Sumerian Scribes

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Authors born before 1000 BCE

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Praise of Urukagina

Praise of Gudea

Praise of Ur-Nammu

Fragment with Ur-Nammu Law Code

Praise of Shulgi

The Lament for Sumer and Urim

Lugalbanda in the Mountain Cave






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. The chief cities such as Uruk, Nippur, Ur, and Lagash play a prominent role in the history of the region, being built and destroyed many times over as wars developed between the city states and between them and the surrounding tribes. The Uruk period, 3,750-3150 BCE, saw the emergence of warrior kings, magnificent temples, intensive agriculture by means of irrigation, and the first pictographic writing in 3300 BCE. The early kings gained mythical status,  most notably in the case of Lugualbanda and Gilgamesh, whose myths have survived


Pictographic writing evolved into the cueiform script, made with a reed pressed into soft clay. As clay lasts far longer than vegetable materials, Sumerian cuneiform documents dating as far back as 3100 BCE have been found. A flourishing cuneiform literature in the Sumerian language developed, reaching its peak in the centuries around 2000 BCE. The Sumerian language is not part of the Indo-European group and was replaced in the second millenium by Semitic languages as tribes from the Western deserts and elsewhere moved into the fertile crescent and conquered the area, giving rise to the civilizations of Babylon and Assyria. 


Some insight into Sumerian values can be gained from praise poems written for kings. While the kings may not always live up to this praise they show the type of achievments that they wished to be remembered by. The ones used here to provide characteristic extracts praise Urukagina (Uruinimagina, c 2350) and Gudea (2141-2122), who ruled from Lagash, and Ur-Nammu (2112-2095) and Shulgi (Culgi, 2094-2047), who ruled from Ur. Urukagina appears as a social reformer, getting rid of gross abuses of power that had taken hold in Lagash. He ruled for only eight years, after which the abuses must have returned, because Gudea, a few centuries later, instituted similar reforms. Gudea was also an energetic builder of temples, the most elaborate being at Girsu. The surviving text describing its construction provides insight into the richness of his city state and the dispersed regions from which Sumer acquired resources. As he is not recorded as a constant warrior, many of these materials were probably acquired in trading.


Ur-Nammu is famous for the Ziggurats he built, predecessors perhaps of the pyramids of Egypt, but without a tomb chamber. He also actively developed canals and irrigation systems and promulgated the earliest written legal code that  has been discovered (an alternative view is that it was set down by his son Shulgi). The fragment found shows some humaness in the Summerian king, in that did not adhere to the eye-for-an-eye type of retribution found in the later law code of the Semitic king, Hammurabi. For his son, Shulgi we have a very elaborate praise poem, showing him taking pride in leadership, good government, public works (canals, irrigation, gardens, lodges), fairness, humanity, writing skills, ability with languages, and musicianship. 


 The splendid cities of these kings were continually destroyed, either by other city states or by invaders. Laments for the fall of cities against the onslaught of attackers, often described as a storm, show recognition of the horrors of war and of the great loss that occurs when a civilization collapses. It also gives us a sense of the level of civilization achieved at Sumer. The lament for the downfall of Sumer and Urim (2004 BCE) records the disastrous fall of the gifted Third Dynasty of Sumer. The attack was from the people of Elam and Sua, who invaded Sumer from mountainous regions to the north. Ur itself fell after a long and bloody siege, which is described within the lament.


Epics, like that of Lugalbanda in the Mountain Cave, show compassion towards the sick and give insight into individual resourcefulness, as well as proving some understanding of how related myths of resurrection may have arisen later. The myth of Gilgamesh is described in the chapter on the Babylonian scribe Sin-leq-unnini.


The extracts below cover these various topics. In addition to the material that has been excluded as a result of selecting specific extracts, gaps remain in the original cuneiform records. These gaps are indicated by ellipsis dots. In these extracts, Enlil is the chief god of Sumer; Utu is the sun or the sun god.




Praise of Urukagina


1   Since time immemorial, since life began, in those days, the head boatman appropriated boats, the livestock official appropriated asses, the livestock official appropriated sheep, and the fisheries inspector appropriated ....

     The shepherds of wool sheep paid a duty in silver on account of white sheep, and the surveyor, chief lamentation-singer, supervisor, brewer and foremen paid a duty in silver on account of young lambs. . .

     These were the conventions of former times!


2   When Ningirsu, warrior of Enlil, granted the kingship of Lagash to Urukagina, selecting him from among the myriad people, he replaced the customs of former times, carrying out the command that Ningirsu, his master, had given him.


3   He removed the head boatman from control over the boats, he removed the livestock official from control over asses and sheep, he removed the fisheries inspector from control....


4   He removed the silo supervisor from control over the grain taxes of the guda-priests, he removed the bureaucrat responsible for the paying of duties in silver on account of white sheep and young lambs, and he removed the bureaucrat responsible for the delivery of duties by the temple administrators to the palace.


5   The... administrators no longer plunder the orchards of the poor. When a high quality ass is born to a shublugal, and his foreman says to him, "I want to buy it from you"; whether he lets him buy it from him and says to him "Pay me the price I want!," or whether he does not let him buy it from him, the foreman must not strike at him in anger.


6   When the house of an aristocrat adjoins the house of a shublugal, and the aristocrat says to him, "I want to buy it from you"; whether he lets him buy it from him, having said to him, "Pay me the price I want! My house is a large containerfill it with barley for me!," or whether he does not let him buy it from him, that aristocrat must not strike at him in anger.


7   He cleared and cancelled obligations for those indentured families, citizens of Lagash living as debtors because of grain taxes, barley payments, theft or murder.


8   Urukagina solemnly promised Ningirsu that he would never subjugate the waif and the widow to the powerful.



Praise of Gudea


9   I had debts remitted and "washed all hands."

For seven days no grain was ground.

The slave-woman was allowed to be equal to her mistress,

the slave was allowed to walk side by side with his master.

In my city the one unclean to someone

was permitted to sleep outside.


10   I paid attention to the justice ordained by Nanse and Ningirsu;

I did not expose the orphan to the wealthy person

nor did I expose the widow to the influential one.

In a house having no male child

I let the daughter become its heir.


11   He purified the holy city and encircled it with fires . . . He collected clay in a very pure place; in a pure place he made silt into the bricks and put the bricks into the mould. He followed the rites in all their splendor: he purified the foundations of the temple, surrounded it with fires, anointed the platforms with an aromatic balm . . .

       From Elam came the Elamites, from Susa the Susians. Magan and Muluhha collected timber from their mountains . . . and Gudea brought them together inf his town Girsu.

         Gudea, the great en-priest ooof Ningirsu, made a path into the Cedar mountains which nobody had entered before; he cut its cedars with great axes . . .like giant snakes, cedars were floating down the water (river) . . .

       In the quarries  that nobdoy had entered before, Gudea,, the great en-priest of Ningirsu, made a patyh and then the stones were delivered in large blocks . . . Many other precious metals were carried to the ensi. From the Copper mountinas of Kimash . . . its mountains as dust . . . For Gudea, the mined silver from its mountains, delivered red stone from Meluhha in great amount . . .


Praise of Ur-Nammu


12   Enlil has given me the task of keeping the Land secure, with unscathed troops. I am clad in linen in the jipar. I lie down on the splendid bed in its delightful bedchamber. I cause the people to eat splendid food; I am their Enkimdu (i.e. the god of irrigation and cultivation) . I am the good shepherd whose sheep multiply greatly.

    Since I have been adorned with their rulership, no one imposes taxes on my abundant crops which grow tall. My commands bring about joy in the great fortresses of the mountains. The joy of my city and the territory of Sumer delights me. I release water into the canals of Sumer, making the trees grow tall on their banks.


13   In my city I dug a canal of abundance and named it the Kec-kug canal; in Urim, I dug a canal of abundance and named it the Kec-kug canal. I named it the Pabi-luh canal, a lasting name worthy to be praised. The watercourse of my city is full of fish, and the air above it is full of birds. The watercourse of Urim is full of fish, and the air above it is full of birds. In my city honey-plants are planted, and the carp grow fat. In Urim honey-plants are planted, and the carp grow fat. The gizi reed of my city is so sweet that the cows eat them. The gizi reed of Urim is so sweet that the cows eat them. Since my ......, it is teeming with fish and birds. In Urim ....... May the watercourse bring them (the fish) into my canal, may they be carried in baskets to him. May the watercourse bring them into Urim, into my canal, may they be carried in baskets to him.


14   I freed the land from thieves, robbers, and rebels.



Fragment with Ur-Nammu Law Code


15 Then did Ur-Nammu, the mighty warior, king of Ur, king of Sumer and Akkad, by the might of Nanna. lord of the city, and in accordance with the true word of Utu, establish the equity of the land, banish abuse, violence and strife . . .He fashioned the bronze sila-measure, standardized the one-mina weight, and standardized the stone weight of a shekel of silver in relation (?) to one mina .. . . the orphan was not delivered up to the rich man, the widow was not delivered up to the powerful man, the man of one shekel was not delivered up to the man of one mina. . . .

   If (a man to a man) his . . .the foot has cut off, he shall pay 10 silver shekels.

   If a man to a man with a weapon his bones of . . . severed, he shall pay one silver mina.

   If a man a to a man with a geshpu instrument has cut off the nose (?) he shall pay two-thirds of a silver mina.



Praise of Shulgi


16   I am a knowledgeable scribe of Nisaba; I have perfected my wisdom just as my heroism and my strength. Reliable words can reach me. I cherish righteousness but do not tolerate wickedness. I hate anyone who speaks wickedly.


17   Because I am a powerful man who enjoys using his thighs, I, Culgi, the mighty king, superior to all, strengthened the roads, put in order the highways of the Land. I marked out the double-hour distances, built there lodging houses. I planted gardens by their side and established resting-places, and installed in those places experienced men. Whichever direction one comes from, one can refresh oneself at their cool sides; and the traveler who reaches nightfall on the road can seek haven there as in a well-built city.


18   I am greatly expert in assigning work with the pickaxe and the brick-mould, in drawing plans, in laying foundations, and in writing cuneiform inscriptions on pedestals; I can make things absolutely clear on tablets of lapis lazuli. I also have a solidly based knowledge of the intelligent implementation of the counting, accounting and planning of the Land.


19   When I was small, I was at the academy, where I learned the scribal art from the tablets of Sumer and Akkad. None of the nobles could write on clay as I could. There where people regularly went for tutelage in the scribal art, I qualified fully in subtraction, addition, reckoning and accounting. The fair Nanibgal, Nisaba, provided me amply with knowledge and comprehension. I am an experienced scribe who does not neglect a thing.

        Let me boast of what I have done. The fame of my power is spread far and wide. My wisdom is full of subtlety. Do not my achievements surpass all qualifications?


20   I stride forward in majesty, trampling endlessly through the esparto grass and thickets, capturing elephant after elephant, creatures of the plain; and I put an end to the heroic roaring in the plains of the savage lion, dragon of the plains, wherever it approaches from and wherever it is going. I do not go after them with a net, nor do I lie in wait for them in a hide; it comes to a confrontation of strength and weapons. I do not hurl a weapon; when I plunge a bitter-pointed lance in their throats, I do not flinch at their roar. I am not one to retreat to my hiding-place but, as when one warrior kills another warrior, I do everything swiftly on the open plain. In the desert where the paths peter out, I reduce the roar at the lair to silence. In the sheepfold and the cattle-pen, where heads are laid to rest, I put the shepherd tribesmen at ease.


21   I, Culgi, king of Urim, have also devoted myself to the art of music. Nothing is too complicated for me; I know the full extent of the tigi and the adab, the perfection of the art of music. When I fix the frets on the lute, which enraptures my heart, I never damage its neck; I have devised rules for raising and lowering its intervals. On the gu-uc lyre I know the melodious tuning. I am familiar with the sa-ec and with drumming on its musical soundbox. I can take in my hands the miritum, which ....... I know the finger technique of the aljar and sabitum, royal creations. In the same way I can produce sounds from the urzababitum, the harhar, the zanaru, the ur-gula and the dim-lu-magura. Even if they bring to me, as one might to a skilled musician, a musical instrument that I have not played previously, when I strike it up I make its true sound known; I am able to handle it just like something that has been in my hands before. Tuning, stringing, unstringing and fastening are not beyond my skills. I do not make the reed pipe sound like a rustic pipe, and on my own initiative I can wail a sumunca or make a lament as well as anyone who does it regularly.


22   Before Utu son of Ningal, I, Culgi, declare that in my long life in which I have achieved great things since the day that my kingly destiny was determined, in my life in which everything was richly provided in contentment, I have never lacked anything. Until the distant future may this song bless the name of me, the king, with a life of long days. As I am musical, as I am eloquent, I am a heavenly star of steadfastness. It is an awe-inspiring brow that establishes palaces, just as a peg and a measuring cord are the builders of cities. With the awesomeness that radiates from my forehead, which I make the foreign lands wear like a nose-rope, and the fear-inspiring lustre, my personal weapon, which I impose on the Land like a neck-stock, I am able to root out and undo crime. I have the ability to reconcile great matters with one word.


23   When I ...... like a torrent with the roar of a great storm, in the capture of a citadel in Elam ......, I can understand what their spokesman answers. By origin I am a son of Sumer; I am a warrior, a warrior of Sumer. Thirdly, I can conduct a conversation with a man from the black mountains. Fourthly, I can do service as a translator with an Amorite, a man of the mountains ....... I myself can correct his confused words in his own language. Fifthly, when a man of Subir yells ......, I can even distinguish the words in his language, although I am not a fellow-citizen of his. When I provide justice in the legal cases of Sumer, I give answers in all five languages. In my palace no one in conversation switches to another language as quickly as I do.

     When I pronounce a completed verdict, it is heartily welcomed, since I am wise and exalted in kingship. So that my consultative assemblies, sitting together to care for the people, inspire respect in their hearts when the chief herald sounds the horn, they should deliberate and debate; and so that the council should decide policy properly, I have taught my governors to deliberate and to debate.


24   While the words at their dining tables flow like a river, I tackle crime, so that the foundations are securely established for my wide dominions. I vanquish a city with words as weapons, and my wisdom keeps it subjected just as violence with burning torches would. I have taught them the meaning of the words "I have no mother".


25   My words can be words smooth as the finest quality oil; I know how to cool hearts which are hot as fire, and I know how to extinguish a mouth set on fire like a reed-bed. I weigh my words against those of the braggart. I am a man of the very highest standards of value. The importance of the humble is of particular value to me, and they cannot be counter-productive to any of my activities.


26   Grand achievements that I have accomplished which bring joy to my heart I do not cast negligently aside; therefore I give pride of place to progress. I give no orders concerning the development of waste ground, but devote my energies to extensive building plots. I have planted trees in fields and in agricultural land; I devote my powers to dams, ......, ditches and canals. I try to ensure a surplus of oil and wool. Thanks to my efforts flax and barley are of the highest quality.


27   I am no fool as regards the knowledge acquired since the time that mankind was, from heaven above, set on its path: when I have discovered tigi and zamzam hymns from past days, old ones from ancient times, I have never declared them to be false, and have never contradicted their contents. I have conserved these antiquities, never abandoning them to oblivion.


28   Whatever is acquired is destined to be lost. What mortal has ever reached the heavens? At some time in the distant future, a man of Enlil [the chief god] may arise, and if he is a just king, like myself, then let my odes, prayers and learned songs about my heroic courage and expeditions follow that king in his good palace. He should take to heart the benefit that has been conferred on him; he should exalt the power of my odes, absorb the exuberance of my songs, and value highly my great wisdom. Just as a strong person can consider on an equal basis even those things which he has not brought about by his own efforts, let him applaud and welcome my achievements. Let him call upon my good name.


29   An eminent example deserves eternal fame. What is the use of writing lies without truth? For me, the king, the singer has recorded my exploits in songs about the strength of the protective deity of my power; my songs are unforgettable, and my words shall not fall into oblivion.


30   Now, I swear by Utu on this very dayand my younger brothers shall be witnesses of it in foreign lands where the sons of Sumer are not known, where people do not have the use of paved roads, where they have no access to the written wordthat the firstborn son is a fashioner of words, a composer of songs, a composer of words, and that they will recite my songs as heavenly writings, and that they will bow down before my words as a ......




The Lament for Sumer and Urim


31   To overturn the appointed times,

to obliterate the divine plans,

the storms gather to strike like a flood.


32   to overturn the divine powers of Sumer,

to lock up the favorable reign in its home,

to destroy the city, to destroy the house,

to destroy the cattle-pen, to level the sheepfold;

that the cattle should not stand in the pen,

that the sheep should not multiply in the fold,

that watercourses should carry brackish water,

that weeds should grow in the fertile fields,

that mourning plants should grow in the open country,

that the mother should not seek out her child,

that the father should not say "O my dear wife!",

that the junior wife should take no joy in his embrace,

that the young child should not grow vigorous on his knee,

that the wet-nurse should not sing lullabies;


33   that on the two banks of the Tigris and of the Euphrates

bad weeds should grow,

that no one should set out on the road,

that no one should seek out the highway,

that the city and its settled surroundings

should be razed to ruin-mounds;

that its numerous black-headed people should be slaughtered;

that the hoe should not attack the fertile fields,

that seed should not be planted in the ground,

that the melody of the cowherds' songs

should not resound in the open country,

that butter and cheese should not be made in the cattle-pen,

that dung should not be stacked on the ground,

that the shepherd should not enclose

the sacred sheepfold with a fence,

that the song of the churning should not resound in the sheepfold;


34   to decimate the animals of the open country,

to finish off all living things,

that the four-legged creatures of Cakkan

should lay no more dung on the ground,

that the marshes should be so dry

as to be full of cracks and have no new seed,

that sickly-headed reeds should grow in the reed-beds,

that they should be covered by a stinking morass,

that there should be no new growth in the orchards,

that it should all collapse by itself—

so as quickly to subdue Urim like a roped ox,

to bow its neck to the ground: the great charging wild bull,

confident in its own strength,

the primeval city of lordship and kingship,

built on sacred ground.


35   The people, in their fear, breathed only with difficulty.

The storm immobilized them,

the storm did not let them return.

There was no return for them,


36   The extensive countryside was destroyed,

no one moved about there.

The dark time was roasted by hailstones and flames.

The bright time was wiped out by a shadow.

On that bloody day,

mouths were crushed, heads were crashed.

The storm was a harrow coming from above,

the city was struck by a hoe.


37   Large trees were uprooted, the forest growth was ripped out.

The orchards were stripped of their fruit,

they were cleaned of their offshoots.

The crop drowned while it was still on the stalk,

the yield of the grain diminished.


38   There were corpses floating in the Euphrates,

brigands roamed the roads.

The father turned away from his wife

without saying "O my wife!"

The mother turned away from her child

without saying "O my child!"

He who had a productive estate neglected his estate

without saying "O my estate!"

The rich man took an unfamiliar path away from his possessions.

In those days the kingship of the Land was defiled.

The tiara and crown that had been on the king's head

were both spoiled.

The lands that had followed the same path were split into disunity.


39   As the day grew dark, the eye of the sun was eclipsing,

the people experienced hunger.

There was no beer in the beer-hall,

there was no more malt for it.

There was no food for him in his palace,

it was unsuitable to live in.

Grain did not fill his lofty storehouse,

he could not save his life.

The grain-piles and granaries of Nanna held no grain.


40   Wine and syrup ceased to flow in the great dining hall.

The butcher's knife that used to slay oxen and sheep

lay hungry in the grass.

Its mighty oven no longer cooked oxen and sheep,

it no longer emitted the aroma of roasting meat.


41   The mortar, pestle and grinding stone lay idle;

no one bent down over them.


42   The Shining Quay of Nanna was silted up.

the sound of water against the boat's prow ceased,

there was no rejoicing.


43   The rushes grew, the rushes grew,

the mourning reeds grew.

Boats and barges ceased docking at the Shining Quay.

Nothing moved on your watercourse which was fit for barges.


44   Its watercourse was empty, barges could not travel.


45   There were no paths on either of its banks,

long grass grew there.


46   The reed huts were overrun, their walls were breached.

The cows and their young were captured

and carried off to enemy territory.

The munzer-fed cows took an unfamiliar path

in an open country that they did not know.

Gayau, who loves cows, dropped his weapon in the dung.

Cuni-dug, who stores butter and cheese,

did not store butter and cheese.

Those who are unfamiliar with butter were churning the butter.

Those who are unfamiliar with milk were curdling the milk.

The sound of the churning vat did not resound in the cattle-pen.


47   The trees of Urim were sick, its reeds were sick.

Laments sounded all along its city wall.

Daily there was slaughter before it.

Large axes were sharpened in front of Urim.

The spears, the arms of battle, were prepared.

The large bows, javelin and shield gathered together to strike.

The barbed arrows covered its outer side like a raining cloud.

Large stones, one after another, fell with great thuds.


48   Urim, confident in its own strength,

stood ready for the murderers.

Its people, oppressed by the enemy,

could not withstand their weapons.


49   In the city, those who had not been felled by weapons

succumbed to hunger.

Hunger filled the city like water, it would not cease.

This hunger contorted people's faces, twisted their muscles.

Its people were as if drowning in a pond,

they gasped for breath.

Its king breathed heavily in his palace, all alone.

Its people dropped their weapons,

their weapons hit the ground.

They struck their necks with their hands and cried.

They sought counsel with each other,

they searched for clarification:

"Alas, what can we say about it?

What more can we add to it?

How long until we are finished off by this catastrophe?

Inside Urim there is death, outside it there is death.

Inside it we are to be finished off by famine.

Outside it we are to be finished off by Elamite weapons.

In Urim the enemy oppresses us, oh, we are finished."


50   The people took refuge behind the city walls.

They were united in fear.

The palace that was destroyed by onrushing water was defiled,

its doorbolts were torn out.

Elam, like a swelling flood wave, left only the ghosts.

In Urim people were smashed as if they were clay pots.

Its refugees were unable to flee,

they were trapped inside the walls.

Like fish living in a pond, they tried to escape.


51   Its mighty cows with shining horns were captured,

their horns were cut off.

Its unblemished oxen and grass-fed sheep were slaughtered.

The palm-trees, strong as mighty copper, the heroic strength,

were torn out like rushes, were plucked like rushes,

their trunks were turned sideways.

Their tops lay in the dust, there was no one to raise them.

The midriffs of their palm fronds were cut off

and their tops were burnt off.

Their date spadices that used to fall on the well were torn out.


52   The great tribute that they had collected was hauled off to the mountains.




Lugalbanda in the Mountain Cave


53   When in ancient days heaven was separated from earth, when in ancient days that which was fitting ......, when after the ancient harvests ...... barley was eaten, when boundaries were laid out and borders were fixed, when boundary-stones were placed and inscribed with names, when dykes and canals were purified, when ...... wells were dug straight down; when the bed of the Euphrates, the plenteous river of Unug, was opened up, when ....


54   —now at that time the king set his mace towards the city, Enmerkar the son of Utu prepared an ...... expedition against Aratta, the


55   At that time there were seven, there were seventhe young ones, born in Kulaba, were seven.


56   They were heroes, living in Sumer, they were princely in their prime.


57   Lugalbanda, the eighth of them, ...... was washed in water. In awed silence he went forward, ...... he marched with the troops. When they had covered half the way, covered half the way, a sickness befell him there, 'head sickness' befell him. He jerked like a snake dragged by its head with a reed; his mouth bit the dust, like a gazelle caught in a snare. No longer could his hands return the hand grip, no longer could he lift his feet high. Neither king nor contingents could help him.


58   In the great mountains, crowded together like a dustcloud over the ground, they said: "Let them bring him to Unug". But they did not know how they could bring him. "Let them bring him to Kulaba." But they did not know how they could bring him. As his teeth chattered in the cold places of the mountains, they brought him to a warm place there.


59   ..... a storehouse, they made him an arbour like a bird's nest. ...... dates, figs and various sorts of cheese; they put sweetmeats suitable for the sick to eat, in baskets of dates, and they made him a home. They set out for him the various fats of the cowpen, the sheepfold's fresh cheese, oil with cold eggs, cold hard-boiled eggs, as if laying a table for the holy place, the valued place [i.e. as if for a funerary offering]


60   Directly in front of the table they arranged for him beer for drinking, mixed with date syrup and rolls ...... with butter. Provisions poured into leather buckets, provisions all put into leather bags -- his brothers and friends, like a boat unloading from the harvest-place, placed stores by his head in the mountain cave. They ...... water in their leather waterskins. Dark beer, alcoholic drink, light emmer beer, wine for drinking which is pleasant to the taste, they distributed by his head in the mountain cave as on a stand for waterskins.


61   They prepared for him incense resin, ...... resin, aromatic resin, ligidba resin and first-class resin on pot-stands in the deep hole; they suspended them by his head in the mountain cave. They pushed into place at his head his axe whose metal was tin, imported from the Zubi mountains. They wrapped up by his chest his dagger of iron imported from the Gig (Black) mountains. His eyesirrigation ditches, because they are flooding with water -- holy Lugalbanda kept open, directed towards this. The outer door of his lipsoverflowing like holy Utuhe did not open to his brothers. When they lifted his neck, there was no breath there any longer. His brothers, his friends took counsel with one another:


62   Like the dispersed holy cows of Nanna, as with a breeding bull when, in his old age, they have left him behind in the cattle pen, his brothers and friends abandoned holy Lugalbanda in the mountain cave; and with repeated tears and moaning, with tears, with lamentation, with grief and weeping, Lugalbanda's older brothers set off into the mountains.


63   Then two days passed during which Lugalbanda was ill; to these two days, half a day was added. As Utu [the sun] turned his glance towards his home, as the animals lifted their heads toward their lairs, at the day's end in the evening cool, his body was as if anointed with oil. But he was not yet free of his sickness.


64   A second time [i.e. at the following sunrise], as the bright bull rising up from the horizon, the bull resting among the cypresses, a shield standing on the ground, watched by the assembly, a shield coming out from the treasury, watched by the young menthe youth Utu extended his holy, shining rays down from heaven, he bestowed them on holy Lugalbanda in the mountain cave.


65   Holy Lugalbanda came out from the mountain cave.

       He bit on the life-saving plants, he sipped from the life-saving water. After biting on the life-saving plants, after sipping from the life-saving water, here he on his own set a trap in the ground, and from that spot he sped away like a horse of the mountains.


66   With the provisions stocked in leather pails, provisions put in leather bags, his brothers and his friends had been able to bake bread on the ground, with some cold water. Holy Lugalbanda had carried the things from the mountain cave. He set them beside the embers. He filled a bucket ...... with water. In front of him he split what he had placed. He took hold of the ...... stones. Repeatedly he struck them together. He laid the glowing coals on the open ground. The fine flintstone caused a spark. Its fire shone out for him over the waste land like the sun. Not knowing how to bake bread or a cake, not knowing an oven, with just seven coals he baked giziecta dough. While the bread was baking by itself, he pulled up culhi reeds of the mountains, roots and all, and stripped their branches. He packed up all the cakes as a day's ration.


67   A brown wild bull, a fine-looking wild bull, a wild bull tossing its horns, a wild bull in hunger, resting, seeking with its voice the brown wild bulls of the hills, the pure place -- in this way it was chewing aromatic cimgig as if it were barley, it was grinding up the wood of the cypress as if it were esparto grass, it was sniffing with its nose at the foliage of the cenu shrub as if it were grass. It was drinking the water of the rolling rivers, it was belching from ilinnuc, the pure plant of the mountains. While the brown wild bulls, the wild bulls of the mountains, were browsing about among the plants, Lugalbanda captured this one in his ambush.


68   He was alone and, even to his sharp eyes, there was not a single person to be seen. Sleep overcame the king [i.e. Lugalbanda]—sleep, the country of oppression; it is like a towering flood, like a hand demolishing a brick wall, a hand raised high, a foot raised high; covering like syrup that which is in front of it, overflowing like syrup onto that which is in front of it; it knows no overseer, knows no captain, yet it is overpowering for the hero. And by means of Ninkasi's wooden cask [i.e. beer], sleep finally overcame Lugalbanda. He laid down ilinnuc, pure herb of the mountains, as a couch, he spread out a zulumhi garment, he unfolded there a white linen sheet. There being no ...... room for bathing, he made do with that place. The king lay down not to sleep, he lay down to dream— not turning back at the door of the dream, not turning back at the door-pivot. To the liar it talks in lies, to the truthful it speaks truth. It can make one man happy, it can make another man sing, but it is the closed tablet-basket of the gods.


69   "Who will slaughter a brown wild bull for me? Who will make its fat melt for me? He shall take my axe whose metal is tin, he shall wield my dagger which is of iron. Like an athlete I shall let him bring away the brown wild bull, the wild bull of the mountains, I shall let him like a wrestler make it submit. Its strength will leave it."

    Lugalbanda awoke—it was a dream. He shivered—it was sleep. He rubbed his eyes, he was overawed. He took his axe whose metal was tin, he wielded his dagger which was of iron. Like an athlete he brought away the brown wild bull, the wild bull of the mountains, like a wrestler he made it submit. Its strength left it. He offered it before the rising sun.






1-8   From Clay Cones La 9.1 Presargonic Inscriptions by Jerrold S. Cooper.  The American Oriental Society, New Haven, Connecticut, 1986


 9, 10 From  Statue B. The Royal inscriptions of Mesopotamia. Early periods; v. 3/1 Gudea and His Dynasty by Dietz Otto Edzard. University of Toronto Press, Toronto, Canada, 1997.


11  Ancient Iraq, Third Edition, by Georges Roux. Penguin Books, London, 1992.


14, 15   History Begins at Summer, by Samuel Noah Kramer. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 1981


12  From A praise poem of Ur-Namma (Ur-Namma C); 13   From Praise of Ur-Namma the Canal-Digger (Ur-Namma D); 16, 17  From A praise poem of Culgi (Culgi A); 18  From A praise poem of Shulgi (Shulgi C) Segment A; 19-30   From A praise poem of Shulgi (Shulgi B); 31-52  From The Lament for Sumer and Urim; 53-69  From Lugalbanda in the Mountain Cave.  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.


Introduction and adaptation Copyright © Rex Pay 2001, 2007