Et in Akkadia Ego

Akkadian Ruler

Akkadian Ruler

Et in Akkadia Ego  

Four Poems on antiquity
by Darrell Sutton,
plus commentaries

The World’s Oldest Literature (2010) by W.W. Hallo is a title of a book of studies of Sumerian texts, and an answer to the age-old query, “which literature is oldest?” – texts handled by Assyriologists or texts handled by Egyptologists? Regardless of your belief, in those fields of studies it is the poetry that usually has proven to be the most magnetic. Details of property sales, grain transactions, though not insignificant, are not all that appealing. Tales of Sargon the Great still intrigue most students of ancient Near East lore. Reading through primary and secondary sources on him, one can understand why. Sargon was a man of colossal import at one time. For Akkadian scholars his value has not diminished one iota. One poem which I composed acknowledges the small gains I have made through years of ruminating on Mesopotamian passages.

Recollections of Sargon: An Ode

Great King Whose Might Gave Right to Reign’

Sargon’s memory sweeps over the
Plains of Aram.
He is revered.
Beloved by all once, now though
The whispering of his name has dreadful effects.
Sprawling over The Land between Two Rivers,
his empire crawls forth.
He is to be feared;
Legends abound.
Stories of him are told by all. It is like
He is yet with us, his presence is all round.
Sargon’s memory sweeps over the
Plains of Bet-Nahrain.
The Great King erected walled cities
and ruled from Akkad. The
Unprotected were not safe,
they were affected by his will.
Floods of blood
Submerged nations and peoples,
Washing away hope and calm;
Cleansing them of faith in Gods.
Sargon’s memory swept over all
Of Mesopotamia. And now he is gone.

The above ode is dramatic, seemingly telling a story that once was well known; except that it ought to be remembered that a poem may contain fact and fiction. The detection of either is really unimportant. The sifting of the true from the false, although it may form the base of some general fields of study, in actuality the research itself is no proof that the investigative structure of a poem was rightly or wrongly conceived. That is a matter entirely in the hands of a reader. A poet is not compelled to divulge whether in his verse he leans toward truth or falsehood. He merely writes to react to his own personal views, to evoke feeling and to elicit sentiment, and to provide an appropriate end to his thoughts.

Note the architectonic features of the poem. The repetitions are overt. Immediately one notices the emphases on the spreading of his empire, the Euphrates district and the character of his reputation. There is little assonance throughout the verses, although there are light touches of non-accented rhyme.

In lines 10-12 I stressed a single phonetic sound that precedes the period {.} or full-stop. The place-names would resonate with several kinds of people: native speakers of Syriac: e.g. Bet Nahrain, or those familiar with ancient Near East literatures. These are not typical words for use in poetry.

Who was this man that pounded his feet into the desert sands? Could such a man be truly loved by those that feared him? The poem offers no answer to that query; but in each succeeding line Sargon’s projected image or his self-representation begins to look more and more like John Milton’s Shadow in William Blake’s poem Milton: a Covering Cherub with divine beginning, that hampers hopes and reasoning. The poem’s great and mighty King is the sort of semi-supernatural person whose relation to the gods has him stationed in a peculiar place as a keeper of ordinary rule, but it is the kind of rule of law that is communicated by powerful means. The poet plays with the notion of the dispersion of his kingdom by alluding to the fact that, although empowered by the gods, Sargon’s empire “crawled forth.” To some he may have been a deliverer; to others he was not a rescuer; but to everyone, he was known.

Akkadian Princess

Anatolian Lyrics I

Who are these women
whose empires fell into the silent dust,
Whose memories faded not away?
Fearsome and loathsome they were
Robed women, sown in the hills like flowers,
Whose presence was ubiquitous; yet
the scent belonging to them was deadly.
They were Indo-European in speech;
They were Informal beings in speech
used round the shadow-black fires.
Who are these women?
Daughters of Hittite Kings

II

Of sturdy men
Lycian stones will speak, which
Once stood tall,
On Anatolia’s peaks.
With warring faces,
From whom kin once fled:
Erecting stones
To tell tales of their dead. But
Earth-winds blow now
on soiled stones that lay low.
Fierce Hittites stand still
in scripts once unknown.
Their muzzled mouths set free;
Their stony bones disturbed,
Their dead arise with glee
To see Luvian unearthed.

The poems bear no light tinge of the Anatolian essence, but they are not entirely true to Hittite form. In order to observe that structure, see below. It is not uncommon to find royal decrees among excavated Anatolian texts; Hittite versions of Akkadian texts and Hurrian language exist too; some extant songs indeed may be metrical: on occasion one finds some stressed-words within rhythmical formations. Juxtaposed to my poems, O.R. Gurney permits the reader to savor the delights of that 2nd millennium B.C. world, the world in which those texts were scribed, especially in his synthetic work entitled, The Hittites (Folio ed., 1999), 184-185.

Writing of the Hurrian God Kumarbi, Gurney stated that he was father of deities in Hurrian mythology “and is equated with the Sumero-Babylonian god Enlil.” In the following text, cited by Gurney, loc. cit., but edited by H.G. Gϋterbock, there is agreement that there appear to be some similarities to Hesiod’s poem, Theogony. Even more so when organized poetically:

“Do not rejoice over what you have swallowed! I have made you pregnant with the mighty Weather-god(?), secondly, I have made you pregnant with the River Aranzakh (the Tigris), and thirdly I have made you pregnant with the great god Tasmisu (a minion of the Weather-god). Three terrible gods I have planted within you as fruit of my body.”

Note the completely religious tone and the loaded sense of ‘being with child.’ Kumarbi received rebuke from Anu, because of a bodily member into which Kumarbi had sunk his teeth. What had been consumed was later spewed out of his mouth, and falling into the lap of mother earth, various deities were born. The feminine components to the narrative are manifestly visible. And one should not be surprised that I composed lines above on Hittite women of old. Although the extant texts are dominated by the male signature, the absence of female autographs does not erase the memory of the famed lyrics of Sappho of Lesbia. She upheld a practice that was not unknown inside the gentleman scribal worlds of the ANE. In fact, a woman named Enheduanna was the “first of author in history to whom, specific, surviving works can be ascribed,” as stated by B. R. Foster in his article ‘The First Author,’ in the Guild of Book Workers Journal (2010-2011), 61. Supplied with a beautiful photograph of tablet YBC 7169 one sees the carefully inscribed lines slightly, slanted in poetic style and in a well preserved text.

Lucretius

Lucretius

Lucretius’ Poem

Who made this world?
Not the Gods:
said Lucretius.
Atoms and
Molecules
thrown about
was his retort.
Strewn in
metrical lines
whose feet were
long and short.
None need worry
of anima,
of what lay
beyond the
grave. But
such is the
Myth-duped heart,
taken in by a con;
No, the Muses
can’t save!
There are
no gods.
So why
Honor
them
you
Knave?

Lucretius (c. 99BC-55BC) is universally recognized as a master poet today. He was not universally loved long ago. He has always had his admirers, but the fanatics all used him or misrepresented him in various ways. De Rerum Natura predates Virgil’s writings, but although I would say that DRN surpasses the Aeneid in overall depth, it does not, for my part, outshine it in range and array of historic material.

Atheism was not considered desirable in ancient Rome. All the same, in Athens centuries before, an alleged disbelief in a deity or deities supposedly put Socrates at odds with the authorities of his day. Homer’s theological material mattered a great deal to those whose world-views were shaped by Greek religious convictions, whatever those ideals might have been at the time. So Socrates’ purported blasphemies were difficult to embrace, no matter how influential he was at the time.

Centuries later, Rome’s society was dominated entirely by the elite, even though the populace had a small, but significant voice, albeit limited, in political matters. What we know of ancient Rome does not derive from slaves and farmers, but from the writings of senators, wealthy persons and those who found their way into circles of affluence because of their alliances, sometimes even because of their writings: e.g. Ovid’s poetry. But how many doors would have opened and swung wide for the composer of verse who mocked the gods as did Lucretius in DRN? The essence of his thought undermined the devout, and threatened their way of existence. His verse is extraordinary; and I stand him alongside Manilius (c. 1st cent. AD.) for boldness and courage, both taking full advantage of Epicureanism and Stoicism respectively.

This poem contains a commentary on Lucretian thought and ideology. The tempo is swift, and the meanings appear promptly to the reader. Lucretius believes he has unraveled the origins of the world. It is a world less in need of a god than man formerly believed. Lucretius’ hope was built on nothing less than his own poetic caprice. But his verse, although known primarily in Latin – un-translated into other tongues of the Near East – is quite lovely. The opening question, ‘Who made this world,’ is the axis around which the poem rotates. All discussions continue to return to it and are coordinated by that one query. By denying the effects of preternatural occurrences, natural consequences seem all the more plausible. My poem notes the influence of superstition and its deceptive traits: hopefully it affects the heart profoundly.

Darrell Sutton is rector of the Tabernacle in Red Cloud, Nebraska, a small village in the Great Plains. He also teaches Semitic languages and edits an academic bulletin entitled ‘The DS Commentary on Books’

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