Sumerian

Sumerian

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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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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One of the Quirks of Sumerian

A stepped terrace of sand with several clay artifacts on it including a pyramid and several statuettes
My collection of photos of Mesopotamian artifacts is small, so here is another set from Palazzo Te in Mantua

One of the quirks of Sumerian is that things are often referred to twice, once as substantives and once as affixes to the verb. The following example comes from Gudea Cylinder A (column ii, line 4) courtesy of the ETCSL.

The individual signs were pronounced something like this:

ma2-gur8-ra-na ĝiri3 nam-mi-gub

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Remembrance Day

War is a very old and very common custom, and so are commemorating it, celebrating it, and praying it away. Others more learned than I have commented on the war which was raging in Europe one hundred years ago. Today I thought I would share two perspectives on war from four thousand years ago.

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