Search This Blog

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Marc Carver writes


When some days you can do nothing else

Sit down clear your empty mind and write some words.

Any bloody thing that pops up there



Even if it is really nothing put it down and send it into the eternity of the spiral internet

because now it will live forever

forever there

even if no one ever reads it

It will be eternal. 


--from The Epic of Gilgamesh


  1. The 1st known story of the invention of writing occurred in a Sumerian epic poem “Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta” (ca. 1800 BCE):

    Because the messager's mouth was heavy and he couldn't repeat (the message), the Lord of Kulaba patted some clay and put words on it, like a tablet. Until then, there had been no putting words on clay.

    Although some artifacts have been found that may indicate that the 1st writing may be some 8,000 years old, such claims are controversial. Most scholars regard cuneiform as the oldest system of writing and have developed a well-established history of its development from pictographs of the late 4th millennium BCE, which evolved from token systems used for accounting that were in use from the 9th millennium BCE. This "proto-literate" period spans roughly the 35th to 32nd centuries BCE, and the 1st documents unequivocally written in Sumerian date to the 31st century BCE. After ca. 2900 BCE many pictographs began to lose their original function and often became context-specific. The sign inventory was reduced from some 1,500 signs to some 600 signs, and writing became increasingly phonological. At the same time a wedge-tipped stylus was introduced to be pushed into the clay, producing wedge-shaped ("cuneiform") signs that allowed for quicker and easier writing since the scribe could make a variety of impressions using a single tool. By the time Enheduanna (2285-2250 BCE) wrote her hymns to Inanna, cuneiform was sophisticated enough to convey emotional states. But the oldest known literature are the “Instructions of Shuruppak” (ca. 2600-2500 BCE) and the “Kesh Temple Hymn” (ca. 2600 BCE).

    Possibly the oldest literary work was by Shuruppak, whose son Ziusudra (Utnapishtin in the Akkadian version) was the Sumerian model for Noah; his Instructions were discovered at Abu Salabikh, around 20 km (12 mi) northwest of Nippur, in 1963-1965. The “Hymn” was found at Nippur in 1889-1900, and Stephen Herbert Langdon translated parts of it between 1913-1917; other scholars added to it over the decades. The poem, composed by Nisaba, the goddess of vegetation, writing, and literature, may have had about 134 lines, divided into 8 songs referred to as “temples,” which detailed the praise of the city by Enlil, the god of breath and wind. It began, “The princely one, the princely one came forth from the house. Enlil, the princely one, came forth from the house. The princely one came forth royally from the house. Enlil lifted his glance over all the lands, and the lands raised themselves to Enlil. The four corners of heaven became green for Enlil like a garden. Kesh was positioned there for him with head uplifted, and as Kesh lifted its head among all the lands, Enlil spoke the praises of Kesh.”

  2. In 1625 Pietro Della Valle introduced to Europe copies of characters he had seen in Persepolis, Ur, and Babylon, and in 1677 Sir Thomas Herbert reproduced others from Persepolis and claimed that they represented words and syllables, not just letters or hieroglyphics. In 1827 the British East India Company sent Henry Rawlinson, who spoke Persian, to train Fath-Ali Šâh Qâjâr’s troops. During his 2 years in the Behistun area, near Kermanshah (1835-1837) he deciphered the cuneiform inscriptions there, but his work was not published until 1847 and 1849. In 1851 Austen Henry Layard uncovered the library of Assyrian king Sennacherib (705–681 BCE); 2 years later is assistant Hormuzd Rassam found the library of king Ashurbanipal (668–627 BCE); the 2 sets became mixed up, however, along with tablets found elsewhere, but the 10s of thousands of artefacts in the British Museum included “The Epic of Gilgamesh,” the world’s oldest novel, which George Smith translated in 1872. Gilgamesh ruled Uruk (sometime ca. 2800 and 2500 BCE) and emerged as a major legendary figure during the Third Dynasty of Ur (ca. 2112-2004 BCE) in 5 surviving Akkadian poems which were merged into a connected narrative. The standard version, known originally as “Surpassing All Other Kings” and later as “The One Who Saw All,” was composed (ca. 1600 – c. 1155 BC) by an exorcist, Sîn-lēqi-unninni (“Sîn [the moon god] is one who accepts my prayer”). In 1880 Smith published the Flood story from Tablet XI in 1880 as “The Chaldean Account of Genesis.” The first comprehensive collection of the cuneiform texts was made by Paul Haupt in 1884 and 1891, which led to Peter Jensen’s complete edition and translation of 1900. Campbell Thompson’s edition of 1930 included fragments that were not written by Sîn-lēqi-unninni. Hundreds of fragments of various editions of the set of tablets found by Layard and Rassam have been identified and fitted together like a giant jigsaw. However, almost 20% of the epic is still missing and a further 25% is so fragmentary that it is only partially legible. Missing lines continue to be discovered in museum collections and excavations at the rate of several dozen words a year. The opening lines, from an edition of the epic copied between 600-100BCE, were only recently recovered from a fragment in the British Museum; it was found in 1878 by Rassam or commercial treasure hunters but not identified until 1998, when Theodore Kwasman realized its significance:

    He who saw the Deep, the country’s foundation,
    Who knew (everything), was wise in all matters.
    Gilgamesh, who saw the Deep, the country’s foundation,
    Who knew (everything), was wise in all matters.
    [He] … everywhere…,
    And learnt of everything the sum of wisdom.
    He saw what was secret, discovered what was hidden,
    He brought back a tale of before the Deluge.

    Even more recently, in 2011, the Sulaymaniyah Museum in Slemani, in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, purchased a set of 80 to 90 clay tablets from a known smuggler. Farouk Al-Rawi and Andrew George translated one of them in 5 days, 20 previously unknown lines about Gilgamesh and Enkidu, the wild man created by the gods to keep Gilgamesh in line, as they traveled to the Cedar Forest (home of the gods) to defeat the ogre Humbaba. The passage confirmed, among other things, that Enkidu and Humbaba were childhood friends.