From Earth to Heaven. e symbol of the scorpion and its
astronomical association in Mesopotamia
Sara Pizzimenti1, Andrea Polcaro2
1 Università di Pisa, firstname.lastname@example.org
2Università degli Studi di Perugia, email@example.com
Abstract. Symbolic representations of the scorpion are aested in Mesopotamia since
the Neolithic Period on several artifacts, such as poery, cylinder seals and stele. From
the 6th to the 1st millennium BC a constant connection of this symbol with the fertility
and its related goddesses - such as Ishkhara and Ishtar -, all identied with Venus, is
aested. Furthermore, in the rst known religious cuneiform texts, e.g. the Poem of
Gilgamesh, the scorpion presents celestial aributes as well as in the later astronomical
compendia it is clearly associated with the actual Scorpio constellation. anks to the
analysis of both iconographical and philological sources dated from the Neolithic to the
Iron Age, this paper aims to analyse the persistence of the symbol of the scorpion and
its meaning in the Mesopotamian culture and religion, identifying the particular char-
acteristic inherited by the Classical Age.
Predatory arachnids of the order Scorpiones, the scorpions are very com-
mon animals in the entire Near East, where nowadays it is possible to identify
27 species of Scorpion, with 75 (sub-)species (Gilbert 2002, p. 41), mostly of the
Buthidae family (dangerous for humans), as well as some species of Scorpionidae
(Pietka-Hinz 2009, pp. 576–577)2. A sort of classication of the Scorpion can
be found at the end of the 14th tablet of the series ḪAR.RA = ubullu, where
the scorpion is placed in the midst of the insects (particularly ants) and lizards
(Landsberger 1934, pp. 28-29, 136-137; 1962, pp. 39-40; Pietka-Hinz 2009, p. 577):
1 Sara Pizzimenti wrote §2.2; Andrea Polcaro wrote §2.1; §1 and §3 have been wrien jointly.
2 For further data about the scorpion in the Near East see Farzanpay - Pretzmann 1974; Kinzelbach
1985; Schmidt 2000.
312 From Earth to Heaven
360 (me-ir)mir zuqaqīpu scorpion
361 ([pi-r]iga)gìr zuqaqīpu scorpion
362 (gi-ir)gír zuqaqīpu scorpion
363 gír-tab zuqaqīpu scorpion
364 gír-tab-kur-ra zuqaqīpu šadî mountain scorpion
365 gír-tab-babbar zuqaqīpu peû white scorpion
366 gír-tab-ge6 zuqaqīpu almu black scorpion
367 gír-tab-sa5 zuqaqīpu sāmu red scorpion
368 gír-tab-gùn-gùn-nu zuqaqīpu burrumu multicolored scorpion
369 gír-tab-sig7-sig7 zuqaqīpu arqu yellow scorpion
370 gír-tab-ri-ri-ga zuqaqīpu muaprišu ying scorpion
371 um-me-da-gír-tab tārītu zuqaqīpi keeper of the scorpions
ummi zuqaqīpi mother of the scorpions3
Nonetheless, this distinction in dierent species seems to be completely ab-
sent in ancient Mesopotamian art. Although stylistic variation occurs, in fact, the
scorpion is always depicted from above, with an emphasis on the pincer and the
tail, which are its important visual identiers. e Sumerian word for scorpion, in
fact, seems to be linked to the dangerous and poisonous characteristic of its tail.
e Sumerian name for scorpion is ĝír, or ĝìr - since the Old Babylonian period
ĝír-tab - whose meaning is “dagger (and) spike” (Krebernik 1984, p. 44.), “double
edged sword”, or “burning sword”, while the Akkadian name is zuqaqīpu4.
e scorpion is one of the most represented animals in Mesopotamian art,
as one of the so-called lling motives. It makes one of its rst apparition on the
6th millennium BC Samarra poery5, and in several fragments of Ubaid poery
found at Eridu (Herzfeld 1930, gs 2, 5, 31, pls I: 2, 3, III, IV, V: 4, 5).
2. e Scorpion as a Symbol and its meanings
As pointed out by Michael Herles (2006, p. 9), symbol is an emblem, an
interaction between two halves unbound but intrinsically connected. e sym-
bols are the visualization of a meaning, whose essence has been allegorically
raised to a higher level (Pizzimenti 2017, p. 3)6. Furthermore, they are intrin-
sically related to the social life, having played a signicant role in modelling
3 Galter (2007, p. 654).
4 For an analysis of the Mesopotamian terminology for “scorpion” see Pietka-Hinz (2009, p. 577).
5 See for example the Samarran poery with radiating designs combining long-haired women and
scorpions (Oates / Oates 1976, p. 148).
6 For an analysis of the signicances and dierences between symbols, signs, emblems and
aributes see Herles (82006, p. 9 ss.) and Pizzimenti (2017, pp. 3-7).
Sara Pizzimenti - Andrea Polcaro
the experience of the humankind (Womack 2005, p. 15). ey are a particular
way to communicate, being multivocal, polisemantic, and multivalue. anks
to the use of the images, the symbols evoke an emotion response through a
multileveled communication, aiming to “make visible” what cannot be reached
with the ordinary perception. According to Victor Turner in fact the symbol is
“something that connects the unknown with the known” (Turner 1967, p. 48).
Being the scorpion a visual element that can be considered a lling motif and
a symbol, it presents the polisemantic value typical of the symbolic elements.
Analyzing in fact its presence on the Mesopotamian art two main value can be
identied, depending on the position assumed by the scorpion in the scene.
2.1 e Scorpion as Symbol of Fertility
In the Near East, the rst appearance of the scorpion in gurative art is tes-
tied at Göbekli Tepe, a large site dated between the end of the Paleolithic and
the beginning of the Pre-Poery Neolithic periods, around 10000 BC. e site
is characterized by the presence of a huge monumental sacred architectonical
complex, based on circular megalithic stone structures with two T-shaped fron-
tal standing at stones pillars located in the center. ese pillars are oen carved
with human features like arms and belts. Both the centre standing stones pillars
and the others included in the circular walls are decorated with carved gures
of animals and symbols, sometimes possibly related to narrative meanings con-
nected to the religious thinking of the time7. One of the best representations of
a scorpion is on Pillar 43 (Figure 1), together with birds, quadrupeds, snakes, a
headless man with a clear erected penis and others geometrical symbols8. e
ithyphallic headless man suggests religious values connected to death and life,
fertility and rebirth and similar aspects of this religious sphere. e connection
with the several animals depicted on the same pillar is almost speculative, but
the scorpion gure is clearly in a main position of the scene, perhaps indicating
the link between this animal and fertility in the religious ideology of the rst
Neolithic communities. Moreover, the scorpion on Pillar 43 of Göbekli Tepe has
been tentatively interpreted as the Scorpion constellation9. is could testify the
rst aestation in the Near East of the double value of the symbol, chthonic on
one side and astral on the other, even if this hypothesis is still maer of strong
debate in the scientic community10.
7 Schmidt (2007).
8 Schmidt (2007, g. 109).
9 Sweatman and Tsikritsis (2017).
10 See on this topic: Notro et al. (2017); Burley (2017).
314 From Earth to Heaven
In Mesopotamia, during the following Poery Neolithic Period, the scorpi-
on can be identied on the poery from Samarra11, in association with female
gures, apparently naked, frontally represented, the arms raised and the long
hair lied by the wind or the movement12. Here, for the rst time, the feminine
11 e Hasuna and Samarra cultures (7th Millennium BC) are Mesopotamian societies of the
Poery Neolithic Period, characterized by peculiar painted poery typologies. e Samarra
culture, discovered rst by the German excavation in the site Samarra in central Iraq at the
beginning of the 19th Century and then widely documented in the Level 3-5 of Tell Es-Sawwan,
is characterized also by the tripartite house plan (Oates 2012, pp. 471-476).
12 is association between the scorpion and the feminine is thus a link that will continue in the
following period until the last association between the scorpion and the goddess Ishkhara, the
Fig. 1. Pillar 43 of Göbekli Tepe (Schmidt 2007, g. 109).
Fig. 2. Examples of Samarra painted poery with scorpion designs
(Invernizzi 2007, g. 92).
Sara Pizzimenti - Andrea Polcaro
and the scorpion are together (Figure 2), suggesting that one of the main values
of the scorpion, that will accompany it during millennia, is the fertility and the
sexuality. is strong link between scorpion and fertility could be explained by
an empiric observation of the animal’s life: both by its complex courtship and
mating ritual for sexual reproduction and by the number of scorplings born
aer, that can range from a number of two to over a hundred13.
In the following Late Uruk period the presence of the scorpion increases.
It is represented together with no more frontal or naked female characters but
kneel down and with the arms raised towards the tail (Collon 1987, pp. 17,
no. 14, 20 n. 627). At the same time animal theories start to be depicted, with
the scorpion alone or together with spiders, usually on cylinder seals that are
important tools for the administration of the rst cities of Mesopotamia. Very
interesting is one seal impression with a scorpion in the upper part of the scene
on the right corner (Figure 3). In this seal the scene is clearly related to a sacred
ritual: outside a temple on the le, several naked male gures with evident
sexual aributes hold snakes in the typical “master of animals” gesture. Althou-
gh it is very dicult to reconstruct the ritual depicted on this seal, due to the
lack of contemporary texts, it seems very probable that fertility was once again
the main topic of the narrative. In fact, the snake is an animal always linked
to the fertility in the Near Eastern cultures no maer by the historical periods
and the changes in the religious thinking14. However, it is important to notice
female goddess related to the fertility.
13 However, the average lier consists of around eight scorplings.
14 It is the serpent who still the plant of life in the Myth of Gilgamesh (see about the snakes in the
Mesopotamian religion: Black-Green 1992, 166-168; for the serpent as a healer: McDonald 1994,
Polcaro in press).
Fig. 3. Seal impression from Uruk, Eanna sacred area, Late Uruk Period (Rova 1994,
tav. 43: 739).
316 From Earth to Heaven
the position of the scorpion in the upper part of the scene, because usually in
the Near Eastern art, the “up” of the narrative scene is considered the heavenly
vault, the place of gods and stars15. is consideration allows the interpretation
of the scorpion as a symbol of an astral value, corresponding to the Scorpio con-
stellation. is means that this could be one of the rst representations of the
scorpion as the correspondent constellation mulGÍR.TAB/zuqaqīpu16.
In the Early Dynastic Period, the scorpion is commonly present on the
cylinder seals, in particular in the “theories of animals” scenes. In some exam-
ples (Figure 4a-b), the scorpion appears together with vegetal elements, such
as the rosee17, the spike, and with farm animals, related in some way to the
importance of fertility18. e chthonic aspect of the scorpion, related also to the
human fertility and sexuality, is clearly stressed in other seals, where usually it
is represented aside of a sexual intercourse between two gures (Figure 4d), or
under the bed where the couple lies (Figure 4c).
15 See on this topic Pizzimenti (2017).
16 is is the Sumerian name of the Scorpio Constellation in one of the older known Mesopotamian
astronomical compendia, the MUL-APIN (see Hunger and Pingree 1989; Schaefer 2007). For the
astral value of the scorpion see §2.2.
17 e rosee is the symbol related to the fertility goddess Inanna, Lady of the city of Uruk (see
Black-Green 1992, pp. 156-157), very common in the Near Eastern art and in the female royal
jewelry, as it is aested since the early Dynastic Period from the Royal Cemetery of Ur (see
18 From the Early Dynastic Period, the scorpion is clearly linked to the fertility goddess Ishkara
(Frankfort 1955, p. 16).
Fig. 4. Examples of Early Dynastic seal impressions with scorpions, in particular: c)
form Frankfort (1955, pl. 53, no. 559); d) from Invernizzi (2007, g. 481).
Sara Pizzimenti - Andrea Polcaro
Despite of the growth of the astral value of the symbol of the scorpion
in the following periods (see the next paragraph), the chthonic aspect of the
animal linked to the fertility of the ground and of the women continues to be
very important in the Near Eastern art and religion. is is shown in parti-
cular in the Neo Sumerian Period, when the scorpion appears in the scenes
depicted on the cylinder seals in relation with female deities, such as Ishka-
ra, Ishtar or Nanshe19, in presentation scenes in front of deied kings20, or
connected with other symbols of reborn and fertility, like the sacred plant of
life21. e same trend can be noticed in the Old Babylonian seals, where the
scorpion is mostly represented together with the nude frontal female gure of
Ishtar as goddess of love and sexuality22.
2.2 The Scorpion as an Astral Symbol
First representations of the scorpion as an astral symbol date back to the
Late Uruk period (end of the 4th millennium BC), in the upper part of cylinder
seals23. A Scorpion constellation (mulGÍR.TAB/zuqaqīpu) is present in the MUL.
APIN (Hunger/Pingree 1989, p. 138), the rst astronomical compendium24,
corresponding to the actual constellation of Scorpio with part of the Libra and
Ophiuchus constellations (Weidner 1957-58; Koch 1995-96, pp. 158-162; Galter
2007, p. 656; CAD Z: 165). Two main exemplifying cases of the Mesopotamian
art will be discussed, where the astral value of the scorpion is clear and of
2.2.1 e Scorpion in the Akkadian Plough Scenes
e ploughing scene appears on nine Akkadian cylinder seals (Boehmer
1965, p. 191, no.cat. 1678-1684a), six of which come from the antiquarian mar-
ket, while the remaining three have been recovered in the site of Susa (Figure
5c) and Tell Asmar (Boehmer 1965, pl. LX: 713-714). In ve of those seals (Fi-
gures 5 and 6), the ploughing scene is topped by symbols, among which the
scorpion. e analysis of the ploughing scene on the Akkadian seals allows the
identication of two types:
19 See for example Collon (1982, pls. XLI: 334, XLV: 384, XLVI: 400).
20 See for example Collon (1982, pl. LI: 454).
21 See for example Collon (1982, pl. XLII: 353).
22 See for example Collon (1986, pl. XXII: 276).
23 Because the Mesopotamians always started from a ‘direct view’ in their representation, the
upper part of the seal can be considered the visual correspondent of the ‘up’ par excellence: the
24 e main core of the MUL.APIN seems to belong to the end of the 3rd millennium BC, about
2048 BC as suggested by Weidner (1915) and Tuman (1992), though B.E. Shaefer (2007) now
suggests that the epoch for the observation is 1370 +/- 100 BC.
318 From Earth to Heaven
Type 1 - Ploughing scene with human characters (Figure 5). is scene can be
identied on three seals, and it is characterized by the ploughing activity. On
the seal BN 7 (Figure 5b) two male gures control the plough, dragged by two
oxen, while two other gures control the previous ones. All the human beings
are facing right and wear a short skirt. Two stars, a crescent and a scorpion
are represented in the upper part of the seal. In addition, on NBC 5990 (Figu-
re 5a) three naked male characters, all facing right, are involved in ploughing
activities: two of them control the plough, while the third one commands the
oxen which drags it. In the upper part, three birds y above the animal, while
a crescent and a scorpion are on the le. Finally, the seal S.405 (Louvre mu-
seum) from Susa (Figure 5c) has a simplied plough scene: only one ox, facing
right, and a male character, facing right, standing behind it. Although there is
no plough, the position of the arms of the male character allow us to assume
that he is using a tool, probably a plough. Two trees frame the scene, while a
scorpion is in the upper part of the seal, immediately above the back of the ox.
Fig. 5. e scorpion in ploughing scenes with human characters (a) Boehmer
(1965, pl. LX: 712); b) Boehmer (1965, pl. LX: 711); c) Delaporte (1920, pl. 30:
Sara Pizzimenti - Andrea Polcaro
Type 2 - Ploughing scene with deities and semi-deities controlling the plough
(Figure 6). is type of scene is represented on two seals. In Diyala 654, from
Tell Asmar (Figure 6a), there are two bearded deities, both facing right, dres-
sed in ounced robe, with a single-horn tiara. e rst deity on the le con-
trols the plough - dragged by a ox - while a second one, whose right arm ends
as a scorpion, helps him. Being the “scorpion-arm” raised, the scorpion also
appears to be in the sky - the upper part of the scene -, where a crescent and
a eight-pointed star took place. A seal from the Erlenmeyer Collection (Figure
6b) is the most complex ploughing scene on Akkadian glyptic. Two deities -
male and female - are involved in a ploughing activity. While the male deity
is controlling the plough, the female one is helping him, with the action of
seeding, as well as controlling the animal that is dragging the plough: the lion.
While no sure hypothesis can be done regarding the male deity25, the female
one can be identied with Ishtar, as indicated by the long loose hair as well as
by the rays coming out from her shoulders26. Furthermore, the lion is symbol
25 It is possible to suppose that the male deity could be Anu, considered the partner of Ishtar
during the Akkadian period (Nigro 1997, p. 360).
26 e representation of Ishtar involved in ploughing activity is directly related to the Akkadian
program of identifying the Sumerian Inanna with the Akkadian Ishtar. e Akkadian iconography
of Ishtar, in fact, is the gurative expression of the syncretism with Inanna, in which Ishtar, usually
depicted as a warrior goddess, shares features and activities of the Sumerian Inanna (Nigro 1997,
Fig. 6. e scorpion in ploughing scenes with deities and semi-deities (a) Boehmer
(1965, pl. LX: 714); b) Boehmer (1965, pl. LX: 715a).
320 From Earth to Heaven
and aribute of Ishtar27. A bull, on whose back a lightening is represented,
symbol of the storm-god28, is above the lion, together wit a ying bird. A
male aendant, involved in a libation, is in front of the divine couple, while a
female aendant, smaller in size, is depicted above the plough. A scorpion is
depicted in the upper part of the seal, behind the male god.
All the ploughing scenes of the Akkadian glyptic have some elements in
common. With the exception of S.405 (Figure 6c), where the scene can be con-
sidered an ‘abbreviated’ one, there are always at least two people involved:
the rst one controlling the plough and the second controlling the animals.
When the seeding-plough is represented, the gure controlling the animals
also controls the seeding-part of the plough. erefore, the ploughing activity
is always represented in a realistic way. Another element is the presence of
astral symbols in the upper part of the scene, where stars and crescent are qui-
te constantly depicted, and the scorpion is always represented. While the stars
or the crescent, because of their features, as well as because of their placement
in the upper part of the scene29, can be immediately considered as represen-
tation of astral bodies30, the scorpion is, on the other hand, the representation
of an animal. However, the scorpion itself can have an astral value, as a visual
representation of the Scorpion constellation (mulGÍR.TAB/zuqaqīpu), here rein-
forced by its constant position in the upper part of the scene: the sky.
pp. 357-361). At this regard, the seal BM129479 (British Museum) carries in its decoration both the
deities (Collon 1982, pl. XXXI: 213).
27 Inanna, Sumerian correspondent of Ishtar, is called “lion of heaven”: “Inanna, the great storm,
the lion of heaven” (Heimpel 1968, pp. 315, 36:55); “Inanna , the lion of heaven, shining, your
power are exalted” (Heimpel 1968, pp. 315-316, 36:56).
28 For an analysis of the symbol of the lightning see van Buren (1945, p. 67) and Pizzimenti (2017,
29 Symbols with a clear astronomical value, such as the star and the crescent, occupy a quite
constant position in the upper part of the scene, which should correspond to the sky, the real place
the correspondent heavenly bodies occupy in the real world, considering that the Mesopotamians
always started, in their artistic representation, from a “direct view” (Pizzimenti 2014, pp. 152-153).
30 e crescent can be considered the Moon, as well as the astral correspondent of the god Nanna/
Sin. It appears in Mesopotamian visual imagery from the prehistoric times onward (Black - Green
1992, 54). Its rst appearance on glyptic can be found in seals from Fara: see for example the seals VA
8605 (Heinrich 1931: pl. 58:c) and VA 8725 (Heinrich 1931, pl. 47:b). For an analysis of the symbol of
the crescent see van Buren (1945: 60-64; Seidl 1989, pp. 97-98; Collon 1992, pp. 19-37; Black - Green
1992, p. 54; Stop 1992, pp. 245-247; Pizzimenti 2013, pp. 267-268; 2017, pp. 9-10). e eight-pointed
star is the planet Venus, the astral correspondent of the goddess Inanna/Ishtar, a correspondence
dating back at least to the 3rd millennium BC (Brown 2000, p. 55). In the cylinder A of Gudea, in
fact, is wrien “the (star-)disk, symbol of Ininna, he set up” (ureau Dangin 1907, pp. 104 ss.),
while clear textual evidence of the connection between Inanna/Ishtar and the planet Venus (ddili-
bat) dates back to the Ur III period (Brown 2000, p. 67), when she is called “Lady of the Morning”
and “Lady of the Evening” (Kramer and Wolkstein 1983, p. 103). One of the main characteristics of
Venus is its cyclic nature in being periodically the rst star visible in the nocturnal sky or the last
visible star in the morning. For an analysis of the cycle of Venus see Pizzimenti (2014).
Sara Pizzimenti - Andrea Polcaro
On the other hand, considering agriculture and all related activities, such
as the ploughing, it is possible to notice that they depend on the seasons: the
year began in late summer, when the eld which has lain fallow the previous
year31 needed to be prepared by breaking up the soil and irrigating it to soen
the ground; then follows the sowing (Postgate 1992, pp. 167 ss.). e stars and
the orientation to them is thus one of the ways used to regulate the agricul-
tural activities, as testied by the so-called “Farmer’s Instruction”, a didactic
text about the grain cultivations:
38 u4 mul an-na šu im-ma-ab-du7-a1-ta
39 10-àm1 á gud a-šà zi-zi-i-da-šè2 igi-zu3 nam-ba-e-gíd-i3
Once the sky constellations are right,
do not be reluctant to take the oxen force to the eld many times32.
Comparing the ploughing scenes and this short instruction regarding the
ploughing activities, it is possible to assume a connection between the mulGÍR.
TAB/zuqaqīpu constellation and the “right constellation time”. However, in
order to beer understand this connection, it is necessary to individuate the
time during which the mulGÍR.TAB/zuqaqīpu constellation was visible at the
Mesopotamia latitude during the Akkadian period and its relationship with
the agricultural cycle.
In the mid-3rd millennium BC, the so-called “Early Semitic Calendar”, at-
tested in Northern and Central Mesopotamia, has several names of the months
related to agricultural activities. e Equinoxes were extremely important33.
e spring equinox, in fact, identied the beginning of the spring season, and
so the beginning of the year, while the autumn equinox indicated the end of
the summer and the beginning of the raining season. Because of the so-called
precession of the equinoxes, during centuries the precise date of the equinox-
es changed. During the Akkadian period the Spring equinox, according to the
Julian calendar, occurred on the 9th April, while the Autumn equinox on the
12th October. With a reconstruction of the sky of central Mesopotamia from
31 A system of alternate-year fallowing of winter crops is aested at least since the Early Dynastic
period in Southern Mesopotamia (Yamamoto 1980; Jacobsen 1982, p. 72). However, Maekawa
argued that this practice can be aested at Girsu during the Shulgi and Amar-Suen periods
(Maekawa 1984, p. 74).
32 Civil (1994, pp. 1-5, 30-31).
33 e calendars used in Mesopotamia were a combination of lunar and solar calendar, where
the Moon achieved dominance over the Sun as a determiner of the year. e months were based
on the lunar cycle, with a length that could vary between 29 and 30 days, composing a year
of around 354 days. e solar part of the calendar can, on the other hand, be perceived in the
religious festivals, during which seasonal phenomenon were celebrated. Finally, in addition to
the lunar cycle and the seasonal cycle the equinoxes cycles have to be added, together with the
concept of two six months periods dened by the equinoxes. e rainy season started around
September, with sporadic ooding of the Tigris and Euphrates river from November, and main
ooding during April and May.
322 From Earth to Heaven
ca. 2350 to 2200 BC, it is possible to notice the heliacal seing of the mulGÍR.
TAB/zuqaqīpu constellation in the middle of the month of September. More
precisely in 2250 BC, the heliacal seing34 of the brightest star of the constel-
lation, Antares (α Scorpii), occurred on the 1st of September. e heliacal rising
of the constellation occurred at the end of October/beginning of November.
More precisely, in 2250 BC the heliacal rising35 of Antares (α Scorpii), hap-
pened on the 28th of October, just 16 days aer the equinox, indicating the end
of the summer and the consequent beginning of the raining season.
In the 3rd millennium BC the agricultural cycle in Mesopotamia was com-
posed by four main phases: 1) acquisition and retooling of the equipment; 2)
preparation of the elds in advance for the seeding; 3) seeding; 4) harvest.
Looking at the agricultural activities related to the name of the months, it is
possible to notice that the 4th month - corresponding to July -, named itišu-nu-
num, which means “seed-sowing” (Cohen 1993, p. 96), was the time to start
preparing the elds for seeding, and the plow was used in this process. On the
other hand, the 8th month - October - was named iti gišapin-du8-a, “the month
the seed-plow is let go”, indicating the end of ploughing and seeding activ-
ities before the beginning of the raining season. e Sumerian composition
“Disputation between the Plow and the Hoe” gives new hints about the plow-
ing activities, proving in a certain way this range of time. In this disputation
between hoe and plow, the hoe reproaches to the plow: “My full term is 12
months. Your period of service is but 4 months. e time you’re hidden away
is 8 months” (Vanstiphout 1984, vv.104-108). is line seems thus to reect ag-
ricultural practices in which the plow is used 4 months - probably from the 4th
to the 7th - with the 8th month during which the plow was hung from a beam
and stored away until next year36.
One of the most important moments in the observation of the stars is their
rst apparition in the sky, the heliacal rising, just before the sunrise, aer a
period of darkness. mulGÍR.TAB/zuqaqīpu was not visible at end the summer
season, and its heliacal rising occurred just aer the autumn equinox, at the
beginning of the raining season, marking the end of the ploughing activities.
In a certain way, it is possible to suppose a strong relationship between the
Scorpion constellation and the agricultural activities. e preparation of the
elds, that is the rst part of the ploughing activity, started on the 4th month
(July) during which the Scorpion constellation was yet well visible in the
34 e heliacal seing is the last visible seing of a star in the evening twilight; the star will be no
more visible during the until the heliacal rising.
35 e heliacal rising of a star is the moment of its rst visibility above the eastern horizon just
before the sunrise.
36 “Once you have taken down your sacred plow, which was hanging from a beam, your master
carpenter must tighten (its) bonds (e Song of the Plowing Ox [Civil 1976, vv. 124-125]).
Sara Pizzimenti - Andrea Polcaro
sky. However, its heliacal seing on the 7th month (September) should let the
farmers aware that the raining season was approaching and that it was nec-
essary to hurry up. e heliacal rising of Antares (α Scorpii; corresponding to
Lisi-star37) on the 8th month, announcing the beginning of the raining season,
should be the last possible time for the farmers to perform the ploughing of
the elds. In the MUL.APIN II iii 35-37 it is in fact wrien:
DIŠ u4-um dLi9-si4 IGI.LÁ 3 u4-me mu-ši-ta LÚ NIGIN É-šú
NAM.LÚ.U18.LU GU4 UDU.NITÁ ANŠE li-de-ek-ki
NU ina-al u ana dLi9-si4 lik-ru-ub KI NIGÍN É-šú uš-tak-lal
“On the day the Lisi-star becomes visible, a man should wake up at night
all that is around his house, people, cale, sheep, donkeys, and he must not
sleep; he should pray to the Lisi-god, then he and all that is around his house
will experience success”.
It is thus possible to assume that the representation of the symbol of the
scorpion in the ploughing scenes on Akkadian glyptic is the representation
of the Mesopotamian Scorpion constellation at its heliacal seing, when, aer
having crossed the entire nocturnal sky during its visible period, it has ac-
complished its mission to fertilize the elds before completely disappearing
below the horizon.
2.2.2 e Scorpion in the Late Bronze Age Mesopotamian glyptic
In Late Bronze Age Mesopotamian glyptic, the scorpion is represented
only on 61 Mitannian seals, while it is completely absent on the Kassite and
Middle-Assyrian seals (Pizzimenti 2017, p. 21). Frequently represented along
with other animals, such as the caprid38 and the bull39, or composite beings,
such as the grin40, noteworthy is its association with astral symbols, par-
ticularly with stars (Stein 1993, p. 169, no. 117; 171, no. 120; 339, no. 389 and
459, no. 592; 2001, p. 322, no. 78 and 345, no. 160). When represented together
(Figure 7a), the scorpion and the star are always in the upper part of the scene
and seems to have not only a divinatory value, but also a value linked to the
economy and to the sustenance of the territory.
e reconstruction of the sky of the 1600 BC in northern Mesopotamia
(with the program Solex v.10) showed in fact a possible link of this paern with
the conjunction of Venus and the Scorpio constellation (Figure 7b), conjunction
that occurred in these years between the months of September and October: the
37 e identication of Antares with the Lisi-star can be found in the MUL.APIN I ii30: “e breast
of the scorpion: Lisi, Nabû (Hunger and Pingree 1989, p. 38).
38 See for example Stein (1993, p. 191 no.120 and 176-177, no. 131).
39 See for example Stein (1993, pp. 371-372, no. 432 and 509, no. 677).
40 See for example Stein (1993, p. 122, no. 40 and 222-223, no. 193).
324 From Earth to Heaven
beginning of the rainy season, vital for an economy based on agriculture and
breeding. Moreover, to give a stronger value to this connection the later neo-as-
sirian omen RMA 112 says: “…If Venus comes close to Scorpio: winds which are
not good will blow towards the land; Adad will give his rain, and Ea his springs,
to the Gutian land” (Hunger 1992, no. 55).
e analysis of the Near Eastern art and literature has shown the great im-
portance of the scorpion in the Mesopotamian cultures. Its wide presence seems
clearly connected with two main values of the animal and the related symbol:
chthonic and astral. e former seems to be older, at least in Mesopotamia,
being linked to the religious spheres of death and life, reborn and fertility, while
the laer is related to the Scorpio constellation, its presence in the sky and the
relative divinatory meanings. ese two aspects of the scorpion overlap over
Fig. 7. Correspondence between the star-scorpion paern (a) Stein (1993, p.
171, no. 120) and the conjunction between Venus and Scorpio constellation (b),
reconstruction of the sky: September-October 1600 BC (Solex v.10.0).
Sara Pizzimenti - Andrea Polcaro
time, perhaps since the beginning of the Neolithic Period, but the rst secure
aestations of both the values come from the proto-urban and urban societies,
between the 4th and the 3rd Millennium BC. From the Akkadian Period onwards,
at the end of the 3rd Millennium BC, with the rising of the importance of the
astral deities in the Mesopotamian pantheon, the astral aspect of the scorpion
seems to prevail in the Near Eastern art, where its connection with the divi-
nation activities reaches its maximum presence during the 1st Millennium BC.
is double value of the scorpion is exemplied by the most famous Mesopo-
tamian literature text, the Myth of Gilgamesh (Peinato 1992, pp. 196-198). In
the myth, the long and hard journey of the Sumerian hero is motivated by the
research of the immortality, a characteristic of the gods, precluded to mankind.
Aer the death of his friend Enkidu, Gilgamesh starts to ght and talk with
heroes and any sort of divine being, crossing the earth and the sky to achieve
the eternal life. It is a place between earth and sky, that the hero encounters the
scorpion-men, guards of the Mashu Mountains, at the doors of the house of the
gods, protecting the Sun in its rising an seing (Tav. IX, vv.37-129).
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