Portentous Birds Flying West: On the Mesopotamian Origin of Homeric Bird-Divination*

In: Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions
Duane E. Smith Pomona, CA

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Drawing on the Akkadian omen series Šumma Ālu and its predecessors, this essay argues for a Mesopotamian origin of Homeric bird-divination. Against the suggestion of Högemann and Oettinger that Greek bird-divination has its closest parallels with Hittite bird-divination, I argue that both in its function as a tool for divination and in its specific content, Homeric bird-divination, if not all such ancient Greek divination, finds much closer parallels in Mesopotamian divination traditions than it does in Anatolian traditions. I suggest that the late 8th century B.C.E. and the decades before and after 1200 B.C.E. represent two periods when conditions were particularly ripe for the introduction of Mesopotamian bird-divination into the Aegean and that itinerant diviners, perhaps in the employment of armies, were the most likely conveyors of this particular form of divination.

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