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Myths of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 77

An interesting problem, which should be referred to here, arises in connection with the sculptured representations of deities before and after the rise of Akkad as a great Power. It is found, although the Sumerians shaved their scalps and faces at the dawn of the historical age, that they worshipped gods who had long hair and also beards, which were sometimes square and sometimes pointed.

At what period the Sumerian deities were given human shape it is impossible to determine. As has been shown (Chapters II and III) all the chief gods and goddesses had animal forms and composite monster forms before they became anthropomorphic deities. Ea had evidently a fish shape ere he was clad in the skin of a fish, as an Egyptian god was simply a bull before he was depicted in human shape wearing a bull's skin. The archaic Sumerian animal and composite monster gods of animistic and totemic origin survived after the anthropomorphic period as mythical figures, which were used for decorative or magical purposes and as symbols. A form of divine headdress was a cap enclosed in horns, between which appeared the soaring lion-headed eagle, which symbolized Nin-Girsu. This god had also lion and antelope forms, which probably figured in lost myths--perhaps they were like the animals loved by Ishtar and referred to in the Gilgamesh epic. Similarly the winged bull was associated with the moon god Nannar, or Sin, of Ur, who was "a horned steer". On various cylinder seals appear groups of composite monsters and rearing wild beasts, which were evidently representations of gods and demons in conflict.

Suggestive data for comparative study is afforded in this connection by ancient Egypt. Sokar, the primitive Memphite deity, retained until the end his animal and composite monster forms. Other gods were depicted with human bodies and the heads of birds, serpents, and crocodiles, thus forming links between the archaic demoniac and the later anthropomorphic deities. A Sumerian example is the deified Ea-bani, who, like Pan, has the legs and hoofs of a goat.

The earliest representations of Sumerian humanized deities appear on reliefs from Tello, the site of Lagash. These examples of archaic gods, however, are not bearded in Semitic fashion. On the contrary, their lips and cheeks are shaved, while an exaggerated chin tuft is retained. The explanation suggested is that the Sumerians gave their deities human shape before they themselves were clean shaven, and that the retention of the characteristic facial hair growth of the Mediterranean Race is another example of the conservatism of the religious instinct. In Egypt the clean-shaven Pharaohs, who represented gods, wore false chin-tuft beards; even Queen Hatshepsut considered it necessary to assume a beard on state occasions. Ptah-Osiris retained his archaic beard until the Ptolemaic period.

It seems highly probable that in similarly depicting their gods with beards, the early Sumerians were not influenced by the practices of any alien people or peoples. Not until the period of Gudea, the Patesi of Lagash, did they give their gods heavy moustaches, side whiskers, and flowing beards of Semitic type. It may be, however, that by then they had completely forgotten the significance of an ancient custom. Possibly, too, the sculptors of Lagash were working under the influence of the Akkadian school of art, which had produced the exquisite stele of victory for Naram-Sin, and consequently adopted the conventional Semitic treatment of bearded figures. At any rate, they were more likely to study and follow the artistic triumphs of Akkad than the crude productions of the archaic period. Besides, they lived in an age when Semitic kings were deified and the Semitic overlords had attained to great distinction and influence.


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