Special Supplemental Letter from the Editor SpecGram Vol CLXIV, No λ Contents

Why Princes are not Scribes, and the Rat Eats Grain

Solvi T. Perverbum
Institute of Euphratic Studies of the University of Nueva Escranton

with invaluable assistance from
Allen Halfermain, L. E. A.
Bess Paryadok, Foreign Languages Dept. of the University of Latverya

Dear _______—

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 therethe 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-stones, for Shandusili would break their armies, would carve his name on their boundary-stones.

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-stones, and so they sent grain and cattle, and received stone and wood, and the priests were happy.

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-minded, he would have learned humility, but he was clever. If he had been ugly, he would have learned to be well-spoken, but he was easy to look upon. And if he had been a princess, he would have been able to hold two thoughts in his head at once, but he was a prince.

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-Woman, about the spirit that takes wandering children, for his nurse had told him that story often to frighten him into obeying. The prince loved stories, but he did not like the clay and the stylus, and the lessons on writing, and most especially did not like the word-lists. This was in the time before people sang words to music, so he could not even write verses that the priestesses could sing while he played.

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-words and the doer-words! Vanadallagona will strike it down, he will put his bad dingir-mark5 on it. Then the theta-gallu will come, the theta-gallu will seize that word, the theta-gallu6 will take that word down to the underworld, and it will go back to the Abzu!

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-mark on it. Then the House-gallu will come, the House-gallu will seize that word, the House-gallu will take that word down to the underworld, and it will go back to the Abzu!

Your saying cannot live! Look at the kinds of the words! Yaladruzza will not like that. Yaladruzza will put her bad dingir-mark on it. Then wordlist-gallu will come, the wordlist-gallu will seize that word, the wordlist-gallu will take that word down to the underworld, and it will go back to the Abzu!

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-words that went wherever a prince wanted them to go, and then the greater scribe grew angry, for that was not a righteous thing. The greater scribe spoke, the greater scribe scolded the prince, the greater scribe said princes could not commit the [redacted] sin, even if they had been able to read the [redacted] tablet, which Bartalamiyuwwa had clearly been too lazy to learn how to do. And Bartalamiyuwwa grew curious and asked the Greater Scribe about the [redacted] sin, he asked what laws forbad it, and which temple had set the laws, had carved the rules on the tablets.

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-everything7 if the Walls broke, and how the Other Words crowd against the wall, and how even the Land Words, the World-Words, cannot bring every piece of themselves into the world, because they are too heavy8 and how only the words that obey all the Laws can be uttered. He told the prince, he warned the prince, he described the way that the [redacted] would crack the wall, would allow the Abzu to begin flowing in, would allow the Word-Rulers to push even more lawless words into the World, for the Word-Rulers hate walls, the Word-Rulers hate the fenced-in areas, the Word-Rulers want everywhere to be everywhere else. The greater scribe scolded the prince, the greater scribe recited the full Litany of the Angry Parent to the prince.

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-noise that the elders make at loud children, because he was still very angry at the prince but thought the question was a well-thrown one at least. The greater scribe pointed at the tablets in the room, and told the prince that because the marks in writing do not have the voice-part, they are Walled; the Abzu cannot seep in through tablets, because nothing on the tablets can be from beyond the World, and the words on them are like shadows on the wall of a cave. The greater scribe then thumped the prince on the ear, and told him not to be like unto the Egyptian beetle, that finds dung and thinks it gold.

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-spirit, which was wise and listened to things closely, hearing them, fell asleep more; it heard the Third Part of the Passage about the Wall around the Words that are There Just to Tell about Other Words, and it fell past asleep and fell twice asleep. But Shandusili’s lesser spirits, the spirits of his arms and legs, his belly, his chest, his procreative parts, could not understand the words of the Passages, and so only fell asleep once.

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-spirit knew not to wake up unless there was need. But finally, Ishharaza clapped, he made noise, for it was time for the king’s dinner.

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-arm-spirit, sprang awake. It said, “I am awake! I have myself to myself; there is no head-spirit to bind me! I will take myself away!” And so the king’s left arm sprang off, and bounded like a gazelle off to the northwest, to the wastes near to the Amorites, and commenced striking merchants, and taking their goods, and striking the Amorites as they made their camps, and stirred them up.

And the spirit of the king’s right arm, the right-arm-spirit, sprang awake. It said, “I am awake! I have myself to myself; there is no head-spirit to bind me! I will take myself away!” And so the king’s right arm sprang off, and leapt like a hare off to the northeast, to the hills of the Gutea, and began to to accost travelers, to leap out and seize their weapons and smite them right and left, for the king used his right arm to wield his spear.

And the spirit of the king’s left leg, the left-leg-spirit, sprang awake. It said, “I am awake! I have myself to myself; there is no head-spirit to bind me! I will take myself away!” And so the king’s left leg sprang off, and stomped like an elephant off to the southwest, to the marshes of the black-headed people,9 and angered them, so that they sent many tablets with stern words, and said that they would take an extra unit of tax on barley trades; and the king of Lagash wrote and said that Shandusili had better not be acting for Umma, and the king of Umma wrote and said that Shandusili had better not be acting for Lagash.

And the spirit of the king’s right leg, the right-leg-spirit, sprang awake. It said, “I am awake! I have myself to myself; there is no head-spirit to bind me! I will take myself away!” And so the king’s right leg sprang off, and tramped like a buffalo off to the southeast, to the marshes near the Elamites, and trod on the crocodiles so that they left the swamp and attacked people so that the people abandoned their fields. And the Elamite priests then created new symbols for their tablets, for they thought to mislead the crocodiles, because the Elamites at that time thought that crocodiles could read.10

And the spirit of the king’s chest, the chest-spirit, sprang awake. It said, “I am awake! I have myself to myself; there is no head-spirit to bind me! I will take myself away!” And so the king’s chest sprang off, and flew like a bird to the top of the temple of Shumash, and the priests of Shumash were concerned, for they could not light the sacred fire with the king’s chest flying about; they could not make the sacrifices with the king’s chest flying about.

And the spirit of the king’s belly, the belly-spirit, sprang awake. It said, “I am awake! I have myself to myself; there is no head-spirit to bind me! I will take myself away!” And so the king’s belly slithered like a snake down to the market, and began eating up food. And the merchants feared it, thinking it a visitation or omen, and ran away.

And the spirit of the king’s procreative parts, the tuvuni-spirit, sprang awake. It said, “I am awake! I finally have all of me!” And so the king’s procreative parts [indecipherable verb of motion]11 away off to the temple district, and there was much confusion among the priestesses, although the chief priestess said that after many long years, there was now something she had not seen before.

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-Sharpeners, or the records of sales from the previous king’s marble-for-barley agreement with Umma; it was easier to tell about than the Litany about Why Amorite Sheepfolds are Made Wrongly, or the Hymn to the Small Boundary-Stone on the Northwest Corner of the Barley-Field.

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-spirit woke up completely. Shandusili was a wise king, and his head was also wise, and after it had yelled frightfully for a time, it told Ishharaza that Ishharaza should take him, should take the king’s head and search for the other part-spirits. “I am the head-spirit!” it said. “If they hear me, they will yield, they will work!” And Ishharaza and the king’s head talked together, and decided to have the prince command the household while they searched for the parts, for the prince was well past the age of majority, and might learn from this.

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-assistant Lumapa, and Lumapa was not wise about the merchants, and besides, Shandusili’s parts were throwing the land into turmoil. The king’s arms were robbing merchants, his legs were kicking up discord near the boundary-stones, his chest was interrupting the sacred rites of Shamash, whose priests did not want to raise weapons against it for fear of treason, the king’s belly was eating up the food in the market and lurking in the canals, and the king’s procreative parts were very active in the temple district and the people there did not know what to do and were afraid to stand still too long or to sleep.

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-stones for fear that Shandusili would move against them. And the stories of arms and legs appearing in the night and accosting people put more fear into them than Shandusili ever had.

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-room and found the [redacted] tablet. He read the tablet, he read the [redacted]-word, he saw the [redacted]-word could go anywhere and stand anywhere and live anywhere, even if it did not have the Small Part that Tells about Time, even if it did not have the Small Part that Tells about Duties, even if it did not have the Small Part that Tells about How Much the Telling can be Relied Upon, even if it did not have the Small Part that Tells about Shape, even if it did not have the Small Part that Tells about Livestock-Distance, even if it did not have the Small Part that Tells about Unusual Wafts, even if it did not have the Small Part that Marks Words from The One Who is Similar to a Variety of Lavender, even if [second half of tablet broken]

[...] the Primary Dawn Noises of the River-Turtle. And Bartalamiyuwwa was well-pleased.

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-tablet, the lesser scribe wrote part of a saying. The lesser scribe pointed to the silent part, and as he usually did, asked the prince to write in a word that would live, a word that would stand. And the prince wrote [redacted]. Now the lesser scribe did not know of the [redacted]-tablet, did not know of the [redacted]-sin. He did not know the word that the prince had written, but that was not a strange thing to him, because the prince frequently wrote things that had to be puzzled out. The lesser scribe did what he was accustomed to do in such moments: he tried saying what was written in many different ways, hoping one would fit it like a key fits a lock. And this is the way the calamity fell upon the land, for eventually the lesser scribe said [redacted], and so [redacted] got into his head, and as the prince heard it, it got into the prince’s head also, and their head-spirits looked upon the word on the tablet and it had meaning although the lesser scribe could not see how. And thinking that the prince had only been given luck for a moment, the lesser scribe asked the prince to write one of the Words that Mark off Portions of Names, for the prince’s first [redacted] was in the seat of a name. And the prince was very proud of his own cleverness, and wrote [redacted] again, and the lesser scribe, whose head had [redacted] in it now, saw that it worked too.

Now, [redacted] is from the Abzu, [redacted] is a word from the Word-Rulers. Each time the lesser scribe said [redacted], the Word-Rulers heard it, the Word-Rulers13 could see into the Non-Abzu, the Word-Rulers could hear. The Word-Rulers told their goddess; the goddess listened, the goddess hastened to the shore of the Abzu. The lesser scribe was amazed, the lesser scribe gave Bartalamiyuwwa more sayings to finish. Bartalamiyuwwa used [redacted] in the seat of the doing-word, and the lesser scribe recited the line, and the goddess heard it from the Abzu; Bartalamiyuwwa used [redacted] in the seat of the measure-word, and the lesser scribe said that, and the goddess heard it from the Abzu. Bartalamiyuwwa was overjoyed, and yelled [redacted]! And the goddess and all the Word-Rulers saw the shore of the Abzu.

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-part, and so [redacted] raised itself to the first level of the Saying-House. As [redacted] could stand anywhere, it paired with itself as the part that gives more knowledge, and so raised itself to the second level of the Saying-House. As [redacted] could breathe anywhere, it paired with itself as the part-that-makes-particular, and raised itself to the third level of the Saying-House. [Redacted] could stand as the root of the Houses that are Heard; it could stand as the root of the Houses that are Unheard. [Redacted] built itself into houses of itself, and brought more with it.

[Redacted]! shouted the lesser scribe, for the [redacted]-sayings came through the Walls around the Abzu, the [redacted]-sayings did not have to wait until the gods had looked at it. Vanadallagona could not put the bad dingir on it for the theta-gallu to see; Nolabelatu could not put the bad dingir on it for the House-gallu to see, the Yaladruzza could not put the bad dingir on it for the Wordlist-gallu to see. The good words marched together in the way the threads in cloth weave into one, while [redacted] ran past them like a gazelle.

[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-Rulers walked onto the shore of the world,14 the goddess walked onto the edge of the world.

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-captains, who had had cross words with it about the building of the water-jugs that mark the passing of time; the sea-captain fled even to Egypt, but the crocodile followed there and ate him, and much impressed the priests.

There is a Word for boat-faring barbarians, so a flood of these was loosed upon the Land, although it took a number of years for them to reach their full number. And this is why the Egyptians still will not trade with us, for they have not forgotten what Anduzdu did, nor that we are its grandchildren.

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-being-thing ourselves perform-fish Bigstars-asking nowness.”15 The greater scribe read this, the greater scribe was accustomed to the prince’s tablets, the greater scribe could see what it meant. He wrote to the other scribes and the priests that the prince was asking them to petition the gods for help, and they all immediately agreed, not only because the prince was asking it but because it was wise. But they could only write; they could not speak, and the petitions to the gods, all the petitions but one, must be sung; they could not do the petitions except for the priest of Karapahimi, who rules writing, for of course the petitions to her are on the tablets.

So the priest of Karapahimi petitioned the writing-goddess, the priest asked her to speak on their behalf, to ask the other gods for help. And the writing-goddess spoke in writing on the air, she wrote the words in fire in the air. “It is ubiliki16 that you have done! You have brought this on yourselves!” At this the priests wept, the nobles shouted in fear, for the Land was being destroyed. But the priest of Karaphahimi wrote another tablet, he petitioned again, he said that without speech there would be no people after a time, and without people there would be no writing, and Karapahimi would lose tribute. And Karapahimi, who was fond of her priest because he wrote on everything, including the walls, nodded to this, she agreed. “I will send one of my tablets to Nulifaka,” she wrote on the air, “but there will be a price.”

“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-goddess. “From here to the end of days, for every ten silaku17 of scribes, there must be one who writes about the writing of things; and for every ten silaku of the writers about the writing of things, there must be one who writes about the writers about the writing of things. And that one must make words into a swamp, must make words into a puzzle, must make words into the fog that turns travelers from the path, for in this way there shall never be an end to writing, and I will always have tribute.” And in this way was born the karatiki. And the nobles were chastened, and worried, for this seemed to be something that would lead to many scribes and little work, much as was the case among the black-headed people, but they knew that there was no other path.

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-of-[redacted]s. Also, the prince wrote something about a square fish, but it makes no sense.”

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-Ruler’s nothing, not Nulifaka’s. And Nulifaka was fond of her priest, for he would frequently replace the palace’s food with its absence, and some of the silver candlesticks with the absence of silver candlesticks, and even did not feel guilty about this. “Very well,” she said in the voice of silences, “but I cannot do this myself. Since [redacted] can be anything, if I make it a nothing-[redacted], it will still be [redacted], it can still be everywhere, it can still replace everything with itself. I will cease not speaking to Tayapanu, the Destroyer; I will stop not asking him to eat the [redacted]s, for he can eat anything. But this will not be free.”

“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-mark was a single sign, so he could do this as well. “Then do not ignore this” said the goddess. “From now until the absence of time, for every ten silaku of story-tellers, of people who preserve the Tales, there will be one that talks about the Tales that may have been in the past but now are not; there will be one who speaks of the absence shaped by the presence of the Tales that are. And for every ten silaku of those who speak of the Tale-absences, there shall be one who speaks of the absence of Tale-absences, who speaks of the lack of non-passing-away of the Tales.” And in this way were born the fawakalarisiti. And again the nobles were worried, for they knew that the fawakalarisiti would want their own tablet-makers, and their own storehouses for tablets, and again there would be more scribes and less work, but there was no other way.

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-Rulers did not think that he would save the Land, thought that it would be a fine thing if he destroyed their certainty. Also, he was secretly pleased with Bartalamiyuwwa, who after all had destroyed a great deal without even trying, and Tayapanu also liked the idea of square fish.

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-Woman, because of the prince’s stories, and they were very hungry.

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.

1 LUGAL. While we’re using “king” here, it probably meant “war leader” during this period; there is evidence that Shandusili, for example, shared power with the priests of the major temples.

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.

3 Na-va-da-GAL with additional syllabic marks for affixes. Other records indicate the K. culture had matrilineal characteristics; the war-leader’s heir was most likely his sister’s son. This may also account for the rather interesting statement later about princes’ intelligence.

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-some kind of demon or policeman (as in the tale of Ishtar and Ereshkigal), but its use by the K. indicate that it is probably some kind of reinterpretation. “Theta” refers to a mark before the gallu-symbol in this section that looks quite like the Greek letter of that name. “Abzu” is unambiguously a Sumerian borrowing.

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-Rulers” here is LUGAL la-ka-si-la-ka-li-su-ti; we hypothesize that the beginning of the word is related to the term la-si-ka-lu, which (based on the word-lists) means ‘word’.

14 The text here uses borrowed termsIM.NUN and ŠÀRthat in the Akkadian texts are sometimes used to refer to the known or entire world, but follows them with the symbol for Abzu accompanied by syllabic signs indicating K. negative morphology.

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-list tablets it is accompanied by the syllabic sequence si-la-ku, hence our use of that here. It appears to have been used only for counting people in particular occupation groups, including scribes, street musicians, and wards of the state.

Special Supplemental Letter from the Editor
SpecGram Vol CLXIV, No λ Contents