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Collections | Ancient Near Eastern Seals & Tablets

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Tablet Inscribed in Babylonian with a Ritual for the Observances of Eclipses
Mesopotamia, seleucid period (ca. third-first century B.C.); baked clay
MLC 1872
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Lunar eclipses figured prominently in the prognostications of the Babylonian seer. This text was part of the temple ritual. Specific roles and chants are assigned to different types of priests and laypeople. Aromatic woods are to be burned on an altar throughout an eclipse; dirges are to be sung; people are to remove their headgear and cover their heads with their garments, then wail and cry aloud, begging the gods to save them, their cities, and their shrines. The text conceives of an eclipse as the "death" of the moon, of nature, and of man, and conjures their revivication.

As the eclipse begins, the... priest shall light the torch, and attach it to the altar... As long as the eclipse lasts, the fire upon the altar thou shalt not remove. A dirge for the fields thou shalt intone; a dirge for the streams that the water shall not devastate, thou shalt intone... As long as the eclipse lasts, the people of the land shall remove their headgear; they shall cover their heads with their garments. That catastrophe, murder, rebellion, and the eclipse approach not... they shall cry aloud; for a lamentation they shall send up their cry....

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The programs of The Morgan Library & Museum are made possible with public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

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