babylonian

The Oldest Love Poem.

The world’s oldest known love poem. According to the Sumerian belief, it was a sacred duty for the king to marry every year a priestess instead of Inanna, the goddess of fertility and sexual love, in order to make the soil and women fertile. This poem was most probably written by a bride chosen for Shu-Sin in order to be sung at the New Year festival and it was sung at banquets and festivals accompanied by music and dance.

Its translation:

Bridegroom, dear to my heart,

Goodly is your beauty, honeysweet,

Lion, dear to my heart,

Goodly is your beauty, honeysweet.

[…]

Bridegroom, let me caress you,

My precious caress is more savory than honey,

In the bedchamber, honey-filled, In the bedchamber, honey-filled,

Let me enjoy your goodly beauty,

Lion, let me caress you,

My precious caress is more savory than honey.

Bridegroom, you have taken your pleasure of me,

Tell my mother, she will give you delicacies,

My father, he will give you gifts.

[…]

You, because you love me,

Give me pray of your caresses,

My lord god, my lord protector,

My SHU-SIN, who gladdens ENLIL’s heart,

Give my pray of your caresses. (x)

Courtesy & currently located at the Museum Of The Ancient Orient, Istanbul Archaeology Museums. Photo taken by Yuxuan Wang.

The World’s First Female Author, Enhedu’anna

This ancient clay tablet from Babylonia is inscribed in Sumerian cuneiform and dates to the 20th-17th centuries BC. It mentions King Sargon’s daughter Enhedu'anna as the author of a hymn to the goddess Inanna. The tablet has lines written first by the teacher in the first column, with 2 students repeating the hymn in columns 2 and 3.

Enhedu’anna was the daughter of King Sargon of Akkad (2334-2279 BC), founder of the first documented empire in Asia. Enhedu’anna emerges as a genuine creative talent, a poetess as well as a princess, a priestess and a prophetess. She is, in fact, the first named, non-legendary author in history. As such she has found her way into contemporary anthologies, especially of women’s literature.

Sumerian Temple Hymn, baked clay, circa between 1800 and 1600 BC (Old Babylonian), currently located at the Walters Art Museum.

This tablet, inscribed on all four sides, is one of the best preserved copies of the Sumerian hymn to the temple at Kesh. The popular hymn, written in praise of the temple built for the mother-goddess Nintu in the city of Kesh in southern Mesopotamia, describes the temple in both physical and heavenly terms.

A 3,800-year journey from classroom to classroom

Thirty-eight hundred years ago, on the hot river plains of what is now southern Iraq, a Babylonian student did a bit of schoolwork that changed our understanding of ancient mathematics. The student scooped up a palm-sized clump of wet clay, formed a disc about the size and shape of a hamburger, and let it dry down a bit in the sun. On the surface of the moist clay the student drew a diagram that showed the people of the Old Babylonian Period (1,900–1,700 B.C.E.) fully understood the principles of the “Pythagorean Theorem” 1300 years before Greek geometer Pythagoras was born, and were also capable of calculating the square root of two to six decimal places.

Today, thanks to the Internet and new digital scanning methods being employed at Yale, this ancient geometry lesson continues to be used in modern classrooms around the world.

“This geometry tablet is one of the most-reproduced cultural objects that Yale owns—it’s published in mathematics textbooks the world over,” says Professor Benjamin Foster, curator of the Babylonian Collection, which includes the tablet. Read more.

Neo-Assyrian Head of Pazuzu, Circa 8th-7th Century BC

Pazuzu was an Assyrian and Babylonian demonic god of the 1st millennium BC. He normally has a dog-like face like here, and where his body is depicted he has a scaly torso, a snake-headed penis, the talons of a bird and usually wings.

Although Pazuzu was a malevolent force, his image was used on amulets to ward off his enemy Lamashtu, a female demon that preyed on newborn babies and their mothers. The amulet was either worn by the mother or child and larger ones were placed above their bed on a wall.

His legend was adapted and used in The Exorcist films.

10

[Mythological Female Figures 1/?]

TIAMAT
Mesopotamian Dragon Goddess of Primordial Chaos and the Sea

In the Enûma Elish, the Babylonian epic of creation, she gives birth to the first generation of deities; she later makes war upon them and is killed by the storm-god Marduk. The heavens and the earth are formed from her divided body.

Ummu-Hubur [Tiamat], who formed all things,
Hath made in addition weapons invincible;
she hath spawned monster-serpents,
Sharp of tooth, and merciless of fang.
With poison, instead of blood, she hath filled their bodies.
Fierce monster-vipers she hath clothed with terror,
With splendor she hath decked them; she hath made them of lofty stature.
Whoever beholdeth them is overcome by terror,
Their bodies rear up and none can withstand their attack.
She hath set up vipers, and dragons, and the monster Lahamu,
And hurricanes and raging hounds, and scorpion-men,
And mighty tempests, and fish-men and rams;
They bear cruel weapons, without fear of the fight.

Cuneiform tablet with the Atrahasis Epic. Babylonian, about 17th century BC, from Sippar, southern Iraq.

A version of the Flood story

The story outlines the structure of the universe according to Babylonian beliefs. Heaven is ruled by the god Anu, the earth by Enlil and the subterranean sweet water by Enki. The text then explains how the minor gods work in the fields but then rebel. As a result, humans are made from clay, saliva and divine blood to act as servants of the gods.

This does not prove a perfect solution, as the humans reproduce and their noise disturbs Enlil’s sleep. He decides to destroy them with plague, famine, drought and finally a flood. However, each time Enki instructs one of the humans, Atrahasis, to survive the disasters. The god gives Atrahasis seven days warning of the flood, and he builds a boat, loads it with his possessions, animals and birds. He is subsequently saved while the rest of humankind is destroyed. However, the gods are unhappy as they no longer receive the offerings they used to. There is a gap in the text at this point but it does end with Atrahasis making an offering and Enlil accepting the existence and usefulness of humans.

Copies of this story have survived from the seventeenth to the seventh century BC showing that it was copied and re-copied over the centuries. This is the most complete version. There are clear similarities between this Flood story and others known in Mesopotamian literature, for example, the Epic of Gilgamesh. (BM)

Courtesy of & currently located at the British Museum, London, ME 78941. Photo taken by Popolon.

Neo-Babylonian Cylinder Seal with Scorpion People

This seal is of pink chalcedony and dates circa 750-600 BC. It shows a man gripping the beards of two Scorpion Men. They have human heads, a scorpion body and tail, and avian legs and wings.  Scorpion People are featured in several Akkadian language myths, including the Enûma Elish and the Babylonian version of the Epic of Gilgamesh. They were also known as aqrabuamelu or girtablilu.

Scorpion People were created by the goddess Tiamat to wage war against some younger gods for their betrayal of her mate, Apsu. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, they guard the gates belonging to the sun god, Shamash in the mountains of Mashu. These gates are the entrance to Kurnugi, a place described as the underworld in Babylonian mythology. The Scorpion People open the gates for Shamash each day as he travels out and they close them when he returns at night. They also warn travelers of the danger that lies beyond their post. The people of Mesopotamia invoked the Scorpion People as protection against the forces of evil.