On the Ummânu
by Estéban Trujillo de Gutiérrez
“Such an association of the apkallu’s with kings of renown is singularly striking in view of the ancient near eastern motif that links a person of superior wisdom with a famous king.
In Egypt, we have the tradition — or fiction — of viziers who are credited with the authorship of “instructions” or “admonitions” (see J.A. Wilson, ANET 412 ff. and 432 n. 4, see also H. Brunner in Handbuch der Orientalistik I/2 p. 92 f.); for the Old Testament, references are conveniently collected by J. Lindblom, in Supplements to Vetus Testamentum 3, p. 129 f.
The most famous figure of such a wise man, whose story is the most wide spread, is Ahiqar, whose Mesopotamian origin has repeatedly been stated (for bibliography see Ginsberg in ANET 427), although no Babylonian prototype of the story as a whole is known.
However, there can be proven for Babylonia the existence of at least the theme that serves as a framework for Ahiqar’s sayings: this theme, the “disgrace and rehabilitation of a minister”, has been discussed, with a good comparative bibliography, by A.H. Krappe in JAOS 61 (1941) 280-84.
The story is included in the “bilingual proverbs” (latest publication with bibliography, by W.G. Lambert, Babylonian Wisdom Literature 239 ff.), where it comprises a section of fourteen lines (ii 50-63, op. cit., p. 241), the longest of the sayings which usually consist of only two to four lines, although there are some as much as eight lines long.
Since none of the previous translations does justice to the motif expressed in the relevant passage, I suggest the following (the short lines of the bilingual text disposed in two columns are here restored to their assumed full length):
- 50-51: “Their gods have returned to the ruin,
- 52-53: the clamor (of daily life) has filled (lit. entered) the deserted house (again);
- 54-55: (where) the ingrate is tenant, the wise man does not reach old age.
- 56-58: The wise vizier, whose wisdom his king (or his lord) has not heeded,
- 59-61: and any valuable (person) forgotten by his master,
- 62-63: when a need arises for him (i.e., for his wisdom), he will be reinstated.”
The second half of the “saying” has reference to the disgrace and rehabilitation of a wise vizier, and, unless the first three lines (ii. 50-55) should be taken as a separate saying (so last J. Pereman, The Book of Assyro-Babylonian Proverbs [in Hebrew], p. 58), the reference to the “ingrate” (raggu) would indicate that the other basic theme of the Ahiqar-story, that of the “ungrateful nephew” (see Krappe, loc. cit., p. 281), had already been fused in the Mesopotamian tradition, as in the Ahiqar-story, with that of the “disgrace and rehabilitation of a minister”.
The argument for the existence in Babylonia of a tradition linking wisdom to a high official (“vizier”) of the king can be strengthened by the philological evidence of the alternation of the terms apkallu and ummânu, which has been adduced in other contexts.
The usual acceptation of the latter is “master craftsman,” often referring to scribes, authors or copyists of literary texts. References to both have been collected by van Dijk, La Sagesse Suméro-Accadienne, p. 20 n. 56, and note that Adapa, besides his more common epithet apkallu, is also called ummânu . . .
Moreover, it has been shown the term ummânu serves not only as the designation of a learned man or craftsman, but also refers, although in late texts, to a high official . . . In our connection most relevant is the mention of the ummânu beside the king in the Synchronistic King List (see simply Oppenheim in ANET 272 ff.), and the passage from the Fürstenspiegel (see now Lambert, BWL 112:5): šarru . . . ana UM.ME A la iqūl “if the king does not heed the vizier (or wise man).”
Note in the same text . . . is most likely to be read apkallišu.”
Erica Reiner, “The Etiological Myth of the “Seven Sages,” Orientalia, v. 30, No. 1, 1961, pp. 7-9.