Thumbnail Image
Gill, Nicholas
Omens , Divination , Snakes , Ancient Near East , Latin Literature , Šumma Izbu , Šumma Alu
Comparative work in the divinatory traditions of the Near East and the classical world, aside from the sub-discipline of astrology, has not been forthcoming. John Jacobs’s 2011 article, “Traces of the Omen Series Šumma Izbu in Cicero’s De divinatione,” is a notable exception. In this work, Jacobs compared Mesopotamian birth omens with those found in Graeco-Roman literature, and discovered a concordance in the category of lion births. This concordance, however, is not exclusive to omens concerning the birth of lions. Snake omens drawn from the Šumma Izbu, the Mesopotamian omen corpus of birth omens, focus on two portents: the rise of a powerful leader and a negative change in social status. When snake omens in Roman literature are examined alongside these Mesopotamian omens, it is evident that the apodoses of the Roman omens likewise portend either or both of these events. The secondary focus of this work is to provide a history of snake omens in Roman sources, and to that end, this work draws on virtually all snake omens in classical Roman literature, although some late sources may have escaped notice. Ultimately, this analysis of the Roman snake omens provides evidence that several ideas about snake omens—that they predict eminent people and social discord—migrated from Near Eastern omen literature and surfaced in Roman literature. While this investigation does not theorize the means of this transmission, it reaffirms the complex relationship Mesopotamian omen lore has with the classical world.
External DOI