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Ahmed Abdul Ghani

6/12/2019

Paper 3 (Ancient Near Eastern Thought & Literature 2: Anatolian Literature)

Paskuwatti’s Ritual

For a long time Paskuwatti’s Ritual, a Hittite text, was considered a rite to restore

sexual potency to a male patient.1 Simon, by contrast, held the opinion that it was double

incontinence that ailed the man. 2 Another position, to which the author of this paper

subscribed initially, was that the problem was infertility. Hoffner, on the other hand,

propounded the theory that the issue was none other than impotence. 3 Finally, Miller

propounded the idea that the patient suffered 4 from homosexuality. 5 The double

incontinence theory is supported mainly by the mention of excrement but also perhaps by the

name of the goddess involved in the ritual. The opinion that it was infertility rests on the

mention of children and their conception and on the translation of a certain equivocal word

as “family”. The impotence theory is bolstered mainly by a metaphor involving a yoke and the

patient’s being tempted by a virgin. The position that the problem was homosexuality seems

to be the strongest and is supported by the replacement of certain symbols in the hands of

1
Jared L. Miller, “Paskuwatti’s Ritual: Remedy for Impotence or Antidote to Homosexuality?,” Journal of
Ancient Near Eastern Religions 10, no. 1 (2010): 83.
2
Zsolt Simon, “Why Did Paškuwatti’s Patient Fail in the Matrimonial Bed?,” In: Olga Drewnowska – Małgorzata
Sandowicz (Eds.): Fortune and Misfortune in the Ancient Near East. Proceedings of the 60th Rencontre
Assyriologique Internationale at Warsaw, 21–25 July 2014. Winona Lake, Eisenbrauns, 2017, 97-103., 101,
accessed June 12, 2019,
https://www.academia.edu/11809874/Why_Did_Pa%C5%A1kuwatti_s_Patient_Fail_in_the_Matrimonial_Bed.
3
Harry Hoffner, “Paskuwatti’s Ritual against Sexual Impotence (CTH 406),” Aula Orientalis. Vol. 5, 1987, 287.
4
I use “suffer” because in our context a homosexual is seen as a sick person in need of cure.
5
Miller, “Paskuwatti’s Ritual,” 83.
the patient together with the interpretation uttered by the priestess, the mention of bodily

excrement, and finally the patient’s incubation.

What follows is a brief description of the ritual, with emphasis on the parts pertinent

to our discussion. Ironically, it is a woman, the eponymous Paskuwatti, who is to perform this

ritual.6 She begins by saying, “If some man has no reproductive power or is not a man vis-à-

vis a woman”.7 These words could simply be the title for the ritual or perhaps a protasis. In

the latter case, it is understood implicitly that the ritual described subsequently is the apodosis.

In any case, she then makes offerings on behalf of the patient to the goddess Uliliyassi, and a

virgin picks them up while the patient walks behind her. Then the priestess builds gates of

reeds and ties them together with red and white wool and places a spindle and distaff in the

patient’s hand. He passes through the gates and the priestess takes the spindle and distaff

away from him and gives him a bow and arrows and informs him she’s taken femininity away

and replaced it with masculinity. She also tells him he has cast off the “expected behavior”

and taken up the behavior expected of men. Then the patient is offered a virgin but fails to

have intercourse with her. The priestess then invokes the deity and among other things asks

her to turn her maidservant over to him so he will “become a yoke”, and follows the invocation

with offerings. Finally, the priestess inquires of the patient whether he dreamt of sleeping

with the goddess on any of three nights. If he did not, she will repeat the ritual.8

As regards the question of what the ritual was designed to cure, Simon holds the

opinion that it was double incontinence. “Incontinence” is defined as the “inability of the body

to control the evacuative functions of urination or defecation”.9 It follows that when qualified

6
Hoffner, “Paskuwatti’s Ritual against Sexual Impotence (CTH 406),” 271.
7
Hoffner, 277.
8
Hoffner, 277–79.
9
Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, s.v. “incontinence,” accessed June 5, 2019, https://www.merriam-
webster.com/dictionary/incontinence.
with the adjective “double” it refers to the body’s inability to control both urination and

defecation. The text speaks of how the patient went to a virgin’s bedroom but was “one of

feces and urine”.10 This is probably the strongest evidence that those who favor the double

incontinence theory have, for it does seem to suggest the patient was suffering from an excess

of both types of excrement. However, the immediately preceding words make it clear this is

not the case: “He went down to her bedchamber/He went down on her loins, but this mortal

(was just) one of feces and urine.”11 As the reader can see, the first part has been translated

in more than one way, but regardless it is clear that his problem was sexual in nature. As for

the reason why the author mentioned urine and feces, it may be because the parts of the

patient’s body associated with them were involved in the disease he was suffering from. Thus,

he was not using his penis for the purpose of intercourse with a woman, and he was using his

anus for the purpose of being a passive homosexual.

The name of the deity involved in the ritual might be construed as relevant here.

Hoffner states that according to the most recent research, the goddess’s name, Uliliyassi, is

derived from a Luwian noun meaning “field” or “plain”. He goes on to say that this might prove

she was the patron deity of wild animals and plants, for it seems evident from her name that

she was mainly connected with open expanses of land. He concludes that one would not be

inclined to think she cured men of impotence based on her name. His conclusion seems

warranted, but it should be added that neither would one suspect she restored continence to

men. It follows that this interpretation of her name does not bear on the question at hand.

Other people believe that what ailed the patient was not double incontinence but

something sexual, though they differ as to the exact nature of the problem. There are many

indications in the text that the issue was sexual in nature. For instance, the ritual begins with

10
Hoffner, “Paskuwatti’s Ritual against Sexual Impotence (CTH 406),” 277.
11
Hoffner, 277.
the explicit supposition that the man in question neither had reproductive power nor was a

“man vis-à-vis a woman”.12 This clearly shows that double incontinence was not the problem.

After all, even if a man cannot contain his urine, surely he does not urinate all the time; his

member could be used for sexual intercourse when not otherwise occupied. Another hint may

be that soon after the commencement of the ritual, the priestess builds gates of reeds and

ties them together with red and white wool.13 As Miller puts it, these colors may allude to

“sexual union and fertility, red symbolizing feminine blood, white signifiying male semen”. 14

However, Simon argues that first of all, there is no reason for us to believe that the wool of a

gate built of reeds is related to intercourse or fertility and, secondly, “red and white yarns are

very frequent devices in Hittite rituals, including cases where any reference to sexuality can

be surely excluded”.15 Thus, Paskuwatti’s building gates and tying them does not seem to have

any relevance to the issue.

At one point, Paskuwatti supplicates the goddess, Uliliyassi, and says, “You are his ‘wife

of children’ for him!”16 This hints that the problem was sexual in nature. The involvement in

the ritual of a girl, and a virgin at that, who the patient is to follow is another hint that the

problem was sexual in nature and was not double incontinence.17 Near the end of the ritual,

a bed is brought for the patient to lie down upon, and this happens more than once. 18 This

hints, albeit lightly, at the problem’s being sexual in nature and not incontinence. In the rest

of the paper, whatever parts of the ritual are quoted as being evidence in favor of

12
Hoffner, 277.
13
Hoffner, 277.
14
Miller, “Paskuwatti’s Ritual,” 87.
15
Simon, “Why Did Paškuwatti’s Patient Fail in the Matrimonial Bed?,” 101.
16
Hoffner, “Paskuwatti’s Ritual against Sexual Impotence (CTH 406),” 278.
17
Hoffner, 277.
18
Hoffner, 278–79.
homosexuality, infertility, or impotence should be taken to be evidence against double

incontinence.

Of those who believe the disease was sexual in nature, some are of the opinion that

the patient was suffering from infertility. First of all, we should note that one thing common

to being cured of homosexuality, impotence, and infertility is the acquisition of the ability to

impregnate a woman. Therefore, references to impregnation of a woman can be taken to

refer to any of these three, although most immediately the last.

During the ritual, the Paskuwatti’s supplications seem to indicate the problem was

infertility. Paskuwatti supplicates the goddess, Uliliyassi, and at one point says, “You are his

‘wife of children’ for him!” 19 This hints that the problem was sexual in nature and, more

specifically, that it was infertility. Otherwise, there would be no reason for the mention of

children. Goetze translates the same sentence as “Make his wife conceive a child, look after

her!”20 This proves the same, albeit much more strongly. A few sentences later the priestess

says, “Let him take his wife and produce for himself sons and daughters!”21 This proves that

his malady was sexual, for only a man incapable of copulation needs help in “taking his wife”.

As for the part about producing sons and daughters, it seems to clearly indicate that he

suffered from infertility and not the other two maladies. Later in the ritual, Paskuwatti repeats

this sentence in its entirety, and then repeats the part about producing sons and daughters

for oneself without mention of taking one’s wife. This emphasis on procreation seems to

indicate that infertility rather than impotence or homosexuality was what ailed the patient.

Another piece of evidence may be the very heading or protasis, which was mentioned

in the summary of the text at the beginning of the paper. The word translated as “reproductive

19
Hoffner, 278.
20
Hoffner, 278.
21
Hoffner, 278.
power” is ḫaššātar, and could also be translated as “progeny, family”.22 The sentence would

then read “If a man lacks progeny/fecundity or is not a man vis-à-vis a woman.” This would

indicate that the patient’s issue was infertility. However, this rests on selecting a specific

translation of an equivocal word.

Hoffner believes the rite was an antidote to impotence. 23 Before examining the

arguments for impotence, we should note that impotence does not mean having a low sperm

count; that is infertility. Impotence is defined as “an abnormal physical or psychological state

of a male characterized by inability to engage in sexual intercourse because of failure to have

or maintain an erection”.24 Impotence does not seem to have been an uncommon problem

among the Hittites, for the Appu story is explicitly concerned with it.25

Between the two quotations from the priestess’s supplication mentioned a little earlier,

there is the metaphor of a yoke, and this seems to be evidence for Hoffner’s theory.

Paskuwatti entreats the goddess to hand the patient her maidservant so he turns into a yoke.

The notion that because a yoke is long and hard it alludes to an erect penis is rather fanciful

and does not seem worthy of serious consideration. However, what is noteworthy is that the

metaphor of the yoke perhaps indicates that the man is unable to have or sustain an erection,

for yokes are used to dominate.26 It is also possible that although the man did not suffer from

impotence, he did not function as the active partner in sexual intercourse either. Thus, the

yoke, a symbol of domination, is indicative of the man’s inability or unwillingness to perform

one of the two aforementioned activities. It is clear that infertility per se does not prevent a

man from fulfilling either of these roles, so we are left with impotence and homosexuality as

22
Simon, “Why Did Paškuwatti’s Patient Fail in the Matrimonial Bed?,” 97.
23
Hoffner, “Paskuwatti’s Ritual against Sexual Impotence (CTH 406),” 271.
24
Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, s.v. “impotence,” accessed June 5, 2019, https://www.merriam-
webster.com/dictionary/impotence.
25
Hoffner, “Paskuwatti’s Ritual against Sexual Impotence (CTH 406),” 287.
26
Hoffner, 286.
the two candidates for his ailment. However, this piece of evidence is not clearly in favor of

one or the other and seems to vacillate between the two, for we do not know if the man’s

dissimilarity to a yoke was due to his inability to achieve/maintain an erection or his failure to

perform the role of an active partner (rather than that of a passive homosexual partner).

The patient’s being left alone with a virgin girl may also be construed as evidence for

his being impotent. Near the beginning of the ritual the priestess, before trying anything else,

arranged for the man to be alone with a virgin in a bedroom. Hoffner explains that this was to

entice the man to have intercourse with her (which he failed to do).27 This may be taken as

proof that it was impotence that Paskuwatti was trying to help the man overcome, but on

closer consideration it becomes clear that it may just as well have been homosexuality.

Miller is of the opinion that it was homosexuality, and specifically passive

homosexuality, that the ritual was designed to help a man overcome.28 There seems to be

evidence for this theory near the beginning of the ritual, when certain objects are given to and

taken away from the patient, and certain words uttered by the priestess regarding this process.

As mentioned in the summary, the spindle and distaff, symbols of femininity29, are given to

the patient and then taken away. Then a bow and arrow, undoubtedly symbols of

masculinity30 due to their martial application, are given to him. When Paskuwatti tells the

patient that she has taken femininity away and given him masculinity in return, this proves

two things: that he was not functioning as a male and that he was functioning as a female.

The next sentence makes this even clearer: “You have cast off the (sexual) behavior expected

[of women]; [you have taken] to yourself the behavior expected of men!”31 Taken in isolation,

27
Hoffner, 284.
28
Miller, “Paskuwatti’s Ritual,” 83.
29
Simon, “Why Did Paškuwatti’s Patient Fail in the Matrimonial Bed?,” 98.
30
Simon, 98.
31
Hoffner, “Paskuwatti’s Ritual against Sexual Impotence (CTH 406),” 277.
the fact that the patient lacked the behavior expected of men would not necessarily indicate

that he suffered from passive homosexuality. However, when coupled with the fact that the

behavior he was possessed of had been removed, one wonders what behavior it was that was

replaced with the one expected of men. This is a strong indicator that his behavior was

unbecoming of a man, and thus feminine. As Simon explains it, neither infertility nor failure

to maintain an erection can be considered a feminine trait that could be removed from a

man.32 This can only be explained by his having been a passive homosexual partner, something

that was considered undesirable by the Hittites and therefore in need of remedy.33

As mentioned during the discussion on the double incontinence, the text mentions

that the patient went to a virgin’s bedroom but was “one of feces and urine”. 34 It has already

been demonstrated that these words’ being evidence for double incontinence is untenable

given the context, and it was explained that the reason why feces and urine were mentioned

at all may have been their association with certain parts of the body that the patient was

misusing due to his homosexual tendencies. More specifically, he may have been using his

anus for the purpose of being a passive homosexual and his penis for nothing but urination.

Here I would like to add that we cannot exclude the possibility that the mention of feces is

simply a rhetorical device and that the focus is on urine, or vice versa. In either case, the

mention of the other part of the body would be because the two of them form a natural pair.

Even so, it would still be clear that the patient was not suffering from infertility, for he was

left alone with a virgin but failed to have intercourse with her, not impregnate her. Needless

to say, it was not possible for them to determine immediately whether the girl had conceived.

However, if we grant that a rhetorical device is at play, this sentence would then no longer be

32
Simon, “Why Did Paškuwatti’s Patient Fail in the Matrimonial Bed?,” 99.
33
Van den Hout, “The New Kingdom Cuneiform Corpus,” 2019, 1.
34
Hoffner, “Paskuwatti’s Ritual against Sexual Impotence (CTH 406),” 277.
decisive in favor of homosexuality and against impotence, since the penis, presumably used

by the patient for urination alone, would be relevant in curing either. However, when

attempting to determine authorial intent, we understand by default that the author meant

what he said, and only for a compelling reason would we assume he was employing a

rhetorical device and did not intend his words to be taken literally. There is no such compelling

reason here, so we should continue with the default assumption, which leads us to believe

that feces, and hence the anus, were deemed significant in the patient’s illness.

Perhaps Miller’s strongest evidence is the fact that at the end of the ritual the priestess

checks if the patient dreamt of a female, which clearly indicates he was a homosexual initially.

First of all, as mentioned previously, the patient lies down upon a bed more than once, which

seems to indicate that his malady was sexual. Now, this alone only lightly hints at the

problem’s being sexual in nature and not incontinence. However, what is far, far more

significant is the fact that at the end of the ritual the patient is told to sleep on the bed in

order to see if he dreams of sleeping with the goddess, Uliliyassi.35 This is incubation, which

Hoffner defines as “sleeping in the presence of the diety”.36 Prima facie it does not prove more

than the sickness’s being sexual in nature. Hoffner adds that the point of dreaming of having

intercourse with the goddess is that it is the only way the man can overcome his inability to

have children with his earthly wife. 37 However, on closer examination, this seems to be

evidence for the ritual's being a cure for homosexuality, not impotence or infertility. The

reason is that one dreams of achieving what one wishes. If the person in question were

suffering from impotence, his dreaming of consummation would prove nothing for it would

presumably be nothing new. On the other hand, if it were infertility that ailed him, he would

35
Hoffner, 279.
36
Hoffner, 271.
37
Hoffner, 285.
have dreamed of no less than conception and/or childbirth. However, a homosexual having a

dream of a sexual encounter with someone of the opposite gender would indeed prove

something: that his sexual orientation was changing. 38 This might be challenged by the

contention that people often dream of things of which they are scared. However, the context

of the passage does not give any indication of any type of fear.

We can conclude by noting that although evidence for double incontinence exists, it

can be explained away in light of evidence for the three theories of the sexual nature of the

problem, because the words for excrement can be interpreted metaphorically. Of these three

theories, the one in favor of infertility, though not without its merits, does not have much

unequivocal evidence in its favor, and in particular the translation of ḫaššātar is not

unambiguous and therefore not decisive. The impotence theory, too, has evidence in its favor,

namely the metaphor of the yoke as indicating the man lacked dominance, and the man’s

being tempted by a virgin, but all of it can just as well be taken to be in favor of homosexuality.

This last opinion has both more evidence and stronger, clearer evidence in its favor, for there

is really no other way to explain how a feminine trait was taken from the patient and replaced

by a masculine one, nor why it would matter whether the man dreamt of having intercourse

with a goddess. Also, the mention of excrement is more satisfactorily explained by this theory

than by the other two sexual theories.

Works Cited

Hoffner, Harry. “Paskuwatti’s Ritual against Sexual Impotence (CTH 406).” Aula Orientalis.
Vol. 5, 1987.
Miller, Jared L. “Paskuwatti’s Ritual: Remedy for Impotence or Antidote to Homosexuality?”
Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions 10, no. 1 (2010): 83–89.

38
Miller, “Paskuwatti’s Ritual,” 88.
Simon, Zsolt. “Why Did Paškuwatti’s Patient Fail in the Matrimonial Bed?” In: Olga
Drewnowska – Małgorzata Sandowicz (Eds.): Fortune and Misfortune in the Ancient Near
East. Proceedings of the 60th Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale at Warsaw, 21–25 July
2014. Winona Lake, Eisenbrauns, 2017, 97-103. Accessed June 12, 2019.
https://www.academia.edu/11809874/Why_Did_Pa%C5%A1kuwatti_s_Patient_Fail_in_the_
Matrimonial_Bed.
Van den Hout, Theo. “The New Kingdom Cuneiform Corpus,” 2019, 1.