Philobiblon: Cuneiform, now I get it

Friday, November 19, 2004

Cuneiform, now I get it

I know the cuneiform classes at the British Museum are popular, but I'd never really understood why. Hieroglyphs are too, but then ancient Egypt is so sexy, with so many amazing materials surviving in the Egyptian desert, and the formal hieroglyphs so nicely written in picture form even when the language ceased to be pictographic, that's less surprising.

Then today I got the notes for the tablet, from about 2,100BC, that we'll be using for handling in the Enlightenment gallery.

Then I learnt that the script was created by the Sumerians earlier than 3,000BC, and last used in 75AD (that we know of), for Akkadian, Elamite, Hittite and Urartian and other languages - it was the script of Mesopotamia, not just of one nation as with hieroglyphs - for a very long time indeed.

The cone-shaped peg that we'll be handling was probably inserted in the foundation of a wall surrounding a temple. The inscription reads:
"For the god Nanna,
impetuous calf of the god An,
first-born son of the god Enil,
his lord,
mighty man,
King of Ur
Built this E-temen-ni-guru
For him"

I'm told Nanna, the Sumerian moon god, had a cult centre at Ur, and E-temen-ni-guru was the name of the wall which surrounded the ziggurat of the god Nanna at Ur.
The question immediately arises: why did a wall have its own name? I suspect that might be one of those without an answer.

Now here's a good test for Google. It didn't answer my question, but did come up with The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature (including translations), a Praise Poem of Shulgi, the son of Ur-Nammu, military commander, temple builder and patron of instrumental music and a Lamentations over the destruction of Sumer and Ur".

P.S. As with so many things that I learnt about from books, I used to pronounce "cuneiform" very oddly. I've now learnt it should be Q-nair-form. (The Q said just as in the letter.)

I can no longer remember what it was that I did with Ashurbanipal, but I know the teacher fell about laughing in Year Seven the first time I said it.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home