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A ruler and a goddess: a match made in heaven?

18 October 2017

It’s no bigger than a postcard, yet it contains 123 highly lyrical verses telling the surprising story of a king brought to his knees by a powerful goddess.  

Queen’s Fellow in Classics Dr Christopher Metcalf has collaborated with Dr Marie-Christine Ludwig of SOAS, University of London, to bring a previously unpublished work of Sumerian literature to light. The ancient Sumerians inhabited what is now southern Iraq c.5000 years ago. The tiny tablet on which the poem is inscribed has spent over 100 years in the collections of the British Museum. 

This remarkable work of Sumerian literature is unique as it describes the initial failure of the union between king and goddess, not something traditionally associated with a strong ruler. Dr Metcalf’s research explores the poem’s rich mythological and ritual background: this is a religious tale. The anger and suffering finally lead to reconciliation, with the king’s all-enduring piety displaying a different kind of strength.

It’s remarkable that this work has gone unpublished for so long. The reason, Dr Metcalf says, is ‘a combination of the philological difficulty of the text, its unusual content, and the fact that it was written in very small characters’. 

His work follows a long tradition of epigraphic research at Queen’s, which was once home of the pioneering cuneiform scholar Archibald Sayce (1845-1933).  Today Fellows from different disciplines come together through a shared interest in the written word to collaborate in the Workshop for Manuscript and Text Cultures (WMTC). 

Read the full story here


Ancient Sumerian text