A Dream As Understood By Birds

Omens tend to divide into those that someone seeks after voluntarily and those that present themselves unrequested. Hepatomancy, the examination of the livers of sacrificed animals for the purpose of divining something or other, is an example of a voluntary omen. An eagle flying high to one’s left is an involuntary omen and not a good one (or so some folks once thought). Not all bird omens are involuntary; sometimes one could consult birds voluntarily also. Dreams are involuntary and often in need of interpretation.
A couple of lines from a letter discovered at Mari (A.222:14-15) are abnormally interesting in this regard.
i-na MUŠEN.Á ḫu-ri-im (iṣṣūr ḫurri) wa-ar-ka-sa ap-ru-us-ma,
I established the facts regarding it (a dream) by means of partridges(?).
What’s so interesting about this is that the author of the letter consults partridges in an effort to interpret or confirm a dream. In other words, the practitioner consults a voluntary omen to help understand or verify an involuntary one. Beyond verifying that it was indeed a dream, it isn’t all that clear that the partridges was particularly helpful in this case. But what can you expect from birds?
For the record, it’s not completely certain that iṣṣūr ḫurri are partridges but they are some kind of birds.

One thought on “A Dream As Understood By Birds”

  1. Your posts as always are interesting and I’m always fascinated on the connection it has to Etruscan auspicy. (Although I don’t know what the exact connections might be, nor do others, it seems.) Where Etruscan divination is concerned there’s this big (artificial) cloak of mystery in our way.
    I’ve never before thought of voluntary versus involuntary omens or the mixing of the two but that does make me ponder.
    What would be really handy and neat, possibly for others online too, would be a kind of searchable database of ancient prophecy so that one could piece together ancient traditions in a more comprehensive way and track their origins and meanings. That might also help in translation. Above, “partridge” is an unsure value but if we could piece together the meaning and source of the omen in question, we might be more secure with the value, knowing how the “partridge” fits into the religious symbolism.
    It would also be interesting to me if it were possible somehow to piece together what an Etruscan version of the Shumma Alu might have looked like. Ancients speak of Etruscan books of the dead called Libri Acheronti but they must have also had elaborate books of prophecy as well, used towards the education of apprentice augurs or as a memory-jogger for forgetful old ones.

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