Defining Elsewhere

The Abstraction and Othering of the Liminal in the Ancient Near East

Gina Konstantopoulos

ISAW Visiting Assistant Professor

Mesopotamia is populated with a host of supernatural figures, creatures often referred to as monsters or demons. In many cases, these figures represent the embodiment of dangers such as illness or disease, or they stood as a natural expression of the wild, uncivilized lands of the desert and the mountains, far beyond the reach of the inhabited city. While these qualities are not mutually exclusive by any means, this talk will focus on the characteristics of the creatures that predominately inhabited these liminal spaces, described generally as the desert or steppe. They were also found in more particular, named spaces such as the Cedar Forest or lands that are only found within literary texts, such as the foreign land known as Aratta. By focusing not only upon these monstrous "other" creatures but also the imagined and abstracted lands wherein they existed, the process of creating and constructing liminal space in the ancient Near East may also be investigated. As a particular case study, this talk will consider the land of Aratta, a constructed place-world that is described as similar to and yet apart from known Mesopotamian cities such as Uruk. To examine the character and role of the city of Aratta, this talk will briefly analyze the occurrences of Aratta in the Mesopotamian literary corpus, primarily seen in Sumerian texts from the early second millennium BCE.

Gina Konstantopoulos holds a PhD in Ancient Near Eastern Studies from the University of Michigan (2015), where she also received her MA, and a BA in Asian Studies from Mount Holyoke College (2007). She is a two-year Visiting Assistant Professor at ISAW. Her doctoral dissertation, “They are Seven: Demons and Monsters in the Mesopotamian Textual and Artistic Tradition,” examines the place of a particular group of demons, the Sebettu or the Seven, over the course of their attestations in Mesopotamia, set against the larger framework provided by comparative demonology. Her Assyriological work centers philologically on Sumerian, with a focus on literary and incantation texts, as well as the themes of religion and magic.

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