Lilith and the Draconcopes.

Studiolum at Poemas del río Wang has done a deep dive into an ever-intriguing bit of mythology, Lilith and the draconcopes. We all know Lilith was Adam’s first wife, but where did that story come from? Click the link to find out the details; I just want to quote some piquant passages:

In fact, Lilith appears in one single place in the Hebrew Bible, in Isaiah 34 (13-16), where the Lord foretells how He would destroy Edom:

“Thorns will overrun her citadels, nettles and brambles her strongholds. She will become a haunt for jackals, a home for owls. Desert creatures will meet with hyenas, and wild goats will bleat to each other. There the lilith לִילִית will also lie down and find for themselves places of rest. The owl will nest there and lay eggs, she will hatch them and care for her young under the shadow of her wings. There also the falcons will gather, each with its mate.”

The role of the lilith is here to mark, along with all the other ominous beings, how desolate the Lord makes Edom. But as to exactly what kind of being it is, we [are] not informed here, since the name is a hapax legomenon, a word that only occurs once in the Bible. Nevertheless, it must have been familiar to the Jews of the period if it could be used to indicate the extent of the destruction. As if we were reading today that a place has become a home for vampires and orcs, the nest of Dracula. The products of the fantasy literature of the last hundred years are pretty much in the public consciusness, they don’t need to be explained.

The words lili and līlītu in the Mesopotamian languages, Sumerian, Akkadian and Assyrian, meant ʻspirit’, in some texts a disease-bearing spirit living in the wind. It was probably from there and in this sense transferred into the Aramaicspoken by the Jews of Babylon and the Bible. In the 4th to 6th century AD, “bowls of incantation” were widespread in the area: these were hidden in the base or ground of the houses as traps to catch the liliths intruding in the houses. These bowls were used by all local cultures and languages. Several hundreds were found from Jews with texts in Aramaic. biblical or talmudic references.

Typically, Bible translations did not know what to do with the name. The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Diaspora Jews merges the hyenas with the lilith under the name “onocentaur”, and translates the goat, understood as a satyr, as “demon”. […] Basically, this translation is followed by the Vulgate, the Latin translation of St. Jerome, which translates the lilith as lamia, a child-devoring female demon in Greek mythology[…] The meaning of ʻonocentaur’ was only slightly clearer than that of the lilith. Based on ὄνος = donkey, it was interpreted as a kind of donkey-centaur. […]

In Jewish rabbinic literature, the name only occurs four times, always referring to the text of Isaiah, in a sense of “evil spirit” until the 8-10th c. AD, that is, well into the Middle Ages, when a Hebrew treatise called The alphabet of ben Sira made it a person. The treatise contains twice 22 proverbs in Aramaic and Hebrew, arranged according to the Hebrew alphabet, and illuminates the meaning of each with a Midrashic story. According to the story that interests us here, Ben Sira heals the sick little son of King Nebuchadnezzar with an amulet. When the king asks him what he wrote on the amulet, Ben Sira tells him that God kneaded the first human couple from the dust of earth, and they were thus equal. The woman, Lilith, therefore, did not want to lie under Adam in the bed, as required by Jewish sexual morals, but she wanted to be above. She rebelled and fled to the Red Sea, where she mated with demons. God sent three angels after her, Senoy, Sansenoy and Semangelof, who, however, failed to bring her back. All they could agree with her was that although she as a demon now had power to infect newborn children, nevertheless if the names of these three angels were written somewhere, she would not hurt the child there.

Literature considers this tractate a kind of satire, a compilation of parodies brought together by bored yeshivabohers, a huge hoax full of pedant talmudic hochmetsing over assorted smut, from farting through masturbation to incest (for example, Ben Sira himself is said to be born from the union of Prophet Jeremiah with his own daughter). This is how seriously we have to take the tradition of Lilith as Adam’s first wife. True, in the double creation story of the Book of Genesis, God first creates the man and the woman in His own image (Gen 1:27), and then He creates the woman from the rib of the man (Gen 2:22). For believers in the literal interpretation of the Bible, these were two creations: but then, where is the first woman? This logical hiatus was made up for by the yeshivabohers with the lilith which stood without any real meaning in the Bible and the Talmud. Before them, however, neither the Jewish nor the Christian exegetical tradition raised and answered this question, especially not by creating a “first wife”.

(Oh, and draconcopedes are “large and strong snakes, whose maiden-face is similar to the man, but their body ends in snake body.”)

For the further titillation of any who share the yeshiva bokher spirit, Michael Gilleland offers A Pearl from a Dung-Heap, an inscription excavated at Stabiae in the Villa San Marco in 2008-2009; graffiti are the same the world over.

Comments

  1. Is this not a redux of a fairly recent discussion?

    What to make of Frasier’s harpy of an ex-wife Lilith?

    Never knew Selma Lagerlof was named after a Jewish angel?

  2. Is this not a redux of a fairly recent discussion?

    Is it? I don’t remember it, but that doesn’t mean anything…

  3. This recent discussion is relevant.

    I have some more things to say about Lillith, but I have to attend a virtual meeting right now, so I will respond with more later.

  4. David Eddyshaw says

    Another great band name …

  5. This recent discussion is relevant.

    A very interesting thread, with jackals and owls but no Lilith.

  6. David Marjanović says

    Lagerlof

    Lagerlöf, with a very unbiblical vowel.

  7. Owlmirror says

    Typically, Bible translations did not know what to do with the name. The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Diaspora Jews merges the hyenas with the lilith under the name “onocentaur”, and translates the goat, understood as a satyr, as “demon”. […] Basically, this translation is followed by the Vulgate, the Latin translation of St. Jerome, which translates the lilith as lamia, a child-devoring female demon in Greek mythology[…] The meaning of ʻonocentaur’ was only slightly clearer than that of the lilith. Based on ὄνος = donkey, it was interpreted as a kind of donkey-centaur. […]

    The term “onocentaur” is used to translate sa’ir, satyr in Isaiah 34:14. Given that the term is usually translated as “goat”. I don’t know why the term in this location received a different interpretation.

    In fact, “onocentaur” appears twice in 34:14 — the first time translating ‘sa’ir’; the second time “lilith”. The term “daimon” appears to be translating “iyim”: howlers, hyenas. I think.

    https://biblehub.com/sepd/isaiah/34.htm

    Wikipedia on onocentaur misses that it’s used to translate two different words.

    It looks like in Isaiah 34:11, “onocentaur” is used in a phrase that I don’t think appears in the Hebrew. Am I missing something?

  8. @languagehad: Y mentions lilit (in connection with owls) here.

    The notion of Lilith as the first wife of Adam is, as Studiolum says, a relatively late development, probably from the European Middle Ages. However, I do not agree with the interpretation that the belief that Adam’s first wife was the demoness Lilith was primarily a satire. Arguing about (and so finding one’s way to the correct interpretation of) the holy writ is one of the most exalted activities in rabbinical Judaism. We are inclined nowadays to treat the great rabbinical debates of the past as typically somewhat humorous—and having a sense of humor in such debates was prized by many (although certainly not all) religious scholars—but many medieval Jews treated the doctrinal outcomes of the debates as extremely grave matters, and Jewish men were respected for showing the serious erudition to understand the often convoluted arguments that led to particular belief sets. Knowing enough to raise further questions about a point of doctrine was the sign of a learned and respectable figure in the shtetl community. Questions could be critical, silly, or even mocking, but to use sophistry was typically considered extremely poor form—since the quest for divine truth was always considered the ultimate goal.

    The legalist viewpoint of rabbinical culture insisted that the Torah was literally the perfect word of the Almighty, and, moreover, anything about the text that seemed confusing was intentionally that way, as a sign that readers were supposed to look more deeply and figure out what was going on. This led to innumerable volumes of exegesis. These were predicated on the idea (among others) that, if there was a potential conflict between two statements in the Torah (such as occurs with the dual creation stories in Genesis), they were supposed to look deeper and figure out what interpretation could overcome the apparent inconsistency.* The prevailing interpretation of the dual passages describing the creation of humans came to be that Adam actually had two wives. This interpretation was developed over time, but even when it came to be fairly widely accepted, it still had a problem, since it raises the question of what happened to Adam’s original wife, who was supposed to be his equal. Later, this disappearing first woman was identified with the Levantine demoness Lilith, since she was believed to be a bedeviler of pregnant women and infants, and a motivation of jealousy against all subsequent human mothers and their offspring could fairly naturally be imputed to Adam’s rejected first wife.

    * For example, one might ask: How it was possible for Melchizedek, the king of Salem who feeds and blesses Abraham in Genesis 14, could possibly be a priest of El Elyon? How could there have been a priesthood of YHWH at that time? Well, if you count up the generations and the lifetimes chronicles in Genesis, you will find that at the time of Abraham’s defeat of king Chedorlaomer, after which he met with Melchizedek, Abraham’s great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather Shem, the son of Noah, was still alive. After Noah’s death, Shem is the only even vaguely plausible candidate for the high priesthood, assuming that a primordial priesthood had been handed down since the time of Adam. So Melchizedek must actually be Shem, and his exchange of gifts and blessings with Abraham signified the passing of the high priesthood directly to Abraham, passing over the intermediate generations that had fallen into idolatry. And we were meant to piece that together from the clues, for the greater glory of Adonai.

  9. Owlmirror says

    True, in the double creation story of the Book of Genesis, God first creates the man and the woman in His own image (Gen 1:27), and then He creates the woman from the rib of the man (Gen 2:22). For believers in the literal interpretation of the Bible, these were two creations: but then, where is the first woman? This logical hiatus was made up for by the yeshivabohers with the lilith which stood without any real meaning in the Bible and the Talmud. Before them, however, neither the Jewish nor the Christian exegetical tradition raised and answered this question, especially not by creating a “first wife”.

    Really? We’re completely ignoring the midrash that Adam+Eve were first created as a hermaphrodite (back to back) that was later split at the back?

    R. Jeremiah ben Eleazar said: When the Holy One created Adam, He created him hermaphrodite [bisexual], as is said, “Male and female created He them and called their name Adam” (Gen. 5:2).
      R. Samuel bar Nahman said: When the Holy One created Adam, He made him with two fronts; then He sawed him in half and thus gave him two backs, a back for one part and a back for the other part. Someone objected: But does not Scripture say, “And He took one of his ribs (mi-tzalotav)” (Gen. 2:21)? R. Samuel replied: Mi­-tzalotav may also mean “his sides,” as in the verse “And for the second side (tzela) of the Tabernacle” (Exod. 26:20).

    [Genesis Rabba 8:1]

    (above is from The Book of Legends; Sefer Ha-Aggadah, Bialik & Ravnitsky)

  10. @Owlmirror: I have heard a version that Lilith was Adam’s female half, attached to the male Adam back to back. However, a version that has the “separate” creation of Eve as actually just severing her from Adam’s flank definitely makes more sense (and thus would be more rabbinically respectable).

  11. J.W. Brewer says

    The KJV has a confident, if arguably seriously inaccurate, gloss for lilith as “screech owl”; more recent English translations are generally strategically vague, using e.g. “night monster,” “night bird” (paging Stevie Nicks), and “creatures of the night” (evoking the Rocky Horror Picture Show except I think there it’s singular?).

  12. Bathrobe says

    Was The Queen of the Night (‘The Burney Relief’) Lilith? The linked article says no.

  13. Didn’t we discuss how tzela “side, rib” was <= pillars or beams supporting the ceiling, and in the Eve story referring to os penis, and how the suture of its removal is still visible?

    On a separate note, about a racy medieval legend which turned out to be factual, have you read the news about brother-sister incest of the Irish demigods just having been confirmed by ancient DNA?

  14. No! Shocking!

  15. Jen in Edinburgh says

    What does demigod DNA look like?

  16. J.W. Brewer says

    So someone gathered DNA samples from currently-living demigods and then did some complicated math to model their ancestry?

  17. Your translation of the key phrase from Isaiah 34:14 is:
    There the lilith לִילִית will also lie down and find for themselves places of rest.

    The Hebrew original does not attach the prefix ha- meaning the, to Lilit*. Also, the words in the phrase “lie down and find for herself” that show number and gender are in the feminine singular:

    אַךְ־שָׁם֙ הִרְגִּ֣יעָה לִּילִ֔ית וּמָצְאָ֥ה לָ֖הּ מָנֹֽוחַ׃

    So there’s some justification for treating Lilit as a proper name.

    BUT – the other creatures in the passage also do not take the definite article. A more literal translation would be:

    Will meet desert creatures [cats?] with hyenas, and wild goat will bleat to its companion. Also there lilith לִילִית will lie down and find herself a resting place. Owl [snake?] will nest there and lay eggs…

    The word for night is לילה “leilah,” so the translations that use night creature, night monster, and screech owl seem to be assuming a relationship between lilit and the word night. And lilit does take the form a a singular feminine noun based on the same root as night.

    But as you can see, lilit is not the only word in the passage without a clearly understood meaning. Its not a plural, it’s not obviously a name, and it comes in a sequence of singular nouns. Goat, lilit, owl. And there’s no reason to assume that it’s a spirit. The appeal to possibly related but different words in other Semitic languages appears to me to be a stretch. The whole passage is about wild beasts taking over human habitation, not about the spirit world.

    So my vote is that a lilit is an unidentifiable wild animal, likely a nocturnal one.

    *I use t to transliterate ת – th is okay, too.

  18. “And here’s Little Enosh in the Inn of the Worlds (a huge collapsing place made mostly of slats). He sits in the pose that in old medical books represented a man in the grip of Melancholy: elbow on table, cheek in hand. Snwy, says his snore. Snsnwy. Smnglf. The Uthras all sleep around him, catching flies.” –John Crowley, Love & Sleep. The premise is that the Mandaean creation myth is a comic-strip series resembling Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo.

  19. Owlmirror says

    Snwy, says his snore. Snsnwy. Smnglf

    I am not sure that I would have caught that the snores were the names of the contra-Lilith angels, had I read that without the context of the OP.

    Was Lilith mentioned elsewhere in Crowley’s work?

  20. Had to Google it: in Daemonomania, the next book of the quartet, Lilith is a little girl with leukemia. Crowley’s work is a forest of allusions.

  21. PS- Note that the passage attaches an observed behavior to each animal. The observation for the lilit – she finds a place to lie down and rest – would make sense if she were a four-legged nocturnal creature who spends the daylight hours sleeping in a secluded spot, out of the desert sun. Spirit beings might appear only at night, but why would they need to search out places to lie down during the day?

  22. John Cowan says

    Which is why, in the old Hebrew translation of The Lord of the Rings, the Elves are called ‘children of Lilith’, as they are not the descendants of Eve.

  23. Owlmirror says

    Which is why, in the old Hebrew translation of The Lord of the Rings, the Elves are called ‘children of Lilith’, as they are not the descendants of Eve.

    You jest, but Rodger C’s first comment above inspired me to read up a bit on the Mandaeans and Mandaeism. The song of Eru Ilúvatar in the Silmarillion would not be entirely out of place as one of the variations on Gnosticism.

    The term Mandaic or Mandaeic Mandaeism comes from Classical Mandaic Mandaiia and appears in Neo-Mandaic as Mandeyānā. On the basis of cognates in other Aramaic dialects, Semiticists such as Mark Lidzbarski and Rudolf Macuch have translated the term manda, from which Mandaiia derives, as “knowledge” (cf. Aramaic: מַנְדַּע‎ mandaʻ in Dan. 2:21, 4:31, 33, 5:12; cf. Hebrew: מַדַּע maddaʻ, with characteristic assimilation of /n/ to the following consonant, medial -nd- hence becoming -dd-[15]). This etymology suggests that the Mandaeans may well be the only sect surviving from Late Antiquity to identify themselves explicitly as Gnostics.
    [ . . . ]
    The Mandaean God is known as Hayyi Rabbi (The Great Living God). Other names used are Mare d’Rabuta (Lord of Greatness) and Melka d’Nhura (King of Light).

  24. Jen in Edinburgh says

    I have a feeling that the witch who plunges Narnia into the hundred years of winter, whose name temporarily escapes me, really is a descendent of Lilith (fsvo ‘really’!)

  25. @Jen in Edinburgh: Jadis, the White Witch, is indeed stated to be a descendant of Lilith:

    “That’s what I don’t understand, Mr. Beaver,” said Peter, “I mean isn’t the Witch herself human?”

    “She’d like us to believe it,” said Mr. Beaver, “and it’s on that that she bases her claim to be Queen. But she’s no Daughter of Eve. She comes of your father Adam’s—” (here Mr. Beaver bowed) “your father Adam’s first wife, her they called Lilith. And she was one of the Jinn. That’s what she comes from on one side. And on the other she comes of the giants. No, no, there isn’t a drop of real Human blood in the Witch.”

    In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, she is also clearly Narnia’s version of the devil. She is personally acquainted with what is written on the scepter of the Emperor Beyond the Sea (Lewis’s version of God the Father, as opposed to Aslan, who is God the Son); and by that very inscription, she has dominion over over traitors and other criminals, so there is no question of her right to execute Edmund.

    However, it was retconned in The Magician’s Nephew that she was actually an alien empress from the alternate universe of Charn, which she destroyed rather than cede power to anyone else.

  26. Owlmirror says

    However, it was retconned in The Magician’s Nephew that she was actually an alien empress from the alternate universe of Charn, which she destroyed rather than cede power to anyone else.

    I am not sure the two histories given for Jadis/the White Witch are completely incompatible, but one would need to handwave quite a bit in order to reconcile them.

    To be honest, Lewis wasn’t particularly interested in consistent worldbuilding. He probably didn’t care that one history for his character was different from the other.

  27. If there are two versions of the creation story, shouldn’t there be two husbands and two wifes, instead of one husband and two wifes?

  28. ə de vivre says

    The Akkadian word “lilû,” the source of West Semitic lilith*, was involved in a lot of loaning and post-hoc folk etymologies across the millennia. Sumerian “lil” has the most diverse meanings: deserted or haunted, winds that blow over deserted places, and destructive spirits—only the last of which made it into Akkadian. The word is first attested in an Ur III (late 3rd millennium, early 2nd millennium) incantation, where it seems to mean both a literal wind and a spirit. Lil-spirits are opponents to Inana/Ishtar in the story “Gilgamesh, Enkidu, and the Netherworld,” but later tradition links them to deviant sexuality, which may have some connection to Ishtar’s role as a women outside of male-headed households.

    “Lil” also appears as an element in the name of the god “Enlil,” from whom the institution of kingship was said to derive and who sort of occupied the head of the Old Babylonian pantheon. At first scholars took his name to mean Lord (en) Ghost (lil), but that etymology doesn’t make any sense given his role in the pantheon and may be dubious on paleographic grounds as well. The East Semitic name for Enlil was “Ililu,” and attempts were made to link it to the ES word for god “ilu,” and derive Enlil as a loan into Sumerian rather than from it. At this point, there’s no consensus about which direction the loan travelled, but there is evidence that Enlil’s cult began during the proto-cuneiform period at the earliest, so it’s unlikely to be a pre-Sumerian hold-over.

    *The Akkadian forms “lilû” and feminine “lilītu” come from a Sumerian source *lili, but the word in written Sumerian must have ended in an [l]. Alternations between CV₁CV₁ and CV₁C forms of words are super common in Sumerian, and no one’s got a good explanation for why.

  29. Owlmirror says

    What does demigod DNA look like?

    It depends on the pantheon. For the Irish, instead of ATCG, it’s ᚐᚈᚉᚌ.

    The Greek pantheon is Linear B, but the Titans are Linear A. And so on and so forth.

  30. Owlmirror says

    @ə de vivre: As I type this, there is no link under “incantation” even though there are [a] tags.

  31. ə de vivre says

    Ooh, almost forgot. The “daughters of Lilith” construction may pre-date Semitic sources. “Gilgamesh, Enkidu, and the Netherworld” features “ki-sikil lilak,” or “maidens of Lil” (although the construction could also mean “lil-maidens,” with the genetive having more of an attributive than possessive meaning), who live in a ḫalub tree. Unless the phrase is a calque of the Akkadian “wardat lilî” rather than the other way round—things are complicated.

    @owl:
    Huh. I blame WordPress. Here’s the plain ol’ link: https://cdli.ucla.edu/search/search_results.php?SearchMode=Text&ObjectID=P273892

  32. ə de vivre says

    Also also (I’ll stop at some point, I swear): The above-linked incantation has a Sumerian animal noise: a snake speaks with the verb KA gi₄. KA could be read as either “gu₃,” “voice” or “enim,” “word, speech;” while gi₄ probably means “to respond,” since it’s usually reduplicated when it means “to reverberate.” Since it’s a snake call, the choice of verb may be attributable to personification rather than anything about snakes per se.

  33. Don’t stop, I love this Sumerian stuff!

  34. No! Shocking!
    shocking what – loss of penile bone or the discovery that the Irish retold some myths from the megalith-building people who preceded them?

    The “demigod DNA”, ahem, looked pretty much like what you would expect it to be – human but unquestionably distinct from the ancestors of the Celts, with the Y-chromosome spread indicating male-dominated power clans, and the autosomal DNA indicating taboo-defying sibling incest which is a known feature of several other super-stratified ancient societies where it was essentially a license granted by the elite’s near-divinity status. Think their distant kin the pharaohs. The choice burials in the passage-graves weren’t for the commoners, which makes perfect sense.

    The paper is in Nature
    https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-020-2378-6

    and the popular review can be found e.g. in the NYT
    https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/17/science/irish-archaeology-incest-tomb.html

  35. Owlmirror says

    Re the Irish “pharaoh”: I don’t know enough genetics to be able to discuss the findings, but do recall that a famous case of inbreeding was not brother-sister, but due to multiple generations of consanguineous marriages, the ultimate result certainly had an inbreeding profile similar to a brother-sister union.

    The Role of Inbreeding in the Extinction of a European Royal Dynasty

    The highest values of the inbreeding coefficient in the Spanish Habsburgs correspond to kings Charles II (0.254) and Philip III (0.218), and the crown prince Charles (Don Carlos, 0.211), son of Philip II and his first wife Mary of Portugal. It is not surprising that these three individuals present the highest values of inbreeding coefficient among the Spanish Habsburgs since they are sons of either uncle-niece (Charles II and Philip III) or double first cousin (prince Charles) marriages. However, the inbreeding coefficient for these three individuals is practically twice the expected value for those types of consanguineous marriages (F = 0.125 in both cases) and very close to the expected value in an incestuous union as parent-child or brother-sister (F = 0.250 in both cases). The development of the inbreeding coefficients with increasing pedigree depth shows that the inbreeding levels for most Spanish Habsburg kings are not definitely established until pedigrees of at least 10 generations depth are analyzed (Fig. 3). This means that ancestral consanguinity from multiple remote ancestors makes a substantial contribution to the inbreeding coefficient of the Spanish Habsburg kings and the contribution of this remote consanguinity is very similar in magnitude to that due to close consanguinity (uncle-niece or first cousin marriages).

  36. The Hapsburgs’ infamous inbreeding coefficients are an overestimate of the DNA patterns, calculated with the assumption that a grandchild receives exactly 25% of DNA from each grandparent. In reality, it’s only an average value, with the normal variation spanning the range of 18% .. 34%. So some siblings within a multi-generational consanguineous lineage are effectively more inbred than others, despite having the same parents. Larger DNA impacts (measured in “runs of homozygocity”, or ROH) have substantial impact on prenatal and early-age mortality and on fecundity. Therefore, in the multi-generational consanguineous clans, the less-inbred siblings leave, on average, more progeny, and the effective inbreeding coefficient becomes almost invariably lower than one can estimate on the basis of the family tree.

  37. Rodger C says
  38. @Owlmirror: Of course, the apparent inconsistency between Jadis’s two origin stories in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and The Magician’s Nephew is exactly the kind of thing that medieval rabbis would treat as a puzzle that was meant to be worked out. Explaining how a part-giant, part-jinn (descended from Earth’s Lilith) ended up ruling Charn in a another universe would be an excellent opportunity to refine our understanding of El Elyon’s ultimate plan.

    The real reason for the inconsistency, we know, is that Lewis never planned more than one book at a time (except for The Silver Chair and The Horse and His Boy, which he worked on at the same time) and was not careful about making his new writing fit well with the old. The White Witch’s origins are not the most problematic part of the children’s conversation with the Beaver family; the Beavers actually tell them that there have never been any humans in Narnia before, which is much harder to square with the existence of King Frank and Queen Helen in The Magician’s Nephew. And there are some outright errors as well. Some interesting thoughts about Lewis retcons can be found on the Fantasy and Science Fiction Stack Exchange site, here and here.

  39. Jen in Edinburgh says

    The ‘no humans here before’ thing is odd but not absolutely convincing – there have clearly been humans *somewhere*, in neighbouring lands if not the Narnian past, in order to end up with a book called ‘Is Man A Myth’ (and more than vague rumours, or what you’d get is ‘Is Man Real?’!)

  40. Trond Engen says

    There’s also a news article in Science and a good “News and Views” article in Nature. Both quote other scientists who are sceptical of drawing too wide-reaching conclusions from a single find. That’s good advice, but the find does seem to say “elite” in several ways, e.g. the reported interrelatedness between the individuals buried in large tombs far apart.

    Also, it may not be completely unique. I recall a case from a Majkop mound in one of the steppe DNA papers which could be similar, but the paper didn’t make much of it, except mentioning the relatedness between the three individuals buried in the tomb.

    Looking for the local legend, I found this article on the folklore of the mounds. I’ll quote it here:

    Newgrange; home of Gods
    In local lore, Newgrange was the home of Aengus óg and the Daghdha, the gods of the Tuatha Dé Danann. Newgrange is said to be the residence of Aengus óg. He was the son of Daghdha and the river goddess Bóann. In order to disguise their affair Daghdha ordered that the sun stand still for nine months. This meant that Aengus was conceived and born all in the one day hence the name Aengus óg, “Aengus the Young.” Once Aengus learned that he would inherit nothing from his father he used his guile to win Newgrange. He asked Daghdha if he could live in Newgrange for “a day and a night,” and his father agreed. The following day Aengus maintained that “a day and a night” was equal to “all days and all nights.” Daghdha had been tricked and so Aengus became the owner of Newgrange. Irish folklore is wealthy in swan myths, the Children of Lir being the most famous. Aengus and Newgrange are at the centre of another great swan legend. Aengus falls in love with a girl named Caer whom he sees in a dream. He searches all of Ireland for a year to find her but to no avail. When Aengus finally finds her she is chained up with 150 other girls. Aengus is informed that on every other Samhain (November 1) all the girls turn into swans for a year. Aengus is told that if he can identify her as a swan she will be granted to him. Aengus calls out to the swan Caer and goes to her in the lake. Upon placing his hands on her he himself is transformed into a swan. The legend says that they flew together to Brú na Bóinne where they serenaded the dwellers of the tombs with their singing. Indeed, every winter the bend of the Boyne overlooked by Newgrange is home to swans. Perhaps if you’re lucky enough you’ll hear the song of Aengus and Caer.

    That’s gods and sex and stopping the sun and everything, but the myth of the incestuous demi-gods or whatever is actually told of the neighbouring mound called Dowth:

    Dowth; the place of darkness
    The King of Ireland, Bressal is attributed with building Dowth. During a period when a great disease or “murrain” devastated all of Ireland, leaving just seven cows and one bull, Bressal gathered all the men of Ireland together at Brú na Bóinne. He ordered the men to work for one day and build a great tower so that they might reach the heavens and end the plague. Bressal’s sister, a powerful sorceress, cast a spell to stop the sun high in the sky. The men were left with an endless day to complete the task. However, the spell was broken when the king, overcome with lust committed incest with his sister. Day became night and the men returned to their homes leaving behind the place of “Darkness” or Dowth.

    To me this sounds like a magic ritual by the king-priest and queen-priestess at solar eclipse that has been reimagined or mixed with the myth of the everlasting day

  41. @Jen in Edinburgh: Most Narnian creatures seem to have a pretty clear idea what humans are, even in the first book, and it is not really explained why that should be. I think I envisioned it as the reverse of the situation with fauns or giants; we know what those races are like, despite their never having existed in our world. (And in later books, particularly The Last Battle, it appears that it is possible to have visions of other universes without actually visiting them.)

    Furthermore, why does everyone remember the book title Is Man a Myth? from Mr. Tumnus’ bookshelf, rather than Men, Monks and Gamekeepers; a Study in Popular Legend, which I think is a much more interesting title?

  42. “If there are two versions of the creation story, shouldn’t there be two husbands and two wifes, instead of one husband and two wifes?”

    There are in fact two husbands and two wives. And two gods.

  43. David Marjanović says

    At first scholars took his name to mean Lord (en) Ghost (lil)

    So… what about Ninlil?

  44. recall a case from a Majkop mound in one of the steppe DNA papers which could be similar, but the paper didn’t make much of it, except mentioning the relatedness between the three individuals buried in the tomb.

    We may be getting too technical here, but my understanding is that relatedness between buried individuals has been probed very often, and gives interesting clues about matrilocality vs. patrilocality, about longer term stability of the populations, etc.
    Runs of homozygocity are studied often too, primarily to gauge ancestral population sizes.

    This study seems to be the first in two aspects:

    It probes distant relations between distant burials, some over 100 km away and only sharing a percent or two of DNA, like 2nd or 3rd cousin relations.

    It also uncovered a person with runs of homozygocity spanning a quarter of the genome, which at this scale speaks of close relationship between parents rather than of shared founder ancestors many generations ago.

  45. Bloix, the lack of definite ha- is perfectly fine in this context for a generic līlīt. It doesn’t have to be a proper name.

    So līlīt can be derived from ‘night’, or from ‘howl’. I do like the idea that it is a Sumerian name for some spirit, foisted on an innocuous owl through folk etymology. Why not. Even the most learned etymologies are sometimes not much better than the folk ones.

  46. David Marjanović says

    a four-legged nocturnal creature who spends the daylight hours sleeping in a secluded spot, out of the desert sun

    I was thinking of this

  47. We’ve been to the Mandaeans before:

    http://languagehat.com/half-man-half-book/

  48. Y- yes, after first thinking, aha! no ha! I came to the conclusion that the lack of ha didn’t signify anything, as none of the animals took the article. But I do think a lilit is an animal – the structure of the passage indicates that.

    I like the idea that it’s a kind of owl because owls are connected to the spirit world. But it would have to be a ground-dwelling owl because it lies down in a resting place. There are middle eastern desert owls that live in cliffs and ravines, but now I’m just googling and then making stuff up.

    It seems to me that the fact that we don’t know what a lilit is is not surprising – there are loads of names for things in the Bible that we’re not sure of, and people have been making up explanations for a couple of millennia. We had a thread at Language Log a while ago about whether the word “zamir” in the Song of Songs means human singing, or birdsong, or a specific bird, perhaps nightingale. https://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=23396 That was interesting but not enticing, as the explanations for lilit are.

  49. David Eddyshaw says

    All unexplained Biblical animals are ostriches until proved otherwise.

  50. No, manatees.

  51. David Eddyshaw says

    Heretic!

  52. Owlmirror says

    Gorgonopsids!

  53. David Marjanović says
  54. Owlmirror says

    Above, ə de vivre linked to a Sumerian incantation. I am struck by the first few lines:

    1. enerux(|AN.U|){+ex(DAG)-nu-ru}
      en: enuru:
    2. musz-e kur-musz-ta KA nam-gi4
      en: The snake from snake mountain indeed called.
    3. me-TAR an ki-ka
      en: The lizard of heaven and of earth
    4. eme! ba-ni-ak
      en: licked.
    5. dumu me-TAR an ki 7(disz)-a-ne-ne
      en: The sons of the lizard, heaven and earth, are 7.

    Indeed.

  55. ə de vivre says

    So… what about Ninlil?

    Turns out this is an important question! Lots of Mesopotamian gods occur in En and Nin pairs, ’En’ being the male and ‘Nin’ the female in a hetero-divine couple. But here’s the thing:

    Enlil’s name was written EN.KID (caps indicate a transcription of the cuneiform agnostic to pronunciation. That’s ???????? if you’ve got the right fonts), but Nippur, the city where his main temple was located and where he was said to “reside,” was also spelled EN.KID. By the late 3rd/early 2nd millennium BC, things settled into the god’s name being spelled AN.EN.KID and the city EN.KID.KI (AN preceded divine names, KI followed city-state names). In the 4th millennium, when EN.KID first appears in proto-cuneiform texts, the distinction is less clear. Some scholars think all uses of EN.KID in the 4th millennium refer to the city, others only think some of them do. In either case, the city usage came first and the spelling of the city was the extended to cover its patron god, whoever that may have been. Enlil only happened to occupy the position as the patron of Nippur at the time when proto-cuneiform got fleshed out into a true system of written language.

    And here’s the kicker: Enlil’s identity as a god was largely defined by his patronage of kingship, or “nam-lugal” in Sumerian. But the political institution of kingship and the king’s household don’t exist until the last third or so of the 3rd millennium. And around this same time, the spelling of Nippur’s patron deity changes from EN.KID to EN.E2. What a coincidence that the god defined by his patronage of kingship changes the way his name is spelled at the same time that the idea of kingship is invented… It’s also around this time that Ninlil (remember her?) appears. Eventually, the spelling of Enlil is normalized back to EN.KID, but Ninlil is always just NIN.KID. So one explanation for all this is that EN.KID the city had its own patron whose name was spelled the same way as his city, maybe they were even both called “Nibru” (what the Sumerians called Nippur), whose prominence waxes and wanes with the political fortune of his city. Political changes sweep lower Mesopotamia and old ways of political organization come under the sway of a powerful new idea called nam-lugal. A new deity, Enlil/EN.E2, gains prominence as a way of legitimizing this new idea and, for reasons that would be too great a digression even for me, his temple is located in Nippur. The importance of kingship becomes a fundamental part of Mesopotamian culture and so its patron maintains his prominent place no matter what city has the upper hand. Eventually the spelling on Enlil, his wife, and his city are normalized back to all contain the sign KID, this around the time that the spirit “lil” first appears in text—in other words, KID acquired the value “lil” because Nippur (EN.KID) was spelled in a way that segmented nicely with the name “Enlil.” That said, the dating of all these events is fairly rough, and the development of better chronologies will be able to falsify some of the competing theories.

    TL:DR: Ninlil’s name in the female counterpart to Enlil’s, but the etymology of her name is a clusterfuck in an almost parallel manner to her divine husband’s.

  56. David Eddyshaw says

    too great a digression

    The concept “too great a digression” is surely associated with no referent here at the Hattery. The idea is scarcely intelligible.

    I have no doubt but that I speak for many in wanting to know why the temple of Enlil had to be in Nippur.

    (Was this in fact a teaser trailer?)

  57. I agree with DE. Spill!

  58. ə de vivre says

    Well, we don’t know the specific reason why, but we know a little about the context in which that reason existed. The idea is that, towards the end of the 4th millennium into the middle of the 3rd (before palaces appear in the archeological record), cities banded together for the purposes of supplying important temples with goods for the god’s household. The exchanges were probably ritualized, and the goods that were written down weren’t in large enough quantities to matter much in their inherent value, but they also functioned as political alliances. There seem to be connections between these old inter-city networks and later practices where kings gained legitimacy by sponsoring construction projects for Enlil in Nippur even if the king himself resided in a different city. This kind of environment would allow Enlil’s temple in Nippur to perhaps convert a position at the centre of one of these pre-kingship networks into a new role as a king-legitimizer rather than a political power in and of itself. There’s a dissertation that really gets into the nitty-gritty of Enlil and kingship. It’s conclusions are by no means unanimously accepted, but the author does a good job of explaining what the debate is and what her position is within it.

  59. Thanks, I love getting into that kind of nitty-gritty!

  60. Trond Engen says

    ə de vivre: But the political institution of kingship and the king’s household don’t exist until the last third or so of the 3rd millennium.

    Egyptian kingship starts around 3000 BCE. The Irish “divine royalty” in Dmitry’s link is dated to 3200 BCE. Divine kingship arose independently at different times all around the world. I wonder if we can measure the development by the size of the monuments.

  61. It’s not so much that the notion of divine kings only appeared in Mesopotamia in the late Third Millennium. Gilgamesh (or Bilbamesh) being one third god, two thirds man has to be much older, if only because by the Ur III Period, they understood fractions better than that. What changed in the middle to late Third Millennium was probably that the idea of larger, mutli-city polities became more commonplace. While Egypt had a unified monarchy from a relatively early date, for a long time the norm in Sumer was multiple independent city-states. However, in with the large-scale conquests in the Third Millennium, leading up to the empires of Zage-Si, Sargon,* and Ur-Nammu, a notion of a broader overlord kingship was needed. This became the divine kingship sponsored by Enlil and religiously centered at Nippur, which was then retrojected to the earlier periods in the form of kingship lists. Sargon sponsored construction in Nippur to solidify recognition of his right to rule, and his grandson Naram-Sin apparently claimed to be a god and demanded worship at Nippur. Several generations later, Ur-Nammu had his coronation in Nippur, where he was crowned king of Sumer and Akkad.

    The specific location of Nippur as the seat of kingship may actually have been related to the gradual extension north of what was considered “civilized” territory, which included Akkad by the middle of the Third Milennium.** Nippur was a wealthy trading center, which certainly helped it, but it also sat near the Akkadian frontier. Based on inscriptions from the site, we know that the written language of Nippur at the time was overwhelmingly Sumerian, although there is a small mixture of Akkadian writing that is not seen farther south. Nippur was about as far northwest as one could go while remaining in the region that was unquestionably culturally Sumerian. Sites farther north from the same time period show much larger fractions of Akkadian writing. So Nippur managed to be geographically near to the center of what seemed the civilized world, while also having an unquestioned Sumerian culture and history, extending back long before the Akkadian period.

    * A number of sites online state that the famous bronze head that is commonly associated with Sargon (although it might also be another Akkadian ruler) was sadly either lost or destroyed in 2003 during the Iraq War.

    ** Compare the Gutians, who ravaged and ruled Mesopotamia after the fall of the First Akkadian Empire, and who were definitely not considered civilized by the lowland dwellers that they conquered.

  62. ə de vivre says

    Divine kingship arose independently at different times all around the world. I wonder if we can measure the development by the size of the monuments.

    Scholars are increasingly of the opinion that divine kingship was actually quite rare in ancient Mesopotamia, at least in the pre-Hammurabi period. Kings were regularly worshiped after their death, but only a few exceptional rulers claimed divinity during their lives. It seems the boastfulness of a few rulers and preconceived notions of oriental despots had a big effect on how Assyriologists approached their sources. Most “monuments” of Mesopotamian rulers that have survived are statues of life-size or smaller. Stele tended to get smashed and mud-brick temples, well, melted. Probably the best surviving indicator of political power is the quantity of accounting tablets.

    So this thread has sent me down an Enlil rabbit hole trying to find the sources for the generalities I’d remembered. Figured I’d share:

    As for why locate Enlil in Nippur. Administrative texts from mid-3rd-century Shuruppak point to close cooperation between six Mesopotamian cities. Some part of this organization was known as EN.GI.KI, of which much has been made as the source of the later term “ki-en-gi,” the Sumerian equivalent of the Akkadian “šumeru” in the title “King of Sumer and Akkad.” At this point, though, EN.GI.KI is associated with workers and soldiers being moved around the cities rather than the organization as a whole. It was also around this time that the word “nam-lugal” first shows up in the textual sources. One interpretation is that Nippur occupied an important place in the military organization of this grouping of cities, which acquired so much real or ideological power that it gave its name to the entire region. The political relevance of the inter-city organization fell, but the chief god of its military aspect remained in place as the source of legitimacy for kings, who commemorated their military exploits as proof of their legitimacy.

    There is even older, 4th millennium, evidence for inter-city organizations, particularly a seal, which has never been found but is attested from the many documents it was used on. The texts are mostly lists of foods, but in small enough quantities that the transactions were more likely ritual rather than commercial (as I alluded to earlier). All of them (almost all? not sure…) end with the same laconic coda that may refer to the “Triple Inana of Uruk.” Check it out here! I wish I had a more articulate way to express how cool I think the CDLI is other than to say that it’s super cool!

  63. ə de vivre says

    I seem to be incapable of successfully embedding a link. Here’s what I meant to link to: https://cdli.ucla.edu/search/search_results.php?order=MuseumNumber&SealID=S003473

  64. Figured I’d share

    And a good thing too — we don’t want to have to threaten you with the rack! Great stuff, and the CDLI is indeed super cool.

  65. David Marjanović says

    Gilgamesh (or Bilbamesh) being one third god, two thirds man has to be much older, if only because by the Ur III Period, they understood fractions better than that.

    What they didn’t understand, I’ve been told, was that women can’t store sperm for years. And so, every man who bumped uglies with a woman was considered a father of all children that woman later had, no matter how much later.

    Also, he was two thirds god, one third man.

    * A number of sites online state that the famous bronze head that is commonly associated with Sargon (although it might also be another Akkadian ruler) was sadly either lost or destroyed in 2003 during the Iraq War.

    Quite possibly smuggled out and sold to a private collector, then.

    Probably the best surviving indicator of political power is the quantity of accounting tablets.

    The literal size of government?

  66. Trond Engen says

    @@: You know far more about this than me, but what do you think about the Uruk period, which (I gather) roughly corresponds to the 4th millennium BCE? Fourth millennium Uruk built and maintained gigantic monuments/temples, so its rulers must have commanded enormous resources. Mesopotamian cultural influence in Egypt started in this period, preceding the first dynasty, and I learn that the cultural imports even encompassed specifically royal imagery.

  67. John Cowan says

    “What’s your ethnic origin?”

    “Well, I’m two-thirds Cherokee.”

    “But how can that be?”

    “Simple! Both my parents are two-thirds Cherokee.”

  68. ə de vivre says

    @Trond
    The exact nature of political organization in the Uruk period is a matter of contention. People’s opinions on this are often related to how they imagine the expansion of the Uruk culture across much of the Middle East: whether it was conquest, trade, or colonization; and if it was colonization, what push and pull factors led people to leave the hinterland? Archaeologically, Uruk-period Uruk’s monumental buildings are characterized by open plans with many doors—i.e. not the kind of building you’d make if you wanted to control who got in and out. Monumental buildings are also often disconnected from residential districts. Temple-households that wield temporal power is one common interpretation. Assemblies composed of powerful households is another. You can find precedent (or I guess postcedent) for both during the historical period, but then there’s debate over what’s cultural continuity and what’s anachronism. But not everyone even agrees that there must have been a single locus of political power at all; some see the Uruk expansion as the result of intra-city competition between large corporate households.

    There’s some tantalizing evidence from certain lexical lists that began to be copied in the late Uruk period and continued to be copied (in sometimes garbled from) well into the historical period. Ancient scribes agreed that they were lists of official titles and job titles, but the precise meaning was poorly understood by the mid-3rd millennium, which at the very least means that political organization in the late Uruk period was very much unlike the Enlil-centred kingship system we know from some 500+ years later. Modern interpretations are tentative, but the Uruk lexical lists seem to be organized around listing officials in order of importance who belonged to several unidentified institutions. One list gives amounts of fish and meat associated with these officials. This fits with contemporary pictoral evidence to indicate that ritual feasting and distribution of luxury goods played an important role in maintaining order. I’d speculate that powerful households competed for influence in the cities’ temples, using the cultural capital of being seen as pious patrons (and also getting family members appointed to important temple roles) to exercise temporal power, with some patrons occasionally accruing hegemonic power equivalent to a king, but for a long time lacking an ideology to cement that power as anything more than an ephemeral phenomenon.

    I’ve always heard that Mesopotamia and Egypt were unknown to each other until post-Bronze-Age-collapse, aside from the Gebel el-Arak Knife which indicates that there must have been indirect contact. What kinds of royal imagery were borrowed?

  69. @David Marjanović: There are two failures of understanding tangled up there, one mathematical and one biological. Some societies have believed that a child could have multiple fathers, if they both had sex with the mother. Generally, I think that is not a misunderstanding that the sperm can be retained indefinitely, since all human societies are aware that to get pregnant, a woman must (barring rare exceptions) have had intercourse since her last menstrual period. (Clan of the Cave Bear-like misunderstandings of this fact were never real.) There have been reports of groups claiming to believe what you describe, to the extent that a child could be attributed to multiple fathers, even when she had only had sex with one of them in the recent past. However, my understanding is that whenever these beliefs were investigated more deeply, rather than being merely breathlessly reported for their exoticism, the people showed they knew that a woman could not suddenly become pregnant with retained sperm, and when pressed would acknowledge that if the mother was now in a monogamous relationship, her current partner had a much stronger claim to paternity than anyone else. A mother’s previous lovers were did not typically take on close parenting roles unless they were requested to, or there was a problems with actual the biological father. The existence of alternate fathers thus provided a social mechanism for keeping children provided for even in potentially difficult situations.

    There have been societies, however, that believed that the sex during pregnancy continued to nourish and help construct the growing fetus. In these cases, the people really did (and maybe still do) appear to believe that multiple men could contribute genetically to a single child. In cultures with this kind of belief, fatherhood duties might or might not actually be more consistently shared. I think this is most likely what the early Sumerians were thinking of, based on what is seen in some later documents related to cattle breeding. However, this imperfect understanding of pedigrees in these records does seem like it probably captured the notion that if two bulls mated with a cow, the mother’s influence on the subsequent stock was not diminished from a half to a third. That is the greater degree of mathematical sophistication that definitely seems to have obtained by the end of the third millennium or beginning of the second.

  70. Owlmirror says

    I’m not sure it’s at all appropriate to speak of “genetically” with regards to pre-modern reproductive beliefs, given that pre-modern reproductive beliefs include preformationism and maternal impression.

    Perhaps Gilgamesh was thought to be an implantation of a mortal preformed sperm in the womb of a goddess, but the divine component “godified” the mortal part. Or something like that.

    Wikipedia category “Obsolete biological theories” informs me that the term for belief in multiple fathers is telegony. There is also a link from there to partible paternity, which describes the anthropological phenomenon of this belief, and ends with a claim that this can actually happen biologically in Wood turtles (no citation offered), and continues with the claim that this can happen with other species, including humans: “Though very rare, this can also occur due to polyspermy and superfecundation for other species, including humans. The offspring will be a chimera, with a fusion of DNA from three or more biological parents.” There are two citations for this latter claim, but neither support it (they both mention superfecundation, but as best I can tell, that simply means that a female (human or Wood turtle) can have multiple births with each individual having a different father, due to sperm from multiple matings combining with multiple eggs.

  71. Stu Clayton says

    The human statistics were gathered in paternity suits:

    # Heteropaternal superfecundation is common in animals such as cats and dogs. Stray dogs can produce litters in which every puppy has a different sire. Though rare in humans, cases have been documented. In one study on humans, the frequency was 2.4% among dizygotic twins whose parents had been involved in paternity suits.[5] #

    Heteromaternal superfecundation is not mentioned in the WiPe article. I’m guessing it’s a prerequisite for the heteropaternal ditto, but these are deep waters.

  72. Lars Mathiesen says

    Wikipedia defines superfecundation as the fertilization of two eggs “from the same cycle” — so there is really no way they can come from different mothers. Obligate homomaternity, if you will. What doctors get up to with their test tubes is another matter, but I don’t think superfecundation would cover that anyway.

  73. Trond Engen says

    @schwa: I was vague on details because it’s a mix of half-remembered reading from long ago and a brush-up yesterday. The Wikipedia article on Egypt-Mesopotamia relations says:

    Distinctly foreign objects and art forms entered Egypt during this period, indicating contacts with several parts of Asia. The designs that were emulated by Egyptian artists are numerous: the Uruk “priest-king” with his tunique and brimmed hat in the posture of the Master of animals, the serpopards or sepo-felines, winged griffins, snakes around rosettes, boats with high prows, all characteristic of Mesopotamian art of the Late Uruk (Uruk IV, c. 3350–3200 BCE) period. The same “Priest-King” in visible in several Mesopotamian works of art of the end of the Uruk period, such as the Blau Monuments, cylinder seals and statues.

    […]

    These early contacts probably acted as a sort of catalyst for the development of Egyptian culture, particularly in respect to the inception of writing, and the codification of royal and vernacular imagery.

  74. Owlmirror says

    What I recall of chimerism is not that a fusion of DNA from “three or more parents”, but rather, a fusion of developing embryos into one individual, eg:

    Disputed Maternity Leading to Identification of Tetragametic Chimerism

    (The woman is basically a combination of two distinct maternal eggs fertilized by two distinct paternal sperm — that is, some of her cells are from what would have been her twin sister, had each of the original embryos developed and been born as distinct individuals).

  75. Right, but if it’s possible for two embryos to have a different father, and possiblle for embryos to fuse, then it seems likely that occasionally, both occur without triggering fatal autoimmune issues.

    The wiki article chimera (genetics) carries the enigmatic claim that “a 1996 study found that blood group chimerism is not rare.” I’m both curious and disturbed by that. Not sure why I’m disturbed, but it’s there.

  76. David Marjanović says

    all human societies are aware that to get pregnant, a woman must (barring rare exceptions) have had intercourse since her last menstrual period

    There are a few that used to be unaware. But the case I’m thinking of is in the Amazon rainforest.

    I’ve never read Clan of the Cave Bear. 🙂

  77. Owlmirror says

    Right, but if it’s possible for two embryos to have a different father, and possiblle for embryos to fuse, then it seems likely that occasionally, both occur without triggering fatal autoimmune issues.

    OK, but that’s still a cellular mosaic, rather than the fusion of three complete sets of DNA. I suspect that such a complete chromosomal trisomy would not be biologically viable, if it ever happened.

    This doesn’t involve nuclear DNA from the egg donor, just the cytoplasm+mitochondria:
    https://www.newscientist.com/article/2107219-exclusive-worlds-first-baby-born-with-new-3-parent-technique/

  78. Owlmirror says

    Getting back to Sumeria, the Oriental Institute of Chicago has a Youtube channel. While there are lots of interesting-looking lectures, this:

    Samuel Noah Kramer | The Sumerian Woman (Audio Only); lecture delivered on October 16, 1975

    might be pertinent to the OP.

  79. Lars Mathiesen says

    Given a chimerical mother I suppose her ovaries could in principle come one from each embryo, and heteropaternal twins could then in effect be cousins — or in the tetragametic case described above, half-cousins.

    But that is an extremely unlike sequence of events.

  80. David Marjanović says

    I suspect that such a complete chromosomal trisomy would not be biologically viable, if it ever happened.

    Triploidy is always fatal in humans (if not vertebrates in general) – it’s only known from miscarriages.

  81. Teeing off from seemingly common belief that a child can resemble more its father or its mother, it is not hard to imagine that pre-Mendelian cultures might have thought that a father and a mother contribute differently into each particular offspring.

  82. Samuel Noah Kramer | The Sumerian Woman (Audio Only); lecture delivered on October 16, 1975

    Thanks for that; fascinating to hear his voice! “It was here [U of Chicago] in the early 1930s that I first read a Sumerian text…” (You can skip to the three-minute mark if you don’t need to hear him introduced.)

  83. David Eddyshaw says

    common belief that a child can resemble more its father or its mother

    Surely a true belief? Genetics accounts for only a part of what people recognise in another person, after all, and not necessarily the most obvious part, or even the most important part.
    (I remember reading somewhere of an old Norse proverb: “One-third comes from the foster-parents.”)

    Genetics is actually quite counter-intuitive, as I have often been reminded when trying to explain hereditary eye diseases to people.

  84. Trond Engen says

    Lars M.: There are a few that used to be unaware.[that to get pregnant, a woman must (barring rare exceptions) have had intercourse since her last menstrual period]. But the case I’m thinking of is in the Amazon rainforest.

    With our ability to see patterns in everything, that would have to be cultures where a woman not having intercourse between two menstrual periods is extremely unlikely.

  85. Lars Mathiesen says

    That was DM, not LM. An old theory (probably discredited now, I read it in a popularized version 30-40 years ago) said that before agriculture, diet was so low on carbohydrates that women did not actually ovulate after birth until some time after they stopped breastfeeding, and menstruation was a rare occurrence. But then there are other events to notice.

  86. Trond Engen says

    Sorry to both of you! I knew who I quoted but managed to bodge it.

  87. common belief that a child can resemble more its father or its mother

    Surely a true belief?

    I don’t know how it really was and some ideas are hard to unlearn to imagine what people thought about the subject without it. Anyway, I recall that some Very Serious Men, and in 19th century too, engaged in a dispute about who’s sperm is stronger based on how much their children resembled them.

  88. David Marjanović says

    if not vertebrates in general

    I had managed to forget about the so-called edible frog, though that’s a special case in that only two of the chromosomes in each triplet are really very similar.

    With our ability to see patterns in everything, that would have to be cultures where a woman not having intercourse between two menstrual periods is extremely unlikely.

    Exactly.

    Surely a true belief?

    Of course. There are so many genes, and so few affect what people look like, that there’s no reason to expect otherwise.

  89. John Cowan says

    Darwin acknowledged telegony as a problem for his theory. The best evidence was Lord Morton’s mare, which had been first bred with a quagga (a now-extinct subspecies of zebra with stripes on its legs only) and then with a horse; the latter mating produced a foal with quagga-style leg stripes. Of course it turned out that leg stripes, and indeed stripes generally, are a shared primitive character of genus Equus and are recessive in most of them, but do occasionally turn up. In short, dumb luck.

  90. @David Marjanović, Trond Engen: There have been claims that there were societies unaware of the need for recent fertilization to induce pregnancy. However, in the instances where that was followed up on more carefully, rather than (as I said) “being merely breathlessly reported for their exoticism,” I think it was always found that the understanding (at least among the women—maybe not all the men) was actually better than that. The only societies in which such a belief would even be plausible were those with frequent and ubiquitous sexual activity from the very onset of puberty or before. However, even in those groups, there were likely to be enough atypical cases for better inferences to be drawn. I am not sure about Amazonian indigenous groups, the most isolated of which have been intentionally kept largely segregated from the outside by the Brazilian government in recent decades, meaning that proper follow-up studies have never been performed. However, in New Guinea, there were a few societies that were initially reported as not understanding human conception, but for which later research showed that the older women did indeed have a clear understanding of the process.

    (Also triploid humans infants are occasionally known to survive to birth, although their prognosis remains grim. Virtually all die within days of birth, and about thirty years ago, my father—a pediatrician—told me that it was universally fatal. However, there are apparently a few cases known where sufferers survived to adulthood, although they all demonstrated severe developmental problems.)

  91. Owlmirror says

    Darwin acknowledged telegony as a problem for his theory.

    Hm. Darwin is known to have gotten heredity wrong (“gemmules”/”pangenesis”). I don’t think that if telegony were real, that it would have affected the theory of evolution, as long as variation and differential survival and reproduction still occurred, and why wouldn’t they?

    Do you have a cite of what exactly Darwin said on the topic?

  92. David Eddyshaw says

    I am grateful to JC for leading me to the discovery that plains zebras have harems.

  93. There have been claims that there were societies unaware of the need for recent fertilization to induce pregnancy. However, in the instances where that was followed up on more carefully, rather than (as I said) “being merely breathlessly reported for their exoticism,” I think it was always found that the understanding (at least among the women—maybe not all the men) was actually better than that.

    There is nothing surprising about people subscribing to some contrived but culturally essential theory which flies in the face of basic knowledge, while at the same time acting in practice out of this basic knowledge. It’s like people saying that COVID19 is caused by 5G but still washing hands and avoiding close contact with strangers.

    It’s especially true when the societal price of not conforming with the belief is deemed unacceptable. In the traditional Jewish law the child was declared to have been fathered by the husband of the married woman if the husband was anywhere around the wife in the previous year or even two, because the social consequences of mamzerut (illegitimate birth by a married woman) were truly staggering. When it’s become much easier to detect nonpaternity (by DNA tests), Israel outlawed the tests to keep the old belief going, precisely for the same reason of societal costs.

    In a tribal band or small village, a child may have resembled many neighbors in different aspects and in different times, because there were so many cousins and double-cousins around. Perhaps it might have made some people think either that multiple-paternity is an occasional possibility – or that imprinting of appearance can happen when an expectant mother is seeing a person of this appearance often during pregnancy (like Jacob’s ewes were being imprinted in the book of Genesis)

  94. @Dmitry Pruss: Excellently put.

  95. Seconded.

  96. John Cowan says

    I was mistaken: Darwin found the evidence of telegony in mammals convincing, but its truth value is independent of the truth value of descent by modification.

  97. @John Cowan: There would be more relevance to the topic of sexual selection. I do not recall any reference to telegony in The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex though, and I don’t think any of Darwin’s specific observations about sexual selection would been imperiled by the existence of telegony. However, there are a number of specific sexual selection adaptations that would be less effective with telegony, and situations in which there would probably be selection against mammalian telegony itself.

  98. ə de vivre says

    Found some more fun stuff about the rise of namlugal as the dominant ideology of Mesopotamian rulership (my lockdown reading has involved pursuing a curiosity about the Uruk Period to Early Dynastic transition [~3500 to 2500 BC]):

    There’s more suggestive evidence to connect the development of lugal-kingship with the EN.KI.GI group of city states. Semitic-speaking Early Dynastic rulers used LUGAL as a logograph for “šarrum” (king), and the equation šarrum = lugal became the standard for bilingual texts. This EN.KI.GI group was under some kind of domination or influence of Kiš, a city whose kings bore East Semitic names, and the phrase “King of Kiš” later became a standard title for kings with pretensions to regional hegemony. Slightly earlier (or around the same time, there’s disagreement), the title “lugal” is absent from archaic texts from Ur, except for a couple ambiguous cases referring to foreign rulers. Ur, perhaps not coincidentally, was not a member of the EN.KI.GI group and was never under Kiš influence. One possible interpretation: namlugal ideology was developed in the interaction between Sumerian corporate household institutions and East Semitic kingship (or between Southern and Northern Mesopotamian traditions, if you want to be more neutral about the language-culture mapping). This would explain why the name “ki-en-gi” was applied to the entirety of later lugals’ southern domains. And if the Semitic etymology of Enlil/Ellil turns out to be true, it would make sense that his importance was born in this context.

  99. Fascinating — I’m glad you’re spending your lockdown time so interestingly and sharing the results with us!

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