The first attempt at organizing all the world's information
March 25, 2010 9:26 PM   Subscribe

Knowledge and Power in the Neo-Assyrian Empire may sound like a dry website, but its subject and content is fascinating. In the 7th Century BC King Assurbanipal of Assyria built a library that was to contain all the world's knowledge. Destroyed by the Medes in 612 BC, the library was not rediscovered until the 1840s. 28000 clay tablets written in Akkadian have been found. 1600 can be read online, all translated into English. It's a somewhat overwhelming amount, but there's a lovely highlights section, which even includes pictures of the pillow-shaped writing tablets. For a thorough overview, you can listen to the In Our Time episode about the Library of Nineveh. The most famous text to have been found in Nineveh is undoubtedly the Epic of Gilgamesh. The story of its decipherment and the controversies that ensued, is interesting in its own right.
posted by Kattullus (24 comments total) 83 users marked this as a favorite
posted by bardic at 9:36 PM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Every single Wikipedia editor can trace their lineage to two of Assurbanipal's librarians doin' it out back on their lunch break.
posted by griphus at 9:36 PM on March 25, 2010

I do believe I now need to get a copy of the Epic of Gilgamesh.
posted by Severian at 10:02 PM on March 25, 2010

Fascinating post. (I love looking at those pillow-shaped tablets 'cos they remind me vividly of some kind of hollow bran cereal I used to get in Kellogs selection packs when I was little). There's a tasty collection in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin.
posted by runincircles at 10:04 PM on March 25, 2010

Awesome. On a related note, you all might also enjoy The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature (prev), which spawned -- self link warning -- this silly project. (prev)
posted by msalt at 10:27 PM on March 25, 2010

Great vocabulary words here! I never knew that haruspex performed so much extispicy in Nineveh. EG:
If a Design is drawn three times between the Station and the Path: a man's wife will write again and again about killing her husband, "Kill my husband and marry me!"
posted by msalt at 10:36 PM on March 25, 2010

I just want to register the fact that the history geek in me is jumping up and down. I like old things with stories behind them and people who like distributing knowledge, and this has both.
posted by pecknpah at 10:38 PM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

msalt: I must take grievance with one of your "silly" proverbs, it's easy to understand:
The thief extends winter to the beginning of summer.
With winter there is no food on the vines and you have to ration what's available to you. Usually springtime would be the nicest weather in the Fertile Crescent. But if a thief came and took your stuff, then you'd be living hand to mouth, as if winter were continuing.

Your choices are great, though: "The fox could not build his own house, so he got a job at his friend's house as a construction worker." The Pentagon should have read that one before hiring contractors in Iraq.
posted by shii at 11:17 PM on March 25, 2010

The radio bit sounds fascinating, but it's only in available in Real Media, how do I listen to it without having to download the worst program of 1998?
posted by PostIronyIsNotaMyth at 12:41 AM on March 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

The flood tablet of the Epic of Gilgamesh is in the British Museum. Its one of their 100 objects. Its in a corner of the museum, noticed by few people. Here's my photo of it, in situ.
posted by vacapinta at 1:39 AM on March 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

PostIrony: RealAlternative.
posted by orthogonality at 2:16 AM on March 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm down on this post like the wolf on the fold.
posted by Abiezer at 2:19 AM on March 26, 2010 [3 favorites]

14 As to Humbê [of Bit-Zualza, what I wrote in] my previous [letter ......
o 15' 15'

[ša ina e-gir2-ti]-⸢ia⸣ pa-ni-it-⸢te⸣
o 16' 16'

[x x x x x x x x] ⸢x⸣ [x x x]
rest broken away

(Rest destroyed)

This reads like some course proposals I have seen.

Thousands of years, and nothing changes!
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:54 AM on March 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

And I would like to say that "Neo-Assyria" sounds like the villain group in an anime...
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:55 AM on March 26, 2010

It has quaked: that is bad.
posted by swift at 6:12 AM on March 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

You're right, GenjiandProust, thousands of years and nothing changes:

SAA 05 007 Log Driving

I believe the missing fragment is where he fixes the cable.
posted by newmoistness at 6:34 AM on March 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

Jeez, do you have any idea what the overdue fines must be after 2,500 years?
posted by steef at 6:50 AM on March 26, 2010

May Nabû and Marduk bless the Kattullus, the great poster! Indeed there [was] no Neo-Assyrian Empire website in the times of the early MeFites. I knew of the Neo-Assyrian Empire when I was small, but I did not [see] its glory. The poster has (only) wanted to open the MeFites' ears: "You should view this [website], perform the apotropaic ritual and become learned." May the Kattullus, the great poster, (live to) lift his grandsons upon his knees!
posted by languagehat at 8:14 AM on March 26, 2010 [7 favorites]

Yes, the fragmentation is frustrating. So many intriguing titles with 10 words or so surviving: "Undesirable Business in Kumme," "A Groom at a Drinking Place," and the emphatics -- "No Iron to the Arabas!" "Hands Off My Granaries!" and my favorite, "Give Straw or Die!"
posted by msalt at 8:17 AM on March 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

oops Arabs
posted by msalt at 8:20 AM on March 26, 2010

May the Kattullus, the great poster, (live to) lift his grandsons upon his knees!

This really needs to be followed by

(Rest destroyed)
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:59 AM on March 26, 2010

My favourite so far is titled Shall We Bring The Skulls?:
May we bring these skulls prescribed in the ritual into the qirsu, clothe them with garments and install them there?
Somewhere many thousands of years ago, somebody's distant ancestor had some kind of thought process along the lines of "Ritual? Check. Skulls? Check. Garments? Check. Leaving the whole setup in the qirsu? Hmmm, we'd better get permission for that bit." The Epic of Gilgamesh is amazing and all, but damn, there's no better glimpse into an ancient civilisation than seeing what they considered unremarkable.
posted by Catseye at 10:26 AM on March 26, 2010 [3 favorites]

When I read these, I use a Klingon voice in my head.

As to what you wrote: "A messenger of Urpala'a came to me for an audience with the Phrygian messenger" — let him come, and let Aššur, Šamaš, Bel and Nabû command that all these kings should wipe your sandals with their beards!
posted by molecicco at 3:53 AM on March 30, 2010

« Older Cause I'm Leavin' on a Jet Plane   |   Ha Ha I'm Poisoning Pigeons in the Park Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments