The Biggest Assyriological Film Festival in History
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Categories: Ancient, Modern

The Biggest Assyriological Film Festival in History

A crowd at an academic conference in a lobby with a stone floor, concrete walls, and several tables of books, snacks, and registration papers
The crowd at the 64th Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale cum 12th Melammu-Seminar, 16-20 July 2018 in Innsbruck

Back in July the International Assyriological Association held its annual Rencontre in Innsbruck. I could talk about some of the papers I heard and posters I saw, or the curious characters I meet at these, but I am very tired, so I will just talk about one aspect: the largest festival of films in ancient Near Eastern languages in history.

“But Sean,” you must be saying, “it was only two films as part of a five-day conference. Does that really constitute a film festival?” Hear me out! Two films makes a plural, according to the best cuneiform tradition, and it was indisputably a festive occasion. If a celebration where films are showed before their release into theatres and/or streaming is not a film festival, what is? And while I admit that being the largest festival of films in Ancient Near Eastern languages is a bit like being the world’s most prominent armour historian-ichthyologist, if someone wants to beat our record, they are free to organize a showing of three films in ancient Near Eastern languages, say at the 14th Melammu-Symposium in Los Angeles ({ki}AN.TÚR.HI.A).

Both films are adaptations of famous literary texts. Edubba A- The Film is one of the stories about life in the tablet-house preserved in Sumerian on tablets from the age of Hammurabi. Assyriologists debate whether these reflect life at the time of the oldest surviving copies, or are more like J.K. Rowling telling a public-school story based on other public-school stories … it seems that in the age of Hammurabi there was a rush to record Sumerian texts which had previously been memorized on clay. You can find Edubba A- The Film on the Berner Altorientalisches Forum.

The Poor Man of Nippur is a Babylonian tale of poverty, injustice, and one young citizen’s revenge. The original tablet was copied for Qurdi-Nergal at Huzirina (modern Sultantepe, Turkey) sometime between 701 and 619 BCE. This story uses many of the patterns and tropes seen in the folktales collected in the last few hundred years, such as the “History of the First Larrikin” in a medieval Arabic manuscript, so again trying to work out its exact age is difficult. In the interest of equal representation, I can report that this film acknowledges not one but two goats and an archaeological park in the credits. You can find The Poor Man of Nippur with subtitles in your choice of languages on YouTube and a link to a translation of the Akkadian on the CDLI:wiki.

Enjoy! I will embed the videos below the fold.


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4 thoughts on “The Biggest Assyriological Film Festival in History

  1. Pen Name says:

    That sort of do it yourself vengeance seems at odds with what I have read about the Code of Hammurabi but my acquaintance is amateur, not professional.

    “That the strong might not injure the weak, in order to protect the widows and orphans … in order to bespeak justice in the land, to settle all disputes, and heal all injuries …”

    but there is often a gap between the real world and what most people would consider just outcomes when one of the parties holds a high public office or has friends in office. Perhaps the Code was intended to reduce the need for people to resort to do it yourself vengance in those cases.

    The Professional Engineer leading the APEGBC Inquiry into the 1988 Station Square Collapse in Vancouver quoted from the Code about how shoddy builders should be injured or killed using the fragments of collapsed buildings.

    One of the reasons that Chinese Aristocrats came to accept Confucian Ethics was the advantage of a Public Service held to the high ethical standards associated with the Confucian Virtues.

    Modern societies are supposed to have a number of ways for people to recover from criminal, unethical or unprofessional conduct, but many of the principles go far back in time and culture:

    1. Sean Manning says:

      Often it is the cuneiform texts in a single copy which give us a different picture of Babylonian society. There is also a song about a woman named Ishtar who was emulating her namesake a bit too closely, sometimes letters and court decisions give other glimpses.

      A few ancient historians are looking at phenomena across cultures, like comparing the Roman empire and the Han empire, even though it can be hard to get institutional support.

  2. Andrew Hobley says:

    Thanks for this Sean; it happily took up an hour of an otherwise formless post-Christmas days of leave. Never thought I would be watching a film in the languages of the ancient Near East.

    1. Sean Manning says:

      You are welcome! One day I will figure out why the second film is not embedded properly in my site, WordPress sometimes ‘fixes’ things which are not broken.

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