III. On the Reading and Signification of the Akkadian
Ideogram SA, and incidentally on certain names of Diseases in Akkadian and
By M. Francois Lenormant. (Printed in the present volume, pp. 144-197.)
[Extracted from Transactions of Society of Biblical Archaeology, vol. 6 (1878, pp. 586-8.]
The cuneiform character [glyph] has been hitherto designated by the conventional name of SAGITU. According to one of the Syllabaries, it would seem that the vowel was pronounced broad, or prolonged, as if written with two A's. The meaning of it, or at least that meaning which is best known and unassailable, is that of ulcer or tumour—in Assyrian BUAXC. The name [p.587] occurs in a prayer for deliverance from various boils and ulcers, many names of which ailments are found also in other texts. One of these, under the Akkadian name A SI GI, mentions a disease, which, from the description given, has been identified with dropsy. This, it would appear, was the malady under which the hero IZDUBAR was suffering; in the Deluge Tablet it is designated as MALU, and was accompanied by induration. No other malady except dropsy would seem to answer the description so accurately given. SA is a word used in Akkadian to designate the heart, whence it is extended so as to comprehend generally, all the viscera. From a comparison with many other expressions it seems that this word SA was also applied to the idea of generation, reproduction. The Akkadian SA MAKH, which is Assyrian ESILTU, i.e., heart very large, very unmistakably characterises the disease known as hypertrophy of the heart. In the case now mentioned the Assyrian word employed to designate this disease is one of wide application, while, in the one about to be cited, it is the Akkadian word that is vague, while the Assyrian is precise. Here the Akkadian SATA KUAR-GIG corresponds to the Assyrian SIMERTU, which is explained by analogous words in Talmudic Hebrew and Syriac, meaning calculus of the kidney, or vesicular calculus, retention, &e. The Akkadian word SA DIB (literally "seize-heart") designates some kind of angina pectoris, painful constriction of the heart, palpitation, and similar afflictions of the pericardium. The compound word SA DIB in its participal form SA DIBBA is used in the sense of being provoked, enraged, vexed, e.g., in the passage, "ISTAR, or Astarte, is provoked against me, and has painfully troubled me." MIGGANU for MIQQAXU, from the Hebrew and Aramaic root MAQAQ, seems to denote gangrene, putrefaction; but the meaning of the word is more clearly defined by the Akkadian MARA, to dwell, to reside, which would seem to require some malady to be understood which keeps the patient motionless, hindering him from all activity and locomotion, whence we have MARA GAL, "the great sedentary" evil, "the great languor." Its Assyrian name, ISKIBBU, from the root SHAKAB (בכש) to lie down, a Semitic root common to the Hebrew, the Ethiopic, and Aramaic languages, probably signifies paralysis. Another disease called IS TI KI SIM TAB in Akkadian, and LIBISTU in Assyrian, is best investigated through the Assyrian, as the Akkadian is very obscure. The Assyrian name is from the root LABASH (שבל), to dress, put on a garment. Unfortunately, we can arrive at no decision as to the precise nature of the malady in question. The words SA SAR SA, SAGA KASSA, SA ADGAL, SA GIG, are used to designate various kinds of boils and ulcers, the Assyrian names of which explain pretty clearly of how painful a nature they were. The term SASSATU, from the root NASHAT, designates a disease specially characterized by exporiation and tumefaction. SA ADGAL is explained in Assyrian by RAPADU, from the root RAPAD, to spread. The Akkadian word SA SAR-RA-RA, explained by the same Semitic word, RAPADU, which conveys the notion of spreading, would seem to denote some kind of pustular eruption. SA TIK, rendered by the Assyrian LABANU KISADI, may designate some kind of leprosy. For the cure of some of these diseases incantations and charms were employed. KHARASU denoted some kind of phagadenic or flesh-consuming ulcer. SA TABIN AKAK is some kind of ulcer which has its seat under the fingernail—a species of whitlow which causes the nail to drop off. SA LAL is a very interesting word, for two reasons at least. It proves that the fatal disease known as phthisis, or consumption, was not unknown to the ancient Akkadians. Its very name would suffice to show that they had already attained to a correct diagnosis of it when they describe it as, ulceration of the lungs. The Assyrian word AR-SA-SU, by which it is translated, is correctly determined, from the evidence furnished by various cognate words in other Semitic languages, to mean phthisis or consumption. The Akkadian root SA, in addition to the various meanings already adduced, seems also to have embraced the sense of authority, possession. Thus we have a word SA GAR meaning possessor or governor, and SA MAR MAR, owner of property, i.e., one invested with authority over it. The term is applied once to BIL-KAN, or Vulcan, the god of fire. We may say, in conclusion, that the column of the [p.588] Akkado-Assyrian Syllabary which treats of the sign SA will furnish a striking example of the uncertainties into which students may be plunged if unable to appeal to the various tests, and at the same time suggest the greatest caution, lest while carefully avoiding errors of one description, the student should fall into others of an opposite kind, a lamentable instance of the neglect of which precaution has landed a savant of the present day (who shall be nameless) in a shaking quagmire of difficulty. And yet this gentleman had set himself up for a censor of Assyriologists! The sign r is a polyphone, and yet out of thirteen possible meanings only one, or at the most two, can be the true meanings. Neither fancy nor caprice alone can guide us, it is evident, to the right one out of the thirteen possible readings. Were it otherwise, the decipherment of cuneiform texts would not be a science, but an agreeable pastime. It is by comparison of the different ways of spelling the same word, and examples of the usus loquendi in different texts, that the correct reading and true interpretation can alone be determined. Of the possible readings of this sign two are sufficiently near to well-known Semitic words, and so far embraced within the range of acceptations already assigned to this Akkadian word, as to suggest a probability of their mutual relation. NATNU might be related to the Arabic NATAN, to putrify, be foetid, and hence would be a very suitable synonym for an ulcer, while SATNU would correspond to the Arabic SHATNUN, a long cord. But what shall we say of a philologist who pretends to give us a theory to explain the formation of the Assyrian Syllabary and account for its values, when, having observed that an Assyriologist has here transcribed the signs NADNU and LATXU, he bravely accepts both readings, and thus succeeds in foisting upon the sign r two significations purely fantastic and unwarranted, which, indeed, never had existence except in his own too fertile imagination! The usual expression for the idea of rain, both as a noun and a verb, continually met with both in the Akkadian and Assyrian texts, is the compound ideogram apparently consisting of two signs in juxtaposition, e.g., water + god, i.e., water from the gods. In Assyrian we have ZUNXU as a noun, and ZANANA as a verb, yet it is equally certain that the verbal root with which it is connected signifies simply to rain, so that r may be regarded as a compound ideogram, representing a simple root, capable of producing by reduplication a derivative verb in a causative sense, and this in conformity with the general principles of Akkadian grammar. It seems highly probable that this hypothetical root was SUR, which occurs in Inscriptions of Western Asia, vol. II, 2, with the meaning of to rain, and in this sense it is continually used in the astrological documents as the equivalent of the sign r. It may be interesting to observe also that this old Akkadian word SUR is found, with slight phonetic variations, in the modern Turanian languages, as in the Finnish, the Magyar, the Zyrianian, Permian, Yotiak, &c., used in the sense of drop of water, to fall in drops, to rain. By a similar association of ideas it would appear that the Akkadians, like the nations of modern times, attached some notion of nobility to purity of blood, and hence such words as UMUX and UAMUN = blood equated to BELUV, Lord. Among other unexpected phenomena, we meet in Akkadian literature with the mention of stones supposed to exercise, some a prejudicial, and others a beneficial, influence on pregnancy and parturition. A star also is mentioned called KAKAB EEI, to which a similar influence for good or evil was attributed. But perhaps most strange of all is the fact that we find LABAN to be a god presiding over certain diseases, and worshipped as a secondary deity in the temple of ANU and YUL, or BIN, in Assur, the ancient metropolis of the Assyrian empire.