domingo, 6 de mayo de 2018

La noción de límite espacial en Mesopotamia

Nota: Fragmento del texto de presentación de la exposición Gimme Shelter. Maps and Models in the Ancient Near East (Abrígame. Planos y Maquetas en el Próximo Oriente antiguo) que podría tener lugar lugar en Nueva York en otoño de 2019 -sobre la que se informaría puntualmente.

Physical limits were important vehicles of symbolism in the Ancient Near East. Ki-sur-ra (ki means land, sur: to divide), in Sumerian, means borders but also territory: a territory, a delimited space in which it is possible to settle and live, is an entity defined by its borders. A border implies a bordered space.

Boundaries articulate the horizontal and the vertical. The Sumerian word In-dub-ba means also boundary, a word that includes the nom dub, which means a pole-pin. A boundary is not only a straight horizontal line –a boundary is also a horizon, two notions designed by the same word in Sumerian (oros, in Greek, means limit, boundary)-, but it also implies a succession of vertical items that make visible the limit. A boundary limits or fixes not only a surface, but also a space. Kudurrus were markers of space. Kudurrus were vertical black stones, planted on the delimitated land, covered with symbols securing the divine protection for the field. 

The notion of limit notion implies that two worlds are being established and opposed or confronted: the inner and the outer worlds, the low and high worlds, the visible and invisible worlds, the mundane and transcendent worlds. At the same time, the fixation of limits implied the necessity of possible connections between the two worlds through passages, gates, stairs, pillars, etc.
Each world is characterised positively and negatively, each one is in the hands of different “ontological” beings: the living and the dead, the natural and the supernatural beings, mortals and immortals. At the same time, some beings, such as heroes, were able to mediate between both worlds, beings able to reach the far away limits and to cross them, as it is clear in the Gilgamesh Poem. Gilgamesh travelled until the end of the world and crossed the borders of waters to enter the world of the dead to speak with Utnapištim (who survived the Flood).

The fixation of limits was an essential activity. In the so-called Sumerian Paradise myth, Enki, the god of arts (architecture, in particular), crafts and magic, the “trickster” god, was the one who completed the creation of the world by establishing limits around the inhabited space.
Limits were a sign of power, a paradigm of manmade creation. We have to remember the first and last Gilgamesh words looking at the walls of the city of Uruk he had decided to build. Those walls –his creation- were going to be able to maintain his name and fame after his inevitable death.

Thanks to images and items, such as tablets with architectural plans, cuneiform tablets, kudurrus, and “models” (different types of items in the shape of dwellings), we can imagine the function of these items and the notion of limits they embody and display. At the same time, we can glimpse what an inhabited, an orderly space might have meant in a land made of deserts and at the mercy of demons and enemies. Limits were barriers but they were also paths thanks to which a mediation, a negotiation could be established with the “others”- whether divinities, evil spirits, monsters or human enemies. Limits were walls and doors at the same time.

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