Sumerian Songs

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Authors born before 1000 BCE

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Contents

Introduction

My Honey-Sweet

My Beloved Met Me

As I was Strolling

Vigorously He Sprouted

Let Me Teach You the Lies of Women

Erect for Me My Flowered Bed

Man Of My Heart

Lullaby for a Son

Lu-dingir-ra's Praise of his Mother

Sources

 

 

 

Introduction

 

Our oldest written records come from the civilization of Sumer, which arose in around the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in what is now southern Iraq. Sumerian cuneiform documents dating as far back as 3100 BCE have been found and a flourishing  literature developed, which reached its peak in the centuries around 2000 BCE. This literature contains a large collection of love songs, most of them incorporated into larger works that formed the verbal accompaniment to annual fertility festivals. What were intense expressions of love between an individual man and a woman became wrapped into the larger context of the ceremonial union of male and female fertility gods, a union considered essential to gaining flourishing crops and bountiful livestock.

    

The male god Dumuz appears to have originally been Dumuzi, a mythical Sumerian king of Erech who reigned sometime in the third millenium after Lugulbanda. The female, Inanna, was a goddess of erotic love and fertility. Various myths link these two. In one, Inanna enters the underworld and can only escape by killing Dumuz so he can take her place. Dumuz then persuades his sister to replace him for half of the year, providing the myth of a vegetation god that disappears underground during winter.

   

In later times, the ceremony for ensuring the return of spring and successful farming required the local king to assume the role of Dumuz and a cultic priestess to take the role of Inanna. The sexual union of the two was the climax of climaxes in a city-wide celebration of several days at the New Year. Such festivals persisted in changing form into Roman times, where it appeared as the feast of the Saturnalia. The king’s performance in this Sumerian festival was essential for the well-being of an ancient community. The king should be demonstrably strong and virile, because he was the ceremonial link with the gods and the good harvests they alone could ensure. Testing the king on a regular basis showed that he could still fulfill his role..

    

In the Semitic language, the Sumerian name Dumuz becomes Tammuz, and Inanna becomes Ishtar or Ashtoreth. And as Semites replaced Sumerians, the extended performance of a sacred union or marriage rite continued, adapting to the requirements of later cultures. Samuel Kramer, a noted Sumerologist and Biblical scholar, suggests that the Biblical Song of Songs is an edited and expurgated version of the Sumerian hymns to Tammuz and Ishtar. In each, the lover is both king and shepherd, the bride is also referred to as his sister, the dialogues and monologues of the two are interspersed with a chorus, ornate figures of speech are used, vegetation themes of garden, orchard, and field appear, the bride brings her lover to her mother’s house. The resemblance of the two texts can be seen by comparing the words of the ecstatic bride of the Semitic king Shu-Sin (about 2,000 BCE), in first extract below, with the first four verses of the Song of Songs:

 

The song of all songs that was Solomon’s

May he smother me with kisses.

    

Your love is more fragrant than wine,

fragrant is the scent of your perfume,

and your name like perfume poured out;

for this the maidens love you.

Take me with you, and we will run together;

bring me into your chamber, O king.

   

Not all Sumerian songs or poetry served an erotic function. There were also lullabies and praise poems, as shown in the last two extracts. In the latter, a royal courier is asked to convey Lu-dinger-ra's salutations to his mother in Nippur . The text is a hymn of praise to the mother, detailing as it does five signs that identify the beauty of the mother so that the messenger can recognize her. As Nippur was the ancient religious capital of Sumer, it is possible that the “mother” is a goddess at a temple there.

    

In addition to the material that has been excluded as a result of selecting specific extracts, there are gaps in the original cuneiform records where the complete text has not been discovered. These gaps are indicated by ellipsis dots.

   

 

1 Man Of My Heart

 

Man of my heart, my beloved man,

your allure is a sweet thing, as sweet as honey.

Man of my heart, my beloved man,

your allure is a sweet thing, as sweet as honey.

 

You have captivated me,

of my own free will I will come to you.

Man, let me flee with youinto the bedroom.

You have captivated me;

of my own free will I shall come to you.

Lad, let me flee with youinto the bedroom.

 

Man, let me do the sweetest things to you.

My precious sweet, let me bring you honey.

In the bedchamber dripping with honey

let us enjoy over and over your allure, the sweet thing.

Lad, let me do the sweetest things to you.

My precious sweet, let me bring you honey.

 

Man, you have become attracted to me.

Speak to my mother and I will give myself to you;

speak to my father and he will make a gift of me.

I know where to give physical pleasure to your body—

sleep, man, in our house till morning.

I know how to bring heart's delight to your heart—

sleep, lad, in our house till morning.

 

Since you have fallen in love with me, man,

if only you would do your sweet thing to me.

My lord and god, my lord and guardian angel,

my Cu-Suen who cheers Enlil's heart,

if only you would handle your sweet place,

if only you would grasp your place that is sweet as honey.

Put your hand there for me

like the cover on a measuring cup.

Spread your hand there for me

like the cover on a cup of wood shavings.

 

 

2   My Beloved Met Me

 

My beloved met me,

Took his pleasure of me, rejoiced as one with me.

The brother brought me into his house,

Laid me down on a fragrant honey-bed.

My precious sweet, lying be my heart,

One by one "tongue making", one by one,

My brother of fairest face did so fifty times, . . .

My precious sweet is sated [saying]:

Set me free sister, set me free,

Come my beloved sister, I would go to the palace . . .

 

 

3  My Honey-Sweet

 

"My dearest, my dearest, my dearest, my darling,

my darling, my honey of her own mother,

my sappy vine, my honey-sweet,

my honey-mouthed of her mother!

 

"The gazing of your eyes is pleasant to me;

come my beloved sister.

The speaking of your mouth is pleasant to me,

my honey-mouthed of her mother.

The kissing of your lips is pleasant to me;

come my beloved sister.

 

"My sister, the beer of your barley is good,

my honey-mouthed of her mother.

The ale of your beer-bread is good;

come my beloved sister.

 

"My desirable one, my desirable one,

your charms are lovely,

my desirable apple garden,

your charms are lovely.

My fruitful garden of mes trees,

your charms are lovely,

my one who is in himself Dumuzid-abzu,

your charms are lovely.

My holy statuette, my holy statuette,

your charms are lovely.

My alabaster statuette adorned with a lapis-lazuli jewel,

your charms are lovely."

            

 

 

4 As I was Strolling

 

As I was strolling, as I was strolling,

as I was strolling ...... the house,

as I was strolling, he caught sight of my Inana.

 

"What did the brother say to you and speak to you?

He of the loving heart and most sweet charms

offered you a gift, my holy Inana.

As I looked in that direction,

my beloved man met you,

and he fell in love with you,

and he delighted in you alone!

The brother brought you into his house

and had you lie down on a bed dripping with honey."

 

When my sweet precious, my heart, had lain down too,

each of them in turn kissing with the tongue,

each in turn, then my brother of the beautiful eyes

did it fifty times to her, exhaustedly waiting for her,

as she trembled underneath him, dumbly silent for him.

My dear precious passed the time

with my brother laying his hands on her hips.

            

 

 

5 Vigorously He Sprouted

 

Vigorously he sprouted,

      vigorously he sprouted and sprouted,

      watered itit being lettuce!

In his black garden of the desert bearing much yield

      did my darling of his mother,

my barley stalk full of allure in its furrow,

      water itit being lettuce,

did my onea very apple tree bearing fruit at the top

      water itit being a garden!

 

The honey-sweet man, the honey-sweet man,

      was doing sweet (things) to me!

My lord, the honey-sweet man, the godly one,

      my darling of his mother,

his hands honey sweet, his feet honeying,

      was doing sweet (things) to me!

His limbs being sweet, sweet honey,

      he was doing sweet (things) to me!

 

O my one who of a sudden was doing sweet (things)

      to the whole (insides up) to the navel,

      my darling of his mother,

my desert-honey loins, darling of his mother,

      you watered itit being lettuce!

 

 

 

6 Let Me Teach You the Lies of Women

 

While I, the lady, was passing the day yesterday,

while I, Inana, was passing the day yesterday,

while I was passing the day, while I was dancing,

while I was singing songs all day until evening,

he met me, he met me.

The lord, the friend of An, met me;

the lord took me in his hands,

Ucumgal-ana embraced me about my neck.

 

"......, let me go, so that I can go to our house!

Friend of Enlil, let me go, so that I can go to our house!

What lie can I offer to my mother?

What lie can I offer to my mother Ningal?"

 

"Let me teach you, let me teach you! Inana,

let me teach you the lies of women:

 

"My girlfriend was dancing with me in the square.

She ran around playfully with me, banging the drum.

She sang her sweet songs for me.

I passed the day there with her in pleasure and delight."

 

Offer this as a lie to your own mother.

As for uslet me make love with you by moonlight!

Let me loosen your combs on the holy and luxuriant couch.

May you pass a sweet day there with me in voluptuous pleasure."

              

 

 

7 Erect for Me My Flowered Bed

 

Let them erect for me my flowered bed.

Let them spread it for me

with herbs like translucent lapis lazuli.

For me let them bring in the man of my heart.

Let them bring in to me my Ama-ucumgal-ana.

Let them put his hand in my hand,

let them put his heart by my heart.

As hand is put to head, the sleep is so pleasant.

As heart is pressed to heart, the pleasure is so sweet."

   

 

8   Lullaby for a Son

 

Ah, ah, may he grow sturdy through my crooning,

may he flourish through my crooning!

May he put down strong foundations as roots,

may he spread branches wide like a cakir plant!

Lord, from this you know our whereabouts;

among those resplendent apple trees overhanging the river,

may someone who passes by reach out his hand,

may someone lying there raise his hand.

My son, sleep will overtake you, sleep will settle on you.

 

Sleep come, sleep come,

sleep come to my son,

sleep hasten to my son!

Put to sleep his open eyes,

settle your hand upon his sparkling eyes—

as for his murmuring tongue,

let the murmuring not spoil his sleep.

May he fill your lap with emmer

while I sweeten miniature cheeses for you,

those cheeses that are the healer of mankind,

that are the healer of mankind,

and of the lord's son, the son of lord Culgi.

 In my garden, it is the lettuces that I have watered,

and among the lettuces it is the gakkul lettuce

that I have chopped.

Let the lord eat this lettuce!

Through my crooning let me give him a wife,

let me give him a wife, let me give him a son!

May a happy nursemaid chatter with him,

may a happy nursemaid suckle him!

             

          

 

9   Lu-dingir-ra's Praise of his Mother

 

Royal courier, start on your way,

As a special envoy, give this message to Nippur,

Start the long journey!

No matter if my mother is up or if she is sleeping,

Take the straight path to her dwelling.

The name is Sat-Istar, go to (her) with these instructions.

Messenger, without looking at my greetings,

Put into her hands the letter of greeting.

If you do not know my mother, I shall give you some signs:

 

My mother is joyful, she is covered with ornaments.

Her body, face and limbs are smooth. . .

Does not disobey the orders of her lord,

She is energetic and makes her affairs prosper.

Is loving, gentle and lively.

She is a lamb, good cream and sweet butter flow from her.

 

I shall give you a second sign about my mother:

My mother is like a bright light on the horizon, a doe in the mountains,

A morning star at noon.

A precious carnelian-stone, a topaz from Marhasi.

A treasure for the brother of the king, full of charm.

A seal of nir-stone, an ornament like a sun,

A tin bracelet, a ring of antasurra,

Bright gold, silver—

She is alive, a breathing thing.

An alabaster statuette, placed on a pedestal of lapis-lazuli—

A living figurine, her limbs are full of charm.

 

  I shall give you a third sign about my mother:

My mother is a heavenly rain, water for the best seeds,

A bountiful harvest, which grows a second crop:

A garden of delight, full of joy,

An irrigated fir-tree, covered with fir-cones:

An early fruit, the yield of the first month;

A canal which brings luxuriant waters to the irrigation ditches,

A sweet Dilmun date, sought in its prime.

 

I shall give you a fourth sign about my mother:

My mother fills songs and prayers with joy,

Her glance is sparklinq in the Akitum-festival.

Like a princess, a song of abundance,

She brings joy to the dancing places,

A lover, a loving heart of inexhaustible delight,

Food for the captive, who returns to his mother.

 

I shall give you a fifth sign about my mother:

My mother is a palm-tree, with a very sweet smell.

A chariot of pine-wood, a litter of box-wood.

A bunch of fruits, a garland growing luxuriantly.

A phial of ostrich shell, overflowing with perfumed oil.

When you stand in her radiant presence,

Thanks to the signs I gave you,

Say to her: "Your beloved son Lu-dingir-ra greets you!"

                   From The Message of Lu-dingir-ra to his Mother

 

Sources

 

Introduction, 2  History Begins at Sumer, by Samuel Noah Kramer. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 1981.

 

1  From A Love Song of Shu-Suen (Shu-Suen B); 3  From A Balbale to Inana and Dumuzid (Dumuzid-Inana B); 4  From A Balbale to Inana and Dumuzid (Dumuzid-Inana D);  6  From A Tigi to Inana and Dumuzid (Dumuzid-Inana H); 7  From A Song of Inana and Dumuzid (Dumuzid-Inana T); 8  From A Lullaby for a Son of Shulgi (Shulgi N).

     Black, J.A., Cunningham, G. Fluckiger-Hawker, E., Robson, E., and Zôlyomi, G., The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature  (ETCSL), Oxford 1998-. Copyright © J. A. Black,  G. Cunningham, E.  Robson, and G. Zôlyomi 1998, 1999, 2000;2001. Reading Sumerian Poetry by Jeremy Black, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York, 1998.

 

5 The Harps that once. . ., Sumerian Poetry in Translation by Thorkild Jacobsen. Yale University Press, New Haven, 1987. Copyright © 1987 by Yale University. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission of Yale University Press.

 

9  Extracts from The “Message of Lu-dingir-ra to his Mother” and a Group of Akkado-Hittite “Proverbs”. M. Civil. Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 23, 1964, published by the University of Chicago Press, copyright © 1964 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved.  

 

Introduction and selection of  extracts Copyright © Rex Pay 2002, 2007