Dr Maru’s notes, translated
As an Assyriologist-in-training, I was pretty excited about cuneiform’s little cameo in Wonder Woman- there are no films at all about Mesopotamia, so even three seconds of flipping through a notebook of the languages I study was pretty exciting to see on the big screen. Now, I assumed at first that the writing in Dr Maru’s notebook, would simply be gibberish, but one thing about it stuck with me: how well copied the letters were. Now, Cuneiform writing was designed for clay and stylus, and it is BRUTALLY hard to write cuneiform symbols with pen and paper. You’d think you could just draw a bunch of triangles, but nope; the system was so clearly designed to use nuances only possible with stylus and clay, they’re nigh on impossible to accurately reproduce using pen. And whoever wrote that piece of paper did a damn good job of it. So, I remained convinced the text might actually have some meaning, and when I got home I started tinkering with it.
First things first: though the notes were described in the film as “Sumerian and Ottoman”, they’re not Sumerian. Dr Maru’s notes are very clearly written in the quite distinctive script of Neo-Assyrian Cuneiform, which was used on official inscriptions of the Assyrian Empire from around 1000- 700 BC. Sumerian died out as a spoken language in around 2000 BC and though it continued to be used in writing long after that in the same way Latin was in Europe, it was probably never written in the formal Assyrian script.
I’m going to safely assume the man who mistakenly called the page “Sumerian and Ottoman” got it wrong, but the fact that Diana doesn’t correct this, despite her vastly superior knowledge of ancient languages is interesting. Consider this though: historians estimate the destruction of the site of Hissarlik, which is thought MIGHT be the inspiration for the Troy legends to around 1300 BC, around the time of the Bronze Age collapse and dawn of the Greek Dark Ages. If we take this as the end of the Greek Mythic age and the hiding of Themiscyra in the DC Universe, Diana would only have been able to study Cuneiform scripts written before this period so she would know only Old Babylonian Cursive, or possibly even only Old Babylonian Lapidary. Neo-Assyrian script would be just legible with effort, but difficult for her to read.
Now, the way cuneiform works is that any one cuneiform symbol can represent one or more alphabetic sounds, OR syllables, OR entire words. Most stand for a number of those things, but some represent only one. The symbols that represent entire words are called Logograms, and they remained largely consistent through all the changes of the cuneiform writing system. If Dr Maru’s notes were primarily written in Logograms (which they turned out to be), it would make sense for Diana to still be able to read them despite the considerable changes between Old Babylonian Lapidary and Neo-Assyrian script, and also that she wouldn’t have to know Assyrian-era Akkadian to understand the logographic signs (because they represent whole words at once rather than spell them out alphabetically, they can be understood by speakers of multiple languages who know the signs).
So having sorted all that out, I began to translate. Virtually all the symbols were logograms standing for words like mountain, woman, king, builder etc, but a limited few stood for single syllables like “ru” or “ti”. This made no sense, because the signs used were consistent enough with the actual context in the film to make some sense and logically repetitive. Whoever wrote this knew what they were doing. Why intersperse them with random letters? I finally realised: Dr Maru is a chemist. The way her code works is that she uses mostly logograms, but uses signs for syllables when those syllables are our modern symbols for chemical elements. Every sign where a syllable-only translation was my only option, that syllable matched up with the abbreviation for a chemical element in the periodic table.
So, working with the assumption that Dr Poison’s code technique is using Logograms to represent whole words, and the symbols for sole syllables like ka, ga, la etc in their standard transcriptions from cuneiform to represent chemical elements, here it is at last, the first page of Dr Maru’s notebook:
To divide the town, one unit of the weapon to the throne of the builder: to please the builder, in the company of the god: lithium, 1 grain/seed of europium. 1 daughter of gold woman - yours. Country [given?] to god and then [to] lord/god/king. Ruthenium possibility, carbon disulfide*, and then rhenium. May it be pleasing to the country. Animal shoulder** Uunhexium*** . Lord/god and then gallium, and then radium. Weapon, iodine, administrator.
*This sign can mean “tree, wood” or, just stand for the sound “s”. So, i was left with a choice between carbon and sulfur, and settled on the compound
**I have no fricking idea why that’s in there, but it’s definitely that sign. Maybe she wants to make a pot roast and scribbled it down?
Someone draw me happy dr maru and her pot roast pls
***This sign was VERY hard to identify, but i finally settled on the Old Babylonian Lapidary sign for “uuh”. Uuh also happens to be the chemical symbol for Ununhexium or Livermorium, a rare earth element not identified until the year 2000. This is strange, because this sign is CLEARLY Lapidary, while all the others are in the Neo-Assyrian script. So my conclusion is that Dr Poison isolated Uunhexium 92 years ahead of the game, it’s her big secret, and decided it needed a unique Logogram of its own, for which she adopted the sign for Uuh.