A History of Art in Chaldaea & Assyria Part 5

We know much less about the religion of Chaldaea than about that of Egypt.

The religious monuments of Mesopotamia are much fewer than those of the Nile valley, and their significance is less clear. Their series are neither so varied nor so complete as those of the earlier civilization. Certain orders of subjects are repeated to satiety, while others, which would be more interesting, are completely absent.

It is in funerary inscriptions that the heart of man, touched by the mystery of the tomb, lays bare its aspirations with the greatest frankness and simplicity. Moved by the desire to escape annihilation on the one hand and posthumous sufferings on the other, it is there that he addresses his most ardent appeals to the supreme power, and allows us to arrive at a clear understanding of his ideas as to the action, the character, and the power of the divinity. At Memphis, Abydos, and Thebes, documents of this kind have been found in thousands, the figures accompanying them serving as commentaries upon their text, and helping us to clear up all doubts as to their nature. We thus have voices speaking from the depths of every Egyptian tomb; but the Chaldaean sepulchre is mute. It has neither inscriptions, nor bas-reliefs, nor paintings. No Assyrian burial-place has yet been found.

Dedications, phrases of homage to this or that divinity, the names and distinguishing epithets of the gods, all these have been met with in Mesopotamia; sometimes _in situ_, as artistic decorations, sometimes in engraved fragments of unknown origin. We may say the same of the different divine types. Sometimes we find them in monumental sculpture, more often on those seals which we call _cylinders_. But how obscure, incomplete, and poor such documents are in comparison with the long pages of hieroglyphs in which the Pharaohs address their gods or make them speak for themselves!

How infinitely inferior in expression and significance to the vast pictures which cover the walls of the Theban temples and bring all the persons of the Egyptian pantheon before us in their turn! What hope is there that excavations in Chaldaea and Assyria will ever provide us with such remains as those groups of statues which fill our museums, in which the effigy of a single god is repeated hundreds of times with every variation of type, pose, and attribute given to it by the Egyptian theosophy? On the one hand, what abundance, we may say what super-abundance; on the other, what poverty, what gaping breaches in the chain of material history! Among the gods and genii, whose names have come down to us, how few there are whose images we can surely point to; and, again, what a small number of figures we have upon which we can put a name without fear of error!

To write the history of these beliefs is a difficult task, not only because the _idols_, as they would once have been called, are few, and the Chaldaeo-Assyrian inscriptions historical and narrative rather than religious and dogmatic, but also because the interpretation of the texts, especially of the most ancient, is much less advanced than that of the hieroglyphs. When documents in the old language, or at least written in the primitive ideographic characters, are attacked, the process is one of divination rather than of translation in the strict sense of the word.

Another difficulty has to be noticed; classic literature does little or nothing to help us in filling up these voids and dissipating the obscurities they cause. The Greeks were guilty of many errors when they attempted to understand and describe foreign religions, but their relations with the Egyptians and Phoenicians were so prolonged, and, towards the end, so intimate, that at last they did succeed in grasping some of the doctrine taught in the sanctuaries of Heliopolis and Thebes, of Byblos and Hierapolis. With their lively intellects they could hardly frequent the temples, examine the sacred images, and question the priests as to the national rites and ceremonies without discovering at least a part of the truth. It was not so with Chaldaea. Babylon was too far off. Until the time of Alexander's conquests the boldest travellers did no more than glance into its streets and monumental buildings, and by that time Nineveh had long ceased to exist. It was only under the first of the Seleucidae, when a Macedonian kingdom was established in the centre of Mesopotamia, that the curiosity of the Greeks led them to make inquiries similar to those they had pursued for some three centuries in the valley of the Nile. We cannot doubt that this desire for information arose among the followers of those princes themselves; many of them were very intelligent men; and when Berosus determined to write his history in Greek, he may have wished to answer the questions asked in his hearing by the Greek writers and philosophers; by those Alexandrians who were not all at Alexandria.

Unfortunately, nearly the whole of his work has been lost.

At the end of a century and a half Babylon shook off Hellenism, and Mesopotamia fell into the hands of the Parthians. These people affected, in some degree, the poetry and arts of Greece, but at bottom they were nothing more than Oriental barbarians. Their capital, Ctesiphon, seems never to have attracted learned men, nor ever to have been a seat of those inquiries into the past of the older races in which the cultured cities of the Greek world took so great a pleasure. When Rome became the heir of Greece and the perpetuator of her traditions, we may believe that, under Trajan, she set about establishing herself in the country; but she soon found it necessary to withdraw within the Euphrates, and it was her loss when the Parthians fell from power to be succeeded in the lordship of Mesopotamia by the Sassanids.[82]

We see, then, that, with the exception of one short period, Chaldaea was what the Greeks called a barbarous country after the fall of its native royalty, and that it will help us little in our endeavour to grasp the nature and extent of its religious beliefs. The last of the Athenian philosophers, Damascius, has certainly left us some information as to the Babylonish deities which seems to have been taken from authentic sources.[83] This, together with a few fragments from the work of Berosus, is all that Hellenic tradition has handed down to us. There is nothing here which can be even remotely compared to the treatises upon Isis and Osiris and the Goddess of Syria preserved under the names of PLUTARCH and LUCIAN.

But we cannot enter upon the discussion of Chaldaean art without making an effort to describe the gist of the national religion and its principal personages. In every country the highest function of art is to translate the religious conceptions of its people into visible forms. The architect, the sculptor, the painter, each in his own fashion, carries out this idea; the first by the dimensions he gives to his temples, by their plan, and by the decoration of their walls; the second and third by their choice of feature, expression and attribute for the images in which the gods become visible to the people. The clearness and precision with which this embodiment of an idea is carried out will depend upon the natural aptitudes of the race and the assistance it receives from the capabilities of the materials at hand. Plastic creations, from their very nature, must always be inferior to the thought they are meant to express; by no means can they go beyond it. This truth is nowhere more striking than in the art of Greece. Fortunately we are there able to see how a single theme is treated, in the first place, in poetry,--the interpreter of the popular beliefs,--and afterwards in art; we can discover how Phidias and Praxiteles, to speak only of sculptors, treated the types created by Homer and Hesiod. In the case of Chaldaea we have no such opportunity. She has left us neither monuments of sacerdotal theology like those we have inherited in such countless numbers from Egypt, nor the brilliant imagery in which the odes and epics of the Greeks sketched the personalities of the gods. But even in Chaldaea art was closely united with religion, and, in spite of the difficulty of the task, the historian of art must endeavour to pierce the shadows that obscure the question, and discover the bond of union between the two.

Thanks to the more recently deciphered texts, we do know something of the religious rites and beliefs of the oldest nation that inhabited Mesopotamia and left its trace in history. Whether we call them Accads or Sumirs, or by both names at once, we know that to them the whole universe was peopled by a vast crowd of spirits, some dwelling in the depths of the earth, some in the sea, while others floated on the wind and lighted in the sky the fires of the day and night.[84]

As, among men, some are good and some bad, so among these spirits some were beneficent and others the reverse, while a third class was helpful or mischievous according as it was propitiated by offerings or irritated by neglect. The great thing was to know how to command the services of the spirits when they were required. The employment of certain gestures, sounds, and articulate words had a mysterious but irresistible effect upon these invisible beings. How the effect was produced no one asked, but that it was produced no one doubted. The highest of the sciences was magic, for it held the threads by which the denizens of the invisible world were controlled; the master of the earth was the sorcerer who could compel them to obey him by a nod, a form of words, or an incantation. We can form some idea of the practical results of such a system from what we know of the manners and social condition of those Turanian races in Asiatic Russia who profess what is called _chamanism_, and from the condition of most of the negro tribes and Polynesian islanders. Among all these people, who still remain in a mental condition from which the rest of the species has long escaped, we find the highest places occupied by priest-magicians. Now and then popular fury makes them pay cruelly for the ill-success of their conjurations, but as a rule their persons and the illimitable power ascribed to them inspire nothing but abject fear.

Fear is, indeed, the ruling sentiment in all religions in which a belief in spirits finds a place. A man can never be sure that, in spite of all his precautions, he has not incurred the displeasure of such exacting and capricious masters. Some condition of the bargain which is being perpetually driven with protectors who give nothing for nothing, may have been unwittingly omitted. "The spirits and their worshippers are equally selfish. As a general rule, the mischievous spirits receive more homage than the good ones; those who are believed to live close at hand are more dreaded than those at a distance; those to whom some special _role_ is assigned are considered more important than spirits with a wider but less definite authority."[85]

There were, of course, moments when men turned with gratitude towards the hidden benefactor to whom they believed themselves indebted for some unhoped-for cure or unexpected success, when joy and confidence moved their hearts at the thought of the efficacious protection they had secured against future ills; but such moments were few and short. The habitual feeling was one of disquietude, we might almost say of terror, so that when the imagination endeavoured to give concrete forms to the beings in question, it figured them rather as objects of fear than love. The day arrived for art to attempt the material realization of the dreams which until then had been dimly seen in sleep or in the still more confused visions of the waking hours, and for this hideous and threatening features were naturally chosen. It is thus that the numerous figures of demons found in Chaldaea and Assyria, sometimes in the bas-reliefs, sometimes in the shape of small bronzes and terra-cottas, are accounted for. A human body is crowned with the head of an angry lion, with dog's ears and a horse's mane; the hands brandish long poignards, the feet are replaced by those of a bird of prey, the extended claws seeming to grasp the soil (Fig. 6). The gestures vary; the right arm is sometimes stretched downwards at full length, sometimes bent at the elbow, but the combination of forms, the character of the figure and its intention is always the same. We shall encounter this type again when we come to speak of Cappadocia.

[Illustration: FIG. 6.--Demons; from the palace of Assurbanipal at Kouyundjik. British Museum. Drawn by Saint-Elme Gautier.]

This belief in spirits is the second phase that the primitive religion, which we studied in Egypt under the name of _fetishism_ or _animism_, has to pass through.[86] In the beginning mere existence is confounded with life. All things are credited with a soul like that felt by man within himself. Such lifeless objects as stones and mountains, trees and rivers, are worshipped; so too are both useful and noxious animals.[87] Childish as it seems to us the worship of spirits is at least an advance upon this. It presupposes a certain power of reflection and abstraction by which men were led to conclude that intelligence and will are not necessarily bound up with a body that can be seen and touched. Life has been mobilized, if we may use such a phrase, and thus we arrive at _polydemonism_; by which we mean the theory that partitions the government of the world among a crowd of genii, who, though often at war among themselves, are always more powerful than man, and may do him much harm unless he succeeds in winning their help and good will.

[Illustration: FIG. 7.--Demons. Louvre.]

The worship of stars is but one form of this religious conception. The great luminaries of night and day were of course invested with life and power by men who felt themselves in such complete dependence upon them.

[Illustration: FIG. 8.--Eagle-headed divinity, from Nimroud. Louvre.

Alabaster. Height forty inches. Drawn by Saint-Elme Gautier.]

So far as we can judge, the primitive form of fetishism left but feeble traces in the religion of civilized Chaldaea and Assyria. The signs are few of that worship of sacred stones which played such an important part among the Semites of the west, and even among the Greeks,[88] neither can we find that either fear or gratitude ever led to the worship of animals, the docile helpers or the redoubtable enemies of man, in the same degree as it did in Egypt. And yet Chaldaea and Assyria followed the example of Egypt in mixing up the forms of men with those of animals in their sacred statues.

This we know both from the texts and the figured monuments. But it was not only in the budding art of a primitive population that such combinations were employed, and it was not only the inferior genii that were represented in such singular fashion. When, by the development of religion, the capricious and unruly multitude of spirits had been placed under the supremacy of a small number of superior beings, these, whom we may call the sovereign gods, were often figured with the heads of lions or eagles (see Fig. 8). Before any of these images had been found we already knew from Berosus what the deity was like by whom the first germs of art and letters had been sown upon the earth. "He had the whole body of a fish, but beneath his fish's head he had another head [that of a man], while human feet appeared below his fish's tail. He had also the voice of a man, and his images are yet to be found."[89] More than one sculptural type has been found answering to this description (see Fig. 9).

[Illustration: FIG. 9.--Anou or Dagon. Nimroud. Layard, _Discoveries_, p.


Why did art, in creating divine types, give such prominence to features borrowed from the lower animals? Was it impelled by mere inability to distinguish, by varieties of feature, form and attitude, between the different gods created by the imagination? Or must we look upon the attribution to this or that deity, of forms borrowed from the bull, the lion, or the eagle, as a deliberate act of symbolism, meant to suggest that the gods in question had the qualities of the animals of which their persons were partly made up? In order to arrive at a just conclusion we must, of course, take account both of the resistance of the material and of the facilities which a transparent system of allegory would give to the artist in the working out of his thought; we must also admit perhaps that the national intelligence had been prepared to look for and admire such combinations. It may have been predisposed towards them by the habits of admiration for the patient strength of the draught-ox and the destructive vigour of the eagle and the lion contracted during a long series of years.

Both historical analogy and the examination of sculptured types lead us to think that the tribes of Mesopotamia passed through the same religious phases as those of the Nile valley, but it would appear that the most primitive beliefs were less long-lived in Chaldaea than in Egypt, and that they were engraved less deeply upon the heart of the nation.

The belief in sorcery never died out in Chaldaea; up to the very last days of antiquity it never lost its empire at least over the lower orders of the people. As time passed on the priests joined the practice of astrology to that of magic. How the transition took place may readily be understood. The magician began by seeking for incantations sufficiently powerful to compel not only the vulgar crowd of genii to obedience, but also those who, in the shape of stars great and small, inhabited the celestial spaces and revealed themselves to man by the brilliance of their fires. Supposing him to be well skilled in his art his success would be beyond doubt so far as his clients were concerned.

Many centuries after the birth of this singular delusion even the Greeks and Romans did not refuse to believe that magic formulae had sometimes the powers claimed for them. "Incantation," cries an abandoned lover in Virgil, "may bring down the very moon from the sky:"

"_Carmina vel caelo possunt deducere lunam._"[90]

Although simple minds allowed themselves to believe that such prodigies were not quite impossible, skilled men could not have failed to see that in spite of the appeals addressed to them by priests and magicians, neither sun nor moon had ever quitted their place in the firmament or interrupted their daily course. As the hope of influencing the action of the stars died away, the wish to study their motions grew stronger. In the glorious nights of Chaldaea the splendour of the sky stirred the curiosity as well as the admiration of mankind, and the purity of the air made observation easy.

Here and there, in the more thickly inhabited and best irrigated parts of the plain, gentle mists floated over the earth at certain periods, but they were no real hindrance to observation. To escape them but a slight elevation above the plain was required. Let the observer raise himself a few feet above the tallest palm trees, and no cloud interposed to prevent his eyes from travelling from the fires that blazed in the zenith to the paler stars that lay clustered upon the horizon. There were no accidents of the ground by which the astronomer could lift himself above the smoke of cities or the mists hanging over the lakes and canals, and to make up for their absence the massive and many-storied towers which men began to construct as soon as they understood how to make bricks and set them, must soon have come into use. These towers were built upon artificial mounds which were in themselves higher than the highest house or palm. The platforms on their summits gave therefore the most favourable conditions possible for the interrogation of the heavens before the invention of the telescope.[91]

Thanks to the climate and to these great observatories which rose very early in Chaldaean history all over the plain, the skies could be read like an open book; and the Chaldaeans were fond of such reading, because it afforded them, as they thought, a sure means of predicting the future. They had no great belief in the power of their most formidable conjurations to affect the majestic regularity of the heavenly movements--a regularity which must have impressed each generation more strongly than the last, as it compared its own experience with the registered observations of those that had gone before it. But they could not persuade themselves that the powerful genii who guided those great bodies on their unending voyage could be indifferent to the destinies of man, and that there was no bond of union, no mysterious connection, between him and them. They pretended to discover this hidden bond. When a child uttered its first cry, an intimate relation, they declared, was established between the new life and some one of the countless bodies that people space. The impassive star, they said, governed the life and fortune of the mortal who, perhaps, ignorantly looked upon himself as his own master and the master of some of those about him.

The future of each man was decided by the character of the star that presided at his birth, and according to the position occupied by it in the sky at the time of any important action of his life, that action would be fortunate in its issue or the reverse.[92] These statements contain the germ of all the future developments of astrology. Among all civilized peoples this imaginary science has at last fallen from its former repute.

From the remotest antiquity down to the end of the sixteenth century, and, in some places, to a much later date, it enjoyed a rare power and prestige.

Traces of these are yet to be found in more than one familiar expression recalling the beliefs and ideas that took shape in the plains of Mesopotamia long before the palaces of Babylon and Nineveh were raised upon the banks of its two great rivers.

Astrology could not fail to smooth the way for astronomy, its successor. In order to profit by the indications of the stars, it was necessary to foresee the positions they would occupy in the sky on a given day or hour.

There are many undertakings which succeed only when they are carefully matured. If some great risk is to be run, it is not of much use to receive the advice and warnings of the stars at the last moment, when the decisive step has, perhaps, been made, and no retreat is possible. It would then be too late to think about the chances of success, and a sudden withdrawal from an action already begun or an equally sudden acceptance of a task for which no sufficient preparation had been made, would be the too frequent result.

There was only one mode of escaping such a danger or embarrassment as this, and that was, first, to arrive by repeated observation at an exact knowledge of the route followed by the stars across the sky, and of the rapidity of their march; secondly, to distinguish them one from another, to know each by its own name, to recognize its physiognomy, character, and habits. The first duty of the astrologer was to prepare such an inventory, and to discover the principle of these movements; then, and then only, would he be in a position to give a satisfactory answer to one asking where any particular star would be at the end of any specified number of days, weeks, or months. Thanks to such information, his client could fix upon some happy conjunction of the heavenly bodies, or at least avoid a moment when their influence would be on the side of disaster. In every undertaking of any importance the most favourable hour could be selected long before by the person chiefly concerned, the hour in which his star would be in the best quarter of the sky and in the most propitious relations with its neighbours.

The phenomena produced in Chaldaea by these studies have been repeated more than once in the history of civilization; they embody one of those surprises to which humanity owes much of its progress. The final object of all this patient research was never reached, because the relations upon which a belief in its feasibility was based were absolutely chimerical, but as a compensation, the accessory and preliminary knowledge, the mere means to a futile end, have been of incalculable value. Thus, in order to give an imposing and apparently solid basis to their astrological doctrines, the Chaldaeans invented such a numeration as would permit really intricate computations to be made. By the aid of this system they sketched out all the great theories of astronomy at a very early age. In the course of a few centuries, they carried that science to a point never reached by the Egyptians.[93]

The chief difficulty in the way of a complete explanation of the Chaldaean system of arithmetic lies in the interpretation of the symbols which served it for ciphers, which is all the greater as it would seem that they had several different ways of writing a single number. In some cases the notation varied according to the purpose of the calculation. A mathematician used one system for his own studies, and another for documents which had to be read by the public. The doubts attending the question are gradually being resolved, however, by the combined efforts of Assyriologists and mathematicians. At the beginning of their civilization the Chaldaeans did as other peoples have done when they have become dissatisfied with that mere rough opposition of unity to plurality which is enough for savage races, and have attempted to establish the series of numbers and to define their properties. "They also began by counting on their fingers, by _fives_ and _tens_, or in other words by units of _five_; later on they adopted a notation by _sixes_ and _twelves_ as an improvement upon the primitive system, in which the chief element, the _ten_, could be divided neither into three nor four equal parts."[94] Two regular series were thus formed, one in units of six, the other in units of five. Their commonest terms were, of course, those that occur in both series. We know from the Greek writers that the Chaldaeans counted time by _sosses_ of sixty, by _ners_ of 600, and by _sars_ of 3,600, years, and these terms were not reserved for time, they were employed for all kinds of quantities.

The _sosse_ could be looked at either as _five twelves_ or _six tens_. So, too, with the _ner_ (600) which represents _six hundreds_, or a _sosse_ of _tens_, or _ten sosses_ or _fifty twelves_. The _sar_ may be analysed in a similar fashion.

A system of numeration was thus established which may be looked at from a double point of view; in the first place from its _sexagesimal_ base, which certainly adapts itself to various requirements with greater ease than any other;[95] in the second from the extreme facility with which not only addition, but all kinds of complex calculations may be made by its use.[96]

With but two symbols, one for the units, the other for the tens, every number could be expressed by attending to a rule of position like that governing our written numeration; at each step to the left, a single sign, the vertical _wedge_, increased sixty-fold in value; the tens were placed beside it, and a blank in this or that column answered to our zero.

Founded upon a sexagesimal numeration, the metrical system of Babylon and Nineveh was "the most scientific of all those known and practised by the ancients: until the elaboration of the French metrical system, it was the only one whose every part was scientifically co-ordinated, and of which the fundamental conception was the natural development of all measures of superficies, of capacity, or of weight, from one single unit of length, a conception which was adopted as a starting point by the French commission of weights and measures."

The cubit of 525 millimetres was the base of the whole system.[97] We shall not here attempt to explain how the other measures--itinerary, agrarian, of capacity, of weight--were derived from the cubit; to call attention to the traces left in our nomenclature by the duodecimal or sexagesimal system of the Babylonians, even after the complete triumph of the decimal system, is sufficient for our purposes. It is used for instance in the division of the circle into degrees, minutes, and seconds, in the division of the year into months, and of the day into hours and their fractions.

This convenient, exact, and highly developed system of arithmetic and metrology enabled the Chaldaeans to make good use of their observations, and to extract from them a connected astronomical doctrine. They began by registering the phenomena. They laid out a map of the heavens and recognized the difference between fixed stars and those movable bodies the Greeks called planets--among the latter they naturally included the sun and the moon, the most conspicuous of them all both in size and motion, whose courses were the first to be studied and described. The apparent march of the sun through the crowded ranks of the celestial army was defined, and its successive stages marked by those twelve constellations which are still called the _Signs of the Zodiac_. In time even these observations were excelled, and it now appears certain that the Chaldaeans recognized the annual displacement of the equinoctial point upon the ecliptic, a discovery that is generally attributed to the Greek astronomers. But, like Hipparchus, they made faults of calculation in consequence of the defects of their instruments.[98]

It was the same with the moon. They succeeded in determining its mean daily movements, and when they had established a period of two hundred and twenty-three lunations, they contrived to foretell its eclipses. Eclipses of the sun presented greater difficulties, and the Chaldaeans were content with noting their occurrence. They were acquainted with the solar year of three hundred and sixty-five days and a quarter; they used it in their astronomical calculations; but their religious and civil year was one composed of twelve lunar months, alternately full and short, that is, of twenty-nine and thirty days respectively. The lunar and solar years were brought into agreement by an intercalary cycle of eight years.[99]

The assertion of the philosopher Simplicius has been called in question for very plausible reasons. Simplicius declares, upon the faith of Porphyrius, that Callisthenes sent from Babylon to his uncle Aristotle, a copy of Chaldaean observations dating back as far as 1903 years before the entry of Alexander into Mesopotamia, that is, to more than twenty-two centuries before our era.[100]

However this may be, all ancient writers are agreed in admitting that the Chaldaeans had begun to observe and record astronomical phenomena long before the Egyptians;[101] moreover the remains of those clay tablets have been found in various parts of Chaldaea and Assyria upon which, as Pliny tells us upon the authority of the Greek astronomer Epigenes, the Chaldaeans had inscribed and preserved the astronomical observations of seven hundred and eighty thousand years.[102] We need not dwell upon the enormity of this figure; it matters little whether it is due to the mistakes of a copyist or to the vanity of the Chaldaeans, and the too ready credulity of the Greeks; the important point is the existence of the astronomical tablets, and those Epigenes himself saw. The library of Assurbanipal at Nineveh included catalogues of stellary and planetary observations, among others the times of Venus, Jupiter and Mars, and the phases of the moon, for every day in the month.[103] Tablets have also been recently discovered giving the arrangement of the stars in the sky for each season and explaining the rule to be followed in the insertion of the intercalary months. Finally, a fragment of an Assyrian planisphere has been found in the palace of Sennacherib.[104]

Even if classic authors had been silent on the subject, and all the original documents had disappeared, we might have divined from the appearance of the figured monuments alone, how greatly the Chaldaeans honoured the stars and how much study and research they devoted to them; we might have guessed that they lived with their eyes fixed upon the firmament and upon the sources of light. Look at the steles that bear royal effigies, at the representations upon contracts and other documents of that kind (see Fig. 10), at the cylindrical or conical seals which have gravitated in thousands into our museums (Figs. 11 and 12); you will see a personage adoring a star, still oftener you will find the sun's disk and the crescent moon figured upon the field, with, perhaps, one or several stars. These images are only omitted upon reliefs that are purely narrative and historical, like most of those in the Assyrian palaces. Everywhere else, upon every object and in every scene having a religious and sacred character, a place is reserved for the symbols in question, if we may call them so. Their presence is evidence of the homage rendered by the Chaldaeans to the stars, and of the faith they placed in their supposed revelations.

Further evidence to the same effect is given by the ancient writing, in which the ideogram for _king_ was a star.

"The imaginations of the Egyptians were mainly impressed by the daily and annual circlings of the sun. In that body they saw the most imposing manifestation of the Deity and the clearest exemplification of the laws that govern the world; to it, therefore they turned for their personifications of the divine power."[105] The attention of the Chaldaeans, on the other hand, was not so absorbed, and, so to speak, lost, in the contemplation of a single star, superior though it was to all others in its power for good or ill, and in its incomparable splendour. They watched the sky with a curiosity too lively and too intelligent to permit of a willing sacrifice of all the stars to one. _Samas_, the sun, and _Sin_, the moon-god, played an important _role_ in their religion and theology, but it does not appear that the gods of the other five planets were inferior to them in rank. If we accept the parallels established by the Greeks and Romans, these were _Adar_ (Saturn), _Merodach_ (Jupiter), _Nergal_ (Mars), _Istar_ (Venus), and _Nebo_ (Mercury).

[Illustration: FIG. 10.--Stone of Merodach-Baladan I. (Smith's _Assyrian Discoveries_).]

The chief atmospheric phenomena were also personified; of this we may give one example. All travellers in Chaldaea agree in their descriptions of those sudden storms which burst on the country from a clear sky, especially towards the commencement of summer. Without a single premonitory symptom, a huge, black water-spout advances from some point on the horizon, its flanks shooting lightnings and thunder. In a few minutes it reaches the traveller and wraps him in its black vapours; the sand-laden wind blinds him, the rain pours upon him in solid sheets; but he has hardly realized his position before the storm is past and the sun is again shining in the blue depths above. But for torn and overthrown tents and trees uprooted or struck by the electric fluid, a stranger to the country might almost believe himself to have been the sport of a dream.[106]

[Illustration: FIG. 11.--Assyrian Cylinder, in the National Library, Paris.


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