Sumerian poems and lamentations – 01 In Praise of Culgi
Type of Spiritual Experience
Our oldest written records come from the civilization of Sumer, which arose in around the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in what is now southern Iraq. Documents dating back to 3100 BCE have been found there, and a flourishing cuneiform literature in the Sumerian language existed in the centuries around 2000 BCE. Sumerian predated the written languages of Assyria and Babylon but continued as the language of literary culture when these empires flourished. The fragments of Sumerian literature that have survived appear to have been written by Sumerian temple scribes and is heavily religious. Nevertheless, within a religious matrix it contains an extraordinary picture of the humanistic values of the Sumerian civilization.
Praise poems to kings that challenge the gullibility of the reader (as does the Emperor Qin’s praise inscription) reveal the values that kings wish to be remembered by: leadership, good government, public works (canals, irrigation, gardens, lodges), fairness, humanity, writing skills, ability with languages, musicianship, for example.
Laments for the fall of cities against the onslaught of invaders, often described as a storm, show recognition of the horrors of war and of the great loss that occurs when a civilization collapses. The lament for the downfall of Sumer and Urim records the disastrous fall of the gifted Third Dynasty of Sumer before the people of Elam and Sua, who invaded Sumer from mountainous regions to the north. Ur itself fell after a long and bloody siege, which is described within the lament.
Epics, like that of Lugalbanda in the Mountain Cave, show compassion towards the sick and give insight into individual resourcefulness, as well as proving some understanding of how later, related myths of resurrection may have arisen. In this epic, Utu is the sun or the sun god.
Love songs, often cast as dialogues between Dumiz (a vegetation god) and Inana (a Moon goddess), obviously reflect the very human emotions of young lovers. The terms "sister" and "brother" do not imply familial relationship but are terms of endearment. The rich imagery that appears in these verses and the message from Lu-dingir-ra that follows is seen later in Tamil and Hebrew poetry. In the message a royal courier is asked to convey Lu-dinger-ra's salutations to his mother in Nippur. The text is a hymn of praise to the mother, detailing as it does five signs that identify the beauty of the mother so that the messenger can recognize her.
Extracts from these various types of written Sumerian records are given here. In addition to the material that has been excluded as a result of selecting specific extracts, there are gaps in the original cuneiform records where the complete text has not been discovered. These gaps are indicated by ellipsis dots.
A description of the experience
From A praise poem of Culgi (Culgi A)
I am a knowledgeable scribe of Nisaba; I have perfected my wisdom just as my heroism and my strength. Reliable words can reach me. I cherish righteousness but do not tolerate wickedness. I hate anyone who speaks wickedly.
Because I am a powerful man who enjoys using his thighs, I, Culgi, the mighty king, superior to all, strengthened the roads, put in order the highways of the Land.
I marked out the double-hour distances, built there lodging houses.
I planted gardens by their side and established resting-places, and installed in those places experienced men.
Whichever direction one comes from, one can refresh oneself at their cool sides; and the traveler who reaches nightfall on the road can seek haven there as in a well-built city.