"Samizdat: Publishing the Forbidden."

Category: Pyramid Texts

On the Literature of Ancient Sumer

” … Now let us compare this date with that of the various ancient literatures known to us at present.

In Egypt, for example, one might have expected an ancient written literature commensurate with its high cultural development. And, indeed, to judge from the pyramid inscriptions, the Egyptians in all probability did have a well developed written literature in the third millennium B. C.

Unfortunately it must have been written largely on papyrus, a readily perishable material, and there is little hope that enough of it will ever be recovered to give a reasonably adequate cross-section of the Egyptian literature of that ancient period.

Then, too, there is the hitherto unknown ancient Canaanite literature which has been found inscribed on tablets excavated in the past decade by the French at Rash-esh-Shamra in northern Syria.

These tablets, relatively few in number, indicate that the Canaanites, too, had a highly developed literature at one time. They are dated approximately 1400 B. C., that is, they were inscribed over half a millennium later than our Sumerian literary tablets. 21

As for the Semitic Babylonian literature as exemplified by such works as the Epic of Creation, the Epic of Gilgamesh, etc., it is not only considerably later than our Sumerian literature, but also includes much that is borrowed directly from it. 22

We turn now to the ancient literatures which have exercised the most profound influence on the more spiritual aspects of our civilization. These are the Bible, which contains the literary creations of the Hebrews; the Iliad and Odyssey, which are filled with the epic and mythic lore of the Greeks; the Rig-veda, which contains the literary products of ancient India; and the Avesta, which contains those of ancient Iran.

None of these literary collections were written down in their present form before the first half of the first millennium B. C.

Our Sumerian literature, inscribed on tablets dating from approximately 2000 B.C., therefore antedates these literatures by more than a millennium. Moreover, there is another vital difference.


"To judge from the script, the Nippur cylinder illustrated on this plate 
(8383 in the Nippur collection of the University Museum) may date as early 
as 2500 B. C. Although copied and published by the late George Barton as 
early as 1918, its contents, which center about the Sumerian air-god Enlil 
and the goddess Ninhursag, are still largely unintelligible. Nevertheless, 
much that was unknown or misunderstood at the time of its publication is now 
gradually becoming clarified, and there is good reason to hope that the not 
too distant future will see the better part of its contents ready for 

-Samuel Noah Kramer, Sumerian Mythology, 1944, p. 18.

The texts of the Bible, of the Iliad and Odyssey, and of the Rig-veda and Avesta, as we have them, have been modified, edited, and redacted by compilers and redactors with varied motives and diverse points of view.

Not so our Sumerian literature; it has come down to us as actually inscribed by the ancient scribes of four thousand years ago, unmodified and uncodified by later compilers and commentators.”

Samuel Noah Kramer, Sumerian Mythology, 1944, pp. 19-20.

From the Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Text of Unas, and the Text of Teta

“The skies lower, the Star-gods tremble, the Archers [names of groups of stars] quake, the bones of the Akeru [more names of groups of stars] gods tremble, and those who are with them are struck dumb when they see Unas rising up as a soul, in the form of the god who liveth upon his fathers, and who turneth his mothers into his food.

Unas is the lord of wisdom, and his mother knoweth not his name. The adoration of Unas is in heaven, he hath become mighty in the horizon like Temu, the father that gave him birth, and after Temu had given him birth Unas became stronger than his father. The Doubles (i.e. vital strength) of Unas are behind him, the soles of his feet are beneath his feet, his gods are over him, his serpents are [seated] upon his brow, the serpent-guides of Unas are in front of him, and the spirit of the flame looketh upon [his] soul.

The powers of Unas protect him. Unas is a bull in heaven. He directeth his steps where he willeth. He liveth upon the form which each god taketh upon himself, and he eateth the flesh of those who come to fill their bellies with the magical charms in the Lake of Fire. Unas is equipped with power against the spirit-souls thereof, and he riseth in the form of the mighty one, the lord of those who dwell in power (?).

Unas hath taken his seat with his back turned towards Keb (the Earth-god). Unas hath weighed his words [entered into judgement] with the hidden god (?) who hath no name, on the day of hacking in pieces the firstborn. Unas is the lord of offerings, the untier of the knot, and he himself maketh abundant the offerings of meat and drink. Unas devoureth men, and liveth upon the gods, he is the lord of envoys whom he sendeth forth on his missions. ‘He who cutteth off hairy scalps,’ who dwelleth in the fields, tieth the gods with ropes. Tcheser-tep shepherdeth them for Unas and driveth them unto him; and the Cord-master hath bound them for slaughter. Khensu, the slayer of the wicked, cutteth their throats, and draweth out their intestines, for it is he whom Unas sendeth to slaughter [them], and Shesmu [the executioner of Osiris] cutteth them in pieces, and boileth their members in his blazing caldrons of the night.

Unas eateth their magical powers, and he swalloweth their spirit-souls. The great ones among them serve for his meal at daybreak, the lesser serve for his meal at eventide, and the least among them serve for his meal in the night. The old gods and the old goddesses become fuel for his furnace. The mighty ones in heaven light the fire under the caldrons wherein are heaped up the thighs of the firstborn; and he who maketh those who live in heaven to go about for Unas lighteth the fire under the caldrons with the thighs of their women; he goeth about the Two Heavens in their entirety, and he goeth round about the two banks of the Celestial Nile.

Unas is the Great Power, the Power of Powers, and Unas is the Chief of the gods in visible forms. Whatsoever he findeth upon his path he eateth forthwith, and the magical might of Unas is before that of all the spirit-bodies who dwell in the horizon. Unas is the firstborn of the firstborn gods. Unas is surrounded by thousands, and oblations are made unto him by hundreds; he is made manifest as the Great Power by Saah (Orion), the father of the gods.

Unas repeateth his rising in heaven, and he is crowned lord of the horizon. He hath reckoned up the bandlets and the arm-rings [of his captives], he hath taken possession of the hearts of the gods. Unas hath eaten the Red Crown, and he hath swallowed the White Crown; the food of Unas is the intestines, and his meat is hearts and their words of power. Behold, Unas eateth of that which the Red Crown sendeth forth, he increaseth, and the words of power of the gods are in his belly; his attributes are not removed from him.

Unas hath eaten the whole of the knowledge of every god, and the period of his life is eternity, and the duration of his existence is everlastingness. He is in the form of one who doeth what he wisheth, and who doth not do what he hateth, and he abideth on the horizon for ever and ever and ever. The Soul of the gods is in Unas, their spirit-souls are with Unas, and the offerings made unto him are more than those that are made unto the gods. The fire of Unas is in their bones, for their soul is in Unas, and their shades are with those who belong unto them. Unas hath been with the two hidden (?) Kha (?) gods, …; the seat of the heart of Unas is among those who live upon this earth for ever and ever and ever.”

–E.A.W. Budge, The Literature of the Ancient Egyptians, 1914, p. 13.

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