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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Accadian-Babylonian and Assyrian Literature
Supplementary Note on the Literature of the Euphrates Valley
By Frederick Augustus Vanderburgh (1847–1923)
 
PROFESSOR TOY’S article was up to the highest level of scholarship at the time it was written, but as during the last twenty years more light has been thrown on the former civilizations of western Asia, through the activities of excavators and translators, a summary of the most recent information is here presented.  1
  The earliest people, having a written language, in the valley of the Tigris and Euphrates, the cradle of Assyro-Babylonian civilization, were the Sumerians. Their speech was agglutinative, and their writing was in the so-called cuneiform script, that is, composed of wedge-shaped characters. They wrote with stylus on clay tablets, which were subsequently either sundried or kilnburnt, though their compositions were sometimes engraved on stone or some form of metal.  2
  Sumerian documents may be classified as commercial, historical, and religious. Commercial literature is perhaps the most primitive, appearing when the people find that business relations are facilitated by written record. Sumerian tablets of accounts, sales, and other business transactions are very numerous. In fact, a large quantity of written material, coming from cities of the Sumerian dynasties, such as, for example, the city of Ur, is commercial.  3
  The narrative of events taking place between rival states is real history. Thus, the famous ‘Stele of the Vultures’ gives a picturesque account of the battle between Eannatum of Lagash and Ush of Umma. Ush had removed the boundary stone and invaded and devoured the rich valley belonging to the country of which Lagash was the capital. Eannatum prostrated himself before his god and was assured in a dream that the sun-god Babbar would go with him in battle and restore to him his land. Eannatum gathered together his soldiers, armed with spear and battle axe and bearing wooden bucklers. Ush was defeated, leaving 3,600 dead on the field of battle, and Eannatum swept on over the city of Umma in fury. The sculpture on the front of the stele represents the vultures carrying away the heads of the dismembered dead. Eannatum dug a canal for a boundary line and re-established the boundary stone, warning Ush not to invade the territory of Lagash again.  4
  Religious literature is probably a later product of civilization than commercial writing. Religious documents appear when more opportunity is given for meditation and the expression of feeling in prayer and hymn and temple service. In this sort of production we find, first mere votive inscriptions which are brief and stereotyped, and later the longer documents. Thus, in Gudea we have a fine picture of the elaborate ritual with which the Sumerians clothed their cult and worship, at the time when their social development was at its zenith. The composition of the Gudea literature is vivid and florid. The gods were angry and famine threatened the land. King Gudea had a dream. He understood it not. He besought the temple of Ninâ, where the goddess divulged to him the import of the dream. The god Ningirsu had decreed that his temple E-ninnu, lapsing into decay, should be rebuilt. Finally, Gudea receives instruction in detail, as to whence the material should be drawn, the full plan of the structure of the temple, and the manner of its dedication. When the timber, stone, marble, and sweet-smelling woods had been brought from the far west, and the precious metals from the east, and the building, with its richly furnished courts and beautiful shrines, had been completed by cunning workmen, on a day appointed the dedication began, and Ningirsu, his consort, his sons, his virgin daughters, and all the attendant deities forming the divine household, were transferred to the new temple, amid elaborate ceremonies and the sacrifices of oxen and sheep and the offerings of fruits and cakes. This splendid feast for all the people lasted seven days.  5
  The rulers of the dynasty of Agade have also left us some literature. This civilization is Semitic and is called Accadian; the language is now Semitic, but the script continues to be the cuneiform. Here, in fact, we have the oldest pieces of historical Semitic literature in existence. No production of any length has been found dating from Sargon I. But we have longer documents from Manishtusu and Naram-Sin. Manishtusu gives an account of a social movement which he conducted. He purchased a large tract of land near the city of Kish, from which he removed about seven hundred laborers and overseers to other places, where he provided them the means of support. The property he had purchased near Kish was handed over to certain citizens of Agade for management. This narrative is engraved on a fine obelisk of sixty-nine columns. Naram-Sin tells of his campaigns and also of his works in times of peace. On his magnificent stele there is a record of nine victories in one year.  6
  During the period of the first dynasty of Babylon two kinds of literature, not common before, came to the front, viz., legal and epistolary. Hammurapi appears most prominently in this form of document. Southern Babylonia had by this time become well Semitized, and all the units of both the south and the north had been gathered into one. Babylon now became the capital.  7
  In his code Hammurapi has given us not only the laws codified in his time, but also those handed down to him from Sumerian and other sources. The code begins with evidence. Neither the plaintiff nor the witness nor the judge may be corrupt. If the accuser cannot prove his charge, he shall be put to death. A man bearing false witness shall be put to death. If a judge alter his judgment, they shall expel him from his seat, and he shall not return. Then follows the body of the laws. First are the laws concerning personal property. Laws on theft of property from the temple or from individuals are given, and also laws dealing with fugitive slaves, and special cases of thieving. Next in order are the laws concerning real estate. Laws regulating the rights and duties of those holding government land and property are set forth, as well as laws on private property. The next laws are on business, relating to trade, transportation, and debts. The rest of the code now treats of persons, as the first half has had to do with property. In treating of the family there are laws first on marriage, and secondly on child relations. After this follow laws on personal injuries, while the last group of laws has to do with labor.  8
  We have about seventy-five letters from the reign of Hammurapi. They throw much light on the administrative activities of the great ruler Hammurapi. Letters of later periods might be mentioned in this connection, namely, the letters discovered at Tell-el-Amarna from the kings of Babylonia, Assyria, and Mitanni to certain Egyptian kings, which reveal the influence of Egypt on western Asia in the fourteenth century B.C., and the Assyrian letters of the times of Sargon II. and Assurbanipal, giving much historical data on the relations of Assyria to Armenia and Elam.  9
  Writings dating from the rulers of the ten dynasties of Babylon, outside of the first, are not very abundant. The Neo-Babylonian rulers, on the other hand, furnish us much important historical literature. In Nabopolassar we learn of the rise of Chaldea and the decline of Assyria with the fall of Nineveh. Nebuchadrezzar defeated the Egyptians and secured possession of Syria. In his writings are displayed the glories of his reign and the magnificence of his capital city Babylon. Nabo-Nidus describes his own religious activities, delving to some extent into ancient history. In fact, his documents supplemented by those of Cyrus are our chief source of knowledge regarding the fall of Babylon.  10
  Nearly all the Assyrian kings from Assurnazirpal to Assurbanipal wrote inscriptions that have been recovered from their ruined palaces. These kings began their inscriptions by speaking of the extent of their dominion. Many refer to their ancestry and name the divinities of their pantheons. Their style is usually annalistic. They describe in detail their military campaigns, the countries they invade, the cities and kings they capture, and the booty they carry off. Some describe with apparent pride the brutalities and cruelties committed on their captives.  11
  There are two great epics in Assyrian literature. Both are in fact Babylonian stories. It may be a question, however, whether the Babylonians did not to some extent borrow their models from the Sumerians. The Creation Epic and the Gilgamesh Epic which contains the Deluge Story were both found at Kuyunjik, on the site of ancient Nineveh, in the palace of Assurbanipal. The Creation Story seems to be made up of several interwoven components, viz., the birth of the gods, the legend of Ea and Apsu, the Dragon myth, the creation account, and the hymn to Marduk under his fifty titles. In its final form, the story consists of nine hundred and fifty-four lines. In the primitive chaos of the waters lived the water gods, Apsu and Tiamat. From them sprang other gods. At last Ea and Marduk arose and overthrew Apsu and Tiamat. When Marduk had completed his victory, he created the earth and man. The Gilgamesh Epic consists of twelve large tablets, each one of which has three columns written on both the obverse and the reverse. The text is written mostly in the Assyrian script, with fragments in the Neo-Babylonian. The poem is crowded with mythological material of the greatest interest. It is said to be beautiful and most impressive. It is a story of the great deeds and wonderful adventures of Gilgamesh, the ruler of Erech. The episode of the deluge is found in the eleventh tablet. In the twelfth tablet Gilgamesh finds himself back in Erech, none the wiser concerning the mysteries which he hoped to solve.  12
  The Sumerian and Assyro-Babylonian religious literature consists of incantations, hymns, and psalms. The primitive religious ideas among the Sumerians were Shamanistic, that is, based upon the conception that every moving thing is endowed with a personal spirit. Some of these spirits were evil and harmful; hence the need of incantation for deliverance. In process of time certain spirits tended to take rank among their fellows and become gods. Then the sun-god, the moon-god, or some other god became pre-eminent, to whom prayer could be offered.  13
  There are six distinct series of incantation rituals. In the use of some rituals, medicine was also applied to the parts affected, as, for example, in the case of toothache. Many hymns are written in Sumerian, and sometimes supplied with an interlinear translation in Semitic Babylonian. The Babylonians and Assyrians, who had in certain cities large pantheons, were in no sense monotheists, but rather henotheists, that is, acting on the principle that divinity might be represented by any number of god-names, all of which indicated one and the same divine conception. The same king could offer praise to the sun-god, attributing to him the highest attributes, and on another occasion pray to the moon-god, giving him the same honor. In their penitential psalms their worship became most spiritual and nearest to being like that of the Old Testament Psalms.  14
 
 
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