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Fellow in Classical Languages and Literature brings to light previously unpublished ancient texts

31 July 2019

Fellow in Classical Languages and Literature Dr Christopher Metcalf has published a new book that offers editions of 17 previously unpublished Mesopotamian cuneiform tablets, dating to ca. 2000 BC and containing works of Sumerian religious poetry. Sumerian poetry is among the world’s oldest extant literature, and the present volume brings to light several important works that were previously unknown to scholarship.

Most texts edited here can be described as works of religious literature: they are songs composed in praise of various gods of the Mesopotamian pantheon, and were usually performed in temple cults. The new poems published in the present volume include: a song in praise of the little-known goddess Sud, who was the local deity of Shuruppak, one of the most ancient, antediluvian cities according to Mesopotamian mythology; a full manuscript of a song describing the cult statue of the protective goddess Lamma-saga in the ‘Sacred City’-temple complex at Girsu; a previously unknown hymn about the creator-god Enki (the Mesopotamian counterpart to Prometheus); and further texts that shed light on the interaction between cult, scholarship, and scribal culture in Mesopotamia in the early second millennium BC.

The edition includes a general introduction setting out the main questions of interpretation raised by the texts: in particular, the introduction argues that literary texts should be regarded as valuable sources for the history of ancient religion, especially when they can be contextualised by means of independent evidence, and that scholars should distinguish carefully between primary contexts of composition and performance (which are often cultic) and secondary contexts of subsequent re-copying (which may often be didactic). The main body of the edition includes transliterations and translations of all texts; commentaries dealing with philological, lexical and general interpretative aspects; and hand-copies and photographs of all tablets. 

Image: an extract of Dr Metcalf's drawing of one of the tablets that contains a previously unknown hymn to the Mesopotamian Sun-god Utu.

Drawing extract from the Schøyen Collection