31 May 2007

Egyptology and the modern world without time

So I've been obsessed with Egyptian for a while, noticing some interesting things about how the Egyptians represented words. It's not as simple as it first looks. Basically, Ancient Egyptians used pictographic symbols to spell out sounds like 's' or 'm', to represent entire words as a whole, and to signal what kind of word something is (ie. as 'determinatives'). So the word 'sun' can be spelled out as [] (for actual *rīʕa) with an accompanying determinative symbol to both describe the word (and perhaps also to delimit one word from the next somewhat), or it can be conveyed with the sun symbol itself followed by a single stroke to tell the reader that the symbol is to be read as a full word instead of a sound.

At first it all appears simple enough until you realize that Egyptian scribes were sometimes so ingeniously creative in exploring multiple ways of writing the same word that it's hard to tell sometimes whether a particular symbol in a particular sentence was really meant as a sound, an entire word or just a type of word.

To illustrate, take the word for 'father'. Sometimes people will tell you it was spelled [ỉtf] and sometimes [ỉt]. The later forms of this word in Coptic dialects show no trace of the supposed 'f' (Sahidic eiwt; see A Coptic Dictionary by Walter Crum, p.86). The sound 'f' in Ancient Egyptian is written as a horned viper. It turns out that since 'fathers' in the plural is also written out simply as three horned vipers, and since it's clear that the word is not really *[fff], we should probably understand the trailing 'f' not as a sound, but as a determinative conveying fatherhood somehow. Thus the true word for 'father' should be understood as simply [ỉt] despite the occasionally added horned viper glyph, thereby corresponding to both Coptic and Old Egyptian representations of the word lacking the 'f'. Anyone who continues to say that the word is really [ỉtf] should be slapped with a salami sandwich on rye.

Egyptian hieroglyphs never cease to fascinate me but all of these interesting cases of misreadings make me ponder more on how deceiving outdated books are, such as that of Sir Wallis Budge called An Egyptian Hieroglyphic Dictionary. You can see the various Egyptian representations of the word 'father' here as it was represented in a similarly ancient book by Erman and Grapow called Ägyptisches Handwörterbuch. As you can see, the word is often spelled various ways without 't' making it clear that the word couldn't in reality have contained the sound 'f'. There are many misreadings like these commited eons ago that deserve a footnote commentary yet are absent in these republished books, whether online or in print. Yet it seems to me that it's this up-to-date information like the above factoid that is more educational to the general public than continually dishing out outdated sources for empty profit.

At that thought, my cynical mind starts analysing what "Information Age" really implies and its relationship to the concept briefly mentioned in the movie Matrix, that of a world without time. In some ways perhaps, it's a world of misinformation, previously four-dimensional, flattened into a three-dimensional one that pales in comparison, a universe that no longer distributes what is currently known to the general public because the masses no longer care about truth.

And then I chuckle at my internal, nihilistic musings while sitting in the café as usual, sipping my coffee, in solitude and deep reflection.

24 May 2007

The headache of the Indo-European subjunctive

Some intelligent responses by my readers have got me churning over the particularly complicated issue of the PIE subjunctive. Thank you very much. In the exchange, I'd just realized a special issue that I'm still fuzzy about in the standard theory - what the form of the subjunctive really should be in Jasanoff's model.

The subjunctive in Proto-Indo-European (PIE), which denotes hypothetical actions and states, is assumed by quite a many Indo-Europeanist to be marked with primary endings. The "primary endings" are also commonly believed to be distinguished from "secondary endings" by means of a "present tense marker" *-i. Now, my mind instinctively refuses to process all of these claims at the same time because of implicit paradoxes in this account. When trying to understand the PIE grammatical structure as a whole, the many traditional tenets of Indo-European linguistics such as we see in the common interpretation of the subjunctive mood makes PIE seem to me like a language spoken by extraterrestrials rather than a genuine human language that follows human tendencies of speech and comprehensible notions of basic semantics. I have a hunch that one of you out there have felt the same way but couldn't quite put your fingers on it.

So let's ponder on this subjunctive for a moment. This in-depth site from the University of Texas on Indo-European syntax explicitly supports my paranoia by recognizing that "Indo-Europeanists have wondered why the optative has secondary endings, inasmuch as primary endings came to predominate in the subjunctive." Yes, why? Why on earth would endings used in present-futures be associated with the semantics of a subjunctive yet absent in the optative if both the subjunctive and optative convey future reference through the lense of potentiality and desire? The author here claims that it is because the optative is older than the subjunctive, but because I have to seriously consider Jasanoff's view that the subjunctive is the source for thematic indicatives, begging necessity for the subjunctive in the earliest stages of PIE, I can't swallow some of the author's well-researched claims here, even though in all honesty it's a very plausible answer.

Part of the problem here is that all sorts of terminology in this field that we take for granted are entirely misleading for even a seasoned scholar. Don't just question what you read but question the true meanings of the very words that linguists use. IEists for example volley terms about like "aorist" (aspectual or tensal?) and "markedness" (phonetic or inflectional?) within a variety of sometimes contradictory contexts and it's important to recognize the shades of subtlety.

The true meaning of the marker *-i of the primary pronominal endings that both the indicative and the subjunctive supposedly don is a tantalizing universe that deserves a blog entry of its own but for now, let's just accept that it does not mark tense as is often mistaken. This is because of things like the negational mood with examples like *ne h₁est which are able to refer to a non-preterite meaning of "it is not" or "it will not" just as easily as preterite "it was not". Why should a present marker be absent in negative statements? So we must exorcise from our brains the outdated notion that this marker is actually a tense marker at all, despite still being called such, since it is absent in so many places where the present-future is conveyed. Rather it is, with strong reasons built on structural linguistics, a marker of mood (as argued on the above cited website and renamed a "declarative marker").

Adding to this however, I would argue that *-i was in fact a specialized indicative marker, restricted solely to the affirmative, present-future subset of this indicative mood[1]. A kind of "imminentive" or "evidential" marker attached only to real actions, never hypothetical ones, whose ongoing or future occurence is factual with absolute certainty from the point of view of the speaker. Giving it the meaning of evidentiality works exceptionally well with its proposed etymology from an originally independent temporal-spatial "hic-et-nunc" particle attached to pronominal endings in pre-IE, in turn fashioned from the demonstrative stem *i- "he, she, it".

This of course means that the original subjunctive would have to be, like the optative, marked with secondary endings and that later IE languages have confused the original state of affairs because of a close relationship between the uncertain subjunctive ("would do") and the certain future indicative ("will do") . This reasoning is further supported by the fact that the subjunctive so easily vanished with little trace from Anatolian (aside from the handful of thematic indicatives that Jasanoff claims derive from this subjunctive). This grammatical disappearance would be easy to accomplish had the subjunctive been an inflectionally impoverished category in comparison to the indicative and lacking primary/secondary contrasts. Not so easy however, if it had been like the complex multidimensional tables of inflections that later Greek and Sanskrit give us.

A final noteworthy confusion stems from what the "present subjunctive" (*bhérēti) really is. It is certainly called a subjunctive because of the thematic vowel added to the stem as we see it in Classical Greek or Sanskrit, but in reality it's usages and forms were often hard to disambiguate from the "future indicative". In these languages we happen to see a lot more complexity than what must have originally been, such as "present" subjunctives versus "aorist" subjunctives.

So, I should think that the real subjunctive in PIE would be the form using the secondary endings (*bhérēt), a form afterall that is then sufficiently distinct from the athematic (eg: *bhērti) and subjunctive-derived indicatives (eg: *bhéreti) to allow the maintenance of these subtle contrasts for the long haul as PIE fragmented into the various branches we now see. If the subjunctive were so similar to the present indicative because of its use of primary endings, is it really likely that it could be maintained so strongly as a seperate category for so long to have still appeared in Sanskrit and Greek unscathed? Personally, my brain just can't process such an unlikelihood.

But this was just an idle thought. Do with it as you please.

[1] (05/25/07) Actually upon deeper reflection while sitting at a coffeshop in solitude today, it might be better to read "continuousness" (an aspect) rather than "present-future" (a tense) here. This would more accurately describe the state of affairs of the earliest layer of IE, that is, the one that includes Anatolian. Afterall, if thematic verbs are more recent, the aorist and past blur together. Ergo, present-future is a later innovation and the earliest layer is purely about aspect, not tense. Then I realized that this *-i marker has striking parallels in both usage and etymology to Mandarin zai which is also used to mark the continuous (eg. 我看 wo kan "I look"; 我在看 wo zai kan "I am looking") and comes from the locative verb "to be at" just as IE's marker comes from a locative demonstrative. Nifty!

19 May 2007

Coptic online

I do fear that mycopticchurch.com who offered up a searchable Coptic dictionary (Sahidic dialect) is now no more (UPDATE May 26/07: Sweet joy of joys, a miracle! The site has returned to us). It's been many days since I've tried to access the site, only to see a blank "Page Not Found" screen. I know that they had been asking for donations from generous benefactors but perhaps between atheists, non-Christians and sectist Christians, no one felt enough love. Sad.

Thankfully though there are other websites, just not as web-friendly and searchable, like A Coptic Dictionary by Walter Ewing Crum, originally published in 1939.

I've been looking at Coptic recently because I've been turned on to the problems of the Middle Egyptian vowel system. I'm just sick and tired of staring at Sir Wallis Budge's fake vowels in Egyptian notation. I don't want to see made-up words like maat anymore (written vowellessly as [mȝˁt] in Egyptian), but rather *maʔūʕat (as reconstructed by John Callender) and also seen in the Amarna rendering of [nb-mȝˁt-riˁ] as Nimmuria (for *Nib-*Maʔūʕat-Rīʕa) during the Middle Kingdom.

I'm also sick and tired of seeing multiple and wildly differing versions of Egyptian words. A perfect example of this can be seen in some numerals. Sometimes people cite [ỉfdw] as "four", others just [fdw]. The word "seven" is represented in Budge's books as sekhef (nope, that's not a typo) even though it's [sfḫ] to everyone else. Some reconstruct *saɹsaw for "six" (à la Schneider) and some reconstruct *yassaw (Callender), but Budge publishes sås! And there's little to go on but things like Sahidic Coptic siou which fails to show the second "s". So something is obviously stinky and fishy. I have a hard time believing that something can remain a mystery like Middle Egyptian vocalism for a hundred years, despite a wealth of information to glean from, without these so-called mysteries being artificially propped up for the sake of commercialism.

Since I have my own Etruscan database (678 entries) with handy comments to myself on each word, I expanded my personal system to include Middle Egyptian (80 entries thus far). I found some interesting stuff and juicy contradictions along the way. I will share these ideas with you in the near future.

13 May 2007

Historical textiles

While searching, as I always do, for an online lead to certain factoids in order to sate my obsessive curiosity for historical detail, I accidentally came across a blog entitled Fabrics from the Middle-East. The article is jam-packed with a lot of interesting information about the past all assembled together in this one text. I'm sure it will be useful to those just getting started in learning the history of textiles which is, in one way or another, an inescapable part of understanding archaeology.

10 May 2007

Esperanto in film history

Just when you think history is weird, it gets weirder. This blog just to be clear is normally about ancient historical linguistics and culture but it's fun from time to time to indulge in some curious linguistic factoids from recent history. Afterall, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, so this is a strange tale direct from Hollywood.

You may be as shocked as I was to discover what our beloved Canadian actor William Shatner was doing before he landed the role of the courageous Captain Kirk of the U.S.S. Enterprise on the original 60s show Star Trek. Would you believe... a film spoken entirely in the artificial language of Esperanto?

Trailer for the 1965 Esperanto classic Incubus

Upon watching this absurd trailer, it's natural to be deeply suspicious. There are many on Youtube afterall who are able to cut and paste video with sophistication. However when its existence is also registered on the IMDb website, a trusted and extensive online database of all movies known to humankind including descriptions and actors, we have to consider checking our skepticism at the door. I have yet to see the film but I'm too curious not to. Whether hokey or brilliant, it's sure to be an entertaining ride and an interesting glimpse at the early works of a respectable actor. As of 1999, the IMDb website claims that it is the only American film in Esperanto made, which would make it quite the exotic collectable indeed.

8 May 2007

The Kurgan Hypothesis is... hypothetical

I hate to state the obvious but when something is called a "hypothesis", it naturally means that it's hypothetical, not a fact written in stone. For some reason, it confuses quite a few on the net.

I say this because after contenting myself at dnghu.org by pointing out the errors or exaggerations on their site concerning Proto-Indo-European, one of its purported members volleyed back a claim that the Kurgan hypothesis is consensus among IEists. That's news to me, but I've been in this game long enough to have a good idea of what is consensus and what is fantasy. So many times, I've encountered people who after reading one book, deify the author of said book into an infallible Saviour that no one should dare challenge, not even other knowledgeable authors. Was there ever a time when the tenet "Question what you read!" was taught in schools?

How Indo-European languages expanded over time according to the Kurgan Hypothesis

What is the Kurgan Hypothesis? This is from the Encyclopedia Britannica (2003) :

Kurgan culture, seminomadic pastoralist culture that spread from the Russian steppes to Danubian Europe about 3500 BC. By about 2300 BC the Kurgans arrived in the Aegean and Adriatic Regions. The Kurgans buried their dead in deep shafts within artificial burial mounds or barrows. The word kurgan means "barrow" or "artificial mound" in Turkic and Russian.
Then in Encyclopedia Britannica, volume 22, page 987, it clearly states:

Some scholars believe that the Indo-Europeans were the bearers of the Kurgan (Barrow) culture of the Black Sea and the Caucasus and west of the Urals. The Kurgan culture, however, was only one of a number of related steppe cultures extending across the entire Black Sea-Caspian region, an area that was transformed about 4000 BC by the advent of the horsedrawn wheeled vehicles and related innovations. It is probably best therefore, to follow J.T. Mallory (In Search of Indo-Europeans [1989]) in locating the speakers of Proto-Indo-Euoprean among the populations of this region, but not to attempt a more precise indentification until further evidence is available. [I add boldface here to emphasize key points.]

We should pay close attention to Encyclopedia Britannica here because the encyclopedia has a continued dialogue with university academics and is carefully edited by professionals. If it doesn't have a full grasp of what's going in the academic world, what encyclopedia does? Wikipedia? I don't think so.

Even if we could claim that it were consensus in academe however, the theory is full of too many gaping holes to be taken as seriously as many linguistic hobbyists choose to take it. Unfortunately, the holes are just obscure enough that they can be easily glossed over by the unknowing masses. Take for example, the simple revelation that culture and language are not the same thing and that they don't even spread across the world in the same way. Don't believe me? Well, we can easily imagine for example a case where a single person adopts a new culture but retains one's old language. It happens. It happens a lot. And so if it happens, it undermines the narrow-minded assumption that the Indo-Europeans must be *strictly* identified with the Kurgan culture. Common sense will tell us that archaeology, being a study of material culture, can tell us absolutely nothing about linguistics, the study of an abstract and thus non-material means of communication. If I observe in the archaeological record that a people in Eastern Europe have adopted a new style of pottery at a certain period, I honestly don't know whether they merely adopted a new style of pottery or also adopted a new language. Archaeology here is utterly useless to the sensible linguist.

It also doesn't help the credibility of Marija Gimbutas, the one who pushed forth this decades-old theory, when she shows her strange bias towards making Indo-Europeans a completely "male-dominated", "woman-reviling", "war-loving" people to force an imaginary, black-and-white opposition between Indo-Europeans and "Old Europe" which we are to believe by her accounts is the exact opposite. Example:

Moreover, in contrast to the mythologies of the cattle-herding Indo-European tribes that, wave upon wave, from the fifth millenium BC overran the territories of Old Europe and whose male-dominated pantheons reflected the social ideals, laws, and political aims of the ethnic units to which they appertained, the iconography of the Great Goddess arose in reflection and veneration of the laws of Nature. (words of Joseph Campbell in Foreword included in The Language of the Goddess by Marija Gimbutas, 1989)

Yet, fundamentally with these very Wiccan-stained assertions, she proves to us that she doesn't understand one important fact about the Indo-European-speaking population that undermines her whole claim: The Indo-Europeans were never a unified people. They couldn't have been because they were supposed to be pastoralist nomads and such people, as any qualified ethnologist understands, would never have understood the abstract notions of a single government or of a "unified people" as we do today. At most, we can be sure that an average Indo-European could very well have been aware of which peoples around one's area spoke languages similar to one's own and which did not but this would be the reasonable limit of an Indo-European speaker's sense of cultural unity with peoples it may have only occasionally interacted with many kilometers away.

So if we now grasp that a "single, unified Indo-European people" is an anachronistic fantasy, then we must also grasp that Indo-European speakers had many dialects and many cultures spread over a large area from the very beginning, similar to the situation of the Inuit today. However, if we accept that, we must inevitably reject the Kurgan Hypothesis altogether, for it is then nothing more than an overly simplistic vision tied to a black-and-white belief that prehistorical archaeological cultures have a one-to-one relationship with protolanguages and that a single language must necessarily have a single culture, which is clearly a false premise if we choose to contemplate on the inherent complexity of humanity for a moment.

Where does that leave the Indo-European homeland debate? In Eastern Europe of course. Ultimately, it's linguistics that must decide the core homeland of the linguistic theory and there is ample linguistics to show that Eastern Europe is the best choice. On a whole, Indo-European must be in a position to be accessible to the northern shores of the Caspian Sea (nb. the words borrowed between Indo-Iranian and Finno-Ugric languages c. 2500 BCE) and also to be capable of receiving Near-Eastern loans at an early date (nb. the issue of "six" and "seven" and other cultural loanwords of clear Semitic origin). Ironically, the Encyclopedia Britannica even concedes, when discussing the Kurgan culture, that by 3500 BC there was a secondary homeland that "was established in the Danube river basin" which is "what many linguists consider to be the Proto-Indo-European homeland" (Enc.Brit., vol 18, p. 763).

So while many online like to be one-minute experts and call the Kurgan Hypothesis "widely accepted", it is in fact the most received only by those who know the least about Proto-Indo-European or what absurd contradictions the Kurgan Hypothesis implies.

6 May 2007

dnghu and dogmatic relativism

A certain Carlos Quiles decided to respond to my blog about Modern Indo-European but did so in a way that I find irrational by leaping to assumptions about my supposed feelings towards him and his organization, by imposing restrictive double-standards on my inherent freedom of speech and by wildly distorting the facts I offered in my previous post (eg: sabtan... that's not at all what I cited.). As far as I'm concerned, some poor souls may be too far deluded to help. Whatever the case here, it's certainly not my blog's mission to "save humanity from ignorance". Such a goal would be utterly futile, if not a little egotistical. For me this blog is merely to share ideas and to stoke people's interest in comparative linguistics, without daydreaming.

So I've decided that this negative letter would most positively serve as a learning example (for those truly open to new ideas) of what not to do in linguistics, a complex study whose centuries-old body of knowledge can't simply be tossed aside for idle kicks without coming across as an uneducated jester. The letter I'm responding to is shown in entirety in italics at the end of this blog entry so that you can judge it all for yourself.

I always find heated emotional or politically-motivated rhetoric in place of logical facts frustrating to deal with. However, it seems to be a particularly diseased trend going on these days; the trend to believe that one's own unqualified, five-second judgements are just as good as the long-term study and rational thinking of knowledgeable experts. Wikipedia is but one example of this larger trend. Mr. Quiles' viewpoints are easily exposed when we understand the toxic effects of dogmatic relativism on healthy learning minds (eg: Mr Quiles says: "[...]you should know that many people share different ideas about how it was like[...]"... but who does "many people" refer to exactly? Do Tom, Dick and Harry count as qualified linguists?) .

Here is the clearest example of this egocentric delusion in action from Mr. Quiles as he speaks on behalf of dnhu.org (or perhaps against its behalf):

1) "We know we are not experts, and that there are lots of people more prepared than us to work on PIE reconstruction"
2) "Whether that 'Piotr Gaworowski' is right or not in this or that theory is certainly not important for PIE revival in the EU, that's for sure."
[bolded text is my own]

How strange to at once feign respect for knowledge of experts and yet be disrespectful to Piotr Gasiorowski (note Mr. Quiles' careless misspelling) who is actually a university professor and has published in the field of Indo-European linguistics unlike Mr. Quiles who is merely a self-described amateur. Is this not boundless arrogance? What Mr. Quiles doesn't understand is that Piotr Gasiorowski's website says nothing any different from what one can easily find in the Encyclopedia Britannica at one's local public library, even if neophytes may find it too difficult to trek to a university and may misconstrue websites as a primary source of information.

The most glaring and basic fact, misunderstood by both dnghu.org and Mr. Quiles, is that the occasional omission of *h1- in the notation of Indo-European is not just "a matter of tradition" but unavoidably a distinct phoneme which is self-evident and absolutely necessary to write in *h1s-enti "they are" since the normal zerograde ablaut of *h1es- is not **s-, but *h1s-. It is clear then that while these sorts try to talk the talk, their defiant ignorance against new facts exposes their far deeper interest in fantasy above that in scientific self-criticism and subsequent evolution.

So, putting aside any supposed dislikes Mr. Quiles' assumes in me or in others who point out these inconvenient truths, how then can we take seriously the causes of such fundamentally unresearched organizations as these? How can we make sense of an organization that cloaks itself in the authority of a field that it clearly does not understand even in the most basic sense? How do we make sense of the professionality of an organization that does not address its misinformation and most critical errors? No, my pun has merit: "Proto-politics" is very descriptive of what is going on here.

Flaws are flaws and logic just isn't up to a wiki-vote. You can't wave the wand of relativism around, chant a few magical spells and wish ignorance away. Hopefully we can all learn here how one random idea just isn't the same as an established theory.

Response to:
Hi there!

I am member of the Dnghu Association, and would like to share some comments:

1) Please don't mix your political scepticism about the world, Europe, the EU or conlangs like Esperanto to say that Modern Indo-European is 'protopolitics' or whatever new term you may coin. We obviously knew before beginning with this that it is very difficult to happen, but it could happen - as it did with Hebrew -, and you (as we) just don't know; we work on this because it is a possibility, because we are Europeanists and want a country united under a common language.

2) I think PIE roots are traditionally written with e-, whatever the attested words are like; it's only a matter of tradition. That's the case you mention, "ec-", which - as far as I know - has just a few attested words to help reconstruct a proper PIE word. It seems to me that you just opened the grammar on that page and didn't read further.

We are sorry that you dislike us, the project, the EU and/or our grammar's basics, but to criticize all that by mixing different reasons seems not the most rational way to make us change for better.

3) If you have dealt with Proto-Indo-European research - other than those amateur websites out there -, you should know that many people share different ideas about how it was like, and what we did is more or less to try and sum up them all in an easy Modern grammar, not to show every idea or "the best" or "the correct" one - we want people to speak IE, not to become experts in PIE discussions...

4) Whether that 'Piotr Gaworowski' is right or not in this or that theory is certainly not important for PIE revival in the EU, that's for sure.

5) The writing system is not definite, but the c is certainly the best value for ḱ, as you could know if you had dealt with UTF issues - which I infer you haven't.

The rest of writings and theories you refer to are considered 'normal' among European professors - as the Kurgan hypothesis, or the writing of "oinos" for "hoinos", "septm" for your "sabtan?", etc.

Anyway, if you want to make Constructive critics, remember we are open to new proposals and that we have made some collaborative forums and/or websites with that aim, unless you only want your friends to read your comments and laugh a little bit about others' work.

We know we are not experts, and that there are lots of people more prepared than us to work on PIE reconstruction (probably you are one of those), but we have been saying since we started in 2004 that our objective is IE revival, not to impose our ideas on PIE; we want experts to collaborate.

Also, one of our main objectives now is to change the European high school subjects on Latin or Greek (or 'Classic Languages' as in Spain) for an "Introduction to Indo-European languages" - we think it could be a good introductory approach to most European languages.

Also, if you feel uncomfortable collaborating with others to develop your personal theories and/or criticisms, that's why we made the grammar GFDL and CC-by-sa, for people like you to develop their personal theories, and keep working on the most correct PIE reconstruction while supporting the modern use of IE.

I think it is a good starting point to try to substitute the thousand inventions called 'conlangs' for a natural language as PIE - this way, PIE study would be certainly boosted.

cquiles at dnghu dot org

(2008 Jan 28) Carlos Quiles later retaliated with an open letter on his "organization's" website full of the most over-the-top spite that more than adequately advertises a grave "mental miscalculation", shall we say. Honestly I was really hoping that he was simply misguided, not disturbed. I guess anyone can start an organization of one member and put up a half-plausible website, showing how difficult it is to accurately assess people online.

3 May 2007

Babylonian whores

I'm always fascinated by how different cultures understand things we easily take for granted, like sexuality, because it can be so radically different from everything we may be accustomed to in our own culture. As I might have hinted before, learning history is simply the act of visiting another culture in the past, like a vacation through time rather than space.

Here's an interesting quote from Religion in Ancient Mesopotamia by Jean Bottéro that adds to my blog rants on sexuality in ancient times (p.123-124):

"Since homosexual love was perfectly tolerated in the land, provided that it did not harm anyone, it should not be surprising to see professional homosexuals here, as if to balance the 'religious' prositutes mentioned above, the assinu, the kurgarru, the kulu'u, and even, on occasion, the kolû, who had rather a bad reputation in this regard, although we do not really know why. Nor do we know under what conditions they expressed their profession or their duties. But we occasionally see them dressed as women, holding strictly feminine accessories (such as a spindle) in their hands in addition to manly weapons, as if to point out their sexual ambiguity, and taking part, at least in honor of Ištar, in ritual, ambiguous, or lascivious dances. They were not, however, firmly integrated into the clerical corps, and their specific designation referred above all to their condition and to their way of making love."

Before I continue let me just say that "professional homosexual" is unfortunate wording, making it sound as though homosexuals do nothing but have sex all day and that some even go professional. [Pause for laughter...] Within the greater context of the paragraph though, the author is talking about prostitutes as a whole, some of which happen to be homosexual.

Putting aside the risky wording, Jean mentions three terms in the Babylonian language referring to specialized types of prostitutes. John Barclay Burns from George Mason University published in The Journal of Religion & Society the article Devotee or Deviate with more detail on what exactly these terms meant as part of a larger explanation of sexuality in Ancient Israel and the Old Testament:

"Sources from Mesopotamia testify to the existence of male cult figures whose sexuality was confused or liminal and who engaged in various sex-related practices. One text refers to the sinnišānu, literally, 'woman-like,' who went into a tavern and agreed to divide his earnings, presumably with the tavern-keeper. Taverns were permitted places of resort for prostitutes of both sexes. The assinnu was a member of Ishtar’s cultic staff with whom, it seems, a man might have intercourse, whose masculinity had become femininity (Erra IV 55-56; CAD, A: 341). The effeminate kulu'u, not a zikaru, a 'real' man, and the transvestite kurgarrû sang, acted, and danced in the worship of Inanna/Ishtar. The kulu'u was certainly regarded as a male prostitute in the saying, amat LU kulu'u u: ha-rim-ti URU, “the word of the male or female prostitute of the city” (CAD, K: 529, 557). W. G. Lambert argued that there was a fair amount of evidence for a cluster of male types notorious for their femininity and that they served as prostitutes. One of these, the assinnu, lacked libido, either from a natural defect or castration (152-53). M. Nissinen pointed out that the cuneiform signs used for assinnu were UR.SAL, 'dog/woman,' evidently an insulting designation (32). Unfortunately, there is no evidence that the cognate Akkadian word for dog, kalbu, was ever employed as a metaphor in this precise context."

And thus we come full circle by ending it off with Old Testament sexuality. The picture above is old religious art portraying the so-called "Whore of Babylon" as it was written in the book of Revelation, a symbol of decaying morals. As we can tell by this wording alone, there was a sense of moral supremacy in regards to sexuality throughout the biblical scriptures and a constant war between misunderstood foreign moralities and their own. Sound familiar in the modern day?