Babylonian Poetry

One of the many interesting things about the Sumer civilisation is that it doesn’t get as much attention as the ancient Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians, despite the fact that Sumer was the oldest known human civilisation, having arisen some 7000 years ago in Mesopotamia, the fertile region between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in what is now modern day Iraq. Another interesting thing is that the Sumerians stayed mostly in Mesopotamia (which is a relatively small region). The Sumer civilisation had incredible technology and lasted some two and a half thousand years; plenty of time to go empire building, but they didn’t. Instead they were too busy inventing the wheel, copper and bronze working, the arch, sailboats, lunar calendars, sundials, saws, chisels, hammers, rivets, sickles, hoes, glue, swords and scabbards, harnesses, armor, musical instruments, chariots, the kiln, building bricks, the pottery wheel, printing, plows, metal cooking pots, and beer, more than 30 varieties of beer. Sumerian innovation is what launched the human race into what is laughingly called ‘the modern age’, and they did it while the rest of the world was still in the Stone Age.

But there’s more: the Sumerians also invented the fundamental aspects of civilization, such as writing, arithmetic, geometry, monumental architecture (as part of large cities), irrigation systems and large scale farming, sewage systems, schools, dictionaries, literature, realistic human portraiture, business accounting, the division of labor and professional armies. Sumerian mathematics are particularly staggering. They used the sexagesimal number system, based on the number 60, rather than the simpler decimal system that we use today. Sumerian mathematics is why we still divide a circle into 360 degrees, and their invention of lunar calendars and sundials is why an hour has sixty minutes, and all the rest of it. Remember, this was all at least “twenty centuries before Julius Caesar, sixteen centuries before Socrates and seven centuries before Tutankhamen” (link).

There’s still much mystery surrounding the Sumerians. No one really knows where they came from. Their civilisation appeared as if out of nowhere. This also follows with the language they used and its written form, which is known as Cuneiform. Once again the roots of this language have never been properly traced. These things, and everything else that’s known about the Sumerians, has led many to speculate that there’s some kind of extraterrestrial connection. The following photo shows statuettes from the Ubaid period, the prehistoric era of the Sumerians…

The Sumerians’ Cuneiform gave us the world’s oldest poem, which is called The Epic of Gilgamesh and was written 4000 years ago, during the final years of the Sumer civilisation (some of the world’s religious stuff – the Koran, Bible and Torah – came out of this). The Epic of Gilgamesh is written on clay tablets. It’s only relatively recently (late 19th century) that anyone has been able to figure out how to understand the ancient Sumerian language. The clay tablets tell the story of Gilgamesh, king of Uruk, and Enkidu, a wild man created by the gods to stop Gilgamesh from oppressing the people of Uruk. Here’s some translated lines from Tablet 1 of The Epic of Gilgamesh, written 4000 years ago. It’s all about Enkidu getting laid:

Shamhat unfastened the cloth of her loins,
she bared her sex and he took in her charms.
She did not recoil, she took in his scent:
she spread her clothing and he lay upon her.

She did for the man the work of a woman,
his passion caressed and embraced her.
For six days and seven nights
Enkidu was erect, as he coupled with Shamhat.

When with her delights he was fully sated,
he turned his gaze to his herd.
The gazelles saw Enkidu, they started to run,
the beasts of the field shied away from his presence.

Have I mentioned that the Sumerians were very licentious and worshiped things like masturbation and anal sex?

I won’t go into more detail about this ancient poem. I’ll leave that to Andrew George, Professor of Babylonian at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. I just love it when these experts get totally enthused about what are quite obscure subjects, despite the fact that I don’t always understand what they’re talking about. Andrew George even speaks some Sumerian during his lecture, a language that hasn’t been spoken for many, many thousands of years…

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