Friday, April 21, 2006

Hapax Legomenon 

In the study of all things mythological and ancient, hapax legomenon is one of my favorite phrases.

It is a word with an utterly mysterious meaning.

When a translator works on a translation of say, a cuneiformic inscription, she may encounter a word she has never seen before. If the word does not exist on any other tablet, and its meaning cannot be wrested from context, it is a hapax legomenon. An enigma. A puzzle.

posted 7:35 PM

Friday, April 07, 2006

Methods of Ancient Sumerian Determinism 

In my studies of mythology, I often come across fascinating glimpses into the lives of those from ancient civilizations.

The ancient Sumerians, for example, were firm believers in divination and determinism. To uncover the will of the gods, they used a variety of methods:

Extispicy -- examining the organs of animals. This was done at night. They searched for marks like spots on the liver.

Leconomancy -- pouring oil on water and reading the patterns created

Necromancy -- speaking to the dead. This was a risky practice, however, as they believed that the dead might not leave, or that they might be mischievous

Astrological -- reading the stars

Meteorological -- interpreting the weather

Teratological -- watching for signs, like if an animal gave birth to a monster

Augury -- watching the behavior of birds

Dream Interpretation -- reading the meanings of dreams. Dreams could be portends of what was to come. Kings made decisions based on dreams, and they could show what the afterlife was like.

Diviners had to be free people. They could not be slaves, and they traveled with armies to determine the outcome of battles.

posted 12:57 PM


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