My research team has been excavating the site of a city of the Kenduzandi culture, a group whose florescence occurred during the late third millenium somewhat northwest of Girsu. As with some of their better-
known neighbors, like the Elamites and the Gutians, they were distinct from the Sumerians and Akkadians but were earlier drawn into the orbit of the Uruk Expansion. We’ve been working for some time on translating a large set of fairly well- preserved tablets; the K. apparently spoke a language unrelated to Sumerian or any of the surrounding languages, but as they adopted archaic cuneiform, and their scribes practiced with word- lists with Sumerian equivalence tables, we’ve had a bit of progress. We don’t have a professional Assyriological linguist on board. There aren’t many, and our first candidate was hired away by Apple or Bing, I forget which, and the second left in a snit when Prof. Frebnisch referred to him as a philologist, but one of our grad students, Hwangsson, has had a fair amount of training. Picked up some bad habits from cultural anthropologists, but not a bad sort, really. At any rate, one series of texts appears to be a religious or historical tale, borrowing heavily from pan- Mesopotamian themes while nevertheless containing some distinctive portions. Young Hwangsson happened on several of your journal’s articles on theolinguistics while looking for references more believable than Linguistic Inquiry, and suggested we send you a working copy. The “[redacted]” in the text stands for a deliberate gouge in the tablet; we think there was no word written there — the gouge is part of the story. Hwangsson suggested we gloss it “marklar” but won’t explain why; is this a linguist thing?
Dr. Prof. Solvi T. Perverbum
In the time before Sargon, in the time before great Hammurabi, in the time when the Rat ate only weeds and was a friend to Man, to the west of the Meshar there was the city of Anduzdu, and the people of Anduzdu were happy because their king1 was Shandusili, and Shandusili was a wise and lazy man.
As he was wise, the other kings feared him; they would not send their armies, they would not move the boundary-
As he was a lazy man, the other cities did not fear he would send his armies against them, they did not fear he would move the boundary-
Anduzdu prospered under Shandusili, and its people were clever; even the princes learned how to write. The king was strong in war, but did not love it; he was stronger in sleep,2 and loved it well. The people loved their king, and even though he did not seek war, the temple of Ishtar thought well of him; as he was wise, he gave them gifts. But then the first misfortune came to Anduzdu: the king’s heir3 was born, and he was a strong, healthy, clever boy, and easy to look upon, and his name was Bartalamiyuwwa. If he had been weak of limb, he would have learned many ways to do one thing, but he was strong. If he had been sickly as a child, he would have learned perseverance, but he was as healthy as a goat, and twice as fickle. If he had been thick-
Bartalamiyuwwa did not like his duties, did not like his lessons. He wanted to run, he wanted to compete with the other youths, he wanted to pour water over his head slowly before the temple of Ishtar, for he had discovered that the priestesses would call to him if he did that; he wanted to play his flute, for he was good enough at it that the animals along the river would come to him, the animals would be peaceful while he played, and this also impressed the priestesses most favorably. As a child, he had led the animals up and down the river, he had made a pet of a rat and told it stories; he had told it the Tale of the River-
But the lesser scribe4 taught him, the lesser scribe told him to write speeches, the lesser scribe told him to put words together. And Bartalamiyuwwa put down words, but they were not made right, and they were the wrong words for where he put them. And the lesser scribe chided him, although not too harshly, for the father of Bartalamiyuwwa was the king, and although he was a wise and lazy man, it is not a good thing to anger a king. The lesser scribe said these words:
Your saying cannot move! Look at the about-
Your saying cannot stand! Look at the chains among the words! Nolabelatu will see it, the god will disapprove of it, the god will put his bad dingir-
Your saying cannot live! Look at the kinds of the words! Yaladruzza will not like that. Yaladruzza will put her bad dingir-
This is what the lesser scribe said, and it was not as harsh as the words he might have said, for the prince’s saying was like words strewn about, was like words made by a warrior after his head has been struck, and this was certain, for the scribes had done much examination of soldiers and their speech problems; the scribes had been so busy with this that the king had had to command them, the king had had to stop them from hitting people on the head just to settle arguments about the speech problems. The soldiers had spoken to the king, had begged the king to stop the scribes from moving up behind them with rocks. And the king had agreed, and had said that the scribes had to stop doing that, and that the scribes had to repeatedly set down in their tablets that they are not allowed to do this.
Bartalamiyuwwa did not like the lesser scribe saying things about his writing, did not think the lesser scribe should scold him. Bartalamiyuwwa went to the greater scribe, who was a very old man, and said that his writings should be praised, for they were the writings of a prince. And first, the greater scribe said that no, the ibis did not have flowers in its head, and that Bartalamiyuwwa was very strange to be thinking it would, and the greater scribe asked if Bartalamiyuwwa had been hit on the head with a rock recently. But then Bartalamiyuwwa spoke very loudly, and said his request again. And the greater scribe then spoke, and said that prince or no, words were what they were and went where they were to go, and everyone should learn to put them there.
Bartalamiyuwwa was clever, but he was not wise, and he spoke to the greater scribe and said that there should be prince-
At this, the greater scribe grew angry, because the prince’s teachers had already spent many hours telling the prince that laws are laws, and that the questions about why they are there are not good questions. The greater scribe told the prince, the greater scribe recited the Tale of the Walls, the greater scribe described how the Abzu would become everything and everything would become not-
Even then the prince was not obedient, the prince was contrary. The prince asked how a tablet with [redacted] could be written, if [redacted] was forbidden. It was like the crocodile, he said, that must hatch from an egg, and one cannot have crocodile eggs without crocodiles, no matter what the Elamites might say. The greater scribe stopped, the greater scribe made the wind-
And that was the second misfortune that came to Anduzdu, for the prince was clever, the prince remembered those words. The prince went to his father, and spoke against the greater scribe, saying the greater scribe had been impudent.
Now, Shandusili was wise, and he was lazy. He was wise enough to know how the young are, and particularly how his heir was. Shandusili heard the prince, and waited a moment, and told the prince the story about the Ibex and the Pomegranate, but added a priestess of Ishtar to the story and completely distracted Bartalamiyuwwa so that the prince wandered off, inspired by religious fervor. And Shandusili was lazy, so he decided that the lesser scribe should talk to the prince later, should keep the prince away from the greater scribe, for the king thought well of the greater scribe, who had been his teacher and had been old even then. And so Shandusili called for the lesser scribe, and spoke to him, and asked him what lessons he had been teaching, what passages he had been reciting to the prince.
And this is how the third misfortune came to Anduzdu, for the lesser scribe was also clever, and was also not wise, and thought to show himself learned in front of the king, and so recited to the king the Passages on the Walls around the Small Words that Reflect.
Now, the king was strong in sleep, and the king had planned on sleeping a while during the lesser scribe’s speaking, for he knew how scribes could be. But the Passages on the Walls around the Small Words that Reflect bring sleep with them. Even to the hare, which does not sleep much, the Passages on the Walls around the Small Words that Reflect can bring sleep. And the king’s head-
The lesser scribe stood for a while, but the king’s attendant, Ishharaza, seeing the king asleep, sent the lesser scribe away, saying that the king was deeply considering the Passages. Ishharaza waited; he had waited before. The king was wise, and the king was lazy, and his head-
The king’s head was twice asleep; it did not wake up all the way, it only woke up into once asleep. It could not bind the lesser spirits, it could not govern the spirits of the parts.
But the spirit of the king’s left arm, the left-
And the spirit of the king’s right arm, the right-
And the spirit of the king’s left leg, the left-
And the spirit of the king’s right leg, the right-
And the spirit of the king’s chest, the chest-
And the spirit of the king’s belly, the belly-
And the spirit of the king’s procreative parts, the tuvuni-
Now, Ishharaza was instantly surprised, for this was a thing that had not happened before in all the annals of the kingdom, and Ishharaza was very certain that if it had, someone would have written about it, for it was not the kind of thing anyone would not remember. It was easier to remember than many of the other things in the annals, like the List of Reed Types or the Sequence of Assistant Stylus-
Now, Ishharaza saw that the king’s head was still in the throne room, and the king’s head did not look dead, but sleeping. And so Ishharaza clapped again, and this time the king’s head-
Ishharaza and the king’s head talked to the prince, and prince was concerned, for he was not an evil lad, just a foolish one, and he did not think that his king should be scattered around, and also was not accustomed to being given instructions by a head in a bag. But he was the heir, and so did the duties of the king while Ishharaza and the king searched, and the search lasted four full months, for Ishharaza did not at first know the whereabouts of the king’s parts. And this search is told about in the Tale of Ishharaza and the King’s Head.12
The prince’s duties were heavy, for Ishharaza was not in the palace, and Bartalamiyuwwa had to rely upon the under-
But the prince did the duties of the king, and the kings of the other lands did not know that Shandusili was scattered, for their merchants were now afraid to go to Anduzdu, and their soldiers did not cross the boundary-
Now, the prince was doing the duties of the king, but the prince was not the king; the prince was in the place of the king but did not use the seal; he did not wield the mace. The prince and the upper household said the king was considering a great plan, was deep in thought. And the lesser scribe and the greater scribe too continued the prince’s lessons, for if they did not, the people would think it strange, and the king needed to read the agreements. Lumapa did not make wise agreements, so Bartalamiyuwwa had more need to read them. But Bartalamiyuwwa still hated the lessons, and Bartalamiyuwwa still wrote sayings that could not live or move or stand.
Thus it was that after two months, in the night, Bartalamiyuwwa remembered what the greater scribe had said. Bartalamiyuwwa remembered the [redacted] tablet, and Bartalamiyuwwa also realized that someone who does the duties of the king can look at whatever tablets he wants. Bartalamiyuwwa was young, and Bartalamiyuwwa was foolish, and Bartalamiyuwwa went secretly to the tablet-
[...] the Primary Dawn Noises of the River-
On the next day was the prince’s lesson, and the prince went to it light of heart for once. The lesser scribe brought the larger practice-
Now, [redacted] is from the Abzu, [redacted] is a word from the Word-
And [redacted] could stand anywhere, [redacted] could live anywhere. Bartalamiyuwwa and the scribe had spoken [redacted] in all the seats, in all the houses and had written in there; the lesser scribe had heard [redacted] in all the seats, in all the houses. As [redacted] could live anywhere, it paired with itself as the necessary-
[Redacted]! shouted the lesser scribe, for the [redacted]-
[Redacted]! said Bartalamiyuwwa, but Bartalamiyuwwa was not happy now, for it came to him that he could not say anything else. And the attendants who were in the room had heard the lesson, and had to say [redacted] too, and the guards heard them, and so the [redacted] spread outwards. Across the city it moved, and the merchants could not trade, for they could not match offers if both were offering [redacted]. The potters could not make pots, for they had to ask for [redacted] to [redacted] on their [redacted]; the farmers could not [redacted], nor could [redacted] priests. The priestesses of Ishtar did not need to speak as much, but [redacted] got into the sayings in their heads, and was a hindrance, and they were still looking about besides, for the king’s presence was still making itself known at unexpected times and the temple was not very full. And the Word-
Now Bartalamiyuwwa was young, and Bartalamiyuwwa was foolish, but he also remembered what the greater scribe had said about the tablets. He took a fresh tablet and wrote his name on it, for that was one of the things he could do right, and saw that [redacted] had not gotten into the tablet. It could not bring the part of itself that made more onto the tablet, could not spread across the tablets. While Bartalamiyuwwa thought about the marks, he could use his old words, although he was no better about arranging them on the tablet than he had been. But he showed the tablet to the lesser scribe, he shouted [redacted] happily and pointed at the tablet. And the scribe saw it, the scribe understood it, the scribe wrote a message on another tablet asking the prince to stay in his chambers, and the scribe ran off to show the tablets to the other scribes. And so it was that the scribes and then the priests, and then the nobles could talk to each other with the tablets, even though their voices all said [redacted] no matter what they did, for the scribes and the nobles and the priests had all learned how to write the tablets.
But the city and the country could not write, and the [redacted] spread across the city like a fire; the [redacted] spread across the country like a flood. The people could not speak to each other except by saying [redacted], and [redacted] could mean anything, and thus could mean nothing. And because the [redacted] could mean anything, and because the Words of the Abzu are infinite, the [redacted] could be those Words as well, and because among the infinite Words of the Abzu are those that can bring the substance of themselves with themselves, some of these began to pass the walls, began to enter the Land.
There is a Word for talking crocodiles, and so a talking crocodile entered the Land. It did not speak [redacted], for it was the kind of talking crocodile that would not, but it passed out of the kingdom, and after a span of days the Elamites found it, and were very proud, and said amongst themselves that they had had the right of things all along. It lived among them for years, until it bit the hand off one of their sea-
There is a Word for boat-
There is a Word for the shaping of the grey metal, that before no one had shaped, and so now there are people that can shape it, and Ishtar was pleased with this, for it brought much war with it.
Now, because of the King’s parts that still rounded the kingdom, that still cast confusion and fear into the lands at the borders of the kingdom, [redacted] did not spread beyond it, but the priests knew it would, the nobles knew it would. All the world would know only [redacted], and then the Walls would fall.
The prince wrote a tablet to the scribes, and to the priests. The prince took his stylus and made marks on the tablet, the prince wrote “Square doing-
So the priest of Karapahimi petitioned the writing-
“We will pay your price!” wrote the priest, and the prince wrote the word for agreement on the tablet as well, for this was just three marks and he could do that without adding fish or shapes or words for tiresomely expected odors. “Then read this well,” said the writing-
And Karapahimi sent a tablet to Nulifaka, sent a message to the goddess who makes the nothing that stands for something. “The people of Anduzdu have made ubiliki,” she wrote, “the prince of Anduzdu has thought this a fine thing to do, but now there are tears, and they are all in turmoil. They ask your aid; they ask you to turn all the [redacted]s into absence-
And Nulifaka had the anger of the tired parent, turned her angry eye to the priests and nobles of Anduzdu. She spoke in silences, she made the voice that is the absence of sound, she chastised the priests, she chastised the prince. “It is ubiliki that you have done!” she said. “You have brought this on yourselves!” And all but one of the priests wept again, and the nobles shouted once more in dismay. But Nulifaka’s priest knew the goddess, he wrote to the goddess by casting ashes upon the floor and rubbing them away to make marks. He petitioned Nulifaka, he said that since the [redacted] could be anything, before long it would be everything, even nothing, and the nothing would be the Word-
“We will pay your price!” said the priests, and again the prince made marks on the tablet. But this time he pleased the goddess, for instead of writing the marks for agreement, he wrote the marks for the complete absence of refusal. The absence-
And so Nulifaka went to the seat of Tayapanu, she went to the Storm on the Abzu. She shaped words that were the absence of everything that the people of Anduzdu asked, and she broke them to pieces against the Storm, and thus spoke to Tayapanu. And Tayapanu, who knew that the people of Anduzdu did not think he would spare them, who knew that the Word-
Tayapanu spoke to the prince, Tayapanu spoke to the priests, Tayapanu spoke to the nobles in words of shattered stone. “It is ubiliki that you have done!” he said, “You have brought this on yourselves! And you have done so very well! Tell me, or write me, little prince, why I should not take the destruction of your Land as tribute! Why care I if the Walls fall? The Storm does not bide Walls well!” And the prince, hearing these words, nodded to himself, and this was the first blessing that fell upon Anduzdu, for the prince recognized his own ubiliki and knew what to say. It did not matter that he spoke in [redacted]s, for the way that the [redacted]s destroyed meaning was like the shattering of stone, was like a storm, and could be anything and everything; the prince spoke with a particular [redacted], he used the [redacted] that would destroy what he did not mean, and Tayapanu could understand him.
“If the Walls fall in this way,” said the prince, “If the Abzu floods the Land because I used the [redacted], then I will have destroyed the Land. Not you. I am thinking that princes and kings are your kin in some ways.” At this Tayapanu laughed, for they both knew that it was true; pride was an illness they shared. “Very well, “ said Tayapanu, “But know this: If I destroy the [redacted]s myself, it will destroy the Walls; I cannot reach past them without breaking them. I can give something of the Land the power to eat the [redacted]s, but it will take a price of its own; it will take time for the hunger I put in it to fade. And you, prince, must pay a price as well. I destroy the balance of things by being here, and balance must be restored, in Tales if in nothing else.”
“I will pay your price!” said the prince. “Then give up two things dear to you,” said Tayapanu, “and choose a creature to eat the [redacted]s.” And the prince decided; the prince became no longer easy to look upon, became no longer fleet of foot, but he remained clever, and he could still play his flute. And the prince chose the Rat to bear a bit of Tayapanu’s hunger, for he thought the Rat harmless and remembered his pet.
The rats hungered for the [redacted]s, they jumped into the air, they snatched the [redacted]s right out of the sounds the people were making, and since they had Tayapanu’s hunger, the [redacted]s stayed gone, they could not spread. The rats did spread, though, like a flood; they grew fat off the [redacted]s, and moved across the land after them; they snatched them from the fields, they snatched them from the city, they snatched them even from the mountains. All the [redacted]s they ate, until at last there were none. But the rats were still hungry, and began to cluster around the people in a way that made the people very afraid. “We are still hungry,” said the rats. “Give us your children.” The rats remembered the Tale of the River-
But the prince took out his flute, and this was the second blessing that fell upon Anduzdu, for he could still play his flute, he could still entice the rats, he could still lead them where he wanted them. The prince played his flute, the prince limped out of the city, for his legs did not now work as well as they had. He led the rats out of the city into the fields, the prince led the rats of the fields as well and took all of them to the mountains. And after a span of days, Tayapanu’s full hunger left them and they became as animals again, although a tiny bit of it remained. And this is why rats eat grain, and why the people hate them doubly; for the threat to the young, and for the danger of starvation
And after a longer span of days, as the prince was returning to Anduzdu, he happened upon Ishharaza and upon his father, Shandusili, for Ishharaza had at last found all of Shandusili’s parts. Shandusili and Ishharaza did not at first recognize Bartalamiyuwwa, for the prince was now hard to look upon, and limped, and was almost without voice to the end of his days because of the time he had spent playing his flute, but they traveled together as is told in the Tale of the Unrecognized Heir. And this was the third blessing that fell upon Anduzdu. But the scribes have never taught another prince to write.
2 Hwangsson argues that this passage indicates the king’s role as a shaman, and that part of the king’s duty may have been to ingest “entheogens” and enter visionary states. While this hypothesis would make some sense of a later passage, we think it more likely that H. has simply spent too much time around cultural anthropologists.
4 DUB.SAR.TUR and DUB.SAR.GAL, with additional syllabic symbols indicating K. affixes.
5 The K. texts occasionally use what looks like the DINGIR determinative, but with a reversed stroke pattern (something that is easier to see in the actual tablets); this was apparently some sign of divine disfavor on the element after it.
6 The text uses gal5-
7 Not actually the negative of “everything,” but rather the sign for “all” with a nominal marker and affixes indicating “overwhelmingness” and “uselessness.”
8 Root used here also connotes wealth and power.
9 i.e. the Sumerians
10 This may be some kind of criticism of the Elamites, with whom the K. appear to have had vexed relations.
11 At this point, we will simply assure the reader that the sense of the passage is clear from the tablet.
12 Egyp. Os. and Mesop. Dum.
13 The sequence that we are translating as “Word-
14 The text here uses borrowed terms
15 This is our approximation based on the sequence of symbols used; there a number of grammatical markers following words of types they don’t normally follow.
16 This term appears in no other texts. Based on the context, we can hypothesize a connection with sin or arrogance, but there are other signs that are typically used for those in other texts. Hwangsson has suggesting translating it as “ofermōd”; is that a standard term in cultural anthropology, or is it another linguistics term? There do seem to be an inordinate number of them.
17 A unit of measurement; it usually appears as a single symbol, but on two of the word-