National Geographic : 1951 Jan
Medicine Teams Up with Religion and Magic T HE SUBJECTS here illustrated are not peculiar to one particular period in the history of Mesopotamia. They could be made to apply readily, and with only minor modifi cations of detail, to virtually any period. Our scene has been laid in the 16th century B. c., in order to preserve a regular chronologic sequence and to record, at the same time, the presence of the Kassites in the country. This people from the Iranian highlands, who brought with them a language neither Semitic nor Sumerian, overran Babylonia shortly after the Hittites, another people neither Semitic nor Sumerian, had made a paralyzing raid on the capital and put an end to the First Dynasty of Babylon. Weakened by these combined blows, the country remained under foreign rule for some five centuries, until about the middle of the 12th century B. C. But, as has happened so often in history, the conquering barbarians were soon van quished in turn by the superior native culture. The Kassites took over all the significant features and practices of the Babylonians, and even carried some of these to lengths not previously known. This applies particularly to magic and divination. In this picture the painted wall decoration is based on the recent discoveries made by the Iraq Department of Antiqui ties in the Kassite center of Dur Kurigalzu. The same is true of the standing figure with back to the wall, and the seated figure with the liver model. Other details are derived from Kassite and Assyrian sources long known. An anxious father stands by the sickbed of his son. Two priests dressed to resemble fishes-for symbolic association with the water god Ea-seek toexpel the demons suspected of having caused the malady. One ofthe priests isseen holding a bowl which, nodoubt, contains some magic fluid. The boy's hands are held open, inagesture of supplica tion, as are also the righthands ofthe fish-garbed priests; but the head is hidden byone ofthe standing figures. This bed scene, incidentally, ismodeled after asection on afre quently reproduced Assyrian bronze relief which depicts in several registers the exorcism of afemale demon. At the table to the right, an omen priest ishard at work on an inscribed model ofasheep liver. Ithappens tobe an authentic old Babylonian piece now inthe British Museum. The inscriptions on this model list the diagnoses based on the livers of real sheep slaughtered inthe past for purposes of the omen lore. The shape of each minute detail on the fresh liver was linked by the omen experts with some memorable event of the past-say, a ruler's victory over his enemies, another ruler's death from an infected toe, or aking's sadfate after a ladder had fallen on him. Each ofthese instances, by the way, was actually recorded. The right link furnished the prognosis for the problem at hand; for instance, "Ifthe right lobe (ofthe liver) is carved out like a purse, itisan omen of(King) Ibbi-Sin, indicating disaster." Thepriest inour case appears tohave discovered a startling answer. The sides of the ceremonial table are decorated with carv ings of symbols of variousgods asthey appear on numerous boundary stones of the Kassite period.