Ancient Mesopotamian Artifact Term Paper

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Ancient Mesopotamian Artifact

She comes up from the swamp

Is fierce, terrible, forceful, destructive, powerful:

and still) she is a goddess, is awe-inspiring.

Her feet are those of an eagle, her hands mean decay.

Her fingernails are long, her armpits unshaven..."

The High Priest raised his long arms, palms facing upwards. Twelve lamentation priests surrounded him in a circle, their heads bowed, droning the chant. Surrounded by the temple musicians, the circle of lamentation priests swayed to and fro, gently holding each others' hands and reciting the incantation against Lamashtu. One of Uruk's most prosperous merchants, Asshurk, commissioned the rite of protection; his wife was pregnant for the first time and he wanted to ensure the birth of a healthy child. Lamashtu had taken not only his first-born son but also his first wife, who died soon after the child was born. Asshurk wanted no complications with the pregnancy this time, as he was growing old and might not live long.

Twelve days ago, Asshurk awoke from a nightmare. The demon Pazuzu, holy consort of Lamashtu, came to Asshurk in the dream. "Forge an amulet in my image and I shall protect your household from the ill will of my wife," the demon told him. What Pazuzu wanted in exchange for his protection Asshurk did not know, but nor did he care. He had enough money to commission the temple ceremony and vowed to tithe some of his income in support of building a new ziggurat on the edge of town. Asshurk was confident that the gods would be as generous to him as they always had been.

Asshurk sat in the cloister hall near the temple staff, among them Cyrenus, the temple barber and Asshurk's close friend since boyhood. Within earshot of the chanting, the two men squatted on the floor in silence, keeping their eyes closed and praying. Occasionally Asshurk would rest his face in his palms and Cyrenus, understanding his worry, would pat Asshurk on the back.

A bronze cauldron burning scented oil sat on each of the four pillars flanking the cavernous inner sanctum. The High Priest clutched the newly forged amulet in his sweaty palm, his brow furrowed as he lapsed into a trance while chanting:

They are seven, they are seven,

They are seven in the depth of the primeval water,

They are seven adorned in heaven.

They are not male, they are not female,

They are drifting phantoms."

Outside in the cloister hall, Cyrenus the temple barber suddenly rose from his spot on the dusty cloister floor.

A must go now."

Cyrenus fled the cloister, leaving a small cloud of dust in his wake. A few of the temple slaves looked up from their sweeping duties in surprise. Asshurk did not know whether or not he should follow his friend. On the one hand, he felt compelled to find out why Cyrenus left in such a hurry, and on the other, the well-being of his wife and child were at stake and he hoped to remain present until the end of the ritual. Asshurk remained glued to the floor.

Flames from the four cauldrons flickered, leaving demonic shadow prints on the mud brick walls. At a silent prompting from the High Priest, the lamentation priests ceased their chanting and released their hands, and the temple musicians played their last notes. In single file, all but the High Priest exited the inner sanctum through the doorway leading to the cloister and as soon as he saw them, Asshurk rose from the floor and ran over to the priests.

Well? Is it over? May I..."

Please, Asshurk," one of the lamentation priests said softly. "Keep your voice down."

My apologies, your honor, but may I see..."

You may enter the temple," the lamentation priest told him. "The High Priest will need to instruct you as to the proper use of your amulet. Good luck, Assurk. Good luck."

Before Asshurk reached the darkened entryway to the temple, one of the temple prostitutes ran into the cloister hall and yelled, "Something has happened to Cyrenus! He's collapsed in the courtyard. I need an asu -- NOW!"

Asshurk stared at Ishmene, the temple prostitute. When their eyes met, hers held steady, poring into Asshurk, sending signs of urgency into his mind. Asshurk quickly averted her stare and turned his eyes to the floor. At once two guards attended Ishmene's needs in the courtyard outside, but Asshurk stood still, his feet turned toward the temple. All faces in the room looked to Asshurk for some sign of feeling, some reaction to the news.

Ignoring their collective gaze, Asshurk turned and headed toward the temple doorway, leaving behind the commotion in the cloister.

Asshurk entered the inner sanctum, and the High Priest looked up silently. He opened his palm after hours of chanting; the amulet of Pazuzu left an indentation in his hand, he had been holding the item so tightly. Holding his hand out for Asshurk, the High Priest looked down at the amulet. Without a word, Asshurk took it from the High Priest and held it gingerly by one of its bronze wings.

The top of its head bore a loop so that his wife could wear the object like a charm next to her bare body. Pazuzu's thick brows framed bulging, dog-like eyes and a hideous snout that overlay a slight grin. Its slim yet strong body was humanoid until the shins, which were hairy and goat-like but gave way to spindly eagle talons for feet. The demon's right hand was raised in a gesture of greeting (or was it banishment?), its left hand rested against its wing like a bat's. Pazuzu's penis was prominently displayed and was unmistakably in the shape of a snake about to strike. Angelic wings flanked his body, opened as if the demon was poised to alight.

Asshurk turned the amulet, which fit neatly in the palm of his hand, onto its back, revealing an upturned serpentine tail accenting the detailed writing etched on the rear of the wings. In cuneiform, the writing made no sense to Asshurk, who could only read mercantile symbols and measurements.

What does it say?"

It is inscribed with the Pazuzu's self-declaration," said the High Priest. "It reads: I am Pazuzu, son of Hanbi-- King of the evil wind demons who breaks out raging from the mountains, I am he!" You need not remember these words, for the demon shall forever inhabit the amulet. Your wife is to wear this on her person and shall never remove it. Pazuzu will protect her from the destructive forces of his child-stealing wife Lamashtu, as he promised in your dream, but you must know..."

The High Priest paused and turned toward the altar behind him. Bowing his head in prayer, the High Priest uttered a few words under his breath and once again faced Asshurk.

You must know that with this amulet comes a high price." know that," said the merchant. "I have donated generously this year and shall continue to give the temple as much as I possibly can."

The High Priest looked into Asshurk's eyes. "Yes, I understand that but it is not the price of material goods that I refer to, Asshurk. You are a good man, a kind man," he said. "But you know not the forces with which you deal. You said that the demon Pazuzu arrived to you in a dream?"


Then he will demand reparation for his effort. The demon does not enter people's minds with ease; his powers in this realm are limited, you see," said the High Priest.

Asshurk held the amulet in his hand, his grip on it tightening each moment. The wingtips of Pazuzu dug into his palms.

A only want one thing," said Asshurk.

Pazuzu will protect you and your wife from Lamashtu, I can assure you of that. However..."


Asshurk made his way to the doorway.

I would recommend an exorcism," the High Priest called after him.

Asshurk turned when he reached the doorway.

Whatever I can do, I will. As I told you, I only want one thing."

Gripping the amulet in his right hand, Asshurk walked away from the High Priest, out of the temple, and through the cloister. Upturned faces of temple slaves, priestesses, temple prostitutes, and beer brewers accosting him with concern, fear, and anger did not slow Asshurk's progress through the cloister to the main road outside. Overhearing a woman's wails coming from Ishmene's chambers, Asshurk slowed his steps briefly but did not stop nor turn his head.

Straight for his home Asshurk strode, past the central marketplace which had been closed for hours. The dusk left traces of light on the cloudy roads; palm fronds glowed in response to the waning sun. A raven bid the day its final farewell before flying off into the darkening sky. Stars began to sing their nightly sorrowful tune on this moonless night; Asshurk looked up once as his feet carried him swiftly…[continue]

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