Send Me One Eagle Auger

The following is from line 25 of Amarna letter 35:
ú 1 LUsa-í-li A.MUŠEN.MEŠ (= erû) uš-še-ia-ab-ni
And send me one eagle/vulture(?) augur.
In the context of this letter from the King of Alašiya (Cyprus) to the King of Egypt, this is a very weird request. The King of Alašiya addresses the Pharaoh as an equal. Citing some apparently divinely induced calamity, he apologizes for the meager nature of his greeting gift of copper and the length of time (3 years) he has held up the return of Pharaoh’s messenger. He then promises to send more copper at the Pharaoh’s request in the future. At this point the King of Alašiya lunches into his own request to the Pharaoh: send silver, the “very best silver.” Oh and by the way, please send an ox, 2 containers of “sweet oil” and a bird auger. Following this and blaming his complaint on “men of my country,” he inquires about a past due payment for timber. He is also concerned that the Pharaoh handover the belongings of a messenger from Alašiya who died in Egypt. And after a few addition apologies and concerns he again asks for a “very great quantity of silver.” He closes out the letter by saying that the Pharaoh is, in his estimation, higher than the king of the Hittites or the king of Shanchar (following Moren’s interpretation); that in the future he will double up on greeting gifts; and requesting that they exchange messengers as they had in the past.
William Moran’s, 109, says of this line:

Or “eagle-augury.” The sudden request for a very specialized diviner, along with an ox and “sweet oil,” is surprising, the more so since nothing is known of such a form of divination in Egypt. Ornithomancy, as Artzi, has stressed, is of western origin; for the Mari evidence, see Durand. McEwan suggested that erû refers here to the Neophron percnopterus (Egyptian Vulture), which files over Cyprus (Alašia) on migration to and from Egypt. He sees the request as reflecting the cosmopolitan character of the Egyptian court, not as evidence of a native tradition. [references deleted]

By “western origin” Moran doesn’t mean west of Egypt or Cyprus but west of Mesopotamia. Annelies Kammenhuber, 20, 204, argues for a Hurrian origin for ornithomancy but, in my view, a Hittite or even a Mesopotamian origin should not be ruled out.

Kammenhuber, Annelies, Orakelpraxis, Träume und Vorzeichenschau bei den Hethitern (Heidelberg: C. Winter, 1976)
Moran, William, The Amarna Letters, (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1987)

2 thoughts on “Send Me One Eagle Auger”

  1. Definitely makes more sense as a vulture to me. When I was his student, Tzvi Abusch suggested that the “eagle” in Etana was actually a vulture— plausible when you look at depictions on cylinder seals.
    The Hittites were quite fascinated with the subject. I attended a lecture a few years back where Gernot Wilhelm discussed an archaeological site complete with a cultic inclosure, a possible Hawasi stone, and a large reflecting pool. He interpreted the pool as a giant birdbath for the purpose of augury (based on observation of birds at the site).
    But, the LBA was so cosmopolitan, I’m not even sure if we can trace back something like the origins of augury.

  2. Yeah, I rather like “vulture” here too. I agree that the origins of augury are lost in mist of likely preliterate traditions. However, I do wonder if we can at least say something about the origin of formal, professional, augury of the kind witnessed in Šumma Alu and its precursors, including Hittite precursors.

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