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In: Mesopotamian Medicine and Magic
Author: John Z. Wee

In response to the absence of consensus on events narrated in the Lunar Eclipse Myth, this article proposes an interpretation that takes into account the mythological representation of astrological phenomena, the Myth’s meaning in the context of the Utukkū Lemnūtu (“evil demons”) incantation series, as well as its implications concerning royal authority and guilt during the politically unstable conditions of a lunar eclipse. Although human observation alone could not discern the reasons for a lunar eclipse, the Myth suggests that at least some eclipses resulted from malevolent acts of self-will by a group of seven deities or demons (the “Sibitti”) and did not represent the pantheon’s condemnation of royal guilt. By contrast, celestial omens, letters from astrologers, the substitute king ritual, and šuilla prayers all envisioned the lunar eclipse as a sign of the gods’ displeasure. Omen verdicts depicting successful acts of treason as divine judgment would have contributed to suspicions and tensions between the king and his courtiers during stressful times of eclipses. In portraying the king as an embodiment of the moon-god and as a fellow victim (together with the pantheon) of the Sibitti, the Lunar Eclipse Myth functioned as royal apology by removing implications of the king’s personal guilt and failure and, hence, the pretext for treason and regime change. Such a radical reinterpretation that contradicted long-held ideas about the lunar eclipse as divine judgment, however, may not have fitted easily with existing traditions. Inter-textual references to the Eclipse Myth are relatively scarce and do not accurately convey meanings original to the Myth itself, suggesting that subtler ways of downplaying royal guilt and safeguarding the king’s status may have been preferred.

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