BABYLONIAN STAR-LORE

PUBLISHER’S UPDATE: ‘Babylonian Star-Lore’ is to be updated and republished with full text and illustration references by late 2014

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BABYLONIAN STAR-LORE
An Illustrated Guide to the Stars & Constellations
of Ancient Babylonia

by Gavin White

Today our most obvious link to the ancient cultures of Babylonia is through the twelve constellations that make up the zodiac. The zodiac is, however, but a part of a much larger system of star-lore that could reveal so much about ancient man and his beliefs. Knowledge of this lore could provide many profound insights into how early civilizations viewed the gods, the nature of the universe and the destiny of mankind.
This book is the first of its kind, specifically written for the layman, to explore the constellations and star-lore of ancient Babylonia. It presents the idea that the constellation figures as a whole amount to a pictorial calendar that integrates various seasonal festivals – concerned with the mythic life-cycle of the sun, the farming and herding year, the institution of kingship and various rites directed towards the dead – into an elegant system that ultimately represents an archaic image of time itself.

The Introductory section describes the structure of the archaic cosmos, and then goes on to give an overview of the whole star-map.
The main body of the book is comprised of an A-Z gazette, which explores the names, appearances ans associated lore of each star and constellation in greater detail.
A set of appendices furnishes additional background information on the reconstruction of the Babylonian star-map, the history of star-lore in Mesopotamia, the calendar, the cuneiform writing system and the use of the stars in divination texts.

Beyond the familiar figures of the zodiac, the Babylonian constellations have laid in almost total obscurity for the last two thousand years. Here for the very first time the complete star-map is reconstructed and many of its secrets revealed, so that now the whole system of celestial symbolism can be restored to something approaching its former glory.

Pages: 324
Illustrations: 169 black & white drawings

10-digit ISNB: 09559037-0-X            13-digit ISNB: 978-0-9559037-0-0

Recommended Retail Price: $29.95     £16.95    Euro:18.95

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A Brief Guide to the Babylonian Constellations

SOLARIA UPDATE: NEW RELEASE (Oct 2013)

‘THE QUEEN OF HEAVEN A New Interpretation of the Goddess in Ancient Near Eastern Art’ by Gavin White

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    The following notes describe the essential meanings of the 50 or so mainstream constellations found in the Babylonian tradition. For more information on these and other less well-known stars and constellations the reader is referred to ‘Babylonian Star-lore, An Illustrated Guide to the Star-lore and Constellations of Ancient Babylonia’ by Gavin White.

Anunitum (Northern fish of Pisces) Anunitum was the patron goddess of the city of Akkad. She was closely affiliated to Inanna-Ishtar, who as the ‘Syrian Goddess’ was envisioned holding her sacred fish and dove. As a seasonal symbol the fish of Anunitum represents the spring floods when river carp swim upstream in swollen rivers to their spawning grounds. As a mythic symbol the fish guides the sun on its ascending path from the darkness of winter towards the spring.
Arrow (Sirius & probably other adjacent stars in Canis Major) Although closely associated with the constellation of the Bow, the Arrow is always treated separately in Babylonian tradition. The annual rising of the Arrow marked the summer solstice when the sun was at its maximum height above the horizon. The Arrow was probably chosen for this role as it is the man-made object that can reach highest into the heavens. Similarly, the bird on a high perch, which is often seen besides the Arrow in ancient artwork, can also be thought of as representing the sun at its highest station.
Bow (Puppis – the poop deck of the Argo) The Bow depicts Inanna-Ishtar in her aspect of war goddess and granter of victory. Her star rises in high summer, when campaigns started in the spring come to their natural fruition. Mythical texts often describe the goddess in gory detail in the midst of battle.
Bull of Heaven (Taurus) The Bull of Heaven symbolizes the fecund powers of the spring-time skies – rain and sunshine – which bring life and growth to the earth. The Bull also represents the Golden Calf of biblical fame, which symbolizes the new-born sun emerging from the cosmic waters of creation just as the new-born calf emerges from the waters of the womb.
Cargo-Boat (Pisces Australis) The mythic function of the Cargo-Boat is probably to transport the souls of new-born children from the ancestral realms towards the realms of living. The ‘Cargo’ refers to various objects carried in the boat that symbolize the sex of the child – boys are represented by throwing sticks and axes, girls by spindles, hair-clasps and needles.
Crab (Cancer) The Crab symbolizes the summer-time drought. Like the adjacent Serpent it was thought to withhold the waters of heaven thus preventing any rain from falling during the hot summer months.
Crook (Auriga) The Crook depicts a shepherd tending a goat-kid. It naturally symbolizes the spring-time when the majority of calves, lambs and kids are born in the cattle-folds. The shepherd also symbolizes the king, who figuratively guides his people on the paths of safety and security. The Crook therefore appropriately rises in the first month of the year when the king was enthroned and empowered to rule for another year.
Eagle & Dead Man (Aquila & Sagitta) The Dead Man, carried by the Eagle, represents the souls of the dead traveling into the afterlife. Ir rises just before the winter solstice which is the time when the earth-bound dead were thought to journey to the realm of the ancestors.
Eridu (Vela – the sails of Argo) The Star of Eridu rises in the autumn months when the summer-time drought is broken by the arrival of the rainy season. Her overflowing vases, a common symbol of fertility in artwork, represents the returning rains and the rising water levels in the rivers and canals.
Field (The Square of Pegasus) The Field represents a barley field divided by a series of irrigation ditches. The constellation rises as the barley is regularly irrigated and starts to ripen. In astrology its omens naturally foretell the nature of the coming harvest.
Fish (Pisces Austrinus) Like Anunitum, the Fish symbolizes the season of flooding, which commences in the early spring. Like other creatures of the Abyss, fish were thought to be symbols of wisdom and were accordingly held sacred to Enki, the god of creative intelligence, incantations and magic.
Frond (Coma Berenices & western part of Virgo) The Frond is represented in the heavens by the figure of the goddess Erua holding her sacred branch of the Date-palm. Her constellation rises in the autumn months as the dates are ripening on the fronds.
Furrow (Eastern half of Virgo) The Furrow is obviously the origin of our modern Virgo with her familiar ear of barley. The constellation rises in the autumn when the fields have been prepared and are ready to be sown with the coming season’s barley seed.
Goatfish (Capricorn) The Goatfish rises after the winter solstice, when it announces the welcome return of the sun. I believe that the Goatfish is one of the relatively new constellation figures and can be best understood in terms of two older constellations – the Stag which announces the returning sun, and the Fish which guides the sun through the darkness of winter.
Great One (Aquarius) The Great One with his overflowing vases symbolizes the rains of heaven and the swollen rivers that characterize late winter and early spring. In the context of the star-map he can also be regarded as the ‘Irrigator’ who waters the barley fields that are represented on the star-map by the adjacent constellation known as the Field.
Great Twins (Gemini) The Great Twins are closely related to Nergal, the king of the dead in Mesopotamia tradition. The Twins stand guard, weapons at the ready, at the entrance to the underworld – their divine role being to prevent the living from descending to the realm of the dead, and perhaps more importantly to prevent the dead from rising up to overwhelm the realm of the living.
Harrow(Vela – the sails of the Argo) The Harrow is another seasonal star closely associated with the Furrow. Harrows were used to break down the large clods of earth produced by ploughing; they are used in the early autumn just before the fields are seeded.
Hired Man (Aries) The Hired Man is the Babylonian name for the familiar ram of Aries. The name is really a literate pun, which overtly refers to the hired labour employed in the spring to bring in the barley harvest, but with a little literary license the name can also be understood as something like ‘the sheep of atonement’. It rightly symbolizes the spring-time when the harvest is brought in and the lambs are born in the cattle-folds.
Horse (Front legs of Pegasus & Lacerta) In many ancient cultures the horse is allocated the divine duty of pulling the chariot of the sun. There seem to be two principle reasons underpinning this solar association – one is his great speed, and the other is that his flowing mane was thought to be a fitting symbol of the rays of light emanating from the sun.
Lion (Leo) The Lion has two main strands of symbolism. Firstly as a seasonal star it represents the ferocious heat of summer – its radiant mane stands for the overbearing radiance of the summer sun. Secondly, as the sacred beast of the war goddess Inanna-Ishtar, the Lion represents victory and war. The bright star at its breast (our Regulus) is known as the King Star – here representing the favourite of the goddess to whom she grants victory.
Little Twins (Canis Minor) The Little Twins no doubt share the same symbolism as their larger counterparts – the Great Twins. In astrology both sets of Twins are were thought to predict war and the outbreak of hostilities.
Lulal & Latarak (Cetus & part of Eridanus) The Lion-headed figures known as Lulal and Latarak are probably best regarded as protective deities who have been set at the juncture of the old and new years. Their divine role would therefore be to banish the influences of the past year and to purify the coming calendrical cycle.
Mad Dog (Lupus) The Mad Dog is probably a relic of an ancient star configuration which included the now derelict Bison-man. Together they constituted a version of the ‘Lion-bull’ conflict, which is widely thought to symbolise the seasonal conflict between summer and autumn. Here the bull, who represents the autumn rains slays the lion of summer.
Ninmah (Vela – the sails of Argo) The mother goddess is represented among the stars by Ninmah – the ‘Exalted Lady’. Her star rises in late summer just after the great ancestral festival celebrated in month 5. Just as the winter stars depict the souls of the dead traveling to the underworld, here in late summer new souls destined for birth journey from the ancestral worlds towards the realm of men.
Old Man (Perseus) The Old Man rises in the final month of the year and is appropriately associated with Enmesharra – an ancestral god who resides in the underworld in the form of a ghost.
Pabilsag (Sagittarius) Pabilsag is the direct forerunner to the centaur-archer that we know today as Sagittarius. His name can be translated as the ‘Chief Ancestor’ or ‘Forefather’, and he can be best compared to the Wild Hunter of western folklore who guides the souls of the dead to the afterlife over the course of the winter months.
Panther (Cygnus & part of Cepheus) Like Pabilsag, the Eagle and Dead Man, which all rise at the time of the winter solstice, the Panther is closely associated with the realm of the dead and the afterlife. It is the sacred beast of Nergal, the Babylonian lord of the dead, and it has probably been set among the winter-time stars to guard the entrance to the underworld. A memory of the Panther may well live on in the guise of Cerberus, the three-headed hound that guarded the entrance to the Greek underworld.
Plough (Most of Draco) For the 8 months of the year that the seed-plough was not in use it was suspended from a peg and hung from the rafters of a barn. This farming tradition seems to inform the location and symbolism of the Plough-constellation. The celestial Plough is located in the circumpolar regions – ie the ‘heights of heaven’ that correspond to the barn’s rafters. Like its terrestrial counterpart the celestial Plough is also suspended from a peg, which here represents the pole of the ecliptic – the eternal centre point of the heavens.
Rainbow (M31 Galaxy in Andromeda) The Rainbow is considered a sign of good fortune bringing rain and abundance to the land. It rises in early spring when the rains water the ripening crops.
Raven (Corvus) The Raven is sacred to Adad, the god of rain and storm. Appropriately enough the Raven rises as the summer dry season comes to an end and the storm clouds of autumn start to gather.
Rooster (Lepus) The Rooster is the animal symbol belonging to the herald of the godswho appears in his human form in the adjacent figure known as the True Shepherd of Anu. The Rooster was probably assigned the role of herald to the gods as it announced the coming of dawn each day.
Scales (Libra) The Scales are held sacred to the god Shamash, who was not only the sun god of ancient Mesopotamia but was also the god of truth and justice. His scales symbolised the principle of justice as in the judge ‘weighing up’ the evidence before issuing a commensurate verdict and a fair sentence. The sun god’s all-seeing eye made him the infalliable witness to all deeds and as such men called upon him as the upholder of righteousness and petitioned him to rectify the inequities they suffered.
Scorpion (Scorpio) In astrology the Scorpion’s armoured body segments and its array of weaponry predisposed it to become a creature symbolizing war and the martial prowess of the king. However a different meaning is attached to it in mythic texts such as the Gilgamesh Epic where Scorpion-men and women guard the sacred mountain through which the hero has traverse on his quest for immortality. The Scorpion-people are said to guard the sun at his rising and setting and because Gilgamesh is a favourite of the sun god they allow him to travel the subterranean path that the sun travels every night under the mountain.
Serpent (Hydra) In many cultures the world over the snake is regarded as one of the primary symbols of death and the underworld. In Babylonian lore, the constellation of the Serpent is held sacred to the god Ningishzida, who is a major god of the underworld. He is generally portrayed with a pair of horned serpents arising from his shoulders. In astrology the Serpent is thought to bring plague and pestilence to the land.
She-Goat (Lyra) In astrology the omens of the She-Goat foretell the fate of cattle. However for unknown reasons the constellation is not represented by a goat but by the figure of an enthroned goddess known as Gula. She is the patron of healing and medicine and as a benevolent goddess she naturally has the power to restore the health and life of men. But she also has a darker side as she also has the power to inflict disease and death to man and beast alike.
Sitting Dog (Most of Hercules) The Sitting Dog is the sacred animal of Gula (the regent of the She-Goat). It reflects the darker side of the goddess as it is widely considered to be a harbinger of death and disease. The underlying meaning of the dog is revealed in many cultures where it is simply known as the ‘eater of corpses’ – a rather grisly symbol of all-devouring death. For this reason the dog or wolf is often stationed at the entrance to the underworld in world mythology.
Sitting Gods (Most of Ophiuchus) The serpent-bodied men known as the Sitting and Standing Gods  represent the ancestors of Enlil, the ultimate leader of the whole Babylonian pantheon. They dwell in the Sacred Mound, which is at once a burial mound and an image of the primeval earth. As such the serpent-bodied gods represent the dual powers of the earth as an abode of the dead and as the source of all earthly fertility.
Stag (Cassiopeia & part of Andromeda) In world mythology the stag is frequently associated with the sun and the rekindling of fire – sometimes it is even portrayed pulling the chariot of the sun instead of the more familiar horse. The constellation of the Stag rises just after mid-winter and is no doubt stationed in this region of the heavens to symbolize the rebirth of the sun after its winter-time death.
Standing Gods (Corona Borealis) See the section on the Sitting Gods above.
Star Cluster (Pleiades) The 7 principle stars of the Star Cluster represent seven war-mongering demons found in the entourage of Erra – the ferocious and unpredictable god of war, wild-fire and plague. They are typically portrayed carrying bows, axes and daggers, and in astrology their presence portends the death and destruction brought by war.
Shupa (Bootes) Shupa probably represents the high god Enlil, who is considered to be the leader of the Babylonian pantheon. As a mark of his exalted status he holds the symbol known as the ‘rod and ring’. He is closely associated with the ‘Ropes of Heaven’, which figuratively bind together the various levels of the cosmos and regulate the temporal movement of the heavens.
Swallow (Head & neck of Pegasus plus the western fish of Pisces) The Swallow or ‘Exalted bird’ may be identified with the dove that appears in Greek myths surrounding the Syrian goddess. Her characteristic myth recounts how a dove brooded an enormous egg that two fish found floating in the Euphrates, and that the Syrian goddess herself was born from this egg.
Swine (Probably Delphinus) The Swine is sacred to Damu, ‘the Child’. His cult is closely related to tat of Dumuzi who died every summer and was subsequently reborn every winter. Myths relate how Damu escaped from the underworld via a river and it is thus appropriate that his sacred constellation should rise just after mid-winter.
True Shepherd of Anu (Orion) The True Shepherd represents the herald of the gods, variously called Papshukkal or Ninshubur. Small statues of him were sometimes deposited in a brick box beneath the main cult statue in a temple as if to relay messages between the gods and mankind.
Wagon (The 7 principle stars of Ursa Major) In astrology the Wagon is said to portend eclipses, which are thought to cause the violent death of the king. Various other references in Babylonian literature effectively identify the Wagon as a funeral bier carrying the corpse to the burial ground. Such a meaning has evidently been transmitted to Arabian star-lore where these same stars are envisioned as a group of mourners pulling a funeral bier.
Wagon of Heaven (Ursa Minor) See the description of the Wagon above.
Wild Boar (Most of Centaurus) The Wild Boar is sacred to Ningirsu, a local form of Ninurta, who is a god closely associated with farming. Indeed the boar’s habit of churning up the earth as it forages for food may ultimately be the historical inspiration for the invention of the plough, which allowed early societies to adopt a sedentary lifestyle.
Wolf (Head & middle of Draco) The Wolf gnaws at the harness-work that suspends the Plough to the centre of heaven. When it finally tears the rope asunder, the different levels of the cosmos that the rope unites will collapse bringing about the end of a world-era.
Zababa (Eastern part of Ophiuchus) Zababa was a little known war god sometimes called the ‘king of battles’. He was associated with the city of Kish in northern Babylonia, which produced four dynsties of overlords in the ages immediately after the Great Flood.

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Map 2. Full Reconstruction of the Babylonian Star-Map

SOLARIA UPDATE: NEW RELEASE (Oct 2913)

‘THE QUEEN OF HEAVEN A New Interpretation of the Goddess in Ancient Near Eastern Art’ by Gavin White

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Map 2 draws on a wide range of sources including the Greek Star-map, the Dendera Zodiacs and medieval Arabian traditions, to produce a complete reconstruction of the Babylonian heavens. This is, I believe, the first concerted attempt to reconstruct the Babylonian Star-map in the modern era.
The basic meanings of the constellations are summarised in A Brief Guide to the Babylonian Constellations.
For more information the reader is referred to ‘Babylonian Star-lore, An Illustrated Guide to the Star-lore and Constellations of Ancient Babylonia’ by Gavin White.

Copyright Gavin White 2007

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Map 1. Provisional Reconstruction of the Babylonian Star-Map

The following illustration is a provisional reconstruction of the Babylonian star-map that only utilises Babylonian evidence. Most of the remaining gaps can only be filled by resorting to sources found outside of the ancient Near East – this additional material is factored into  Map 2.

Copyright Gavin White 2007

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Reconstructing the Babylonian Star-Map

The ultimate aim of this site is to make a reconstruction of the Babylonian star-map, as it would have been known in the 1st millennium BCE. This particular time-frame has been chosen for the simple reason that the earliest copies of Mul-Apin date to this period. Mul-Apin represents what might be called the ‘classical’ version of Babylonian star-lore – its several sections list all the major stars and constellations, and indicate their approximate locations in the heavens. It therefore provides the best available framework upon which to build a reconstruction of the Babylonian star-map.

Unfortunately, Mul-Apin only furnishes us with the names of the constellations and their approximate locations. like so many Babylonian texts, it does not illustrate or even describe the constellation figures. In order to put some illustrative flesh on the bare bones of the structural framework provided by Mul-Apin it is necessary to draw on a variety of other Babylonian texts and artefacts.

Beyond a range of illustrations found on document seals, the most valuable art resources at our disposal are the class of monuments often referred to as kudurrus, but more correctly called entitlement stones. These monuments are large polished stones that were set up in the temples of southern Mesopotamia that record the granting of land rights and other privileges to certain individuals. Many of the stones are lavishly illustrated with symbols that are widely regarded as ‘astral’ in character. However, opinion varies considerably as to how close these symbols actually relate to the constellation images. In my opinion these symbols should only be thought of as symbols of gods and goddesses who have strong astral associations – be they stars, constellations or planets. The variation in iconography and disposition of the figures argues against them being accurate images of the constellations. Nevertheless they do provide indispensable information as to the general appearances of the Babylonian constellation figures. Apart from a fragmentary text that describes some of the northern constellations the final useful source of information is to be found in star-names. This lore can sometimes give us vital clues as to the basic form of a constellation and can often reveal the general deportment and orientation of the figures.

Map 1 represents the first step towards the reconstruction of the star-map. I have set the celestial co-ordinates to represent the heavens circa 1000 BCE, and have then added the images of the constellations that are regarded as relatively secure. Roughly half the 50 or so constellations can be restored at this stage. But even with this relatively secure data there are still inherent uncertainties – even if we can be confident of their appearances and locations, in so many cases it is impossible to be certain as to the precise scale and orientation of the star figures.

To make any further progress with our reconstruction we have to utilise sources found outside of the Ancient Near East. The star-lore and star-maps of ancient Greece, Arabia and Roman-age Egypt furnish us with a bewildering array of information much of which can help to fill in the remaining blank spaces on our map. The end result of this process is seen in Map 2, which is, I believe, the first concerted attempt to reconstruct the whole Babylonian star-map. So after some two thousand years of obscurity it is now restored to something of its former glory.
A brief guide to the constellations gives a quick description of each star figure.

As it is well beyond the scope of the site to explore the whole scope of these sources, any interested readers are advised to consult my book ‘Babylonian Star-lore, An Illustrated Guide to the Star-lore and Constellations of Ancient Babylonia’ by Gavin White.
In this volume I have examined all the available evidence in detail and have endevoured to reconstruct the natures and pictorial forms of all the major Babylonian constellations.
The book further speculates on the essential meanings of the constellations as a pictorial calendar that integrates various seasonal festivals – concerned with the mythic life-cycle of the sun, the farming and herding year, the institution of kingship, and various rites directed towards the dead – into an elegant system that ultimately represents an archaic image of time itself. a set of appendices furnishes additional information on the history of star-lore in Mesopotamia, the calendar, the cuneiform writing system and the use of the star in divination.

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SOLARIA PUBLICATIONS

Solaria Publications is a small independent publisher based in London, England. Our goal as a publisher is to make available a variety of titles that concentrate on ancient religion and spirituality. Our specific area of interest could be broadly defined as ‘Heaven and Earth’, ie archaic man’s view of himself within the greater cosmos. In particular we are interested in works exploring the mythical and symbolic lore associated with the stars and constellations, as well as the lore of sacred calendars and the astral aspects of ancient religions.

Three publications are available to date:

BABYLONIAN STAR-LORE – An Illustrated Guide to the Star-lore and Constellations of Ancient Babylonia (2008) Currently out of print, to be revised and republished before the end of 2014

THE QUEEN OF HEAVEN – A New Interpretation of the Goddess in Ancient Near Eastern Art (2013)

QUEEN OF THE NIGHT – The Role of the Stars in the Creation of the Child (2014)

One of the overarching aims of all Solaria publications is the desire to place mankind at the centre of a meaningful cosmos. In this we hope to be true to the spirit of Orpheus, who declared the nature of man as ‘a child of the Earth and of Starry Heaven, but whose origin lies in Heaven alone’.

CONTACT DETAILS

Please feel free to contact Solaria Publications at:

blibintheblob@googlemail.com

(this email link has been malfunctioning so if you have tried to contact me over the last few months my apologies – please try again using the email address direct)

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A New Interpretation of the Dendera Zodiac

SOLARIA UPDATE: NEW RELEASE (Oct 2013)

‘THE QUEEN OF HEAVEN A New Interpretation of the Goddess in Ancient Near Eastern Art’ by Gavin White

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A New Interpretation of the Dendera Zodiac

 [The following extract is taken from ‘Babylonian Star-Lore, An Illustrated Guide to the Star-lore and Constellations of Ancient Babylonia’ by Gavin White]

After the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BCE, the throne of Egypt passed to one of his generals, Ptolemy, who became the eponymous founder of the Ptolemaic dynasty. For the next 300 years this Greek dynasty ruled Egypt implanting many aspects of Hellenic culture in the fertile ground of this ancient civilisation. During this period two significant astronomic monuments were created at the temple of Hathor in Dendera, Upper Egypt. They are known as the Square and Circular Zodiacs – both somewhat inaccurate titles as they are actually star-maps covering a much greater range than the 12 constellations of the zodiac.

    

Since their rediscovery by western scholars, the Dendera Zodiacs have been compared to the Greek star-map, not only to determine the locations of the Dendera figures, but also in light of the hypothesis that any constellation figures occurring in both Greek and Egyptian star-maps must ultimately represent elements inherited from Babylonian tradition. Only three constellations beyond the zodiac figures are easily recognised as occurring in both Greek and Dendera star-maps – the serpent and raven positioned close to Leo, and the fish swimming in Aquarius’ outflow. The conclusion generated by this argument is that Babylonian influence on the Greek and Egyptian star-maps is negligible beyond the transmission of the zodiac constellations and a handful of stars closely associated with them. Another inference naturally follows from this conclusion – that the majority of Greek and Egyptian constellation figures were either created within their own independent native traditions or have been inherited from non-Babylonian sources.

Needless to say, the flaws inherent in these arguments are quite apparent – as the Greek star-map could easily contain any number of Babylonian figures that don’t appear on the Dendera Zodiacs and vice versa. It is now time to start reassessing the evidence by comparing the Greek and Egyptian star maps with what we know of the Babylonian constellation figures.

Before venturing into virgin territory it is a good idea to briefly return to the zodiac, and to the figures of Sagittarius, Virgo and Pisces in particular.

Apart from the Egyptian headdress, the depiction of Sagittarius is almost identical to its Babylonian prototype (see fig 98) even down to its two heads and two tails. What is more, below his front feet is a small figure of a boat – this can only be an image of the Babylonian Cargo-boat, which is said to be located beneath the figure of Pabilsag, the Babylonian name for our familiar Sagittarius

Similarly, the figure of Virgo from the Dendera Zodiac is much closer, in terms of its size and orientation, to its Babylonian prototype (see fig 160) than it is to its Greek counterpart. In addition, there is a second goddess stationed at the tail of Leo and this is very likely to be an image of the Babylonian constellation called the Frond of Erua, which is said to stand at the tail of the Lion.

Finally, the square enclosure that can be seen between the Piscean fish is, in all likelihood, a depiction of the Field constellation that is known to correspond to the Square of Pegasus. As its name suggests, the Field represents a rectangular plot of irrigated land, which is inscribed with zigzag lines representing irrigation channels filled with water.

The examples illustrated above establish two significant facts. Firstly, that the designer of the Dendera Zodiac had some direct knowledge of the Babylonian forms of the zodiac. And secondly, that they also had some knowledge of less well known Babylonian constellations such as the Field, the Frond of Erua and the Cargo-boat, none of which were actually transmitted to the Greek star-map.

 This last point further raises the obvious question – are there other figures from the Dendera Zodiac that represent previously unrecognised depictions of Babylonian constellations?

Personally, I am convinced that there are many more parallels between the Dendera figures and the Babylonian constellations, and that they are especially evident in the sequence of southern constellations that stretch between the figures of Taurus and Scorpio. It is well worthwhile comparing these particular Dendera figures with what is known concerning their potential Babylonian counterparts.

 The Egyptian figure corresponding to Orion is called Sah, the ‘Fleet-footed’ or ‘Long-strider’, presumably because he is portrayed in a walking posture. He is first depicted in Egyptian astronomic documents dating to the last centuries of the 3rd millennium. On the Dendera Zodiac (left) a crested bird can be seen walking behind him.

The Babylonian version of Orion is called the True Shepherd of Anu. Although no depictions are known, it is likely that he was portrayed as the messenger to the gods known as Ninšubur or Papšukkal. Star names indicate that he was posed as if walking with one foot and hand extended before him. His symbol of office was a long staff and on entitlement stones he was frequently represented by the figure of a crested walking bird (see fig 112). On the Babylonian star-map this bird is characterised as the Rooster, which is located below and behind the figure of the True Shepherd. That the figure of Orion should be envisioned in the form of a walking man is no particular surprise given the configuration of stars, but the common association with a walking bird with a crest on its head must surely point to an inherited influence.

Moving on to the next group of images we see the Sothis Cow, the well-known Egyptian star figure that corresponds to Sirius. She is flanked by two figures unknown outside the Dendera Zodiacs –  a female archer and a perching hawk.

On the Babylonian star-map the stars of Canis Major, which include Sirius, are referred to as the Bow and Arrow. We can be quite certain that the Babylonian star figure was depicted as a female archer, modelled on the warrior goddess Inanna. The Arrow was treated as a separate constellation associated with the god Ninurta, who combined the roles of warrior and farmer; one of his symbols from entitlement stones is known to be a perched bird. Once again a close correspondence can be seen between the Dendera images and what we know of the Babylonian constellations.

Behind the Sirian group of symbols, we find the figure of an enthroned goddess holding a pair of vases aloft. On the Square Zodiac streams of water can be seen flowing from her vases.

This is, arguably, a depiction of the Babylonian constellation called the Star of Eridu. Although we have little direct knowledge concerning its celestial image, we do know that it was held sacred to Enki, the wise god of the waters, who lived in the freshwater Abyss below the earth. Enki’s sacred city of Eridu, after which the star was named, was reputedly the oldest city in the world. It was located in the southern marshlands of Mesopotamia, and was the site of his principle temple – ‘the House of the Abyss’, which was built on an island set in the midst of a lagoon.

The Star of Eridu obviously has very strong associations to water, a fact that may have led it to become closely allied to the Great One, our Aquarius, in Babylonian astrology. The linkage is so strong that there is reason to believe that both constellations were depicted in a similar manner – as human figures holding overflowing vases. As such the Dendera figure is very compatible with what we know concerning the Star of Eridu. We should also add that the Greek constellation of Eridanus, which obviously derives its name from the Babylonian figure, was depicted among the stars as a winding river.

Moving on to the next Dendera figure, we see another enthroned goddess, this time nurturing a young child.

On the Babylonian star-map the constellation of Ninmah is located behind the Star of Eridu. Ninmah, the ‘Exalted Lady’, is closely associated with mankind in general and with children in particular. She appears in creation mythology where she is involved in creating mankind and setting his destiny. For these reasons she is known as one of the Mother Goddesses. Several other references demonstrate her close affinity to children and babies – an incantation dedicated to her asks her to protect newborn infants and in a Sumerian poem she laments the loss of her own child. Even though we have no information on the appearance of Ninmah’s constellation from Babylonian sources the Dendera image of a goddess nurturing a child has got to be a convincing candidate.

Behind the goddess and child is the strange figure of a bull-headed man holding a hoe-like implement. He stands in front of a rectangle decorated with wavy lines – very similar to the rectangle located between the Piscean fish.  

It is very likely that this figure is based on the Babylonian constellation known as the Harrow. It is described in star texts as ‘the weapon of the god Mar-biti’ and that within it is seen a representation of the Abyss – the reservoir of fresh-water found beneath the earth. We have already seen that the rectangle infilled with wavy lines symbolises the watery Abyss in Mesopotamian art. Once again the Dendera imagery and Babylonian star-lore, even though difficult to understand in isolation, throw considerable light on each other when combined.

The penultimate figure of this sequence is sometimes described as a lion-like creature, which has its front feet resting on the Abyss symbol. Judging by the surrounding constellations it is very likely to be located in the region of Centaurus.

In Babylonian tradition this region of the sky is occupied by the Wild Boar; some omen texts even describe it as being located close to the Abyss. In the section on the Wild Boar, I argue that the protruding tongue of the Dendera beast is actually a misunderstanding of the Boar’s tusks and that its mane is similarly a misrepresentation of the Boar’s spinal brush.

Finally, the strange creature that stands in front of Scorpio can be confidently located among the stars of Lupus. It is depicted as a composite figure made up of human and hippo elements, which wears the white crown of Upper Egypt.

The corresponding Babylonian figure that occupies the stars of Lupus is known as the Mad Dog. It is also a human-beast composite depicted in Neo-Assyrian art as a standing human figure with a lion’s tail and hindquarters, like the Dendera beast it is crowned with a horned headdress that signifies its divine nature (see fig 90).

As can be seen from the preceding comparisons there are some striking parallels between these individual Dendera images and their Babylonian counterparts. That one or two figures should show some resemblance might be put down to chance but what is particularly convincing about this comparison is that it is made up a sequence of 8 or 9 star figures all correctly located in relation to each other. It should also be stressed that beyond the well-known Egyptian figures of Orion and the Sothis Cow, the remaining figures do not occur in Egyptian art outside the Zodiacs at Dendera – this in itself suggests that they have been imported from elsewhere.

The sequence of stars just examined doesn’t exhaust the potential parallels between the Dendera Zodiac and the Babylonian star-map. I would propose that there are at least five more Babylonian constellations depicted with a reasonable degree of clarity on the Circular Zodiac.

Up in the northern regions of heaven, behind the monstrous figure of the Hippo and Mooring Post, we can see the tiny figures of an enthroned goddess and a dog-like creature – they are very likely to be representations of the well-known Babylonian constellations known as the She-Goat and the Sitting Dog (see fig 123).

And just the other side of the Hippo, in the circumpolar regions of heaven, is a particularly interesting image of a wolf-like creature set upon a plough. They are, doubtless, an image of the Babylonian constellations known as the Wolf and Plough, which have proved difficult to locate from Babylonian sources alone, so having a clear presentation of their forms is an additional bonus.

Finally, set below the figure of Aries, we have a pair of staff-wielding gods who could well be a representation of the lion-headed Babylonian constellations known as Lulal and Latarak. Like the Wolf and Plough, they have proved difficult to locate on the celestial sphere. Their placement on the Circular Zodiac suggests that they are located among the stars of Cetus.

As far as I am aware the close relationship between the Dendera Zodiacs and the Babylonian star-map has not previously been recognised. This is partly due to the relative inaccessibility of information on the Babylonian constellations and the lack of a surviving star-map. The fact that the Dendera figures have been recast in Egyptian iconographic conventions has only made it more difficult to recognise the Babylonian figures.

It is now possible to reconfigure the Circular Zodiac in the light of Babylonian star-lore – the result is displayed below:

The extent to which the Circular Zodiac has been influenced by Babylonian star-lore is amply demonstrated by the figure above, which reconfigures the Circular Zodiac into a more accurate and easily assimilated format. I have rearranged the constellation images to better fit the visible configuration of stars in the sky and have further identified them by their Babylonian names. The planetary figures have also been replaced by their familiar planetary sigils and the handful of native Egyptian figures have been labelled in italics.

In the final analysis, I would argue that the Circular Zodiac is really a rather inaccurate and ‘Egyptianised’ version of the Babylonian star-map with a handful of Egyptian star figures added in or substituted for their Babylonian counterparts. Beyond the cases already examined I would further propose that another nine or ten Babylonian figures are present but have been misunderstood, misplaced or distorted to such an extent that they are actually quite difficult to recognise

Copyright Gavin White, 2007

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