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J. THE DECAD, A SCRIBAL CURRICULUM
a third of those—a quarter of the total—are from the scribal school now
called House F (see the Introduction to this book). This is the clinching
evidence for the Decad as a curricular sequence as opposed to some other
sort of grouping: even within House F it stands out as having some twenty
manuscript sources for each composition compared to an overall average of
eight tablets per work across the house as a whole.
Two other curricular sequences of Sumerian literary works are known.
The four-member Tetrad, including A hymn to Nisaba (Group I), sometimes
served as a bridge between elementary scribal education and Sumerian
literary studies, and is well attested from Unug and Isin as well as Larsa. The
‘House F Fourteen’, as its name suggests, is another group of literary works
well attested at House F (with around eighteen manuscript sources each) and
partially represented in the ancient catalogues, but which did not have the
same currency as the Decad, even within Nibru.
Tinney, S. J., ‘On the Curricular Setting of Sumerian Literature’, Iraq, 59 (1999),
159–72, presents the evidence for the existence of the Tetrad and Decad.
Vanstiphout, H. L. J., ‘How Did they Learn Sumerian?’ Journal of Cuneiform Studies,
31 (1979), 118–26, analyses a Sumerian literary work (which we now know belongs to
the Tetrad) in purely pedagogical terms.
Veldhuis, N., ‘Sumerian Proverbs in their Curricular Context’, Journal of the American
Oriental Society, 120 (2000), 383–99, shows how proverbs ﬁt into elementary education at Nibru.
Gilgames, Enkidu, and the Underworld
The cursing of Agade
The debate between Sheep and Grain
A supervisor’s advice to a young scribe
The instructions of Suruppag
A hymn to Nisaba
Literary catalogue from Nibru
About a dozen ancient Sumerian literary catalogues are known, which list the
incipits, or ﬁrst lines, of a large number of compositions. While some seem
to have had a library function, recording the tablets kept in a particular
basket, room, or building, others such as this one are more clearly curricular.
It has 62 entries, divided into six groups of about 10 by horizontal rulings on
the tablet. The ﬁrst section comprises the curricular grouping known as the
Decad, which is presented in this chaper, while all but seven (shown in
italics) of the other 52 entries are identiﬁable as Sumerian literary works well
known from Nibru. Eighteen of them (shown in bold) are translated elsewhere in this book; many of the others can be found on the ETCSL website
under the (modern) catalogue numbers given.
Some thematic groupings are visible within the catalogue: the last
member of the Decad, Gilgames and Huwawa, attracts other Gilgames tales
(11–14); many of the debate poems (25, 27–30) and city laments (32–4)
are grouped together. Three of the four Lugalbanda narratives are listed
together (38–40, 48), as are some of the hymns to Inana (41, 44, 45). Finally,
the school narratives and debates (really arguments) between scribes are
clustered with diatribes against individuals (50–2, 54–62).
I, the king, (was a hero) already in
I am a king treated with respect
Not only did the lord (make the
world appear) in its correct form
Lady of all the divine powers
Enlil(’s commands are) by far (the
The princely one
In those remote days
Goddess of the fearsome divine
House, furious storm of heaven
A praise poem of Sulgi
A praise poem of Lipit-Estar
The song of the hoe
The exaltation of Inana
Enlil in the E-kur
The Kes temple hymn
Enki’s journey to Nibru
Inana and Ebih
A hymn to Nungal
Now the lord (once decided to set)
oﬀ) for the mountain where the
Gilgames and Huwawa
(I will sing the song) of the man of
Envoys of Aga
Gudam (. . .) the city
So come on now
Gilgames and the Bull of Heaven
Gilgames and Aga (ETCSL 18.104.22.168)
The tale of Gudam (?) (ETCSL 1.3.4)
Gilgames and Huwawa, version B
Isbi-Erra E (ETCSL 22.214.171.124)
The home of the ﬁsh, Group G
The debate between Sheep and
Grain, Group G
The cursing of Agade, Group C
Dumuzid’s dream, Group B
Gilgames, Enkidu, and the
Underworld, Group A
My ﬁsh, (I have built you) a home!
When, upon the hill of heaven and
(After Enlil’s) frown
Grieve, O countryside!
In those remote days
In those remote days
There is a city
Lady of good divine powers
There is a city
O the Hoe, the Hoe
The king, (to make) his name
(famous) for all time
In those ancient days
The great Ki-ur
An (lifted his head) in pride
(What do they say) in the reed-beds
whose growth is good?
The instructions of Suruppag,
Enlil and Ninlil, Group C or
Nanse A (ETCSL 4.14.1)
Enlil and Ninlil, Group C or
Nanse A (ETCSL 4.14.1)
The debate between Hoe and Plough
Sulgi hymn B (ETCSL 2.4.2.02)
The debate between Bird and Fish,
The debate between Tree and Reed
The debate between Winter and
Summer (ETCSL 5.3.3)
The heron and the turtle, Group G
The pelican (?) (came forth) from the
(He has abandoned) his cattle-pen
After the cattle-pen (had been built)
for the foremost divine powers
To overturn the appointed times
City of good divine powers
Furious storm of Sumer
Furious storm on the horizon
When in ancient days heaven (was
separated) from earth
Brickwork (rising out) from the
Where did you go?
Come here to me
Come, let’s test each other!
Old Man Cultivator
Nanse hymn C (ETCSL 4.14.3)
The lament for Urim (ETCSL 2.2.2)
The lament for Nibru (ETCSL 2.2.4)
The lament for Sumer and Urim,
Lugalbanda in the mountain cave,
Lugalbanda and the Anzud bird,
Enmerkar and En-suhgir-ana,
From the great heaven (she set her
Inana’s descent to the Underworld,
mind) on the great below
Grandiloquent lord of heaven and
Enki and the world order, Group G
Green young reeds
Inana and Su-kale-tuda, Group F
The mistress who, having all the
great divine powers
Great light, heavenly lioness
Inana hymn D (ETCSL 4.07.4)
Great lord, wearing the crown in Kulaba
The princely one
Enmerkar and the lord of Aratta
City, majestic bull
Where do you come from?
Where do you come from?
The temple hymns (ETCSL 4.80.1)
Eduba A (ETCSL 5.1.1)
A supervisor’s advice to a young
scribe (Eduba C), Group I
Dialogue 1 (ETCSL 5.4.01)
The farmer’s instructions (ETCSL
Eduba B (ETCSL 5.1.2)
Dialogue 5 (ETCSL 5.4.05)
Do you know Sumerian?
Why (. . .) instructions
Young one, today
(Well, fellow student, what shall we
write today) on the back of our
(. . .) fool
His reasoning, his following
Good seed of a dog
Eduba D (ETCSL 5.1.4)
Eduba R (ETCSL 5.1.6)
Dialogue 2 (ETCSL 5.4.02)
Dialogue 3 (ETCSL 5.4.03)
Diatribe B (ETCSL 5.4.11)
Diatribe A (ETCSL 5.4.10)
Diatribe C (ETCSL 5.4.12)
A praise poem of Sulgi
Sulgi was the king of Urim for nearly 50 years of the 21st century . Under
his leadership Urim’s territory grew to encompass all of Sumer and beyond;
the size of its bureaucracy, army, and taxation regime grew with it.
Some twenty-ﬁve hymns are known praising Sulgi, or praising deities on
his behalf. This example is a hymn of self-praise, written as if Sulgi is speaking about himself. Its main intent is to describe a great physical feat, portraying Sulgi as both mighty and devout.
Sulgi outlines his physical prowess in general terms, by means of comparison with powerful wild animals, interspersing this with an enumeration
of his relationship to the main deities of Sumer (1–25). He then describes the
planning and inauguration of an improved road system between his capital
city Urim and the religious centre of Nibru some 120 miles north (26–87).
To celebrate its opening, Sulgi says that he himself made the epic journey on
foot, from Nibru to Urim and back. Running past throngs of admiring
subjects, he reaches Urim at daybreak and celebrates with a ceremony and
festival. On the return leg, he battles through ﬁerce storms to enter Nibru at
sunset for further festivity and oﬀerings. He ends with a wish that he and his
deeds be remembered and gloriﬁed (88–101).
Animal and bird imagery permeates this hymn. Sulgi mostly likens himself to a lion (‘a ﬁerce-looking lion, begotten by a dragon’; ‘the lion, never
failing in his vigour’; ‘like a lion, spreading fearsomeness’, ‘like a ﬁerce lion’),
but creatures which are renowned for their endurance or speed are also
summoned up. Equids are the subject of the third paragraph, while the ass
image is also used later in the composition: ‘I galloped like an ass in the
desert’; ‘trotting like a solitary wild ass’. Sulgi is also ‘like a mountain kid
hurrying to its habitation’ or like the mythical Anzud bird ‘lifting its gaze to
the mountains’. ‘Like a pigeon anxiously ﬂeeing from a . . . snake, I spread my
wings’ is intended to conjure up swiftness of response rather than fear; elsewhere Sulgi compares himself to predatory raptors: ‘I arose like an owl (?),
like a falcon.’
I, the king, was a hero already in the womb; I, Sulgi, was born to be
a mighty man. I am a ﬁerce-looking lion, begotten by a dragon. I am
the king of the four regions; I am the herdsman and shepherd of the
black-headed people. I am a respected one, the god of all the lands.
I am a child born of Ninsumun. I am the choice of holy An’s heart. I
am the man whose fate was decided by Enlil. I am Sulgi, the beloved
of Ninlil. I am he who is cherished by Nintud. I am he who was
endowed with wisdom by Enki. I am the powerful king of Nanna. I
am the growling lion of Utu. I am Sulgi, who has been chosen by
Inana for his attractiveness.
I am a mule, most suitable for the road. I am a horse, whose tail waves
on the highway. I am a stallion of Sakkan, eager to run.°
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.
Because I am a powerful man who enjoys using his thighs, I, Sulgi,
the mighty king, superior to all, strengthened (?) the roads, put in
order the highways of the Land. I marked out the danna° distances,
built lodging houses there. 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 traveller who reaches nightfall on the road can
seek haven there as in a well-built city.
So that my name should be established for distant days and never fall
into oblivion, so that my praise should be uttered° throughout the
Land, and my glory should be proclaimed in the foreign lands, I, the
fast runner, summoned my strength and, to prove my speed, my
heart prompted me to make a return journey from Nibru to brickbuilt Urim as if it were only the distance of a danna.
I, the lion, never failing in his vigour, standing ﬁrm in his strength,
fastened the small niglam garment ﬁrmly to my hips. Like a pigeon
anxiously ﬂeeing from a . . . snake, I spread my wings; like the Anzud
bird lifting its gaze to the mountains, I stretched forward my legs.
The inhabitants of the cities which I had founded in the land lined
up for me; the black-headed people, as numerous as ewes, looked at
me with sweet admiration.
Fig. 36. ‘I, Sulgi, who make everything abundant’—Sulgi makes a
libation on a cylinder seal dedicated for his life by the governor of Nibru
I entered the E-kis-nugal like a mountain kid hurrying to its habitation, when Utu spread broad daylight over the countryside. I ﬁlled
with abundance the temple of Suen, a cattle-pen which yields plenty
of fat. I had oxen slaughtered there; I had sheep oﬀered there
lavishly°. I caused sem and ala drums to resound there and caused tigi
drums to play there sweetly.° I, Sulgi, who make everything abundant, presented there food-oﬀerings and after, like a lion, spreading
fearsomeness from (?) the royal oﬀering-place, I bent down (?) and
bathed in ﬂowing water; I knelt down and feasted in the Egal-mah of
Then I arose like an owl (?), like a falcon to return to Nibru in my
vigour. But a storm shrieked, and the west wind whirled around.
The north wind and the south wind howled at each other. Lightning
together with the seven winds vied with each other in the heavens.
Thundering storms made the earth quake, and Iskur roared in the
broad heavens. The rains of heaven mingled° with the waters of the
earth. Small and large hailstones drummed on my back.
I, the king, however, did not fear, nor was I terriﬁed. I rushed forth
like a ﬁerce lion. I galloped like an ass in the desert. With my heart
full of joy, I ran (?) onward. Trotting like a solitary wild ass, I
traversed a distance of ﬁfteen danna° by the time Utu was to set his
face toward his house; my sagursag priests looked at me with admiration.° I celebrated the eses festival in both Nibru and Urim on the
I drank beer in the palace founded by An with my brother and companion, the hero Utu. My singers praised me with songs accompanied by seven tigi drums. My spouse, the maiden Inana, the lady,
the joy of heaven and earth, sat with me at the banquet.
Truly I am not boasting! Wherever I look to, there I go; wherever my
heart desires, there I reach.° An placed ﬁrmly a legitimate and lofty°
crown on my head.
In the lustrous E-kur, I seized the holy sceptre and I lifted my head
towards heaven on a shining dais, a throne with ﬁrm foundation. I
consolidated my kingship, subdued the foreign lands, fortiﬁed the
Land of Sumer. May my name be proclaimed among the wellguarded people of the four regions! May they praise it in holy hymns
about me! May they glorify my majesty, saying:
‘The one provided with lofty royal power; the one given heroism,
power, and happy life by Suen of the E-kis-nugal; the one endowed
with superior strength by Nunamnir; Sulgi, the destroyer of foreign
lands, the fortiﬁer of the Land, the puriﬁcation priest of heaven and
earth, who has no rival; Sulgi, who is cared for by the respected child
Praise be to Nisaba!°
– Instead of ‘I am a stallion of Sakkan, eager to run.’ 1 MS has: ‘I am a donkey of
Sakkan, who loves running.’
19–25 Instead of ‘my strength’ 1 MS has: ‘my distinction’.
– A danna is equivalent to about 11 kilometres. Instead of ‘I planted gardens by
their side and established resting-places’ 1 MS has: ‘I established gardens (?)
and resting-places by their side’.
– Instead of ‘uttered’ 1 MS has: ‘spread’.
– Instead of ‘oﬀered there lavishly’ some MSS have: ‘butchered there’. Instead
of ‘and caused tigi drums to play there sweetly.’ 1 MS has: ‘I . . . the balag
– Instead of ‘mingled’ 1 MS has: ‘competed’.
– Fifteen danna is equivalent to over 160 kilometres. Instead of ‘my sagursag
priests looked at me with admiration.’ 1 MS has: ‘. . . numerous (?) . . . ; I
prayed in the . . . of Enlil and Ninlil.’
– After ‘reach.’ 1 MS adds at least 10 lines: ‘By the life of my father holy
Lugalbanda, and Nanna the king of heaven and earth, I swear that the words
written on my tablet are . . . . (at least 4 lines missing or unclear) . . . since the
days of yore, since . . . , no king of Sumer as great as I has existed for the
people.’ Instead of ‘legitimate and lofty’ some MSS have ‘golden’; 1 MS has:
‘good silver’; 1 MS has: ‘silver’.
– Instead of ‘ “Sulgi, who is cared for by the respected child of An!” Praise be to
Nisaba!’ 1 MS has: ‘Sulgi, be praised (?) by An’s respected son!’
A praise poem of Lipit-Estar
This hymn of self-praise is composed as if king Lipit-Estar of Isin himself
were speaking. The refrain ‘I am Lipit-Estar’ splits the composition into nine
unequal parts, each on a diﬀerent theme of his exemplary attributes of kingship.
After a brief introduction (1–2) the king describes his physical prowess and
good looks, in terms reminiscent of Sulgi (above) (3–17). We then read of the
divine support he enjoys—from An, Enlil and Ninlil, Nintud, Nanna,
Ninurta (Uta-ulu), Enki, Inana, Nisaba, and Utu (18–42). Lipit-Estar then
presents himself as a great provider, for both humankind (43–50) and the
gods in their temples (51–70). Against enemies he is the strongest of warriors
(71–9) but to his own people he is a wise judge and a role-model of good
behaviour (80–97). For the goddess Inana he is a virile sexual partner (98–
All of these tropes of good kingship can be found in other royal praise
poems—A praise poem of Sulgi is a case study in both piety and bodily
athleticism; A love song for Su-Suen (Group B) has Inana lusting for the king;
An adab to Nergal for Su-ilisu (Group E) is addressed to the warrior god
Nergal for help in battle—but no other paints such a clear and rounded
portrait of the ideal ruler as A praise poem of Lipit-Estar. This may have been
one of the reasons for its durability within the school canon; in Nibru it was
copied until at least the 1740s, some two centuries after the king’s reign. Its
scholastic function then was probably not so much to memorialize a longdead ruler from a long-defunct dynasty but to instil into the trainee scribes
the values and ideals of Mesopotamian kingship—which apparently did not
I am a king treated with respect, good oﬀspring from the womb. I am
Lipit-Estar, the son of Enlil.
From the moment I lifted my head like a cedar sapling, I have been a
man who possesses strength in athletic pursuits. As a young man I
grew very muscular (?). I am a lion in all respects°, having no equal. I
am a gaping dragon, a source of great awe for the soldiers. I am like
the Anzud bird, peering about in the heart of the mountains. I am a
wild bull whom nobody dares oppose in its anger. I am a bison,
sparkling with beautiful eyes, having a lapis lazuli beard; I am . . . .
With my kind eyes and friendly mouth, I lift people’s spirits. I have
a most impressive ﬁgure, lavishly endowed with beauty. I have lips
appropriate for all words. As I lift my arms, I have beautiful ﬁngers.
I am a very handsome young man, ﬁne to admire. I am Lipit-Estar,
king of the Land.
I am the good shepherd of the black-headed. I am the foremost in the
foreign countries, and exalted in the Land. I am a human god, the
lord of the numerous people. I am the strong heir of kingship.
Holding my head high, I am established in my position.
I am An’s puriﬁcation priest with puriﬁed hands. An placed the great
and good crown ﬁrmly on my head. Enlil gave the sceptre to me, his
beloved son, in the Ki-ur. I am what makes Ninlil happy: she determined a good fate in the Ga-gis-sua. I have been made excellently
beautiful by Nintud, the joyful woman, in brick-built Kes. I am one
looked on favourably by Nanna: he spoke to me aﬃrmatively in
Uta-ulu imbued me, the man of his heart, with great awesomeness in
E-sumesa. I am he on whom Enki has bestowed wisdom: he gave me
kingship in Eridug. As the beloved husband of Inana, I lift my head
high in the place Unug. I am a proﬁcient scribe of Nisaba. I am a
young man whose word Utu conﬁrms. I am the perfection of kingship. I am Lipit-Estar, Enlil’s son.
I am he who makes an abundant crop grow, the life of the Land. I am
a farmer, piling up his grain-piles. I am a shepherd making fat and
milk abundant in the cattle-pen. I am he who makes the ﬁsh and
birds grow bigger in the marshes. I am a river of plenty, bringing
ﬂowing water. I am he who increases the splendour of the great
mountains. I have been given enormous strength by Enlil. I am
Lipit-Estar, his young man who respects him.
I am the provider of the gods. I am he who cares unceasingly for the
E-kur. I am the king clutching a kid to the breast as a gift. I pray in
all humility. I am a king standing in prayer. I am he who speaks
friendly words to appease Enlil. I am he whose prayers make Ninlil
happy. I am he who serves Nuska indefatigably. I am he who is ever
praying (?) at the Ki-ur. Bestowing many things, I am perfect for the
foundation°. I am one who always hurries, but whose knees never
Bringing ﬁrst-fruits, I do not pass by the E-babbar. I am he who
records abundance for Nibru. I serve Kes as its puriﬁcation priest. I
am ﬁrst-rate fat and ﬁrst-rate milk for Urim. I am indefatigable with
respect to Eridug. I am he who increases the food oﬀerings for the
place Unug. I am he to whom life was given in the E-kur. I am he
who desires liveliness for his city. I am Lipit-Estar, the shepherd of all
I, the king, am like pounding waves in battle. Girded in manliness, I
never loosen my harness. I am he who sharpens his dagger. In battle
I ﬂash like lightning. A ﬁrm foundation, I repulse the troops. I am a
sagkal stone, a pespes stone. I am a siege shield, a screen for the army.
A clear-eyed warrior, I make the troops ﬁrm. I am Lipit-Estar, Enlil’s
Like a waterskin with cool water, I am life for the young men.
Keeping my eyes on the road, I am the protection° of the soldiers. I
am a king who, as he sits, is ﬁtted for the throne. I am possessed of a
weighty persona for speaking. I am one with a far-reaching mind and
intellect, examining requests. I do not hurry over anything, but
research its background. I have a far-reaching heart and broad
wisdom. I am a stone that brings . . . out of the Land. I am one that
has truth in his mouth. I am one who never destroys a just person. I
am a judge who, in making a decision, weighs his words fairly. I am
one who is well acquainted with giving orders to the foreign lands. I
have established justice in Sumer and Akkad, and made the Land feel
What of my truthful things can be thrown away? I, prince LipitEstar, keep the people on a straight path. As regards my integrity: in
what respect have I ever been idle? I am a strong person who has
brought distinction to everything. I am Lipit-Estar, Enlil’s son.