Medical Anthropology and Babylonian Medicine: The Case Study of ŠÀ-ZI.GA Therapy

Gioele Zisa, Ludwig-Maximillians Universität – Munich

Research on ancient Mesopotamian medicine has progressed considerably in recent years: numerous editions of medical texts, as well as monographs on specific topics, have appeared, and research on the subject has been enriched with theoretical contributions from the social sciences. The draw of interdisciplinary dialogue and the need for theoretical tools has led some Assyriologists to turn to the anthropological disciplines. In 2016, a conference entitled “Cultural Classification Systems: Disease, Health and local biologic drugs. Interdisciplinary Approaches to the Study of Cultures in Medical Anthropology and Historical Sciences” was organized in Berlin. Building upon the accomplishments of that conference, this paper aims to show how theories and methodologies of medical anthropology are useful for understanding ŠÀ-ZI.GA therapy. The term ŠÀ-ZI.GA refers to the standard-Babylonian spells and rituals whose aim was to help a male patient regain lost sexual desire. Through a critical reading of the works of ethno-psychiatry and medical anthropology, the relationship between the male and female agencies in these rituals and the cultural categorizations of the body and sickness will be investigated. Questions include: who is the patient that must be cured? what function do the images of sexually excited animals play in the incantations? what is the relationship between spells and medical prescriptions? and how do they work for the purposes of the therapeutic efficacy? what role do the Abracadabra have? In addition, by analyzing the ritual bow special attention will be given to some aspects of Mesopotamian male sexuality.