What is an Incantation?


W.G. Lambert (1) tell us that an incantation is a text to be recited which brings magic power to bear, usually when recited with observation of some rite or rites. It unlocks a certain power in the universe which the person reciting either wants or needs.

How is an incantation identifiable in Cuneiform texts?
(What is en2-e2-nu-ru (LAK358 + nu + ru (phonetic indicators))?


Lambert states that in Mesopotamian incantation texts, there is a "Classical" formula prefixed to incantations which specifies their category, the formula is: n-e-nu-ru. It is omni-present in Early Dynastic period (with orthographic variations), and carried over to the Akkadian and Ur III periods (in the latter, it is occasionally lacking and, rarely, is placed at then end of a piece.) He states: "In copies of incantations from the second and third millennia it is not so frequent but can also occur at the end as well as at the beginning. More commonly, indeed very regularly, n alone is written at the beginnings of incantations in copies of these two millennia. The sign means of course "incantation," but so far we do not know the meaning of -nu-ru, and it may be suspected that at least after Early Dynastic times the ancients did not know either. Hence the frequent use [in later texts] of n alone."


It's use as an initial rubric to identify an incantation incipit
(en2-e2-nu-ru in practice)


I refer below to M.J. Geller (2), who gives us some explanation of the way the formula en2-e2-nu-ru was used as an initial rubric (it came before the incipit, the 'title' of an incantation, and alerted the reader about the nature of the following material). Geller's remarks here are most relevant to incantations in the Old Babylonian period:

"The difficulty of keeping track of incantations within complex compositions was as acute for the ancient scholar as the for modern one, and steps were taken to record the state of incantation texts. Fortunately, labels could be relied upon to help keep track of textual components. The typical Old Babylonian (and earlier) rubric of n--nu-ru was usually abbreviated to n, which was used to identify incantation incipits. Each individual incantation normally ended with either a ruling, or with a [end] rubric [that read] ka-inim-ma.... Incantations were then divided into "tablets" (dub), which were labeled under a general rubric giving the title of the incantation series. The system, however, is not entirely satisfactory from the perspective of modern scholarship. The label n was employed to indicate the incipit of the opening incantation (and hence opening line) of an incantation "tablet," by which the incantation tablet could be known. However, n was also used to label every subsequent incantation incipit within the tablet, and no method was used to distinguish between the opening line of the tablet and the opening line of other incantations within the tablet."


To illustrate what Geller is describing, I have created the below image useing a plate from that author's 1986 book dealing with Old Babylonian incantations.

To sum the use of the en2-e2-nu-ru formula as a initial rubric in incantation texts then:

- In the incantation structure, first came the initial n--nu-ru rubric which identified the line to follow as an incantation incipit
- This second line is the incantation incipit itself, by which also the incantation was known (like a title.)
- The body of the incantation followed
- The incantation text would end with either a ruling (a horizontal line drawn across the tablet) or a second rubric reading ka-inim-ma (also meaning incantation and often used as in 'incantation of so and so'.)

1: In Proceedings of the 51st Recontre Assyriologique internationale (2005), Lambert writes on the subject in his contribution 'The Classification of Incantations' (pg. 93.) Download it here.
2: In Wisdom, Gods and Literature: Studies in Assyriology in Honour of W.G. Lambert, see Geller's contribution titled 'Incipits and Rubrics'.