Putting on a Pair of Mesopotamian Sandals

Mesopotamian omen texts are fascinating. But they are also very remote. I think we can say that the modern way of looking at the world is not identical to that of the ancient Mesopotamian, even the elite literate scholar who read, copied or wrote comments on and redacted the omen tablets available to him. And this difference is not merely based on language and cultural difference. It is however possible to re-enact, with the analytical skills that are a common feature of our age, at least one aspect of how an omen tablet came to be formulated. The religious, mythical background is of course extremely important but one that we cannot experience with the same intensity and conviction and so I will leave this to the side.

Do you ever, dear reader, look up at the sky and try to read what the weather might be from the quality of temperature, humidity, cloud density and wind intensity? Sure you have! It is high summer and it is sticky humid. You look to the west and see a dark cloud bank quickly moving in your direction. You know out of experience that a thunder storm is on its way and that there will be a rain torrent accompanied by thunder and lightning. Now put on a pair of Mesopotamian sandals and imagine that the king has given you the duty of recording the weather and giving a prediction of what will happen when certain conditions arise. So you will write something like:

If in summer it is humid and dark clouds move quickly from the west; it will rain in torrents. There will be thunder and lightning.

Maybe you spend your lifetime as a weather scholar/diviner recording the weather and its results. You might modify your first text:

If in summer it is humid and dark clouds move quickly from the west; it will rain in torrents. There will be thunder and lightning and crops will be flattened. There will be hunger.

Perhaps a century later another scholar edits and simplifies your prediction as there are now hundreds that have been gathered and they need to have some sort of order. He might write:

If in summer it is humid and dark clouds move in quickly from the west; there will be hunger.

We actually have weather rhymes that have been handed down since the middle ages. One such is the well known:

Red sky at night; shepherds delight,
Red sky in the morning; shepherds warning

This rhyme has the same structure as an omen text:

Red sky at night – the indication
shepherds delight – the prediction

And what is more this isn’t just a nursery rhyme. It has a factual element. Of course we rely not only on weather rhymes for predicting weather, we also have a whole arsenal of instruments beginning with thermometers and ending with satellites. We have a science, meterology, that tries to understand and describe the whole complexity of weather. And there is a branch of mundane astrology that also tries to predict the weather. Our approach is very much different, but buried deep is a faint echo of a Mesopotamian weather omen…

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2 thoughts on “Putting on a Pair of Mesopotamian Sandals

  1. Thomas said: >Mesopotamian omen texts are fascinating. But they are also very remote. … …… And there is a branch of mundane astrology that also tries to predict the weather. Our approach is very much different, but buried deep is a faint echo of a Mesopotamian weather omen…

    ‘Morning Thomas,

    Whilst appreciating your point, I don’t think our modern approach to astro-meteorology is very much different to that of your remote and prolific Babylonian scribes who contributed to the Mesopotamian omen texts! The Assyrian understanding of each planet’s ‘personality’ and rulerships as depicted in the 7,000 or so omens in the Enuma Anu Enlil series of cuneiform texts (written circa 747 – 733 BC) would be totally recognizable today.

    In her book “Ancient Meteorology” Liba Chaia Taub quotes several omens that include lunar, solar, stellar and planetary references, which argue an advanced knowledge of astronomy/astrology naming both planets and constellations, for instance: “If Jupiter stands in Pisces: the Tigris and the Euphrates will be filled with silt.” that shows both planet and sign as we now know them (fixed zodiac of course) were already recognized as far back as the 8th Century BC.

    The content of these tablets is derived from much older sources which have been dated as far back as 1,646 BC and Arthyr Chadbourne tells us in his book “Ancient Whispers from Chaldea” were used by the Assyrian Kings’ advisors who consulted them with regard to important political, military and agricultural affairs.

    Not so very much different to our technique today when we cast an ingress chart, and study the planetary positions it contains; so I don’t think the echo is quite so faint as you suggest! :0)

    Love
    CarO

  2. Hello Caroline,

    Point taken. I suppose if I had been more precise I should have made a greater difference between the meteorology of today where the echo is I think faint and that of astrometeorology where as you point out the approach seems similar. There is however a difference. First we no longer speak of weather omens. Secondly, although we may refer to the texts of authorities when there is an unclear point, most modern astrometerological predictions are the unique formulation of the astrometerologist for a particular season. There may be greater variance between one modern astrometeorologist and the next. From my reading it seems that there was far more conformity in the ancient ‘interpretations’.

    There is a nice story about why the railway tracks in continental Europe, I am not sure whether those in England have the same gauge, have the width or gauge that they do. Whether it is legend or rooted in fact I am not sure, but it is a wonderful metaphor. The Romans standardized the distance that cart-wheels are from another so that they would always fit in the ruts on roads. This width is said to be identical with that of the modern railway track. So although no longer visible, the cart track is still present in the railway track. The same could be said of much of what is found in the astrological tradition. Where did it really come from? What are the origins? Can we still recognize them even if they have been transformed over the ages?

    But I grant that maybe the echo may not be as faint as suggested and the closer you look the more obvious it becomes!

    Love,
    Thomas

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