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The trouble with “Hairies”

  • Richard S. Ellis


Of all figures seen in Mesopotamian art, the naked or kilted human male figure with curls of hair on either side of his face is one of the most familiar. A form of this figure was portrayed already in the Jemdet Nasr period; he became common in Early Dynastic III, and particularly in the Akkadian period, after which he was less popular, though he was revived from time to time, probably until Achaemenid times. Since the early identification with Gilgamesh has been abandoned, he has been referred to by many names: the “six-locked hero”, “wild man”, “naked hero”, or whatever. Long ago Erich Ebeling cited evidence that his Akkadian name was talīmu, the “twin”. F. A. M. Wiggermann, in his article “Exit talim!”, and later in his valuable book Mesopotamian Protective Spirits, has argued that this familiar figure was instead referred to in Akkadian, at least in the first millennium B.C., as laḫmu, the “hairy one”, the “Hairy”. This identification has been accepted by numerous other scholars.

Wiggermann presents the following evidence for his identification (listed from the most general to the most specific, rather than in Wiggermann's own order):

1. Lexical evidence to show that the root lḫm means “to be hairy”, and that the noun laḫmu means “the hairy one”.

2. Various citations of the noun laḫmu that in general are consistent with the identification.

3. A very specific association of the term and the image in the Neo-Assyrian texts which prescribe the preparing of figurines to be buried in houses and palaces for protection against evil spirits. This evidence is the same as was used by Ebeling for his identification of the “wild man” as talīmu, which Wiggermann wishes to discredit.



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1 See, for instance, Calmeyer, Peter, “Gilgameš, D. In der Archäologie”, RLA III (19571971) 373.

2 I prefer the term “wild man”, for reasons obscure to myself.

3 Ebeling, E., “Talim”, Archiv für Orientforschung 5 (19281929) 218–19.

4 Exit talim! Studies in Babylonian demonology, I”, Journal Ex Oriente Lux 27 (19811982) 90105.

5 Mesopotamian Protective Spirits: The Ritual Texts, Cuneiform Monographs 1 (Groningen: Styx, 1992).

6 For instance, Black, J. A. and Green, A., Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia: An Illustrated Dictionary (London: British Museum Press, 1992) 115. See particularly, as well, Lambert, W. G., “The pair Laḫmu–Laḫamu in cosmology”, Orientalia NS 54 (1985) 189202, which will be referred to further below. Doubt about the identification was expressed by Engel, Burkhard J., Darstellungen von Dämonen und Tieren in assyrischen Palästen und Tempeln nach den schriftlichen Quellen (Mönchengladbach: Hackbarth, 1987), pp. 87–9, and by Ellis, M. deJ., “An Old Babylonian kusarikku,” in Behrens, Hermann, Loding, Darlene, and Roth, Martha (eds.), DUMU-E2-DUB-BA-A: Studies in Honor of Åke W. Sjöberg, Occasional Publications of the Samuel Noah Kramer Fund 11 (Philadelphia: The University Museum, 1989) 128, n. 53; discussions with Dr. Ellis have contributed to the present article.

7 Wiggermann, , JEOL 27 93; Lambert, W. G., “Tukulti-Ninurta I and the Assyrian King List”, Iraq 38 (1976) 90–1, 93: 11.

8 Ellis, M. deJ., Studies Sjöberg, pp. 121–35; Black, and Green, , Gods, Demons and Symbols, pp. 48–9.

9 Köcher, F., “Der babylonische Göttertypentext”, MIO 1 (1953) 57107. The text is known from several first-millennium exemplars from Nineveh, Assur, and Uruk. According to the colophon of the Assur tablet, it was copied from an original from Babylon (Köcher, , MIO 1 82–3).

10 Köcher, , MIO 1 72–3 iii 52′–iv 4.

11 This word has often been interpreted as designating some kind offish (AHw 1: 487a, “ein Fisch”; cf. CAD K 429b “[an animal]”); but it is not found in any other text, and its only fish-like connection is the fact that it forms part of creatures belonging to Ea, including kullulu (Köcher, , MIO 1 80–1 vi 5–12), a name that is otherwise well known as referring to the “fish-man”, who can be shown to be ordinarily a fish-centaur with a human head (Wiggermann, , JEOL 27 182–3). Therefore the intent of the description remains unknown.

12 Köcher, , MIO 1 74–5 iv 34–48.

13 CAD A/1, p. 95a.

14 Köcher, , MIO 1 76–7 iv 49–v 10.

15 CAD I/J, pp. 104–5.

16 Köcher, , MIO 1 76–7 v 11–12; cf. Lambert, , Orientalia NS 54 197–9.

17 Köcher, , MIO 1 78–9 v 33–42.

18 Köcher, , MIO 1 78–9 v 43–51.

19 Lambert, , Orientalia NS 54 197, brings these descriptions into harmony with Wiggermann's identification by associating, not their appearance, but their function (as gate-keepers) with that of the “wild man”.

20 JEOL 27 94–5. According to Lambert, , Orientalia NS 54 189, the identification lḫm = “to be muddy” stems from an idea offered by Jacobsen, Th. in Frankfort, al., Before Philosophy (Baltimore: Penguin, 1961) 185–6, where the association with mud is made on the basis of a (modern) logical interpretation of the opening lines of Enūma eliš. Lambert shows that the logic of progressive physical differentiation posited by Jacobsen is not required by the text.

21 Wiggermann, , Mesopotamian Protective Spirits, p. 156. Wiggermann accepts Lambert's contention that the verbal roots must be the same, but rejects his specific interpretation on the cosmic function of Laḫmu/Laḫamu (see the previous note).

22 Ebeling, Erich, “Talim”, Archiv für Orientforschung 5 (1929) 218–19.

23 erba rābiš dumqi ṣī rābiṣ lemutti.

24 A copy of this text was published by Ebeling, E., Keilschrifttexte aus Assur religiösen Inhalts, Wissenschaftliche Veröffentlichungen der Deutschen Orientgesellschaft 28 (2 vols.; Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs, 1915–23). Excerpts were cited by Smith, S. apud Woolley, C. L., “Babylonian prophylactic figures”, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 1926 689 ff. It has been edited by Gurney, O. R., “Babylonian prophylactic figures and their rituals”, Liverpool Annals of Archaeology and Anthropology 22 (1935) 6475; Rittig, D., Assyrischbabylonische Kleinplastik magischer Bedeutung vom 13.–6. Jh. v. Chr., Münchener Vorderasiatische Studien 1 (Munich: Uni-Druck, 1977) 152–70; Hibbert, P.apud Kolbe, D., Die Reliefprogramme religiös-mythologischen Charakters in neuassyrischen Palästen: Die Figurentypen, ihre Benennung und Bedeutung, Europäische Hochschulschriften: Reihe 38, Archäologie 3 (Frankfurt am Main: Peter D. Lang, 1981) 193–209. Wiggermann contributed his collations of the text in Mesopotamian Protective Spirits, pp. 42–6.

25 Meier, Gerhard, “Kommentare aus dem Archiv der Tempelschule in Assur”, Archiv für Orientforschung 12 (19371939) 237–46.

26 Wiggermann, , Mesopotamian Protective Spirits, pp. 12. The fragmants known to belong to this text at the time were edited by Gurney, , Liverpool Annals of Archaeology and Anthropology 22 4263.

27 Wiggermann, , Mesopotamian Protective Spirits, pp. 23.

28 KAR 298 obv. 43; Wiggermann, , JEOL 27 90–1; Mesopotamian Protective Spirits, p. 43; Ebeling, , AfO 5 218.

29 Wiggermann, , Mesopotamian Protective Spirits, p. 28: 184.

30 Wiggermann, , JEOL 27 91; Mesopotamian Protective Spirits, p. 28: 184a.

31 JEOL 27 91 n. 11.

32 Landsberger, Benno, Sam'al: Studien zur Entdeckung der Ruinenstaette Karatepe, Veröffentlichingen der Türkischen Historischen Gesellschaft, VII Serie, v. No. 16 (Ankara: Türkische Historische Gesellschaft, 1948) 95 n. 227.

33 For references see Wiggermann, , JEOL 27 91.

34 Wiggermann, , Mesopotamian Protective Spirits, pp. 6586; Green, Anthony, “Neo-Assyrian apotropaic figures: Figurines, rituals and monumental art, with special reference to the figures from the excavations of the British School of Archaeology in Iraq at Nimrud”, Iraq 45 (1983) 8890. For the “Seven Sages”, see Reiner, Erica, “The eteological myth of the ‘Seven Sages’“, Orientalia NS 30 (1961) 111. The human sages, whose “names” or epithets are compounded with those of cities, presumably reflect this legendary topos, while the persons in fish cloaks can also be connected with it. No specific connection between the bird-headed figure and the legendary sages is known from other contexts.

35 JEOL 27 28: 148.

36 Wiggermann, , Mesopotamian Protective Spirits, p. 15; my translation differs slightly. Most of the passage about the water is reconstructed on the basis of KAR 298: Wiggermann, , Mesopotamian Protective Spirits, pp. 15, 28.

37 KAR 298 obv. 43–4.

38 These data are taken from the catalogue of my forthcoming work Domestic Spirits: Apotropaic Figures in Mesopotamian Buildings. In addition to the 94 figurines listed, there are 13 figures that have illegible inscriptions (all “wild man” plaques of the type from Assur), 18 for which an inscription is not mentioned or not quoted (seven “wild men”, eleven others), and three ordinary men with different inscriptions.

39 Wiggermann, , Mesopotamian Protective Spirits, p. 164 points out the existence of these figures, citing Green, , Iraq 45, but without further comment.

40 Since the Burnt Palace figures are from the end of the 8th century, and those from Fort Shalmaneser from the 8th and 7th, it appears that while the choice of iconographic type may have depended upon local custom, the use of the standard inscription did not. In general the inscribed figures are later than the uninscribed ones.

41 JEOL 27 92, and see n. 36, above.

42 Wiggermann, , JEOL 27 92 and n. 12.

43 JEOL 27 92 and n. 13, 101 n. 44.

44 Published examples include: from Fort Shalmaneser at Nimrud, ND 10299 = IM 65479, Mallowan, M. E. L., Nimrud and its Remains II (London: Collins, 1966) Fig. 375; from the “giparu site” at Ur, U.6767A–B, D–E = BM 118715–19, C. Leonard Woolley, The Kassite Period and the Period of the Assyrian Kings. Ur Excavations VIII (London: Trustees of the British Museum, 1965) Pl. 9: 3, top. Other, unpublished examples from Nimrud and Nineveh exist.

45 See, for instance, Perrot, Georges and Chipiez, Charles, A History of Art in Chaldaea and Assyria, trans, and ed. Armstrong, Walter (London: Chapman and Hall, 1884) 2 Fig. 128; Van Buren, Elizabeth Douglas, Foundation Figures and Offerings (Berlin: Schoetz, 1931) frontispiece. A second, unpublished, fragmentary figurine in the British Museum — BM 91841 — is from the same mould.

46 Because of the relative sizes of the human and leonine figures they are often referred to as heroes, or whatever, holding lion cubs. Mesopotamian representations of supernatural creatures often do not give us a clear impression of how their creators imagined them. Perhaps we should think of these representations not as monumental depictions of men with lion cubs, but as life-sized depictions of giants with (smallish) lions. The figures of the “wild man” and of the ”hero” with conventional hair preserved in the Louvre are about 4.44 metres and 4.90 metres high, respectively (according to measurements taken from Albenda, Pauline, The Palace of Sargon, King of Assyria [Paris: Éditions Recherche sur les Civilisations A.D.P.F., 1986] 158, Figs.7–8). The lions do not show any particularly youthful features.

47 Albenda, The Palace of Sargon, Figs. 7–8.

48 JEOL 27 92.Engel, , Darstellungen, p. 88, points out that the only known representations of the “wild man” in Assyrian buildings are in palaces, while the royal references to the placing of laḫmu's in buildings always refer to temples.

49 It is extremely tempting to bring to this argument, as Wiggermann does (JEOL 27 104–5) the observation made by Freydank, Helmut, “Zu den Siegeln des Bābu-ahaiddina”, Forschungen und Berichte 16 (1974) 78. This involves letters from Bbu-aḫa-iddina (chancellor of Shalmaneser I) referring to two of his own seals as the one “with the wild bull” and the one “with the laḫmu's”. One letter of Bābu-aḫa-iddina bears a seal impression with a bull. Two envelope fragments from the same deposit of texts have impressions of a seal with two fighting “wild men” (one winged) (see Weidner, Ernst, “Der Kanzler Salmanassars I.”, Archiv für Orientforschung 19 [19591960] 37, Fig. 2a–c.) that could have belonged to Bābu-aha-iddina also, though there is nothing at all to show that it did. Though Wiggermann refers to the argument as “independent confirmation”, he acknowledges that there is no positive reason to think that the seal did belong to the chancellor or, if it did, that it was the one referred to in the letter.

50 From the Burnt Palace at Nimrud; see Mallowan, , Nimrud and its Remains I 222–7, 286–7.

51 Wiggermann, , Mesopotamian Protective Spirits, p. 2.

52 See note 34, above.

53 Jan van Dijk, “Die Inschriftenfunde 2: Die Tontafeln aus dem rēš-Heiligtum”, in Lenzen, H. J., XVIII, vorläufiger Bericht über die von dem Deutschen Archäologischen Institut und der Deutschen Orient-Gesellschaft aus Mitteln der Deutschen Forschungsgemeinschaft unternommenen Ausgrabungen in Uruk-Warka, Abhandlungen der Deutschen Orient-Gesellschaft 7 (Berlin: Gebr. Mann, 1962) 47–8.

54 Wiggermann, , Mesopotamian Protective Spirits, pp. 756, with earlier literature. See the Middle Assyrian seals on which the bird-headed man pulls a leaf from a palm tree (Strommenger, Eva and Hirmer, Max, Fünf Jahrtausende Mesopotamien: Die Kunst von den Anfängen um 5000 v. Chr. bis zu Alexander dem Grossen [Munich: Hirmer, 1962] Pl. 187, centre), or addresses with his bucket and cone a sheep on an altar (Frankfort, Henri, Cylinder Seals: A Documentary Essay on the Art and Religion of the Ancient Near East [London: Gregg Press, 1939, reprinted 1965] Pl. 32e).

55 JEOL 27 92.

56 JEOL 27 98.

The trouble with “Hairies”

  • Richard S. Ellis


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