Piotr Michalowski home return home


ACABS 414 /REL 442
Winter 2004


Instructor: Piotr Michalowski
Office: 2068 Frieze Building
Email: piotrm@umich.edu
Lecture Time and Place: Tuesday & Thursday, 1-2:30 PM,  G115 Angel Hall
Office Hours: Tuesday 2:30-4 and by appointment.
Requirements: Attendance at lectures, reading of assignments, midterm and final examinations.
Grading: Midterm 40%, Final examination 60%.

Readings: The two required books: Benjamin R. Foster, From Distant Days: Myths, Tales and Poetry of Ancient Mesopotamia (Bethesda: CDL Press, 1995) and Andrew George, The Epic of Gilgamesh: The Babylonian Epic Poem and Other Texts in Akkadian and Sumerian (Penguin, 2001) will be available at Shaman Drum Bookstore on State Street. Translations of Sumerian texts as well as background materials will be provided through CourseTools.

The following books will be on reserve at the Reserve Reading Room of the Undergraduate Library (Shapiro): Foster, From Distant Days, Foster, Before the Muses, George, The Epic of Gilgamesh, A. L. Oppenheim, Ancient Mesopotamia, Oppenheim, Letters from Mesopotamia, Stephanie Dalley, Myths from Mesopotamia, James Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern texts Relating to the Old Testament, Michael Roaf, Cultural Atlas of Mesopotamia and the Ancient Near East, and P. Michalowski, Lamentation over the Destruction of Sumer and Ur.

Registered students will be able to access various materials, including assigned translations, through the UM course tools on the web.
The course can be accessed through the student gateway site at


where students can see all their officially registered courses and any associated URLs.  Note that registrar information about enrollment can take a day or more to get to CourseTools once a student does register.

Course Description

  The first known literature in the world was created almost five thousand years ago in southern Mesopotamia, in the area occupied by the modern state of Iraq.  These myths, hymns, epics, proverbs, omens, spells as well as many other kinds of texts were written on clay tablets using the cuneiform script.  The poems were composed in various languages, primarily in Sumerian and Akkadian (Babylonian), but we will be reading these texts in modern English translations and no knowledge of the ancient languages is required.
   Cuneiform was invented around 3300 BC and was used widely until the first centuries of the modern era.  Archaeologists and plunderers have unearthed hundreds of thousands of inscribed clay tablets providing us with a fairly complete picture of this long-lived literature of ancient Sumer, Assyria, and Babylonia.  We will be reading the most important of these texts and using them as a means of understanding the worldview of a long lost ancient society.  The pleasure of reading will therefore also serve as a pretext for a meditation on cross-cultural communication across time and space, as we try to respect difference but at the same time seek common ground with different people from different civilizations.



6   General Introduction
8   Mesopotamian History--An Overview
13  Language, Literacy, and Writing
15  A History of Early Sumerian Literature
20  First Readings
      The Sumerian Flood Story, two hymns
22  The Order of the Universe
      Enki and the World Order,
27  The Travails of Enki
      Enki and Ninhursanga, Enki and Ninmah
29  Nidaba and her Daughter
      Enlil and Ninlil, Enlil and Sud


3   The Figure of Inana
     Iddin-Dagan Hymn A, The Descent of Inana to the Netherworld, selected love songs
5   The Shulgi Canon I. Kingship in Crisis: The Life and Death of Ur-Namma
     The Laws of Ur-Namma, Ur-Namma's Hymn to Enlil, The Death of Ur-Namma
10 The Shulgi Canon II. The Charter for Kingship: Enmerkar and Lugalbanda
     Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta, Lugalbanda I&II
12 The Shulgi Canon III.  The Charter for Kingship: Gilgamesh I
     Gilgamesh and Huwawa
17  The Shulgi Canon III.  The Charter for Kingship: Gilgamesh II
      Gilgamesh, Enkidu and the Netherworld, Gilgamesh and Aka, The Death of Gilgamesh
19  The Shulgi Canon IV: Aspects of Kingship & History: The Sumerian King List
     The Sumerian King List, The Tummal Chronicle, Shulgi Hymns, Royal letters I.

(Spring Break)


2   The Shulgi Canon IV: The End of Ur in Literary Perspective
     Lament over the Destruction of Sumer and and Ur, Royal letters II, Ishbi-Erra Hymns
4   Midterm Examination
9   Introduction to Akkadian Literature
11 The Grand Akkadian Myths I:  Atramhasis
16 The Grand Akkadian Myths II: Nergal & Ereshkigal, Ishtar's Descent
18 The Grand Akkadian Myths III: Adapa, Etana
23 The Grand Akkadian Myths IV: Anzu and Erra
25 Gilgamesh I: The Akkadian 'Epic'
30 Gilgamesh II: General Discussion


Enuma Elish: Politics, Ritual, and Creation
6  Royalty:  Mid-Second and First Millennium Perspectives
8  The Arts of the Diviner
13 'Wisdom' Meditations 15  Satire & Humor
20  Review

Classes end April 21

Final Examination:  Monday, April 26, 4:00-6:00 pm