A Bird Dropping A Snake – Not A Good Sign

In which I ponder a possible relationship between a snake/bird omen in the Iliad and a couple omens in Shumma Alu. I’ve played with something like this before. Let’s start with Iliad 12.200-209:
ὄρνις γάρ σφιν ἐπῆλθε περησέμεναι μεμαῶσιν
αἰετὸς ὑψιπέτης ἐπ᾽ ἀριστερὰ λαὸν ἐέργων
φοινήεντα δράκοντα φέρων ὀνύχεσσι πέλωρον
ζωὸν ἔτ᾽ ἀσπαίροντα, καὶ οὔ πω λήθετο χάρμης,
κόψε γὰρ αὐτὸν ἔχοντα κατὰ στῆθος παρὰ δειρὴν
ἰδνωθεὶς ὀπίσω: ὃ δ᾽ ἀπὸ ἕθεν ἧκε χαμᾶζε
ἀλγήσας ὀδύνῃσι, μέσῳ δ᾽ ἐνὶ κάββαλ᾽ ὁμίλῳ,
αὐτὸς δὲ κλάγξας πέτετο πνοιῇς ἀνέμοιο.
Τρῶες δ᾽ ἐρρίγησαν ὅπως ἴδον αἰόλον ὄφιν
κείμενον ἐν μέσσοισι Διὸς τέρας αἰγιόχοιο.
For a bird had come upon them, as they were eager to cross over, an eagle (αἰετὸς) of lofty flight, skirting the host on the left, and in its talons it bore a blood-red, monstrous snake (δράκοντα), still alive as if struggling, nor was it yet forgetful of combat, it writhed backward, and smote him that held it on the breast beside the neck, till the eagle, stung with pain, cast it from him to the ground, and let it fall in the midst of the throng, and himself with a loud cry sped away down the blasts of the wind. And the Trojans shuddered when they saw the writhing snake lying in the midst of them, a portent of Zeus that beareth the aegis.
Out of laziness, I again use Murray’s outdated translation of the Iliad.
Now consider these omens from Shumma Alu Tablet 24.
Omen 20:
DIŠ MUŠ IDIM šá MUŠEN KÚ ina KA SÚR.DÙ.MUŠEN (= surdû) LA2-ma (gloss) ana É MA ŠUB [EN É] BI UG7 É BI BIR-aḫ ka-šad-su [. . .] É BI UŠ-su É [.G]AL UŠ.[MEŠ]-di
If a powerful snake eating a bird is lifted up in the mouth of a falcon (surdû) and it falls into a man’s house, [the owner of the hou]se will die, the house will be dispersed; its defeat [. . .]; the palace will take over that house’s inheritance.
(Note: the gloss, which I didn’t include in the transliteration or translation, provides an somewhat expanded reading for the last part the protasis.)
Humm! Yeah, they are not the same but . . .
Omen 21 seems similar but the protasis has a rather ambiguous ditto and the apodosis is lacunose in an important place. Because of its placement between Omen 20 and Omen 22, and its beginning with a ditto, there can be little doubt that all three have the a snake being carried by a falcon in common.
Omen 22:
DIŠ MUŠ SÚR.DÙ.MUŠEN LÁ-ma in-na-[. . .]-x-na-ad-ru [. . .] É BI BIR-aḫ
If a snake is lifted by a falcon and [. . .], that house will be dispersed.
Is the relationship between the Iliad omen and the Shumma Alu omens Freudian, Jungian, Levi Straussian, historical (intertextual in some broad since), some kind of a Dennettian good trick or just a figment of my overactive imagination? I am certain that if these Shumma Alu omens appeared in classical literature, Greek or Latin, rather than in Akkadian from Mesopotamia many (most?) scholars would think they had an intertextual relationship with the Iliad passage. The same would be true if both the Iliad passage and one of these Akkadian omens were both in the Hebrew Bible.
Issues surrounding the relationship between the Homeric and Akkadian omens raise a host of daunting methodological questions for classicists, assyriologists and Biblical scholars alike.

Freedman, Sally M., If a City Is Set on a Height: The Akkadian Omen Series Shumma Alu ina Mēlê Shakin Vol. 2: Tablets 22–40, Occasional Publications of the Samuel Noah Kramer Fund 19; Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum / Babylonian Section, 2006

One thought on “A Bird Dropping A Snake – Not A Good Sign”

  1. More symbolisms. Fun! I’m sure all this divination is built on something as trivial as ancient word-puns and conceptual analogies. After uncountable centuries, it’s hard to be certain why something was believed to be so, especially if a pun that started the prophecy is from a long-dead language of yore.
    I think of, for example, the association between death, wolves and the festival of Lupercalia which doesn’t make much sense to a 21st-century historian until one is simultaneously aware of the fact that Latin lupus meant ‘wolf’ and Etruscan lupu meant ‘passed on, dead’. This is what led to this association as well as the Etruscan representation of Hades (Aita) wearing a cap made from a wolf’s head. Freudian symbolism? No. Just bilingual haruspices tripping out on mushrooms. (This is also why strict specialization in, say, Roman studies at the expense of Etruscan studies leads to academic blindness.)
    Back to this bird/snake hankypanky, the falcon is typical air/sky-symbolism and the snake is often water-symbolism. So it seems like it once had something to do with the elemental somehow. But beyond that I suppose it’s anyone’s guess unless one spends oodles of time carefully untying the millions of threads in this oracular carpet of craziness.

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