Iconographic Representations on Cylinder Seals

Kathleen Adamson's Ph.D. dissertation was an extensive examination of Inanna, Ishtar, and cognate deities that provides a basis for examining iconographic representations in a reasonably clear chronological and geographical framework. The representations can be shown to cluster in ways that are easily understandable in terms of their later astronomical meanings but difficult to understand otherwise. Scenes from cylinder seals of the Neo-Assyrian period, when no one doubts that the gods were associated with planets and many constellation names have been identified, furnish a useful starting point. Adamson (1988, Figs. 221-38, 248-251) shows the remarkable similarities of these eight seals to each other. Ishtar is always shown sometimes with the pointed star symbol that is typically hers (although associated with other planets, also, during the Seleucid period). The Pleiades are shown as seven dots, an identity attested

2 "A basic hypothesis that we have followed in attempting to identify the constellations names that occur in our texts is that they refer to essentially the same groups of stars as do the same constellation names in the Astrolabes and MUL.APIN. Of course, we cannot be certain of the boundaries of any of these constellations and they may well have varied over time as did the Greek constellations;. .." (Reiner and Pingree 1981, p. 2).

Figure 7.1. Mesopotamian representations of the constellations superimposed on a simulation of the sky of 2500 b.c. Drawings by Rea Postolowski and Sharon Hanna on simulation by E.F. Milone with Redshift software package.

from the Seleucid period. The lunar crescent is always present. A second deity figure is also always present, with the arms held in a closely comparable position on all these seals. A third deity, Adad, usually standing on a bull (Taurus), appears frequently. Two different kinds of staves are shown on most of the seals. A scorpion man appears on four seals, and the frit vulva, a symbol of Venus, on five. The unity of these different seals is extraordinary. Perhaps even more remarkable is their similarity to a symbol set on a monument of Esarhaddon, from Zinjirli (Figure 7.2).

However, the seals show the interaction of Ishtar and the other deity figures. The monument shows only the symbols. The interaction seems to imply that the deities were together in the same part of the sky. The scorpion man has been identified as the constellation Scorpio, but if there is a direct interaction with the Pleiades, a second scorpion at or near Betelgeuse, as suggested by parallel evidence elsewhere (§9.3), would fit much better with the Pleiades and Taurus. However, interaction between rising and setting figures (12h apart) should not be excluded as a possible interpretation.

The astronomical symbolism of these Neo-Assyrian seals has clear prototypes among seal representations extending back to the time of the Sumerian domination. We discuss some of these seals in turn. In Adamson (1988, Figs. 57 and 60), we see two representations of Inanna-Ishtar from the Akkad period. Both show the goddess with maces, accompanied by a crescent, presumably representing the Moon, and, in one case, a clear solar symbol; the other has a symbol that could be either the Sun or Venus. In both cases, she is

Figure 7.2. A monument of King Esarhaddon of Assyria from Zinjirli: The symbols on the right are extracted from the monument on the left, and they seem to represent, among other objects, the Pleiades and seven planets. The four lower staff symbols are unidentified. Sketch by Rea Postolowski and Sharon Hanna.

Figure 7.2. A monument of King Esarhaddon of Assyria from Zinjirli: The symbols on the right are extracted from the monument on the left, and they seem to represent, among other objects, the Pleiades and seven planets. The four lower staff symbols are unidentified. Sketch by Rea Postolowski and Sharon Hanna.

depicted on a lion throne, marked by two lions, whose bodies cross, facing in opposite directions. In Hellenistic times, lions were associated with the Sun and with the constellation Leo. The lion at the feet of Inanna-Ishtar, and often attached to her by a cord, would be a suitable symbol because Venus and the Sun can never be separated by more than 47° (see §2.4.3). In that case, the lions facing in opposite directions may suggest one of the major points of the year, either a solstice or an equinox. In the later of these two representations, two figures are shown picking dates. We know that the date-palm was an Assyrian constellation (Reiner and Pingree 1981, p. 7, Enlil 11) and a date-palm and olive goddess, Lat, known in Palestine and Egypt, is identified by Graves (1957, p. 57) with Leda, mother of the twins, Artemis and Apollo, the latter said to have been born under an olive tree and a date-palm. The date-palm is one of the few trees that have separate male and female forms. The Mesopotamians at a later date recognized two pairs of twins, of whom the greater pair was associated with our constellation Gemini. Overall, the scene suggests the planet Venus in Leo, perhaps with an associated representation of Gemini. Even if this interpretation is rejected, the astronomical association with Ishtar seems clear already in these Akkadian seals.

Another Akkadian seal (Adamson 1988, Figs. 68, 92) shows Ishtar associated with a bull, a swallow, and a ploughman. The bull has the crescent staff on his back, which in later times, clearly marks him as the Bull of Heaven (Taurus). The ploughman is marked by a star above his head, which strongly suggests reference to the constellation Apin, the plough incorporating Triangulum and some nearby stars. The bird, presumably the swallow, in later scenes, certainly represents the constellation "Swallow," now part of northern Pisces. The three constellations are near on the sky. The scorpion that accompanies them in Neo-Assyrian times is also with them here. A substantially earlier Sumerian seal again shows a ploughman (with his plough on his shoulder in this case, and a star above his head), a bird, two bulls, and a building marked with symbols, which Adamson has shown are associated with the goddess, Inanna. This scene is not as obviously astronomical, but the star above the ploughman is suggestive.

In Adamson (1988, Fig. 65), there is an Old Babylonian period representation from Mari, which shows a partially unclothed Ishtar. It also shows seven dots circling an 8th, which resembles some depictions of the Pleiades (later normally just seven dots), a bull, and a bird. There is also a scene of conquest and a depiction of a hunter holding a rabbit.

Mountain warfare is also shown on two Akkadian seals (Adamson 1988, Figs. 77, 78), which also depict Ishtar and accompanying deities, two of whom are marked by stars (one on each of the seals), one holding a lion-man by the tail. As in the example of the Neo-Assyrian seals considered earlier, these two scenes seem to incorporate a surprising number of similar details, although the visual impression of the two seals is quite different.

In another Akkad period seal, Ishtar (Venus) and Shamash (the Sun) appear in a mountainous area (Adamson 1988, Fig. 86). Bull and swallow both appear. Ea (the Sumer-ian god Enki) appears as lord of fish, accompanied by his servant, a two-faced god. Another god, holding a bow and staff (possibly an arrow) stands by Ishtar. Adamson interprets this as referring to the first appearance of Venus as Morning Star—rising heliacally. The weapons are typical of Venus when seen in the eastern sky (Adamson 1988, pp. 133,

349). The bull and swallow indicate the sky area from Taurus to Pisces, and the two-faced god3 appearing in this region suggests a god of one of the solar positions, in this case, probably the spring equinox. The fish god is identified in later texts with Saturn, and the 5th deity may be Jupiter. The lion accompanying this last deity is unexplained at this time. The scene may be intended to represent a near conjunction of Jupiter, Saturn, and Venus shortly before a spring equinox, although Adamson suggests only the relationship of Venus and the Sun. This minimal degree of astronomical interpretation is very plausible and seems difficult to reject.

Four depictions show the presence of Ishtar at the killing of the Bull of Heaven (Adamson 1988, Figs. 300-303). In one of these, the god doing the killing is holding a forked stick, which we suggest is typical of Marduk (Jupiter). On a Mari seal, Adamson identifies the god doing the killing as Adad, a god of thunder and lightning, and apparently an aspect of Marduk. The accompanying depiction of water pouring down probably marks both Adad and, as Adamson (1988, pp. 408-409) suggests, the rainy season. Here, it suffices to point out the presence of a crescent moon in the Akkadian version, which supports the view that the Bull of Heaven was, as one would expect, in the sky.

One of the factors in the establishment of kingship was, at least sometimes, a symbolic marriage between the king and Ishtar. Such a marriage was, of course, both a re-enactment of myth and a historical event. Representation of such scenes need not necessarily involve any astronomical content. However, we will argue subsequently that their prototype was an astronomical myth and some astronomical symbolism does seem to be present at least on some occasions. A wall-painting from Mari shows Ishtar associated with what is usually regarded as the investiture of a local king. Among the associated figures are two goddesses holding pots from which water streams flow. Such vases were later typical of the constellation Aquarius, which was identified in late times with a goddess, Gula. Another Mari painting shows a god sitting among mountains with a crescent on his head, identified as Sin/Adad (a god with characteristics both of the moon god and of the thunder god) by Adamson. A pot with flowing water also appears in that scene.

In a series of representations (Adamson 1988, Figs. 83-84, 90-91) of the so-called "god boat" in which the prow is a deity, Ishtar is shown in or accompanying the boat and Shamash, the sun-god, is usually shown in the boat. Adamson interprets the boat as the vehicle that conveys the Sun through the underworld at night. The body of the ship is formed by the extended foot of the god, ending in a serpent head, in some depictions. Most of the depictions are ancient, from early Sumerian to Neo-Assyrian. However, one is a medieval Arabic design in which this watercraft has replaced the classical Argo. Ishtar's lion appears in many of these scenes with a human head. The plough appears, although no one is ploughing. A bird, presumably the swallow, appears, and the earliest of the scenes shows half a

3 There are other cultures in which year beginnings are associated with a two-headed god. For example, in Rome, Janus was the god of the doorstep and of the turn of the year.

bull, corresponding to later concepts of the constellation Taurus. The lion man is accompanied by a pot, which suggests the constellations Leo and Crater, the cup, known to be a Mesopotamian constellation. However, their relative position in the scene changes, sometimes ahead of the boat, sometimes in it, and sometimes behind it. Santillana and Dechend (1969) suggest that the pot may represent Aquarius. This is more suggestive of a planet than of a set of constellations. Moreover, Leo and Crater are a considerable distance from Taurus (see Figures 7.1 or B1). In several cases, the prow-god or the figure in the boat holds a forked stick, apparently used as a punting pole. In one case, the prow-god holds the pitch fork-like symbol normally associated with Adad or Taurus. In only one case is the plough apparently being used as part of the action. In the others, it seems to be functioning solely as a toponym.

Adamson is, in this case, not alone in considering that this is the boat that carries the Sun on its nightly voyage through the underworld—mythical, but clearly designed as astronomical explanation. DHK would suggest that it is a scene of disappearance of Venus in Taurus, prior to superior conjunction. Scenes of Ishtar discarding her garments (referred to as the "unveiling") relate to her descent into the underworld, whereas the presence or absence of weapons probably refers to Morning or Evening Star configuration. This will be considered later in connection with the myth of Inanna.

Additionally, there is a miscellaneous series of depictions that show Ishtar as Bow-Star (8 Canis Majoris), with an ear of grain (presumably Virgo), with what appears to be a goat-fish, with flowing water vases (presumably Capricorn and Aquarius), and, finally, with a griffin (a later Mesopotamian asterism in Cygnus and Cepheus).

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