Search Results

You are looking at 1 - 10 of 14 items

  • Author: J. Cale Johnson x
Clear All Modify Search
Infrastructural Contexts and the Licensing of Empiricism in Ancient and Medieval Mesopotamia

Abstract

This paper investigates the poetic structure of a passage from The Disputation between Bird and Fish (lines 102–109). The unusual thing about this passage is that it is the only place within the disputation literature where physical violence (and death) takes the place of the verbal combat that typically occurs in the disputations. Although this passage is characterized by the total absence of speech, various words with the phonological form /sik/ act as a form of sound symbolism (phonological iconism) that points to the decisive moment in the passage: the fish’s attack on the bird’s nest, which results in the destruction of the bird’s nest and its young. These eight lines (102–109) can be juxtaposed to the eight line sequence that immediately follows (lines 110–117), which are also non-verbal, but whose poetics are organized along entirely different lines.

Abstract

Traditional accounts of Babylonian medicine see the two disciplines involved in healing in ancient Mesopotamia, viz. āšipūtu “exorcism or incantation-and-ritual-driven healing” and asûtu “medicine”, as complementary disciplines, collaborating in the treatment of individual patients. Ritter’s 1965 paper on the two disciplines, for example, sought to differentiate them, while at the same time arguing that they often collaborated in the treatment of individual patients. The new edition of AMC in this volume already overturns one of Ritter’s primary working hypotheses, namely that Babylonian medicine (asûtu) lacked the type of carefully organized, discipline-defining compendium known for āšipūtu, where The Diagnostic Handbook clearly plays this role. Now that The Nineveh Medical Compendium - the medical corpus that AMC defines - can be seen as functionally equivalent, in certain ways, to The Diagnostic Handbook, this paper seeks to overturn two other common descriptions of Babylonian medicine that derive, however indirectly, from the idea that the medical corpus is amorphous or open-ended: (i) the belief that asûtu and āšipūtu were complementary and cooperative disciplines and (ii) the supposedly non-theoretical character of Babylonian medicine (asûtu). This paper argues that these two disciplines were, for the most part, in competition for the attention of the crown as well as for social standing more generally. Each of these two disciplines (asûtu and āšipūtu) maintained its own disciplinary identity and compendia and, perhaps more importantly for Mesopotamian intellectual history, its own models of disease etiology and causation. These different models of etiology and causation in asûtu and āšipūtu only become apparent, however, when we adopt a properly “architectonic” approach to reconstructing the technical compendia that were used by each of these two disciplines. And, as a consequence, the position of any given line or fragment within a particular, discipline-specific compendium is one of its most important, even definitive, properties. This type of “architectonic approach” is unusually powerful, when we look at the diseases of the gastrointestinal tract, because there we find a decisive split. The etiologies of gastrointestinal disease within exorcism-driven healing (āšipūtu) rely, almost exclusively, on postulating ghosts or demons as causal agents, while Babylonian medicine (asûtu) turned to increasingly “secular” etiologies based on analogies between the unseen processes of the gastrointestinal tract and visible processes in the natural or social world. These distinctively secular etiologies in the medical corpus are registered, above all, in medical incantations that parody the established incantations of the competing discipline of āšipūtu.

FREE ACCESS

Abstract

In its original Graeco-Roman context, the term ekphrasis (ex- ‘out’ + phrazein ‘to explain’) was quickly narrowed down to its usual present-day definition, as “a vivid description of a work of art,” but in this contribution I argue that older definitions involving vividness and emotional involvement with the object of description are ideally suited for an extension of the concept to Mesopotamian literary practice. Vividness can already be identified, obliquely, in Irene Winter’s contrast between Western “representation” as opposed to Mesopotamian “manifestation,” where manifestation necessarily involves direct interaction between a worshiper or ritual specialist and the statue that acts in the stead of the king. I argue here that this kind of vividness can be redefined, in largely formal terms, as a rhetorical practice in which a typically third person description (aka “representation”) is altered so as to give the impression of first or second person direct participation (aka “manifestation”). In Mesopotamia this rhetorical phenomenon is most clearly visible in the so-called Tigi Hymns, particularly when a votive object is directly addressed in the second person (and the ritual contextualization of these acts of direct address in well-defined sections of the hymnic genre). As part of a broader effort to define the different “descriptive paradigms” that operated within early Mesopotamian scientific thought, the carefully circumscribed type of ekphrastic description that we find in the Tigi Hymns can be contrasted with other descriptive paradigms in cuneiform literature such as physiognomic descriptions and the late šikinšu texts. Within these several varieties of descriptivism, however, the particulars of ekphrastic description in the Tigi Hymns and similar materials are distinctive, and this paper concludes with a brief catalogue of ekphrastic descriptions in Classical Sumerian literature.

Physiognomy and ekphrasis in the ancient world

Abstract

In this paper, we publish in copy, transliteration and translation a previously unpublished Ur III legal record from Umma. It can be shown, on the basis of internal and prosopographic evidence that the tablet belongs to the relatively large group of Umma legal records that are housed in the British Museum and currently being published by Manuel Molina. This di-til-la is of particular interest, however, in that it includes an appellate process in which an initial legal ruling adjudicated some aspects of the slave sale in question, but other aspects such as the purchase price were appealed to the court of the provincial governor of Umma. We draw some parallels with the appellate process in Old Babylonian legal documents and conclude with a brief discussion of the *-na-na . . . nu- ‘only’ construction in Sumerian.