The Ancient Middle Eastern Capital City--
Reflection and Navel of the World 1
Professor Stefan Maul, University of Heidelberg
Text translated by Thomas Lampert, Ph.D., Berlin, Germany
If one compares Akkadian concepts designating "past" and "future" with their respective German or English counterparts, one immediately makes an astonishing discovery.2 The etymology of Akkadian concepts for "earlier" [pa*n, pa*na, pa *na *nu(m); pa*ni, pa*nu(m)] or for "earlier time," the "past" [pa *na *tu; pa*ni*tu(m), pa*nu*] indicates that these concepts are derived from the Akkadian pa*num or "front," in the plural pa *n u* or "face."3 The Sumerian corrolary to Akkadian concepts of the past (such as pa *na, pa *na *nu, pa *ni *tu etc. and marh_ru(m)) is formed through the word "i g i ," which means "eye" and also "face," and thus "front" in the figurative sense.4 The same is true of Akkadian concepts designating the "future": the words (w)arka, (w)arka*nu(m), (w)arki , meaning "later" or "afterwards," (w)arku(m), meaning "future," and (w)arki*tu(m), meaning "later," "later time," or the "future," are derived from (w)arkatu(m), meaning "back, behind." The corresponding Sumerian concepts (e g e r , m u r g u, b a r ) also mean "rear" and "backside." Without addressing in any more depth here a problem which is of great importance in understanding Mesopotamian culture -- its conceptual particularity -- it is clear that from the perspective of a Babylonian, the past lay before him or "faced him," while the future (warki*tum) was conceived as lying behind him. In our own modern conceptual world, the opposite seems to be self-evident: we look into the future, while the past lies behind us. Continuing with this line of thought, we might say that while we proceed along a temporal axis "headed towards the future," the Mesopotamians, although they also moved on a temporal axis in the direction of the future, did so with their gaze directed towards the past. The Mesopotamians proceeded, so to speak, "with their backs forward," that is, facing backwards into the future. Without wanting to overburden this image, one could say that the aftention of Mesopotamian culture was directed towards the past and thus ultimately towards the origins of all existence.
The interest of Mesopotamian culture in its own past was, in fact, omnipresent: Babylonian and Mesopotamian kings legitimated themselves not only through the fact that they came from ancient ruling families, but emphasized that they came "from the eternal seed,"5 from "the precious seed dating from the time before the flood,"6 from "families of primeval times."7 According to myths as well, the gods created "the king" directly following the creation of humans so that he could guide humans correctly.8 The duty of a king consisted of protecting the world as it has been ordered by the gods during creation and of restoring it to that condition. Thus in Mesopotamia, reforms were fundamentally understood as the re-establishment of an original order which had, in the course of time, become brittle or fragile. The ideal image of society and the state, the utopia of Mesopotamians, was always located in primeval history, rather than in the future.
in other words our concept of Future meant Past to the ancient ones ....and vice versa