Archeology, and particularly the study of man’s more ancient past as revealed in the excavations of long buried cities and villages, is by its very nature usually most articulate about his material culture; for archeological finds consist primarily of bricks and walls, tools and weapons, pots and vases, jewels and ornaments, statues and figurines, in short, all the varied products of man’s arts and crafts. His social life, his economic and administrative organization, and particularly his world view as revealed in his religious beliefs, ethical ideals, and spiritual yearnings-all these usually have to be inferred and surmised from the artifacts, architecture, and burial customs and then only in the form of vague and loose generalizations.
The situation is quite different, however, in the case of Sumer, for here the excavators have unearthed tens of thousands of inscribed clay tablets-literally so-and these add what might be termed a dimension in depth to our understanding of its ancient culture. To be sure, more than 90 per cent of the inscribed mate-rial consists of economic and administrative documents, and these, Significant as they are in many ways, reveal relatively little of the spiritual life of the ancient Mesopotamians.
But a group of some five thousand tablets and fragments inscribed with a varied assortment of literary works have also been unearthed, and these enable us to penetrate to a certain extent into their very hearts and souls. The Sumerian literary documents range in size from large twelve-column tablets inscribed with hundreds of compactly written lines of text to tiny fragments containing no more than a few broken lines.
The literary compositions inscribed on these tablets and fragments run into the hundreds and vary in length from hymns of less than fifty lines to myths of close to a thousand lines. As literary products, the Sumerian belles-lettres rank high among the aesthetic creations of civilized man.
They compare not too unfavorably with the ancient Greek and Hebrew master-pieces and, like them, mirror the spiritual and intellectual life of an ancient culture which would otherwise have remained largely unknown. Their Significance for a proper appraisal of the cultural and spiritual development of the entire ancient Near East can hardly be overestimated. The Akkadians, that is, the Assyrians and Babylonians, took these works over almost in toto. The Hittites, Hurrians, and Canaanites translated some of them into their own languages and no doubt imitated them widely.
The form and content of the Hebrew literary works and, to a certain extent, even those of the ancient Greeks were profoundly influenced by them. As practically the oldest written literature of any Significant amount ever uncovered-and there is little likelihood that any older literary documents will ever be uncovered outside of Sumerit furnishes new, rich, and unexpected source material for all students of the history of civilization and particularly its more intellectual and spiritual aspects.
It is not too much to predict that the recovery and restoration of this ancient and long forgotten literature will turn out to be a major contribution of our century to the humanities. The full accomplishment of this task, however, is no simple matter; it will entail the devoted efforts of more than one cuneiform scholar over the coming years.
For while most of the documents were excavated more than half a century ago, the piecing together and translation of the compositions inscribed on them made relatively little progress over the ensuing decades. In the first place, the great majority of the tablets came out of the ground broken and fragmentary, so that only a small part of their original content was preserved on each. Offsetting this disadvantage is the fact that the ancient scribes commonly prepared more than one copy of any given composition.
The breaks and lacunae in one tablet or fragment may therefore frequently be restored from duplicating pieces that may themselves be in a fragmentary condition. To take full advantage of these duplica-tions and the resulting restorations, however, it is essential to have available as much as possible of the source material in published form.
This frequently entails copying by hand hundreds and hundreds of minutely inscribed tablets and fragments-a tedious and time-consuming task. No wonder that as late as 1935 only a relatively small portion of the Sumerian literary docu-ments had been made available in spite of the devoted efforts of numerous cuneiformists: Hermann Hilprecht, Hugo Radau, Stephen Langdon, L. W. King, Heinrich Zimmern, Cyril Gadd, Henri de Genouillac, Arno Poebel, and Edward Chiera. To help remedy this situation, at least to some extent, I have devoted much of the past twenty-five years to the study and copying of the unpublished Sumerian literary texts scattered throughout museums the world over.
But with the passage of the years, it became ever more apparent that this was not a one-man task. Fortunately, in the past several years, a number of other scholars have shown no little zeal and zest to collaborate in the work: Edmund Gordon, whose work on the Sumerian proverbs and fables has opened up new vistas in the comparative study of world wisdom literature; Muazzez <;ig and Hatice Kizilyay, the two curators of the tablet archives of the Museum of the Ancient Orient in Istanbul; Inez Bernhardt, assistant keeper of the Hilprecht Collection of the Friedrich-Schiller University in Jena; Eugen Bergmann of the Pontificio Instituto Biblico in Rome; and George Castellino, of the University of Rome.
At the same time, J. A. van Dijk, a former student of De Liagre Bohl and Adam Falkenstein, has been copying and publishing Sumerian literary texts from the Iraq Museum in Baghdad and the Bohl collection in Leiden. And most important, several hundred Sumerian literary tablets excavated between 1923 and 1934 at Ur, which have been copied over the years by Cyril Gadd, are to be published in the near future.
All in all, therefore, there is every reason to hope that the coming decade will witness the publication of a very considerable part of the Sumerian literary tablets and fragments that have been lying about for years in the museum cupboards.
But as experience has shown-and as more than one Sumerologist will testify-even given the complete text of a Sumerian literary work, its translation and interpretation present a difficult and at times heart-rending task. To be sure, the Sumerian gram-matical problems are no longer as acute as in earlier days. The gratifying progress in this field is due largely to the past efforts of such eminent cuneiformists as Delitzsch, Thureau-Dangin, Zimmern, Landsberger, and particularly Poebel; it is Poebel’s Grundzuge der sumerischen Grammatik, published about forty years ago, that has placed Sumerian grammar on a scientific basis.
And even in the difficult and complicated area of Sumerian lexi-cology, the contributions of such scholars as Falkenstein, Jacob-sen, and Landsberger-to name only the giants-show promise of surmounting some of the more frustrating obstacles. All in all, therefore, it is not unlikely that as a result of the cumulative and co-operative contributions of cuneiformists the world over, the coming decade will see relatively trustworthy translations of quite a number of the more Significant literary compositions. Whatever may develop, we are at present in a position to take a new look at Sumerian literature as a whole, and this is what the following general survey aims to do.
Sumerian literature, as the term is used in this article, is restricted to myths and epic tales, hymns, lamentations and his-toriographic documents, essays long and short, precepts and proverbs; it will not include the votive inscriptions, some of which have no little literary value (see, for example, the Entemena historical inscriptions on pages 313-16), the Urukagina reform texts (see pages 317-23), and the political letters, some of which have a distinct literary flavor (see pages 331-35). The Sumerians probably first began to write down their literary works about 2500 B.C., although the earliest literary documents as yet recovered date from about 2400 B.C.
Thus from approximately this century, we have a solid clay cylinder inscribed with twenty columns of text, consisting of a myth concerned primarily with the god Enlil and his sister, Ninhursag, and mentioning a number of other well-known Sumerian deities such as lnanna, Enki, and Ninurta.
Its plot is still unintelligible, but the individual words, phrases, and motifs show a ~tyle and structure quite similar to that of the myths of a much later day, indicating that there was a continuous and consistent literary development over the centuries. This is corroborated by another fragmentary myth going back to the twenty-fourth century B.C. which concerns the son of Enlil, Ishkur, the storm-god, who had disappeared into the nether world.
The distressed Enlil gathered the Anunnaki to-gether to ask for help, and it was probably the fox who volun-teered to bring back Ishkur from the nether world-a motif which is reminiscent to some extent of that found in the Paradise myth (see pages 147-48). There is every reason to believe that the literary output of the Surherians increased with the centuries, and no doubt they be-came quite prolific toward the end of the third millennium when the Sumerian school, the edubba, came to be an important center of education and learning.
Sumerian literary activity continued unabated through the first half of the second millennium in spite of the fact that the Semitic Akkadian language was gradually replacing Sumerian as the spoken language of Sumer. In the edubba’s that functioned throughout the period of the Isin Dy-nasty and even later, the earlier literary works were studied, copied, and redacted with zest and zeal, with care and under-standing; almost all the literary works that have come down to us are known only from copies and redactions prepared in what might be described as the post-Sumerian edubba’s. The presumably Akkadian-speaking teachers, poets, and writers who comprised the edubba personnel even created new Sumerian literary works, although, naturally enough, these followed closely the form and content, the style and pattern, of the earlier documents.
It has often been assumed that the Sumerian literary works were all religious in character and that they were composed and redacted by priests for use in the temple cult. With the possible exception of the hymns and lamentations, however, this view is hardly tenable.
To begin with the most clear-cut cases, it is absurd to assume that the Sumerian proverbs and precepts or the essays dealing with the edubba were written either by priests or for priests or that they had any connection whatever with the temple cult. Nor is there any valid ground for assuming that the epic tales revolving about the heroes Enmerkar, Lugalbanda, and Gilgamesh were composed by priests and recited in the temple. Even in the case of the myths, there is no indication that they were recited at temple services and religious festivals, at least not during the Sumerian and early post-Sumerian periods.
Only in the case of the hymns and lamentations does it seem reasonable to suppose that they were composed and redacted for use in the temple cult. But since-as we know from the recent excavations at Nippur-the tablets inscribed with the hymns and lamentations, like those inscribed with the other types of literary works, were found not in the temples but in the scribal quarter, they, too, must have been composed in the edubba by the members of its staff rather than by priests; in fact, priests are nowhere mentioned as part of the edubba personnel.
A key figure in the growth and development of Sumerian litera-hue was the nar, or minstrel, who is mentioned sometimes side by side with the dubsar, or scribe, in the hymns, but his connec-tion with the edubba is not clear. In any case, it is not improbable that some of the graduates of the edubba specialized in religious compositions and went into the service of the temple to teach its singers and musicians and to supervise and conduct the cult liturgies, while others, specializing in myths and epic tales, went into the service of the palace to train and instruct the court singers and entertainers.
As yet, however, we have practically no information on these and similar details. Nor do we know any-thing about the audience or “reading public” for whom the Sumerian literary works were prepared. Only the edubba grad-uate could read and write, and it is hardly likely that even the “men of letters” made a practice of collecting private libraries for their own personal entertainment and instruction.
In all probability, it was only the edubba that had a library, although the temple and the palace may also have possessed copies of those compositions that were relevant to their needs. It is hardly likely that Sumerian literary works stayed on the edubba “shelves” for teaching purposes only; in one way or another, they must have been used in public gatherings, whether these took place in the temple, the court, or the market place. The large majority of the Sumerian literary works are written in poetic form. The use of meter and rhyme was entirely unknown, but practically all other poetic devices and techniques were utilized with no little skill, imagination, and effect: repetition and parallelism, metaphor and simile, chorus and refrain.
Sumerian narrative poetry-the myths and epic tales, for example abounds in static epithets, lengthy repetitions, recurrent formu-las, leisurely detailed descriptions, and long speeches. By and large, the Sumerian writers show little feeling for closely knit plot structure; their narratives tend to ramble rather discon-nectedly and monotonously, with but little variation in emphasis and tone.
Above all, the Sumerian poets seem to lack a sense of climax. The myths and epic tales show little intensification of emotion and suspense as the story progresses, and often the last episode is no more moving or stirring than the first. Nor is there any attempt at characterization and psychological delineation; the gods and heroes of the Sumerian narratives tend to be broad types rather than recognizable flesh-and-blood individuals.
The Sumerian myths at present recovered, wholly or in large part, are as follows: two in which the god Enlil plays the major role (“Enlil and Ninlil: The Birth of the Moon-God” and “The Creation of the Pickax”); four in which the god Enki is the protagonist (“Enki and the World Order: The Organization of the Earth and Its Cultural Processes,” “Enki and Ninhursag: A Sumerian Paradise Myth,” “Enki and Nimmah:
The Creation of Man,” and “Enki and Eridu”); one concerning the moon-god, Nanna-Sin (“The Journey of Nanna-Sin to Nippur”); two about Ninurta (“The Deeds and Exploits of Ninurta” and “The Return of Ninurta to Nippur”); five in which the goddess Inanna plays the major role (“Inanna and Enki: The Transfer of the Arts of Civilization from Eridu to Erech,” “Inanna and the Subjugation of Mount Ebih,” “Inanna and Shukalletuda: The Gardener’s Mortal Sin,” “Inanna’s Descent to the Nether World,” and “Inanna and Bilulu”); four in which the god Dumuzi plays the major role (“Dumuzi and Enkimdu: The Wooing of Inanna,” “The Marriage of Dumuzi and Inanna,” “The Death of Dumuzi,” and “Dumuzi and the Galla’s”); one myth concerned with the god of the Martu, the Semitic Bedu living west of Sumer (“The Marriage of Martu”); the Flood myth, in which the identity of the deity (or deities) who was the chief protagonist is still uncer-tain. (The plots of almost all of these myths have been sketched in chapter iv.) An excellent illustration of the Sumerian mythological imagination is “Enki and the World Order,” one of the longest and best preserved of the extant Sumerian narrative poems.
Its text consists of approximately 4661ines, of which about 375 are preserved entirely or in large part; the most serious lacunae are at the very beginning and end and in the passage between lines 146 and 181.
The available text, which is here presented in English for the first time, was pieced together from twelve tablets and fragments. The most important of these-the piece that proved basic for the restoration of the poem-is an eight-column tablet originally in-scribed with the entire text of the myth. Unfortunately, this tablet had been found broken in two when unearthed in the old Nippur excavations, one half landing in the University Museum of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and the other in the Hilprecht Collection of the Friedrich-Schiller University in Jena.
The text of the latter did not become available until quite re-cently, and the present restoration became possible as a result of a long-distance joining of the texts of the two long separated pieces.
The poet begins with a hymn of praise addressed to Enki; some of it is destroyed and unintelligible, but generally speaking, it seems to exalt Enki as the god who watches over the universe and is responsible for the fertility of field and farm, of flock and herd. A paean of self-glorification put into the mouth of Enki follows, which is concerned primarily with his relationship to the leading deities of the pantheon-An, Enlil, and Nintu-and to the lesser gods known collectively as the Anunnaki.
Following a brief five-line passage which tells of the Anunnaki’s homage to Enki, Enki, for a second time, utters a paean of self-glOrification. He begins by exalting the power of his word and command in providing the earth with prosperity and abundance, continues with a description of the splendor of his shrine, the Abzu, and concludes with an account of his joyous journey over the marsh-land in his magur-boat, “the ibex of the Abzu,” after which the lands of Magan, Dilmun, and Meluhha sent their heavily laden boats to Nippur with rich gifts for Enlil. At the conclusion of this passage, the Anunnaki once again pay homage to Enki, par-ticularly as the god who “rides” and directs the me’s.
The poet now introduces a description of the various rites and rituals performed by some of the more important priests and spiritual leaders of Sumer in Enki’s Abzu-shrlne (unfortunately, the second half of the passage is almost entirely destroyed).
Following another fragmentary passage whose contents are alto-gether uncertain, we find Enki in his boat once again. With the sea creatures doing homage to him and abundance prevailing in the universe, Enki is ready to «decree the fates.”
Beginning, as might have been expected, with Sumer itself, he first exalts it as a chosen, hallowed land with “lofty” and «untouchable” me’s, where the gods have taken up their abode, then blesses its Hocks and herds, its temples and shrines. From Sumer he pro-ceeds to Ur, which he extols in lofty, metaphorical language and blesses with prosperity and pre-eminence. From Ur he goes to Meluhha and blesses it most generously with trees and reeds, oxen and birds, gold, tin, and bronze.
He then proceeds to pro-vide Dilmun with some of its needs. He is very unfavorably dis-posed toward Elam and Marhashi, two inimical lands, and proceeds to destroy them and carry off all their riches. To the nomadic Martu, on the other hand, he “presents cattle as a gift.” Enki now turns from the fates of the various lands which made up the Sumerian inhabited world and performs a whole series of acts vital to the earth’s fertility and productiveness. Turning first to its physical features, he begins by filling the Tigris with fresh, sparkling, life-giving water-in the concrete metaphorical imagery of our poet, Enki is a rampant bull who mates with the river imagined as a wild cow.
Then, to make sure that the Tigris and Euphrates function properly, he appOints the god Enbilulu, the «canal inspector,” to take charge of them. Enki next «calls” the marshland and the canebrake, supplies them with fish and reeds, and appoints a deity «who loves fish” -the name is illegible-to take charge of them. He then turns to the sea, erects there his holy shrine, and places the goddess Nanshe, “the lady of Sirara,” in charge. Finally, Enki “calls” the life-giving rain, makes it come down on earth, and entrusts it to the storm-god, Ishkur. Enki now turns to the earth and its needs.
He attends to the plow, yoke, and furrow, and appoints Enlil’s farmer, Enkimdu, as their deity. He next “calls” the cultivated field, brings forth its varied grains and vegetables, and makes the grain-goddess, Ashnan, responsible for them. He looks to the pickax and brick mold, and puts the brick-god, Kulla, in charge of them. He lays foundations, aligns the bricks, builds “the house,” and puts Mush-damma, “the great builder of Enlil,” in charge.
Leaving farm, field, and house, Enki turns to the high plain, covers it with green vegetation, multiplies its cattle, and makes Sumugan, “the king of the mountains,” responsible for them. He next erects stalls and sheepfolds, supplies them with the best fat and milk, and appoints the shepherd-god, Dumuzi, to take charge of them. Enki then fixes the “borders” -presumably of cities and states-sets up boundary stones, and places the sun-god, Utu, “in charge of the entire universe.”
Finally, Enki attends to “that which is woman’s task,” in particular the weaving of cloth, and puts Uttu, the goddess of clothing, in charge. The myth now takes a rather unexpected tum, as the poet in-troduces the ambitious and aggressive lnanna, who feels that she has been slighted and left without any special powers and pre-rogatives. She complains bitterly that Enlil’s sister, Aruru (alias Nintu), and her (lnanna’s) sister-goddesses, Ninisinna, Ninmug, Nidaba, and Nanshe, have all received their respective powers and insignia, but that she, lnanna, has been singled out for neg-lectful and inconsiderate treatment. Enki seems to be put on the defensive by lnanna’s complaint, and he tries to pacify her by pointing out that she actually does have quite a number of special insignia and prerogatives-“the crook, staff, and wand of shep-herdship”; oracular responses in regard to war and battle; the weaving and fashioning of garments; the power to destroy the “indestructible” and to make the “imperishable” perish-as well as by giving her a special blessing.
Following Enki’s reply to lnanna, the poem probably closes with a four-line hymnal passage to Enki. Here now is the translation of the extant text of the poem (omitting, however, the first fifty lines, which are fragmentary and obscure). When father Enki comes out into the seeded Land, it brings forth fecund seed, When Nudimmud comes out to my fecund ewe, it gives birth to the lamb, When he comes out to my “seeded” cow, it gives birth to the fecund calf, When he comes out to my fecund goat, it gives birth to the fecund kid, When you have gone out to the field, to the cultivated field, You pile up heaps and mounds on the high plain, [You] …. the … of the parched (?) earth.
Enki, the king of the Abzu, overpowering (?) in his majesty, speaks up with authority: “My father, the king of the universe, Brought me into existence in the universe, My ancestor, the king of all the lands, Gathered together all the me’s, placed the me’s in my hand. From the Ekur, the house of Enlil, I brought craftsmanship to my Abzu of Eridu.
I am the fecund seed, engendered by the great wild ox, I am the first born son of An, I am the ‘great storm’ who goes forth out of the ‘great below,’ I am the lord of the Land, I am the gugal of the chieftains, I am the father of all the lands, I am the ‘big brother’ of the gods, I am he who brings full prosperity, I am the record keeper of heaven and earth, I am the ear and the mind (?) of all the lands, I am he who directs justice with the king An on An’s dais, I am he who decrees the fates with Enlil in the ‘mountain of wisdom,’ He placed in my hand the decreeing of the fates of the ‘place where the sun rises,’ I am he to whom Nintu pays due homage, I am he who has been called a good name by Ninhursag, I am the leader of the Anunnaki, I am he who has been born as the first son of the holy An.” After the lord had uttered (?) (his) exaltedness, After the great prince had himself pronounced (his) praise, The Anunnaki came before him in prayer and supplication:
“Lord who directs craftsmanship, Who makes decisions, the glorified; Enki, praise!” For a second time, because of (his) great joy, Enki, the king of the Abzu, in his majesty, speaks up with authority: “I am the lord, 1 am one whose command is unquestioned, 1 am the foremost in all things, At my command the stalls have been built, the sheepfolds have been enclosed, When 1 approached heaven a rain of prosperity poured down from heaven, When 1 approached the earth, there was a high flood, When 1 approached its green meadows, The heaps and mounds were pi[led] up at my word.
I built my [house], a shrine, in a pure place, I called it with a good nrune, I built my Abzu, a shrine, in a .. , I decreed a good fate for it. My house-its shade stre[tches] over the ‘snake’-marsh, My house, its .. wears a beard among (?) the ‘honey’-plants (?), The ca[rps] wave the tail to him in (?) the sm[all gizi-reeds], The sparrows chirp in their …. , The weapon-carrying …. , Crune into my, Enki’s, The abgal’s, .. [into my] . .. . … , The enkum (and) [ninkum] … , Sacred songs and spells filled my Abzu.
My magur-boat, the crown, the ‘ibex of the Abzu’-In its midst there is a great rejoicing. The lofty marshland, my favorite spot, Stretches out its arms to me, bends (?) its neck to me. The kara’s drew (?) on (?) the oars in unison, Sing sweet songs, cause the river to rejoice, Nimgirsig, the ensi of my ma[gur-boat], He[ld] the gold scepter [for me], I, Enki, [ … d] the boat ‘ibex of the Abzu: I, the lord . . . . , I, Enki,…. • (Approximately five lines missing) …. I would watch over its green cedars (?). The l[ands] of Magan and Dilmun Looked up at me, En[ki], Moored (?) the Dilmun-boat to the ground (?), Loaded the Magan-boat sky high; The magilum-boat of Meluhha Transports gold and silver, Brings them to Nippur for Enlil, the [king] of all the lands.” To him who has no city, to him who has no horse, The Martu-Enki pre[sen]ted cattle as a gift, To the [great] prince who came forth in his [land], The Anunnaki pay due homage: “Lord who rides the great me’s, the pure me’s, Who has charge of the universe, the widespread, Who received the lofty ‘sun-disk’ in Eridu, the pure place, the mo[st prec]ious place, Enki, lord of the universe, praise!”
For the great prince who comes forth in his land, All the lords, all the chieftains, The incantation priests of Eridu, The “linen-wearers” of Sumer, Perform the incantation rites of the Abzu, To (?) father Enki in (?) the holy place … they direct (their) step, In the sleeping chamber, the princely house, they …. , In the stations they call [his] name, In (?) the lofty shrine, the Abzu [they] …. , (About thirty-six lines destroyed in large part) Nimgirsig, the ensi of the magur-boat, He[ld] the holy scepter for the lord, The lahama’s of the sea, the fifty, did ho[mage to him], The kara’s .. d like a .. -bird of heaven. For the king standing proudly, father Enki-in the Land-The great prince who came forth in his Land, Prosperity prevailed in the universe. Enki decrees (the) fate:
“Sumer, ‘great mountain: ‘country of the universe: Filled with enduring light, dispensing from sunrise to sunset the me’s to (?) the people, Your me’s are lofty me’s, unreachable. Your heart is profound, unfathomable. The enduring . . , your place where gods give birth, is untouchable like heaven.
The born king, who dons the enduring diadem-The born lord, who puts crown on head-Your lord (is) an honored lord, he sits with the king An on An’s dais, Your king-the ‘great mountain: Father Enlil, Has .. d him for you by (?) the … like a cedar-the father of all the lands.
The Anunnaki, the great gods, Have taken up (their) dwelling place in your midst, Eat (their) food in your tree-planted giguna. House, Sumer, may your many stalls be built, may your cows mul-tiply, May your many sheepfolds be erected, may your sheep be myriad, May your giguna reach skyward, May your enduring .. lift hand to heaven. May the Anunnaki decree the fates in your midst.”
He proceeded to the shrine Ur, Enki, the king of the Abzu decrees (its) fate: “City possessing all that is appropriate, water-washed, firm-standing ox, Dais of abundance of the highland, knees open, green like a mountain, Hashur-grove, wide of shade-he who is lordly because of his might (?) Has directed your perfect me’s, Enlil, the <great mountain,’ has pronounced your lofty name in the universe. City whose fate has been decreed by Enlil, Shrine Ur, may you rise heaven high.” He procee[ded] to the land Meluhha, Enki, the king of the Abzu, [decrees] (its) fate: “Black land, may your trees be large trees, [may they be ‘highland’]-trees, [May] their thrones [fill] the royal palace, May your reeds be large reeds, [may they be ‘highland’]-reeds, May the heroes in the place of battle [wield their] weapons, May your bulls be large bulls, [may they be] ‘highland’ bulls, [May] their cry [be] the cry [of rughland’] wild bulls, May the great me’s of the gods be per[fected for you], [May] all dar-birds of the highland [wear carneli]an beards, [May] your bird be the Haia-bird, [M]ay its calls fill the royal palace, May your silver be gold, May your copper be tin (and) bronze, Land, may everything you have, [increase], May your people [multiply], May your .. go forth like a bull to his . .. ” … the city of. . He treated (?) like . . .. , He cleansed, purified the [land Di]lmun, Placed Ninsikilla in charge of it, He gave .. as .. , he eats its .. -fish, He gave .. as a cultivated field (?), he eats [its da]tes . . . . . Elam and Marhashi …. Were (destined) to be devoured like .. -fish; The king (presumably Enki) upon whom Enlil had bestowed might, Destroyed their houses, destroyed their walls. Their (precious) metal (and) lapis lazuli (and the contents of) their storehouses, He brought to Nippur for Enlil-the king of all the lands.
To him who builds no city, builds no [house]-The Martu-Enki presented cattle as a gift. After he had cast his eye from that spot, After father Enki had lifted it over the Euphrates, He stood up proudly like a rampant bull, He lifts the penis, ejaculates, Filled the Tigris with sparkling water. The wild cow mooing for its young in the pastures, the scorpion (-in-fested) stall, [The Tigr]is surre[ndered] to him, as (to) a rampant bull. He lifted the penis, brought the bridal gift, Brought joy to the Tigris, like a big wild bull [rejoiced (?)] in its giving birth. The water he brought is sparkling water, its “wine” tastes sweet, The grain he brought, its checkered grain, the people eat it, He fi[lled] the Ekur, the house of Enlil, with possessions, With Enki, Enlil rejoices, Nippur [is delighted]. The lord don [ned] the diadem for lordship, [Put on] the enduring tiara for kingship, Trod the ground on his left side, Prosperity came forth out of the earth for him. After he had placed the scepter in his right hand, In order to make the Tigris and Euphrates “eat together,” He who utters the .. word in accordance with his .. , Who carries off like fat the “princely knee” from the palace, The lord who decrees the fate, Enki the king of the Abzu, Enbilulu, the inspector of canals, [Enki] placed in charge of them. He cal[led the marshland], placed in it carp (and) .. -fish, He cal[led the canebrake], placed in it .. -reeds (and) green reeds (Two lines missing) [He issued] a challen[ge …. ]. Him who[se net] no fish escapes, Whose trap no .. escapes, Whose snare no bird escapes, …. the son of .•.. . . (a god) who loves fish, Enki placed in charge of them.
The lord erected a shrine (?), a holy shrine-its heart is profound, Erected a shrine (?) in the sea, a holy shrine-its heart is profound, The shrine-its midst is a … , known to no one, The [shrine]-its station is the .. iku constellation, The lofty [shrine], above (?)-its station stands (?) by the “chariot”-constellation, The … from the trembling.. .. its melanis .. , The Anunnaki came with [pray]er and supplication, For EnId in the E-[engurra they set up] a lofty dais. For the lord …. , The great prince .. , bor[n …. ] The u-bird …. , (Approximately three lines missing) Her who is the great inundation of the deep, Who .. s the izi-bird and the liZ-fish, who …. , Who comes out from the zipag, who …. , The Lady of Sirar[a, Mother Nansh]e, Of the sea, of its . . . • places, Enki placed in charge. He called the “two” rains, the water of the heaven, Aligned them like floating clouds, Drives (?) their (?) breath (of life) toward the horizon, Turns (?) the hilly ground into fields. Him who rides the great storm, who attacks with lightning (?), Who closes the holy bolt in the “heart” of heaven, The son of An, the gugal of the universe, Ishkur .. , the son of An, Enki placed in charge of them. He directed the plow and the .. yoke, ‘The great prince Enki put the “homed oxen” in the … , Opened the holy furrows, Made grow the grain in the cultivated field. The lord who dons the diadem, the ornament of the high plain, The robust, the farmer of Enlil, Enkimdu, the man of the ditch and dike, Enki placed in charge of them. The lord called the cultivated field, put there the checkered grain, Heaped up its . . grain, the checkered grain, the innuba-grain into piles, Enki multiplied the heaps and mounds, With Enlil he spread wide the abundance in the Land,
Her whose head and side are dappled, whose face is honey-covered, The Lady, the procreatress, the vigor of the Land, the “life” of the black-heads, Ashnan, the nourishing bread, the bread of all, Enki placed in charge of them. The great prince put the “net” upon the pickax, then directed the mold, Fertilized the agarin, like good butter, Him whose crushing pickax-tooth is a snake devouring the corpses, …. , Whose .. mold directs …. , Kulla, the brick-maker (?) of the Land, Enki placed in charge of them. He built stalls, directed the purification rites, Erected sheepfolds, put there the best fat and milk, Brought joy to the dining halls of the gods, In the vegetation-like plain he made prosperity prevail. The trustworthy provider of Eanna, the “friend of An,” The beloved son-in-law of the valiant Sin, the husband of holy Inanna, The Lady, the queen of all the great me’s, Who time and again commands the procreation of the … of Kullab, Dumuzi, the divine “ushumgal of heaven,” the “friend of An,” Enki placed in [charge] of them. He filled the Ekur, the house of Enlil, with possessions, Enlil rejOiced with Enki, Nippur was joyous, He fixed the borders, demarcated them with boundary stones, Enki, for the Anunnaki, Erected dwelling places in the cities, Set up fields for them in the countrySide, The hero, the bull who comes forth out of the hashur (forest), who roars lion-(like), The valiant Urn, the bull who stands secure, who proudly displays ( his) power, The father of the great city, the place where the sun rises, the gr[eat hera]ld of holy An, The judge, the decision-maker of the gods, Who wears a lapis lazuli beard, who comes forth from the holy heaven, the …. heaven, Utu, the son born of [Ninga]l, Enki placed in charge of the entire universe.
He wove the mug-cloth, directed the temenos, Enki perfected greatly that which is woman’s task, For Enki, the people [ .. d] the … -garment, The tiara (?) .of the palace, the jewel of the king, Uttu, the trustworthy woman, the joyous (?), Enki placed in charge of them. Then all by her[self], having abandoned the royal scepter, The woman, . . . . , the maid Inanna having abandoned the royal scepter Inanna, to [her father] Enki, Ente[rs] the house, (and) [humb]ly weeping, utters a plaint (?): “The Anunnaki, the great gods-their fate Enlil placed firmly in your [hand], Me, the woman, [wh]y did you treat differently? I, the holy Inanna,-where are [my prerogat]ives? Aruru, [Enlil’s sist]er, Nintu, the queen [of the] moun[tain], H[as taken for herself] her holy …. of lordship, Has carried off f.or herself her . . . (and) leeks, Has taken for herself her inlaid (?) sila-vessel of lapis lazuli, Has carried off for herself her holy, pure ala-vessel, She has become the midwife .of the Land, In her hand you have placed the born king, the born lord.
That sister of mine, the holy Ninisinna, Has taken f.or herself the bright unu, has become the hierodule of An. Has stationed herself near (?) An, utters the word which fills (?) heaven, That sister of mine, the holy Ninmug, Has taken for herself the gold chisel (and) the silver hammer (?), Has become the met[alwor]ker (?) of the Land, The [born] king, who dons the enduring diadem, The born lord who puts crown on head, you have placed [in her hand]. That sister of mine, the holy Nidaba, Has taken for herself the measuring rod, Has fastened the lapis lazuli line (?) on her arm, Proclaims all the great me’s, Fixes the borders, marks off the boundaries-has become the scribe of the Land, In her hands you have placed the food of the gods. Nanshe, the lady, the lord-the holy … fell at her feet,
She has become the fishery inspector of the se [ a] (?), Fish, tasty, (and) …. , She presents to her [father] Enlil. Me, the [woman], why did you treat diHerently? I, holy Inanna, where are my prerogatives?” …. his …. , (Approximately three lines missing) “[E]nlil (?) …. , Has adorned (?) for you …. , You wear there the garment (?) ‘might of the young lad, You have established the words spoken by the ‘young lad,’ You have taken charge of the crook, staff, and wand of shepherdship, Maid Inanna, what, what more shall we add to you? Battles ( and) onslaughts-of their oracles ( ?) you give (?) the answer, In their midst, you who are not an arabu-bird, give (?) an unfavor-able answer (?), You twist the straight thread, Maid Inanna, you straighten the twi[sted] thread, You have fashioned garments, you wear garments, You have woven mug-cloth, you have threaded the spindle, In your … you have dyed (?) the many-colored .. thread. Inanna, you have …. , Inanna, you have destroyed the indestructible, you have made perish the imperishable, You have silenced (?) the .. with the ‘timbrel (?) of lament:
Maid Inanna, you have returned the tigi-and adab-hymns to their house. You whose admirers do not grow weary to look at, Maid Inanna, you who know not the distant wells, the fastening ropes (?); Lo, the inundation has come, the Land is restored, The inundation of Enlil has come, the Land is restored.” (Remaining nineteen lines destroyed) To turn from myth to epic, there is little doubt that the Su-merians were the first to create and develop an epic literature consisting of heroic narrative tales in poetic form.
Not unlike the ancient Greeks, Hindus, and Teutons, the Sumerians, early in their history, had passed through a heroic age, the spirit and temper of which are revealed in their epic lore. Impelled by the thirst for fame and name so characteristic of the ruling caste during a heroic age, the kings and princes had the bards and minstrels attached to the court improvise narrative poems or lays cele-brating their adventures and achievements. These epic lays, with the primary object of providing entertainment at the frequent court banquets and feasts, were probably recited to the accom-paniment of the harp or lyre.
None of the early heroic lays have come down to us in their original form, since they were composed when writing was either altogether unknown or, if known, of little concern to the illiterate minstrel. The written epics of the Greek, Indian, and Teutonic heroic ages date from much later days and consist of highly com-plex literary redactions in which only a selected number of the earlier lays are embedded and then only in a highly modified and expanded form. In Sumer, there is good reason to believe, some of the early heroic lays were first inscribed on clay five to six hundred years following the close of the heroic age after con-siderable transformation at the hands of priests and scribes.
The written epics of the three IndO-European heroic ages show a number of striking similarities in form and content. In the first place, all the poems are concerned primarily with individuals.
It is the deeds and exploits of the individual hero that are the prime concern of the poet, not the fate or glory of the state or the community. While there is little doubt that some of the adven-tures celebrated in the poems have a historical basis, the poet does not hesitate to introduce unhistorical motifs and conven-tions, such as exaggerated notions of the hero’s powers, ominous dreams, and the presence of divine beings. Stylistically, the epic poems abound in static epithets, lengthy repetitions, recurrent formulas, and descriptions that tend to be overleisurely and un-usually detailed. Particularly noteworthy is the fact that all the epics devote considerable space to speeches.
In all these respects, the pattern of Sumerian heroic poetry is similar to the pattern of Greek, Indian, and Teutonic epic material. To be sure, there are a number of outstanding differences be-tween the Sumerian epic material and that of the Greeks, Indians, and Teutons. For example, the Sumerian epic poems consist of individual, disconnected tales of varying length, each of which is restricted to a single episode.
There is no attempt to articulate and integrate these episodes into a larger unit. There is relatively little characterization and psychological penetration in the Sume-rian material. The heroes tend to be broad types, more or less undifferentiated, rather than highly personalized individuals. Moreover, the incidents and plot motifs are related in a rather static and conventionalized style; there is little of that plastic, expressive movement that characterizes such poems as Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey.
Mortal women play hardly any role in Sume-rian epic literature, whereas they have a very prominent part in Indo-European epic literature. Finally, in the matter of technique, the Sumerian poet gets his rhythmic effects primarily from varia-tions in the repetition patterns. He makes no use whatever of the meters or uniform line so characteristic of Indo-European epics. In spite of all these differences, it is hardly likely that a literary form so individual in style and technique as narrative poetry was created and developed independently and at different time in-tervals in Sumer, Greece, India, and Northern Europe.
Since the narrative poetry of the Sumerians is by all odds the oldest of the four, it is not impossible that it was in Sumer that the epic genre first originated and that it spread from there to the lands around. To date, we can identify nine Sumerian epic tales, varying in length from a little over one hundred to more than six hundred lines. Two of them revolve about the hero Enmerkar and may be entitled «Enmerkar and the Land of Aratta” and “Enmer-kar and Ensukushsiranna”.
Two center about the hero Lugalbanda, although Enmerkar plays a role in both; these may be entitled «Lugalbanda and Enmerkar” and “Lugalbanda and Mount Hurrum”. The re-maining five revolve about the best known of Sumerian heroes, the hero without peer of the entire ancient Near East, Gilgamesh. Two of these, «Gilgamesh and the Bull of Heaven” and «The Death of Gilgamesh,” are quite fragmentary. The remaining three are almost completely preserved. These are «Gilgamesh and Agga of Kish,” which celebrates Gilgamesh as patriot and “de-fender of the realm”; “Gilgamesh and the Land of the Living,” in which he plays the role of the adventurous dragon-killer, man’s first St. George, as it were; and “Gilgamesh, Enkidu, and the Nether World,” which depicts him as a surprisingly complicated individual: chivalrous, daring, tyrannical, loyal, plaintive, oracu-lar, and inquisitive.
The poem “Gilgamesh and Agga” is the shortest of all Sumerian epic tales; it consists of no more than one hundred fifteen lines. Brief as it is, however, it is of rather unusu::j.l interest. Its plot deals with humans only; unlike all the other Sumerian epic tales, it introduces no mythological motifs involving any of the Sume-rian deities. The poem is historically significant; it sheds consid-erable new light on the early struggle of the Sumerian city-states. Finally, it records the convening of man’s first political asselllbly, a “bicameral congress,” which purportedly took place almost five thousand years ago.
As is clear from the history of Sumer sketched in chapter ii, Sumer, like Greece of a much later day, consisted of a number of city-states vying for supremacy over the land as a whole. One of the most important of these was Kish, a city which, according to Sumerian legend, had received ”kingship” from heaven im-mediately after the Flood.
But in time, another city-state, Erech, kept gaining in influence and power until it threatened Kish’s supremacy in Sumer. Agga, the last ruler of the Kish dynasty, realized the danger and sent an ultimatum to Erech, where Gilgamesh was ‘1ord,” to submit to Kish or suffer the conse-quences.
Our poem begins with the arrival of Agga’s envoys bearing his ultimatum to Gilgamesh and the Erechites. Gilgamesh is determined to fight rather than submit to Agga, but first he has to get the approval of the citizens of Erech. He therefore goes before “the convened assembly of tJle elders of his city” with the urgent plea not to submit to Kish but to take up arms and fight for victory.
The “senators” are of a different mind, however; they would rather yield to Kish and enjoy peace. This decision is disappointing to Gilgamesh.
He therefore comes before the “convened assembly of the (younger) men of his city” and repeats his plea. In a long statement ending witp a eulogy of Gilgamesh and encouraging words of victory, the assembly of “men” declares for war and independence. Gilgamesh is now well pleased, and in a speech to his faithful servant and constant companion, Enkidu, shows himself highly confident of a victory over Agga.
In a very short time, however-or as the poet puts it, “the days were not five, the days were not ten” -Agga besieges Erech, and in spite of their brave words, the Erechites are confounded. Gilgamesh then turns to the “heroes” of Erech and asks for a volunteer to go before Agga. One of them, Birhurturre by name, readily volunteers; he is confident that he can confound Agga’s judgment. But no sooner does Birhurturre pass through the city gates than he is seized, beaten, and brought before Agga.
He begins to speak to Agga, but before he is finished, another hero, Zabardi-bunugga, ascends the wall. Upon seeing him, Agga asks Bir-hurturre if that is his king, Gilgamesh. When Birhurturre answers in the negative, Agga and his men are unimpressed and continue to besiege Erech and torture Birhurturre.
Now, however, Gilgamesh himself climbs the wall to meet Agga face to face, and the Erechites are terror-stricken. Upon learning from Birhurturre that this, at last, is his king, Agga, duly impressed, abandons the siege. Gilgamesh thereupon utters warm thanks to Agga for his generous attitude, and the poem closes with a paean of praise to Gilgamesh as the savior of Erech. Here now is a tentative translation of the epic tale; much of it is still uncertain and obscure, but this is the best that can be done with it at the moment: The envoys of Agga, the son of Enmebaraggesi Proceeded from Kish to Gilgamesh in Erech, The lord Gilgamesh before the elders of his city Put the matter, seeks out their word:
“To complete the wells, to complete all the wells of the land, To complete the wells, the small bowls of the land, To dig the wells, to complete the fastening ropes
Let us not submit to the house of Kish, let us smite it with weapons.” . The convened assembly of the elders of his city Answer Gilgamesh: “To complete the wells, to complete all the wells of the land, To complete the wells, the small bowls of the land, To dig the wells, to complete the fastening ropes-Let us submit to the house of Kish, let us not smite it with weapons” Gilgamesh, the lord of Kullab, Who performs heroic deeds for Jnanna, Took not the word of the elders of his city to heart. A second time Gilgamesh, the lord of Kullab, Before the “men” of his city, put the matter, seeks out their word:
“To complete the wells, to complete all the wells of the land, To complete the wells, the small bowls of the land, To dig the wells, to complete the fastening ropes, Do not submit to the house of Kish, let us smite it with weapons,” The convened assembly of the “men” of his city answer Gilgamesh:
“Of those who stand, those who sit, Of those who have been raised with the sons of kings, Of those who press the donkey’s thigh, Who has their spiritl Do not submit to the house of Kish, let us smite it with weapons, Erech, the handiwork of the Gods, Eanna, the house ascending from heaven-It is the great gods who have fashioned its parts-Its great walls touching the clouds, Its lofty dwelling place established by An, You have cared for-you, king and hero, Conqueror, prince beloved of An, How should you fear his comingl That army is small, its rear totters, Its men hold not high their eyes,'” Then, Gilgamesh, the lord of Kullab, At the words of the “men” of his city his heart rejoiced, his spirit brightened, He says to his servant Enkidu:
“Now, then, let the (peaceful) tool be put aside for the violence of battle, Let the battle weapons return to your side, Let them bring about fear and terror, He, when he comes-my great fear will fall upon him, His judgment will be confounded, his counsel will be dissipated,” The days were not five, the days were not ten, Agga, the son of Enmebaraggesi beSieged Erech, Erech-its judgment was confounded, Gilgamesh, the lord of Kullab, Says to its heroes:
“My heroes with darkened faces, Who has heart, let him arise, I would have him go to Agga,” Birhurturre, the head man, to his king, To his king, utters praise:
“I shall go to Agga, His judgment will be confounded, his counsel will be dissipated.”
Birhurturre went out through the city gate-When Birhurturre had gone out through the city gate, They seized him at the doors of the city gate, Birhurturre-they crush his flesh, Bring him before Agga, Agga speaks to him.
He had not finished his words, when Zabardibunugga ascended the wall. Agga saw him, Says to Birhurturre: “Slave, is that man your king?” “That man is not my king, Would that that man were my king, That it were his strong forehead, That it were his bison-like face, That it were his lapis-like beard, That it were his gracious fingers.”
The multitude rose not, the multitude left not, The multitude rolled not in the dust, The foreigners, the lot of them, felt not overwhelmed, The natives bit not the dust, The prows of the longboats were not cut down, Agga, the king of Kish, restrained not his troops, They strike him, they beat him, Birhurturre-they crush his flesh.
Following Zabardibunugga, Gilgamesh ascends the wall, Terror fell upon the young and old of Kullab, The doors of the city gate-they stationed themselves at their ap-proaches, Enkidu went out through the city gate, Gilgamesh peered over the wall, Agga saw him: “Slave, is that man your king?” “That man is indeed my king.” No sooner had he said this, The multitude rose, the multitude left, The multitude rolled in the dust.
The foreigners, the lot of them, felt overwhelmed, The natives bit the dust, The prows of the longboats were cut down, Agga, the king of Kish, restrained his troops. Gilgamesh, the lord of Kullab, Says to Agga: “Agga, my lieutenant, Agga, my captain, Agga, my army general, Agga, you have filled with grain the fleeing bird, Agga, you have given me breath, you have given me life, Agga, you have brought the fugitive to your lap.” Erech, the handiwork of the god, The great walls touching the sky, The lofty dwelling established by An, You have cared for, you, king and hero, Conqueror, prince beloved of An, Agga has set you free for the sake of Kish, Before Utu, he has returned you the favor of former days, Gilgamesh, lord of Kullab, Your praise is good.
The motivating theme of the second of our Gilgamesh epic tales, “Gilgamesh and the Land of the LiVing,” is man’s anxiety about death and its sublimation in the notion of an immortal name. The plot of the tale is built around motifs and incidents pertinent to its predominantly poignant mood. Stylistically its somber tone is sustained and intensified by a skillful selection of the varied patterns of repetition and parallelism. Several of the crucial passages are still obscure. As of today, the story may be reconstructed as follows.
The lord Gilgamesh is burdened and oppressed with the thought of death. His heart is pained and his spirit heavy as he sees men die and perish in Erech, “dead bodies Hoating in the river’s waters.” Realizing bitterly that like all mortals, he, too, must die sooner or later, he is determined at least to raise up a name for himself before coming to his destined end. He therefore sets his heart on journeying to the far-distant “Land of the Living” to fell its famed cedars and bring them to Erech.
His mind made up, Gilgamesh informs Enkidu, his loyal serv-ant, of his proposed undertaking. The latter advises him first to acquaint the sun-god, Utu, with his plan, for it is Utu who has charge of the “Land of the Living.” Acting on this advice, Gilga-mesh brings offerings to Utu and pleads for his support on the contemplated journey. At first Utu is skeptical of Gilgamesh’s qualifications, but Gilga-mesh is insistent and repeats his plea in more persuasive language. Utu thereupon takes pity on him and promises to immobilize the seven weather demons who might otherwise have menaced Gilgamesh on his journey. Overjoyed, Gilgamesh gathers fifty volunteers from Erech-unattached men who have neither “house” nor “mother” and who are ready to follow him wherever he goes. After having weapons of bronze and wood prepared for himself and his companions, he and his followers set out from Erech to the “Land of the Living.”
In the course of their journey they cross seven mountains, but it is not until they have crossed the seventh that Gilgamesh finds “the cedar of his heart.” He fells it with his ax, and Enkidu cuts off its branches while his followers heap them up into a mound. But this act has aroused and disturbed Huwawa, the monster who guards the “Land of the Living,” and he succeeds in having Gilgamesh fall into a heavy sleep or coma from which he is awakened only after considerable time and effort. Thoroughly aroused by this unexpected delay, Gilgamesh swears by his mother, the goddess Ninsun, and by his father, the divine hero Lugalbanda, that he will not return to Erech until he has vanquished the monster Huwawa, be he man or god. Enkidu pleads with him to turn back, for he has seen this fearful monster and is certain that no one can withstand his attack. But Gilgamesh will have none of this caution.
Convinced that if only they stand together no harm can befall them, he bids Enkidu put away fear and go forward with him. The monster, however, is spying from his cedar house and makes frantic efforts to drive Gilgamesh off. But the latter refuses to be frightened, and seems to try to reassure Huwawa with the deceitful statement that he is bringing him gifts. In any case, we find Gilgamesh cutting down the seven trees which bar the ap-proach to Huwawa’s inner chamber, while his companions cut up their branches and arrange them in bundles at the foot of the mountain.
Gilgamesh has now come face to face with Huwawa. He slaps him gently on the cheek, throws a nose-ring over him, and fastens a rope about him. Whereupon Huwawa pleads tearfully with the sun-god, Utu, and humbles himself before Gilgamesh in an effort to obtain his freedom.
Gilgamesh does indeed take pity on him, and in riddle-like phrases suggests to Enkidu that Huwawa be set free. But Enkidu advises against such generous actions as un-wise and perilous. When the indignant Huwawa makes an in-sulting retort against Enkidu, the latter cuts off his neck. The two heroes now bring Huwawa’s severed head before Enlil, the king of the gods, eager, no doubt, for divine approbation and reward. But when Enlil sees Huwawa’s severed head, he utters a curse which seems to doom them to eternal wandering. over mountain and plain, scorched by the burning sun.
Then perhaps as a protection against the mountains and forests and the wild beasts which prowl in them, Enlil presents Gilgamesh with what may perhaps be seven divine rays, known in Sumerian as melam’s. And on this rather obscure and ambivalent note, the poem comes to a close. A translation of the poem reads as follows:
The lord set his mind toward the “Land of the Living,” The lord Gilgamesh set his mind toward the “Land of the Living,” He says to his servant Enkidu: “Enkidu, brick and stamp have not yet brought forth the fated end, I would enter the ‘land,’ would set up my name, In its places where names have been raised up, I would raise up my name, In its places where names have not been raised up, I would raise up the names of the gods.” His servant Enkidu answers him:
“My master, if you would enter the ‘land; inform Utu, Inform Utu, the valiant Utu, The ‘land: it is Utu’s charge, The land of the felled cedar, it is the valiant Utu’s charge, Inform Utu.” Gilgamesh laid his hands on an all-white kid, Pressed to his breast a speckled kid as an offering, Placed in his hand the silver scepter of his command, Says to heavenly Utu: “Utu, I would enter the ‘land: be my ally, I would enter the land of the felled cedar, be my ally.”
Heavenly Utu says to him: “True you are a princely warrior, but what are you to the ‘land’?” “Utu, a word I would speak to you, to my word your earl I would have it reach you, give ear to it! In my city man dies, oppressed is the heart, Man perishes, heavy is the heart, I peered over the wall, Saw the dead bodies floating in the river’s waters, As for me, I too will be served thus, verily it is so! Man, the tallest, cannot reach to heaven, Man, the widest, cannot cover the earth.
Brick and stamp have not yet brought forth the fated end, I would enter the ‘land,’ would set up my name, In its places where the names have been raised up, I would raise up my name, In its places where the names have not been raised up, I would raise up the names of the gods. Utu accepted his tears as an offering, Like a man of mercy, he showed him mercy, The seven weather heroes, the sons of one mother, He brings into the caves of the mountains. Who felled the cedar, was overjoyed, The lord Gilgamesh was overjoyed, Mobilized his city like one man, Mustered (its men) like twin companions; “Who has a house, to his house! Who has a mother, to his mother! Let single males who would do as I do stand at my side!” Who had a house, to his house! Who had a mother, to his mother! Single males who would do as he did, fifty, stood at his side. He directed his step to the house of the smiths, Forged the sword, the crushing ax, his “might of heaven,” He directed his step to the black forests of the plain, Felled the willow, the apple, and the box tree, The sons of his city who accompanied him took them in their hands, The seven weather demons were brought into the caves of the moun-tains, They cross the first mountain, He found not the cedar of his heart,
After they had crossed the seventh mountain, He found the cedar of his heart. (Here a number of lines are destroyed, and it is not clear just what happened. Perhaps Huwawa had become aware of the felling of the cedar, and had sent a strong sleep against Gilgamesh. In any case, when the text becomes intelligible again, we find some-one, probably Enkidu, trying to arouse Gilgamesh from his slumber.) He touches him, he rises not, He speaks to him, he answers not, “Who are asleep, who are asleep, Gilgamesh, lord, son of Kullab, How long will you sleep? The land has become dark, it is full of shadows, Dusk has brought forth its (dim) light, Utu has gone with lifted head to his mother, Ningal, o Gilgamesh, how long will you sleep! Let not the sons of your city who have accompanied you Stand waiting for you at the foot of the mountain, Let not your mother who gave birth to you Be driven off to the city’s square. He gave close heed, Covered himself with his “word of heroism” like a garment, Stretched about his breast the thirty-shekel garment he had carried in his hand, Raised himself on the “great earth” like a bull, Bit the dust, soiled his teeth:
“By the life of Ninsun, my mother who gave birth to me, Of holy Lugalbanda, my father, May I become as one who sits to be wondered at on the knee of Ninsun, my mother who gave birth to me.”
A second time, moreover, he says to him: “By the life of Ninsun, my mother who gave birth to me, Of holy Lugalbanda, my father, Until I will have vanquished that ‘fellow,’ whether he be a man, Until I will have vanquished him, whether he be a god, I shall not turn to the city my 1and’-turned step. The faithful servant pleaded, clung to life, Answers his master:
“My master, you who have not seen that ‘fellow’ are not terror-stricken, I who have seen that ‘fellow’ am terror-stricken, The warrior, his teeth are a dragon’s teeth, His face is a lion’s face, His roar is the onrushing Hood water, From his canebrake-devouring forehead, none escape. My master, journey you to the land, I will journey to the city, Will tell your mother of your glory, Let her squeal with laughter, Then will tell her of your death, Let her shed bitter tears.” “For me another will not die, The loaded boat will not sink, The three-ply cloth will not be cut, On the wall no one will be overwhelmed, House and hut, fire will not destroy, Do you but help me, I will help you, What can happen to us! After it had sunk, after it had sunk, Mter the Magan-boat had sunk, Mter the boat ‘Might of Magilum’ had sunk, All the living dwell in the ‘boat of the living:
Come, let us go forward, we will cast eyes upon him! If when we go for,ward, There be fear, there be fear, turn it back! There be terror, there be terror, turn it back!” “As your heart desires! Come, let us go forward!” When they had not yet come within a distance of a quarter mile, Huwawa stayed close to his cedar house, Fastened his eye upon him, the eye of death, Tossed his head against him, the guilt-covered head, Cried out against him a terrifying cry. Gilgamesh-his sinews, his feet trembled, He was afraid, He turned not back on the trodden path. He (Huwawa) raised himself on his huge clawed feet, Threw himself this way and that: “Thick-maned, who wears the uluhha-garment, Princely one, delight of the gods,
Irate bull, resolute in battle, Who have made proud the mother who gave birth to you, Who have made proud the nurse who suckled you, babe on lap, Have no fear, put hand on ground.” Gilgamesh did not put hand on ground, said:
“By the life of Ninsun, my mother who gave birth to me, Of holy Lugalbanda, my father, You know well who lives in the ‘land; For your little feet, I have made little shoes, For your big feet, 1 have made big shoes.” He (Gilgamesh) himself uprooted the first, The sons of his city who accompanied him, Cut down the branches, bundle them up, Lay them at the foot of the mountain, After he himself had finished off the seventh, he approached his chamber, Pressed him to his wall like the “wine-quay” snake, Slapped his cheek as if he were pressing a kiss on him, Tied a nose-ring on him, like a caught ox, Fastened a rope about his arms like a caught warrior. Huwawa-his teeth shook, He clasped the lord Gilgamesh by the hand:
“I would say a word to Utu.” “Utu, I know not the mother who gave birth to me, Know not the father who had reared me, The ‘land’ gave birth to me, you have reared me.” He adjured Gilgamesh by Heaven, Earth, and Nether World, Took him by the hand, groveled before him. Then the princely Gilgamesh-his heart took pity on him, He says to Enkidu, his servant: “Enlddu, let the caught bird go to its home, Let the caught warrior return to his mother’s bosom.” Enkidu answers Gilgamesh: <The tallest who has no judgment, Fate will devour-Fate who knows no distinctions. If the caught bird go to its home, The caught warrior return to his mother’s bosom, You will not return to the city of your mother who gave birth to you.”
Huwawa says to Enkidu: “Hired man, hungry, thirsty, and obsequious, Why did you speak ill of me to him!” When he had thus spoken, Enkidu, in his anger, cut off his neck, Threw it into an arm-sack, They brought it before Enlil, Opened the arm-sack, drew out his (severed) head, Placed it before EnliL Enlillooked at the head of Huwawa, Was angered by the words of Gilgamesh:
“Why did you act thus! Because you have laid hands on him, Have destroyed his name, May your faces be scorched, May the food you eat be eaten by fire, May the water you drink be drunk by fire.” (Then follows the presentation of the seven me lam’s by Enlil to Gilgamesh and an obscure three-line passage which ends the poem.) In the third of our epic tales, “Gilgamesh, Enkidu, and the Nether World,” the hero is depicted in turn as a chivalrous knight, an oppressive bully, a despairing whiner, a counseling sage, a loyal master, and a saddened mortal anxious to learn about life in the nether world. His servant Enkidu plays the role of a faith-ful and courageous friend who, however, fails to heed his master’s admonition at a crucial moment and loses his life as a conse-quence. And in the background stands lnanna, the Sumerian Aphrodite, with her irresistible tears and her ill-fated, death-tainted gifts. The poem begins with a prologue consisting of two brief p8S-sages which have nothing to do with Gilgamesh and the plot of the story. The first passage concerns divine acts of creation, in-cluding the separation of heaven and earth, and is thus of major significance in Sumerian cosmogony and cosmology.
The second part of the prologue depicts the struggle between Enki, the Sumerian Poseidon, and the nether world embodied in a monstrous dragon. It seems to have taken place not long after the separation of heaven and earth, after the goddess Ereshkigal had been abducted into the nether world by force-all of which calls to mind the Greek myth of the rape of Persephone. As to the out-come of this battle, we are left in the dark by the poet, who was anxious to get on with his Gilgamesh story, which, as far as it can be understood at present, runs as follows: Once upon a time, a huluppu-tree (perhaps a willow), planted on the bank of the Euphrates and nurtured by its waters, was uprooted by the South Wind and carried away on the waters of the Euphrates. There it was seen by the goddess Inanna, who was roving about in the vicinity terrified-for some unexplained rea-son-by the “word” of An and Enlil, the two leading deities of the Sumerian pantheon.
Inanna took the tree in her hand and brought it to her city Erech, where she planted it in her fruitful garden. There she tended it carefully in the hope that when the tree had grown big she could make of its wood a throne and a couch for herself. Years passed. The tree matured and grew big, but its trunk stood bare without branch or leaf. For at its base, the snake who knows no charm had built its nest; in its crown, the fierce Imdugud-bird had placed its young; and in its middle, the vam-pire Lilith had built her house. And so Inanna, the lighthearted and ever joyful, shed bitter tears. As dawn broke, and her brother, the sun-god, Utu, came forth from his “princely field,” Inanna tearfully told him all that had befallen her huluppu-tree. But Utu would do nothing to help her. Inanna then repeated her plaint to her “brother” Gilgamesh, and he decided to stand by her.
He donned his armor weighing fifty minas, took in his hand the “ax of the road,” and slew the snake who knows no charm at the base of the tree. Seeing this, the Imdugud fled with its young to the distant mountains, and Lilith tore down her house in the middle of the tree and fled to her desolate haunts. Gilgamesh and the men of Erech who ac-companied him then cut down the tree and gave it to Inanna for her throne and couch.
What did Inanna do? From the base of the tree she fashioned a pukku (probably a drum); and from its crown, she fashioned a mikku (probably a drumstick); and then she presented both of them to Gilgamesh. But Gilgamesh used them to oppress the citizens of Erech, particularly, it seems, by summoning the young men to war and thus making widows of their wives. In any case, “because of the cries of the young maidens,” to use the words of our poet, the pukku and the mikku fell into the “great dwelling,” that is, the nether world. Gilgamesh did his best to retrieve them but was unsuccessful. And so he sat down at the ganzir, described as the “eye” of the nether world, and bemoaned his loss. Now when Enkidu, Gilgamesh’s servant, saw his master’s dis-tress, he bravely volunteered to descend to the nether world to bring up the pukku and the mikku.
Whereupon Gilgamesh warned him of the nether world taboos that he must guard against ‘1est the cry of the nether world” hold him fast, particularly the cry for the mother of the healing god, Ninazu, who was lying asleep, altogether nude and uncovered, in the nether world. But Enkidu failed to heed the admonition of his master and so was held fast by the nether world and was unable to reascend to the earth. Gilgamesh, distraught because of this new misfortune, proceeded at once to Nippur, the home of Enlil, the king of the gods. Tearfully he told him what had befallen Enkidu. But Enlil was unmoved and refused to help him. Gilgamesh then proceeded to Eridu, the home of Enki, the god of wisdom, and repeated his plaint. Enki decided to help Gilga-mesh, at least as far as was possible under the circumstances.
At his order, the sun-god, Utu, opened a vent in the nether world through which Enkidu’s ghost-for that was all that was now left of Enkidu-ascended to the earth. Master and servant-or rather the servant’s ghost-embraced, and Gilgamesh proceeded to ques-tion Enkidu about what he had seen in the lower regions. And with this depressing colloquy, the poem which began with the happy days of creation comes to a far from happy end. Here now is the text of the poem as far as it is available to date: In days of yore, in the distant days of yore, In nights of yore, in the far-off nights of yore, In days of yore, in the distant days of yore, After in days of yore all things needful had been brought into being, After in days of yore all things needful had been ordered, After bread had been tasted in the shrines of the Land,
After bread had been baked in the ovens of the Land, After heaven had been moved away from earth, After earth had been separated from heaven, After the name of man had been fixed, After An had carried off heaven, After Enlil had carried off earth, After Ereshkigal had been carried off into the nether world as its prize-After he had set sail, after he had set sail, After the father had set sail for the nether world, Against the king, the small were hurled, Against Enki, the large were hurled, Its small stones of the hand, Its large stones of the dancing reeds, The keel of Enki’s boat, Overwhelm in battle like an attacking storm, Against the king, the water at the head of the boat, Devours like a wolf, Against Enki,the water at the rear of the boat, Strikes down like a lion.
Once upon a time, a tree, a huluppu, a tree-It had been planted on the bank of the Euphrates, It was watered by the Euphrates-The violence of the South Wind plucked up its roots, Tore away its crown, The Euphrates carried it off on its waters. The woman, roving about in fear at the word of An, Roving about in fear at the word of Enlil, Took the tree in her hand, brought it to Erech:
“I shall bring it to pure Inanna’s fruitful garden.” The woman tended the tree with her hand, placed it by her foot, Inanna tended the tree with her hand, placed it by her foot, “When will it be a fruitful throne for me to sit on,” she said, ‘When will it be a fruitful bed for me to lie on,” she said. The tree grew big, its trunk bore no foliage, In its roots the snake who knows no charm set up its nest, In its crown the Imdugud-bird placed its young. In its midst the maid Lilith built her house-The always laughing, always rejoicing maid, The maid Inanna-how she weepsl
As light broke, as the horizon brightened, As Utu came forth from the “princely field,” His sister, the holy Inanna, Says to her brother Utu:
“My brother, after in days of yore the fates had been decreed, After abundance had sated the land, After An had carried off heaven, After Enlil had carried off earth, After Ereshkigal had been carried off into the nether world as its prize-After he had set sail, after he had set sail, After the father had set sail for the nether world . . . (Inanna now repeats the entire passage, ending with the follow-inglines: ) The always laughing, always rejoicing maid, I, the maid Inanna, how I weepl”
Her brother, the hero, the valiant Utu, Stood not by her in this matter. As light broke, as the horizon brightened, As Utu came forth from the “princely field,” His sister, the holy Inanna, Speaks to the hero Gilgamesh:
“My brother, after in days of yore the fates had been decreed, After abundance had sated the land, After An had carried off heaven, After Enlil had carried off earth, After Ereshkigal had been carried off into the nether world as its prize-After he had set sail, after he had set sail, After the father had set sail for the nether world … (Inanna again repeats the entire passage, ending with the follow-ing lines:) The always laughing, always rejoicing maid, I, the maid Inanna, how I weep.”
Her brother, the hero Gilgamesh, Stood by her in this matter, He donned armor weighing fifty minas about his waist-Fifty minas were handled by him like thirty shekels-
His “ax of the road”-Seven talents and seven minas-he took in his hand, At its roots he struck down the snake who knows no charm, In its crown the Imdugud-bird took its young, climbed to the moun-tains, In its midst the maid Lilith tore down her house, fled to the wastes. The tree-he plucked at its roots, tore at its crown, The sons of the city who accompanied him cut off its branches, He gives it to holy Inanna for her throne, Gives it to her for her bed, She fashions its roots into a pukku for him, Fashions its crown into a mikku for him.
The summoning pukku-in street and lane he made the pukku re-sound, The loud drumming-in street and lane he made the drumming re-sound, The young men of the city, summoned by the pukku-Bitterness and woe-he is the affliction of their widows, “0 my mate, 0 my spouse,” they lament, Who had a mother-she brings bread to her son, Who had a sister-she brings water to her brother.
After the evening star had disappeared, And he had marked the places where his pukku had been, He carried the pukku before him, brought it to his house, At dawn in the places he had marked-bitterness and woe! Captives! Dead! Widowsl Because of the cry of the young maidens, His pukku and mikku fell into the “great dwelling,” He put in his hand, could not reach them, Put in his foot, could not reach them, He sat down at the great gate ganzir, the “eye” of the nether world, Gilgamesh wept, his face turns pale:
“0 my pukku, my mikku, My pukku with zest irresistible, with rhythm irrepressible-If only my pukku had once been in the carpenter’s house, If only it had been with the carpenter’s wife, like the mother who gave birth to me, If only it had been with the carpenter’s child, like my little sister-My pukku, who will bring it up from the nether world I My mikku, who will bring it up from the nether world!”
Enkidu, his servant, says to him: “My master, why do you weep! Why is your heart grievously sickl I will bring up your pukku from the nether world, I will bring up your mikku from the ceye’ of the nether worldl” Gilgamesh says to Enkidu: “If now you will descend to the nether world, A word I speak to you, take my word, Instruction I offer you, take my instruction: “Wear not clean clothes, Lest the beadles come against you like an enemy. Anoint not yourself with the beaker’s sweet oil, Lest at its smell they crowd about you.
Throw not the throw-stick in the nether world, Lest those struck by the throw-stick surround you. Carry not a staff in your hand, Lest the shades flutter all about you. Tie not sandals on your feet, Raise not a cry in the nether world, Kiss not the wife you love, Strike not the wife you hate, Kiss not the child you love, Strike not the child you hate, Lest the cry of the nether world hold you fast-The cry for her who is sleeping, who is sleeping, For the mother of Ninazu, who is sleeping, Whose holy body no garment covers, Whose holy breast no cloth drapes.” Enkidu descended to the nether world, Heeded not the words of his master-He wore his clean clothes, The beadles came against him like an enemy.
He anointed himself with the beaker’s sweet oil, At its smell they crowded about him. He threw the throw-stick in the nether world, Those struck by the throw-stick surrounded him. He carried a staff in his hand, The shades fluttered all about him. He put sandals on his feet, Raised a cry in the nether world,
Kissed the wife he loved, Struck the wife he hated, Kissed the child he loved, Struck the child he hated, The cry of the nether world held him fast-The cry for her who is sleeping, who is sleeping, For the mother of Ninazu, who is sleeping, Whose holy body no garment covers, Whose holy breast no cloth drapes. Enkidu was not able to ascend from the nether world-Not fate holds him fast, Not sickness holds him fast, The nether world holds him fast.
Not demon Nergal, the unsparing, holds him fast, The nether world holds him fast In battle, the “place of manliness” he fell not, The nether world holds him fast Then went Gilgamesh to Nippur, Stepped up all alone to Enlil in Nippur, wept: “Father Enlil, my pukku fell into the nether world, My mikku fell into Ganzir, I sent Enkidu to bring them up, The nether world holds him fast Not fate holds him fast, Not sickness holds him fast, The nether world holds him fast Not demon N ergal, the unsparing, holds him fast, The nether world holds him fast In battle, the ‘place of manliness,’ he fell not, The nether world holds him fast.” Father Enlil stood not by him in this matter, He went to Eridu, Stepped up all alone to Enki in Eridu, wept: “Father Enki, my pukku fell into the nether world, My mikku fell into ganzir, I sent Enkidu to bring them up, The nether world holds him fast Not fate holds him fast, Not sickness holds him fast, The nether world holds him fast. Not demon Nergal, the unsparing, holds him fast,
The nether world holds him fast. In battle, the ‘place of manliness,’ he fell not, The nether world holds him fast.” Father Enki stood by him in this matter, Says to the hero, the valiant Utu, The son born of Ningal: “Open now the vent of the nether world, Raise Enkidu’s ghost out of the nether world.” He opened the vent of the nether world, Raised Enkidu’s ghost out of the nether world. They embrace, they kiss, They sigh, they hold counsel: “Tell me, what saw you in the nether world?” ” will tell you, my friend, I will tell you.” The poem ends with a rather poorly preserved question-answer colloquy between the two friends concerned with the treatment of the dead in the nether world.
Hymnography-to turn from epic to hymn-was a carefully cul-tivated, highly sophisticated art in Sumer. Scores of hymns, vary-ing in length from less than fifty to well-nigh four hundred lines, have come down to us, and there is every reason to believe that this is only a fraction of the hymns composed in Sumer through-out the centuries. To judge from their contents, the extant Su-merian hymns may be divided into four major categories: ( 1 ) hymns extolling the gods; (2) hymns extolling kings; (3) hymnal prayers in which paeans of praise to the gods are interspersed with bleSSings and prayers for kings; and (4) hymns glorifying Sumerian temples.
The divine hymns are in the form of either an address by the poet to the deity or a glorification of the deity and his achieve-ments in the third person. Among the longer and more important are the follOwing: (1) a hymn to Enlil noteworthy for its poetic summary of civilization’s debt to his beneficence; (2) a hymn to the god Ninurta addressed to him not only under that name but under the names Pagibilsag and Ningirsu as well; (3) a hymn to the goddess Inanna by Enheduanna, long known as the daughter of Sargon the Great; (4) a hymn to Inanna as the Venus star, noteworthy for its description of the hieros-gamos ceremony cele-brating the union of the goddess and the king Iddin-Dagan of Isin on New Year’s Day; (5) a hymn to Inanna as the goddess of war and wrath; (6) a hymn to Utu as the god of justice who regulates and supervises the world order; (7) a hymn to the goddess Nanshe as the guardian of man’s ethics and morals; (8) a hymn to Hendursag, Nanshe’s especially selected vizier in charge of judging man’s deeds and misdeeds; (9) a hymn to the goddess Ninisinna as the “great physician of the black-heads,” the patron-deity of the art of medicine and healing; (10) a hymn to Ninkasi as the goddess of intoxicating drink; (11) a hymn to Nidaba as the goddess of writing, accounting, and wisdom; and (12) a hymn to the goddess Nungal, the daughter of Ereshkigal, as judge and protector of the “black-heads.” Of the hymns exalting kings, the most important group belongs to Shulgi, the second ruler of the Third Dynasty of Uri five of them are now restorable wholly or in large part. Two hymns sing the praises of Shulgi’s father, Ur-Nammu.
There are quite a num-ber of hymns celebrating the rulers of the Isin dynasty that fol-lowed the Third Dynasty rulers, particularly Iddin-Dagan, Ishme-Dagan, and Lipit-Ishtar. Most of the royal hymns are ex-travagantly self-laudatory; the kings themselves are purported to have uttered grandiloquent, inflated, and vain-sounding paeans of self-glorification without hesitation and inhibition. This unusual and, from our point of view, rather unworthy kingly behavior is not without psychological Significance; it fits in with the drive for prestige and superiority characteristic of Sumerian behavior in general (see chapter vii).
A high favorite with the Sumerian hymnographers was the type of composition in which paeans to the gods were interlarded with bleSSings and prayers for the kings. Except, rather unexpectedly, for the mother-goddess, Ninhursag, practically all the major deities are represented in this hymnal category: An, Enlil, Enki, Nanna, Utu, Ninurta, Nergal, Inanna, Bau, and Ninisinna. As for the kings blessed and prayed for, all the rulers of the Third Dynasty of Ur as well as the earlier rulers of the First Dynasty of Isin are represented. One of these hymns is addressed to the god-dess Bau as the friend and supporter of Eannatum of Lagash, which indicates rather conclUSively that this hymnal type was already current in Sumer in pre-Sargonic days.
Finally, the temple hymns are represented by a song of praise to the Ekur, Enlil’s temple in Nippur; by a hymn to the temple of the goddess Ninhursag at Kesh; and best of all, by a composi-tion of over four hundred lines containing brief hymns to all the more important temples of Sumer and Akkad. One of the most noteworthy of all extant temple hymns is that inscribed on the long known Gudea cylinders, which consists of close to fourteen hundred lines of text and celebrates the rebuilding of the Eninnu temple in Lagash.
Turning to the fonnal aspects of Sumerian hymnography, it is worth noting that hymn-writing had become so sophisticated a literary art in Sumer that it was subdivided into various categories by the ancient poets themselves, and many of the extant hymns are ascribed to their appropriate categories by a special subscrip-tion at the end of the composition. The common Sumerian word for hymns is sir, which mayor may not have anything to do with the Hebrew shir. Some of the categories of sir are sir-hamun, perhaps “hannony hymns”; sir-namnar, “musical hymns”; sir-namgala, “hymns of gala-ship”; sir-namursagga, “hymns of heroship”; and sir-namsipad-inanna-ka, “hymns of shepherdship of ( the goddess) Jnanna,” the shepherd in this case being, no doubt, the god Dumuzi.
Hymnal categories that seem to be named from the musical instruments accompanying them are tigi, probably a hymn accompanied by lyre; irshemma, perhaps a hymn accom-panied by drum; and allah, a hymn accompanied by some still unidentified stringed instrument. The tigi and allah hymns are broken up by the ancient poets into sections bearing the notations sagarra and sagidda, which seem to mean literally “the set strings (?)” and “the long strings,” respectively-further proof that these hymns were accompanied by musical instruments.
The adah hymns also include special sections bearing the notations harsud and shahatuku, the meaning of which is still unknown; they usually end with a three-line prayer for the king, designated as urunhim, a rubric of uncertain meaning. Both the adah and the tigi categories also make use of an antiphon consisting of from one to four lines, something like a choral refrain, bearing the still obscure notation which may tentatively be read izkig. Finally, there are a number of hymns that are divided into stanzas with the notation kirugu, “genuHexion” (?), which is often followed by the refrain-like passage designated as izkig.
The Sumerian lamentations are primarily of two kinds: those bewailing the destruction of Sumerian cities and city-states and those lamenting the death of the god Dumuzi or one of his counterparts. Of the former kind, two of the best preserved concern the destruction of Ur. A third concerns the destruction of Nippur; it begins as a lament but ends on a note of joy with the restoration of the city by Ishme-Dagan of Isin.
As for the Dumuzi laments, they range in size from long compositions of over two hundred lines to brief laments of less than fifty lines. Quite a few of these Dumuzi texts have been published to date. But there is still no trustworthy translation available for many of them, espe-cially those written in a phonetic rather than in the historical orthography, which makes even word-division uncertain, let alone meaning and interpretation. Related to the lamentation is the elegy or funeral song. This Sumerian literary genre was entirely unknown until 1957 when, in the course of a visit to the Soviet Union, I came across a tablet in the Pushkin Museum inscribed with two such elegies. A detailed edition of the text was prepared with the co-operation of the Pushkin Museum and appeared in 1960. The sketch of the content of the two poems and the translation presented here are based on this study.
The tablet, which was no doubt inscribed in the ancient city of Nippur about 1700 B.c. it may, of course, have first been composed conSiderably earlier-was divided by the ancient scribe into four columns. It contains two compositions of unequal size sep-arated by a ruled line. The first and longer of the two consists of 112 lines of text, whereas the second has only 66 lines. Following the text of the two compositions, and separated from it by a dou-ble line, is a three-line colophon giving the title of each of the compositions as well as the number of lines which they contain individually and together. Both of the compositions consist in large part of funeral dirges uttered by a single individual named Ludingirra. In the first, Ludingirra laments the death of his father, Nanna, who, if I have understood the relevant passage correctly, had died from wounds received in some kind of physical struggle. In the second dirge, the same Ludingirra bewails the death of his good and beloved wife, Nawirtum, who seems to have died a natural death.
In both compositions, the dirges are preceded by prologues which serve to set the scene. The prologue to the first dirge con-sists of 20 lines and is therefore relatively brief compared with the rest of the composition. The prologue to the second dirge, however, consists of 47 lines and is therefore about two-and-a-half times as long as the remainder of the poem. Stylistically, both compositions make use of highly poetic diction characterized by various types of repetition, parallelism, choral refrains, similes, and metaphors. The deeds and virtues of the deceased, as well as the grief and suffering of those left behind, are sung in inflated and grandiloquent phrases; but this is an understandable feature of funeral songs and orations the world over and at all times.
The prologue to the first composition begins with a rather prosaic two-line statement which seems to relate that a son who had gone away to a distant land was called back to Nippur where his father lay mortally sick. Six lines follow, each of which describes the father with some highly flattering phrases and ends with the refrain “( he) had become ill.” These lines are followed by a passage depicting the intensity of the father’s illness and suffering and his eventual death. News of the catastrophe reaches the son “on a distant journey”; whereupon, we may assume, he returns to Nippur and, overcome with grief, he writes the lament which follows.
The dirge itself begins by depicting the desperate grief of the deceased’s wife, who was presumably Ludingirra’s mother, of an unnamed lukur-priestess of the god Ninurta, of an unnamed en-priestess of the god Nusku, and of the deceased’s sons and their brides. Following-what seems to be a brief prayer for Nanna’s welfare, the dirge continues with a description of the mourning for the deceased by his daughters, by the elders and the matrons of Nippur, and by his slaves. At this point, rather surprisingly, what seems to be a one-line prayer involving the eldest son of the deceased is interposed. Following this prayer comes a passage containing a number of curses against Nanna’s murderer and the latter’s offspring. The dirge concludes with a series of prayers: for the welfare of the deceased in the nether world, for his favorable treatment at the hands of his personal god ar,d the god of his city, and for the well-being of his wife, children, and kin.
In the second elegy it is the prologue to the dirge that, as men tioned earlier, takes up the greater part of the poem. It begins with the announcement of Nawirtum’s death in a series of par-allel-phrased similes and metaphors and continues with a description of the ensuing grief on the part of the inhabitants of Nippur.
Following two very obscure passages-the first of whiCh seems to describe the interruption of important religious rites in Nippur as a result of Nawirtum’s death-Nawirtum’s husband, Ludingirra, comes on the scene to utter his mournful lament. The dirge itself may be divided into two parts: a bitter lament for Ludingirra’s bereavement, consisting of a succession of parallel clauses, each followed by an identical refrain; and a series of prayers for the deceased and for her husband, children, and household.
As for the importance and significance of the two elegies, it needs no saying that they have considerable intrinsic merit as literary efforts; they attempt to convey in imaginative poetic form the deep human passions and emotions generated by the tragic loss, through inevitable death, of the closest and dearest of kin.
From the point of view of the history of literature, they are our first precious examples of the elegiac genre-they precede by many centuries the Davidic dirges for Saul and Jonathan and the Homeric laments for Hector which close the Iliad on so sad a note-and should therefore prove to be invaluable for purposes of comparative study. The first of the two poems is also of some importance for our understanding of Sumerian cosmology; for from it we learn that the Sumerian sages-or at least some of them held the beliefs that the sun, after setting, continued its journey through the nether world at night and that the moon-god, Nanna, spent his “day of sleep,” that is, the last day of each month, in the nether world. Most important of all, the two poems, and particu-larly the first, shed considerable new light on the Sumerian ideas about life in the nether world. Thus, for example, we now learn for the first time of the “judgment of the dead” and that, as might have been expected, it was the sun-god, Utu-the judge par ex-cellence of mankind-who made the decisions; we also learn that the moon-god, Nanna, in some way “decreed the fate” of the dead on the day he visited the nether world.
As for the authorship of the two elegies and the motivation for their composition, there is little doubt that the writer of the poems was one of the ummia’s who worked and taught in the Sumerian edubba and that the compositions themselves were used as texts to be studied and copied by the students of the edubba.
In fact, one of the lines of the first elegy has now been found inscribed on a small practice-tablet excavated at Nippur in the handwriting of both teacher and pupil. On the surface, the author writes as if he himself were merely composing the prologues to the two poems, while the dirges themselves are presumably being given as the ipsissima verba of Ludingirra. Moreover, at least in the first elegy, the author states that Ludingirra had written down his lament, which might lead to the presupposition that the author had, in fact, a copy of Ludingirra’s dirges before him. But all this seems rather unlikely, especially in view of the uniformity of style that characterizes the prologues and the dirges. All in all, one is left with the impression that the two elegies are purely imagina-tive creative efforts on the part of a poet moved by the aesthetic urge to compose an eloquent and moving funeral chant, just as he might have been inspired, for example, to compose a mythological or epic poem.
Here now is a literal translation of the two elegies, with all the question marks and breaks, awkward as these are; parts of the text are unfortunately quite difficult and obscure:
[A father] sent to a far-off place for his son, The son who had gone to the distant place did not [neglect] the in-structions “of those days.” The city-dwelling father had become ill, The precious brilliant, found (only) in remote mountains, had become ill, Who was fair (and) attractive (?) of speech, who …. , had become ill, Who had an attractive (?) figure as well as (?) an (attractive) head, had become ill, Who was wise of plan, highly qualified for the assembly, had become ill, Who was a man of truth, god-fearing, had become ill, Had become ill-and had not eaten-was languishing away (?), With mouth (?) shut tight (?) he tasted no food, lay famished, Like a tablet (?), like a kid (?), he …. , The hero, the leader (?), [moves (?)] not a foot (?),
From (?) his sick … he was consumed with wail [ing (?)] for (?) his children (?), Heart anguished, [shaken (?)] with wailing, The scholar died in Nippur (of wounds received) in an attack (?). This matter reached his son on a distant journey, Like a son who had not been separated (?) from his father, He returned (?) not the garment (?) which had been sent (?) to him, The son shed tears, threw himself to the dust, utters for him a “hymn of song,” Ludingirra out of his burning (?) heart writes a lament: “0 father, who has died in an attack (?), o Nanna, who through the evil planned against him, has been carried off to the nether world, Your wife-Io, formerly (?) she was his wife, (but) now she is a widow-Wheels (?) about you like a whirlwind, … for joy … , Like a … she acts for you, (yes) you-gone is her reason, She has set up [a cry (of pain)] as if she were about to give birth, Turns the … , [moans (?)] like a cow, · .. has issued a cry (of pain), sheds tears, Has covered up its (?) … , and (?) has taken (?) what is just (?), · .. in darkness (?) … , Who gathers (?) …. , Touches you, the (?) heart … is (?) heavy (?). “Who (?) … rises (?) … at dawn (?), From among the … who dwell in … , the lukur-priestess of Ni-nurta (?) from the … has thrown herself [to the dust (?)], Like a mourning (?) god (?), she … , Her shouts (?) (of anguish) … evil, In (?) the midst (?) of the cloister (?) she (?) . . ., …., Has made (?) the wide(spread) [pe]ople (?) … grain, water (?). “The confusion (?) of (?) battles (?) the en-priestess of Nusku (?) … , · .. tears apart (?) for you (?), for you her (?) … , …. , …. , · .. from your lap … , …. , “Your sons [who (?)] were treated (?) like king’s sons, Whatever they (?) eat … , Whatever they (?) drin[k] … ,
Honey (and) ghee they (?) … , The table they (?) load (?) with (?) oil (for) you, The tears which they shed for him are piteous (?) tears, Their mourning (?) for him is (that) of loving (and) pure-hearted ( ones), Like shriveled grain they … The birdlings return (?) . . . , raise (?) . . . , The brides of (?) your sons, who have said: ‘Where, (oh) where is he now?’-Over them has fallen (?) your … , In their … has been silenced (?) for you-On the laps of the (members of the) house (hold) ( ?) … for you, Your … sweet sounds … sleep … , Like …. has been … , The … lament for you (?) … does not (?) cease. “0 my father, [may] your heart [be at rest], o Nanna, [may] your spirit [be pleased], The en’s (and) ensi’s •.. , [May (?) ] those who have escaped the hand of death … -The hand of death has been … in (?) their (?) …. , [no] one … , Death is the favor (?) of the gods, the place where the fate is decreed … -May your offspring … your knee (?). Your daughters have …. for you in their (?) … , The elders of your city [have set up (?)] mourning (?) [for you], The matrons of your city have …. for you, The slave [by (?)] the millstone … has [shed (?)] tears for you, The house ( hold) where (?) he (?) is placed (?) … , He has . . . silver (?), he has acquired (?) grain, he has [multiplied ( ? )] with possessions. “May the eldest son [establish (?)] for you your … firm foundations. “The man who killed you, [who (?)] like one who … the heart … , Who assaulted (?) you, (yes) you, with cruel strength-True (?) vengeance belongs to the king (?), the shepherd, your (per-sonal) god, True (?) counsel belongs to Utu-That man, [ma]y he be a man accursed, death [shall be his lot], His bones [let no] one [bury (?)], His offspring, …. , [may] their name [be eradicated (?)], May their possessions like Hying (?) … sparrows (?) . .. .
“May the …. of the Land (?) … Bring (?) your favorable … words, may they make you content, o Nanna, may your spirit (?) be pleased, may your heart be at rest. Utu, the great lord (?) of Hades, After turning the dark places to light, will judge your case (favor-ably), May Nanna decree your fate (favorably) on the “day of sleep,” [May] Nergal, the Enlil of the nether world, …. before (?) it (?), May the bread-eating heroes (?) utter your name, … food, [May] the … of the nether world … pity … , May (?) the … -drinkers [satisfy (?)] your thirst with fresh water, [May (?)] …. , In strength [may (?)] Gilgamesh … your (?) heart (?), [May] Nedu and Etana [be] your allies, The gods of the nether world will [utter (?)] prayers for you, May your (personal) god say ‘EnoughI’ May he [decree (?)] (favor-ably) your fate, May the god of your city … for you a … heart, May he [annul] for you (your) promises (?) (and) debts, May he [erase] the guilt of the house(hold) [from] the accounts (?), [May he bring to nought] the evil planned against you … , May those you leave behind be happy, [may] … , May the … take (?) … , May the (good) spirits (and) genii [protect (?)] your … , May the children you begot be written (?) down (?) for leader-sh[ip(?) ], May (all) your daughters marry, May your wife stay well, may your kin multiply, May prosperity (and )well-being (?) envelop (them) day in, day out, In your … may beer, wine, (and all) good things never cease, May the invocation (?) of your (?) house(hold) be forever the invo-cation (?) of your (personal) (?) godl”
An evil day [came (?)] upon the matron in (?) her (?) … , Upon the fair lady, the well-favored matron, the evil eye [came (?)], Upon the birdling overstepping (?) its nest the net has [fallen] (?), The fecund mother, the mother of (many) children is [held (?) fast ( ? ) ] by the snare (?), The fawn-colored cow, the fertile (?) wild cow, [lies (?) crushed (?)] like a gakkul-vessel,
N a wirtum, the fertile (?) wild cow [lies (? ) crushed (?)] like a gakkul-vessel, She who did not (ever) say “I am sick'” was not cared for, Who did not (ever) … did not … the place divine (?), Like their (?) resting place, their (?) hurled … was not … Nippur is cloud-bedecked (?), in the city … , Over the multitudes has fallen a cry (?) of woe (?) … , …. , …. , Pity for her whose life has come to an end overcomes (?) them, At her being (?) laid (?) like a golden statue they (?) are anguished (?)-He who looks upon her, (how) will he not mourn (?)? The weeping women …. , The best (?) songs of the bards (?) of sweet words Are turned everywhere into laments (and) moans (?). Because (?) … had been returned (?), [they (?) utter (?)] it (?) as a song for her, Because (?) from her small … The … -stone …. , Because (?) in the lap of her husband (her) days were not prolonged, ( and so) weeping ceased not, Because (?) from his … Ninurta returned (?) not the joyful shout, Because (?) his beloved en-priestess entered not the gipar, The donkey mare which had been chosen (?) as (?) a wife (?) is not accepted (?) as a sacrifice (?). Because (?) … was brought to an end (?) at his side, He (?) rises (?) in (?) greatness (and (?) ) favor, utters a lament for her, To her (?) mother who had given birth to her (?), he … , he …. for her, Their (?) shares (?), their (?), he makes for herinto (?) a …. , Their souls (?) have come forth before (?) her, their evil (?) bodies (?) (are (?» rent (?) apart (?), Their (?) .. , workers (?), (and (?) ) kin are …. , their (?) … [are (?)] … . Because (?) … from the knee (?) …. , They did [n]ot (?) stand … , ( All) their nursemaids were …. , …. ,
Like men enraged, stones …. sick (?), From her (?) city the light from above … did not increase (?). Then [her] belo[ ved] husband all alone …. , In his city, in Nippur, the city (?) …. , Ludingirra, her [belo]ved husband, all al[one] …. , In his city, in Nippur, the city (?) …. , Approached her with (?) suffering (?) heart (?) [in (?)] … , the great dwelling place, They (?) took ( ?) his (?) hand, their (?) hearts were overwhelmed (?), His … was cut off (?) from nourishment, his breath was stifled (?), [Moans (?)] like a cow he uttered, he who had no …. -garments (?), Their (?) …. he wears, he weeps before her: “0 where now is … ! I would cry out to you, Where now are (the goddess) Meme (and) the genii, the alluring (?)! I would cry out to you, Where now is the [comely (?)] mouth (?), the attractive (?) mouth (?), the gracious mouth (?)! I would cry out to you, Where now is my attractive (?) weapon (?), the gloriously (?) fash-ioned (?) quiver! I would cry out to you, Where now is that which brightens the face (?), my princely counsel! I would cry out to you, Where now is my …. , my precious brilliant! I would cry out to you, Where now are my sweet songs which rejoice the heart! I would cry out to you, Where now is my attractive (?) weapon (?), the golden quiver which brightens the spirit! I would cry out to you, Where now are my dancing, ‘hand-lifting,’ (and) frolicking (?)! I would cry out to you. “May your way (of life) not perish (from memory), may your name be pronounced (in days to come), May the guilt of your house(hold) be erased, may your debts be annulled, May your husband stay well, may he make good as (both) man of valor (and) elder (?), May the fate of your children be propitious, may well-being be in store for them, May your house (hold) move to the fore, may its future be ample, May Utu bring forth for you light from the nether world-he who … , May Ninkurra … by (?) you, may she raise you high, Because the bitter storm has been turned (?) against you, may the horizon tum (?) it back (?)
The demon who has brought his hand against you-maya cruel curse be uttered (?) against him, Because the kindly matron lies like an ox in her splendor (?) -[bit]ter is the lament for youl”
Historiography, as had already been noted earlier in this book, was hardly a favorite literary form among the Sumerian men of letters, and the compositions about to be listed can be designated as “historiographic” only by generously stretching the accepted meaning of the word. The longest and best preserved of the Sumerian “historiographic” compositions is “The Curse of Agade: The Ekur Avenged,” which attempts to explain the catastrophic destruction of the city by the barbaric Gutian hordes. Another well-preserved historiographic document revolves about the defeat of these same Gutians by Sumer’s “savior,” Utuhegal. A third and rather brief, but historically quite signifi-cant, document concerns primarily the successive restorations of the Tummal, Ninlil’s shrine in the city of Nippur. There are also tablets and fragments which indicate that a series of legendary tales had existed clustering about Sargon the Great and his deeds, particularly those relating to his contempo-raries Ur-Zababa and Lugalzaggesi; but as yet not enough of this material has been recovered to provide us with a clear picture of its contents. Finally there is the composition concerned with Ur-Nammu’s life in the nether world, which may have been his-tOriographically motivated.
The last group of Sumerian literary documents to be consid-ered in this chapter is the “wisdom” compositions, consisting of disputations, essays long and short, and collections of precepts and proverbs. The disputation, a high favorite among the Sumer-ian men of letters, is the prototype and predecessor of the literary genre known as “tenson,” which was popular in Europe in late antiquity and in the Middle Ages. Its major component is a de-bate, a battle of words, between two opposing protagonists usually personifying a pair of contrasting animals, plants, minerals, oc-cupations, seasons, or even man-made tools and implements. The argument, which goes back and forth several times between the two rivals, consists primarily of “talking up” in most Hattering terms one’s own value and importance and of “talking down” those of the opponent. All of this is written in poetic form, however, since the Sumerian men of letters were the direct heirs of the illiterate minstrels of much earlier days, and poetry came to them more naturally than prose. The disputation composition was often rounded out formally with an appropriate mytholOgical in-troduction which told of the creation of the protagonists and with a fitting ending in which the dispute was settled in favor of one or the other of the rivals by divine decision.
As of today, seven such disputations are known: (1) “The Dispute between Summer and Winter,” (2) “The Dispute be-tween Cattle and Grain,” (3) “The Dispute between the Bird and the Fish,” (4) “The Dispute between the Tree and the Reed,” ( 5) “The Dispute between Silver and Mighty Copper,” (6) “The Dispute between the Pickax and the Plough,” and (7) “The Dispute between the Millstone and the gulgul-stone.” Except for the last named, these compositions range in size from close to two hundred to just over three hundred lines. The two largest and best preserved are “The Dispute between Summer and Winter” and ”’The Dispute between Cattle and Grain”; the following sketch of their contents will illustrate the style and strllcture, the tone and flavor of the genre as a whole.
“The Dispute between Summer and Winter” begins wi~ a mythological introduction which informs us that Enlil, the leading deity of the Sumerian pantheon, has set his mind to bring forth all sorts of trees and grain and to establish abundance and pros-perity in the land. For this purpose, two semidivine beings, the brothers Emesh, “Summer,” and Enten, “Winter,” are created, and Enlil assigns to each his specific duties, which they executed thus:
Enten made the ewe give birth to the lamb, the goat to give birth to the kid, Cow and caH to multiply, fat and milk to increase, In the plain he made rejoice the heart of the wild goat, sheep, and donkey, The birds of heaven-in the wide earth he made them set up their nests, The fish of the sea-in the canebrake he made them lay their eggs, In the palm grove and vineyard he made honey and wine abound, The trees, wherever planted, he caused to bear fruit, The gardens he decked out in green, made their plants luxuriant,
Made grain increase in the furrows, Like Ashnan (the grain-goddess), the kindly maid, he made it come forth sturdily. Emesh brought into being the trees and fields, made wide the stalls and the sheepfolds, In the farms he multiplied produce, bedecked the earth …. , Caused the abundant harvest to be brought into the houses, the granaries to be heaped high, Cities and habitation to be founded, houses to be built in the land, Temples to rise mountain high.
Their mission accomplished, the two brothers decide to come to Nippur to the «house of life” and bring thank-offerings to their father Enlil. Emesh brings sundry wild and domestic animals, birds, and plants as his gift, while Enten chooses precious metals and stones, trees and fish as his offering. But at the door of the “house of life,” the jealous Enten starts a quarrel with his brother. The arguments go back and forth between them, and finally Emesh challenges Enten’s claim to the position of “farmer of the gods.” And so they betake themselves to Enlirs great temple, the Ekur, and each states his case. Thus Enten complains to Enlil:
Father Enlil, you have given me charge of the canals, I brought the water of abundance, Farm I made touch farm, heaped high the granaries, I made grain increase in the furrows, Like Ashnan, the kindly maid, I made it come forth sturdily, Now Emesh, the …. , who has no understanding for fields, Has jostled by … arm and … shoulder, At the kings palace. . ..
Emesh’s version of the quarrel, which begins with several Hatter-ing phrases cunningly directed to win Enlil’s favor, is brief but as yet unintelligible. Then
Enlil answers Emesh and Enten, “The life-producing waters of all the lands-Enten is in charge of them. Farmer of the gods-he produces everything, Emesh, my son, how do you compare yourself with your brother Entenl” The exalted word of Enlil, with meaning profound, Whose verdict is unalterable, who dares transgress itl Emesh bent the knee before Enten, offered him a prayer,
Into his house he brought nectar, wine, and beer, They sate themselves with heart-cheering nectar, wine, and beer, Emesh presents Enten with gold, silver, and lapis lazuli, In brotherhood and companionship they pour joyous libations …. In the dispute between Emesh and Enten, Enten, the faithful farmer of the gods, having proved himself the victor over Emesh, … Father Enlil, praisel
In “The Dispute between Cattle and Grain,” the two protago-nists are the cattle-goddess, Lahar, and her sister, the grain-god-dess, Ashnan. These two, according to our myth, were created in the creation chamber of the gods in order that the Anunnaki, the children of the heaven-god, An, might have food to eat and clothes to wear. But the Anunnaki were unable to make effective use of cattle and grain until man was created. All this is told in an in-troductory passage which reads:
Mter on the mountain of heaven and earth, An (the heaven-god) had caused the Anunnaki (his followers) to be born, Because the name Ashnan had not been born, had not been fashioned, Because Uttu (the goddess of clothing) had not been fashioned, Because to Uttu no temenos had been set up, There was no ewe, no lamb was dropped, There was no goat, no kid was dropped, The ewe did not give birth to its two lambs, The goat did not give birth to its three kids, Because the name of Ashnan, the wise, and Lahar, The Anunnaki, the great gods, did not know, The shesh-grain of thirty days did not exist, The shesh-grain of forty days did not exist, The small grains, the grain of the mountain, the grain of the pure living creatures did not exist.
Because Uttu had not been born, because the crown (of vegetation) had not been raised, Because the lord … had not been born, Because Sumugan, the god of the plain, had not come forth, Like mankind when first created, They (the Anunnaki) knew not the eating of bread, Knew not the dressing of garments,
Ate plants with their mouths like sheep, Drank water from the ditch. In those days, in the creation chamber of the gods, In their house Duku, Lahar and Ashnan were fashioned; The produce of Lahar and Ashnan, The Anunnaki of the Duku eat but remain unsated; In their pure sheepfolds shum-milk, the good, The Anunnaki of the Duku drink but remain unsated; For the sake of their pure sheepfolds, the good, Man was given breath.
The passage following the introduction describes the descent of Lahar and Ashnan from heaven to earth and the cultural benefits which they bestow on mankind:
In those days Enki says to Enlil: “Father Enlil, Lahar and Ashnan, They who have been created in the Duku, Let us cause them to descend from the Duku.” At the pure word of Enki and Enlil, Lahar and Ashnan descend from the Duku, For Lahar they (Enlil and Enki) set up the sheepfold, Plants and herbs in abundance they present to her. For Ashnan they establish a house, Plough and yoke they present to her. Lahar standing in her sheepfold, A shepherdess increasing the bounty of the sheepfold is she; Ashnan standing among the crops, A maid kindly and bountiful is she. Abundance which comes from heaven, Lahar and Ashnan caused to appear (on earth), In the assembly they brought abundance, In the land they brought the breath of life, The me’s of the god they direct, The contents of the warehouses they multiply, The storehouses they fill full. In the house of the poor, hugging the dust, Entering they bring abundance; The pair of them, wherever they stand, Bring heavy increase into the house;
The place where they stand they sate, the place where they sit they supply,
They made good the heart of An and Enlil.
But then Lahar and Ashnan drank much wine, and so they began to quarrel in the farms and fields. In the arguments which ensued, each deity extolled her own achievements and belittled those of the other. Finally, Enlil and Enki intervened and de-clared Ashnan the victor.
There are four compositions of the disputation type which in one way or another conern the Sumerian school and its personnel and graduates. Two of these, “The Disputation between Enki-mansi and Gimishag” and “The Colloquy between an ugula and a Scribe,” are treated in detail in the chapter On education. To these can now be added “The Disputation between Enkita and Enkihegal” and “The Disputation between Two School Graduates.”
The “Disputation between Enkita and Enkihegal,” which consists of about two hundred and fifty lines, beginS with the rather surprising statement, “Fellows, today we don’t work,” and con-tinues with a series of about twenty paragraphs, most of which are from four to five lines in length, replete with insults and taunts hurled by the two protagonists against each other. Here, for ex-ample, we find one saying to the other caustically:
Where is he, where is he (this fellow), who compares his pedigree to my pedigree I Neither on the female side nor on the male side can he compare his pedigree to my pedigree. Neither on the master’s side nor on the slave’s side is your pedigree like mine.
To which the other retorts: Wait now, don’t brag so, you have no future.
which only adds fuel to the fire: What do you mean I have no future I My future is every bit as good as your future. Both from the point of view of wealth, as well as of pedigree, my future is as good as your future.
Or take this acrimonious paragraph in which the one taunts the other as a most unmusical fellow: You have a harp, but know no music, You who are the “water boy” of (your) colleagues,
(Your) tproat (?) can’t sound a note, You stutter (your) Sumerian, can’t make a straight speech, Can’t sing a hymn, can’t open (your) mouth, And you are an accomplished fellow!
Finally, after one of the antagonists had cast aspersions on the members of the family of his oppqnent, they decided to go to their “city” and have their colleagues decide between them. But, if I understand correctly the rather obscure and ambiguous text at this point, they were advised to go to the ugula, “the supervisor(?),” in the edubba, and he, the ugula, decided that both were at fault and scolded them for wasting their time in quarrels and disputes.
“The Disputation between the Two School Graduates” is a composition of about one hundred and forty lines which begins with a highly boastful address by one of the protagonists intro-duced by the sentence “Old grad, come, let us debate.” The rival responds accordingly, and the insults fiy back and forth to the very end of the composition, which closes with a vituperative blast by one of the antagonists consisting of twenty-eight lines full of vitriolic abuse.
Finally, there is a disputation between two unnamed ladies (it is written not in the main Sumerian dialect but in the Emesal, the dialect ordinarily reserved in the Sumerian literary texts for the female of the species) which is every bit as vituperative and venomous as that between the rival schoolmen. The composition consists of over two hundred lines divided into some twenty-five paragraphs which are filled with derisive taunts and scurrilous, sarcastic sneers.
Unlike the disputation-type of composition, the essay seems to have found little favor among the Sumerian men of letters; at present, at least, we have but few compositions that could be classified as essays. There are the Job-like poetic document con-cerned with human suffering and submission (see pages 126-29); two essays, partly in dialogue form, concerned with life in the edubba and the value of education (both treated in detail in chapter vi); and a rather brief essay inscribed on a tablet in the Hilprecht Collection at Jena, which appears to describe an evil and hated man by the name of Tani, who practiced violence, hated righteousness and truth, was arbitrary in the assembly, and in fact acted abominably all around. There are also, perhaps, a number of very brief or miniature essays on various subjects, but at the moment little can be said of the true nature of their content.
There are three Sumerian collections of precepts and instruc-tions: “The Farmers’ Almanac” (see pages 340-42), “The Instruc-tions of Shuruppak to His Son Ziusudra,” which consists of practical admonitions for wise and effective behavior, and a third, which seems to consist of moral and ethical admonitions, although it is only fragmentarily preserved. The second of these, “The Instruc-tions of Shuruppak to His Son Ziusudra,” is rather interesting be-cause of its stylistic device of ascribing whole wisdom collections to presumably very wise rulers of the distant past, a characteristic feature of the Biblical Book of Proverbs. For although these pre-cepts were probably compiled sometime around 2000 B.C., they were attributed to King Shuruppak, who was the father of Ziusudra, the Sumerian Noah, eVidently a suitable candidate for the position of sage par excellence. The Biblical flavor of this composition is evident even in its initial lines, which read in part:
Shuruppak gave instructions to his son, Shuruppak,the son of Ubartutu, Gave instructions to his son Ziusudra: “My son, I would instruct you, take my instruction, Ziusudra, I would utter a word to you, give heed to it; Do not neglect my instruction, Do not transgress the word I uttered, The father’s instruction, the precious, carry out diligently.”
And so we come to the last type of composition in the wisdom genre, the proverb. The total extant Sumerian proverb material consists roughly of about seven hundred tablets and fragments, the great majority of which were unidentified until 1953. A fair proportion of the tablets had originally contained whole collec-tions of proverbs or extensive excerpts from such collections.
The rest were school practice tablets containing either very short excerpts of the collections or, often enough, only a single proverb. Edmund Gordon, my former student and assistant, has now studied carefully the entire extant proverb material; he concludes that the ancient Sumerian scribes had produced at least fifteen to twenty different standard proverb compilations, of which about ten to twelve can now be reconstructed in large part. These con-tain more than a thousand proverbs between them.
In about half of the collections, the proverbs were arranged in groups accord-ing to the initial signs. In the others, the proverbs were not ar-ranged in groupings based on key words, and although proverbs with similar subject matter occasionally appear side by side, the criterion for the order of arrangement is not apparent. Be that as it may, the Sumerian proverbs reveal a keen if not always Battering evaluation of the human scene and the drives and motives, the hopes and longings, and the paradoxes and contradictions which pervade it. Here now are a selected few of the more in-telligible proverbs as translated in large part by Edmund Gordon:
- Let what’s mine stay unused; but let me use what is yours-this will (hardly) endear a man to his friends’ household.
- You don’t tell me what you have found; you only tell what you have lost.
- Possessions are sparrows in Hight which can find no place to alight.
- Don’t pick it now; later it will bear fruit.
- He who eats much can’t sleep.
- It’s not the heart which leads to enmity; it’s the tongue which leads to enmity.
- Tell a lie; then if you tell the truth it will be deemed a lie.
- Into an open mouth, a fly enters.
- The traveler from distant places is a perennial liar.
- Build like a lord-live like a slave; build like a slave-live like a lord.
- Hand to hand-a man’s house is built; stomach to stomach-a man’s house is destroyed.
- Poorly fed-grandly living
- When walking, come now, keep your feet on the ground.
- Friendship lasts a day; kinship lasts forever.
- Who has much silver may be happy; who has much grain may be glad; but he who has nothing can sleep.
- A sweet word is everybody’s friend.
- A loving heart builds the home; a hating heart destroys the home.
- The desert canteen is a man’s life; the shoe is a man’s eye; the wife is a man’s future; the son is a man’s refuge; the daughter is a man’s salvation; the daughter-in-law is a man’s devil.
- Marry a wife according to your choice; have a child as your heart desires.
- A “delinquent,” his mother should never have given birth to him, his god should never have fashioned him.
- A scribe who knows not Sumerian, what kind of scribe is he?
- A scribe whose hand moves as fast as the mouth, that’s a scribe for you.
- A singer whose voice is not sweet is a poor singer indeed.
- In a city without (watch)dogs, the fox is the overseer.
- The fox trod upon the hoof of the wild ox, saying, “Didn’t it hurt?”
- A cat-for its thoughts I A mongoose-for its deeds!
In conclusion, we must say just a word about the ancient Su-merian literary catalogues which developed no doubt out of the need of handling, storing, and recording the thousands of tablets of varied shapes and sizes that were inscribed with hundreds of literary compositions. As of today, seven catalogues dating from the second millennium B.C. have been unearthed and are now located as follows: one in the Iraq Museum in Baghdad; one in the Louvre; one in the University Museum of the University of Pennsylvania; one in the Berlin Museum; two in the Hilprecht Collection in the Friedrich-Schiller University in Jena; and one temporarily in the British Museum. All in all, these seven cata-logues list the titles of over two hundred Sumerjan compositions, or “books,” the title usually consisting of the first part of the first line. Two of the catalogues restrict their listings to hymns. The remaining five are not so limited, but contain the titles of various types of compositions. The principles which guided their writers are by no means clear; a priori one might have expected the na-ture of the contents of the compositions to have been the de-termining criterion, but this is only rarely the case. One of the catalogues, that at the Iraq Museum, specifically states that it is a list of tablets assembled in certain containers, and this may be true of several of the other catalogues.
Only recently, an eighth literary catalogue of a rather different kind from the other seven has been identified by the editors of the Assyrian Dictionary of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, who also translated a few lines from it. This text is of particular importance, since, to judge from the script, it dates from as early as the Third Dynasty of Ur, a period from which almost no literary documents have been recovered to date. Un-fortunately, the text, just because it has no later parallels, is very difficult to interpret, and the following translation, which owes a great deal to my former assistant Miguel Civil, is to be taken as a pioneer and preliminary effort:
From the initial tablet (of the composition entitled) “Enki Has As-cended to the Dining Hall” to (the tablet beginning with the words) “Heaven’s zenith” (are the following four tablets beginning with the words):
Who knows the eclipses, the mother of him who knows the in-cantations, At the nodding canebrake, The … gods of battle, The inimical, fighting twins;
(All these tablets are inscribed with) consecutive sections of (the composition entitled) “Enki Has Ascended to the Dining Hall” (and are found) inside one “well.”
From the initial tablet (of the composition entitled) “The God Lilia” to (the tablet beginning with the words) “The … of the journey are seven” (are the following three tablets beginning with the words) :
In the seven … I made enter, Let the young man have (his) arms fastened, The .•. of the great. .. ;
(All these tablets are inscribed with) consecutive sections of (the composition entitled) ‘The God Lilia” (and are found) inside one “well”
(As for the composition entitled) “The Feet of the Man of Trust-worthy Words Who ..• ,” (the tablets inscribed with) its consecutive sections have not been found.
(The tablets inscribed with) the consecutive sections of (the compo-sition entitled) “Who Goes Forth against the Inimical City.”
It is not impossible that this particular catalogue was prepared to list the tablets recovered from wells, where they may have been hidden for one reason or another; the statement near the end that one of the compositions has not been found, if the rendering is correct, seems to corroborate this surmise. As for the last two lines, these seem to be left hanging in mid-air, and there is no way of knowing what the ancient scribes meant by this notation.