Etana was an ancient Sumerian king of the city of Kish. According to the Sumerian king list , he reigned after the deluge. He is listed as the successor of Arwium , the son of Mashda , as king of Kish. The list also calls Etana "the shepherd, who ascended to heaven and consolidated all the foreign countries", and states that he ruled 1, years some copies read before being succeeded by his son Balih , said to have ruled years. A Babylonian legend says that Etana was desperate to have a child, until one day he helped save an eagle from starving, who then took him up into the sky to find the plant of birth.
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Morgan Library. This Akkadian clay tablet, 1 ca. In the attenuated version of the story Etana attempts to fly with an eagle to the heavens to meet the sky-god Anu who can show him where to find the plant of birth, allowing Etana to father a son. In some versions he is successful, in other he falls back to Earth.
But, again consulting the King List, the next ruler of Sumeria was Balih, the son of Etana, so make of this what you will. By the end of the fourth millennium BC , or more specifically around BC , the first written script, cuneiform, appeared in Mesopotamia. Sumerian legend has it that writing was invented by the god Enmerkar, but Denise Schmandt-Besserat fairly ruins this story by arguing that writing evolved out of the use of clay tokens and envelopes bulla used for bookkeeping.
Over the centuries many civilizations rose and fell in the Fertile Crescent and many adopted cuneiform for their language. The Sumerians, the Akkadians, the Babylonians, the Assyrians, the Hittites and the Hurrians all wrote in cuneiform and left behind some of the earliest examples of literate societies.
The Epic of Gilgamesh BC was perhaps the first literary work in history. The Code of Hammurabi BC was the first codification of law. The Armana letters BC , were the first examples of diplomatic correspondence. The list goes on, but you get the idea. The use of cuneiform declined after the rise of Aramaic around BC and was completely gone by the first century AD. Rawlinsen studied the Behistun Inscription in Iran, and by he could read cuneiform signs. They each deciphered a newly-discovered Assyrian text and their results were so similar that the decipherment of cuneiform, at least Akkadian cuneiform, was considered complete.
From: Clay, Albert. New Haven: Yale University Press, Two centuries later the historian St. By the late s the terms BCE before the common era and CE common era began to be used as more generic and neutral terms. Although your humble author is tolerant and sensitive of other cultures and world-views, he is only to a certain point: BC and AD it is. So think accountants and mid-level bureaucrats, not legendary gods. Sad, but true. See: Schmandt-Besserat, Denise. How Writing Came About.
Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press, Presumably the more beer you drank the more challenging the puzzles became. Here are a few from Ranier Beer:. To bring this full circle it should be noted that beer was invented or, more likely, discovered by the Sumerians ca.
The Epic of Gilgamesh includes references to Siduri, a brewster and barmaid, and the Hymn to Ninkasi the goddess of beer , ca. So important were the ancient brewers that they were exempted from military service.
For more than you probably care to know about the subject, see the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative. Codex
Tablet Inscribed in Akkadian
Etana Epic , ancient Mesopotamian tale concerned with the question of dynastic succession. In the beginning, according to the epic , there was no king on the earth; the gods thus set out to find one and apparently chose Etana , who proved to be an able ruler until he discovered that his wife, though pregnant, was unable to give birth, and thus he had no heir to the throne. The one known remedy was the birth plant, which Etana was required to bring down personally from heaven. Etana, therefore, prayed to the god Shamash , who heard his request and directed him to a mountain where a maimed eagle, languishing in a pit into which it had been thrown as punishment for breaking a sacred pact , would help him obtain the special plant. Etana rescued the eagle, and as a reward it carried him high up into the sky. According to one fragment, Etana reached heaven and prostrated himself before the gods. There the text breaks off.