Friday, April 3, 2009

The wondrous number seven...

Image of the Kreativ Blogger award. Origin unknown. Presumed to be in the public domain as it has been shared notoriously.Dear Gentle Reader,

The lovely Floreta, of Solitary Panda, has bestowed an award (!) upon your humble scribe.

An award with dubious spelling, true, but many is the time that my comments have included dubious spellings--ooh, that slip between the mind and the fingers. 


That, your humble scribe shares, is the true purpose of slip, that slick, clay/water/deflocculant suspension, sometimes with bentonite, used conventionally to join bits of clays or to paint some ceramics or to make castings. 

Slip fills in, and serves to erase, cuneiform slips of the stylus in the heavy, clay tablets.

Mind you, it works horribly on computers. 

It gums up the keyboards and smears up the screen... although I could not see the e-slips for want of the dried slip, for a while, at least.

That was also the day I learned that you were not meant to really boot, let alone re-boot, a computer. Who knew? 

Far less sturdy than tablets. 

Image of cuneiform written on a tablet, from the public domain, sourced from

But, I digress.)

I am to list seven things I love.

Seven? That is a lot of things to list...


1. I love words. 

Take the word seven, for example.

Seven is short for 7. 

Well, I guess seven is long for 7, but it represents the word seven.

Septem in Latin. 
Sedmi in Old Slavonic. 
Saptá in Sanskrit. 
Septm in Indo European. 
Sebun in Germanic. 
Sibun in Gothic.
Sjau in Old Norse.
Sibun in Old High German.
(Sieben in German.)
(Zeven in Dutch.)
(Sept in French.)
Sibun in Old Saxon.
Soven in Old Frisian.
Seofen in Old English.

Seven in English.

Looks familiar, doesn't it?

All those ages of men and women and languages in various parts of the world.

And the number seven is quite recognisable in them all. 

(Well, except in Old Norse. 

But, nobody ever expected to understand Old Norse. 

All that went through anybody's mind when they saw a Norseman was:

Oh! There's an Norseman coming over the water. Great he's speaking. It's a flood of Old Norse... ... it sounds like death. Mine. 

And then translations stopped because the next thing to go through the mind was a sword or a club or a fist.) 

But, in the other languages, seven has not changed much. 

This is a central word. 

An important word.

A word you don't mess with.

While all numbers have long been venerated by the thinking class, and, sometimes, feared by the rest, some numbers have been seen as more sacred or lucky than others. 

All numbers are not equal.


(If they were, you loan me a million dollars and I'll repay you seven.)

Seven, the additive product of the Pythagorean lucky numbers three and four, has long been seen as special which is possibly related to why, as a sound construing a word, the word for seven has been largely unchanged around the Western world and through time.

Let me skip through some key Western fixations with seven...

As your Sepiru, (a Sepiru is a scribe in ancient Akkadian) I can instantly remind you that seven numbered the holy planets in the Fertile Crescent civilisations.

These were the seven planets visible to the eye and useful for dead reckoning navigation on the sands and over the seas.

What were those seven holy planets? 

Why the Sun, the Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn; these seven heavenly bodies ruled men's lives.

Ishtar ("DINGIR INANNA") was another heavenly body.

Ishtar was (is?) the Akkadian goddess of sexual love, warfare, and fertility (they seem to go together to me...she loved the legendary Gilgamesh (an antediluvian hero, as we Akkadians inscribe the story), and that love turned to warfare when he would not marry her).

Ishtar would go visit her elder sister, Ereshkigal, in Irkalla--the Akkadian, Babylonian, and Sumerian Underworld. 

To visit her elder sister, Ereshkigal the Queen of the Underworld, Ishtar would pass the seven gatekeepers and deposit a piece of clothing with each until she arrived, stark naked, in front of her Sister in front of the throne. 

(My kind of girl.)

Was this the precursor of the dance of the seven veils? 

I'll ask, the next time I see her.

Mankind's first recorded monotheistic religion, Zoroastrianism, sprang up in the Fertile Crescent, too.

Image of Faravahar (or Ferohar), one of the primary symbols of Zoroastrianism, believed to be the depiction of a Fravashi (guardian spirit). Created by Kevin McCormick on 2007-10-31 (original upload date); Original uploader was Ploxhoi at en.wikipedia, sourced from Wikimedia and released under the GNU Free Documentation License.

In Zoroastrianism, mankind's job is to honour the Lord, and the Seven Bounteous Creations.

What are these seven bounteous creations, you ask? 

Sky, water, earth, plants, animals, man, and fire. 

Of course.

(What is Zoroastrianism? Besides the first credal religion and the wellspring of Western culture? Another post, I suppose...)

Let's bounce forward in time.

In Hebraic times, to swear an oath, a sheba, להישבע, was to swear on seven objects.

The first great Talmudic covenant, found in Genesis, is the Noahic Covenant celebrating the few antediluvian ones to survive, with, you guessed it, seven elements, which were that:
  1. The Lord blesses Noah and his sons, and tells them to populate the earth;
  2. The Lord places all plants and animals under human command;
  3. The Lord forbids eating meat with the blood still in it;
  4. The Lord forbids murder (funny how often this one has to be forbidden...);
  5. The Lord commands humankind to shed the blood of those who shed blood;
  6. The Lord promises that He will never again destroy all life on earth by flood; and
  7. The Lord creates the rainbow as the sign of this covenant for all ages to come.
(As a total aside, and a complete digression, I get a bit misty-eyed to think that the enoshi ha shem, the heroes and men of renown from the Antediluvian era, the Gibborim, would have been allowed to sink beneath the waves. 

Yeats would have appreciated it, but I do not.

Judaism, and, later, Christianity, both have a lot to answer for in the hero generation department. 

Job? A hero? 

[Explaining Job as a hero birthed spin doctors, I sheba, (I להישבע).]

Islam managed heroism quite well. 

But, no one compares to Lord Rama Krishna's heroic exploits with the gopis [the forty thousand cowherdesses in a single night of truly heroic passion], or Krishna's advice to the mythical Indian warrior Arjuna. 

But, I really ought to return to seven...

Aside over.)

After all, Gentle Reader, who can forget the seven Hebraic names of God? El, Elohim, Adonai, Yahweh/Jehoveh, Ehyeh-Asher-Eyeh, Shedai, and Zebaot.

Classical Greece, through writers and historians like Herodotus, provided written records of the seven classical wonders of the world: the pyramids of Egypt, the hanging gardens of Babylon, the statue of Zeus at Olympia, the temple of Artemis at Ephesus, the tomb of King Mausolus at Halicarnassus, the Colossus at Rhodes, and the Pharos of Alexandria.

Classical Greece also gave us the seven against Thebes, those Argive champions Adrastus, Amphiaraus, Tydeus, Parthenopaeus, Hippomedon, Capaneus, and Polynices.

And Classical Rome, while also founded on heroes, was called the City of Seven Hills (Urbs Septicollis) because Servius Tullius surrounded Rome with protective fortifications on the seven surrounding hills (the Palatinus, the Capitolinus, the Quirinalis, the Caelius, the Aventinus, the Viminalis, and the Esquilinus).

And Classical Rome's strong sons studied the seven sciences, the liberal arts (artes liberales), consisting of grammar, logic, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy.

Christian eschatology is replete with seven thises and thats in the Apocalyptic portions of the Gospels (e.g. seven churches of Asia, seven candlesticks, seven plagues, seven vials, seven trumpets, the seven headed monster, the Lamb with seven eyes... et cetera). 

(As another aside, if you like your eschatology and messianism, go back to Zoroastrianism, as that is where Western eschatology and messianism seems to stem from...)

Continuing seven's sacred appearances, many Christians reflect on the seven last words of Christ:
  1. Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.
  2. Today shalt thou be with Me in paradise.
  3. Woman, behold thy son!...
  4. My God, My God, why has Thou forsaken Me?
  5. I thirst.
  6. It is finished.
  7. Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit.

Muslims and Christians share the legend of the seven sleepers of Ephesus (Constantine, Dionysius, John, Maximian, Malchus, Martinian, and Serapion) (the Muslim tradition includes a faithful dog, Katmir, too) who fell asleep in a cave, following the Deccian persecution, and slept for 250-309 years, depending on the story. They can (allegedly) be found in Marseilles, today.

And, of course, one of the centrepieces of the Hajj (حجج), the sacred pilgrimage for all devout Muslims, is the Tawaf (طواف), the seven-fold circumnabulation, with prayer, around the Kaabah (الكعبة), the holiest of holies in Islam. The Kaabah is the massive black cube in the photo below.

Image of: English: A picture of people performing Tawaf (circumambulating) the Kaaba. This picture taken from the gate of Abdul Aziz seems to divide the Kaaba and the minarets into mirror images of one another. Français : Pélerins en train de réaliser la Circumambulation (ou Tawaf) autour de la Ka'ba. Photo prise depuis la porte Ibn Saud, d'où la vue présente une symétrie en miroir presque parfaite.. Image created in 2007 by Muhammad Mahdi Karim (; edited by jjron. It has been shared via Wikimedia under a Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5, Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 and Attribution ShareAlike 1.0 License. In short: you are free to share and make derivative works of the file under the conditions that you appropriately attribute it, and that you distribute it only under a license identical to this one.. The rights holder has been contacted as he has indicated that he wished, via his page via wikimedia.
Why don't I stop there and swiftly complete my list of seven things that I love...

2. I love reading histories. 

The Father of History is Herodotus, though he really started with inquiries, likely at someone else's knees. (The knees of someone who didn't make it into the books, even if they started Herodotus onto the path of inquiries.) 

(And what is history if it is only stories? What is truth? The sharp-tongued Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 BCE - 43 BCE) vilified Herodotus as the Father of Lies...)

Herodotus (484 BCE - c. 425 BCE) started out with inquiries (ἱστορίαι) which the Romans converted into historia which translates to a narrative, an account, a story, or a tale. 

A history was generated by inquiries, generated to answer inquiries, and hopefully went on to generate more inquiries. 

At the very least, a Herodotussian inquiry would hopefully generate more inquiries like "Won't you tell that story again...I'll fill your cup with wine, your pouch with silver, and your food with salt..."

3. I love telling histories. 

(I consider it sharing. The Heroine corrects me and asserts that telling is far more accurate.)

4. I love reading stories. (For verification of this, and point two, see the sidebar on books completed this year...)

5. I love telling stories. (I blog therefore I am? ...I hope not...)

6. I love synthesis.


7. I love connecting to people, known and unknown, like you.

(Oooh. What a suck!)

Gentle Reader, 

I am supposed to forward this award onto others.

I will let others determine what they want to do, but here are some writers of poetry or fictional prose whom I enjoy:

I just found the poem "If" and it spoke truly to me.

I just came across this gentleman (I think) and he is a master prestidigitator with words and ideas and allusions crossing literary and cultural boundaries, collecting and redistributing the same into his writings.

(Rose is one of a few voices that live inside a shared body and she is serializing a book on her site that Brian, Diane, PB, and Rose were unable to find a publisher for. I admit it took me a couple of chapters to appreciate the shifting perspectives and the fact that it is not a literary conceit. I consider it a fascinating perspective and insight into her, Diane's, PB's, and Brian's life.)

And that is too many, already. 

I have to stop. 

I have to stop because...

I have to get to an elevator
to get to the street
to get to a taxi 
to get to a train 
to get to a plane 
to get to India
to get to a wedding... 

and this needs to be set onto auto-post before I go, because I will not be stopping by an Internet cafe...

So, apologies to all I missed, and grateful thanks, again, to Floreta.



Teresa said...

This post is definitely one of the "seven wonders of the blogging world", Chris. Congratulations on your award (and your erudition)!


Cloudia said...

A tour de force, Scribe!
You are anything but boring....Aloha!

Devil Mood said...

Wow, I'm speechless. I think it's positive for me to be confronted with so many new words and realities. Sometimes I feel I've seen it all and that's sad (and false, of course).
Thank you so much for the award!

Sepiru Chris said...

Cheers Teresa, Cheers Cloudia, You're welcome Devil Mood,

If anybody does visit anybody else, could someone leave a little note telling Richard at (The Resident Djinn's Bundle of His(s))
because I cannot leave a comment via the Indian system. I have tried on four systems and am declaring it martini time.

Tschuess all, Be back in a week or two, but posts should go up on their own in that time.


murat11 said...

Chris: Thanks for the shout: gentleman (I think) I be. Your Old Norse digression cracked me up.

Enjoy Mumbai...

Rose said...

Thanks Chris for the link and the willingness to understand. Brian and Diane are man and wife and I live inside Brian. He's amazing. :)



Sepiru Chris said...

Dear Murat11,

Glad that you enjoyed the digression. Normally only the Old Norse enjoyed their physical digressions, their peregrinations from their home to others'...

Dear Rose,

That clarifies a bit, and I thank you for your willingness to share all.


debra said...

Ah, yes, slip is wonderful to those of us who play with clay.

As to words, it is no surprise to me that you love them. Me, too. There is at least one for every occasion.
Not at all bad.

Richard Wells said...

A book a day? + all else you do? You have clones don't you?

Love the meditativo on 7.

floreta said...

i love coming here because i know i can learn something every time :)

hope you're well!

ister missal said...

Late to the party, always late to the party! Oh, the things I surely do miss... But being late is my style, my trademark, my conformist way of nonconforming. LOL! Never mind that it’s all about the pain of shooting oneself in the foot! It’s familiar and therefore it’s good. LOL! But I digress, as you say and say ; ) Leading the seven with seven, the biblical number of completeness, my lucky number, suits me, as does being mentioned favorably by you. I tend to think the bestowal of blogging awards has lost its flavor like gum on the bedpost overnight, but for the considering of whom they’re from. And from you, it’s Bazooka Joe and a comic! A genuine thank you, then, dear sir, humble scribe : )

Sepiru Chris said...

Dear Debra,

Cheers Debra, words are great fun to play with.

Dear Richard,

Sleep is a foreign concept (I think I get to do it when I'm dead...)

There are usually a few on the go at any one time, and planes are great for reading; the phone doesn't go off. :)

Dear Floreta,

Hopefully vaguely entertaining too! It's nice to host you, feel free to return and try any of the neural comestibles.

Dear missalister,

You are very welcome and, late or early you are always warmly invited to the party. I suspect you would be a great guest both for a range extending from white tie talkfests to rambunctious kitchen parties.

Bazooka Joe (for non-North American Readers) is a brand of stand-alone bubble gum (a BIG piece) that you can afford when you are v. young and it is wrapped in a short comic.

Something you know you can get and that will last for a long time.

I blush.