babylonian and Assyrian which can also be con- sidered dialects of the Akkadian language. As most contemporary scientists consider the cuneiform script to have originally been used for Sumerian language, and the Sumerian language has no typo- logical relatives whatsoever (despite several claims by pseudo-sci-
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10entists), it must have been very hard to adjust it for use byAkkadians. The difficulties can be seen in the heavy use of sumerograms Œ Sumerian signs which were pronounced in Akkadian, making the structure (and reading) of the originally mostly pho- netic (and mostly syllabic) script much more difficult and, by parts, ideogrammatic. Also, although already in Sumerian different signs could correspond to the same phonetic value (and vice versa ),Akkadian tradition added several new values. And last, but not least, throughout the approximately two millennia of Akkadian use, many new ﬁSumerianﬂ compounds were included into cuneiform script, several of them reconstructed by Semites in times when there were no native speakers of Sumerian any more. So the same sign can in Akkadian denote a phonetic value that originated in Sumerian, its Sumerian meaning, or an Akkadian phonetic value. Signs which denoted a Sumerian meaning were generally pronounced as Akkadian words with the same meaning. And in late periods (esp. in Hittite and Aramaic cuneiform) a Sumerian sign could be fol- lowed by a phonetic complementary, meaning to show the phonetic ending (e.g. case and number) of the Akkadian word that was writ- ten with that Sumerian sign. Thus the Akkadian cuneiform writing includes many Sumerian anachronisms in addition to the Akkadian language having abundant Sumerian loans (Borger 1981 1 Œ4; 46 Œ52).A special class of signs is determinatives Œ signs/words denoting the (non-grammatical) class of the following noun and in modern transliterations written in superscript, e.g. GI− ‚wooden/tree™, DINGIR‚god/goddess/mythological creature™ (in transliterations commonly shortened to d), ID3 ‚river™, URU ‚town™ , MU− ‚snake™ etc. Originally, these were ordinary Sumerian nouns, but as determinatives they were probably not pronounced (Caplice & Snell 1988: 4Œ9). Here wehave a special interest in determinatives denoting stars, constella- tions, planets, and other ﬁheavenly phenomenaﬂ. Generally, MULSumerian ‚star™, Akkadian kakkabu was used for all of these (Figure 1). In transliteration, different cuneiform signs with the same pho- netic value are marked with different subscript Œ e.g. GU ‚string,cord™, and GU4 ‚oxen, bull™; these originally denoted frequency ofthe sign. Many scientists follow the assyriological tradition, using accent marks for the indices 2 and 3, so GU2 = G Ú ‚throat™, and GU3= GÙ ‚voice™.
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11Figure 1. Some determinatives in cuneiform. Sumerian DINGIR (Akkadian ilu)means ‚god/goddess™; MUL, Akkadian kakkabu, means ‚star™. DINGIR has comefrom a pictogram depicting a star, and if we look close at MUL, we see it consists of three DINGIRs. Similar sounding UL or ul means ‚star™ and is often used as a determinative. In late astrological texts three more determinatives are used for stars: TE, AB2 and GAN 2, now written by Assyriologists as MUL2, MULx and MUL4 accordingly. The original reasons for using these are currently unknown; they could be either cryptograms or a sophisticated joke of professional astrologers Œ barû (Reiner 1995: 5). Of course, MUL did not mean only ‚star™. Halloran™s dictionary about the word mul: ﬁstar; constellation; planet; meteor(GI6/MI, ‚night™, + UL, ‚star, ornament™) [MUL archaic frequency: 6]. v., to (let) sparkle, shine, glowﬂ (Halloran 1999).As the Akkadian cuneiform system is mainly syllabic, it allows the same word to be written in several ways. E.g. ‚star™ kakkabu could be written with a sumerogram MUL, but it could also be written differently by syllables: kak-ka-bu, ka-ak-ka-bu, ka-ka-bu, and mu-ul; this list is by no means exhaustive as syllables can be written inphonetically similar, but literally different ways (Hunger 1992: 27, 29, 44, 57).Figure 2. Some ways of writing ‚star™ Œ kakkabu Œ in Akkadian. During the course of Mesopotamia™s long history there were changesin both language and writing; naturally there were also differences between Babylonian and Assyrian dialects. In the current article we use mostly later writings in problematic cases as the consensus is that Mesopotamia was on the highest level of astrological and astronomical development in the Late Babylonian period (Kugler 1909/10: 27; Barton 1994: 20Œ22).
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13period Marduk rised again. In local tradition, of course, both had the power all the time, but while Marduk has been mentioned also in more distant regions, Assur stayed a city and state god, never reaching the status of a planetary god. However, according to an- other interpretation the concept of Assur developed to monoteism(Parpola 1997: XXI). Things are no clearer with the functions and identities of other gods. Maybe the best way to bring some order into this mayhem is that of the Finnish assyriologist Simo Parpola, who has reconstructed the Assyrian tree of life: in every circle of the tree of life there are both a god™s name and its according magi-cal number (Parpola 1998: 281Œ285).However, we can console ourselves that it was difficult to under- stand relationships between Sumerian and Akkadian gods already in their times. Even in the most exact-to-be bilinguals, concepts about the beginning of the world among Sumerians and Akkadians differ (Clifford 1998: 67).Figure 4. The constellations of Hydra and Leo as depicted on an astrological tablet of the Seleucid era, the eight-pointed star on the left is nameddSAG.ME.GAR Œ Jupiter (VAT 7847; bottom side). Lion (Leo) is depicted stepping forth. This plate has been described in depth by N. Postgate, who brings out the division of Zodiac into subzodiacs on this tablet, while these subzodiacs are connected to different towns, plants, trees and stones (Postgate 1997: 219).
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14As we can see later, every planet could be connected to several gods; in Table 3 are presented the strongest interconnections (based mainly on the Akkadian material, because Œ except for the Sun, the Moon, and Venus Œ we do not know about the state of matters in Sumerian period; thus these three are also the only ones that have numerical counterparts in the Assyrian tree of life).Table 2. Main gods of Mesopotamia, the planets connected to them, and their portfolios by Akkadian tradition. Saturn is hard to interpret, as it is connected to Ninurta, but this leads us through Nabû straight to Mercury. At first sight, the composition of such a table does not seem to bevery hard. Sumerian Nanna and Akkadian Sîn are the Moongod, Utu or −amaı is the Sungod without a hint of doubt. With the rest, however, there are problems. For an Estonian, the concept of stars as a heavenly writing ŒAkkadian ıiir ıamê or ıiir bur me Œ sounds quite homely. Esarhaddon, a megalomanic Assyrian king, said all the stars to be letters in which his name is written (Rainer 1995: 9). Subsequently, SumerAkkadPlanetMain portfolio of the god in Akkadian tradition AnAnuGod of heaven Enlil Marduk (Bl)JupiterMain god, god of air and earth Enki EaGod of waters and wisdom Nanna S înMoonMoongod, god of fertility and prosperity Utu −amaıSunSungod, god of justice Inanna I ıtarVenusGoddess of love and war (Ninurta) Nab ûMercuryGod of wisdom and writing (Savior, Redeemer) NinurtaNinurtaSaturnGod of war and hunting ?NergalMarsGod of plague, famine, war, and the Underworld
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15we bring an excerpt of a list of witnesses from a pact between the same Assyrian king and Median king Ramataia (672 BC), signs de- noting the planets are translated as modern planet names:In the presence of the planets, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn, Mercury, Mars, Sirius, and in the presence of Assur, Anu, Enlil, Ea, Sîn, Shamash, Adad, Marduk, Nabû, Nusku, Urash, Nergal, Ninlil, [—], Ishtar of Niniveh, Ishtar of Arbela Itar, by all the gods in [the cities of] Assur, Niniveh, Kalah, Arbela, Kakzu, Harran, by all the gods of Assyria, by all the gods in Babylon, Borsippa, Nippur, by the gods of Sumer, all of them, by the gods of the Lands, all of them; by the gods of Heaven and Earth. (Lindsay1971: 42)Planets are named first to stress their importance. A closer look reveals also that the god of a planet and its corresponding god are named separately in the list. First of all, this is valid about Iıtar,but such splitting can be seen in case of four other planets with the exception of the Moon and the Sun. Quite often, planet names tend to have the determinative of gods (Kugler 1907: 62). Thus we can suppose that except in the case of the Moon and the Sun we have to be much more careful about drawing strict connections between the planetary gods and planets than we would have thought ini- tially. The same is suggested by Brown: ﬁMuch is said about planetsﬁrepresentingﬂ or ﬁstanding forﬂ gods or constellations. ﬂ The rela- tions of planets with gods are intricate, and deserve a separate study and much more accurate terminology than we are currently used to (Brown 2000: 54). The tangle is further increased by the fact that the planets with the strongest maleficent influence, like Mercury, Saturn, and Mars, do not have always a strong, one-to-one relation to one god. E.g. Saturn is connected to Ninurta, who tends to beidentified with Nabû, who in turn is connected to Mercury. We can also, starting from Ninurta, reach the war god Nergal who is con-nected to Mars.AKKADIAN ASTRAL TERMINOLOGYIn cuneiform texts, any name can be found written in different ways;and the meaning of a name can depend on its written form. For the sake of better understanding we shall add to the name of a celestial
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16body its number by Gössmann™s catalogue in brackets (Gössmann1950). This classical catalogue contains the names of celestial bod- ies and related gods with data concerning them. E.g. MULGAL (G62),Akkadian kakkabu rabû ‚Big Star™, can mean the Moon, the bright star Sirius, Jupiter, Saturn, and in astrological texts also a meteor. The combination MULRab-bu (G367) is pronounced and translated similarly to the previous one, but it means Jupiter, Venus, or the not too conspicious star Oph in the constellation of Ophiuchus(Gössmann 1950: 18, 183). ‚Planet™ can be met in three forms: dUDU.IDIM, MULUDU.IDIM orMULbi-ib-bu. UDU.IDIM, Akkadian bibbu in itself means ‚wild sheep™;while fixed stars are a peacefully pasturing flock, planets as ﬁtravelingﬂ stars are wild sheep or even beasts lurking for sheep (Hommel 1909: 217). However, it seems we might have to abandon the classical widespread concept of ‚wild sheep™. While the cunei-form sign was earlier read as LU.BAT or LU.BAD, and later, for most of the 20th century, UDU.IDIM, recent studies have suggested the best pronounciation to be UDU.BAD (Reiner 1995: 7), but BAD is not such a ﬁwildﬂ word as IDIM (e.g. while ‚dog™ is UR, ‚wolf™ is UR.IDIM).Figure 5. ‚Planet™ (Akkadian bibbu) in two forms: dUDU.IDIM and MULbi-ib-bu. Incuneiform texts, wedge signs are usually not as clearly grouped and are often written downright carelessly. Handwriting of the ancient scribes is sometimes a problem in Assyriology. The above-mentioned dUDU.IDIM could also mark Jupiter, Venus, and Mercury, but sometimes also Mars, Saturn, or even the con- stellation of Scales. Although theoretically it is possible to collect all planet names andgods related to them, their reading and interpretation have changed quite a lot in time (Kugler 1907: 293; Gössmann 1950; Borger 1981;Rochberg 1998: 28Œ29). Sometimes, instead of naming the Sun, theMoon, and Venus, a number as a symbol of the corresponding god is
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