S20 – Scribes & Authors


  1. Nicholas Kraus (Yale University)
  2. Jana Matuszak (Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena)
  3. Witold Tyborowski (Uniwersytet im. Adama Mickiewicza w Poznaniu = Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań)
  4. Kaira Boddy (Freie Universität Berlin)
  5. Sophus Helle (Aarhus Universitet)

Paper Titles with Abstracts

Scribal Education in Sargonic Mesopotamia
Nicholas Kraus (Yale University)

This paper will present an overview of the program of scribal education during the period of Sargonic hegemony in Mesopotamia (c. 2350-2150). This will include an outline of the different topics found in the school tablets, the structure and methodology of education, as well as the goals of an education in the scribal arts at this time. In addition to that, it will touch upon the language of instruction and propose a setting where scribal education was performed. Ultimately this research will show that education at this time had a close relationship with the administrative institutions of the empire, and that the goal of education was to produce a competent bureaucrat.

Humour in Sumerian Didactic Literature, or: Schadenfreude as a Pedagogical Tool
Jana Matuszak (Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena)

The Sumerian didactic disputations and diatribes have often been described as ‘humoristic’ compositions, but the exact nature of the underlying humour has not been investigated so far. Bearing in mind the difficulties of identifying and correctly interpreting humour in ancient works of literature, an attempt at a systematic study of humour in Sumerian didactic disputations and diatribes will be made. The study will focus on a selection of relevant texts, namely the disputation between scribes known as ‘Dialogue 1’ or ‘Two Scribes,’ the disputation between women known as ‘Dialogue 5’ or ‘Two Women B,’ the Diatribes B and C (also known as ‘Engardu the Fool’ and ‘He is a Good Seed of a Dog,’ respectively), as well as the hitherto unpublished diatribe against a woman entitled ‘Ka ḫulu-a.’ Since all these compositions are characterised by an abundance of insults, one aim of the investigation is to determine if and how these insults could have had a humoristic effect. In this context, the ancient ‘Sitz im Leben’ of the compositions will also be taken into consideration. While it is evident that these texts were studied at school, and probably had next to no relevance outside of it, at least the disputations potentially could have been performed on stage. Hence, the presence of an (imaginary or potential) audience will be included in the discussion of humour in Sumerian didactic literature.

Scribal Invention in the Old Babylonian legal Texts
Witold Tyborowski (Uniwersytet im. Adama Mickiewicza w Poznaniu = Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań)

It has been considered for very long time that the Old Babylonian legal texts of varius types had been drafted as very standard deeds, which do not show much of author’s invention and one can hardly find any studies which aimed at showing particular features of such document in the history of Assyriology. The view might have been based on the common assumption that such texts were of strictly practical character, so they had been drafted according to formulars which determined their shape.
However, closer analysis of various kinds of legal texts from this period shows that apart from the general standard form, in several cases there appear clauses and expressions which were products of scribe’s invention who included them in documents because in their opinions they could express some details or settlements which were not articulated by the standard version of the document. As a result it points out to the creativity of the scribes rather then their sense of usefulness only.
In this paper I want to discuss some examples of this phenomenon in order to make an introduction to a wider discussion on the role of scribes in the notary’s practice of the Old Babylonian period. The examples discussed in the paper come exclusively from ordinary legal texts which shows that they are not deprived from traces of intellectual effort.

Sumerian Translations in Erimḫuš
Kaira Boddy (Freie Universität Berlin)

Centuries after it ceased to be spoken, the use of Sumerian in writing remained essential. Sumerian literary and lexical compositions continued to be copied, sometimes equipped with translations into Akkadian. Moreover, new Sumerian and bilingual Sumerian-Akkadian texts were still being composed. One such text is Erimḫuš, a Middle Babylonian lexical list that was created in a bilingual form. This paper argues that the underlying structure of Erimḫuš was determined by its Akkadian subcolumn. The addition of a Sumerian subcolumn placed the new composition in the ageold scribal tradition.
Erimḫuš is outwardly organized into short sections that are separated by horizontal dividing lines. While some thematic and graphical connections between successive sections can be recognized, for large parts of the list it remains unclear why certain sections follow others. The entries within a section are usually connected thematically, less often through acrographical or grammatical principles. A fourth type of section lists Akkadian homonyms and is, thus, clearly structured by the Akkadian subcolumn. The Sumerian entries, set apart from their Akkadian equivalents, do not form a coherent group.
Many of the thematically structured sections also show that the Sumerian entries are secondary to the Akkadian ones: whereas a connection between each of the Akkadian entries can be recognized, one or more of the Sumerian entries stands out. Sometimes a Sumerian entry can only be explained as a translation of a homonym of one of the Akkadian words in the group. Other Sumerian entries are clearly ad-hoc loans from their Akkadian equivalents in the list, and may have been included by lack of a “real” equivalent.
Finally, there are sections in which a first Sumerian entry is repeated and provided with additional elements, such as (a)-ri-a. While their meaning is uncertain, these added elements follow specific patterns that occur relatively frequently in Erimḫuš. They can be explained as a strategy to create Sumerian equivalents to the Akkadian entries, which are usually synonyms or near-synonyms. Some of the Akkadian word groups are also attested in other lexical lists, as the equivalents of one and the same Sumerian entry. In Erimḫuš the order of the Akkadian entries was deliberately changed, so that the section closes with the most unusual or specific term of the group. The element (a)-ri-a, which as a rule is attached to the last Sumerian entry of a section, marks the final position within such a meaningful (new) sequence.

Weavers and Dreamers: The Representation of Authorship in cuneiform Cultures
Sophus Helle (Aarhus Universitet)

Authorship is not a particularly characteristic aspect of cuneiform cultures, since their literary texts were for the most part anonymous. However, it is also in cuneiform cultures that one sees the very earliest named authors, such as Enheduana, Kabti-ili-Marduk, or Esagil-kin- apli. These figures constitute the first steps towards the now pervasive notion of literary authorship. As a nascent concept, cuneiform authorship is thus among the most significant aspects of the ancient Near East’s intellectual heritage. I argue that in Sumerian, Babylonian, and Assyrian cultures there were particularly influential figurations of the literary: the “weaver”, who arranged anew the tangled threads of tradition, and the “dreamer”, who received their text from a god at night-time. These figures do not reflect the historical reality of cuneiform authorship, but should rather be seen as the most important social narratives about authorship in the ancient Near East. Examining each of the two figures in turn, I show that both reflect a view of the author as standing in a medial position between the actual origin of the text (either a god or a distant past) and its final form, forcing us to rethink the relation between tradition and newness. Further, both reveal an ideal of the author, not as e.g. a performer or an ecstatic, but specifically as a scholar and priest: intelligent, pious, and steeped in tradition. Finally, I discuss whether it is appropriate to refer to these figures as “authors”. Both figures involve the “author” receiving the text from elsewhere and then reworking it – a poor match for our modern notion of the author as an original creator. But while they may not be authors in the modern sense of the word, this view of authorship as “receiving-and-reworking” is in fact the most common view of authorship in the majority of pre-modern cultures.


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