Akkadian

Akkadian

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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Dashes and Alephs

Photograph of a forest on hills disappearing into fog
At least I am not claiming that I got lost in the mountains, although that is easier in Innsbruck this summer than you might think.

While troubles with my Internet connection have prevented me from posting anything substantial, this week I added a paragraph to my post on how to interpret the special characters in Latinizations of Near Eastern languages. Transliterations of Semitic names often contain dashes (<->) and alephs (<ˀ> or <‘>) and these can look a bit mysterious to the uninitated.

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This is Not a Translation of the Gadal-iama Contract

Although respectable German and French translations of the Gadal-iama contract were available by 1952, they were published in journals for specialists. As a result, many English-speaking readers first encounter this text as quoted or paraphrased in books on other topics. One of the most widely read versions was published in a life of Alexander by Robin Lane Fox and quoted by Paul Rahe in his article “The Military Situation in Western Asia on the Eve of Cunaxa.” But as with some other things in Lane Fox’s life of Alexander, this version is not exactly what it leads readers to think it is:

In one remarkable document, the problems are set out in detail. In 422 King Artaxerxes had summoned his colonists to attack the city of Uruk, but the summons had caught the Jewish owner of a land grant off his guard. Probably because of financial embarassment, the Jew’s father had been forced to adopt a member of the Murasu bank as his son, so that the banker could inherit a share in the family allotment, and as the land grant could only be owned by members of the family, adoption was the one means of evading the king’s law and endowing an outsider. When the father died, the adopted banker held one part of the farm, the true male heirs the rest. … Fortunate in his banking ‘brother,’ the Jew had struck an advantageous bargain; the wild cat bankers would not fancy fighting and so their adopted agent would finance the armour, silver tax, horse and, very probably, the groom, while the Jew would ride out at the risk of his life.

In the joy of his heart, Gadal-Iama the Jew has spoken thus to the son of the Murasu: the planted and plowed fields, the horse land of my father, you now hold because my father once adopted your father. So give me a horse with a groom and harness, a caparison of iron, a helmet, a leather breastplate, a buckler, 120 arrows of two sorts, an iron attachment for my buckler, two iron spears and a mina of silver for provisions, and I will fulfill the service-duties which weigh on our lands.

As the horseman owned no bow, the arrows were presumably to be handed in to the cashier and then distributed to owners of bow and chariot land.

– Robin Lane Fox, Alexander the Great, The Dial Press n.p. 1974 ch. 11 p. 159

Robin Lane Fox seems to have composed this version on the basis of the French and German translations which he cited. However, it is missing things in both of them, and contains things which neither does.
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VENI VIDI VICI

A tomb relief depicting a man in a toga with six writing boards, Archaeologisches Museum, Schloss Eggenburg, Graz. Photo by Sean Manning, September 2015. A good long time ago, Julius Caesar faced the problem of how to boast about military achievements so great and so numerous that one war threatened to... Continue reading: VENI VIDI VICI

How Do You Pronounce Those Accented Characters in Ancient Near Eastern Languages Anyways?

An old cutwater of natural stones set in concrete, barely higher than the water which flows by it and into cracks in the end facing the onrushing water; some stones are covered with slimy moss
Rivers have their own interesting sounds. The cutwater of the old footings of a bridge in the river Inn. Photo by author.

Specialists in ancient Southwest Asia do not always name and define the special accented characters which they use to transcribe words in languages like Aramaic, Babylonian, Sumerian, and Old Persian. While this is convenient for fellow specialists, and avoids taking side in some debates about the sounds of ancient languages, it makes it hard for readers without their special training to read these words, to pronounce them, and to copy them on a computer. They also sometimes refer to these characters after their Greek or Hebrew names, which can also be confusing if one does not know these alphabets and how they are transcribed in Latin letters. One of the appendices to my doctoral thesis will give the names and pronunciations of every special character which I use. I thought it might be of interest to a wider audience. If a passing phoneticist drops in to prevent a poor historian from mangling the International Phonetic Alphabet or spreading nonsense about Akkadian phonology, so much the better! I would rather be corrected now than by a reviewer when in the distant future the dissertation becomes a book.
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Reading Akkadian

yale_gilgamesch_001

Here we have a sketch of the Old Babylonian copy of the epic of Gilgamesh stored in Pennsylvania. It corresponds to the end of the first tablet of the better-known Standard Babylonian version from Nineveh, where Gilgamesch has some prophetic dreams and Shamkhat persuades Enkidu to visit the city. As everything slows down before the holidays, I thought that I would dust off another draft and talk about some of the challenges in reading Akkadian cuneiform.

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Gadal-iama, Part 2: The Cuneiform Text

Lutz UCP 9.3 p278

Digitalizing old cuneiform texts poses some special issues which digitalizing old Teubners and Loebs does not. Working with the Gadal-iama contract has been an excellent excuse to explore them. I hope that they will have some interest for my readers who don’t read Akkadian.

Copyright is the first issue. At present I do not have time to make my own transcription of the published drawings (this has changed since October 2014- ed.). The following edition is based on that published by Henry Frederick Lutz in 1928. On the basis of Cornell University’s handy guide, I believe it to be in the public domain.

Our understanding of cuneiform writing has changed since 1928. An example which leaps out is that Lutz read the signs AN.BAR as the god Ninurta rather than the adjective parzillu “iron.” I have corrected this and noted where Ebeling’s more recent reading of other signs differs.

Conventions for transliterating cuneiform have also changed. I have tried to move Lutz’ text towards the conventions of the Open Richly Annotated Cuneiform Corpus as defined in their Akkadian Stylesheet. I have replaced the most obvious logograms with the corresponding Sumerian, but not tampered with Lutz’ sign numbers and vowel lengths where they are slightly different from the conventions today (this has changed since October 2014- ed.). All capitalized Sumerograms and all material in brackets except for the line numbers are my own.

This is neither a completely modernized edition (which would take more time than I have available) nor an exact transcription of Lutz’s edition (which would be hard for many Assyriologists to use). Serious scholars with access to a good library will want the second edition by Ebeling, but I hope that this will be worthwhile regardless. I would very much appreciate it if anyone who spots an error would email me. In the future I may make my own transcription to practice the script and understand which signs lie behind the logograms in the existing transcriptions.

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Two Unfortunate Choices of Script

My Internet connection is having trouble uploading, which it making it difficult to post some pictures which I wanted to talk about. Instead, I think I will use this post to gripe about design choices in another kind of information technology. My first career was in programming, but programming languages were not the first where it proved very difficult to change early decisions as their disadvantages became apparent or the context changed.
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The Meaning of Sariam

Chicago Assyrian Dictionary “S” page 313 (abbreviations are expanded for clarity):

siriam (sariam, siriannu, širiam, širˀam, širˀannu) substantive masculine and feminine; [meanings] 1. leather coat, often reinforced with metal pieces, 2. (a garment); [attested in the following dialects and archaeological sites:] Middle Babylonian, Boghazkuei, Early Assyrian, Nuzi, Standard Babylonian, Neo-Assyrian, Neo-Babylonian; foreign word; pl. sarijamāti, širˀamēti.

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Another of my Tools

A few weeks ago I showed what a bare-bones publication of a cuneiform text looks like.  A much newer book is a good example of a lavish edition.

The blue hardcover of a book
John MacGinnis and Cornelia Wunsch, Arrows of the Sun: Armed Forces in Sippar in the First Millenium BC. Babylonische Archive Band 4. ISLET-Verlag: Dresden, 2012.

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