doonesbury icons and the sumerian dingir
Sumerian Signs: Determinatives
Logographic sign used to help identify another sign's meaning
Not pronounced; just clarifies meaning
Common examples: god, man, woman, place, wood
Since these are a special use of a logogram, we can use capital letters for transliteration as well.
precedes the name of a diety
Discussion: Is Gary Trudeau using a stylized version of the ancient Sumerian logographic determinative "dingir" to denote the divinity of George W. Bush? (Figure B)
The ancient Sumerian sign "dingir" (Figure A) is found on clay tablets in the Uruk IV period (3300-3200 BCE) and comprises one element of the earliest known writing system in the world. On the Uruk IV tags it signifies "sky" or "god" and was apparently pronounced "AN" or "DINGIR". In Old Akkadian it was pronounced "šamû", meaning "sky", or "ilu" -- "god", and was used as a determinative sign next to the names of deities, denoting divinity.
Brick Inscription of Ur-Nammu
This is a Sumerian brick inscription of Ur-Nammu, king of Ur (2112-2095). It belongs to the period of the "Sumerian Renaissance", when the Sumerians briefly regained control of the region from the Akkadians.
Ur-Nammu nita kalaga
lugal Urima, lugal Kiengi Kiurike
For his lady Inanna,
Ur-Nammu the mighty man,
King of Ur, king of Sumer and Akkad,
has built her temple.
In Figure C, "DINGIR" is not pronounced, but is used as a determinative sign to denote the divinity of Inanna. Inanna was the ancient Sumerian goddess of love, fertility and war:
by Micha F. Lindemans
Inanna is the most important goddess of the Sumerian pantheon in ancient Mesopotamia. She is a goddess of love, fertility, and war. Inanna figures prominently in various myths, such as 'Inanna's descent to the underworld'. In this particular myth she travels to the realm of the dead and claims its ruling. However, her sister Ereshkigal, who rules the place, sentences her to death. With Inanna's death, however, nature died with her and nothing would grow anymore. Through the intervention of the god Enki she could be reborn if another person took her place. She choose her beloved consort Dumuzi, who would from then on rule the underworld every half year.
She is regarded as a daughter of the sky-god An, but also of the moon-god Nanna. A variation of her name is Ninnanna, which means 'queen of the sky'. She is also called Ninsianna as the personification of the planet Venus. Inanna is portrayed as a fickle person who first attracts men and then rejects them. She is depicted as richly dressed goddess or as a naked woman. Her symbol is the eight-pointed star. Important sanctuaries of Inanna were in Uruk, Zabalam, and Babylon. The Akkadians called her Ishtar.
To enter the shrine of Inanna, click here.
One difficulty with the firm equation of the Doonesbury logogram with the ancient Sumerian "dingir" is that the former lacks the distinctive cuneiform, or "wedge-shaped" marks characteristic of Old Sumerian (see Figure A). In fact, some scholars have argued that the Doonesbury logo-determinative might more rightly be classified as an "asterisk". (See Figure B; compare Figure A). However, one line of research indicates that the Old Sumerian "dingir" sign was in fact simplified during the Ur III period, the so-called "Sumerian Renaissance", beginning c. 2100 BCE when the Old Akkadian language began to morph into Old Babylonian.
Middle Babylonian Asterisk c. 1300 BCE
Late Assyrian Asterisk
Shrine Inscription, Nineveh, c. 666 BCE
However, a shrine inscription discovered quite recently (2003) at Nineveh, during the American invasion of Iraq, has aroused considerable excitement among Assyriologists who claim that this discovery may in fact be a "Rosetta Stone", demonstrating graphically the equivalence of the ancient Sumerian "dingir" with the early modern Old Assyrian "asterisk". This "missing link" was unearthed beside a seven-foot stele dated to 2219 BC which depicts Naram-Sin, the grandson of Sargon, defeating the Lullullulubi peoples of Iran. (Figure H) Although the stele itself is of little importance, it does include an amazing star-shaped rosette in the top right-hand corner (Figure I) which paranoid glottopsychiatrists believe may be
an ancient forerunner of the Middle Babylonian asterisk. How the stele came to be found in such close proximity to the Nineveh Shrine Inscription (Figure G) is still somewhat of a mystery. One theory is that the stele is in fact one of the famous "Weapons of Mass Destruction" reburied by Saddam III to frighten the Bush administration. Another school of thought, embraced largely by a secretive band of Sumerologists at the University of Pennsylvania, holds to the "Indiana Jones" theory, holding that the stele was desposited there by aliens from the planet Nibiru to mess with mankind's collective unconsciousness.
At any rate, if the equivalence of the various mysterious star-shaped symbols can be demonstrated, it may well be that the Doonesbury logo-semantic "asterisk" is in fact the equivalent of the ancient Sumerian "dingir" and hence that Trudeau is indeed using the sign to denote the divinity of George W. Bush, or Bush II.
Naram-Sin, Master of the Universe, c. 2219 BCE
Mysterious Asterisk Shaped Symbol (detail of Naram-Sin Stele)
The great American scholar of Sumer and things Sumerian Samuel Noah Kramer described Inanna as "...the ambitious, aggressive and demanding goddess of love ..." (1963:153). In historic times, she certainly was goddess of love and sexuality, but she also held and could bestow the mes, the attributes of civilization. Thus, she ruled over many areas of culture. According to Thorkild Jacobsen, these included "the storehouse" (1976:135), "the rains" (136), "war" (137), "Morning and Evening Stars" (138), and what he calls "harlotry," prostitution (Jacobsen 139). Of Inanna, he says:
In the epics and myths, Inanna is a beautiful, rather willful young aristocrat. We see her as a charming, slightly difficult younger sister [to her Sun God brother], as a grown daughter [of her Moon God father]..., and a worry to her elders.... We see her as a sweetheart, as a happy bride, and as a sorrowing young widow. We see her, in fact, in all the roles a woman may fill except the two which call for maturity and a sense of responsibility. She is never depicted as a wife and helpmate or as a mother.(Jacobsen 1976: 141)
This description of Inanna includes many of her aspects, but all the roles that Jacobsen discusses are ones that attach a woman to males by means of the patriarchal family and so control her sexuality and ability to reproduce. Feminist scholar Tikva Frymer-Kensky understands Inanna differently: Inanna was the divine model for a role that was not considered socially desirable. "She represents the non-domesticated woman, and she exemplifies all the fear and attraction that such a woman elicits" (1992: 25). She is a woman who is not tied to the patriarchal family, whose sexuality is not controlled for its ends. In addition, Inanna is the fearsome spirit of "the attraction necessary for all sexual copulation, regardless of its social purpose or value." Nonetheless, despite being the goddess of prostitutes, Inanna was, as goddess Ishara, also "patron of marital sexuality" (47-48).