If One Reads Of Snakes Swarming

. . . more research is required.
Now that I’m out of the carnival business for a while, I’ve returned to the prolonged cleanup of my essay on the snake in Genesis 3. Will this ever end? Yes. At least one phase of it will end on March 26. Anyway, there’s an interesting example of ophioimancy in Herodotus, I:78.

Meanwhile, snakes began to swarm in the outer part of the city; and when they appeared the horses, leaving their accustomed pasture, devoured them. When Croesus saw this he thought it a portent, and so it was. Telmessian interpreters, to inquire concerning it; but though his messengers came and learned from the Telmessians what the portent meant, they could not bring back word to Croesus, for he was a prisoner before they could make their voyage back to Sardis. Nonetheless, this was the judgment of the Telmessians: that Croesus must expect a foreign army to attack his country, and that when it came, it would subjugate the inhabitants of the land: for the snake, they said, was the offspring of the land, but the horse was an enemy and a foreigner. This was the answer which the Telmessians gave Croesus, knowing as yet nothing of the fate of Sardis and of the king himself; but when they gave it, Croesus was already taken. [A. D. Godley’s Loab translation]

This is clearly an unsolicited omen. But it sure doesn’t seem to have any obvious parallel in Šumma Ālu. A few Šumma Ālu omen protases mention multiple snakes (MUŠ.MEŠ), but I know of none that really speak of anything much like swarming and none of them involve horses feasting on snakes (if that is what is meant here). I guess I need to look closely at the equid omens in Šumma Ālu. I’ve been meaning to do that anyway. Think of Balaam’s talking jenny. I may take this up in another post. I sure wish the Šumma Ālu equid omens were a little more accessible. A modern publication would help. One is forthcoming but, like many things in Assyriology, forthcoming can be a long time. So I guess I’m back looking at the old CT publications.
While taking place in Lydia and apparently depending on the services of Lycia diviners (Telmessian interpreters), Herodotus’ story may be of Persian origin. I need to look into this. In any case, remember that there is at least one reasonably certain case where Herodotus’ sources stood in the tradition of Babylonian/Assyrian divination.

One thought on “If One Reads Of Snakes Swarming”

  1. It reminds me of the Trojan Horse scenario which is also about attack from foreign shores. Based on that famed legend, could the horse then be interpreted as a symbol of foreign invasion? I don’t see why not. Other connections with horses in that time period and culture don’t seem to be as relevant such as the connection of horses with Poseidon, although perhaps this too is an allusion to sea-faring attack. Hmmmmm. The only problem with interpreting omen interpretations is that there are quite literally an endless number of possibilities and connections to imagine. But oh the fun!

Comments are closed.