Seasonal Time and Eternity in Ancient Assyria
Winged Genie Fertilizing a Date Tree
c. 884
BCE

Winged Genie Fertilizing a Date Tree
Assyrian (Nimrud, Iraq), c. 884-60 BCE. Gypsum, 91 1/4 x 71 1/4 in. (231.8 x 181 cm). The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri; Purchase: Nelson Trust. Rights and usage.


This winged figure once guarded a doorway in the palace of King Ashurnasirpal II of Calah, Assyria (modern Nimrud, Iraq). An inscription carved in cuneiform identifies Ashurnasirpal as the palace’s builder and summarizes his conquests. This text was carved more than four hundred times on stone panels that covered the palace’s walls and floors. The king’s goal was to preserve his name and achievements so long as the palace stood-which, the text asserts, would be “for all eternity.” This elaborate and expensive effort to preserve the king’s name and memory against the ravages of time was characteristic of Assyrian kings.

Seasonal Agriculture
In this low-relief carving, a winged figure fertilizes a date tree. To produce an abundant crop, date palms require hand-pollination. The objects held by the figure suggest this process: the bumpy oval resembles the male date flower clusters shaken over female flowers. The bucket recalls the water that is then sprinkled to hold the pollen in place. All these actions are necessary to make date orchards fruitful. The winged figure’s horned cap identifies him as a god. In his hands, the gesture of pollination becomes one of divine blessing that recognizes the cyclical nature of seasonal time related to agricultural cycles.

Today, Ashurnasirpal’s palace is an excavated ruin. Its carvings, now scattered in museums worldwide, remain as a perpetual reminder of the king’s dream of abundance and everlasting fame.

 

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