Sumerian literature

Sumerian literature constitutes the earliest known corpus of recorded literature, including the religious writings and other traditional stories maintained by the Sumerian civilization and largely preserved by the later Akkadian and Babylonian empires. These records were written in the Sumerian language during the Middle Bronze Age.

Sumerian inscription on a ceramic stone plaque.

The Sumerians invented one of the first writing systems, developing Sumerian cuneiform writing out of earlier proto-writing systems by about the 30th century BC. The Sumerian language remained in official and literary use in the Akkadian and Babylonian empires, even after the spoken language disappeared from the population; literacy was widespread, and the Sumerian texts that students copied heavily influenced later Babylonian literature.


Most Sumerian literature is written in left-justified lines,[1] and could contain line-based organization such as the couplet or the stanza,[2] but the Sumerian definition of poetry is unknown. It is not rhymed,[3][4] although “comparable effects were sometimes exploited.”[5] It did not use syllabo-tonic versification,[6] and the writing system precludes detection of rhythm, metre, rhyme,[7][8] or alliteration.[9] Quantitative analysis of other possible poetic features seems to be lacking, or has been intentionally hidden by the scribes who recorded the writing.

Literary worksEdit

Important works include:

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Black et al., Introduction
  2. ^ Michalowski p. 144
  3. ^ Jacobsen p. xiv
  4. ^ Black et al., Introduction
  5. ^ Black p. 8
  6. ^ Michalowski p. 146
  7. ^ Jacobsen p. xiv
  8. ^ Black et al., Introduction
  9. ^ Black et al., Introduction

Further readingEdit

  • Samuel Noah Kramer (1963). The Sumerians: Their History, Culture, and Character. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0226452388.
  • Thorkild Jacobsen (1987). The Harps that Once...: Sumerian Poetry in Translation. Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0300072785. JSTOR j.ctt32bjgs.
  • Piotr Michalowski (1996). "Ancient Poetics". In M. E. Vogelzang; H. L. J. Vanstiphout (eds.). Mesopotamian Poetic Language: Sumerian and Akkadian. Styx.
  • Jeremy Black (1998). Reading Sumerian Poetry. Cornell University Press. ISBN 978-0801435980.
  • Jeremy Black; Graham Cunningham; Eleanor Robson; Gábor Zólyomi (2006). The Literature of Ancient Sumer. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199296330.
  • Shin Shifra (2008). Words as Magic and the Magic in Words. Tel Aviv, Tel Aviv, The Israeli Ministry of Defence Press (in Hebrew). These are transcriptions of Shifra's discourses on literature of the Ancient Near East, first broadcast as a "University on the Air" course on the Israeli Army Radio.

External linksEdit