More Threes: Quote between Posts
The Indus sign that I call QUOTE BETWEEN POSTS looks something like this: |∙| and it receives the numerical designation III4. It is the fourth in my list of three-stroke signs, in other words. This one does not appear in the KP list, nor does Fairservis mention it. But Wells assigns it the number 213, noting that it appears only once in the corpus, on seal M-1151. The sign appears on the far left which most experts take to be final position, next to a POTTED TWO. That sign follows a CAGED WHISKERED FISH. All three symbols appear over an elephant motif.
|Seal impression from Lothal (Joshi and Parpola 1987: 290, L-220)|
My impression of this seal is that the symbol on the far right, CAGED WHISKERED FISH, takes up an inordinate amount of space, causing the next, POTTED TWO, to be squeezed unnaturally thin. Finally, the QUOTE BETWEEN POSTS leans dangerously toward the left edge, so that the last post almost doesn’t make it onto the front of the seal. The elephant receives better attention than the inscription. So, although scholars generally agree that the motif should be ignored and the inscription is the important part, I get the opposite impression. I find myself wondering whether the Harappans weren’t looking mostly at the big and beautiful motifs, with those inscriptions we find so fascinating crammed into the empty space at the top as something of an afterthought.
Be that as it may, the Indus symbol QUOTE BETWEEN POSTS is reminiscent of a couple of Old Chinese characters. Turned sideways so that the strokes are horizontal, this makes a passable san1, “three.” This character supposedly represents “the number of heaven, earth and humanity, the three Powers” (Wieger 1965: 29). Add a vertical line joining the three horizontal strokes and it becomes wang2, “king.” Wieger tells us, “According to the ancients, the king is the one, the man who connects together heaven, earth and humanity” (op cit.).
In proto-cuneiform there is a roughly similar sign made with two curved lines (what I call the “back ess”) on either side of a circular impression. This is termed |A x 1 (N14)|. In this standardized terminology, the vertical lines indicate that one sign is inside the other, i.e., the circular impression is inside the sign represented by the two “S”-like signs. The two curved lines alone are represented by A, which means “water.” At least, it eventually meant that, as well as “canal, offspring, father, flood.” It is possible that at the proto-cuneiform stage the sign meant only one of these things, or something else related to these but not yet fully understood. The number “1” outside the parentheses indicates that the impressed circle is the numeral “one.” The code inside the parentheses (N14) tells which numeral it is because there were many different ways of indicating numerals. Different types of commodities were counted with different types of numerals.
Another equally distant parallel, also proto-cuneiform, is |NINDA2 x 1(N08)|. In this case, the outer symbol is formed by upper and lower lines that begin close together, slant away from each other, then continue as parallel lines once again. This is the NINDA2 portion, which probably represents a bushel measuring vessel, eventually coming to mean a number of other things as well. The inner part is a wedge-shaped impression, another of the many ways of indicating the numeral “one.”
|Old Chinese characters of men making offerings to ancestors (Wieger 1965: 372)|
It may be of some interest to note that Old Chinese contains a character that includes the reverse of QUOTE BETWEEN POSTS. In effect, the middle of yi4 is a post between quotes. “The primitive meaning is, the sides. A standing man, whose sides are indicated by two lines or dots....By extension, a contact, conjunction, and, also, etc.” (Wieger 1965: 158). The old form of the character looks like a chevron surmounted by a post, on which another chevron rests. On either side of the central post, beneath the upper chevron, there are two short strokes or quotes.
I mention this because I find this long stroke between two short ones in the rock art of North America and not the reverse (Newcomb 1996: 114, Pl. 71; Heizer and Baumhoff: 163, fig. 100g). The closest thing to a short stroke or dot between posts that I observed in this area is something more like a quote between parentheses (∙), seen in the Texas collection, where it is oriented horizontally and repeated (Newcomb 1996: 107, Pl. 68, no. 26). This motif is reminiscent of a pair of eyes. While lines and dots are both common motifs in Australian and Tasmanian rock art, I do not find instances where three such marks are unequivocally grouped together, as opposed to other marks in the same area.
The QUOTE BETWEEN POSTS is an oddity, then. It is a singleton in the Indus script, perhaps even an accident. The seal carver might conceivably have intended something else, say TWO POSTS, and added the middle QUOTE by mistake. The POTTED TWO beside this sign is not symmetrical and III4 leans. It leaves me wondering whether “posts” or “backslashes” were intended. Is it really QUOTE BETWEEN POSTS? Or is it perhaps QUOTE BETWEEN BACKSLASHES? Then again, this may have been intended as an “H” shape and our seal carver ran out of steam and stopped early. In any case, “H” or AITCH will be the next symbol discussed, in the next post.
As a final note, I ought to mention the real meaning of ICHTHYS, from an earlier post. This is the Greek word for “fish,” of course. Where a simple drawing of a fish is used as a Christian symbol, people often report that it is an acronym in which each of the Greek letters begins a word in the phrase “Jesus Christ, son of God, savior.” But it is a rare individual who knows the Greek words. In my previous post I gave the best report I had heard, which was incorrect. This one is better, although I know so little Greek myself that I can only say that it is not grossly incorrect. The “I” is for Jesus, Isys in Greek. The CH is the letter Chi in Greek, Christos or Khristos, “Christ.” The TH is a single letter, Theta in Greek. It does not stand for Thanatos as previously reported, a word which can mean “execution,” but certainly not God or son as it should. Instead, if my information is correct this time, the word should be Theios, “of God.” The next word begins with Ypsilon in Greek with the single quote-like sign of rough breathing over it signifying “h.” The word is hyios, “son.” The final word is Soter with both vowels long, meaning “savior.”If there is actually a reader out there, he or she is cordially invited to check the accuracy of the last paragraph and let me know.