Month: March 2015

Month: March 2015

From Aleph Bet to Alphabet

Table with the Hebrew Samaritan Syriac Phoenician Greek etc.  scripts side by side
An old chart of ancient abjads and alphabets, from a class handout

The Greek alphabet is adapted from the consonantal writing systems of the Levant, and I used to have a vague idea that Greek got its vowel signs by adapting signs for Semitic consonants not present in Greek. Greek has no aspirated “s”, for example, so Greeks using the Northwest Semitic abjad to write Greek found that they did not need the sign shin ש for transcribing Greek consonants and could use it for something else. As I learn a bit of Aramaic I realize that the process was much more straightforward.
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One of the Quirks of Sumerian

A stepped terrace of sand with several clay artifacts on it including a pyramid and several statuettes
My collection of photos of Mesopotamian artifacts is small, so here is another set from Palazzo Te in Mantua

One of the quirks of Sumerian is that things are often referred to twice, once as substantives and once as affixes to the verb. The following example comes from Gudea Cylinder A (column ii, line 4) courtesy of the ETCSL.

The individual signs were pronounced something like this:

ma2-gur8-ra-na ĝiri3 nam-mi-gub

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Astyages’ Thanksgiving Banquet

Life-sized head of a bearded man carved of smooth stone
They told another version of this story about Zeus (Porphyry head of a bearded Olympian in the Burrell Collection, Scotland, photographed by Sean Manning)

If you wandered through the ports and festivals of the Aegean 2500 years ago, Herodotus would tell you a story about Astyages’ banquet. One day Astyages the king of the Medes went to his lieutenant Harpagos and ordered him to take the newborn son of Astyages’ daughter Mandane and kill him, because he had dreamed that this son would become king of the world, and because the boy’s father was no Mede but a Persian. Harpagos took the son but refused to kill him, instead giving him to one of Astyages’ slaves to kill, and when this slave went home he found that his wife had given birth to a stillborn child. His wife offered to raise this other child instead, and so Mandane’s son was spared. One day Astyages noticed that this boy had a lordly manner and a face which resembled his own, and he questioned Harpagos and uncovered what had happened. Astyages declared that it was good that the boy lived, because the fate of the boy had troubled him, and that he would feast with Harpagos and make a sacrifice to thank the gods who had preserved the boy.
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Cosmic Horror

Before speaking of something inauspicious, its always wise to invoke the protection of a lamassu. This one has accepted the change from guarding a palace to guarding a museum, so I’m sure he won’t mind guarding a blogger. (British Museum, ME 118872, photo used with permission) As a layman it often... Continue reading: Cosmic Horror