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Morris Jastrow, Babylonian- Assyrian Birth-Omens 

" they do observe 

anfatber'd heirs and loathly births of natures" 

(King Henry V. 2nd part 

Act IV, i, 121—122). 

As a result of researches in the field of Babylonian- 
Assyrian divination, now extending over a number of years ^, 
it may, be definitely said that apart from the large class of 
miscellaneous omens ^, the Babylonians and Assyrians deve- 
loped chiefly three methods of divination into more or less 
elaborate systems — divination through the inspection of the 
liver of a sacrificial animal or Hepatoscopy, through the ob- 
servation of the movements in the heavens or Astrology, 
(chiefly directed to the moon and the planets but also to the 

^ Embodied in detail in the author's Religion Babyloniens und As- 
syriens II 203 — 969 to be referred to hereafter as Jastrow Religion. See 
also various special articles by the writer such as „Signs and Names for 
the Liver in Babylonian" (Zeitschr. f. Assyr. XX 105—129). „The Liver in 
Antiquity and the Beginnings of Anatomy" (Trans, of the College of Physi- 
cians of Phila. XXIX 117—138). „The Liver in Babylonian Divination" 
(Proe. of the Numismatic an Antiquarian Soc. of Phila. XXV 23—30). „The 
Liver as the Seat of the Soul" (Studies in the History of Religions presented 
to C. H. Toy 143- 16H). „Sign and Name for Planet in Babylonian" (Proc. Amer. 
Philos. Society XLVII 141—156). „Hepatoscopy and Astrology in Babylonia 
and A8.-^yria" (ib. XLVII 646—676). „Sun and Saturn" (Revue d'Assyriologie 
VII No. 2), and the general survey in the author's Aspects of Religious 
Belief and Practice in Babylonia and Assyria (N. Y. 1911), Chapter III and IV. 
* The field of divination was gradually extended so that practically 
every unusual occurrence or every occurrence that even aroused attention 
was regarded as an omen. Among these miscellaneous classes of omens we 
may distinguish as distinct subdivisions (a) dreams, (b) phenomena counected 
with rivers and canals, (c) movements of animals — chiefly serpents, dogs, 
sheep and certain birds like ravens and falcons; also mice and rats, and 
various insects as roaches and locusts, (d) phenomena in houses and temples, 
including probably (as in Leviticus, Chap. 14) suspicious looking marks or 
spots, (e) peculiarities and diseases of any portion of the human frame. 
No doubt the list can be still farther extended. 

ReligionsgeschichtUche Versuche u. Vorarbeiten XIV, 5. 1 

2 Morris Jaatrow 

sun and the prominent stars and constellations), and through 
the observance of signs noted at birth in infants and the 
young of animals or Birth-omens. Elsewhere ^ I have sug- 
gested a general division of the various forms of divination 
methods into two classes, voluntary and involuntary divination, 
meaning by the former the case in which a sign is delibera- 
tely selected and then observed, by the latter where the sign 
is not of your own choice but forced upon your attention and 
calling for an interpretation. Hepatoscopy falls within the 
former category 2, Astrology and Birth-omens in the latter. 

Each one of these three methods rests on an underlying 
well-defined theory and is not the outcome of mere caprice 
or pure fancy, though of course these two factors are also 
prominent. In the case of Hepatoscopy, we find the un- 
derlying theory to have been the identification of the *^sour or 
vital centre of the sacrificial victim — always a sheep — with 
the deity to whom the animal is offered, — at least to the ex- 
tent that the two souls are attuned to one another. The 
liver being, according to the view prevalent among Baby- 
lonians and Assyrians as among other peoples of antiquity 
at a certain stage of culture, the seat of the soul\ the in- 
spection of the liver followed as the natural and obvious 
means of ascertaining the mind, i. e., the will and disposition 
of the deity to whom an inquiry has been put or whom one 
desired to consult. The signs on the liver — the size and shape 
of the lobes, and of the gall bladder, the character or pecu- 
liarities of the two appendices to the upper lobe, (the pro- 
cessus pyramidalis and the processus papillaris), and the 
various markings on the liver were noted, and on the basis 
of the two main principles conditioning all forms of divi- 

^ See Hepatoscopy and Astrology in Babylonia and Assyria (Proc. 
Amer. Philos. Society XL VII 646 sq. 

* The Greek and Eoman method of sending out birds and noting their 
flight is another example of voluntary divination, and so is the ancient 
Arabic method of selecting arrows, writing certain words on them, throwing 
them before the image or symbol of a deity and aa they fell, reading the 
oracle sent by the deity. 

' See the details in the writer's 'The Liver as the Seat of the Soul'. 
(Toy Anniversary volume 143—168.) 

Babylonian-Assyrian Birth-Omens 3 

nation (1) association of ideas and (2) noting the events that 
followed upon certain signs, a decision was reached as to 
whether the deity was favorably or unfavorably disposed or, 
what amounted to the same thing, whether the answer to the 
inquiry was favorable or unfavorable. 

In the case of Astrology, — a relatively more advanced 
method of divination, — the underlying theory rested on the 
supposed complete correspondence between movements and 
phenomena in the heavens and occurrences on earth. The 
gods, being identified with the heavenly bodies, — with the 
moon, sun, planets, and fixed stars — or as we might also 
put it, the heavenly bodies being personified as gods, the 
movements in the heavens were interpreted as representing 
the activity of the gods preparing the events on earth. 
Therefore, he who could read the signs in the heavens aright 
would know what was to happen here below. Astrology 
corresponded in a measure to the modern Weather Bureau 
in that it enabled one to ascertain a little in advance what was 
certain to happen, sufficiently so in order to be prepared for it. 
Compared with Hepatoscopy, Astrology not only represents a 
form of divination that might be designated as semi-scientific — 
only relatively scientific of course — but also occupies a higlier 
plane, because there was no attempt involved to induce a 
deity unfavorably disposed to change his mind. The signs 
were there ; they pointed unmistakably to certain occurrences on 
earth that were certain to occur and it was the task of the 
diviner — the baru or 'inspector' as the Babylonian called 
him — to indicate whether what the gods were preparing would 
be beneficial or harmful. Both Hepatoscopy and Astrology 
as developed by the Babylonians and Assyrians baru -priests 
exerted a wide influence, the former spreading to the Hittites 
and Etruscans and through the one or the other medium to 
Greeks and Eomans\ while Babylonian-Assyrian Astrology 
passing to the Greeks became the basis for Graeco-Roman 
and mediaeval Astrology, profoundly influencing the religious 

^ See Jastrow, Beligion II 120 sq. and „The Liver as the Seat of the 
Soul" (Toy Anniversary volume) 153 — 165. 


4 Morris Jastrow 

thought of Europe^ and in a modified form surviving even to 
our own days. The chain of evidence has recently been com- 
pleted^ to prove the direct transfer of the cuneiform astro- 
logical literature to Greek astrologers and astronomers. The 
possibility also of a spread or at least of a secondary in- 
fluence of both systems to the distant East is also to be 
considered. In fact considerable evidence is now available 
to show that Babylonian - Assyrian astrological notions and 
in part also astronomical data spread to China ^. 


The observation of signs observed in young animals and 
in infants at the time of birth constitutes a third division of 
Babylonian- Assyrian divination, quite equal in prominence to 
Hepatoscopy and Astrology. Here too we are justified in seeking 
for some rational or quasi- rational basis for the importance 
attached by Babylonians and Assyrians, and as we shall see 
by other nations as well, to anything of a noteworthy or 
unusual character observed at the moment that a new life 
was ushered into the world. The mystery of life made as 
deep an impression upon primitive man and upon ancient 
peoples as it does on the modern scientist, who endeavors 
with his better equipment and enriched by the large ex- 
perience of past ages, to penetrate to the very source of life. 
A new life issuing from another life — what could be stranger, 

* See Cumont, Fatalisme Astrale et Religions Antiques (Revue 
d'Histoire et de Litterature Religieuse 1912) ; also the same author's Astro- 
logy and Religion among the Greeks and Romans (N. Y. 1912). 

* Bezold and Boll, Reflexe astrologischer Keilinschriften bei grie- 
chischen Schriftstellern (Heidelberg Akad. d. Wiss. 1911); see also Cumont, 
Babylon und die griechische Astronomie (Neue Jahrbucher f. das klass. 
Altertnm XXVIII Abt. 1. 1—10). 

' See Jastrow, Religion II 745 sq. and Boll, Der ostasiatische Tierzyklus 
im Eellenismus (Leiden 1912). I hope to treat this phase of the subject more 
fully in a special article- See for the present the summary of my paper 
on this subject in the Actes du IV ere Congres International d'Histoire des 
Religions (Leiden 1913) 106—111 and Records of the Past (Washington) 
Vol. XII (1913) 12-16. 

Babylonian-Assyrian Birth-Omens 5 

what more puzzling, what more awe-inspiring? If we bear 
in mind that there is sufficient evidence to warrant us in 
saying that among peoples in a primitive state of culture, 
the new life was not associated with the sexual act\ the 
mystery must have appeared still more profound. The child 
or the young animal was supposed to he due to the action 
of some spirit or demon that had found its way into the 
mother, just as death was supposed to be due to some 
malicious demon that had driven the spirit of life out of the 
body. The many birth customs found in all parts of the 
world 2, are associated with this impression of mystery made 
by the new life; they centre largely round the idea of 
protection to the mother and her offspring at a critical period. 
The rejoicing is tempered by the fear of the demons who were 
supposed to be lurking near to do mischief to the new life 
and to the one who brought it forth. The thought is a 
natural one, for the young life hangs in the balance, while 
that of the mother appears to be positively threatened. All 
bodily suffering and all physical ailments being ascribed to 
the influence of bad demons, or to the equally malevolent 
influence of persons who could by their control of the demons 
or in some other way throw a spell over the individual, 
Birth, Puberty, Marriage and Death as the four periods in 
life which may be regarded as critical and transitional are 
marked by popular customs and religious rites that follow 
mankind from primitive times down to our own days. A 
modern scholar, Van Gennep, who has recently gathered 
these customs in a volume and interpreted them, calls his 
work *Eites de Passage', i. e., customs associated with the 
four periods of transition from one stage to the other and 
which survive in advanced forms of faith as Baptism, Con- 
firmation, Marriage ceremonies and Funeral rites, just as the 
chief festivals in all religions are the "Kites de Passage' of 
nature — associated with the transition periods of the year, 

^ See Hartland, Primitive Paternity — especially the summary in 
Chap. VII, and also Frazer, Totemism and jEJajo^fawiy I 93 seq. ; 191 seq. etc. 

* See PloC-Bartels, Das Weih (2d ed.) Chap. XXXII; Das Kind Chap. 
Ill, VIII, IX and Van Gennep, Rites de Passage Chap. V. 

6 Morris J astro w 

with the vernal equinox, the summer solstice, the autumnal 
equinox and the winter solstice or, expressed in agricultural 
terms, with sowing time, with blossoming or early harvest 
time, with the later harvest time and with the period of decay. 
The significance attached to birth omens is thus merely 
a phase of the ceremonies attendant upon the passage of the 
new-born from its mysterious hiding place to the light. 
The analogy between the new life and the processes of 
nature is complete, for the plant, too, after being hidden in 
the earth, which is pictured in the religions of antiquity as a 
'great mother', comes to the surface. 


The field of observation in the case of the new-born 
among mankind and in the animal world is large — very large, 
and yet definitely bounded. Normal conditions were naturally 
without special significance, but any deviation from the normal 
was regarded as a sign calling for interpretation. Such devia- 
tions covered a wide and almost boundless range from peculiar 
formations of any part of the body or of the features, to actual 
malformations and monstrosities. The general underlying 
principle was, the greater the abnormality, the greater the 
significance attached to it; and as in the case of the move- 
ments in the heaven, the unusual was regarded as an in- 
dication of some imminent unusual occurrence. We are for- 
tunate in possessing among the tablets of Ashurbanapal's 
library, unearthed by Layard just fifty years ago and which 
is still our main source for the Babylonian- Assyrian religious 
literature, many hundreds of texts furnishing lists of birth 
omens and their interpretation \ just as we have many 
hundreds of texts dealing with liver divination ^, and even 

1 Part XXVII and Part XXVIII PI. 1—42 of Cuneiform Texts from 
Babylonian Tablets etc. in the British Museum, are taken up with texts 
of this character. 

2 Parts XX, XXX and XXXI and PI. 1—42 of Part XXVIII re- 
present the bulk of this section of the Library so far as recovered by Layard, 
Eassam and George Smith. Previous to the British Museum publication, 
Alfred Boissier had published three volumes of divination texts of all kinds 
under the title of Documents Assyriens relatifs aux Presages (Paris 1894—99) 

Babylonian-Assyrian Birth-Omens 7 

more dealing with Astrology ^ apart from the many hun- 
dreds of texts dealing with miscellaneous omens of which 
up to the present only a small proportion has been pub- 
lished ^ From this division of the great collection gathered 
by Ashurbanapal's scribes chiefly from the temple archives 
of Babylonia, it appears that the b a r u - priests made exten- 
sive collections of all kinds of omens which served the pur- 
pose of official hand-books to be consulted in case of 
questions put to the priests as to the significance of any par- 
ticular phenomenon, and which were also used as text- 
books for the training of the aspirants to the priesthood. 
Confining ourselves to the birth-omens *, the first question 
that arises is whether the signs entered are based on actual 
occurrences or are fanciful. In the case of many entries, as 
will presently be made evident, the anomalies noted rest upon 
actual observation, but with the desire of the priests to 
embrace in their collections all possible contingencies so as to 
be prepared for any question that might at any time arise, 
a large number of signs were entered which the diviners thought 
might occur. In other words, in order to be on the safe side 
the diviners allowed their fancy free rein and registered 
many things that w^e can positively say never did occur and 
never could occur*. With the help of hand-books on human 

and in his Choix de Textes relatifs a la Divination Assyro-Babylonienne 
(Paris 1905—06). 

* The chief publications of astrological texts is by Ch. Virolleaud 
under the title L'Astrologie Chaldeenne (Paris 1903 — 13), consisting up to 
the present of four parts and two supplements containing texts, and four 
parts with two supplements containing the transliteration of these texta^. 
Besides this publication, M. Virolleaud has published numerous fragments 
of texts in the periodical Babyloniaca, founded and edited by him. Cun. 
Texts, Part XXX PI. 43 — 60 also contains astrological texts ; Part XXXIII 
PI 1 — 12 are aids to astrology. 

^ Chiefly by Boissier in the two works mentioned in note 2 on p. 6. 

' Copious specimens of liver divinations texts in German translation with 
comments will be found in the author's Beligion Babyloniens tmd Assyriens 
II 227— 412; of Astrological Texts ib II 458—740; Oil and Water, Divination 
ih II 749—775; of Animal omens ib II 775—826; of Birth omens ib II 
837 — 941 and a summary view of the miscellaneous omens ib II 946—969. 

* The same is the case With the collections of liver signs and to a 
large extent also in the case of the astrological collections. 

8 Morris Jastrow 

and animal pathology, we can without difficulty distinguish 
between two classes. Thus, twins being regarded as signi- 
ficant and triplets even more so, the priests did not stop 
at this point but provided for cases when four, five six up 
to eight and more infants were born at one time^ Again 
in regard to animals, inasmuch as bitches and sows may 
throw a litter of ten and even more, the priests in their 
collections carried the number up to thirty^ which is, of 
course, out of the question. For sheep and goats the number 
was extended up to ten, though it probably never happened 
that more than triplets were ever born to an ewe or to a mother- 
goat. Even twins are rare, and I am told that there are few 
authenticated cases of triplets. 

Malformations among infants and the young of animals 
were of course plentiful, but here too the anomalies and mon- 
strosities are not as numerous and varied as were entered 
in the handbooks of the Babylonian and Assyrian diviners. 
The factor of fancy to which 1 have referred enters even more 
largely in the entries of many actual malformations, through 
the assumption of a more or less fanciful resemblance of some 
feature or of some part of an infant or of the young of an 
animal with the features or parts of some animal. 

An excess number of limbs — three legs or four arms in 
the case of an infant, or five or six legs in the case of a 
lamb, puppy, pig or foal, or two heads — is not uncommon. On 
this basis the priests entered cases of excess legs and arms 
and heads up to nine and more^; and similarly in regard to 
ears and eyes. 

^ Cuu. Texts XXVII PI. 24 Cases of more than three births at cue 
time are extremely rare. A case of quintuplets in Groningen in the year 
1897 is vouched for by Prof. Doderlein of Munich and one was reported in 
the newspapers recently as occurring in the United States. A case of sextuplets 
is noted by Vasalli in the Boll. Med. della Svizzera Italiana, 1894, Nos. 3 
and 4. This seems to be the highest mark, though Pliny, Hist. Nat. VII 3, 
on the authority of Trogus records that a woman in Egypt gave birth to 
seven infants at one time; Lycosthenes, Prodigiorura ac. Ostentorum Chro- 
nicon (Basel 1557) p. 284 reports the same number born in the days of 
Algemundus, King of the Lombards. ^ Cun. Texts XXVII PI. 3. 

' E. g. Cun. Texts XXVII PI. 45 (K. 12050); XXVni PI. 42, 20. 

Babylonian-Assyrian Birth-Omens 9 

That, however, despite the largely fanciful character of 
the entries in the omen texts, these collections not only 
rested on a firm basis of actual observation, but served a 
practical purpose is shown by the examples that we have of 
official reports made by the baru-priests of human and 
animal anomalies, with the interpretations attached that re- 
present quotations from the collections ^ A report of this kind 
in reference to an animal monstrosity reads in part as 
follows 2: 

'If it is a double foetus, but with one head, a double 
spine, two tails and one body, the land that is now ruled 
by two will be ruled by one person. 

If it is a double foetus with one head, the land wiU 
be safe/ 

We have here two quotations from a text furnishing 
all kinds of peculiarities connected with a double foetus and 
we are fortunate in having the text from which the quo- 
tations are made^ Evidently an ewe has given birth to a 
monstrosity such as is here described, the case has been reported 
to the diviners who furnish the king* with thie report, in- 
dicating that since the monstrositj^ has only one head, what 
might have been an unfavorable omen is converted into a 
favorable one. 

^ In the same way we have hundreds of official reports of occurences 
and observed phenomena in the heavens with the interpretations taken 
from the astrological texts; and we also have a large number of official 
reports of the same character dealing with the results of the inspection 
of the liver of a sacrificial animal, killed and inspected at a given time 
for the purpose of obtaining an answer to a question put. These reports 
are made in aU cases to the rulers, which thus stamps them as official. 
See copious examples in Jastrow, Religion II 227 — 271; 275 — 319 (Liver 
texts); 458-542; 578—584; 613—616; 639-652; 656—673; 688—692 (Astro- 
logical Texts). 

2 Cun. Texts XXVII PI. 28. 

» The first omen is taken from Cun. Texts XXVII PI. 26, 11 ; the 
second from ib. line 10. 

* The omens were always supposed to bear on events of a public 
import; hence the reports may always be assumed to be addressed to the 
reigning king, even when this is not expressly stated. 

10 Morris Jastrow 

Another report^ regarding a monstrosity born of a sow 
reads : 

'If a foetus has eight feet and two tails, the ruler 
will acquire universal sway. A butcher, Uddanu by 
name, reported as follows: A sow gave birth (to a young) 
having eight feet and two tails. I have preserved it 
in salt and kept it in the house. From Nergal-etir V 

Here we have the name of the baru- priest who made 
the report expressly indicated. The report begins with a 
quotation from the collections, indicating the interpretation 
to be put upon the occurrence, after which the report of the 
actual event that took place is given in detail; and Nergal- 
etir is careful to add that he has preserved the specimen as 
a proof of its occurrence, precisely as to-day such a mon- 
strosity would be bottled and kept in a pathological museum. 
In another report ^ containing various quotations from the 
collections of birth-omens and closing with one in regard 
to a* mare that had given birth to two colts, one male 
and one female, with smooth hair over the ears, over the 
feet, mouth and hoofs, which is interpreted as a favo- 
rable sign^, the one who makes the report adds 'Whether 
this is so, I shall ascertain. It will be investigated according 
to instructions'. Evidently, the facts had not been definitely 
ascertained and the diviner, while furnishing the interpretations 
for various possibilities, promises to inform himself definitely 
and report again as to the exact nature of the unusual oc- 
currence. Frequently these omen reports contain interesting 
and important allusions to historical events which are then 
embodied in the collections \ In fact the event which followed 

^ Cun. Texts XXVII PI. 45. 

* From other sources (cf. Jastrow, Religion II 467, 3) we know that 
Nergal-etir flourished during the reign of Esarhaddon, King of Assyria 
(706—668 B. C). " Cun. Texts XXXVII Pi. 30. 

* The text from which this omen is quoted is found. Cun. Texts XXVII 
PI. 48, 2-4, 

^ See examples in Jastrow, Religion II 227 — 244 (Sargon and Naram- 
Sin omens); 333 and 392 (murder of a ruler Urumus); 555, (invasion of 
Babylonia by Hittites); see also 226, 3; 843, 7 and articles by the writer 
in Zeitschr. f. Assyr. XXI 277—282 and Kevue Semitique XVII 87—96. 

Babylonian-Assyrian Birth-Omens 11 

upon any unusual or striking sign, whether in the heavens 
or among the newly born or what not, was carefully noted 
and on the principle of post hoc propter hoc was re- 
garded as the event presaged by the sign in question. The 
definite indication of the interpretation to be put upon the 
omen itself was supplied by the actual event that followed upon 
the appearance of some sign, though it was not supposed that 
the sign would always be followed by the same occurrence. 
The point to which attention was primarily directed was 
whether the occurrence was of a favorable or an unfavorable 
nature. If favorable, the conclusion was drawn that the 
sign was a favorable one and hence in the event of its re- 
currence some favorable incident might be expected accor- 
ding to existing circumstances — victory in an impending 
battle, suppression of an uprising, recovery of some member 
of the royal household who may be lying ill, good crops at 
the approaching harvest or whatever the case may be — or in 
general a favorable answer to any question put by a ruler. 
The same would apply to a combination of signs, one of the 
fundamental principles of divination being — once favorable, 
always favorable. 

Among the birth-omen reports we have one containing 
a historical reference of unusual interest \ 

*If the foetus is male and female — omen of Azag-Bau 
who ruled the land. The king's country will be seized. 

If a foetus is male and female, without testicles, a 
son of the palace^ will rule the land or will assert 
himself against the king." 

We must assume in this case that a monstrosity has been 
born, having partly male and partly female organs. The priest 
by way of interpretation notes a series of signs registered 
in the collections, all prognosticating an abnormal state of 

^ Cun. Texts XXVII PI. 6; also Boissier, Documents Assyriens 185 
(the first publication of this text, the importance of which was recognized 
by Boissier) and Thompson, Reports of the Magicians and Astrologers of 
Nineveh and Babylon (London 1900) Nr. 276. 

* I. e. A child of the harem — not the legitimate heir. 

12 Morris Jastrow 

affairs — a woman on the throne, captivity, seizure of the throne 
by an usurper and revolt. We frequently find in the collections 
several interpretations registered in this way, — a valuable 
indication of the manner in which these collections were com- 
piled by the priests from a variety of documents before them. 
The name of this female ruler, hitherto known only from this 
report and from a list of proper names in which Azag-Bau 
occurred, has now turned up in an important list of early 
dynasties ruling in the Euphratean Valley, discovered and 
published by ScheiP. We may conclude, therefore, that at 
the time that Azag-Bau sat on the throne or shortly before, 
sucli a monstrosity actually came to light. As an unusual 
occurrence it presaged something unusual, and was naturally 
associated with the extraordinary circumstance of a woman 
mounting the throne. Azag-Bau according to the newly dis- 
covered list is the founder of a dynasty ruling in Erech as 
a centre and whose date appears to be somewhere between 
2800 and 3000 B. C. — possibly even earlier. As a founder 
of a dynasty that overthrew a previous one, xlzag-Bau must 
have engaged in hostilities with other centres, so that the 
second interpretation that "the king's country will be sei- 
zed' may well refer to some historical event of the same 
general period. Be that as it may, the important point for 
us is that we have here another proof of the practical pur- 
pose served by the observation of birth-omens. 


Passing now to some illustrations of birth-omens from 
the collections of the b a r u - priests, let us first take up some 
texts dealing with omens from the young of animals. Na- 
turally, the animals to which attention was directed were 
the domesticated ones — sheep, goats, cows, dogs, horses and 
pigs. Among these the most prominent is the sheep, 
corresponding to the significance attached to the sheep in 
liver divination where it is, in fact, the only animal whose 

^ Les plus anciennes Dynasties connues de Sumer - Accad. (Comptes 
Eendus de I'Acad. des Inscript. et BeUes-Lettres 1911, 606—621. 

Baby Ionian- Assyrian Birth- Omens 13 

liver is read as a means of forecasting the future ^ As a 
result of this particularly prominent position taken by the 
sheep in birth-omens, the word i s b u , designating the normal 
or abnormal foetus — human or animal — when introduced 
without further qualification generally indicates the foetus 
of a sheep ^ 

A text ^ dealing with a double foetus, i. e., of a sheep *, 
reads in part as follows: 

'If it is a double foetus with slits (?) on the head 
and tail, the land will be secure. 

If it is a double foetus and enclosed^, confusion in 
the country, the dynasty [will come to an end]. 

If it is a double foetus, encompassed like an enclosure, 
the king will [subdue?] the land. 

If it is a double foetus and encompassed like an en- 
closure, confusion in the land, hostilities [in the country]. 

If it is a double foetus, encompassed like an enclo- 
sure, with slits on the body, end of the dynasty, con- 
fusion and disturbances in the country. 

If it is a double foetus, encompassed like an enclo- 
sure, with twisted necks and only one head, the land 

will remain under one head. 

* * 


If it is a double foetus, the heads enclosed, with 

eight legs and only one spine, the land will be visited 

by a destructive storm **. 

^ The position occupied by the sheep in divination leads in astrology 
to the use of the Sumerian term Lu-Bat, i. e., 'dead sheep' as the desig- 
nation of the planets, the association of ideas being 'dead sheep' = 
t§rtu 'omen' and then = planet, because the planets were regarded as 
omens. In the larger sense, the moon and sun were included among the 
planets. See Jastrow, Religion II p. 448 sq. and the article „Sign and 
Name for Planets in Babylonian" quoted in note 1 on p. 1, 

^ See Jastrow Religion II 845, 1 and 847, 68. 

» Cun. Texts XXVII PI. 25—26 completed by the duplicate PI. 27—28. 

* Shown by the continuation of the text. Cun. Texts XXVII PI. 26. 

' I. e. twisted up in a heap. 

** An interpretation evidently based on the fact of a destructive 

14 Morris Jastrow 

If it is a double foetus with only one head, the land 
will be secure, the ruler will prevail against his enemy, 
peace and prosperity in the country \ 

If it is a double foetus with one head, a double spine, 
eight feet, two necks and two tails, the king will en- 
large his land. 

If it is a double foetus with one head, double spine, 
two tails and one body, then the land that is ruled by 
two will be ruled by one. 

If it is a double foetus with only one head and one 
spine, eight feet, two necks and two tails, the king will 
enlarge his land. 

If it is a double foetus with only one neck, the ruler 
will enlarge his land. 

If it is a double foetus with only one spine, the ruler 
will enlarge his land. 

If it is a double foetus with only one mouth, the 
land will remain under the command of the king. 

If it is a double foetus with only one breast, the 
land will be enlarged, rule of a legitimate king. 

In order to grasp the principles underlying the inter- 
pretation of such omens, we must take as our starting 
point the conceptions connected with the various parts of the 
body. Bearing in mind that the omens deal primarily with 
public aifairs and the general welfare and only to a limited 
extent with private and individual concerns ^, the head of the 
foetus by a natural association stands for the ruler or occasionally 
for the owner of the mother lamb. One head to the double 
foetus, therefore, indicates unity — a single rule — whereas 

storm that swept over the land after the birth of a monstrosity as described 
in the omen. 

^ Three interpretations, gathered from various documents and here 

^ Not infrequently a birth-omen is interpreted as applying to the 
owner of the mother lamb or to the household in which the lamb was 
horn, — but generally as au alternative to an official interpretation bearing 
on public affairs. See e. g, below pp. 15 and 16, 

Babylonian-Assyrian Birth-Omeng 15 

two heads point to disruption of some kind. If the double 
foetus is so entwined as to be shut in within an enclosure, 
a similarly natural association of ideas would lead to the 
country being shut in, in a state of confusion, the land in a 
condition of subjugation or the like. On the other hand, if 
merely the heads are enclosed so as to give the impression 
of unity and the rest of the two bodies is disentangled, the 
unfavorable sign is converted into a favorable one. A second 
principle involved in the interpretation results in a more favo- 
rable conclusion if the double foetus shows less complica- 
tions. So, a single neck or a single spine or a single breast 
or a single mouth point again, like a single head, towards 
unity and therefore to flourishing conditions in the land. In 
the case of legs and tails, to be sure, the conditions seem 
to be reversed — the eight legs and two tails and two necks 
with one head pointing to enlargement of the land, whereas 
a double foetus with only six or five feet forebodes some 
impending misfortune ^ 

Let us proceed further with this text. 

If it is a double foetus, one well formed and the se- 
cond issuing from the mouth of the first ^, the king will 
be killed and his array will [revolt?], his oil plantation 
and his dwelling will be destroyed ^ 

If it is a double foetus, the second lying at the tail 
[of the first], with two breasts and two tails, there will 
be no unity in the land*. 

If it is a double foetus, and the second lies at the 
tail of the first and enclosed and both are living, ditto. 

If it is a double foetus, and one rides over the other, 
victory, throne will support throne. 

^ See below p. 16. * I. e., lying at the mouth. 

' I. e., presumably the plantation and house of the owner of the 
mother lamb. 

* The opposite to this is 'throne will support throne', i. e., there 
will be mutual support. 

\Q Morris Jastrow 

If it is a double foetus and one rides over the other 
and there is only one head, the power of the king will 
conquer the enemy's land. 

If it is a double foetus, one above and one below, 
with only one spine and eight feet, four [Variant: 'two'] 
ears, and two tails, throne will support throne. 

If it is a double foetus with the faces downward, 
approach of the son of the king, who will take the 
throne of his father, or a second son of the king will 
die, or a third son of the king will die. 

If it is a double foetus with five feet, serious hosti- 
lity in the country, the house of the man will perish, 
his stalP will be destroyed. 

If it is a double foetus with six feet, the population 
will be diminished, confusion in the land. 

If it is a foetus within a foetus, the king will weaken 
his enemy, his possessions will be brought into the 
palace \ 

If a foetus gives birth to a second foetus'', the king 
will assert himself against his opponent. 

It will be observed that in quite a number of cases two 
alternative interpretations are given, one of an official cha- 
racter referring to the public welfare, or to occurrences in 
the royal household*, the other of an unofficial character 
bearing on the welfare of the individual to whom the mother 

^ I. e., the stall of the owner of the mother lamb. 
® I. e., the property of the owner of the mother lamb will be con- 

* I. e., the second issues from the belly of the other, or appears to 
do so. 

* Whatever occurred to the king or to a member of his household 
was an omen for the general welfare under the ancient view of the king 
as the representative of the deity on earth. 

Babylonian-Assyrian Birth-Omens 17 

lamb that had produced the monstrosity belonged. One foetus 
issuing from the other, or one within the other, appears to 
have been a favorable or an unfavorable sign, according to 
the position of the second. If the one lay above the other, the 
association of ideas pointed to a control of the ruler over his 
enemy. In some cases, the association of ideas leading to 
the interpretation is not clear; and we must perhaps assume 
in such instances an entry of an event that actually oc- 
curred after the birth of the monstrosity in question. A cer- 
tain measure of arbitrariness in the interpretations also con- 
stitutes a factor to be taken into consideration; and the last 
thing that we need to expect in any system of divination is 
a consistent application of any principle whatsoever. 

The text passes on to an enumeration of the case of an 
ewe giving birth to more than two lambs. The "officiar inter- 
pretations are throughout unfavorable \ and the priests were 
quite safe in their entries which were, purely arbitrary in 
these cases, since such multiple births never occurred. It 
is worth while to quote these interpretations as an illustration 
of the fanciful factor that, as already indicated, played a not 
insignificant part in the system unfolded. 

If an ewe gives birth to three (lambs), the prosperity 
of the country will be annulled, but things will go well 
with the owner of the ewe, his stall will be enlarged. 

If an ewe gives birth to three fully developed (lambs), 
the dynasty will meet with opposition, approach of an 
usurper, the country will be destroyed. 

If an ewe gives birth to four, the land will encounter 
hostility, the produce of the land will be swept away, 
approach of an usurper, destruction in the land. 

If an ewe gives birth to four fully developed lambs, 
[locusts (?)] will come and [destroy] the country. 

K an ewe gives birth to four, approach of an usurper, 
the country will be destroyed. 

^ A partial exception, however occurs in the case of three and of ten 
lambs being produced at one birth. See below p. 18. 

Religionsgeschichtliche Versuche «. Vorarbeiten XIV, 5. 2 

18 Morris Jastrow 

If an ewe gives birth to five, destruction will ravage 
the country, the owner of the house will die, his stall 
will be destroyed. 

If an ewe gives birth to five, one with the head of 
a bull*, one with a lion-head, one with a jackal-head, 
one with a dog-head and one with the head of a lamb -, 
devastation will take place in the country. 

If an ewe gives birth to six, confusion among the 

If an ewe gives birth to seven, — three male and 
four female — , the king will perish. 

If an ewe gives birth to eight, approach of an usur- 
per, the tribute of the king will be withheld. 

If an ewe gives birth to nine, end of the dynasty. 
If an ewe gives birth to ten, a weakling will acquire 
universal sovereignty ^. 

The general similarity of the interpretations may be taken 
as a further indication that the baru- priests were simply 
giving their fancy free scope in making prognostications for 
conditions that could never arise ; nor is it of serious moment 
that in the case of triplets the interpretation is favorable 
to the owner of the ewe, or that in the case of ten lambs, 
even the official interpretation is not distinctly unfavor- 
able — in view of the purely 'academic' character of such 

An extract from a long text* furnishing omens derived 
from all kinds of peculiarities and abnormal phenomena noted 
on the ears of an animal — primarily again the sheep, 
though no doubt assumed to be applicable to other domesti- 
cated animals — will throw further light on the system of 
divination devised by the b a ru-priests, and will also illustrate 

' I. e., of course, the head resembles that of a bull. See below 
p. 23 sq. and 27 sq. 

* I. e., with a normal head. 

^ A variant reads, „the city will acquire sovereignty". 

* Cun. Texts XXVII PL 37—38 of which again PI. 36 is an extract. 

Babylonian-Assyrian Birth-Omens 19 

the extravagant fancy of the priests in their endeavor to make 
their collections provide for all possible and indeed for many 
impossible contingencies. 

If a foetus ^ lacks the right ear, the rule of the king 
will come to an end, his palace will be destroyed, over- 
throw of the elders of the city, the king will be with- 
out counsellors, confusion in the land, diminution of 
the cattle in the land, the enemy will acquire control ^ 

If the foetus lacks a left ear, a god will harken to 
the prayer of the king, the king will take the land 
of his enemy, the palace of the enemy will be destroyed, 
the enemy will be without a counsellor, the cattle of 
the enemy's country will be diminished, the enemy will 
lose control. 

If the right ear of the foetus is detached, the stall ^ 
will be destroyed. 

If the left ear of the foetus is detached, the enemy's 
stall will be destroyed. 

If the right ear of the foetus is split, 'the herd will 
be destroyed or the leaders of the city will leave (it) *. 

If the left ear of the foetus is split, the herd will 
be enlarged, the leaders of the enemy's country will 
leave (it). 

If the right ear of the foetus is split and swollen 
with clay, the country [will have a rival]. 

If the left ear of the foetus is split and swollen with 
clay, the enemy's country will have a rival. 

' The term used throughout is isbu for which see above p. 13. 

^ The unusual number of alternative interpretations — though all unfavor- 
able — points to the compilation of the text from various sources in which 
the sign was again entered with a different interpretation in each. These 
varying interpretations are here united; and no doubt the priests felt that 
there was safety in numbers. One of the seven prognosticated events was 
quite certain to happen — at some time. The chief point was that the sign 
was unfavorable. 

^ I. e., the stall of the owner af the mother lamb. 

* As above, an unofficial and an official interpretation. 


20 Morris Jastrow 

If the right ear of the foetus is destroyed, the stall 
will be enlarged, the stall of the enemy will be diminished. 

If the ontside of the right ear is destroyed, the land 
will yield to the enemy's land. 

If the right ear of the foetus lies near the cheek ^, 
the enemy will prevail against the power of the king, 
the king will be without counsellors, a ruler will not 
inhabit the land, or the son of the king of universal 
sway^ will be king. 

If the left ear of the foetus lies near the cheek, an 
enemy will be installed in the royal palace. 

If the right ear of the foetus lies near the jaw, birth 
of a demon ^ in my land, or in the house of the man *. 

If the left ear of the foetus lies near the jaw, birth 
of a demon in the enemy's land, or the land of the 
enemy will perish. 

The guiding principle of the interpretation in these 
instances is the natural association of the right as your side 
and the left with the enemy's side. A defect on the right 
side is unfavorable to you, i. e., to the king or to the country 
or to the individual in whose household the birth occurs, 
while the same defect on the left side is unfavorable to the 
enemy and, therefore, favorable to you. The principle is 
quite consistently carried out even to the point that if the 
sign itself is favorable, it is only when it is found on the 
right side that it is favorable to you, while its occurrence 
on the left side is favorable to the enemy. 

Defects of any kind appear to be unfavorable, whereas 
an excess of organs and parts are in many instances favorable,, 
though with a considerable measure of arbitrariness. 

If the foetus has two ears on the right side and 
none on the left, the boundary city of the enemy will 
become subject to you. 

* I. e., displaced. ^ I. e., of Babylonia or Assyria. 
' I, e., a demoniac being or a monstrosity of some kind. 

* I. e., of the owner of the mother lamb. 

Babylonian-Assyrian Birth-Omens 21 

If the foetus has two ears on the left side and none 
on the right, your boundary city will become subject 
to the enemy. 

If the foetus has two ears on the right side and one 
on the left, the land will remain under the control of 
the ruler. 

If the foetus has two ears on the left side and one 
on the right, the land will revolt. 

If within the right ear of the foetus a second ear ^ 
appears, the ruler wiU have counsellors. 

If within the left ear of the foetus there is a second 
ear, the counsellors of the ruler will advise evilly. 

If behind the right ear of the foetus there is a se- 
cond ear, the ruler will have counsellors. 

If behind the left ear of the foetus there is a se- 
cond ear, confusion in the land, the land will be des- 
troyed ^. 


* * 

If a foetus has [four] ears, a king of universal sway 
will be in the land. 

[If a foetus has four ears], two lying in front (and) 
two in back, the ruler will acquire possessions in a 

strange country ^ 


* * 

If behind the right ear, there are two ears, visible 
on the outside*, the inhabitants of the boundary city 
will become subject to the enemy. 

' I. e., the rudiments of what seems to be a second ear. 

2 Similarly, a second ear appearing below or above (?) the other one, 
is a favorable sign; on the right side, therefore, favorable to you, on the 
left favorable to the enemy, and, therefore, unfavorable to your side. 

' There is inserted at this point an omen for the case that „a foetus 
has eight (?) feet and two tails with unfavorable interpretations, approach 
of an usurper, no unity in the land, the land will destroy its inhabitants." 

* I. e., not one within the other — in all, therefore, three ears. 

22 Morris Jastrow 

If behind the left ear there are two ears visible on 
the outside, the inhabitants of the boundary city of the 
enemy will become subject to you. 

If a foetus has three ears, one on the left side and 
two on the right side, the angry gods will return to 
the country. 

If a foetus has three ears, one on the left side and 
two on the right, the gods will kill within the country. 

If within the right ear of a foetus there are three 
ears with the inner sides well formed, the opponent will 
conclude peace with the king whom he fears, the army 
of the ruler will dwell in peace with him. 

If within the left ear of a foetus there are three 
ears with the inner sides well formed, thy ally will 
become hostile. 

If behind each of the two ears there are three ears 
visible on the outside, confusion in the land, the counsel 
of the land will be discarded, one land after the other 
will revolt. 

If within each of two ears there are three ears vi- 
sible on the inner side, things will go well with the 
ruler's army. 

If within each of the two ears there are three ears, 
visible on the outside and the inside, the army of the 
ruler will forsake him and his land will revolt. 

If within each of the two ears there are three ears, 
visible on the outside and the inside, the army of the 
ruler will forsake him and his land will revolt. 

If the ears of a foetus are choked up ^ in place of 
a large king a small king will be in the land. 

In general, therefore, an excess number of ears points to 
enlargement, increased power, stability of the government 

» Literally „fall«. 

Babylonian-Assyrian Birth-Omens 23 

and the like; and this is probably due in part to the asso- 
ciation of wisdom and understanding with the ear in Baby- 
lonian^, for as a general thing an excess of organs or of 
parts of the body is an unfavorable sign, because a deviation 
from the normal. 

In the same way as in the case of the ears, we have 
birth-omen texts dealing with the head, lips, mouth, eyes, 
feet, joints, tail, genital organs, hair, horns and other parts 
of the body ^. In many of these texts dealing with all kinds 
of peculiar formations and abnormalities in the case of one 
organ or one part of the body or the other, a comparison is 
instituted between the features or parts of one animal with 
those of another and the interpretation is guided by the 
association of ideas with the animal compared. A moment's 
reflection wiU show the importance of this feature in exten- 
ding the field of observation almost ad infinitum. A lamb 
born with a large head might suggest a lion, a small long 
head that of a dog, or a very broad face might suggest the 
features of a bull. From comparisons of this kind, the step 
would be a small one to calling a lamb with lion-like 
features, a lion, or a lamb with features recalling those of a 
dog, a dog and so on through the list, the interpretations 
being chosen through the ideas associated with the animal 
in question. A text of this kind ^, of which we have many, 
reads in part as follows. 

If an ewe gives birth to a lion, the abandoned wea- 
pons will make an attack (again), the king will be with- 
out a rival. 

. If an ewe gives birth to a lion, but with a head of 
a 'rain bow' bird *, the son will seize the throne of his 

^ The 'wide-eared man' (rapas uzni) is the wise man. Ashurbanapal 
in the subscript to the tablets of his library thanks the gods for having 
'opened his ears wide', i. e. given him understanding etc. 

2 See the partial list of such texts, Jastrow, Religion II 851 note 1. 

3 Cun. Texts XXVII PI. 21—22, with a duplicate PI. 19 (K. 4132}. 
* For marratum „the rain-bow" see Jastrow, Reii^ion II 739 note 7 

24 Morris Jastrow 

If an ewe gives birth to a lion, but (some of) the 
features are (also) human, the power of the king will 
conquer a powerful country. 

If an ewe gives birth to a lion, but (some of) the 
features are those of a lamb, the young cattle will not 

If an ewe gives birth to a lion, but (some of) the 
features are those of an ass, severe famine will occur 
in the country. 

If an ewe gives birth to a lion, but (some of) the 
features are those of a dog, NergaU will cause de- 

If an ewe gives birth to a lion but (some of) the fe- 
atures are those of a khupipi^, the ruler wiU be 
without a rival and will destroy the land of his enemy. 

If an ewe gives birth to a lion, but with the mouth 
of a wild cow, the rule of the king will not prosper. 

If an ewe gives birth to a lion but with the mouth 
of a bull, famine will ensue. 

If an ewe gives birth to a lion with the horny exu- 
berance of an ibex on its face, prices will be lowered ^ 

If an ewe gives birth to a lion with the horny exu- 
berance of an ibex on its face and if the eyes are open *, 
prices will be high. 

If an ewe gives birth to a lion with fatty flesh on 
the nose, the land will be well nourished. 

and 875, note 3. The „rain-bow" bird must have been one distinguished by 
its manifold coloring. A lion-lamb with the head of a 'rainbow bird' was, 
therefore, a young lamb with a large lion-like head, but showing various 
hues and shades. 

1 The god of pestilence. ^ An animal not yet identified. 

' Low prices indicate hard times and are an unfavorable sign; high 
prices are favorable. The gods in ancient Babylonia and Assyria appear 
to have been on the side of the „Tru8ts". 

* It is assumed that the abnormal birth is still-born, but in this par- 
ticular case the eyes are open. 

Babylonian-Assyrian Birth-Omens 25 

If an ewe gives birth to a lion, and the right temple 
is covered with fatty flesh, the land will be richly 

If an ewe gives birth to a lion, and the left temple 
is covered with fatty flesh, — rivalry. 

If an ewe gives birth to a lion, and it is covered 
all over with fatty flesh, the king will be without a 

If an ewe gives birth to a lion but without a head S 
death of the ruler. 

If an ewe gives birth to a lion with the gorge torn 
oft'^, destiTiction of the land, the mistress =^ will die. 

If an ewe gives birth to a lion with the gorge torn 
off and a mutilated tail *, the land [will be destroyed (?)] 

From texts like these it would appear that the phrase 
of 'an ewe giving birth to a lion' had acquired a purely con- 
ventional force to describe a lamb whose head or general 
features suggested those of a lion. It may have come to be 
used indeed for a newly born lamb of unusually large pro- 
portions. Hence one could combine with the description of 
a lion-lamb such further specifications as that it also suggested 
human features, or looked like an ass or a dog, or that while 
it came under the category of a lion-lamb, it yet had some 
of the features of a normal lamb. At all events we must 
not credit the Babylonians or Assyrians with so absurd a 
belief as that an ewe could actually produce a lion. Such 
a supposition is at once disposed of when we come to other 
texts where we find entries of an ewe producing a whole 
series of animals — a jackal, dog, fox, panther, hyena, 

^ Such a monstrosity is known as Acephaly in modern nomenclature. 
See Kitt, Lehrbuch der pathologischen Anatomic der Haustiere (4 ed.) I, 72, 
for iUnstrations of an Acephalus bipes. 

2 Known in modem nomenclature as Brachyprosopy. See Kitt, ib. 
I 87 sq. 

' Presumably the mistress of the household in which the monstrosity 
was bom. 

* Perokormy — See the illustration in Kitt, ib. I 75 sq. 

26 Morris Jastrow 

gazelle, etc. and where we must perforce assume resem- 
blances between a young lamb and the animals in question 
and not any extravagant views of poiisible cross-breeding ^ 
To clinch the matter, we have quite a number of passages 
in which the preposition 'like' is introduced ^ instead of the 
direct equation, showing that when the texts speak of an 
ewe giving birth to a lion, a jackal, a dog, etc., the priests 
had in mind merely a resemblance as the basis of such 

The general idea associated with the lion in divination 
texts is that of power, success, increase and the like. The 
sign, therefore, of an ewe producing a lion is a favorable 
one; it is only through attendant circumstances that the 
character of the sign is transformed into an unfavorable or 
partly unfavorable omen. So in case the lion-lamb has a 
head suggestive of the variegated colors of the rainbow bird, 
the sign still points to power, but to a power exercised by 
the crown prince against the father. If some of the features 
suggest those of an ass or of a dog or of a pig, the ideas 
associated with these animals convert what would otherwise 
have been a favorable sign into an unfavorable one. The 
mouth of a wild cow or of a bull, thus interfering with the 
complete identification of the young lamb as a lion-lamb, 
similarly, brings about an unfavorable interpretation. Fatty 
flesh by a natural association points to increased prosperity, 
while mutilations of the head, tail or of any other part naturally 
carry with them unfavorable prognostications. 

' Cross-breeding, in fact, is a comparatively rare phenomenon in the 
animal world, limited to the horse and ass, horse and zebra, dog and wolf, 
dog and fox, or Jackal, lion and tiger, ox and buffalo or yak, hare and 
rabbit camel and dromedary, goat and mountain stag, and possibly lambs 
and goats. See Ellenberger-Scheunert, Lehrbtich der vergleichenden Physio- 
logie der Hanssaiigetiere (Berlin 1910) 703. 

* See the enumeration in Jastrow, Religion II 873 note 2, e. g., 'eyes 
like those of a dog' in the case of a newly-born lamb (Cun. Texts XVII 
PI. 23, 14), 'foot like that of a lion' (Cun. Texts XXVII PI. 45, 34), "head 
like that of a dog' (Cun. Texts, XXVIII PI. 36, 15); in the case of a 
double foetus 'both like a lion' or 'like a dog' (Cun. Texts XXVII 
PI. 48, 11—12) etc. 

Babylonian- Assyrian Birth-Omens 27 

It is interesting to see from a long list of comparisons 
of a new-born lamb with all kinds of animals ^ the extent 
to which the association of ideas connected with the animals 
in question is carried. 

If an ewe gives birth to a dog ... the king's land 
will revolt. 

If an ewe gives birth to a beaver ^(P), the king's 
land will experience misery. 

If an ewe gives birth to a fox, Enlil ^ will maintain 
the rule of the legitimate king for many years, or* the 
king will strengthen his power. 

If an ewe gives birth to a Mukh-DuP, the enemy 
will carry away the inhabitants of the land, the land 
will despite its strength go to ruin, the dynasty will 
be opposed, confusion in the land. 

If an ewe gives birth to a panther, the kingdom of 
the ruler will secure universal sway. 

If an ewe gives birth to a hyena (?), approach of 

If an ewe gives birth to a gazelle, the days of the 
ruler through the grace of the gods will be long, or the 
ruler will have warriors. 

If an ewe gives birth to a hind, the son of the king 
will seize his father's throne, or the approach of Subartu 
will overthrow the land. 

If an ewe gives birth to a roebuck, the son of the 
king will seize his father's throne, or destruction of 
cattle \ 

If an ewe gives birth to a wild cow, revolt will pre- 
vail in the land. 

1 Cun. Texts XXVII PI. 22, obv. 13—25. 

* Ideographic designation 'water dog'. 

' The chief god of Nippur and the older head of the pantheon. 

* I, e., an alternative interpretation. " An unidentified animal. 

* I. e., an alternative interpretation of a less official character. 

28 Morris Jastrow 

If an ewe gives birth to an ox, the weapons of the 
ruler will prevail over the weapons of the enemy. 

If an ewe gives birth to an ox that has ganni\ the 
ruler will weaken the land of his enemy. 

If an ewe gives birth to an ox with two tails, omen 
of Ishbi-Ura^, who was without a rival. 

If an ewe gives birth to a cow, the king will die, 
another king will draw nigh and divide the country. 

One might have supposed that such omens represent a 
purely imaginative theoretical factor, but the introduction 
of the historical reference proves conclusively that the Baby- 
lonians and Assyrians attached an importance to the fancied 
resemblance of an animal to an other, and that in the case of 
such strange statements as that an ewe gives birth to one 
of a series of all kinds of animals, it is this fancied resem- 
blance that forms the basis and the point of departure for 
the interpretation. 

If, now, we turn to birth-omens in the case of infants, 
we find in the omen texts the same two classes, those in 
which all kinds of abnormalities and malformations are re- 
gistered, and such in which the fancied resemblance of the 
new-born infant to some animal, or of some features of an 
infant to those of an animal is introduced as a factor. The 
principles underlying the interpretation, so far as they can 
be recognized, are naturally the same as in the case of birth- 
omens for the young of domesticated animals. A few illustra- 
tions will make this clear. 

A text^ dealing with twins, and passing on to multiple 
births up to eight, reads in part as follows: 

^ See Jastrow, Religion II 879 note 9. 

2 Founder of the Isin dynasty (c. 2175 B. c.) — another illustration 
of an historical omen. 

3 Cun. Texts XXVII PL 4, 15-39, completed by the dupUcates 

Babylonian- Assyrian Birth-Omens 29 

If a woman gives birth to two boys, famine will pre- 
vail in the land, the interior of the country will witness 
misfortune, and misfortune will enter the house of their 
father \ 

If a woman gives birth to two boys with one body — 
no union between man and wife, [that house will be 
reduced] ^. 

If a woman gives birth to two boys of normal ap- 
pearance, that house ^ . . . , 

If a woman gives birth to a boy and a girl, ill luck 
will enter the land, the land will be diminished. 

If a woman gives birth to twins united at the spine, 
with the faces [back to back?], the gods will forsake 
the country, the king and his son will abandon the city. 

If a woman gives birth to twins without noses and 
feet, the land [will be diminished] *. 

If a woman gives birth to twins in an abnormal 
condition, the land will perish, the house of the man 
will be destroyed. 

If a woman gives birth to twins united at the sides \ 
the land ruled by one will be controlled by two. 

If a woman gives birth to twins united at the sides, 
(and) the right hand of the one lying to the right is missing, 
the weapon of the enemy will kill me, the land will be 
diminished, weakness will bring about defeat and my 
army will be destroyed. 

PI. 3, 22—27 and PI. 1, 1—2 and PI. 6. The complete translation of the 
tablet with its various duplicates will be found in Jastrow, Religion 11 

* An alternative 'unofficiar interpretation as in the instances noted 
above pp. 15—16, 20 etc. 

* Two interpretations, both unofficial — a rather unusual case. 
' The rest of the line is broken off. 

* The line is defective, but the omen was without doubt unfavorable. 
" As in the case of the famous Siamese twins. 

30 Morris Jastrow 

If a woman gives birth to twins united at the si- 
des, and the left hand of the one lying to the left is 
missing ^ . . . 

If a woman gives birth to twins united at the sides 
and the right hands are missing — attack, the enemy 
will destroy the produce of the land. 

If a woman gives birth to twins united at the sides, 
and the left hands are missing, [the produce of the 
enemy's land will be destroyed] ^ 

If a woman gives birth to twins, united at the sides, and 
the right foot of the one lying to the right is missing, 
the enemy will abandon the rest of my land, the land 
will be captured. 

If a woman gives birth to twins united at the sides, 
and the left foot of the one lying to the left, is missing, 
I will [abandon] the rest of the enemy's land, [and the 
land of the enemy will be captured^]. 

If a woman gives birth to twins united at the sides, 
and the right feet are missing, the seat of the country* 
will be overthrown and captured. 

If a woman gives birth to twins united at the sides 
and the left feet are missing, the seat of the enemy's 
land [will be overthrown and captured]. 

If a woman gives birth to two girls, the house will 
be destroyed. 

If a woman gives birth to two girls and they die ^ . . . 

If a woman gives birth to three well developed girls, 
the land of the ruler will be enlarged. 

^ Interpretation broken off, but it was no doubt the reverse of what 
was entered in the preceding omen, i. e., unfavorable for the enemy and 
therefore, favorable to your side. 

* The end of the line can be restored by comparison with the pre- 
ceding omen. * Restoration certain. * I. e., the capital. 

^ Interpretation no doubt unfavorable. 

Babylonian- Assyrian Birth- Omens 31 

If a woman gives birth to two girls with one body, 
[no union] between man [and wife, the land will be 
diminished] \ 

If a woman gives birth to two girls of normal ap- 
pearance . . .^ 

If a woman gives birth to three boys, distress will 
seize the land . . . 

If a woman gives birth to [four(?)] boys, [destruction 
in the land] ^ 

Through another fragment *, the list of multiple births is 
carried up to eight — a perfectly safe procedure on the part 
of the b a r u - priests, since it is unlikely that the case of 
more than four births at one time ever occurred in the whole 
scope of Babylonian -Assyrian history. The interpretations 
in the case of more than triplets appear to have been con- 
sistently unfavorable. Even twins, as is apparent from the 
above entries, were generally regarded as unfavorable, be- 
cause of the deviation from the normal involved ; and this was 
certainly the case when monstrous factors were connected 
with the double birth — the two united at the backs or at the 
sides — or when the twins lacked a part of the body such as 
noses, hands or feet. The fundamental distinction between the 
right side as representing your side and the left as the enemy's 
side intervenes to differentiate between the application of the 
omen to the king or to the country on the one hand, and to the 
enemy or his country on the other. 

Corresponding to the text above discussed^, in which 
interpretations are offered for all kinds of malformations or 
peculiarities, in connection with the ears of newly-born ani- 

^ Restored by comparison with the second omen — above p. 29. 
^ Rest of the line broken off, but the interpretation was no doubt 

» The end of the line supplied by Cun. Texts XXVII PI. 24, 16. 

* Cun. Texts XXVII PI. 241, 16 (K. 3881) to the close of the tablet. 

* Above p. 19seq. 

32 Morris Jastrow 

mals, we have a text ^ furnishing omens in the same way in 
the case of human births. 

If a woman gives birth, (and the child has) a lion's 
ear, a powerful king will rule in the land. 

If a woman gives birth, and the right ear^ is mis- 
sing, the life of the ruler will come to an end. 

If a woman gives birth, and the left ear is missing, 
the life of the king will be long. 

If a woman gives birth, and both ears are missing, 
famine will prevail in the country, and the land will 
be diminished. 

If a woman gives birth, and the right ear is small, 
the house of the man will be destroyed. 

If a woman gives birth, and the left ear is small^ 
the house of the man will be enlarged. 

If a woman gives birth, and both ears are small, the 
house of the man will be overthrown. 

If a woman gives birth, and the right ear is detached '^, 
the house of the man will be destroyed. 

If a woman gives birth, and the left ear is detached, 
the house of the opponent will be destroyed, the house 
of the man* will be enlarged. 

If a woman gives birth, and both ears are detached, 
the house of the man will encounter misfortune. 

If a woman gives birth, and the right ear reaches to 
the cheek, a weakling will be born in the man's house. 

If a woman gives birth, and the left ear reaches to 
the cheek, a strong one will be born in the man's house \ 

^ Cud. Texts XXVII PI. 16, together with PI. 17, 18 — an extract from 
the fuller tablet. 

* I. e., of the child; and so of course in every case. 

' Compare the omen in the case of the young of an animal, above p. 19. 

* I. e., the father of the child. 

* The 'left' side being unfavorable to the enemy is favorable to you. 
We may, however, expect to find in a variant text 'A weakling will be 
born in the enemy's house'. 

Babylonian-Assyrian Birth-Omens 33 

If a woman gives birth, and both ears reach to the 
cheek, that land will be destroyed, protection will be 

If a woman gives birth, and the right ear is defor- 
med, a weakling will be born in the man's house. 

K a woman gives birth, and the left ear is deformed, 
a strong one will be born in the man's housed 

If a woman gives birth, and the right ear of the 
child lies at the lower jaw'', the son of the man will 
destroy the man's house. 

If a woman gives birth, and the left ear lies at the 
lower jaw, the son of the man will encircle the man's 
house ^ 

If a woman gives birth, and there are two ears on the 
right side and the left ear is missing, the angry gods 
will return to the land and the land will have peace. 

If a woman gives birth, and there are two ears on 
the left side and the right ear is missing, the counsel 

of the land will be disturbed. 

* * 


If a woman gives birth, and both ears are flattened, 

- — revolt. 

The principle consistently applied throughout these omens 
is that a defect or deformity on the right side is an un- 
favorable sign, and that the same phenomenon on the left side 
is unfavorable to the enemy, or favorable to you. A large ear — 
suggesting that of a lion — points by association to en- 
largement and increased strength. 

The text then passes on to other peculiarities. 

If a woman gives birth, and (the child has) the mouth 
of a bird, that land will be destroyed. 

If a woman gives birth, and the mouth is missing, 
the mistress of the house will die. 

* See preceding note. * I. e. misplaced. 

' I. e., protect it. 
Religionsgeschichtliche VersucLe u. Vorarbeiten XIV, 5. 

34 Morris .Tastrow 

If a woman gives birth, and the right nostril is 
missing, — injury. 

If a woman gives birth, and both nostrils are mis- 
sing, the land will experience distress, the house of the 
man will be destroyed. 

If a woman gives birth, and the jaws are missing ^ 
the days of the ruler will come to an end, the house 
will be destroyed. 

If a woman gives birth, and the lower jaw is mis- 
sing, the enemy will take the boundary strip of my land. 

If a woman gives birth, and the arms(?) are missing, 
the house of the man will be destroyed. 

If a woman gives birth, and the arms(?) are short, 
he will attain favor. 

If a woman gives birth, and the upper lip rides over 
the lower one ^, he will attain favor. 

If a woman gives birth, and the lips are missing, the 
land will encounter distress, the house of the man will 
be destroyed. 

If a woman gives birth, and one arm is short, that 
man will be preferred ^. 

If a woman gives birth, and the right hand is missing, 
that land will suffer destruction. 

If a woman gives birth, and both hands are missing, 
the enemy will conquer the city of the new-born*. 

If a woman gives birth, and the fingers of the right 
hand are missing, the ruler will be hemmed in by his 

If a woman gives birth, and there are six fingers on 
the right hand, misfortune will seize the house. 

' Agnathy in modern nomenclature. See Birnhsmm, Klinik der Mip- 
bildungen 73. ^ j g^ ^^j^g upper lip falls over the lower one. 

' I. e., the father of the child. 
* I. e., the city in which the child was born. 

Babylonian-Assyrian Birth-Omens 35 

If a woman gives birth, and there are six toes on 
the riglit and on the left foot, the children^ will en- 
counter misfortune. 

If a woman gives birth, and there are six toes on the 

right foot, there will be injury ^ 


* * 

If a woman gives birth, and the genital member is 
missing, the master of the house will be weakened, 
drying up of the field. 

If a woman gives birth, and the genital member and 
the testicles are missing, the land will encounter mis- 
fortune, the woman ^ will suffer pain, the house* will 
control the palace ^ 

If a woman gives birth, and the anus is closed *, the 
land wiU suffer famine. 

If a woman gives birth, and the anus [is missing?], 
the king will be restrained in his palace. 

If a woman gives birth, and the right thigh is mis- 
sing, the land of the ruler will go to ruin. 

If a woman gives birth, and the left thigh is missing, 
the enemy's land will go to ruin. 

* * 

If a woman gives birth, and both feet are missing, 
the course of the land will be checked, that house will 
be destroyed. 

If a woman gives birth, and the right foot [of the 
child] is like that of a turtle ', the enemy will destroy 
the property of the land. 

^ Of the same house. 

^ Presumably to the household in which the child was born. 

' I. e., the mother. 

* Variant 'the offspring, i. e., the newly bom infant. 

* I. e., there will be a political upheaval. 

® This malformation of a chUd with a closed anus is frequently 
referred to in Roman omens, e. g., Julius Obsequens, de prodigiis (ed. 
Eofibach), §§ 26 and 40. See below p. 52. 

' I. e., only the rudiments of a foot are to be seen. 


^ Morris Jastrow 

If a woman gives birth, and hands and feet are like 
those of a turtle, the ruler will destroy the product of 
his land. 

If a woman gives birth, and the feet are attached 
to the belly (?) ^, the possession of the house will be 

If a woman gives birth, and the child has only one 
foot, which is attached to the belly (?) and does not 
[touch] the ground ^, the land will suffer misfortune, the 
house will be destroyed. 

If a woman gives birth, and it has three feet of 
which two are entwined in one another^ with the 
body, destruction will prevail in the land. 

If a woman gives birth, and it has four feet and 
genital member and pudenda are there, the land will 
suffer misfortune, a strange ruler will appear on the 

If a woman gives birth, and the right leg is missings 
the land of the ruler will go to ruin. 

If a woman gives birth, and the left leg is missing, 
the enemy's land will go to ruin. 

In general, malformations are looked upon as unfavorable^ 
as are also excess organs or parts e. g. six fingers or six 
toes; and it is only occasionally that a peculiarity such 
as shortened arms or a protruding upper lip, receives a fa- 
vorable interpretation. The variations in the interpretations 
themselves are not numerous, and for the most part are 
probably selected in an entirely arbitrary fashion, though 
here, too, as has been pointed out several times, association 
of ideas enters as a factor, as, e. g., where large ears are 
made to point to increased power. At the same time, it is 
also clear that the great majority of the malformations and 

^ I. e., they are directly attached to the body without thighs. 
* I. 6., bent and deformed so that one cannot stand on it. 
' Twisted legs as in the illustration in Jastrow's Bildermappe zur 
Rel. Babyl. und Assyr. No. 35. 

Babylonian-Assyrian Birth-Omens 37 

abnormalities in the text that we have just discussed are 
such as actually do occur and with the help of niedical 
works on human malformations^, many of the omens de- 
scribed in this and in other texts can be identified. There can, 
therefore, be no doubt that the collections of the barti- 
priests dealing with birth-omens observed in infants, likewise, 
rest upon actual observations, though the field was extended 
by passing on from actual to purely fanciful and impossible 
abnormalities. The extent to which this attempt to provide 
for all kinds of contingencies was carried in the collections 
is illustrated by a portion of the first tablet of a series ^ 
dealing with human birth-omens. This section treating in 
part of the birth of shapeless abortions reads as follows: 

If a woman gives birth to pudenda^, the royal 
dynasty will be changed. 

If a woman gives birth to a head*, the land will 
encounter distress. 

If a woman gives birth to a form of some kind ", king 
against king, — his rival, will prevail. 

If a woman gives birth to a foetus*, the land will 
encounter distress. 

If a woman gives birth to a foetus in which there 
is a second, the rule of the king and of his sons will 
come to an end . . . the power of the land [wiU dwindle]. 

If a woman gives birth to a mass of clay ', the king's 
land will oppose him and cause terror. 

If a woman is pregnant with a mass of clay and 
gives birth to a mass of clay, misfortune will come, the 

^ As, e. g., Guinard, Precis de Teratologie or Birnbaum, Klinik der 

« Can. Texts XXVIII PI. 34, with duplicate K 630 (ViroUeaud, Frag- 
ments des Textes Divinatoires 9). 

^ I. e., a shapeless abortion suggesting pudenda. 

*■ I. e., a miscarriage, shaped like a head. 

* I. e., a shapeless mass. * I. e., an embryo. 

^ L e., a shapeless mass. 

38 Morris Jastrow 

mother will close off her gate against the daughter, 
there will be no protection, the man^ will go to ruin, 
the produce of the field will not prosper. 

If a woman gives birth to a male still-birth, Nergal* 
will destroy, the man^ will die before his time. 

If a woman gives birth to a weak boy, distress, 
destruction of the house*. 

If a woman gives birth to a weak girl, that house 
will be destroyed by fire. 

If a woman gives birth to a lame boy, distress, that 
house [will be destroyed]. 

If a woman gives birth to a lame girl, ditto. 

If a woman gives birth to a cripple, that house will 
be plundered. 

If a woman gives birth to a crippled girl, that house 
[will be destroyed?]. 

* * 

If a woman gives birth to something that has no 
face '*, the land will experience sorrow, that house will 
not prosper. 

If a woman gives birth to a weakling, that city' 
[will experience misfortune?]. 

If a woman gives birth to a crippled being, the land 
will experience sorrow, that house [will not prosper]. 

If a woman gives birth to a deaf mute, the house 
will be shut in. 

^ I. e., the father. Note the five alternative interpretations pointing 
again to the union of various collections of omens. 

* The god of pestilence. ' I. e., the father of the chUd. 

* In which the birth took place. 

• Aprosopy. See above p. 25. 

• In which the birth took place. 

Babylonian-Assyrian Birth-Omens 39 

If a woman gives birth to a dwarfs of a half-shape, 
that city will be opposed. 

If a woman gives birth to a half-shaped being with 
bearded lips ", talking ^ and that moves about, and 
has teeth* — hostility of Nergal, the crushing force 
of a powerful attack on the land, a god^ will destroy, 
streets will be attacked, houses will be seized. 
One may question whether all of such monstrosities actu- 
ally occurred, though they are all possible, if we add the 
factor of fancy to account for some of the descriptions. The 
conventional character of the interpretations and the con- 
stant repetition of the same prognostications likewise indicate 
the desire on the part of the baru-priests to exhaust their 
medical knowledge of monstrosities and malformations that 
could occur, in order to swell the collections to the largest 
possible proportions. The first tablet of the series ^ of which 
an extract has just been given, begins with an enumeration 
of various animals to which a newly born infant bears a re- 
semblance and which is expressed, similarly to what we found 
in the animal birth-omens, by the phrase that the woman gives 
birth to the animal in question. The series begins as follows : 
If a woman gives birth, and the offspring cries in the 
womb, the land will encounter sickness. 

^ The expression used is tigri ili 'a divine tigru* — which I take 
to be the Babylonian term for dwarf. See Jastrow, Religion II 913 note 7. 

* Elsewhere we find the anomaly of a child bom with a beard or 
with hair on the chin referred to. See Jastrow, Religion II 929. 

' The talking infant (see also Jastrow, Religion II 929 note 6) occurs 
frequently as a prodigy in Roman literature. See Lycosthenes, Prodigiorum 
ac Ostentorum Chronicon 113. 228 etc. 

* See further Jastrow, Religion II 928 — infants bom with one 
tooth, with two teeth or a number of teeth. The omen is also found in 
Roman literature, Livy, Historia XLI, 21 ; Pliny, Hist. Nat. VII, 15. King 
Richard the Third is among the historical personages said to have been 
"born with teeth and which was regarded as an evil omen. (See Henry 
V, 3d Part. Act V, 6. 53 and 75.) 

* Nergal, the god of pestilence, is meant. The text adds as a note 
'Such a being is called a divine tigru'. See note 1 above. 

' Cun. Texts XXVI PI. 4 with various duplicates and 'extract' tablets. 
See Jastrow, Religion II 907, note 1. 

40 Morris Jastrow 

If a woman gives birth, and the oifspring cries in 
the womb and it is distinctly heard, a powerful enemy 
will arise and overthrow the land, destruction will 
sweep the land, the enemy will destroy the precious 
possession, or the master's house will be destroyed. 

If a woman gives birth to a lion, that city will be 
taken, the king will be captured. 

If a woman gives birth to a dog, the master of the 
house will die and that house will be destroyed, confusion, 
Nergal will destroy. 

If a woman gives birth to a pig, a woman will seize 
the throne. 

If a woman gives birth to an ox, the king of uni- 
versal rule will prevail in the land. 

If a woman gives birth to an ass, the king of uni- 
versal rule will prevail in the land. 

■ — If a woman gives birth to a lamb, the ruler will be 
without a rival. 

If a woman gives birth to a Sa^, the ruler will be 
without a rival. 

If a woman gives birth to a serpent ^, I will surround 
the house of the master. 

If a woman gives birth to a dolphin (?) ^, the house 
of the [man will be enlarged?]. 

If a woman gives birth to a fish-being*, the rule 

* An unidentified animal. 

* In another list of birth-omens a woman giving birth to a serpent 
is interpreted that 'the king will increase in power' (Cun. Texts XXVIII 
PI. 43, 9). 

' Alluttu — described elsewhere (Cun. Texts XXVIII PI. 46, 9), 
as a fish with a thick head — probably, therefore, a dolphin. 

* Such a malformation with the feet united and ending in the rudi- 
ments of toes that resemble fish's tail is still called a 'Sirenformation' in 
modern nomenclature. See Guinard, Precis de Teratologic 366 with 
illustrations fig. 178 and 179. See also Lycosthenes 1. c. 142 and 316. 
also Hirst and Piersol, Human Monstrosities 88 and PI. VII (sireno-melus). 

Babylonian-Assyrian Birth-Omens 41 

of the king will prosper, the gods [will return to the 

If a woman gives birth to a bird^ . . . 

These examples will suffice to show the part played by 
the supposed resemblance of a new-born infant with one 
animal or the other in the Babylonian- Assyrian birth-omens; 
nor is it difficult to see how the thought of such resem- 
blances should arise, for, as a matter of fact, the shape of 
the head of an infant easily suggests that of a dog or a bird. 
The ear if unusually large might recall a donkey's ear; a 
small eye, that of a pig, and a large one, that of a lion ^ 
The association of ideas with the various animals no doubt 
suggests the interpretation in most cases, though in others 
the interpretation appears to be of a purely conventional 
type and as a rule favorable. 


Now what does all this mean? Is there any larger 
significance in these elaborate collections of birth-omens? 
Do investigations of this character serve any purpose beyond 
finding out how foolish many millions of people were thou- 
sands of years ago, though to be sure it may be some satis- 
faction to ascertain for oneself that foolishness has so vene- 
rable an ancestry. Bouche-Leclercq says at the close of his 
introduction to his great work on Greek Astrology^ that 'it 
is not a waste of time to find out how other peoples wasted 
theirs'. But there would be small comfort even in such a 
reflection, if studies in the history of divination did not 
furnish a larger outlook on the development of human 
thought — if in short such studies did not have some im- 
portant bearing on the cultural history of mankind. Let us 
see whether this is the case. 

^ The interpretation is broken off. 

* Can. Texts XXVIII PI. 3, 10; where this comparison is introduced 
with the interpretation that 'the king will be without a rival'. 
' L'astrologie Grecque IX. 

42 Morris Jastrow 

Such is the curious nature of man that his science starts 
with superstition. The intellectual effort involved in deve- 
loping what to us at least must appear as a foolish and er- 
roneous notion, nevertheless, results in some positive advantage. 
We often hear it said that medicine starts with religion, and 
this is true in the sense that the cure of disease was once 
closely bound up with the belief that all suffering was due 
to some demon or invisible spirit that had entered the 
body — a view that is after all not so far removed from the 
modern *germ^ theory holding for so many diseases, for 
the germs are practically invisible and their demoniac cha- 
racter will assuredly not be denied. The cure of a disease 
in primitive medicine consisted in driving the demon out of 
the body, for which again we might without much difficulty 
find an equivalent in modern medicinal methods. Incantations 
were supposed to have the power of frightening the demon 
or in some other way of inducing them to leave the body of 
the victim, but it was soon discovered that certain herbs and 
concoctions helped to this end — not that it was at first 
supposed that such herbs and concoctions were useful to the 
patient, but that they were obnoxious to the demons who 
preferred, to leave their victims rather than endure the nasty 
and ill-smelling combinations that frequently form the medical 
prescriptions attached to the incantations ^ What we would 
regard as medicinal remedies were originally given to the 
patient, with a view and in the hope of disgusting the demon 
that had caused the disease — a supplement therefore to the 
power attributed to the recitation of certain combinations of 
words, and all with a view to force the demons to release their 
hold on the sufferer by quitting his body. From such super- 
stitious beginnings medicine, closely bound up with the pre- 
vailing religious beliefs, took its rise. In the same way, liver 
divination though as a practice it belongs to the period of 
primitive culture and rests on an asumption which from the 
modern scientific point of view is the height of absurdity, 
nevertheless, led to the study of anatomy and as a matter 

• See numerous examples in Cun. Texts XXIII. 

Babylonian-Assyrian Birth-Omens 43 

of fact, the observation of the liver for purposes of divination 
represents the beginnings of the study of anatomy ^ Astro- 
logy led to astronomy, and in the same way the observation 
of birth-omens gave rise to another science or at least to a 
mental discipline that until quite recently was regarded as 
a science — namely, the study of human and animal physio- 
gnomy. The importance given to any and to all kinds of 
peculiarities in the case of the young of animals and in 
new-born infants naturally sharpened the powers of obser- 
vation, and led people to carefully scrutinize and study the 
features of the new-born. The large part played in this 
scrutiny by the supposed resemblance of the features of an 
infant to those of some animal formed a natural starting 
point, from which it was not a very large step to the position 
that this supposed resemblance had a bearing on the child 
itself. In other words the birth -omens in so far as they 
referred to plienoraena among infants had a double signi- 
ficance; they portended something of moment either to the 
general welfare or to the house in which the birth took place 
and also to the child. 

It is certainly not accidental that in the study of Human 
Physiognomy as carried on among the Greeks and Romans 
as well as among mediaeval Arabic and Christian writers, 
the supposed resemblances of people to animals was one of 
the chief methods employed for determining the character of 
an individual. This phase of Humau Physiognomy I venture 
to trace back directly to divination through birth-omens, which 
would by a natural process lead to the study of human fea- 
tures as a means of ascertaining the character of an in- 
dividual. Among the Greeks, the great Plato ^ was supposed 
to approve of the theory that a man possesses to some extent 
the traits of the animal that he resembles; and it seems to 
be a kind of poetic justice that a philosopher holding so 
manifestly absurd a theory should himself, as will pre- 

^ See the writer's paper on 'The Liver and the Beginnings of 
Anatomy' quoted on p. 1 note 1, 

* On the basis of such passages as Phaedo, § 31. See, however, the 
postcript on p. 80. 

44 Morris Jastrow 

sently appear, have been compared by a celebrated physio- 
gnomist of the 16 ^'^ century to a dog — though to be sure 
to a dog of the finer type. Polemon and Adamantius many 
centuries after Plato are among the significant names of those 
who tried to work out the theory in the form of an elaborate 
science ^ Aristotle who can generally be counted upon to 
have sane views on most subjects opposed this method of 
studying human character, though until a few decades ago a 
work on Human Physiognomy^ based on the theory of a 
man's possessing the traits of the animal that he resembles 
passed as a production of Aristotle, It is one of the many 
merits of modern scholarship to have removed this stigma 
from the prince of Greek philosophers. Aristotle, as a matter 
of fact, in a significant passage in his de Generatione 
Animalium (IV, 54) denies the possibility of the crossing of an 
animal of one species with that of another, and adds that mal- 
formations can produce apparent similarities between ani- 
mals of different species, but which are to be explained 
through the workings of natural laws. These laws condition 
deviations from the normal as well as all normal phenomena. 
Nothing in nature, Aristotle sums up, can be contra na- 
turam. It would appear from passages like this that in 
Aristotle's days the resemblances between an animal of one 
species and that of another, and the resemblance between 
man and animals had led to the belief of cross breeds to 
account for such resemblances, while monstrosities among 
animals and among men were looked upon as omens sent by 
the gods as a warning or as curses for crimes committed — 
a point of view that, as we shall see, is likewise to be traced 
back to Babylonian-Assyrian influences. 

There were others besides Aristotle who opposed the 

^ See Scriptores Physiognomici Graeci et Latini (ed. Eichard Foerster, 
Leipzig 1903, 2 vols.) containing the treatises of Pseudo-Aristotle, Polemon, 
Adamantius and others. See Chapter I of Polemon (ed. Foerster I 108) 
and Chapter II (170—198); Chapter II, 2 of Adamantius (349 sq.) for a 
long enumeration of the resemblances between man and animals and the 
conclusions to be drawn therefrom. 

^ 'Physiognomika' included in Foerster's edition I 5—91. See Foerster's 
Prolegomena to his edition XIX, 2 

Babylonian-Assyrian Birth-Omens 45 

current views, bnt the curious thing is that even those who 
rejected the theory of a transition of one species to another 
still maintained that certain traits in an individual could be 
associated with and explained by features that they had in 
common with some animal or the other. Notable among these 
was Giovanni Porta, a most distinguished scholar of the 16*^ 
century, who while a believer in magic was also a scientific 
investigator whose researches proved of great value in deve- 
loping a true theory of light and who among other achie- 
vements invented the camera obscura. He wrote a work 
in Latin, de Humana Physiognomica (Sorrento, 1586) 
which he himself translated into Italian (Naples, 1598) and 
which subsequently appeared in French and German editions. 
It remained in fact the standard work on the subject up to 
the time of Lavater's great work on Physiognomy at the end 
of the 18 1'^ century. Porta opposed Plato's theory that a man 
has the traits of the animal that he resembles, on the ground 
that a man may have features suggesting various animals. 
His forehead may recall that of a dog, while his mouth may 
be like the snout of a swine, and his ears may resemble those 
of an ass. In fact Porta maintains that no man has features 
all of which suggest a comparison with one animal only. 
Yet Porta is of the opinion that the resemblance between 
men and animals, which is self-evident, forms the basis 
for the study of human character, with this modification, 
however, which makes the theory even more complicated, 
that each feature, — the forehead, the eyes, the nose, the 
mouth, the ears, the. lips and even the eyebrows, and the color 
of hair of the head or the beard — betrays some characte- 
ristic. It is through the combination of all these features 
that the character is to be determined, but each feature is 
compared by Porta to the corresponding one of some animal 
and its significance set forth according to the idea associated 
with the animal. Porta's treatise is, therefore, quite as 
largely taken up with comparisons between men and animals 
as are the treaties of other Physiognomists, only in more 
detailed fashion. Thus a long forehead or one not too flat 
or too even, suggested to Porta the character of a sagacious 

46 Morris Jastrow 

dog and by way of illustration (p. 114 and 118)' places the 
portrait of a dog side by side with one traditionally supposed 
to be a likeness of Plato. Dante, so Porta tells us, also had 
such a dog forehead. A square forehead suggests that of a 
lion (115) and points to magnanimity, courage and prudence — 
provided, he adds, the rest of the face is in proportion; a 
high, rounded forehead (117) is compared with that of an ass, 
and is an indication of stupidity and imprudence. In the 
case of noses, comparisons are instituted with the beaks of 
ravens, eagles and roosters, with the noses of oxen, swine, 
dogs, apes and stags, and horses. Since the raven is an im- 
pudent and rapacious bird, he who is endowed by nature 
with a nose that curves from the forehead outward will also 
show these unpleasant qualities; on the other hand, if the 
nose is shaped like an eagle's beak, the person will share 
the magnanimity and royal spirit of the bird of Jupiter. The 
illustration (150) shows the picture of the Emperor Sergius 
Galba, side by side with an eagle's face. Cyrus and Artaxerxes, 
too, are said to have had noses of this fortunate shape; and 
by way of confirmation of the theory, Porta gives illustrations 
of the magnanimity of these and of other rulers who had a 
beak like that of an eagle. A nose broad in the middle and 
sloping inwards (154), suggesting that of an ox, indicates a 
lying and verbose individual; a thick nose (155) is pictured 
side by side with a swine's head with the usual uncompli- 
mentary traits associated with that animal. In this way and 
in most detailed fashion Porta takes up in succession the 
mouth, the ears, the eyes, the teeth, the lips, the hair and 
the face in general ^ A very large and broad face is com- 
pared with that of an ox or ass (172 seq.) and indicates igno- 
rance, stupidity, laziness and obstinacy; a very small face 
resembles that of a cat or an ape (174 seq^) and prognosticates 
timidity, shrewd servility and narrowness; a very fleshy face 

^ I quote from the Latin ed. of 1593 (Hanovia). 

* He also has a series of chapters on the voice, which are much more 
reasonable in character because of the omission of any comparisons with 
animals; and passes on to the hands, the breast, the belly and the thighs 
«nd feet, and the general shape of the body. 

Babylouian-Assyrian Birth-Omens 47 

is again compared with that of an ox (177); a very bony 
one with that of an ass, though Porta here as elsewhere is 
somewhat embarrassed by the variant opinions of his autho- 
rities Pseudo-Aristotle, Polemon and Adamantius and not in- 
frequently has recourse to textual changes in order to solve 
difficulties. The doubt as to the reasonableness of the whole 
theory never appears, however, to have entered his mind, and 
he cheerfully proceeds with his comparisons in the course of 
which he introduces notable historical personages as illustra- 
tions. In this way Socrates is compared to a stag and be- 
cause of his baldness is given a malignant, and, according to 
others, a lascivious nature (87) ; the Emperor Vitellius is like- 
ned to an owl (12); Actiolinus to a hunting dog because of 
the groove above his eyes (125); Plato, as we have seen, to 
a dog and Sergius Galba to an eagle, while the head of 
Alexander the Great, though only of medium size, is compared 
with that of a lion (72). 

Such was the influence of Porta's work that it remained 
the authority for the study of Human Physiognomy till to- 
wards the end of the 18*^ century when Lavater's four vo- 
lumes of „Physiognomical Fragments" ^ appeared with their 
wonderful illustrations, to which the profound impression made 
by the work was largely due. Lavater constantly refers to 
Porta, but one of his main objects is to controvert the thesis 
that the comparison of human features with those of animals 
should form the means of determining the trait indicated by 
the feature in question. Curiously enough in a preliminary 
outline of his system of Physiognomy 2, Lavater had included 
a chapter on the resemblance between man and animals, but 
by the time he came to work out his system he had changed 
his mind and henceforth opposed Porta's view. To be sure, 
the grounds on which he does so are more of a sentimental 
than of a scientific character. Lavater — a clergyman 
and a believer in the special creation of man by the Divine 
Power (Physiognomische Fragmente II 192), — protests against 
a possible relationship between man and the animal world, 

* Physiognomische Fragmente (Leipzig 1775 — 1778). 

* Von der Fhysiognomik (Leipzig 1772), 2. Stuck p. 45. 

48 Morris Jastrow 

declaring that to see animal features in the human face is 
to lower the dignity of mankind. Man created as God's su- 
preme achievement can have nothing to do with the animal 
creation which represents a lower order of being. Even La- 
vater does not go so far as to deny all resemblances between 
human features and those of animals. He admits and sym- 
pathizes and enlarges on them in several passages (II 192; 
IV 56) ; but he ascribes them to accident or to fancy, and de- 
clines to draw therefrom the conclusion that the individual 
who has some feature or a number of features that suggest 
those of some animal must, therefore, have the traits asso- 
ciated with the animal or the animals in question. It is rather 
strange that Lavater should not have hit upon the real ob- 
jection to Porta's method which lies in the contradictions in 
which he necessarily involves himself by comparing the va- 
rious features of an individual with various animals, the fore- 
head with one animal, the eyes with another, the lips with 
a third and so on; and since the animals in question show 
entirely different and contradictory traits, it is manifestly 
impossible to reach any rational conclusions as to a man's 
character by so absurd a method. However, although La- 
vater does not reveal the real weakness of the current theory 
of Human Physiognomy, yet he contributed to the overthrow 
of the theory itself which had reached the stage of re- 
ductio ad absurdum through the modifications introduced 
by Porta. It often happens that an outlived theory is set 
aside through arguments that are in themselves insufficient 
to do so. 

Through Lavater the study of Physiognomy was thrown 
back on the scrutiny of human features, and the determination 
of a man's character by a direct method and without recourse 
to comparisons with the features of animals. In thus re- 
moving, however, what had been one of the props of the study 
of Human Physiognomy, Lavater shook the foundation of the 
study itself. With the advent of modern medicine, the study 
of Physiognomy was dethroned from the place that it had so 
long occupied and was relegated to the pseudo-sciences — 
an interesting and in many respects a suggestive intellectual 

Babylonian- Assyrian Birth-Omens 49" 

discipline, but not a science. As a recent writer tersely puts 
it 'The physiognomical feeling and sensation will never die 
out among people, for the roots lie deep in human nature. 
It is erroneous, however, to attempt to construct a science 
out of if 1. 

The thought, however, of endeavoring to determine the 
character of an individual by a study of the peculiarities and 
striking indications of his features would never have arisen, 
but for the antecedent beliefs that gave to the observation 
of birth-omens so prominent a place among methods of divi- 
nation. Corresponding to the emphasis laid upon the indi- 
vidual factor when Babylonian-Assyrian Astrology passed to 
the Greeks and which led to 'Genethlialogy' or the casting 
of the individual horoscope as the chief phase of astrologj'', 
in contradistinction to the exclusive bearing of astrology in 
its native haunt on the general welfare -, the Babylonian- 
Assyrian system of divination through the study of birth- 
omens received an individualistic aspect upon passing to the 
Greeks and Komans, by leading to the study of human fea- 
tures as a means of determining the character of an indi- 
vidual ; and with the character also the prognostication of the 
fate in store for him during his earthly career. In other 
words, the rise of the study of Human Physiognomy finds a 
natural explanation, if we assume that it takes its rise from 
a system of divination based on the observation of peculia- 
rities noted at the time of birth. It was natural when divi- 
nation methods were employed to forecast the future of the 
individual, that the thought should arise of a close relationship 
between the features of an individual and his personality, 
which would include the powers and qualities bestowed on 
him, and which determine his actions and the experiences 
he will encounter. The fact that in this pseudo-science of 
Physiognomy, the comparison between man and animals played 
so significant a part among Greek and Roman Physiognomists 
and through them among the scientists of Europe till almost 

' Fritz Neubert, Die volkstiimlichen Anschauungen iiber Physiognomik 
in Frankreich bis zum Ausgang des Mittelalters (Munich Dissertation 
1910) 118. * See Jastrow Religion, II 704 sq. 

ReligionsgescliichtUche Versuche u. Vorarbeiten XIV, 5. 4 

50 Morris Jastrow 

to the threshold of the modern movement in science, adds 
an additional force to the thesis here set forth. Such a 
method of determining the traits possessed by an individual, 
and which was the keynote of Human Physiognomy till the 
days of Lavater, would not have maintained so strong a hold 
on thinkers and on the masses had it arisen in connection 
with the study itself. It was embodied into the study of 
Human Physiognomy as an integral part of it, because it re- 
presented an established tradition. The Babylonian-Assyrian 
birth-omens in which this very- comparison between man and 
animals forms so important a factor furnish the natural con- 
ditions for the rise of the tradition, while the long range of 
time covered by the Babylonian-Assyrian birth-omens supply 
the second factor needed to account for the persistency of 
the tradition after it had passed beyond the confines within 
which it arose. 


Now in order to justify the proposition that the study 
of Human Physiognomy, as developed among the' Greeks and 
Eomans and as passed on to others with its insistence on the 
fancied resemblance between man and animals as a leading 
and indeed as a fundamental factor, is to be directly carried 
back to the birth-omens of Babylonia and Assyria, we ought 
to be able to establish that among Greeks and Romans the 
abnormalities observed at the birth of infants and of the 
young of animals were reaUy regarded as omens, and that 
such omens show a sufficient affinity to what we find among 
Babylonians and Assyrians to warrant the conclusion that, 
just as Hepatoscopy and Astrology came to the Greeks and 
Romans through influences emanating from the Euphrates 
Valley, so also the third large division of divination methods 
may be traced to the same source. Let us first take up the 
Romans for which the material at our disposal is so much 
more abundant. 

Julius Obsequens, a writer whose exact date has not yet 
been determined, collected in his famous Liber de Pro- 

Babylonian-Assyrian Birth-Omens 51 

digiis^ all the omens that had been noted during a certain 
period of Roman history. He enumerates in all 72 covering 
the years 55 to 132 A. D. and the list itself is an instructive 
commentary on the attention that was paid to 'signs' of all 
kinds among the Romans as an index of the will and the 
intention of the gods. We find references to such phenomena 
as a rain of stones, — presumably hail stones — of oil, blood 
and mDk — apparently allusions to volcanic eruptions, disguised 
in somewhat fanciful language — of the sun seen at night — 
perhaps a description of an eclipse when to a frightened pop- 
ulace it might appear as though night had suddenly set 
in — of blood appearing in rivers and of milk in lakes — 
no doubt a pollution of some kind due perhaps to masses of 
earth or to glacial deposits pouring into the river — to burning 
torches in the heavens — probably comets with long tails — 
and more the like, all indicative of the unbridled play of 
popular fancy and showing that among the Romans, as among 
Babylonians and Assyrians, all unusual occurrences were 
looked upon as omens — portending some unusaal happenings. 
Now among the 72 signs of Julius Obsequens there are quite a 
number of actual birth-omens, the character of which is so close 
to what we find in the collections of the baru priests as 
to show a practical identity in the points of view. So we 
are told of several instances of a mule (supposed to be sterile) 
giving birth to a young (§ 65), in one case even to triplets 
(§ 15), in another to a young with five feet (§ 27). For the 
year 83 he records among various remarkable occurrences 
all regarded as omens, the birth of a colt with five feet 
(§ 24) ; two years in succession a two-headed calf (§ 31 — 32). 
Very much as in the Babylonian-Assyrian collections we read 
(§ 14) of a sow giving birth to a young with the hands and 
feet of a man. Among human monstrosities, our author records 
the case of a boy with three feet and one hand (§ 20), with 
one hand (§ 52), a boy with a closed anus (§ 26, 40), with four 
feet, four eyes and four ears and with double genital members 
(§ 25). Several instances are given of androgynous infants 

^ I quote Eossbach's edition in the Teubner Series. 


52 Morris Jastrow 

(§ 22, 32 and 36). Twins born at Nursia in the year 100 
are described as follows, 'the girl with all parts intact, the 
boy with the upper part of the belly open, revealing the in- 
testines ^, the anus closed, and speaking as he expired' (§ 40). 
The talking infant is a not infrequent phenomenon ^. In the 
following year the birth of a boy who said 'ave' is recorded 
(§ 41). Again, as in the collections of the b a r u priests ^, we 
read (§ 57) of a woman giving birth to a serpent. 

To these birth -omens further examples can be added 
from that inexhaustible storehouse of encyclopaedic knowledge, 
the Natural History of Pliny the Younger who, among other 
things, tells us (Hist. Nat. VII 3) of a woman Alcippa who 
gave birth to a child with the head of an elephant*. Va- 
lerius Maximus in his de Dictis Factisque Memora- 
bilibus devotes a chapter to Prodigia^ of the same mis- 
cellaneous character as the collection of Julius Obsequens — 
many in fact identical — among which by the side of rivers 
flowing with blood, talking oxen who utter words of warning ", 
rain of stones, mysterious voices, we also find birth-omens 
such as the speaking infant and the child with an elephant's 
head '. Suetonius ^ tells us that Caesar's horse had human 
feet and that the Haruspices — the Etruscan augurs — de- 
clared it to be an omen that the world would one day belong 
to Caesar. We see, therefore, that among the Eomans birth- 
omens were regarded from the same point of view as among 
the Babylonians and Assyrians and that the interpretation 
of the omens was the concern of a special class who acted 
as diviners. Now the question may properly be put at this 

* In the Babylonian- Assyrian birth-omens, such cases, expressed by the 
phrase 'middle portion open', are very frequent, e. g., Cun. Text XXVII 
PI. 44 (K 3166); 47, 14—15; 44 etc. 

^ See above p. 39 and below p. 57. ^ Above p. 40. 

* In the same paragraph he records the birth of a serpent by a woman 
as in Julius Obsequens § 57. ^ Book I, 6. 

* E. g., cave tibi, Roma (I, 6, 5) at the time of the Second 
Punic War. 

' I, 6, 5. Further examples of all kinds of omens are found in Chap. 8. 
of the first book of the Memorabilia. 
^ Life of Julius Caesar § 61. 

Babylonian-Assyrian Birth-Omens 53 

juncture, whether we are in a position to trace the actual inter- 
pretation of birth-omens among the Romans back to the Baby- 
lonian-Assyrian baru-priests? To this question, I think an 
affirmative answer may unhesitatingly be given. We have 
in the first place the testimony of Cicero ^, as well as other 
writers - that the Etruscans who are described as skilled in 
all kinds of divination were especially versed in the inter- 
pretation of malformations among infants and among the 
young of animals. Cicero emphasizes more particularly by 
the side of birth-omens, divination through the sacrificial 
animal and through phenomenen in the heavens, thus giving 
us the same three classes that we find among Babylonians 
and Assyrians. Since Hepatoscopy and Astrology among 
Greeks and Romans can be traced back directly to Babylonia 
and Assyria ^ the presumption is in favor of the thesis that 
the Etruscan augurs derived their birth-omens also from the 
same source. The character of the specimens that we have 
of the Etruscan interpretations of birth-omens strengthens 
this presumption. So, e. g., Cicero preserves the wording of 
such a birth-omen * which presents a perfect parallel to what 
we find in the collections of the Babylonian- Assyrian baru 
priests, to wit, that if a woman gives birth to a lion, it is 
an indication that the state will be vanquished by an enemy. 
If we compare with this a statement in a Babylonian-Assyrian 
text dealing with birth-omens ^ vis.: 

'If a woman gives birth to a lion, that city will be taken, 
the king will be imprisoned', 

it will be admitted that the coincidence is too close to be 
accidental. The phraseology, resting upon the resemblance 
between man and animals, is identical. The comparison of 
an infant to a lion, as of a new-born lamb to a lion is cha- 
racteristic of the Babylonian-Assyrian divination texts and 
even the form of the omen, stating that the woman actually 

1 De Divinatione I 41—42. 

2 Arnobius, Adversum Nationes VII 26 calls Etruria the genetrix 
et mater superstitionis. ' See above p. 4. 

* De Divinatione I 53. "* Cun. Texts XXIII PI. 14, 4. 

54 Morris Jastrow 

gave birth to a lion is the same in both while the basis of 
interpretation — the lion pointing to an exercise of strength — 
is likewise identical. Ordinarily the resemblance of the feature 
of an infant to that of a lion points to increased power on 
the part of the king of the country, but in the specific case, 
the omen is unfavorable also in the Babylonian text. It is 
the enemy who will develop power, so that the agreement 
between the Babylonian and Etruscan omen extends even to 
the exceptional character of the interpretation in this parti- 
cular instance. 

In the same passage ^, Cicero refers to the two-fold inter- 
pretation given for the case of a giii born with two heads, 
one that there will be revolt among the people, the other that 
the marriage tie will be broken. We thus have two inter- 
pretations, one bearing on the public weal, the other on 
private aifairs, corresponding to the frequent combination of 
'officiar and 'unofficial' interpretations in the collections of 
the b a r u -priests ^ The specific interpretations are again of 
the same character as we find in the Babylonian-Assyrian 
texts, 'revolt'^ being in fact one of the most common, while 
the other corresponds to the phrase 'no unity among man and 
wife"* found in the texts above discussed *. It so happens 
that in the case of the birth of a two-headed girl we have 
both the 'officiaF and the 'unofficiaF interpretation, namelj^, 'No 
union between man and wife and diminution of the land' ^ — 
forming a really remarkable parallel to the Etruscan omen. 

Further testimony to the parallelism between Etruscan 
and Babylonian-Assyrian methods of divination in the case 
of birth-omens is born by an interesting passage in the Annals 

^ De Divinatione I 53. Cicero does not specifically state that the 
interpretation is due to Etruscan haruspices, but Thulin, Etruskische DiS' 
ziplin III 116, properly concludes that Cicero who is discussing Etruscan 
augury in the paragraph has Etruscan augurs in mind. 

^ See above p. 14 note 2. Among the Romans the*e two classes were 
known as ostenta pnblica and ostenta privata (Thulin, jB^rMsfcisc/ic 
Disziplin III 86 and 116, 1). 

^ The phrase bartu orbartuinamati revolt' or 'revolt in the 
country' occurs hundreds of times in the divination texts. 

* See p. 29 and 31. ^ ggg p. 31. 

Babylonian-Assyrian Birth-Omens 55 

of Tacitus (XV, 47) that two-headed children or two-headed 
young of animals were interpreted by the Haruspices as 
pointing to an approaching change of dynasty and to the 
appearance of a weak ruler. Again, therefore, prognostications 
that present a complete parallel to what we find in the 
Babylonian- Assyrian texts \ 

Macrobius ^ preserves an Etruscan interpretation of a 
birth-omen relating to the color 0/ newly born lambs. A 
purple or golden color of the lamb points to good luck. This 
'purple" color corresponds to the term s a m u frequently occur- 
ring in Babylonian-Assyrian omen texts and which is generally 
rendered Mark red'^ In the collections of the baru-priests, 
many references are found to the colors of the young animals 
and among these we have as a complete parallel to the 
statement in Macrobius the following*: 

[If an ewe] gives birth to a young of dark-red color, 
— good fortuned 

Lastly, the terms used to describe all kinds of malfor- 
mations — monstra and prodigia^, i.e., phenomena that 
"point* to something show a parallel conception to the Baby- 
lonian-Assyrian viewpoint that abnormality in the case of 

^ See above p. 29 sq. Cicero also furnishes us (de Divinatione I 36) 
with a most striking parallel between a Babylonian- Assyrian animal omen 
and an Etruscan interpretation of the same omen. He tells us that the nurse 
of the young Eoscius observed how a serpent came and wound itself around 
the sleeping child. On inquiry, the Haruspices declared that the occurrence 
was an omen indicating that the child would become famous and distin- 
guished above his fellows. In the same way we find in the Babylonian- 
Assyrian texts that 'if a serpent is found lying on a little child, the child 
whether male or female, will acquire renown and riches'. See Jastrow, Re- 
ligion II 782 and 942, 3. 

* Saturnalia III 7, 2 also quoted by Servius, though in a slightly 
modified form. See Thulin, Etriiskische Disziplin III 76 and 102. 

' The chief colors in Babylonia- Assyrian omen texts are white, black, 
yellow and dark red. See e. g., Gun. Texts XXVIII PI. 32 (K. 3838 etc.), 4—9. 

* Gun. Texts XXVIII PI. 19 (K. 13443), 5. 

* hud libbi, literally 'joy of heart'. 

® Gicero, De Divinatione I 41, who correctly explains the application 
ofmonstrum to a malformation. For the etymology of prodigium, 
see Walde, Lateinisch-Etymologisches Wdrterbuch s. v. 

56 Morris Jastrow 

the joving of animals and of infants are primarily signs 
sent to indicate unusual events that would shortly happen. 
That the Greeks also attached an importance to malfor- 
mations, may be concluded from Aristotles' protest ^ against 
the supposition that a woman can give birth to an infant 
with the features of some animal"^, or that an animal can 
give birth to a young with human features. Such resem- 
blances, he asserts, are merely superficial and he endeavors 
to account for them as for all malformations in a scientific 
manner, as due to an insufficient control of the fructifying 
matter which prevents a normal development of the embryo. 
While Aristotle does not directly refer to the belief that 
malformations and monstrosities were looked upon by Greeks 
as omens, the emphatic manner in which he states that ab- 
normalities cannot be against nature but only against the 
ordinary course of nature ^ indicates that he is polemicizing 
against a view which looked upon such anomalies as contrary 
to nature, and presumably regarded them, therefore, from the 
same point of view as did the Babylonians and Etruscans. We 
have a direct proof for this view however, in Valerius Maxi- 
mus, who includes in his list of prodigia birth-omens re- 
corded among the Greeks, such as a mare giving birth to 
a hare at the time that Xerxes was planning his invasion 
of Greece which was regarded as an omen of the coming event ^, 
or again an infant with malformation of the mouth ^ Herodotus ^ 
records as another sign at the time of Xerxes' contemplated 
invasion of Greece a mule giving birth to a chicken with 
double genital organs, male and female, which is clearly again 
a birth omen. A further proof is furnished in a passage in 

^ De Generatione Animalium IV, 54. See above p. 44. 

* He gives as illustrations a child born with the head of a ram or of 
an ox ; a calf born with a child's head, or a lamb with the head of an ox. 
See further ib IV, 65seq. 

^ De Generatione IV, 63. See above p. 44. He argues against the 
possibility of such hybrid creatures (IV, 55), on the ground of the varying 
length of pregnancy in the case of women, ewes, bitches, and cows. 

* I, 6, de Prodigiis quae evenere Externis § 1. See also Herodotus, 
VII 57 who represents the source of Valerius Maximus. 

* Book I, 8 de Miraculis quae contigere Externis § 12. * VII, 5*7.,. 

Babylonian-Assyrian Birth-Omens 57 

Aelian^ which reports that an ewe in the herd of Nikippos 
gave birth to a lion and that this was regarded as an omen 
prognosticating that Nikippos, who at the time was a simple 
citizen, would become the ruler of the island. It will be 
recalled that this birth-omen — the ewe giving birth to a 
lion — is not only of special frequency, in the omen series 
of Babylonia and Assyria^, but is part of the conventional 
divinatory phraseology of these texts, while the interpretation 
based on the association of the lion with power forms a 
complete and verbal parallel to the system devised by the 
b aril -priests. The fact that the birth omen is reported as 
occurring at Cos is rather interesting, because it was there 
that Berosus, who brought Babylonian Astrology to the 
Greeks, settled and opened his school for instruction in the 
divinatory methods of the baru- priests. We are, therefore, 
justified in looking upon this circumstance as a link connecting 
birth-omens among Greek settlements with influences, emanat- 
ing directly from the civilization of the Euphrates Valley. 
As another proof of the spread of Babylonian-Assyrian divi- 
nation in other parts of the ancient world, we may point to 
the story reported by Herodotus ^ of a concubine of King 
Meles of Sardis who gave birth to a lion, and of the tale 
found in Cicero as well as in Herodotus*, of the speaking 

* Varia Historia I 29. Aelian says that the story was told by 'the 
children in Cos' — evidently a rationalistic supplement to the tale, dating 
from a time when it was no longer considered possible to take such stories 
seriously. The story had become, as we would say, 'an old wives, tale'. 

2 See above p. 24 sq. and Jastrow, Religion II 875 sq. 

3 Herodotus I § 81. 

* Herodotus I § 85; Cicero, De Divinatione I 53. The latter pre- 
serves the tradition in its correct form Croesi filium cum infans 
esset locutum. The omen consists in the fact that the infant speaks 
as in the cases reported by Julius Obsequeus (see above 52). In Herodotus 
the story is perverted through the rationalistic touch that the son of 
Croesus was dumb for many years (cf. also §§ 34 and 39) but suddenly ac- 
quired the power of speech. The story loses its point by this modification. 
The correct form of the story is also given by Lycosthenes, Prodigiorum 
ac Ostentorum Chronicon 65. The 'speaking' infant of which Wuelker, 
Procligienwesen bei den Romern 20 gives six instances, was always re- 
garded as an ill omen, prognosticating some national misfortune. 

58 Morris Jastrow 

infant of king Croesus of Lydia which was interpreted as an omen 
of the coming destruction of the kingdom and of the royal house. 
Here, again, we find (a) the familiar phraseology resting upon the 
supposed resemblance between man and animals and (b) the 
agreement in the interpretation of the anomaly of an infant 
capable of speaking — a birth- omen of particulary ominous 
significance^. Bearing in mind the discovery of clay mo- 
dels of livers with inscriptions revealing the terminology 
of Babylonian -Assyrian Hepatoscopy in the Hittite centre 
Boghaz-Kewi^ and which definitely establishes the spread of 
this division of Babylonian- Assyrian Divination to Asia Minor, 
it is quite in keeping with what we Avould. have a right to 
expect, to come across traces of Babylonian-Assyrian birth- 
omens in this same general region. That the Etruscans are 
to be traced back to Asia Minor is a thesis that is now so 
generally accepted as to justify us in regarding it as defini- 
tely established ^ Hepatoscopy and Birth-omens thus followed 
the same course in passing from the distant East to the West. 
We may sum up our thesis in the general statement that Baby- 
lonian divination made its way from Babylonia to Assyria, 
subsequently spread to Asia Minor and through the mediation 
of Hittites and Etruscans came to the Greeks and Romans \ 
The same is the case with Astrology so far as the Romans 
were concerned, for whom the Etruscans again represent the 
mediators, while the Greeks appear to have obtained their 
knowledge of Babylonian -Assyrian Astrology through the 

^ See above p. 39. 

^ See the writer's article 'The Liver as the Seat of the Soul' in 'Studies 
in the History of Eeligions in honor of C. H. Toy' 164 and Jastrow, Religion 
II 742. Several of the models are now in the Berlin Museum, and will, 
it is hoped, soon be published. 

^ See Herbig's article on the 'Etruscan Eeligion' in Hastings' Dictionary 
of Religion and Ethics. The possibility, indeed, that the Etruscans belong to 
one of the Hittite groups is to be seriously considered, though naturally the 
problem cannot be approached until further advances in the decipherment 
of the Hittite inscriptions shall have been made, following along the line 
of E,. C. Thompson's recent attempt "A New Development of the Hittite 
Hieroglyphics" (Oxford 1913), which unquestionably marks considerable 
progress. * See further Jastrow, Religion II 320, 3. 

Babylonian-Assyrian Birth-Omens 59 

direct contact between Greece and Enphratean culture, leading 
to a mutual exchange of views and customs. 


There is still another aspect of the subject of Babylonian- 
Assyrian Birth-omens to which attention should be directed, 
and which will further illustrate the cultural significance of 
the views that gave rise to this extensive subdivision of 
Babylonian-Assyrian divination. We have in the course of 
our investigations noted the tendency in the collections of the 
barti-priests to allow a free scope to the reins of fancy, which 
led to the amplification of entries of actual occurrences by 
adding entries of abnormalities that do not occur. In order 
to be prepared for all contingencies, the priests, as we saw, 
extended the scope of birth-omens in all directions, through 
entries for an ascending scale of multiple births which went 
far beyond the remotest possibility, through equally extra- 
vagant entries of the number of excess organs or of excess 
parts of the body, and through the most fanciful combinations 
of the features, aspects and parts of various animals in the 
case of new-born infants and the young of animals. The 
omission of the preposition 'like' ^ in the case of these entries 
obscured the starting-point for such comparisons, and it was 
natural for the idea of an ewe actually giving birth to a 
lion, or for a woman to some animal or the other — a lion, 
dog, fox, etc. — to take root '-. Strange as this may seem to 
us, yet if we bear in mind the ignorance of people in the 
ancient world as to the origin and course of pregnancy and 
the general lack of knowledge of the laws of nature, the 
dividing line between the possible and the impossible would 

^ See above 26. 

2 Aristotle, de Generatione IV, 54 refers to a physiognomist who traced 
back all such 'malformations' (as Aristotle caUs them) to two or three 
animals, and whose views he says met with much favor, the assumption 
being that such hybrid beings were produced by the union between a 
woman and an animal, or by crossing of animals. As a matter of fact 
intercourse between a human being and an animal never produces results, 
and the crossing of animals only in restricted cases, which do not enter 
into consideration in the birth-omens. See above p. 26 note 1. 

60 Morris Jastrow 

be correspondingly faint. At all events, the transition from 
the abnormal to the belief in monstrosities that were quite 
out of the question and that represent the outcome of pure 
fancy would be more readily made. Indeed, through a com- 
bination of all the features involved in the entries of the 
b a r u - priests, we obtain a reasonable basis for the belief, wide- 
spreed throughout the ancient Orient as well as in the Greek 
and Roman world and existing up to the threshhold of modern 
science, in all kinds of monstrous beings which find their re- 
flex in the fabulous creatures of mythology, legend and 
folklore. In other words, the Babylonian-Assyrian birth-omens 
form the first chapter in the history of monsters. The very 
term monstrum, as already suggested, reflects the Baby- 
lonian-Assyrian point of view, as a being which is sent as a 
sign — ^pointing' (monstrare) to some coming event. A m o n - 
strum is in fact a demonstration of the will or intent 
of a deity, which becomes definite through the interpretation put 
upon it. Perhaps this point will become a little clearer, if 
we consider some of the possibilities included in the Baby- 
lonian-Assyrian birth-omens. An ewe giving birth to a lamb 
with two or even more heads, or to a creature with some of 
the organs and parts of the body doubled and with some single 
is certainly a monstrosity ; and it is only a small step from such 
monstrosities which fall within the category of the abnormally 
possible to supposed combinations of the parts or features of 
various animals in one being. We actually read in one of 
these texts ^ of an i s b u or a young lamb having the head 
of a lion and the tail of a fox, or the head of a dog and the 
mouth of a lion, or the head of a mountain goat and the 
mouth of a lion ; or in another text '^ of colts with heads or 
manes of lions, or with the claws of lions or feet of dogs or 
with the heads of dogs. It is only necessary to carry this 
fanciful combination a little further to reach the conception 
that led to picturing the Egyptian sphinxes or the Babylonian 
s e d u or 1 a m a s s u ^ — the protecting spirits or demons guarding 

1 Cun. Texts XXVII PI. 29. ^ Qun, Texts XXVII PI. 48. 

* The name given to these demons. See Jastrow, Bildermappe zur 
Religion Babyloniens und Assyriens Nr. 62. 

Babylonian-Assyrian Birth-Omens 61 

the entrances to palaces and temples, as having the head of 
a man, the body of a lion or bull; and in the case of the 
Assyrian sphinxes also the wings of an eagle. Simi- 
larly, in the case of infants we find actual monstrosities 
recorded as a child with a double face, four hands and four 
feet ^, or with the ear of a lion and the mouth of a bird. Here 
again the step is a small one to the assumption of hybrid 
beings as hippocentaurs — half man and half horse — or tritons 
and mermaids — half human, half fish — or satyrs and fawns 
or monsters like Cerberus with several heads. 

It has commonly been held that the conception of such 
fabulous hybrid beings rested on a popular belief in a kind 
of primitive theory of evolution, according to which in an 
early stage creatures were produced in a mixed form and 
that gradually order was brought out of this chaotic stage 
of creation. Berosus ^ in his account of creation according 
to Babylonian traditions voices this theory, and gives a 
description of the 'mixed' creatures that marked this earliest 
period of time, "men with double wings, some with four wings 
and two faces, some with one body but two heads and having 
both male and female organs, others with goat's legs and 
horns, with horses feet, the hind parts of the body like a 
horse, in front like a man, (i. e., hippocentaurs). There were 
also bulls with human heads, dogs with four bodies and fish 
tails, horses with the head of dogs, men and other creatures 
with heads and bodies of horses but tails of fishes, and various 
other creatures with the forms of all kinds of animals . . . 
all kinds of marvellous hybrid beings". The description, wliich 
is confirmed in part by the Marduk Epic or the 'Babylon^* 
version of creation where we encounter ""scorpion men', 'fish- 
men', 'goat-fish', dragons and other monstrous beings ^ as the 
brood of Tiamat the symbol of primaeval chaos, reads like 
an extract from the birth-omens in the Babylonian-Assyrian 

* See above p. 29seq. 

* In the Chronicle of Eusebins (ed. Schoene 1 14, 18). See also Zimmem, 
Keilinschrif'ten und das Alte Testament II 488 seq. 

' See Ungnad's translation in Gressmann's Altorientalische Texte und 
Bilder I 8. 

62 Morris Jastrow 

handbooks of divination. As a matter of fact, many of the 
hybrid beings described by Berosus can be parallelled in 
those parts of the collections that have been published'. 

My thesis, therefore, is that the birth-omens gave rise 
to the belief in all kinds of monstrous and fabulous beings. 
The resemblances between men and animals, as well as be- 
tween an animal of one species with that of another, led to 
the supposition that all manner of hybrid beings could be 
produced in nature. The fanciful combinations in the collections 
of the b a r u - priests, in part reflecting popular fancies, in 
pait ""academicar exercises of the fancies of the priests, 
formed the basis and starting-point for the theory that at 
the beginning of time, pictured as a condition of chaos and 
confusion, such hybrid beings represented the norm, while 
with the substitution of law and order for chaos and confusion, 
their occurrence was exceptional and portended some ap- 
proaching deviation from the normal state of affairs. It is not 
unusual in the history of religious and of popular beliefs to find 
fancy and fanciful resemblances leading to the belief in the 
reality. Once the thought suggested by the manifold abnor- 
malities occurring in the 3'oung of domestic animals and 
among infants firmly rooted, there was no limit to the course 
of unbridled fancy in this direction. Adding to this the 

1 E. g., horses with the heads of dogs (Can. Texts XXVI PI. 48, 9); 
an i s b u (young of animal) with human head (Cun. Texts XXVII PI. 29, 26 
and 31, 8); infants with two faces, four hands and four feet (Cun. Texts 
XXVII PI. 8, 10, 21—22 (K. 7093); human face and body of a sedu, i. e., 
a body of a lion or buU with wings (Cun. Texts XXVII PI. 10, 23 = PI. 8, 6 = 
PI. 15, 17); infant with male and female organs (Can. Texts XXVIII PI. 5, 11); 
with the face of an ass (Cun. Texts XXVII PI. 15, 12); i s b u — probably 
lamb — with feet of a lion (Cun. Texts XXVII PI. 45, 34) ; horse with two 
tails and mane of Uon (Cun. Texts XXVII PI. 49, 3 (K. 4031) ; horse with 
human head (Cun. Texts XXVIII PI. 31, 7); animals with two to seven 
heads (Cun. Texts XXVIII PI. 33 (K. 6288 rev.)); isbu (here probably 
a lamb) with the feet of a lion, head of dog in front, six feet and bristles 
of a swine (Cun. Texts XXVIII PI. 38, 13); with the feet of a lion, head 
of a dog and tail of a swine (ib. 1. 15); with two heads, two tails and feet 
like those of a dog (ib. 1. 17); two heads, two feet, hair of a dog (ib. 1. 
19), etc. 

Babylonian- Assyrian Birth-Omens 63 

practical importance attached to birth-omens, what would be 
more natural than that with the development and spread of 
systems of divination devised to interpret the strange phe- 
nomena observed at birth, the belief in all kinds of monsters 
and monstrosities should likewise have been developed and 
should have spread with the extending influence of Baby- 
lonian-Assyrian divination. 

Babylonian literature furnishes many examples of the 
persistency of such beliefs. It is sufficient to refer (a) to the 
gigantic scorpion -men who keep guard at the gate of the 
sun in the mountain Masu and who are described in the 
Gilgamesh epic ^ as 'terrible'', whose very aspect is death, (b) to 
Engidu, the companion of Gilgamesh, who is pictured as a man 
with the body of a bull, and the horns of a bison ^, (c) to the 
monster Tiamat in the creation tale pictured in art with the 
mouth and foreclaws of a lion, wings and hind-feet of an 
eagle ^, or as a monstrous dragon with the head of a serpent, 
fore feet of a panther, hind talons of an eagle, or again 
described as a serpent of seven heads *, and (d) to the ""mixed' 
creatures — man, bull or lion and eagle combined — above 
referred to and that appear in such various forms in Baby- 
lonian and Assyrian art^, and reappear as sphinxes in Hit- 
tite ^ and Egyptian art The Hippocentaur in various forms 
also appears in the Babylonian art of the Cassite period '. 

» Tablet IX. 

* See Jastrow, Bildermappe zur Geschichtc Babyloniens und Assyriena 
Nos 149, 160, 184 nsw. 

* See Zimmern, Keilinschriften und das A. T. II 503 sq. 

* Jastrow ib. No. 120; other fanciful forms, Nos. 193—199. 

^ See Jastrow, Bildermappe (Giefien 1912), Nos. 36— 47 (on Boundary 
Stones), 52—53 (dragons), 55—60 (winged human figures and winged human 
figure with eagle face), 61 (bull with human head), 62 (winged bull with 
human face), 63 — 64 (winged horses, winged bulls, winged sphinxes, winged 
human figures). 

® See Luschan, Ausgrabungen in Sendschirli IV 330 sq. and 338 sq. 
and PI. LV— LVI. 

' Jastrow, Bildermappe No. 32 winged hippocentaur with two heads 
(man and lion) with scorpion tail and horse's tail and scorpions attached 
to the forelegs; No. 33, upright hippocentaur, head, arms and upper part of 
the body that of a man, lower part of the body that of a horse with two 

64 Morris Jastrow 

If we are correct in tracing the spread of Babylonian- 
Assyrian birth-omens to the peoples of Asia Minor and thence 
to the Greeks and Romans, and in associating the belief in 
all kinds of monstrous and fabulous beings with these birth- 
omens and as a direct outcome of the fanciful combinations 
embodied in the collections of the baru-priests, the spread of 
this belief would accompany the extension of the sphere of 
influence of Babylonian-Assyrian divination and of Euphratean 
culture in general. The thesis here proposed would, therefore, 
carry with it the assumption that the fabulous creatures of 
Greek and Roman mythology, as well as the wide spread be- 
lief in monstrosities of all kinds found in Greek and Roman 
writers, and which belief through the influence of Greek and 
Roman ideas was carried down to the middle ages and up to 
our own days, reverts in the last instance to the Babylonian- 
Assyrian birth-omens. 


The thesis that the fabulous figures of Greek mythology 
were suggested by malformations was set forth some twelve 
years ago by Prof. Friedrich Schatz in a monograph on "Die 
griechischen Goiter und die menschliclien Mi/3geburten' (Wies- 
baden 1901), in which he endeavored to show that the con- 
ceptions of such beings as the Cyclops, Harpies, Centaurs and 
Sirens were merely the fanciful elaborations of the impression 
made by actually occurring abnormal phenomena in the case 
of infants. The cyclops (9 seq. with illustrations) was suggested 
by the child born with one eye ^, the siren (11 seq. with illus- 
tration) by the abnormal but actually occurring phenomenon 

feet. Similar figures appear on seal cylinders, e. g. Ward, Seal Cylinders 
of Western Asia, 382, and Clay, Dated Cassite Archives, 15 and PI. XV, 
No. 6. See Baur, Centaurs in Ancient Art pp. 1 — 4. A vast amount of 
material bearing on the representation of all kinds of monstrous beings in 
Babylonian, Assyrian and Hittite art will be found in Ward's valuable work 
just quoted, particularly in chapters LI to LV and LXVII to LXIX, but 
also chapters VII— XI; XV (Bird-man!) XVIII, XXXVI and XXXVIII. 
* See 6. g. Hirst and Piersol, Human Monstrosities 116 PI. XXII. 

Babylonian-Assyrian Birth-Omens 65 

of a child born with the feet united \ A double headed god 
like Janus (12seq.) was suggested by the monstrosity of a 
child with two heads and even such a tale as that of the 
head of the Gorgon, Schaatz believes is based (24seq. with 
illustrations) or, at all events, suggested by the fact that a 
woman gave birth to an undeveloped embryo which suggests 
a human head^ The three heads of Cerberus, Diana of the 
many breasts and even harpies are similarly explained as 
suggested by malformations or by excess parts or organs. 
Having reached my conclusions long before I learned of 
Dr. Schaatz's monograph, I was naturally glad to find that the 
idea had occurred to some one who had approached the subject 
from an entirely different point of view and without reference 
to birth-omens. I would not go so far as Dr. Schaatz in the 
attempt to trace back all the fabulous creatures of mytho- 
logy, to certain specific malformations. Indeed some of his 
combinations are almost as fanciful as the creatures them- 
selves, e. g., his endeavor to explain the Prometheus myth as 
suggested by 'extopy of the liver' (36), whereas the tale 
clearly rests upon the old theory of the liver as the seat of 
the life^, but the main thought that the idea of monstrous 
beings was suggested by actual malformations plus the 
factor of unbridled fancy is, I venture to think, correct. We 
must, of course, add to human malformations the many ab- 
normal phenomena occurring in the young of animals in 
which the determining factor is again the significance at- 
tached to all kinds of malformation among human beings and 
animals as birth-omens. This factor must be taken as our 
point of departure; it furnishes a reason not merely for the 
rise of the belief in all kinds of fabulous creatures but also 

^ See above p. 40 note 4. 

* This birth-omen 'if a woman gives birth to a head' actually occurs 
in the Babylonian- Assyrian collections, e. g., Cun. Texts XXVill PI. 34, 24 
(K. 8274). See above p. 37. 

* See Jastrow, Religion II 943, 1, The vulture eats the liver because 
it is the seat of life. The renewal of the liver is the renewal of life. 
Prometheus thus suffers perpetual death and is yet condemned to eternal 
renewal of life. This view of the liver is incidentally a proof of the high 
antiquity of the myth. 

Religionsgeschiclitliche Versuche u. Voiarbeiten XIV, 5. 5 

55 Morris Jastrow 

for the elaboration and the persistency^ of the belief and for 
its embodiment in the religious thought of peoples. It is 
because the malformation is an omen that it leads to further 
beliefs and fancies. The direct association of the belief in 
fabulous creatures with birth-omens in Babylonia and Assyria 
lends a presumption in favor of the same association among 
the Greeks. If, therefore, we can trace the attachment to 
birth-omens among Greeks and Romans to the Euphrates 
Valley, we will have found a reasonable explanation for the 
part played by monsters and fabulous beings in the mytho- 
logy and the religion of the Greeks and Eomans. Further 
than this, it is not necessary to go. It is not essential to 
the establishment of the thesis to trace all the fabulous 
beings of classical mythology to actual malformations. The 
factor of fancy would lead to the extension of the sphere far 
beyond the original boundaries; nor is it necessary to find 
parallels to all the creatures of Greek and Roman mythology 
in Babylonian and Assyrian literature or art in order to 
justify the dependence of the former upon Babylonian-Assyrian 
birth-omens. No doubt the Greeks, more particularly, devel- 
oped the conception in their own way, adding other features 
to it, just as they modified Babylonian-Assyrian astrology 
in adapting it to their environment and their way of thinking, 
and just as the Etruscans and Romans modified the Babylonian- 
Assyrian hepatoscopy ^. All that is claimed here is that the 
conception of monstrous and fabulous beings is a direct 
outcome of the importance attached to Birth-omens ; and since 
the Babylonians and Assyrians are the only people who 
developed an elaborate system of divination in which the 
interpretation of birth-omens constituted an important division, 
and which spread with the extension of Euphratean culture 
to Asia Minor and thence to Greece and Rome, I claim that 
the ultimate source of the belief itself is to be sought in the 
Euphrates Valley. 

Can we trace the conception likewise to the distant 
East? Dr. Bab in an interesting essay on '^Geschlechtsleben, 

See Jastrow, Religion II 320 seq. 

Babylonian-Assyrian Birth-Omens 67 

Geburt und Mi/Sgehurten' in the Zeitschr. fur Ethnologie ^ adopts 
the thesis of Dr. Schaatz and applies it to account for the 
frequent representation of gods in India with excess organs 
or an excess number of parts of the body — gods and god- 
desses with many heads, with three or four eyes, various 
breasts and more the like. The same would of course apply 
to representations of Chinese gods and demons. Bab's paper 
is elaborately illustrated and the juxtaposition of actual mal- 
formations with the representation of gods and demons in 
India and China leaves no doubt of at least a partial de- 
pendence of these artistic fancies upon actual occurrences in 
nature -. Again, however, a warning is in order not to carry 
the thesis too far; nor is it possible to furnish definite proofs 
for the spread of Babylonian- Assyrian systems of divination 
to the distant East, though we now have some evidence 
pointing to a spread in this direction of Babylonian-Assyrian 
astrology ^ and perhaps also of Babylonian-Assyrian hepato- 
scopy*. In a general way, we are also justified in seeking for 
an early connection — commercial, artistic and social — be- 
tween the Euphrates Valley and distant India and China, 
but for the present we must rest content with the assertion 
of the possibility that Babylonian- Assyrian birth-omens, and 
with this system of divination also the conception of and 
belief in hybrid monsters and fabulous creatures spread east- 
wards as well as westwards. 

How stands the case with Egypt, where we find sphinxes 
that represent a combination of man and animal and where 
we encounter numerous gods composed of human bodies with 
the heads of animals? The question, of foreign influences in 
the earlier art of Egypt is one that has as yet scarcely been 
touched, and we are equally at sea as to the possibility of 

1 Vol. 38 (190), 209-311. 

^ Schwalbe, MiPgeburten und Mipbildiingen bei Menschen und Tieren 
1 39 also favors this view. * See p. 4 and Jastrow, Religion II 740 seq. 

* See Jastrow, Religion II 937, 2. In Se-ma Tsieu's Memoires Histo- 
riques tr. by Chavannes I 13, there is a reference to a monster which 
had the body of a man and the head of an ox, and which was bom to a 
woman through a dragon. 


^ ilorris Jastrow 

very early connections between the Euphratean culture and 
that which arose in the valley of the Nile. The fact that 
the oldest pyramid — that of King Zoser at Sakkarah — is 
formed of a succession of terraces^ like the zikkurats or 
stage-towers of Babylonia and moreover is of brick was re- 
garded by Ihering^ as an evidence of an influence exerted 
by Babylonia upon Egypt. An isolated phenomenon is too 
slender a thread on which to hang a weighty theory, and the 
step pyramid of Zoser can be explained as a transition from 
a form of the mastaba to the genuine pyramid, without 
recourse to foreign models. All attempts to find a connection 
between the Egyptian hieroglyphics and the oldest hiero- 
glyphics forms from which the Babylonian cuneiform script 
developed have likewise ended in negative results and the 
same is to be said of endeavors to find any direct connection 
between Babylonian and Egyptian beliefs and rites and myths 
and despite certain rather striking points of resemblance ^. 
And yet it is difficult to suppress the impression one receives 
that much in Egyptian art and in the Egyptian religion 
suggests early outside influences. With Babylonia and Egypt 
in more or less close touch as far back at least as 1700 B.C., 
and with Asiatic entanglements reverting to a still earlier 
period, the possibility of some connection between the Egyp- 
tian forms of the sphinx — the crouching lion with the 
human head, the falcon-headed and ram-headed sphinxes — 
and the combinations of the human face with bulls and lions 
in Babylonian art to which the Assyrians added the wings, 
cannot be summarily set aside. • The question as to the age 
of the sphinx at Gizeh — the oldest of all — is still in 
abeyance. Maspero ascribes it to the early Memphite art\ 
Spiegelberg to the middle kingdom^, while others bring it 

^ See Spiegelberg, Geschichte der dgyptischen Eunst 17 ; Maspero Art 
in Egypt 40. •' The Evolution of the Aryan 101. 

2 Pointed out by Hommel, Grundrifi der Geographie und Geschichte 
des alien Orients 1 113 — 129 who, however, includes much in his discussion 
that is doubtful, and draws conclusions that are entirely too far reaching. 

* See Maspero, Art in Egypt 80. 

^ Geschichte der dgyptischeri Kunst 35 — perhaps to Anaenemhat 
in of the 12th dynasty. 

Babylonian- Assyrian Birth-Omens 69 

down to the 18 tli dynasty. If we accept Spiegelberg's date 
we will be close to the period when by general consent the 
Mediterranean culture — including therefore Syria, Palestine 
and Western Asia in general — exercised a decided influence 
on Egypt. It is during the time of the new kingdom that 
the sphinxes become frequent, as it is at this period that the 
tendency to represent the gods as a combination of the human 
and animal form becomes prominent and reache its highest 
form of expression. 

Now, to be sure, we have not as yet come across any 
traces of Babylonian-Assyrian divination in any of its forms 
in Egypt, but that may be due to the rationalistic character 
of the Egyptian religion in the 'offlcial' form revealed by the 
monuments and the literature which, while full of rites and 
ceremonials connected so largely with the cult of the dead, is 
yet relatively free of magic or divination. It is possible, 
however, that in the unofficial popular customs divination 
may have played a greater part than we suspect. Be this 
as it may, the conception of monstrous beings may have 
found its way into Egypt even without the transfer of the 
practice of interpreting birth-omens. The thesis of outside 
influences to account for the Egyptian sphinxes and for the 
combination of the human and animal form as a means of 
representing gods and goddesses, is on the whole more plaus- 
ible than to assume that Babylonians and Egyptians should 
have independently hit upon the idea of carving sphinxes to 
protect the entrances to temples and palaces. Naturally, we 
must again be on our guard not to carry the theory too far. 
The form given to the images of the gods by the Egyptians 
suggests the almost perfect blending of the human and animal, 
and as such is a distinct expression of the genius of Egytian art. 
All that is claimed here is that the t h o u g ht of reproducing hy- 
brid and fabulous beings in art did not arise in Egypt without 
some outside influences. Resemblances between the human form 
and the features of animals may have suggested themselves 
to all peoples without any influence exerted by one on the 
other, but in order to take the further step, leading to the 
belief in the actual existence of beings in which the human 

70 Morris Jastrow 

and the animal are combined, the resemblances must have 
been fraught with some practical significance. This condition, 
I hold, is fulfilled if the resemblances — as well as all kinds 
of other abnormalities — are looked upon as signs sent for 
a specific purpose i. e. to point to some unusual happening 
that may be confidently expected. The monster in short 
presupposes what the word implies, that it is a *sign' — an 
omen of some kind. 

A warning may also not be out of place against con- 
necting the belief in monsters and fabulous creatures with 
the mental processes that give rise to totemistic beliefs. In 
so far as totemism implies the descent of a clan or group from 
some animal, it rests in part upon the supposed resemblance 
between man and animals. Without this feature the thought 
of a descent of human beings from some animal would hardly 
have occurred to people, but this is only one factor involved. 
Ignorance as to processes of nature in bringing about a new 
life is an equally important factor ; and there are others. But 
totemism does not involve the combination of the human and 
the animal form in one being. That combination belongs to 
an entirely different process of thought, though it also has 
as its starting-point the recognition of a resemblance between 
man and animals. The conception of hybrid beings is allied 
to that of human creatures or of animals who through defects 
or through an excess number of organs or of parts of the 
body represent striking deviations from the normal. Both 
classes fall within the category of monsters, i. e., they are 
signs sent for a specific purpose. Descent from an animal 
totem, however, where the belief exists, is not looked upon 
as abnormal, but on the contrary as the rule. 

StiU a third direction taken by the impression made 
upon man through the recognition of a resemblance between 
him and certain species of the animal world is represented 
by the belief — so widespread — of the possibility of the 
change of the human form into the animal. References to 
such phenomena are not infrequent in Latin Literatures. 
Pliny ^ refers to several instances of women being transformed 

1 Hist. Nat. VII 3. 

Babylonian-Assyrian Birth-Omens 71 

into men. Livy ^ also " speaks of this phenomenon as a matter 
of common belief; and it is merely another phase of this same 
belief that we encounter in the famous Metamorphoses of 
Ovid where the gods take on the form of animals, lo being 
changed to a cow and back again to human form, Jupiter to 
a bull, Cadmus to a dragon, Medea to a fish, and so on 
through quite a long list. Circe by virtue of her powers 
can change men to swine, just as she transforms her rivals 
into trees. Apuleius' famous tale of the Golden Ass where the 
hero is changed into a talking ass rests upon the same deep- 
rooted belief, Avhich appears again in a modified form in the 
Jatakas or Birth-stories of India where Buddha takes on the 
form of all kinds of animals and which lead to the beast 
fables of Bidpai where animals are introduced at every turn 
who talk and act as men^. Even such a tale as that of 
Balaam's talking ass would not have arisen without the 
antecedent belief in the possibility of a transformation of 
man to animals and the reverse. In fact the talking animal 
in all fairy tales rests in the last instance on a meta-- 
morphosis. But this metamorphosis has nothing to do with 
hybrid creatures or monsters. The universal spread of tote- 
mistic beliefs preclude a priori a single centre as a starting- 
point for such beliefs ; and the same in all probabilities holds 
good for the belief that men may be changed into animals and 
the reverse. In both, however, the factor of the resemblance 
between man and animals is undoubtedly involved. All that 
is claimed by my thesis is that the development of this recog- 
nition of a resemblance between man and animal in the 
direction which led to the belief in fabulous creatures and 
monsters, that is to say combinations of man and animal in 
one being, side by side with abnormalities through defective 
organs or parts of the body, or through an excess in the 
number of the organs or parts of the body is associated, 

^ See also Phlegon, Mirabilia (ed. Keller) IV— X including (VI) the 
case of a woman taming into a man in the days of Emperor Claadioa at 

* See Joseph Jacobs, Introduction to his edition of the Fables of 
Bidpai (London 1888) XXXIX— LI. 

72 Morris Jastrow 

wherever it is found, with birth-omens ; that is, with the obser- 
vation of striking or peculiar phenomena observed at the 
time of birth in the case of infants or the young of animals 
and regarded as omens. Monstra, prodigia, ostenta 
and portentato use the terms employed by Latin writers. All 
these terms convey the idea that such phenomena are signs 
sent by the gods as a means of indicating what the gods 
have in mind, or, to put it more generally, what the future 
has in store. This chain of ideas and conceptions and beliefs 
is restricted to culture circles which have been subject to 
common influences. 

The history of monsters forms an interesting division in 
the annals of mankind, and I should like in conclusion to call 
attention to the persistency of this belief down to the thresh- 
hold almost of our own days. Among the Eomans up to the 
latest period the old law of either burning the monsters or 
of throwing them into the sea was generally carried out*. 
This was done on the supposition that the monster was an 
ill omen foreboding evil and which was sent as a punishment. 
Plutarch tells a story ^ which despite the skeptical attitude 
assumed by the narrator, shows that the same point of view 
prevailed among the Greeks. From the Greeks and Eomans 
the belief in all kinds of monsters and the view that they 

^ See the references in Ernest Martin, Histoire des Monstres depuis 
I'antiquite jusqu'a nos jours (Paris 1880) 7 seq. Martin's book is a mine of 
valuable information on this subject. 

2 Banquet of the Seven Sages § 3. The story is placed in the days 
of Periander and Thales, and relates the remarkable birth of a centaur in 
the herd of Periander. Thales is asked to examine the strange creature, 
and after doing so asks the diviner Diodes, whether he does not intend to 
make some expiation in order to avert the anger of the gods. The diviner 
answers 'Why not?', and assures Thales that the birth of the monster is 
an omen of discord and sedition. Thales smiled and looking at the young 
shepherd of Periander in charge of the herd advised Periander to keep a 
look-out on his young men, or to provide wives for them. The intimation 
reflects little credit on Thales' knowledge of the processes of nature. 

Babylonian-Assyrian Birth-Omens 73 

were signs of divine anger was handed down to Christian 
Europe. Precisely as among the Babylonians and Assyrians, 
no distinction was drawn between monstrosities that actually 
occurred — such as infants, or the young of animals with 
two heads, or with only one eye, or with no nose, or an other- 
wise defective face, or with an excess number of hands or 
feet in the case of children, or an excess number of feet in 
the case of animals and the like ^ — and such as are purely 
imaginary, or in which the imagination plays at least a leading 

A learned Jesuit, Conrad Lycosthenes, published an ela- 
borate work in 1557 under the title Prodigiorum ac 
Ostentorum Chronicon (Basel) in which he put together 
all miracles, miraculous happenings and strange phenomena 
from the creation of the world down to his days. This is 
only one of a number of compilations of this character, the 
significant feature of which is the jumbling together into one 
class, of miracles, of unusual phenomena in the heavens and on 
earth, of the birth of malformations — human or animal — in- 
cluding monstrosities and fanciful hybrid creatures, — all being 
viewed as signs sent by a divine power. Lycosthenes includes 
in his compilation the accounts of ancient writers and later 
travellers of peoples of remarkable formation such as the 
Scipodes and Monomeri (10) of whom Pliny ^ reports that they 
have only one foot, of people who have the heads of dogs (11), of 
others living in Western Ethiopia (8) who have four eyes, of the 
Ipopodes in Asia (8) who have the feet of horses, and of the Scy- 
thians (ib.) who have only one eye, or of people have no heads, of 
others with eyes, nose and mouth on the breast (9), or who have 
six arms, (14) or who are provided with hoofs and horns, or of 
women (13) who lay their young in the form of eggs. 

^ See for actually occurring human monstrosities, Hirst and Peirsol, 
Human Monstrosities; Kitt, Pathologische Anatomie der Haustiere (4th 
«d.) I Chap. Ill and Guinard's Precis de Teratologic (Paris 1893), e. g. in 
the last named work, a lamb without ears (168), an infant with a caudal 
appendix (82), club-foot (131 — still called pied d'equin), six toes (128), a 
pig with five divisions of the hoof, a lamb with four divisions, a dog with 
six etc. (129). ^ Hist. Nat. VII § 3. 

74 Morris Jastrow 

Lycosthenes' work is elaborately illustrated and so he 
portrays for us these strange beings, as well as men with the 
heads of dogs (11), hippocentanrs (12), men with six arms (14), 
baldheaded women with beards, and people in the region of 
the North Sea who have ears that cover the whole body (13), 
mermaids, tritons, satyrs, fauns (10, 28, 218, 311, 317) and 
harpies (31). The whole army of fabulous beings of mytho- 
logy and folk-lore is brought before us ^, including the remark- 
able creature whom Gessner in his great work on Animals ^ 
describes as 'a virgin with human face, arms and hands, 
body of a dog, wings of a bird, claws of a lion and the 
tail of a dragon'. Naive credulity alone would be insuf- 
ficient to account for such fancies, but if we start from the 
deep impression made by malformations of all kinds from the 
point of view of birth-omen divination, the exaggeration of 
such malformations through the play of the imagination would 
follow from the inherent fondness of human nature for the 
marvellous. A large part of Lycosthenes' work is taken up 
with the malformations and monstrosities mentioned in classical 
writers — Pliny, Livy, Cicero, Valerius Maximus, Julius 
Obsequens, Aelian, etc. which he has collected with great 
patience. Passing beyond classical days, he is at equal pains 

^ Also such omens as the speaking infant (113. 118), while still in 
the womb (175), the talking ox (65. 113. 118. 125. 129. 140. 146. 153. 159. 
166. etc.), by the side of the two-headed swine (129\ three-footed mule or 
horse (150. 157. 166), a five-footed horse or mule (131. 136. 171. 176 1, two- 
headed calf (180. 181. 308), lamb with swine's head (135. 136), swine with 
human head (124. 136. 138), with human hands and feet (165\ two-headed 
lamb (138. 139. 197. 198), boy with elephant's head (125), infant without 
eyes or nose (141), without arms or feet (142), two-headed boy (155. 177. 
315. 317), with four hands and four legs (163. 165. 172. 317), with three 
legs (168 and 169), with three legs and three hands (199), with four legs 
(175), androgynous infants (125. 135. 170. 175. 181. 187. 196. 198), twins 
united at the back etc., (198. 284), a child with beard and four eyes (272), 
a woman giving birth to an elephant (201), to a serpent (209—210), 
a woman giving birth to seven children in days of Algemundus, first 
king of Lombards (284), a boy without eyes, no arms and a fish tail in- 
stead of feet (316) etc. 

* Conrad Gessner, Allgemeines Thierbtich (Dentsch von Conrad Foerer, 
Frankfurt 1669) 19. 

Babylonian-Assyrian Birth-Omens 75 

to put together all records of unusnal phenomena, adding 
generally the attendant circumstances or the events that 
followed, which the sign was regarded as portending. All 
kinds of monstrosities are described, together with the date 
and the place of their appearance. A lamb with a swine's 
head (136), born in Macedonia presaged the war with Phillip 
which soon thereafter broke out. A double-headed ox born 
in the year 573 B. C. (309) presaged the defeat of the Per- 
sians. A child without arms (316) and the tail of a fish instead 
of legs, born in Thrace in 601 A. D., was ordered to be killed. 
In 854 A, D. a boy attached to a dog was born (352, 
see the illustration). This happened in the days of Lotharius 
Caesar, duke of Saxony, who soon thereafter died. In 858 
A. D. (853) a monstrosity of mixed shape was born and all 
kinds of misfortunes followed. Twins united at the loins 
born in England in 1112 are brought into connection with a 
victory of King Boleslaus of Poland and the death of Waldrich, 
duke of Saxony. He carries his chronicle beyond 1543 ^ in 
which year a human monstrosity was born at Cracow, with 
flames starting out of the eyes, mouth and nose, with horns 
on its head, with the tail of a dog, with faces of apes on 
its breast and legs, with the eyes of a cat and with claws. 
It lived for four hours, cried ""Vigilate , Dominus Deus vester 
adventat' and expired. The point of view throughout is the 
time-honored one that the monstrosity isamonstrum — 
a sign sent by an angered deity, just as on the other hand 
as a trace of the pristine ignorance of the processes of 
nature, the belief continued to prevail that such monstrosities 
were due to the intercourse of women with demons — either 
wilfully accomplished by the woman, or without her knowledge. 
Martin in his Histoire des Monstres devotes an entire chapter * 
to illustrations of this belief, which is advocated as late as the 
year 1836 by Goerres*, the Professor of Philosophy at the 
Munich University, and even as late as the year 1864 by 

p. 582. The chronicle is brought down in fact to the year 1557. 

p. 32—68. 

ChrisUiche Mystik III 440 seq. 

76 Morris Jastrow 

Delaporte in a book on the devil \ Such a belief which in^ 
volves the possibility of pregnancy without the ordinary sexual 
intercourse and which has left its traces far and wide^ in 
the religious history of mankind must have acted as a power- 
ful agent in maintaining also the belief in all kinds of 
monstrosities that could never have occurred. The demons 
naturally could do anything, and thus a very simple theory 
was evolved to account for such monstrosities and which 
supplemented the older one^ that accounted for the simpler 
hybrid beings as due to the intercourse of a human being 
with an animal. The cooperation of the demons, moreover, 
was a natural correlative to the belief that deviations from 
the normal course of things were omens. Even Christian 
theology found no difficulty in assuming that God permitted 
a demon to exercise his power over those who had through 
sin forfeited the Divine protection, with the result that in 
many cases the unfortunate mother was brought before a tri- 
bunal and not infrequently suffered death for the sin of inter- 
course with some demon. Martin's work, above referred to, 
also furnishes abundant evidence of the persistency both of 
the belief in monsters and of their being regarded as omens 
even in the scientific world down to a very late date. He 
tells the story* of the birth of twins, united at the breast, 
in the year 1569. The royal physician Jacques Roy was 
commissioned to make an autopsy and to report on the re- 
sult. He closes his report with a poem, glorifying the 
Catholic Church and vigorously denouncing the Protestant 
movement. More than this, he concludes from the fact that 
one of the twins received the baptismal rite before dying, 
while the other died without baptism that the Catholic church 
would survive the Hugenot heresy. In 1605 twins united at 
the umbilicum were born in Paris, and despite the fact that 

' Le Diable (Paris 1864). 

' In the doctrine of the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary, 
this factor is involved. ^ See above 44. 

* P. 98. Chapter XII, of Martin's work, fLes Monstres Celeb res'), 
furnishes many supplements to Lycosthenes work, including: some interesting 
examples of Hermaphrodites. 

Babylonian-Assyrian Birth-Omeus 77 

the Faculty of Medicine of Paris presented a scientific report, 
accounting for the monstrosity through the fact that 'the 
semen was too plentiful for one body and two small for 
two', a chronicler in embodying the report of the physicians 
in his account presents his view that the monstrosity was a 
symbol of the wickedness of Papism and of Mohammedanism. 
Between 1539 and 1605 we have the Edict of Nantes which 
in rendering civil liberty to the Hugenots brought about a 
reversion of feeling in their favor. The tables are therefore 
turned, and the monstrosity is now a sign sent against the 
Catholic Church. The chronicler breaks out in rhyme as 
follows ^ : 

„Je tiens que ces deux fronts, cette face jumelle, 
Sont deux religions, dont I'une est qui s'appelle 
Papisme, et son authenr est I'antechrist remain, 
De Vautre est Mahumet avec son Alcorain". 

The persistency of the belief in monsters even in scien- 
tific or quasi-scientific circles and of regarding monsters 
as omens no doubt had much to do with the fact that a 
really scientific theory to account for such malformations 
as actually do occur was not put forth until the year 
1826 when Etienne Geoffroy St. Hilaire in reporting to the 
French Academy of Medicine on a mummy found at Hermo- 
polis ^ and which appeared to have been that of a human 
monstrosity, enunciated the view which led to the science 
of Teratology, as a branch of modern medicine ^ 

But despite the results of scientific investigation 
which so strikingly justify Aristotle's protest against re- 

1 Martin p. 100. 

2 The mummy was found in the cemetery reserved for the sacred 
animals, from which Martin concludes that the Egyptians shared the 
general belief in monsters as due to the combination of the human with 
the animal. It would be interesting in view of the present stage of 
Egyptological research to determine the exact character of the mummy 
which was thus destined to play so important a part in the history of 
modern medicine. See Martin, ib Indrodnction p. V. 

^ See Guinard, Precis de Teratologic (Paris 1854) in which a full 
account of the theory of St. Hilaire and of those who followed in his foot- 
steps is given. 

78 Morris Jastrow 

garding abnormal phenomena in the young of animals and 
of infants as contra naturam, the strong desire for the 
marvellous still helps to maintain at least the belief in 
monsters, even if the corollary that the monster is a birth- 
omen has disappeared. 

The believers of the Middle Ages have been succeeded 
by the deceivers of the 19th and 20th centuries — the naive 
Lycosthenes by the shrewder Barnums ^ who in order to 
supply the demand created by the love of the marvellous have 
manufactured their monsters. To be sure even this is not quite 
new under the sun, for Pliny ^ tells us that he saw a hippo- 
centaur which was brought to Rome from Thessalonica at 
the order of the Emperor Claudius and which, as it sub- 
sequently turned out, was the embalmed body of a horse to 
which a human foetus had been skillfully attached. The latest 
companion piece to this neat bit of trickery is to be found 
in a description of a fish with the head of a man that was 
exhibited in the Crimea in 1911 — fished up in the Pacific 
Ocean ^! 


To sum up the results of our investigations in a series 
of propositions: 

1. The Babylonian- Assyrian birth-omens which can be 
traced back to at least 2000 B. C. rest on the impression made 
by the mystery of a new life emerging from another. 

2. A leading factor in the interpretation of the omens 
was the recognized resemblance — often striking — between 
the features of an infant and that of some animal, or of an 
animal to some other. 

3. As Babylonian-Assyrian hepatoscopy led to the study 
of the anatomy of the liver, and Babylonian-Assyrian astro- 
logy to the study of the phenomena in the heavens, so the 

^ P. T. Barnum, the famous American showman, in his Memoirs tells 
in a most frank manner of the manufacture of his monsters — living 
and dead. '^ Hist. Nat. VII 3. 

' Amsterdamer Weekblad voor Nederland, May 28, 1911. The illustra- 
tion attached to the description reveals the bogus character of the 'monster'. 

Babylonian-Assyrian Birth-Omens 79 

resemblance between man and animals became the basis for 
the study of Human Physiognomy, which when it came to the 
Greeks and Romans was made a means of determining the 
character of the individual, just as Baby Ionian- Assyrian astro- 
logy when transferred to Greece and Rome was applied to 
the individual as a means of casting his horoscope, i. e., for 
determining the general course of his life. 

4. This same factor of the resemblance between men and 
animals in conjunction with the ignorance as to the processes 
of nature led to the belief in all kinds of hybrid creatures, 
composed of human and animal organs or features. 

5. This belief underlies the fabulous creatures of Greek 
and Roman mythology, and also helps to explain the repre- 
sentation of gods as partly animalic in Egypt, in India and 
in China. 

6. The recognition of a resemblance between man and 
animals is universal, and besides leading in connection with 
birth-omens to the belief in the actual existence of beings 
composed of partly human and partly animal organs or parts 
of the body, developed quite independently of such asso- 
ciations also in three other directions, leading on the one hand 
to the belief in the descent of a clan or group from some 
animal, and on the other to the belief in a transformation of 
a human being into an animal and vice versa, and thirdly 
to the Beast Fables of India in which beasts that talk like 
human beings are introduced. 

7. The theory set forth in Berosus of a time when mixed 
creatures of all kinds existed reflects the fanciful com- 
binations found in the collections of the b a r u - priests. 

8. The Roman view of a monster as a 'sign' (monstrum), 
sent as an indication of some event of a disastrous character, is 
directly traceable to the Babylonian-Assyrian point of view 
of malformations of all kinds and deviations from the normal 
as birth-omens. 

9. From Rome this view passed over to mediaeval Europe, 
where under Christian influence the monster became a 'sign' 
sent by an angered deity as a warning and as a punishment 
for sins. 

go Morris Jastrow, Babylonian-Assyrian Birth-Omens 

10. The pristine ignorance of the course of nature, leading- 
to the assumption that conception could talce place without 
sexual intercourse, had its natural outcome in the belief that 
women giving birth to monstrosities had intercourse — wilful or 
unknown to them — with demons as emissaries of the devil, 
or with the devil himself. This attitude served to maintain 
the belief in monsters down to the threshhold of modern science. 

11. The Roman law of burning the monstrous birth or 
of throwing it into the sea was maintained for a long time 
and led also to the punishment of the woman who through 
supposed intercourse with a demon had given birth to a 

12. The view taken of monsters as a sign sent by an 
angered Deity had much to do with preventing the rise of a 
scientific theory to account for actual malformations of all kinds. 

13. The rise of Teratology as a branch of medical science 
in the 19 th century represents the closing chapter in the 
history of monsters, which is thus to be traced back to Baby- 
lonian-Assyrian birth-omens — one of the three chief branches 
of Babylonian- Assyrian divination that all made their way 
with the spread of the influence of Euphratean culture 
throughout Asia Minor and westwards to Greece and Rome, 
and that may also have passed to the distant East. 

[Addendum, to page 43, Note 2.] 

Porta, who in his Delia Fisonomia dell' Huo mo (Venice edition, 
1648, chapters XIII and XIV, or Latin edition De Humana Physio- 
gnomia, Frankfurt 1618, chapter IX) ascribes to Plato the opinion that 
a man who resembles an animal is likely to have the traits of that animal, 
appears to base this view on such a passage as Phaedo § 31, referred to in the 
note, and which is given as the reference in the German translation of 
Porta's work. The passage, however, hardly admits of this interpretation, 
though it would appear from Porta, who evidently does not stand alone 
in his opinion, that from Plato's view that according to the life led by a 
man his soul will be transferred into an animal having the traits mani- 
fested by the individual, the corollary was drawn that a man who resem- 
bles an animal has a soul which shows the traits of the animal which he 




(Assyrian words italicized) 

Acephaly 25 

Actiolinus, likened to a hunting dog 47 

Adamantius 44 

Aelian 67. 75 

Agnathy 34 

Alexander the Great, likened to a 

lion 47 
Algemundus, King of Lombards 8. 74 
alluttu (dolphin) 40 
Androgynous formations 11. 51. 56 
Animals 8. 12. 26. 40seq. olseq. 

— with two to seven heads 62 
Anus, closed 35, 51seq. 

Ape, human nose compared with 

ape's 46 
Aprosopy 38 
Apuleias 71 
Aristotle 44. 56. 59. 77 
Arms, one arm short 34 
Amobins 53 

Ashurbanapal (Assyrian ruler) 6. 23 
Ashurbanapal's Library 6 
Ass, bom by woman 40 

— Golden Ass 71 

— human face compared with 46seq. 

— talking 71 
Astrology 1 

— underlying theory 3 

— among Greeks and Romans 3. 50. 

53. 79 

— among Etruscans 3 

— among Hittites 3 

— in Europe 4 

Astrology in China 4 

— official reports 9 

— leads to astronomy 43 

— horoscope 79 

Azag-Bau (female ruler) llseq. 

Bab, E. 66 

Babylonia and Egypt 68 

Balaam's ass 71 

Baldness, a sign of lasciyiousness 47 

Baptism 5 

Bamum, P. T. 78 

baril (diviner) 3. 7. 9seq. 12. 18seq. 

37. 54. 59seq. 64. 79 
Baur, Paul V. 64 
Beard, child bom with 39 
Belly, open 52 
Berosus 57, 62 
Bezold, Carl 4 
Bird, sending out birds 2 

— bom by woman 41 

— child with mouth of 61 
Bimbaum, R. 34. 37 
Birth customs 5 
Birth-omens 2 

— basis of 4 

— mystery of birth 4 

— texts 6seq. 

— official reports 9 

— basis of interpretation llseq. 
14seq. 168eq. 19. 20. 22seq. 

— combination of texts 19 

— animal 9—28 

Religionsgeschichtliche Versuehe n. Vorarbeiten XIV, 5. 



Birth-omens, human 28—41 

— lead to study of human physio- 

gnomy 43seq. 

— as warnings 44 

— among Romans 52seq. 

— give rise to belief in hybrid and 

fabulous beings 62 

— in India 67 

— in China 67 

— in Egypt 67 

— in Europe 72 
Blood, in rivers 51seq. 

— , rain of blood 51 
Boghaz-Keui 58 
Boissier, Alfred 11 
Boleslaus, King of Poland 75 
Boll, Franz 4 
Bouche-Leclercq, A. 41 
Boy see Child 
Brachyprosopy 25 
Buddha 71 
Bull, with human head 61 

— Jupiter changed to bull 71 

Cadmus, changed into a dragon 71 
Caesar, Julius, his horse had human 

feet 52 
Calf, two-headed 74 
Cat, human face compared with 

cat's 46 
Cerberus 61, 65 
Chavannes, Eduard 67 
Chicken, as oispring of mule 56 
Child, with mouth of bird 33 

— without mouth 33 

— androgynous 51. 62. 74 

— with one hand 51 

— with three feet 51 

— with three feet and one hand 51 

— with closed anus 51seq. 

— with open belly 52 

— Avith four feet, four eyes, four 

ears, and double genital mem- 
bers 51 

— with two faces, four hands and 

four feet 62 

Child, with face of an ass 62 

— with caudal appendix 78 

— with club-foot 73 

— with six toes 73 

— with elephant's head 74 

— with three legs 74 

— with three legs and three hands 74 

— with four legs 74 

— with four hands and four legs 74 

— with beard and four eyes 74 

— two-headed 74 

— without eyes or nose 74 

— without arms or feet 74 

— without eyes, no arms, and 

fish's tail instead of feet 74 

— speaking 52. 74 

— speaking in womb 74 
China 67 

— astrology in China 4 
Cicero 53seq. 57. 74 
Claudius (Roman Emperor) 71 
Clay, A. T. 64 

Club-foot 73 

Cos 57 

Cow 12. 71 

Cracow, monster of 75 

Cripple 38 

Croesus (King of Lydia) 57seq. 

Cross-breeding 44. 59 

Cumont, Franz 4 

Cyclops 64 

Dante, dog forehead 46 

Deaf-mute 38 

Death (see also Funeral rites) 5 

Delaporte, Albert 76 

Demon 20. 42. 75 

Diana of many breasts 65 

Divination, methods 1 seq. 

— basis of interpretation 11 
Diviner see barn 
Doderlein, Albert 8 

Dog 12. 40. 59. 61 

— Plato compared to a 44. 47 

— bom by a woman 40, 59 

— with four bodies and fish tails 61 



Dog, with six divisions of foot 73 
Dragon 63 
Dwarf 39 

Eagle 61 

— human nose compared with 

beak of 46seq. 
Ear, deformities and omens 19seq. 

Egypt 67seq. 77 
Elephant, born by woman 74 

— child with head of 52 
EUenberger-Scheunert 26 
Engidu 63 

Enlil (deity) 27 

Esarhaddon (Assyrian ruler) 10 
Ethiopia 73 

Etruscans 3. 52seq. 54seq. 58 
Eusebius 61 
Ewe see Sheep 

Excess number of limbs and organs 
8. 10. 20seq. 36seq. 51 

Fabulous beings 61seq. 66seq. 
Fauns 61 

Features see Physiognomy. 
Feet, six toes on each foot 35 

— six toes on right foot 35 

— like those of a turtle 36 

— attached to belly 36 

— only one foot, which is attached 

to belly 36 

— child with three feet 36 

— child with four feet 36 

— horse with human feet 52 
Festivals at transition periods 5seq. 
Fingers, one missing 34 

— six on right hand 34 
Fish, born by woman 40 

— dogs with fish tails 61 

— men and other creatures with 

fish tails 61 

— Medea changed to a fish 71 
Foetus, double 9. I3seq. 15seq. 
Fox, born by woman 59 
Foerster, Richard 44 

Frazer, J. G. 5 
Funeral rites 5 

ganni 28 

Genital members, intact 36. 52 

— missing 35 
Gessner, Conrad 74 
Gilgamesh 63 
Gizeh 68 

Goat 12 

— men with logs and horns of 61 

— goath-fish 61 

Goerres, Johann Joseph von 75 
Gorgon 65 

Greek and Roman mythology 64 seq.66 
Greeks and Romans 58 
Guinard, L. 37. 40. 73. 77 

Hand, child with one hand 51 
Hare, born by mare 56 
Hartland, S. G. 5 
Haruspices see Etruscans 
Hepatoscopy (see also Liver) 1. 50. 

66. 78 
Herbig, G. 58 
Hermopolis, mummy 77 ■ 
Herodotus 56 
Hippocentaurs 61. 63seq. 
Hirst and Piersol 64. 75 
Hittites 3. 58 
--- omens 10 
Horse, in birth-omens 12 

— with human feet 52 

— mare giving birth to a hare 56 

— hippocentaurs 61 

— men with horses' feet 61 

— three-footed 74 

— five footed 74 

— with two tails and mane of 

Uon 62 

— with human head 62 

— with dog's head 62 
Hybrid formations 60seq. 67seq 

Ihering, Rudolph von 68 
India 67 




Infant see Child 
lo, changed into a cow 71 
Ipopodes, have horses' feet 73 
isbu (foetus) 13. 19. 60. 62 
Ishbi-urra (Babylonian ruler), omen 28 

Jacobs, Joseph 71 

Janus 65 

Jastrow, Morris, jr. 1. 2. 3. 4. 7. 10. 

13. 23. 26. 28. 29. 36. 39. 43. 49. 

57. 58. 60. 63. 65. 66. 67 
Jatakas 71 
Jaw, missing 34 
Julius Obsequens 35. 50seq. 57. 74 

khupipi 24 

Kitt, Theodor 25. 75 

lamassu (winged lion or bull) 62 

Lamb see Sheep 

Lavater, J. C. 47. 48. 50 

Leg, missing 36 

Lion, lamb like unto 23seq. 53. 57. 59 

— born by Avoman 40. 538eq. 57. 59 

— Alexander's head compared to 

lion's 47 

— sedu, lamassu with head 

of 61 
Lips, missing 34 

— upper lip projecting 34 
Liver 1 

— as seat of soul 2 

— signs on 2 

— parts of 2 

— divination texts 6 

— official reports 9 

— divination 1. 44 

— clay models 58 
Livy 39. 71. 74. 75 

Lotharius Caesar, Duke of Saxony 75 
Lu-Bat (planet) 13 
Luschan, Felix von 63 
Lycosthenes, Conrad 8. 39. 57. 75seq. 

Macedonia, monster of 75 
Macrobius 55 

Malformations 8. 19. 29seq. 32seq. 

36seq. 56 
Marduk Epic 61 
marratum (rainbow) 23 
Marriage customs 5 
Martin, Ernest 72. 75seq. 77 
Maspero, Gaston 68 
Medea, changed into a fish 71 
Medicine, eaily 42 
Meles (King of Sardis) 57 
Mermaids 61 
Metamorphosis, of men into animals, 

of women into men 71 
Milk, in lakes 51 
Monomeri, have only one foot 73 
Monstrosities 8. 10. 20. 29seq. 33seq. 

44. 51 seq. 54seq. 60seq. 72seq. 
Monstrum 65. 60. 79 
Mouth, child with mouth of bird 33 

— child without mouth 33 

— malformation of mouth 56 
Mule, giving birth to chicken 56 

— three-footed, five-footed 74 
Multiple births 8. 17 seq. 51 seq. 59 

Naram-Sin (Babylonian ruler), omens 

Nergal (god of pestilence) 39 seq. 
Nergal-etir (diviner) 10 
Neubert, Fritz 49 
Nikippos 57 
Nostrils, missing 34 

Official and unofficial interpreta- 
tions 16 seq. 19. 34 seq. 54 
Owl, Vitellius likened to 47 
Ox, born by woman 40 

— human face compared with 46Beq. 

— talking 52. 74 

Palestine 69 

Pathology, human and animal 7 seq. 

Periander 72 

Perokomy 25 

Phillip of Macedonia 75 

Phlegon 71 



Physiognomy, study of 8. 238eq. 
43seq. 70 

— among Greeks 43seq. 49 

— Porta's work 458eq. 

— Lavater's work 45. 47seq. 

— decline of study 488eq. 

— as indication of character 45seq. 

— in Europe 45seq. 49 
Pied d'equin (club-foot) 73 
Piersol see Hirst 

Pig, in birth-omens 12 

— with five divisions of hoof 73 
Plato, views on resemblances be- 
tween men and animals 43seq. 80 

— compared with dog 468eq. 
PUny 8. 39. 52. 71. 74. 75. 78 
Ploss-Bartels 5 

Plutarch 72 
Polemon 44 
Porta, G. B. 45seq. 80 
Portents 51 
Prodigium 55 seq. 
Prometheus myth 65 
Pseudo-Aristotle 44 
Pyramids 68 
Puberty 5 

Bain of stones, oil, blood 51 
Kaven, noses compared with beak 

of 46 
Resemblances , between animals 

23 seq. 44 seq. 62 

— between infants and animals 
40. 44 seq. 62. 78 

— protest against 47 seq. 77 seq. 
Richard III, born with teeth 39 
Eoscius 55 

Bossbach, Otto 35. 51 
Roy, Jacques 76 

sa (animal) 40 

St. Hilaire Etienne Geoffrey 77 

Sakkarah 68 

Sargon (Babylonian ruler), omens 10 

Satyrs 61 

Schaatz, Friedrich 64 seq. 

Scheil, Vincent 12 

Schwalbe, Ernst, 67 

Scipodes, have only one foot 73 

Scythians, have only one eye 73 

sedu (winged lion or bull) 62 

Se-ma Tsien 67 

Sergius Galba (Roman Emperor), 

Likened to an eagle 47 
Serpent, born by woman 40. 52 
Shakespeare's Henry V 39 
Sheep, animal of sacrifice 2 

— prominence in hepatoscopy 12 

— omens 13 seq. 19 seq. 23 seq. 

— resemblance to lion 23 seq. 

— resemblance to infant 40 

— color of 55 

— with feet of a lion 62 

— with feet of lion, head of dog 

in front, six feet long and 
bristles of a swine 62 

— with feet of lion, head of dog, 

tail of swine 62 

— with two heads, two tails and 

dog's feet 62 

— with two heads, two feet, dog's 

hair 62 

— with four division of hoof 73 

— without ears 73 

— two-headed 74 

— with swine's head 74 
Siren 64 

Siren formation 40 

Socrates, compared with stag 47 

Sow 10 

Sphinxes 60. 68 

Spiegelberg, Wilhelm 68 seq. 

Stag, human nose compared with 

stag's 46 seq. 
StiU-birth 38 

Subartu (older name of Assyria) 27 
Suetonius 52 
Sun at night 51 
Swine, born by woman 40 

— human nose compared with 

swine's 46 



SAvine, men changed to 71 

— two-headed 74 

— with human head 74 

— with human hands and feet 74 
Syria 69 

Tacitus 55 

Talking infant 39. 52 57seq. 
Teeth, child born with 39 
Teratology 77 
tertu (omen) 13 
Testicles, missing 35 
Thales 72 
Thigh, missing 35 
Thompson, E. C. 11 
Thrace, monster of 75 
Thulin, Carl 54seq. 
tigri ili (dwarf) 39 
Toes, six on foot 35 
Torches in heaven 51 
Totemism 70. 79 
Transition periods 5 
Tritons 61 

Turtle, child with turtle's hands and 
feet 35seq. 

Twins 288eq. 

— united at the back 74 

— „ „ „ breast 76 

— „ „ „ umbilicum 76 

Ungnad, Arthur 61 

Urnmus (Babylonian ruler), omen 10 

Valerius Maximus 52. 56. 75 
Van Gennep, Arnold 5 
Virolleaud, Charles 37 
Vitellius (Eoman Emperor), likened 
to owl 47 

Walde, Alois 55 

Waldrich, Duke of Saxony 75 

Ward, W. H. 64 

Winged human figures 61. 63 

Woman, giving birth to elephant, 

to serpent, to seven children 74 
Wuelker, Eichard 57 

Xerxes 56 

Zimmern, Heinrich 61. 63 
Zoser (Egyptian ruler) 68 





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