English version of Épopèes, hymnes et lettres," the first part of which appeared as pp. 248-256 in Jacques Briend and Michel Quesnel, eds.,  Supplément au Dictionnaire de la Bible, fascicule 72. Paris: Letouzy & Ané, 1999 (to be continued in next fascile).

Epics, Hymns, and Letters

Piotr Michalowski
University of Michigan

This chapter provides an overview of three different groups of main dialect Sumerian language literary compositions: epics, hymns, and letters. The definition of the categories covered here is still a matter of some debate, and depends very much on how one conceptualizes concepts of genre, modern as well as ancient. The labels used here are the traditional ones that have acquired a folk systematization in Assyriology. Most often they are invoked in an intuitive manner, sometimes with reference to an encyclopedia of literary theory, but rarely have they been subject to systematic scrutiny (see, however, Vanstiphout 1986).


The category of "epic" is one of the more controversial in Assyriology. A variety of texts have been included under this label over the years, but the definition of the term, as well as its applicability to Mesopotamian writings, are somewhat questionable (see, in general, the studies published in Vogelzang and Vanstiphout 1992). The term "epic" has many anachronistic connotations for contemporary readers, invoking nationalism, ethnic and religious domination, opinions about poetic style, as well as historiographic notions such the existence of a "golden age." It is highly unlikely that all of these have a direct bearing on the interpretation of Sumerian "epic" poems (Michalowski 1992).

In the traditional classification of Sumerian texts, there are nine compositions that are included under the category of "epic." All of these compositions concern three legendary rulers of the city of Uruk: Enmerkar, Lugalbanda, and Gilgamesh. The two Enmerkar tales, Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta (ELA, Cohen 1973) and Enmerkar and Ensuhkeshdana (EE, Berlin 1979) describe different episodes in the protracted struggle between Uruk and the mythical Iranian city of Aratta. This urban name was used as a complex symbol of otherness, formulated as a reverse mirror image of Uruk. Both cities were represented as enormous in size, as paragons of wall-encompassed urbanism, and both were said to be ruled by the same goddess, Inanna. Their struggles always ended with the victory of Sumer, with Inanna’s choice of Uruk as her main residence, and with an implied assertion of the cultural superiority of Mesopotamian civilization. The struggle between Uruk and Aratta was not settled by arms, but by means of intellect and wit. In ELA the rulers of the two exchanged riddles, while an increasingly exhausted messenger had to cross the dangerous mountain ranges between them. To help the envoy with his task, the Uruk king invented writing in a flash, and sent his last message in the form of a written letter. The Iranian ruler looked furiously at the new artifact, and his incomprehension turned to despair as he realized the superiority of the now newly literate Sumerian civilization, and the day belonged to Uruk.

By contrast, the action of EE was centered not on a contest of royal wit, but on the conflict of magical practitioners who acted as champions for the two lands. After certain preliminary events, some of which are difficult to understand, the narrative turns to the final conflict. As a result of the machinations of the Aratta representative, the herds of the Sumerian city of Eresh no longer provide milk. A pair of twin shepherds preys to the Sun God for help and this leads to an apparent contest between the Aratta magician and an old woman from Sumer. The former catches some creatures in a river, but even larger creatures caught by the old woman immediately eat them. The losing magician is thrown in the river and Uruk is once again victorious.

The Old Babylonian Lugalbanda texts have narrative connections with the Enmerkar stories, but differ from them both in substance and in tone. There has been some debate as to the number of these tales, but we shall assume here that there was only one long composition of which Lugalbanda and the Mountain Cave formed the opening, and Lugalbanda and Anzu the concluding part (Wilcke 1969). The action takes place during he reign of Enmerkar, but the hero is the future king Lugalbanda who would, in turn, be the father of Gilgamesh in some traditions. Unlike the Enmerkar "epics," the Lugalbanda story takes place during an actual military campaign against the Iranian city. The expedition is lead by seven brothers, together with Lugalbanda, the youngest of them all (perhaps a play on the etymology of his name: "junior king/leader"). When the hero falls sick, he has to be left behind in a cave, with provisions to get him by. He obtains the favor of the gods by making offerings, and manages to survive in the mountain wilderness. In the second part of the story, known as Lugalbanda and Anzu, the Urukean decides to obtain the favor of the mythical lion headed eagle, Anzu, by showering favors on its young. The bird rewards him by providing him with magical speed; he is then able to quickly traverse the mountain ranges and join his fellow countrymen who are camped in the siege of Aratta. He rejoins his brothers, and when the Uruk king Enmerkar seeks a volunteer who would return to his capitol and obtain Inanna’s instructions for victory, only Lugalbanda rises to the occasion. In doing this he earns the enmity of his brothers, but, deaf to their taunts, he uses his new magical powers to once again skip over the mountains with great speed. He runs back and forth between Aratta and Uruk, bringing back Inanna’s message and assuring victory for his king.

As can readily be seen, all these texts share the theme of conflict with an eastern foreign power, symbolized by a mythical land that was separated from Sumer by treacherous mountains. The victories are always symbolic, rather than military, and this particular cycle, more than any other group of texts, provides us with a native view of the place of Mesopotamian civilization in the world. Whether or not this is a partial ideological perspective that was more or less limited to this kind of writing, as opposed to, let us say, the royal inscriptions that extol military success, one cannot say at present. In other words, it is impossible to determine if such representations are generic. The narrative focus on intelligence and cultural superiority as a means of dominating the Other, which, in the late third and early second millennia, was primarily located to the east, in the highlands of Iran.

The Gilgamesh tradition is much more complex. There are five Sumerian narratives about this semi-divine cultural hero: Gilgamesh and Huwawa (GH, a long and a sort version; Edzard 1990, 1991, and 1993), Gilgamesh and the Bull of Heaven (GBH, Cavigneaux and al-Rawi 1993), Gilgamesh, Enkidu and the Netherworld (GEN, Shaffer 1963), Gilgamesh and Agga (GA, R` mer 1980, Katz 1993), and The Death of Gilgamesh (DG, Cavigneaux and Al-Rawi, forthcoming). Unlike the relatively monothematic "epics" about his Uruk predecessors, which center on the "matter of Aratta" (Vanstiphout 1983), the Gilgamesh tales differ from one another in thematic orientation, grammatical and compositional structure, in length, as well as in poetic diction. They also occupy a different intertextual space in Mesopotamian tradition. Lugalbanda was never again the subject of literary creation, and Enmerkar was remembered only marginally in unrelated Akkadian materials from the first millennium (Picchioni 1981: 102-109). In contrast, the figure of Gilgamesh was the subject of a variable textual tradition that continued to the last days of cuneiform writing and even beyond. The relationship between the Old Babylonian Sumerian materials and contemporary as well as later Akkadian, Hittite, and Hurrian language Gilgamesh compositions is extremely complex, and lies well beyond the scope of this essay. Suffice it to say that only the first three of the compositions enumerated above (GH, GBH, and GEN) are recapitulated in the Akkadian versions, but they are quite different in their new garb. Moreover, the degree of alteration differs in each case. Part of GEN was translated literally and incorporated as the last tablet of the first millennium twelve-tablet recension, but GH and GBH were transformed in many details from the Sumerian versions that we have. The Death of Gilgamesh, on the other hand, which has no Akkadian counterpart, provides us with a completely different insight into the relationships between the roughly contemporary second millennium Akkadian and Sumerian language tales about the Uruk hero. In a section describing the deeds of Gilgamesh are enumerated episodes that are known only in the Akkadian "epic," including the meeting with the survivor of the flood story. We cannot know, at present, if we should conclude that there were other, thus far unrecovered, Sumerian Gilgamesh stories, or if the multilingual scribes of the second millennium did not distinguish between traditions that were written down in different languages.

The tales about the Early Dynastic kings of Uruk have survived in versions dating from the Old Babylonian period. There is an unpublished manuscript of Lugalbanda and the Mountain Cave that was inscribed during in Ur III times in the city of Nippur, and an even older story about the same character is known from a tablet written around 2600 BC in Abu Salabikh (Jacobsen 1989). The latter is a short tale that recounts the courtship and union of Lugalbanda with the goddess Lama Ninsumuna (or Ninsuna), an episode that is not known in any later version. Although a divine Gilgamesh with chthonic connections was already worshipped in the Early Dynastic period, the earliest narrative about him is a fragmentary Nippur Ur III manuscript of GBH. The two Ur III tablets allow us to push back the "epic" tradition as far as the beginning of the second millennium, but no further. There are essentially two points of view on the date of these literary works. There are those who view them as authentic depictions of Early Dynastic Mesopotamia and Iran, albeit altered through time and filtered through mythical and epic ways of seeing and telling. Some historians and archaeologists have used these stories to reconstruct the political structures of early Sumer, to articulate theories of trade, of cultural and political interactions with highland Iran, and even to debate the historical geography of the area in Early Dynastic times. There is a growing consensus, however, that much of this material was composed or organized in its present form during the Ur III period as part of the ideological transformation of Mesopotamian ideas of royalty, and that they were part of the foundation myth of the dynasty. The ruling house of Ur actually originated from Uruk and continued to have close ties to that city. Shulgi, the second member of the dynasty, proclaimed his own divinity as part of a complex reaction to the ill-portending death of his father in battle. Shulgi’s father had already expressed his connections with his ancestor Gilgamesh, but the son took this tradition further, claiming to be the offspring of the union of Lugalbanda and Ninsumuna, and therefore the brother of Gilgamesh. The recourse to an eponymous human father and a goddess mother provided the explanation for the mortality of the divine king. A literary elaboration of the consequences of this genealogy is to be found in the Death of Gilgamesh, as well as in a related poem known by its modern name as the Death of Ur-Namma, which described the burial of Shulgi’s father. Both texts were central to the complex concretisation of the charter myth of the dynasty.

The tale of Gilgamesh and Huwawa has now been fully reconstructed in a definitive edition by Edzard. The story begins with a decision by Gilgamesh to go into the eastern mountains to seek out the "cedar" forest, to cut down trees and bring the timber back to Uruk. His sidekick Enkidu reminds him that the forest is the domain of the Sun God Utu, and that it is guarded by the supernatural creature named Huwawa. After obtaining Utu’s permission, the two heroes, accompanied by fifty young men from their city, proceed on their mountain quest. After a long journey, during which they both have ominous dreams, they reach the land of Huwawa and start cutting down the trees for transport to Sumer. Huwawa confronts them and Gilgamesh tricks him into letting down his seven protective auras. At one point the Uruk king offers him two of his sisters in marriage, a ruse that undoubtedly was meant to invoke images of dynastic marriages between the kings of Sumer and the rulers of Iranian border kingdoms, while at the same time satirizing the naïve mountain creature who actually believed the offer to be true. Huwawa falls for the trick, lets his auras down and loses his life. Although at one point Gilgamesh takes pity on the poor creature, it does no good, and his servant Enkidu cuts off his head. As a memento of this, the god Enlil distributes the creatures’ auras among various elements, the forests, the rivers, and the canebrakes, as a sign for all times of what had happened in the mountains. The central motivation for these events is the fundamental early Mesopotamian ideological concept of "establishing one’s name/fame." Fame and remembrance, as well as descendants and the funerary cult, were the prime metaphors for eternal life and therefore the motivation for the deeds of great kings. GH is a central meditation on such matters, and it is not without irony and even veiled critiques of the reckless and heartless act of rulers, who exploit their families, especially their women, who plunder foreign lands and commit murder to further their aims. It is important to remember that Huwawa, to the Mesopotamians, was no monster, but a divine guardian who had a proper, benign role to play in the structure of the universe. It is therefore of great interest that the poets of Sumer used him as a way of critiquing their kings treatment of eastern lands, of diplomatic marriages, and of ruthless murder.

The compilers of the Akkadian Gilgamesh "epic" adopted the Sumerian tale about Gilgamesh and Huwawa relatively faithfully. This contrasts with the story of Gilgamesh and the Bull of Heaven which, while clearly related to the corresponding episode in the Akkadian narrative, was, in essence, quite different. The story is still incomplete, and the general plot outline is difficult to summarize. The cause of the initial conflict between Gilgamesh and Inanna appears to be an injunction by the goddess forbidding the Uruk king from rendering judgement in the courtyard of her temple Eanna. Gilgamesh pays no attention to her demands and does as he wishes, whereupon Inanna forces her father An to send down the Bull of Heaven to ravish the land. Her father is reluctant, but her threats have their effect, and the animal, which appears to represent some astral phenomenon, wrecks havoc on Sumer. Gilgamesh and Enkidu finally manage to subdue the beast, kill him, and in an act of great hubris cast his body parts in the faces of the gods. There are many differences between the Sumerian narrative and the later Akkadian version of this episode. Most important, there is not a trace in the earlier version of any sexual attraction of Inanna towards the semi-divine hero, nor of his rejection of her advances, themes that are the main motifs in the Akkadian episode.

The Old Babylonian Nippur version of Gilgamesh, Enkidu and the Netherworld, the final Sumerian story that was incorporated into the Akkadian poem, is almost fully preserved. This version covered more than 300 lines of text; there is also part of a slightly different Ur recension of undetermined length. The narrative is the most complex among the Gilgamesh tales, and although the composition can be almost completely reconstructed, many interpretive problems remain. The story begins in mythical time, after the creation of the universe when a great cosmic storm uproots a sacred tree. Inanna finds the tree and takes it back to her city Uruk, where she plants it in her garden. Inanna was waiting for the tree to reach maturity, so that she could cut it down and use it to make furniture. Many years passed, and three mythical creatures came to dwell in the tree: a snake in the roots, the Anzu bird in the top branches, and the phantom virgin Kiskillila in the trunk. Seeking help to evict these unwanted tenants, the goddess recounted the whole story to her brother, the sun god Utu, but received no satisfaction. She then turned to Gilgamesh, and once again recounted the tale. The hero, here called her "brother," took up her cause and killed the snake, thus driving out the other two creatures. He then cut down the tree, made furniture for Inanna, as well as two implements for himself. These two objects, ellag (Akk. pukku) and E.KW D (Akk. mekkf), usually translated as "hoop" and "driving stick," seem to be implements from a game, but they have complex martial and sexual connotations as well. After an episode that is difficult to understand, it appears that the objects had fallen down to the netherworld. Gilgamesh cries out a lament, and his sidekick Enkidu offers to retrieve the fallen objects. Gilgamesh then provides him with detailed instructions for the journey, but Enkidu disregards the advice, and is captured in the netherworld. The king of Uruk begs Enlil for help, but is rejected. He then turns to Enki, who agrees to assist him in the matter. The god of magic has the sun god make a hole in the netherworld and bring up the spirit of Enkidu. The latter then provides his friend with a long description of the underworld, and the text abruptly comes to an end. The first millennium Akkadian version lacks the mythological motifs that open the story, and only begins with line 172, which is the third line of the hero’s lament over his lost objects, but also includes additional passages that are not found in the earlier Sumerian version. Perhaps most curious of all is the fact that it is a translation but without the original text. By this time Sumerian literary compositions circulated in bilingual form, with Akkadian translations. There are only a handful exceptions to this rule, and chief among them are GEN and the Akkadian language Descent of Ishtar, adapted from the Sumerian Inanna’s Descent to the Netherworld. It may be pure coincidence that the Gilgamesh story shares many structural and thematic elements with this Inanna text.

The shortest of these stories is Gilgamesh and Agga, which is told in a mere 100 lines, while the other tales in the cycle occupy anywhere from 300 to 600 lines. The story line is so elliptical and hermetic that any interpretation has to rely on assumptions about prior adventures, unspoken events, and much guesswork. The narrative takes place during a siege of Uruk by the army of Agga, king of the northern city of Kish. Gilgamesh appeals to the elders of his city, who refuse to fight, and then to the young men, who are eager to follow him into battle. After an episode in which the men of Kish ridicule the Uruk leader, the latter appears on the city wall, and his divine heroic charisma is sufficient to strike down the whole army of Kish. Agga is captured, but Gilgamesh lets him go, with reference to a "previous favor." In order to explain this strange turn of events, scholars have often been forced to reconstruct an otherwise unattested former narrative encounter between the protagonists, during which Agga must have spared Gilgamesh. None of this makes very much sense to us, and much effort has been put into forcing the story into modern narrative patterns. One should not rule out the possibility that this is a somewhat later parody of some of the main motifs of the other Gilgamesh tales, written when ideas of divine kingship were somewhat obsolete. It is possible that the "previous favor" actually refers to an episode in GH and that the scene in which the hero’s outrageous "charisma," or "aura,"—the same attribute that in sevenfold fashion protected Huwawa—razed the armies of Kish, is an outright assault on an obsolete royal ideology.

The final text of this series is the story of the Death of Gilgamesh. Although this composition remains incomplete, the general narrative is clear. It tells of the hero who lies sick on his deathbed and cannot ever rise again. He has dreams in which the gods recount his great deeds and tell him of the inevitable fate that now awaits him. Gilgamesh is reminded of his search for the survivor of the flood, Ziusudra, who alone among mortal attained eternal life. He is reminded of the inevitability of death, an event that even a son of a goddess cannot evade. He is to now go to the Great City, where he will dwell in the elite company of dead high priests and priestesses, his family, friends, as well as his officers and soldiers. The dreams are interpreted for him and then, after a great storm that parts the waters, a tomb is built for him on the bottom of the Euphrates. In a passage that has many similarities with the Death of Ur-Namma, Gilgamesh makes offerings to Ereshkigal, the mistress of the underworld. The composition it preserved in at least two quite different versions, from Nippur and Me-Turan, but the main thrust of both seems to be the same: even semi-divine kings are mortal. This is undoubtedly one of the Ur III Gilgamesh creations and it was most probably connected with the Uruk funerals as well as the ancestor cults of the kings of that dynasty.


Roughly speaking, the modern word hymn is used as a designation for most poetic, non-narrative main dialect Sumerian texts extolling gods, goddesses, kings, and temples. For the sake of this discussion we shall retain the traditional labels, although the category of hymn is the most diffuse of the text types discussed in this chapter, and there is much to be said for a complete revision of the terms now in use. It is customary to divide Sumerian hymns into three broad categories: hymns to temples, to deities, and royal hymns. The latter are further subdivided into hymns addressed directly to kings, royal hymns of self-praise, and hymns to deities on behalf of earthly rulers. It is difficult to establish if there was a native term that encompassed all, or a large range of these kinds of texts. The word that most closely fits this is èn-du.

In modern scholarship the "hymns" constitute the best known, and most intensely studied sector of Old Babylonian main dialect Sumerian literary texts. We owe this to the late Adam Falkenstein (eg. 1959, Falkenstein and von Soden 1953) and his students, among them W. H. P. R` mer and C . Sj` berg, whose pioneering studies provided the foundation for works by later generations of scholars such as J. Klein, D. Riesman, C. Ludwig, and S. Tinney.

Temple Hymns

Among the earliest Mesopotamian literary texts there is a long compilation of short hymns to the deities and temples of various Sumerian cities (Biggs 1974:45-56). This Early Dynastic (c. 2600 BCE) composition is known from multiple copies from the city of Abu Sal~b§kh, although it is doubtful that the text was composed there. From the same city we also have a fragment of a composition known from later redactions, the hymn to the temple of the goddess Ninhursaga at Kesh (Biggs 1971).

The standard Old Babylonian school curriculum included a variety of poems that one could very well call Atemple hymns," although much depends on the criteria one uses for this classification. The formal characteristics of all of these texts are diverse, and sometimes they have been ascribed to other categories. One example, which concerns the building and blessing of the temple of Enki in Eridu (Al Fouadi 1969), has been variously labeled as the Eridu Hymn, Enki=s Journey to Nippur, as well as the Hymn to Enki=s Temple in Eridu. This 129 line composition contains a narrative describing how in primeval time the god of wisdom built his temple, consecrated it, and then traveled by boat to Nippur, where he threw an elaborate banquet for the great gods; after much ceremony and much beer Enlil blessed the city and temple of his son. This is a very different composition than the one that was composed in honor of Enlil=s temple in Nippur (Kramer 1957). Although some consider this temple the chief shrine of the land, the Hymn to the Ekur is known only in one copy. Still another hymnic composition in honor of the city of Nippur might be mentioned in this context, an incomplete poem found at Ur, which likewise situates the founding of the city in primeval times (Gadd and Kramer 1963 no. 118). Two very different texts that are usually considered classic Atemple hymns:" the Hymn to the Temple at Kesh, and the Collection of Temple Hymns supposedly written, or compiled by, Enheduana, priestess of the Moon God in Ur, and daughter of king Sargon of Akkad (Sjöberg, Bergman and Gragg 1969). The former text is already known from Early Dynastic sources, the latter, although purported to be earlier, is attested only in Ur III and Old Babylonian copies. The first poem praised Kesh, a city which, like Eridu, seems to have lost much of its political importance after the ED period, whereupon it remained only a ceremonial and pilgrimage center. The hymn contains an elaborate, highly structured depiction of the building of the central shrine in the city, described in sections marked as Ahouses,@ or Atemples.@ In contrast, Enheduana=s ACollection@ consists of forty-two short hymns of varying length, ranging from seven to twenty-three lines, extolling the glory of the major shrines of Sumer and Akkad. The geographical order follows a general south-to-north orientation, beginning with Eridu and ending with Akkad, followed by a final hymn to temple of the goddess of writing. Other texts may turn out to belong to his category, including two recently published incomplete compositions from Uruk (Cavigneaux 1996: 56-57).

Other fragmentary texts that mention the various temples of Inanna, or the temple of her vizier Nin-shubur appear to be similar in nature, at least from the thematic point of view, but they could well be part of longer compositions that belonged to other categories.

The longest early Sumerian literary composition, the poetic description of the building of the abode of the god Ningirsu by Gudea, has sometimes been described as a "temple hymn " (Alster 1992:38). The text was found in Girsu, inscribed on two large clay cylinders (Edzard 1997); it is the longest early Sumerian literary composition currently known. Although there have been speculations about a lost third part, and there are a few fragments that do not seem to fit into the cylinders that we have, all indications are that the text we have is fairly complete. The poem describes how king Gudea had a dream, in which the god Ningirsu demanded the building of the Eninnu, his temple in Girsu. The king traveled to the temple of his divine mother, who interpreted his nocturnal visions. In another incubated Gudea he asked Ningirsu for confirmation of his desires, and the god told him in no uncertain terms, this time directly, in less metaphorical terms, languages of his demand for a new temple. The rest of the narrative consists of a detailed poetic description of the preparations, ritual as well as practical, for the construction of the new divine abode, followed by an equally detailed narration of the building activities and the inauguration of the shrine.

Royal Hymns

The first large group of royal hymns originated during the rule of the kings of the Third Dynasty of Ur (2112-2004). Scribes working for later rulers imitated, developed, and sometimes tried to recreate the form by reacting against it, but the Ur III hymns, particularly the numerous poems glorifying king Shulgi, constituted the "classic" exemplars of this kind of text, down to the end of the Old Babylonian period. The hymns were originally composed for specific cultic state occasions, and some of them survived as school texts in modified form. A highly plausible theory links the original context of most royal hymns with celebrations announcing the promulgation of year names (Frayne 1981). This theory therefore links narrative elements that are usually considered separately: the non-literary year formulae that were used to date everyday documents, monumental royal inscriptions, and ceremonial hymns, many if which were preserved in the schools of Sumer and Akkad.

The oldest royal hymn, or perhaps better the hymn that mentions the earliest Mesopotamian ruler, was dedicated to Gudea, the king of the state of Lagash, whose reign probably overlapped with that of Ur-Namma, the founder of the Third Dynasty of Ur (Chiera 1934 no. 36). This single exemplar from Nippur is a hymn to the goddess Ba=u and invokes the Atrue shepherd Gudea.@ It has been suggested that another hymn to the same goddess (Gadd 1931: 39ff.) was written on behalf of a much earlier king of Lagash, Entemena, who might be mentioned in the text under the name Lumma, but this identification has been seriously questioned (Hallo 1963a). These two early texts require one to inquire if there was not a developed tradition of royal hymn prior to the Ur III dynasty. Since almost all the literature composed prior to the reign of the kings of Ur was discarded from the school curriculum, that is undoubtedly plausible, but must remain within the realm of speculation until more earlier texts are found.

It has been argued that royal hymns provide evidence of a common political consciousness in Sumer and that the priests of Nippur honored only one ruler at a time with such compositions (Hallo 1963b). This theory has gained wide acceptance, and there is indeed much to support it. One problem that comes to the fore in such a discussion is, once again, the double articulation of all Sumerian literary texts, that is the original context of composition and the possibly unrelated decision to include a text in the school curriculum of Nippur and other cities. One might also add that there may have been additional weeding of the curriculum, but we have no indication of the survival rate of school texts leading up to the time of king Samsu-iluna of Babylon (1749-1712 B.C.), that is to the date of the bulk of the surviving Old Babylonian Nippur school tablets. It is often stated that the corpus of rulers recognized by the Nippur priests by means of hymns spans the full range from Ur III to the end of the Old Babylonian dynasty. A closer examination reveals that this is not exactly the case. In Nippur itself the Ur III rulers are well represented, as are the first seven as well as the tenth of the fifteen rulers of the Old Babylonian Isin dynasty (R` mer 1965). The other dynasties of this time period are almost completely absent from the tablets found in the city of Enlil. Most of the hymns to rulers of Larsa come from Ur, and some of them may not be school texts at all, but survivals of actual cultic ceremonies in the city. Only a hymn to Gungunum, the first major ruler of the Larsa dynasty, as well as a fragment of a Rim-Sin hymn were discovered at Nippur. Likewise, only two kings of Babylon were celebrated in the Nippur schools: Hammurapi and Samsu-iluna. The lack of later kings of the dynasty is understandable, as the school texts from southern cities end abruptly with the end of the latter king’s reign, but their predecessor’s exclusion remains to be explained.

Even if we keep in mind the complex issues of ancient selection for preservation, of the vagaries of transmission, of selective preservation, as well as of the aleatoric nature of modern discovery, it is still possible to discern individual features in the hymnic self-presentation of early second millenium Mesopotamian kings. A few examples will have to suffice. The compositions associated with the first king of the Ur III dynasty, Ur-Namma (2012-2095) vary in style, thematic content, redactional history, and in distribution between cities of origin as well as places from which they were recovered (Klein 1981). Currently we know of seven or nine such texts; the count depends on whether we view some of them as independent compositions or as different versions of the same poem. All of them are known from Old Babylonian copies, but one hymn (Ur-Namma B) is now attested on an Ur III tablet from Nippur (Civil 1985), making it the oldest attested representative of the genre. The one text about this king that was most widely distributed was a long poem describing his death, burial, and journey to the netherworld (Kramer 1991). The relatively numerous hymns of Shulgi, which deal with cultic as well as military events, are very much concerned with the multifaceted persona of a charismatic divine king. By contrast, no hymns have survived from the problematical reign of his successor Amar-Su’ena (Michalowski 1977). The poets working for the next king of the dynasty, Shu-Sin, seem to have contributed primarily erotic balbale’s to the hymnic repertoire. Ibbi-Sin, the last sovereign of Ur, was celebrated in the literary tradition only through a handful of divine hymns, and in a lamentation over the fall of his city. The legitimization strategy of the succeeding Isin dynasty included the claim of continuity with the Ur III rulers. This ideological facet is most obvious in the hymns of the first king of Isin, who had a hand in the fall of his former master Ibbi-Sin. Two long hymns, currently incomplete (Sj` berg 1993, van Dijk 1978), are filled with unique martial details, including the names of enemies, as well as with divine sanction for the king’s historical role as the avenger of Sumer. A poem honoring Nisaba, the goddess of writing, mentions him in one line only, but is structurally unique as well (Riesman 1876, Michalowski, forthcoming). The hymns of Ishme-Dagan (1953-1935), the fourth ruler of the Isin dynasty cover a much wider cultic ground and rival those of Shulgi in number and variety (Ludwig 1990, Tinney 1995). Some of his hymns were copied with very short lines, suggesting that they were originally inscribed on monuments (Tinney 1995); this once again blurs the distinction we make between genres such as royal inscriptions, law codes, and hymns. There are definite diachronic developments in royal hymnography that require further study. The basic stock of Ur III hymns that were preserved and adapted for school use was apparently periodically sifted and augmented with contemporary or recent compositions. For ideological reasons that still elude us, some of the Isin kings vied with Shulgi for attention of students: Lipit-Eshtar and Ishme-Dagan, and, to a lesser degree Iddin-Dagan. The Larsa dynasty may have patronized a somewhat different literature, with ornate stylistic developments as well as generic changes. This can be seen in all surviving text types, in royal inscriptions, hymns, and in the letter-prayers, which seem to have almost taken the place of royal hymns as an important form of royal glorification. At the same time, many Ur III hymns may have been discarded from the curriculum. Hardly any of the items listed in the one Ur III catalog of royal hymns that has survived can be identified among the Old Babylonian school texts (Hallo 1963a).

This modern classification of these poems into "royal", "divine." Etc., is undoubtedly flawed and has been subject to much criticism, but no other coherent scheme has been devised and this is hardly the place for such an undertaking (Klein 1981, Riesman 1969, Edzard 1994). The native terms that are found in connection with the hymns vary in meaning, but most of them appear to have originated as names of musical instruments. These terms are usually found in subscripts to individual texts, as in, for example a-da-ab dnin-urta, presumably meaning "an adab-type composition to the god Ninurta." Since adab is the name of a musical instrument, one could be tempted to view the subscript as a reference to accompaniment, but there are passages that indicate some native generic meaning of the term. A hymn known at present as Shulgi E (J. Klein, forthcoming) is an elaborate celebration of the Ur III ruler’s patronage of the art of literary composition. The king demands that his adab, tigi, malgatum, shirgida, shumundu, kungar, balbale, gigid and zamzam songs—designations attested in subscripts of surviving hymns—never pass from human memory, and be performed in temples and at festivals forever. The notion that hymns were composed in part in order to immortalize kings among future literate servants of the crown is echoed many years later in a poem of the Isin king Lipit-Eshtar (Vanstiphout 1978:39):

"Your praise shall never disappear from the clay (tablets) in the School
So that the scribes may sing your glory,
And glorify you magnificently.
Your adulation shall never cease in the School!"

The final rubrics of these hymns describe them in a number of ways. Three such designations are synonymous with the names of musical instruments: adab, tigi, and zami. A small number of hymns are described as particular forms of "song" (ÓX r), such as "song of heroism" (ÓX r nam-ur-sag-g< , Iddin-Dagan A); still others have uncertain descriptions such as ulaluma (Ishme-Dagan D). Six hymns from the Ur and Isin dynasties are depicted as "dialogues" (balbale). Erotic poems about the divine lovers Inanna and Dumuzi are also designated in this manner, and some of the royal hymns concerning Shu-Sin celebrate his union with his wife.

Many of these types have no discernable characteristic structural features, while others exhibit different degrees of organizational complexity. The tigi, a divine hymn which may or may not incorporate a royal blessing, usually consists of two sections, labeled as sa gR d-da and sa gar-ra and the latter is followed by a short giÓ -gi4-g< l. The meanings of these words are unclear; some would interpret them as musical terms with meanings such as "long string," "settled string," and "antiphon." The far more common a-da-ab is addressed to a god or goddess and incorporates a blessing of the king. It is structurally more complex. In some examples the hymns open with one or more bar-sud and ÓB -ba-tuku sections, followed by the sa gR d-da and sa gar-ra, each with its own giÓ -gi4-g< l, and end with a short section labeled uru-bi. Scholars differ on the translation of these terms; some of them, such as the ones that begin with sa, "string," appear to have musical or performative connotations, while others are simply types of refrains.

The narrative content of the royal hymns is extremely varied. Some celebrate the dedication of cultic objects such as chariots, others describe the supernatural birth of kings, their coronation, their military prowess against enemies real and imaginary, or even their canal constructions. All of this is couched in highly poetic language, with a broad range of metaphors that express a wide variety of charismatic royal attributes, ranging from justice and wisdom to fertility and even to patronage of the arts and writing. One well-known hymn that was widely used in scribal training describes how Shulgi ran from Ur to Nippur and back in a single day, through rain and storm, and celebrated festivals in both cities (Shulgi A, Klein 1981).

Royal Prayers

The category of prayers is, once again, a modern one, and an ill-defined one at that. It is often not apparent which Sumerian compositions should be listed under this label, and the texts described in this section are often grouped with the royal hymns. Hallo (1970:119) writes of a category of royal prayers, labeled as Ój d-dP dingir with the characteristic ending RN lugal-mu, "Oh RN, my king!" It has been suggested by Charpin (1986) that these particular texts (Gadd and Kramer 1963 nos. 102-106) were not part of scribal training but were actually one-off compositions used on the occasion of a visit by king Rim-Sin to Ur. The issue is somewhat complicated by the existence of a fragmentary duplicate from Nippur to one of these texts, but the suggestion remains a good one. The issue may be more historical than structurally generic. The "prayers" that have the "RN lugal-mu" ending are all relatively late, from the time of the dynasties of Larsa and Babylon; indeed, they seem to take the place of the standard hymns in this period. The earliest may be an unpublished exemplar from the reign of Sin-iddinam (Hallo 19: 96). Other members of this group may include the Rim-Sin compositions referred to above, as well as texts addressed to Hammurapi (de Genouillac 1930 no. 61 and perhaps de Genouillac 1924/5 B 11) and Samsu-iluna (the two texts inscribed on de Genouillac 1930 no. 43, and the composition edited by Sj` berg 1973). With one exception, none of these texts was found at Nippur and it is quite possible that they represent practical cultic texts that had not been included in the school curriculum of Old Babylonian times. Nevertheless, royal hymns of a more traditional type continued to be composed as late as the reign of Abi-eshuh (1711-1684 B.C.), one of the last kings of the First Dynasty of Babylon (van Dijk 1966).

Divine Hymns

As is the case with all the other traditional categories surveyed in this section, Sumerian language hymns to gods and goddesses are preserved almost exclusively in Old Babylonian copies. An unpublished Ur III tablet with a hymn to Nisaba as well as a few other pieces provide evidence for the earlier existence of this kind of text. The broad modern category of "divine hymn" is merely a convenient label to cover many different kinds of poetic texts concerning deities that do not mention a royal name.

There is no discernable pattern in the way in which certain deities were remembered in the hymnic tradition. Over thirty gods and goddesses are the subject of praise in the close to one hundred and forty "divine hymns" that are currently known. The sky god An, head of the pantheon, is absent from this list, while relatively minor deities such as Lisina, Lulal, or Ninimma, have their place. Enlil, the most prominent deity of Sumer is the subject of one important hymn that was widely copied, since it is attested in approximately seventy different manuscripts from Nippur, Ur, Kish, Sippar, and other sites (Riesman 1969). There is another fragment that may belong to an Enlil hymn (G2 , K2 z2 yay, and Kramer 1969: 57), but otherwise the cultic hymns of this all-important god were not incorporated into the school tradition.

The formal native subscripts are similar to those found in the royal hymns, but here are important differences in the relative proportion of different types. Thus, while among the royal hymns adabs predominated, followed in number by the tigi, these are relatively uncommon without mention of a king; six such ruler-less examples of each are known at present. Other types represented by similar small numbers are designated as ÓX r-nam-Ó ub (8 texts), ÓX r-gR d-da (7), ÓX r-namgala (5), ulalama (2), kungar (1) and possibly ÓX r-ÓB -hd l-la (1). Somewhat more numerous are hymns that end simply with the "praise" (zB -mR ) of the deity, although in some cases the subject of the hymn is celebrated in the last line, but the praise is reserved for another deity. Fully a quarter, more than 27 hymns are designated as bal-bal-e, a word often translated as "dialog." Almost a half of these concern the goddess Inanna, most often in tandem with her lover Dumuzi. Other deities who are celebrated in this manner are Ba’u, Nanshe, Ninshubur, Ninkasi, Ninazi, Ningizida, Nanna, Ninurta, and Shara; the association of the balbale form with Inanna might suggest that this type of texts was predominantly linked to goddesses, but the distribution is roughly equal for both genders. The picture changes somewhat when we add to this the erotic balbale’s that mention the Ur III ruler Shu-Sin. The numbers provided above are approximate; here are often problems of attribution when the latter part of a tablet is broken. Indeed, many divine hymns are known only in fragmentary state, and it is possible that, had the subscripts been preserved on all of them, our proportions might look very different. On the other hand, there is some question as to the original context and classification of such texts, as evidenced by the overlap between compositions that have traditionally been labeled as hymns and those that have been designated as incantations (Michalowski 1993).

In contradistinction with the royal hymns, which seem to have been completely purged from the literary canon following the Old Babylonian period, a few Sumerian divine hymns are found in later libraries. Two Ninurta hymns are OB and first millennium bilingual versions (Wilcke 1976: , Lambert 1960: 118-120 [with unpublished Nippur duplicate]). One Nergal text is known from a Middle Babylonian bilingual version from the Hittite capital of Boghazk` y as well as from a later first millennium version from the Assyrian Niniveh (Borger 1973:47-50). In addition to these and a handful of other older divine hymns, the first millennium libraries included a few bilingual texts concerning gods and goddesses that were composed at this late date. Chief among these is the Exaltation of Inanna/Ishtar (HruÓ ka 1969).


Old Babylonian school children copied a number of Sumerian language letters as part of the medium to advanced part of their education (Hallo 1981). From a formal point of view, the Sumerian literary correspondence has been divided into two categories: letters and letter-prayers (Hallo 1968). The former are prose texts characterized by an opening formula that reads: "Speak to so-and-so (or: his majesty), thus says so-and-so (attributes)(your servant):." The latter are poetic compositions that begin with a more complex formula. The addressee is either a deity or a king and the opening lines often contain a long list of epithets; these are interrupted by three formulaic phrases: "speak," "say furthermore," and "say for the third time." This is then followed, as in the prose versions, with "thus says so-and-so (attributes)(your servant)." The length of the epithets, and of the whole opening section, varies substacially in texts from different periods. Generally speaking, this section, as well as the main argument of the letter-prayers becomes longer with time; texts of Ur III origin are relatively short, while later compositions from Larsa and Mari are much longer and more verbose.

Approximately 55 Sumerian literary letters are known today. Almost half of them (22) belonged to the royal correspondence of Ur, which was never grouped together as a standardized collection. There was one such assortment, which included around 17 miscellaneous texts, including letters, and which now goes under the label "Letter Collection B," although we are now certain that it was not preceded by any "Collection A." There are, in addition, approximately 15 other such letters. Old Babylonian Sumerian language literary letters have been found in Nippur, Ur, Isin, Uruk, Ischiali, Susa, in Kish, and probably in Sippar. Unprovenienced manuscripts from modern museums suggest a wider dissemination. A Middle Babylonian tablet with three letters was discovered in the Iranian city of Susa. A version of one of the last collection B letters circulated in the West in the latter half of the second millennium, and was also known in first millennium Assur, while a letter-prayer of Sin-iddinam, was also copied in the late Assyrian libraries (Hallo 1982, Borger, forthcoming). These post-Old Babylonian versions contain the Sumerian text, accompanied by Akkadian language translations. Not all the known letters can be reconstructed fully, but it appears that the actual corpus that we have appears to be close to complete. A broken literary catalog from Uruk lists thirty letters; only four of these cannot be identified at present (Cavigneaux 1996:57-59). Two further unknown letters are mentioned in still another such catalog, of unknown provenience (Michalowski 1991).

Collection B (Ali 1964) consisted of twenty, sometimes more, short compositions, the majority of which were letters and letter-prayers. It also contained an announcement of the loss of a seal, votive inscriptions, and a chronicle of kings who rebuilt the Tummal complex of the goddess Ninlil. The unifying element of the collection is the Nippur locale, and it is likely that, with the exception of the Tummal text and four letters from the correspondence of the court of Isin, all these compositions originated in the Ur III period. The lost seal announcement is crucial for the dating of these texts; among the witnesses is a governor of Nippur who is known to have held the office during the reign of Amar-Sin of Ur. Another witness in this composition can be linked to letter B19, and this in turn provides connections and synchronisms with persons in other "B" texts. Many of the persons mentioned in this collection were very likely leading teachers in the Nippur schools, including Enlil-alsa, who is specifically named as "the Nippur schoolmaster," and who is sometimes referred to by his nickname zuzu, "learned." One should not exclude the possibility that they concocted these texts for practical school use, but also managed to assure their own literary immortality. The contents of the texts in this collection range from the tragic to the prosaic. The opening text, in most versions of the collection, is a letter-prayer to king Shulgi from one Aba-indasa, who begs to be reinstated to his former official position. The petitioner is a military man also known from at least three fragmentary prose royal letters. The next four texts constitute the Royal Correspondence of Isin; two exchanges between kings Iddin-Dagan and Lipit-Eshtar with high military officers about conflicts with the kingdom of Larsa concerning water rights (Rowton 1968). Thereupon follow three letter-prayers, perhaps better described as letters of petition, to a king, asking for general favors. Item B8 is the history of the Tummal, which is followed by two, or in some recensions by three simple letters concerning water works and agricultural matters (Civil 1994: 277-184). The collection then moves on to a legal text concerning the loss of the seal of a merchant by the name of Ur-dun, possibly the same man who also wrote a letter to king Shulgi. Still other non-epistolary items are a copy of an inscription on a votive dog dedicated to Nintinuga, the goddess of healing (B17), and, in some redactions, of a copy of a text on a votive axe dedicated to the god Nergal (Behrens 1988). The rest of Collection B consists of letters and letter-prayers of the Nippur educational elite. The final epistle, written by one Inim-Inanna to Lugal-ibila, concerns school matters. This letter was the only one of this group to survive past the Old Babylonian period, and a bilingual version was studied at the Hittite capital of Hattushash, at Ugarit, and in still later times in Assur (Nougayrol et al.1968: 23-28).

The largest group of Sumerian literary letters consists of a group of more than twenty-two compositions, collectively known as Royal Correspondence of Ur (RCU, Michalowski 1976, 1981). Most of them belong to the correspondence between king Shulgi and his highest officials; one exchange of missives was ascribed to his second successor Shu-Sin, and four to Ibbi-Sin, the man who took over after than ruler’s death, and during whose reign the kingdom collapsed. The persons and events depicted in these compositions appear, at first glance, to fit well into the time of the Third Dynasty of Ur. If these letters have an authentic core, however, it is clear that they have been substantially altered to conform to the grammatical orthographic norms of Old Babylonian Sumerian. Some of the Shulgi hymns retain certain features of older spelling and morphology, although it is impossible to judge if this is an archaism or a genuine reflection of the originals that were used as a base for the later copies. No such features can be identified in the copies of the royal letters. We have reason to doubt the authenticity of some of them, such as the preposterous missive from Shulgi to Ishbi-Erra, who lived a generation apart, which was clearly concocted from pieces of other letters. The same may be true of a short letter of Ur-dun to Shulgi, known only on one exemplar from an unknown site, which likewise incorporates familiar phraseology. The Ibbi-Sin letters are preserved in two redactions. Versions from outside of Nippur, possibly from northern Babylonia contain additional passages that differ markedly in phraseology and tone from the rest of the text; these were almost certainly added in Old Babylonian times. Since we cannot distinguish with certainty the authenticity of most of the letters, nor the degree to which they were rewritten in the course of literary transmission, one has to be extremely careful when using them as historical, rather than as historiographic, sources.

With these strictures in mind, one must also state that much of the narrative of these texts reflects well what we know of the political situation in Ur III times. Almost all the individuals who are named in the RCU can be identified in contemporary administrative records. Among these one might mention Arad-mu, also called Arad-Nanna, the chancellor of the state, high officials such as Apillasha, Lu-Nanna, Babati, or Sharrum-bani, as well as the rulers themselves. The main topic of this correspondence is the defense of the realm against incursions of hostile Amorites from the northeastern marches of the empire. The letters between Shulgi and Arad-mu concern the general state of the empire and of the eastern border regions. Some of the chancellor’s letters are summary reports, others are more detailed and concern specific affairs such as problems with a border war-lord Apillasha, or with the career of the already mentioned Abaindasa. Another official of the realm, Puzur-Shulgi, writes to the king about the fortifications he was charged with building against the Amorites, who were attacking from the northeast. In the RCU these are called Bad-igi-hursanga, "Fortifications against the highlands." This is undoubtedly the same construction that was mentioned in the formula used to date the thirty-seventh year of Shulgi’s reign, which reads: "The Year that (the god) Nanna and king Shulgi built the Wall of the Land."

The rebuilding of these fortifications is the subject of the two letters exchanged between king Shu-Sin and the special commissioner Sharrum-bani. The latter was appointed in charge of the defense line, but did not live up to the king’s expectations, and so he was replaced by Babati, well known from Ur III sources as the uncle of the ruler. The fortifications were now named in Akkadian as Muriq-Tidnim. "The One that Keeps the Tidnum people (an Amorite tribal name) at a Distance," as we learn from the fourth year-name of Shu-Sin.

The quartet of missives from the chancery of Ibbi-Sin, the last member of the dynasty, provides dramatic vignettes from the complex events that led to the downfall of Ur. One exchange highlights the betrayal of king by Ishbi-Erra, an officer whom he had sent north to purchase grain for the beleaguered capitol. The man obtained the grain, but demanded to be paid for it once again, and, in a bold move demanded to be given charge over two of the major cities of Sumer: Nippur and Isin. When we next hear of Ishbi-Erra in the historical record, Ur has fallen, and a new power center has arisen at Isin, under his rule. These events find an echo in the other pair of Ibbi-Sin letters, exchanged with Puzur-Shulgi, the governor of the northern Babylonian frontier town of Kazallu. The largely isolated official tells the king that he can barely hold on to his power and that he will not be able to hold out against the coming attack from Ishbi-Erra, who is now firmly in power at Isin. Ibbi-Sin answers him in high rhetorical terms, urging him to stay firm, since all of these events are in the hands of the gods. They have punished Sumer for past iniquities by handing over power to the man at Isin, but they have also sent omens to the rightful king at Ur, predicting the downfall of his rival. Here the royal correspondence ends, but the Old Babylonian reader, privileged with hindsight, knew well what the denouement was. Interestingly, the Ibbi-Sin letters were sometimes grouped together on one tablet, resulting in a continuous narrative that could be described, somewhat anachronistically, as a rudimentary form of the epistolary novel.

The Old Babylonian schools used very few prose letters written after the fall of the Ur III state. There is a fragment of a letter of Iter-pi-sha, a minor later member of the Isin dynasty, and there may even have been one written to Sumu-la-el, a founder of the First Dynasty of Babylon. It is most probable that these were school inventions, as there is no evidence for the use of the Sumerian language for everyday correspondence after the reign of Lipit-Eshtar of Isin. The end of the letter did not bring with it the end of the poetic letter-prayer. To the contrary, this type of composition seems to have been in vague among the Larsa scribes, and the school tradition seems to have favored the texts composed during the reigns of Sin-iddinam and Rim-Sin. The former left behind a copy of a monumental inscription that includes two embedded letter-prayers to the Utu (van Dijk 1965). This is important for two reasons: it demonstrates once again the fragility of our generic categorizations and at the same time provides a glimpse of the original, non-educational, use of poetic letters. According to the Sin-iddinam text, the tablets with petitions were placed directly in front of the cult statue of the deity, who, one assumes, could read it without difficulty (Hallo 1968: 79, 1976:211). How the gods responded is not known. Slightly later Akkadian texts show us that they could write back on occasion (Ellis 1987), and letters from divinities to kings are known from the first millennium. The combination of a statue inscription and two letter-prayers on one tablet once again demonstrates that our classification of Sumerian compositions is based on different sets of criteria for different forms. Royal inscriptions are defined by their primary context: they are monumental texts. Poems of various kinds, including the kinds we have discussed here, hymns and letter-prayers, are categorized according to their secondary lives when they were chosen for preservation, copied, and adapted for Old Babylonian school instruction.

The last two Sumerian letter-prayers are among the most elaborate of the genre; they are almost contemporary, albeit from very different parts of the Near East. The first was addressed by Nin-shata-pada, an educated princess of Uruk who had been appointed as high priestess of the southern city of Durum, to Rim-Sin, the king of nearby Larsa (Hallo 1991). This fifty-eight line poetic letter mixes praise of the king with pleas of mercy for the author, who has clearly suffered in wake of Rim-Sin’s conquest of Sumer. The second is a somewhat longer poetic letter of petition written by Zimri-Lim, king of the Syrian city of Mari (Charpin 1992). The name of the sycophantic scribe who created the text is not preserved, but he was clearly on the outs with the ruler, and wished to impress him with his rhetorical skill and mastery of his craft. The bilingual letter was carefully crafted to demonstrate a virtuosic command of both the Akkadian and Sumerian languages. The somewhat stilted rhetoric reflects the influence of current Larsa literary letters. These and other Larsa dynasty exemplars contrast in size and stylistic elaboration with the relatively short and more laconic specimens from the Ur III period.

The tradition of composing Sumerian language poetic letters of petition died out towards the end of the Old Babylonian period. At this same time we begin to see Akkadian language prose letters to divinities, although these are not school texts, but actual letters to gods. Although there were a few Akkadian school practice letters at this time (Michalowski 1983), there is, at present, only one elaborate Old Babylonian epistle that could be considered a "literary letter." This is a missive from king Samsu-iluna to various high officials in the subdivisions of the city of Sippar that has been found in at least four duplicates (Jannsen 1991); unless the letter was originally sent in multiple copies, this epistle may have entered the scribal curriculum at the time. The scribes of the latter part of the second millennium and from first millennium Assyria and Babylonia copied older royal letters, and even composed new fictions in this form, including a missive from Gilgamesh and an elaborate historiographic text that was until recently known as the Weidner Chronicle. It now turns out that this was a letter, purportedly written by an Old Babylonian king of Babylon to a King of Isin (Al-Rawi 1990). The letter circulated in Akkadian, but at least one manuscript was written as a Sumerian and Akkadian bilingual (Finkel 1980). In this form it joined the Sin-iddinam letter-prayer to Utu, the only old poetic petition to have survived the end of the Old Babylonian period, as the last vestiges of the Sumerian letter-prayers. The literary letter of petition was not dead, however. Sometime during the last decades of the Assyrian empire, a scribe by the name of Urad-Gula composed a long, immensely elaborate example of such a composition to he king, most likely Assur-banipal, full of allusions and quotations from literary texts (Parpola 1987). Although later schoolboy copies of royal correspondence are known, this text is the last grand example of the Mesopotamian literary letter tradition.


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1969   Sumerian Literary Tablets and Fragments in Archaeological Museum of Istanbul, I. Ankara: Tü rk Tarih Kurumu Bas mevi.

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1985   On Some Compositions Concerning Ur-Namma. OrNS 54: 27-45.
1994   The Farmer’s Instructions: A Sumerian Agricultural Manual. Barcelona: Editorial AUSA.

Cohen, S.
1973   Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta. University of Pennsylvania doctoral thesis. Ann Arbor: University Microfilms.

Van Dijk, J.
1965   Une insurrection générale au pays de Larsa avant l=avènement de Nuradad. JCS 19: 1-25.
1966   L=hymne à Marduk avec intercession pour le roi Abi=ešuh. MIO 12: 57-74.
1978   Išbi-erra, Kindattu, l=homme d=Elam, et la chute de la ville d=Ur. JCS 30: 189-208.

Edzard, D. O.
1994  Sumerische und akkadische Hymnen. Pp. 19-31 in W. Buckert and F. Stolz, eds., Hymnen der Alten Welt im Kulturvergleich. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.
1990  Gilgameš und Huwawa A. Zeitschrift fh r Assyriologie 80: 165-203.
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1997   Gudea and His Dynasty. The Royal Inscriptions of Mesopotamia, Early Periods 3/1. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Ellis, M. de Jong.
1987   The Goddess Kititum Speaks to Ibalpiel: Oracle Texts from Ishchali. MARI 5: 235-266.

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1959   Sumerische Götterlieder I. Teil. Heidelberg.

Falkenstein, A. and W. von Soden,
1953   Sumerische und akkadische Hymne und Gebete. Zürich.

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1980   Bilingual Chronicle Fragments. JCS 32: 65-80.

Frayne, D. R.
1981   The Historical Correlations of the Sumerian Royal Hymns (2400-1900 B.C.). Yale University doctoral thesis. Ann Arbor: University Microfilms.

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1931   Cuneiform Texts from Babylonian Tablets in the British Museum, 36. London: The Trustees of the British Museum.

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1924/5  Prémieres recherches archéologiques à Kich. Paris: Paul Geuthner
1930    Textes religieux sumériens du Louvre II. Textes cunJ iformes du Louvre 16. Paris: Paul Geuthner

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1963a   On the Antiquity of Sumerian Literature. JAOS 83: 167-?.
1963b   Royal Hymns and Mesopotamian Unity. JCS 17: 113-8.
1968    Individual Prayer in Sumerian: he Continuity of a Tradition. JAOS 88: 71-68.
1970    The Cultic Setting of Sumerian Poetry. Pp. in A. FinJ t, ed., Actes de la XVIIe Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale. Ham-sur-heure: ComitJ belge de recherches en MJ sopotamie.
1976    The Royal Correspondence of Larsa: I. A Sumerian Prototype of the Prayer of Hezekiah. Pp. 209-14 in B. L. Eichler et all, eds., Kramer Anniversary Volume: Cuneiform Studies in Honor of Samuel Noah Kramer. Neukirchen-Vlyun: Neukirchener Verlag.
1981     Letters, Prayers, and Letter-Prayers. Pp. 17-27 in Proceedings of the Seventh World Congress of Jewish Studies: Studies in the Bible and the Ancient Near East.
1982    The Royal Correspondence of Larsa: II. The Appeal to Utu. Pp. 95-109 in G. van Driel at all, eds., zikir šumim: Assyriological Studies Presented to F. R. Kraus on the Occasion of His Seventieth Birthday. Leiden: Brill.
1991   The Royal Correspondence of Larsa: III. The Princess and the Plea. Pp. 377-88 in D. Charpin and F. Joannès eds., Marchands, diplomates et emperours. Etudes sur la civilisation mésopotamienne offertes à Paul Garelli. Paris: Editions Recherche sur les Civilisations.

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1969   Das spätbabylonische Lehrgedicht "Inannas Erh` hung." ArOr 37: 473-522.

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1989   Lugalbanda and Ninsun. JCS 41: 69-86.

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1991   Samsu-iluna and the Hungry Naditus. Pp 3-39 in Mesopotamian History and Environment 1. Northern Akkad Reports 5.

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1993 Gilgamesh and Akka. Groningen: Styx.

Klein, J.
1981 Three Šulgi Hymns: Sumerian Royal Hymns Gloryfiying King Šulgi of Ur. Ramat-Gan: Bar Ilan University Press.
Forthcoming  Edition of Shulgi hymn E.

Kramer, S. N.
1957 Hymn to the Ekur. RSO 32: 95-102
1991 The Death of Ur-Nammu. PP. 193-214 in M. Mori, et al., eds., Near Eastern Studies Dedicated to Prince Takahito Mikasa on the Occasion of His Seventy-Fifth Birthday. Wiesbaden: Harrasowitz.

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1960 Babylonian Wisdom Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Ludwig, M.-C.
1990 Untersuchungen zu den Hymnen des Išme-Dagan von Isin. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

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1976 The Royal Correspondence of Ur. Yale University doctoral thesis. Ann Arbor: University Microfilms.
1977 Amar-Su'ena and the Historical Tradition. Pp. 155-7 in M. de Jong Ellis ed., Essays on the Ancient Near East in Memory of J. J. Finkelstein . Hamden, 155-157.
1981 Königsbriefe. Reallexicon der Assyriologie V: 51-59.
1983 Review of L. Cagni, Briefe aus der Iraq Museum (Leiden, 1980). JCS 35: 221-228.
1991 Incantation Incipits," N.A.B.U. 1991, 48.
1992 Orality and Literacy in Early Mesopotamian Literatures. Pp. 227-236 in Vogelzang and Vanstiphout 1992.
1993 The Torch and the Censer. Pp. 152-62 in Mark Cohen et all, eds., The Tablet and the Scroll: Near Eastern Studies in Honor of William W. Hallo. Bethesda: CDL.
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Nougayrol, J. et al.
1968 Ugaritica V. Paris: Paul Geuthner.

Parpola, S.
1987 The Forlorn Scholar. Pp. 257-278 in F. Rochberg-Halton, ed., Language, Literature, and History: Philological and Historical Studies presented to Erica Reiner. New Haven: American Oriental Society.

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1981 Il poemato di Adapa. Budapest.

Reisman, D.
1970 Two Neo-Sumerian Hymns. University of Pennsylvania doctoral thesis. Ann Arbor: University Microfilms.
1976 A >Royal= Hymn of Išbi-erra to the Goddess Nisaba. AOAT 25: 357-65.

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1965 Sumerische Königshymnen der Isin-Zeit. Leiden: Brill.
1980 Das sumerische Kurtzepos ‘Bilgameš und Akka.  Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag.

Rowton, M. B.
1967 Watercourses and Water Rights in the Official Correspondence from Larsa and Isin. JCS 21: 267-274.

Shaffer, A.
1963 Sumerian Sources of Tablet XII of the Epic of Gilgameš. University of Pennsylvania doctoral Thesis, 1963. Ann Arbor: University Microfilms 63-7085.

Sjöberg, Å.
1973 Two Prayers for King Samsuiluna of Babylon. JAOS 93: 544-547.
1993 The Ape from the Mountains who Became the King of Isin. Pp. 211-20 in Mark Cohen et all, eds., The Tablet and the Scroll: Near Eastern Studies in Honor of William W. Hallo. Bethesda: CDL.

Sjöberg, A., E. Bergman and G. B. Gragg
1969 The Collection of Sumerian Temple Hymns and the Keš Temple Hymn. Locust Valley: Augustin.

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1995 On the Poetry of Išme-Dagan. OLZ 90: 5-26.

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1969 Das Lugalbandaepos. Wiesbaden: Harrasowitz.
1976 Formale Gesichipunkte in der sumerischen Literatur. Pp. 205-316 in S. Liberman, ed., Sumerological Essays in Honor of Thorkild Jacobsen. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

Vanstiphout, H. L. J.
1978 Lipit-Eštar=s Praise in the Edubba. JCS 30: 33-61.
1983 Problems in the ‘Matter of Aratta.’ Iraq 45: 353-42.
1986 Some Thoughts on genre in Mesopotamian Literature. Pp. 1-11 in K. Hecker and W. Sommerfeld, eds., Keilschriftlische Literaturen. Augew ältige Vorträge der XXXII Rencontre assyriologique internationale. Berlin: Deitrich Reimer.

Vogelzang, M. E. and H. L. J. Vanstiphout
1992 Mesopotamian Epic Literature: Oral or Aural? Lewiston: Edwin Mellen.