Sunday, November 26, 2017

Some of the instructions of Šuruppag

Reader, good evening. Here is the view out your humble scribe's door.


The door is open and the night is cool; your humble scribe is fully garbed, even unto sneakers and sweater, feet up on a stool with the door wide and this scene laid before him. He lives in a free-standing room in the middle of the backyard of a nice house. This is the backyard of that house, which--like most houses--is more than a 'house'; it is a lovely and distinctive community in which your humble scribe currently takes residence. The people you see are enjoying 'Friendsgiving' together and, bending towards year's end, singing Christmas carols. They are singing in euphonic, occasional harmony and with humorous, frequent gaps in the lyrics -- mmrhsmshmrling bits they do not know and laughing.

They are drinking. Earlier, at dinner, your scribe was as well. He had...one-point-eight? glasses? of more-than-acceptable red wine.

More than enuf. But: speaking of gaps in the text:

"The Instructions of Šuruppag" (often transliterated as "Šuruppak" or "Shuruppak" (that Š gets a 'sh')) is one of the most famous--and complete--examples of Sumerian wisdom literature. 'Wisdom literature' is a term that you may be familiar with from other contexts; if not, it doesn't matter -- it does what it says on the box. Someone is imparting wisdom to someone else, often in the form of a mono- or duologue, and it is implicit that the wisdom conveyed reflects a value system someone felt was worth recording.

Your humble scribe has spent much of his weekend with this and related texts. Here are some bits of it.
get it, Reader? 'bits of it'...?
This picture is Creative Commons; thank you, Daderot.
Reader, this tablet and words etched upon it are dated to ~2500 BCE. Meaning: these words predate the common era by more than the advent (as it were) of the common era predates you; the gap between Šuruppak advising his son and a man on a cross between two chatty thieves is longer than the subsequent gap between those three unfortunate, crucified men and yourself.

That is how long people have been like this -- drinking, singing in gardens, giving advice: the whole all of it.

Here's some of what Šuruppak has to s--

oh! Last note: all translations are from the Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature, an indispensable resource that does not--insofar as your humble scribe can discern--offer individual attributions in its translations. But at least that credit can be given, and gratefully so.

101-102. Property is something to be expanded (?); but nothing can equal my little ones.

103-105. The artistic mouth recites words; the harsh mouth brings litigation documents; the sweet mouth gathers sweet herbs.
Your humble scribe suspects that there is some sophisticated, erudite gloss of 'sweet herbs' that makes this insight make...sense? It's not even a robustly parallel construction!

126. You should not pass judgment when you drink beer.
The singers outside are passing no judgment. They are singing, and laughing. But: point taken.

242-244. Nothing at all is to be valued, but life should be sweet. You should not serve things; things should serve you. My son, …….
This comes out of nowhere! There's advice about where to dig your well and "female burglars", and a lot of recognizable parental 'work hard, don't lie or mess around in bad stuff' type advice. And then BOOM: Šuruppak's like, 'possession is dust.'

261. Without suburbs a city has no centre either.

265. [...] of Dilmun [...]
Even an exceptionally complete piece of text from forty-five hundred years ago has some holes in it. Anyway: great advice, clrly.

266-271. {To get lost is bad for a dog; but terrible for a man} or, as a different tablet says {An unknown place is terrible; to get lost is shameful (?) for a dog.}
The second version is actionable, at least.

Good night, Reader.
Happy start to the end of the year.
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