When A Snake Doesn’t Bite

As a diversion to a diversion to an irrelevancy, I’ve been reading through the snake omens on tablets 22-29 of the Akkadian omen series Shumma Alu ina mele Shakin. Of the 200 plus omens involving snakes only a very few deal with snakes that bite. Most of the omens specify the portent for snakes being seen in various places and postures and snakes falling and even bad things that may happen to snakes. A couple of examples from Sally Freedman’s translation will serve as illustrations. I may discuss the Akkadian of some of these later.

  • 22: 81, If a snake climbs onto a man, a murderer will murder that man.
  • 22:96, If a snake dies in a man’s house, the owner of that house will die.
  • 23:20, If a snake frightens a man by falling and then the snake cries out, an evil hand will affect that man. (This almost certainly means that the man will acquire a ghost induced illness. I’m not so sure how often a snake cries out. Perhaps “hiss” is meant.)
  • 23:34, If a snake is seen where a man and woman are standing conversing, the man and woman will separate; they will divorce.
  • 23:71, If a snake goes into a house from the street, the owner of the house will die.
  • 23:101, If a snake lies in a lower millstone in a man’s house, that house will be dispersed.

While vast majority of these omens have negative portents, death, illness, devastation, a few, a very few, have positive portents.

  • 22: 54, If a snake stands erect in front of a man – victory and booty.

As I said, only a small number, I’d guess less than 2% deal with the portents of a snake biting someone. These do not necessarily have totally negative portents.

  • 22:15, If a snake becomes hostile to a man and attacks him and bites him, that man will overcome his adversary with difficulty.

I suppose that it might be less difficult to overcome an adversary if a snake didn’t bite the man. But as portents go, this one really isn’t all that bad.

Freedman, Sally M., If a City Is Set on a Height: The Akkadian Omen Series Shumma Alu ina mele 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 “When A Snake Doesn’t Bite”

  1. So it is better to be bitten by a snake than to have a snake climb on you. What is the ultimate outcome when a snake first stands erects in front of a man & then climbs on him?

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