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 ,   

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.

     

  

Group A

Group B

Group C

Group E

Group G

Group I

Gilgames, Enkidu, and the Underworld

Dumuzid’s dream

The cursing of Agade

Ninurta’s exploits

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

the womb

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

and earth

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

man lives

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

The tale of Gudam (?) (ETCSL 1.3.4)

Gilgames and Huwawa, version B


Isbi-Erra E (ETCSL

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

Great matriarch

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,

Group I

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

(ETCSL 5.3.1)

Sulgi hymn B (ETCSL

The debate between Bird and Fish,

Group G

The debate between Tree and Reed

ETCSL (5.3.4)

The debate between Winter and

Summer (ETCSL 5.3.3)

The heron and the turtle, Group G

 ,   

The pelican (?) (came forth) from the

holy reed-beds

(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

pristine mountain

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,

Group D

Lugalbanda in the mountain cave,

Group A

Lugalbanda and the Anzud bird,

Group A

Enmerkar and En-suhgir-ana,

Group A

From the great heaven (she set her

Inana’s descent to the Underworld,

mind) on the great below

Group B

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

O, E-unir



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

same day!

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

of An!’

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

drummer (?).’

– 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

include modesty!

 ,   









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

foreign lands.

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.

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