When A Horse Neighs

[Note, the core of what follows is speculation and not even all that learned speculation. I am far from an expert on Herodotus or Persian (or Greek) omens. For this post I have not consulted any secondary material beyond a couple of translations and fat Greek dictionary. Beware and be warned]
The Bisitum Inscription tells us that Ahura Mazda was instrumental in making Darius king, “By the grace of Ahura Mazda I am king; Ahura Mazda gave me the kingdom. [1:5].”
Herodotus’ account has several “additional details” concerning the selection process. After staging a coop, in a rather Greek fashion the conspirators set about deciding on the best form of government. Lo and behold, they decide on a kingship. Unlike their philosophical discussion of the proper form of government, they agree to an abnormally interesting method to decide who among them will be king. “As for choosing a king, they decided that he should be elected whose horse, after they were all in their saddles in the edge of the city, should first be heard to neigh (φθέγγομαι) after sunrise. [3:84:3]” Darius has his groom work one or the other of two reported methods, both involving horse sex, to make sure his horse neighs first. As a result, Darius’s horse was the first that προσδραμὼν ἐχρεμέτισε, “ran forward and whinnied [3:86:1]” or φριμάξασθαί τε καὶ χρεμετίσαι, “both snorted and whinnied [3:87:1].” The selection is confirmed by a celestial display – “lightning and thunder came out of a clear sky [3:86:2].”
On the one hand, φριμάξασθαί may indicate some kind of motion accompanied by sound. See LSJ9, 1955. If so, προσδραμὼν ἐχρεμέτισε and φριμάξασθαί τε καὶ χρεμετίσαι may both indicate a combination of motion and sound. On the other hand, Herodotus may have adopted the alternative responses to better match his alternative scenarios.
To my abnormal mind all of this sounds like selection and confirmation by omen. Never mind that Herodotus or his sources seek to rationalize it by having the groom tip the scales of fate in Darius’ favor. So, I’ve decided to share a couple of horse (and donkey) omens from Šumma Ālu.
CT 40 36:56:
DIŠ ANŠE ana IGI NUN in-gu-ug-ma ŠURUN-su ŠUB [ . . . ] BE
šumma sīsû ana pan rubê in-gu-ug-ma rubuṣsu iddi [ . . . ] imât
If a horse neighs in front of a prince and discharges his dung(?) [. . . ], he (the prince) will die.
Why do lacuna always fall at the wrong places?
CT 40 33-34 (K. 3886+6819) rev. 11’:
DIŠ ANŠE.KUR.RA iz-za-bi-ib TÚG KUR MAN-ni
šumma sīsû izzabib ṭēm māti išanni
If a horse is in frenzy, the loyalty of the land will change.
CAD, A, 1, tells us that Akkadian zabābu means “to be in a frenzy, to act crazily.” I’d assume that would entail some neighing. The omen portends a successful insurrection.
CT 40 33:4’
[DIŠ] ANŠE i-nam(na)-ga-ag TÙR BI BIR-aḫ
šumma imērū inagag tarbaṣu šuātu issapaḫ
If a donkey brays – dispersal of that courtyard.
I’ve discussed this onen before.
So is there an echo of the Akkadian tradition of equine omens in Herodotus’ account(s) of the ascension of Darius? At this point I’m not sure. I can’t find any really strong parallels but I do see hints. Like all such questions, a lot of work is required to become reasonably certain that the answer is “no” or even to become reasonably certain that no answer is possible. A “yes” answer takes even more work. I’ve written about possible echoes of Akkadian divination in Herodotus before. Even if there is nothing really here it is still abnormally interesting to think about these things.
By the way, if there’s a classicist out there who thinks these thoughts are crazy, I’d like to hear from you. If there is a classicist out there who thinks these thoughts could be developed into a paper (and there isn’t already one), I’d like to hear from you too. We might be able to work together to develop something publishable somewhere other than on a blog.