No 2 Cosmically Ordering Sex form a God with a Devilish Sense of Humour (Erotic Distraction)

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After all, the Old Akkadian, Sumerian and Old Babylonian sources are the oldest literary documents about love, predating the Egyptian material of the Middle Kingdom by several hundred years. But while in other academic disciplines, especially in the Classics, the subject has received a good deal of scholarly attention over the last twenty years, to some extent inspired by feminist thinking, 1 there has so far been no attempt to synthesize the available data from Mesopotamian sources.


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Not all of them are poetry, some are myths, rituals, or incantations. Formally, this book is a collection of essays that focus on particular aspects of erotic love that are common to or characteristic of certain genres of Mesopotamian literature.

Sexual Orientation is Fixed, but Gender’s Completely Fluid. And 2 + 2 = 5.

I have approached the compositions from various angles, in order to offer different perspectives, but without feeling committed to a particular mode of interpretation, whether exclusively feminist, structuralist, psychoanalytical, or deconstructionist. My comments on the text sometimes differ considerably from those of their editors, but such deviations are acknowledged in the notes. These refer the reader to the original sources, and also sometimes tackle linguistic matters for the attention of my colleagues. My use of the term 'literature' is not meant to convey the notion of fiction or poetry as an aesthetic category as in the German Belletristik, but as a general corpus of written material that is not bureaucratic, documentary, or used for direct communication like letters, receipts, etc.

By the word 'text' I mean the original written work or document without any deconstructionist or exegetic dimension. It is not possible to write about sexuality in the Ancient Near East. We know veiy little about people's private lives. But literature can tell us about cultural aspirations, general norms of thinking, and articulates emotion and desire. This book is only an attempt to do some justice to the complexity, ambiguity and subtlety of Mesopotamian literature on love and I hope that it will stimulate the debate within the field, and deepen the interest of the general reader.

My thanks go to my anthropologist colleague and friend, Teri Brewer, for her suggestions and comments; to Jeremy Black for his critical reading of the manuscript, to Bendt Alster for letting me see drafts of some forthcoming articles and for his encouragement; to Professor W.

Lambert and Tzvi Abusch for bibliographical assistance; to Tan Pearson for drawing the map; and to my friends Freya and Franz Krummel for their support and inspiration. The question of the actual pronunciation of both languages is of course, unanswerable, especially in the case of Sumerian, which is not related to any other linguistic group. Assyriologists meanwhile read transliterations, by convention, as if they were written in German.

Hence the vowel 'a' is as in English 'far'; 'e' as in English 'hence', T as in 'is', and 'u' as in 'full'. The letter 's' stands for 'sh', 'IT is pronounced as in Scottish 'loch'. The grave and acute accents on certain syllables in transliterations, as well as subscripted numbers, indicate to the cuneiformist which sign, out of a group of homophones, is written in the text. It does not refer to pronunciation. Length-marks and circumflexes in Akkadian transliterations indicate either vowel-length or contractions.

Sexual Orientation Is Fixed, But Gender's Completely Fluid. And 2 + 2 = 5.

In the translations, square brackets [ ] indicate gaps in the text, due to some damage of the tablet; text within square brackets is restored from other versions. Round brackets contain words not in the actual text, inserted to facilitate the understanding of the sentence in English. A question mark following a word denotes that the chosen English equivalent is considered doubtful by the translator.

When a word is written in capital letters this means that the phonetic value is uncertain. All dates are BC unless otherwise stated. These lines from the seventeenth chapter of the Book of Revelation associate Babylon with depravity of the senses and the iniquities of fornication. When Luther attacked the Roman Church for her low moral standards he compared her to the Whore of Babylon.

It is only some hundred and sixty years ago that the modern world rediscovered the tangible remains of Assyria and Babylon. Since then, archaeologists and epigraphists, historians and linguists have been evaluating the reality of Mesopotamian civilization. Through a fortunate historical coincidence, the discovery of a trilingual rock-inscription on the Iranian hills, the key to the decipherment of Akkadian was achieved almost simultaneously by Rawlinson.

The situation is quite different in respect to Sumerian, which has no discernible relation to any known language. We still have to some degree to rely on the attempts by ancient Akkadian grammarians to make sense of the Sumerian texts, as they provided the indispensable bilingual texts and lexical lists. The study of Akkadian has therefore progressed further and more rapidly. At the present time, the dictionary project undertaken by the University of Chicago is nearing completion for the Assyrian dictionaiy, while work on the Sumerian dictionaiy will continue until well into the next century.

There is also no absolute agreement yet over the grammatical description of Sumerian, and the interpretation of literary texts is by no means unanimous.


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  4. The main reason for these difficulties is the medium of cuneiform writing itself. It is now clear that the impetus for the invention of writing in Mesopotamia was a desire not to communicate ideas but to facilitate bookkeeping.

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    Some of these accounting tools are preserved in the form of marked tokens which referred to the standard commodities of exchange, sheep, grain, oil and cloth. The signs on these tokens represented the nature of the merchandise. The next step was to extend the semantic range of primary symbols by combining and juxtaposing individual signs.

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    Already at this stage, which is called pictographic because the references are primarily pictorial, the possibilities of some signs transcend the direct reference to the object depicted; as indicated above, the sign can include an activity as well as a commodity, a verbal idea as well as a noun.

    These texts were able to convey a message without reference to a particular language, in the same way as international traffic signs or mathematical notation can be 'understood' without having to be 'read'. A crucial development was the use of a sign representing a tangible object for its phonetic value. In Sumerian, the word AN meant 'heaven', but the sound corresponding to the syllable an had a variety of grammatical uses too. This exploitation of homophony made it possible to express a particular spoken language, with the exclusion of others. When the Semitic inhabitants of Mesopotamia adapted this system for their quite different language, they encountered serious problems and ultimately contributed to its increased complexity and polyvalence.

    Because they took over the syllabic value of each sign, as well as its logographic meaning, they had to transfer the semantic value of the logographs by translating them into their language, which in turn provided additional syllabic values. This writing system is implicitly ambiguous, as meaning can be conveyed either by symbols logographs or phonetic signs syllables. To alleviate the confusion of the reader, the scribes could indicate the context of a cluster of signs by specific markers, the so-called determinatives. The Egyptian hieroglyphic system of writing was essentially similar, with a preference for logographic spellings glossed abundantly with determinatives.

    Chinese script, on the other hand, eliminates the ambiguity caused by a phonetic representation of the spoken word by concentrating on the meaning conveyed by symbols only. This system proved to be a uniting force in a vast country with many different local dialects. The so-called alphabetic scripts this includes here also those with an inherent vowel, as in Devanagari, or implied vowels, as in the Hebrew and Arabic scripts , on the other hand, abstract the meaning of words from the representation of their sounds alone; as each word is seen as the sum of its constituent phonemes, and the individual signs have no meaning as such.

    Chinese and the more or less totally alphabetic system e.

    Italian , cuneiform writing is polyvalent and multi-dimensional because it allows meaning to be expressed in several ways. The use of logographs allows the symbolic to be integrated in the written text. In those texts which we call literary, in so far as they are not concerned with the communication of messages, the polyvalence of this writing system is exploited to great effect. The author disposed of a whole range of artifices that went beyond the spoken language and were only discernible to the reader. By referring to the symbolic order of language in writing by the deliberate use of logographs, the written text made the complex system of references transparent and thereby gained an advantage over the spoken word.

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    This multi-dimensionality of the text has a physical correlate in the tablet itself. The medium of cuneiform writing is clay. In the process of writing, the scribe pressed his stylus into the soft surface of his tablet. The marks appear therefore below the surface. To read the sign, one has to hold up the tablet and move it this way or that, in order to determine the original slant of the stylus.

    This slant is caused by the direction of the hand holding the instrument and constitutes the salient feature of the various strokes of which each sign is composed. Cuneiform 'writing is therefore physically three- dimensional. It was ideally suited for the medium of soft clay as the signs could be impressed with considerable speed. On a hard material, as on ceremonial inscriptions on stone, metals, etc. The modern epigraphist rarely makes copies in clay. Copying a cuneiform tablet means reproducing its aspect on a two-dimensional surface, usually a piece of paper, drawing the signs with a pen to make a perspective of the original.

    The next step consists in the transcription or transliteration, whereby the signs are rendered into the modern alphabet with the help of sign-lists that are to some extent based on original cuneiform compilations. Invariably, the epigraphist offers his or her personal perception of the sign, and only the experienced colleague will be able to deduce the original shape of the sign from this transcribed value.

    The range of inherent meaning becomes even narrower in translation, when the transliterated text is expressed in a particular modern language. Most translations are stylistically unsatisfactory because Sumerologists especially stick to a kind of unofficial and idiosyncratic code of alluding to cuneiform signs and expressions. The initiate is well able to deduce from Kramer's or Jacobsen's turns of phrase their Sumerian equivalent, but for any reader untrained in the conventions of this discipline it is quite impossible to form any idea of the text's original complexity and polyvalence.

    The bulky corpus of footnotes which invariably accompany the scholarly edition of texts do to some extent make up for the lost 'depth', but they are generally excluded from the 'popular' editions. By reducing the plasticity of the originals to one-dimensional and practically meaningless texts, the conscientious scholar ensures, in spite of his best intentions, that they remain as unread as when they were still buried in the sands.

    But in spite of all the problems that the modern scholar and the modern reader encounter, we have to acknowledge that the system of cuneiform writing was ideally suited to literature as an art form. In fact it remained the most successful of the arts in Mesopotamia; its visual style, compared to the assured elegance of Egypt, is at best grandiose. This study is concerned with a particular aspect of this literature, the subject of eroticism and sexuality. I believe that the inherent possibilities of cuneiform for expressing layers of meaning are particularly interesting here.

    In spite of Foucault's contention that the very concept 'sexuality' is an invention of the nineteenth centuiy AD, the ambiguous nature of sexual love was well understood in ancient and traditional societies, but was obviously subject to different cultural values.