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Ancient Man and His First Civilizations

A praise poem of Shulgi (Shulgi B): translation

Two praise poems of Shulgi




Shulgi succeeded his father Ur-Nammu as king of Sumer. In 2050 B.C, Ur-Nammu's Code was written. It is the earliest known written legal code of which a copy has been found, albeit a copy in such poor shape that only five articles can be deciphered. Archaeological evidence shows that it was supported by an advanced legal system which included specialized judges, the giving of testimony under oath, the proper form of judicial decisions and the ability of the judges to order that damages be paid to a victim by the guilty party. The Code allowed for the dismissal of corrupt men, protection for the poor and a punishment system where the punishment is proportionate to the crime. Although it is called "Ur-Nammu's Code, historians generally agree that it was written by his son Shugli.



To make his name famous for all time until distant days, and to transmit to posterity and the days to come the praise poems of his power, the songs of his might, and the lasting fame of his exceptional intelligence, King Culgi, king of Urim, has brought the songs' latent wisdom before the mighty son of Ninsumun. He praises his own power in song, and lauds his own superior native intelligence:


I am a king, offspring begotten by a king and borne by a queen. I, Culgi the noble, have been blessed with a favourable destiny right from the womb. When I was small, I was at the academy, where I learned the scribal art from the tablets of Sumer and Akkad. None of the nobles could write on clay as I could. There where people regularly went for tutelage in the scribal art, I qualified fully in subtraction, addition, reckoning and accounting. The fair Nanibgal, Nisaba, provided me amply with knowledge and comprehension. I am an experienced scribe who does not neglect a thing.


When I sprang up, muscular as a young lion, galloping like a spirited ass at full gallop, the favour of An brought me joy; to my delight Enlil spoke favourably about me, and they gave me the sceptre because of my righteousness. I place my foot on the neck of the foreign lands; the fame of my weapons is established as far as the south, and my victory is established in the highlands. When I set off for battle and strife to a place that Enlil has commanded me, I go ahead of the main body of my troops and I clear the terrain for my scouts. I have a positive passion for weapons. Not only do I carry lance and spear, I also know how to handle slingstones with a sling. The clay bullets, the treacherous pellets that I shoot, fly around like a violent rainstorm. In my rage I do not let them miss.


I sow fear and confusion in the foreign land. I look to my brother and friend, youthful Utu, as a source of divine encouragement. I, Culgi, converse with him whenever he rises over there; he is the god who keeps a good eye on my battles. The youth Utu, beloved in the mountains, is the protective deity of my weapons; by his words I am strengthened and made pugnacious (?). In those battles, where weapon clashes on weapon, Utu shines on me. Thus I broke the weapons of the highlands over my knees, and in the south placed a yoke on the neck of Elam. I make the populations of the rebel lands -- how could they still resist my weapons? -- scatter like seed-grain over Sumer and Akkad.


Let me boast of what I have done. The fame of my power is spread far and wide. My wisdom is full of subtlety. Do not my achievements surpass all qualifications?


I stride forward in majesty, trampling endlessly through the esparto grass and thickets, capturing elephant after elephant, creatures of the plain; and I put an end to the heroic roaring in the plains of the savage lion, dragon of the plains, wherever it approaches from and wherever it is going. I do not go after them with a net, nor do I lie in wait for them in a hide; it comes to a confrontation of strength and weapons. I do not hurl a weapon; when I plunge a bitter-pointed lance in their throats, I do not flinch at their roar. I am not one to retreat to my hiding-place but, as when one warrior kills another warrior, I do everything swiftly on the open plain. In the desert where the paths peter out, I reduce the roar at the lair to silence. In the sheepfold and the cattle-pen, where heads are laid to rest (?), I put the shepherd tribesmen at ease. Let no one ever at any time say about me, "Could he really subdue them all on his own?" The number of lions that I have dispatched with my weapons is limitless; their total is unknown.


Let me boast of what I have done. The fame of my power is spread far and wide. My wisdom is full of subtlety. Do not my achievements surpass all qualifications?


I am Culgi, god of manliness, the foremost of the troops. When I stretch the bowstring on the bow, when I fit a perfect arrow to it, I shoot the bow's arrow with the full strength of my arms. The great wild bull, the bull of heaven, the wild cow and the bison bellow. As they pass across the foothills of the mountains, I shoot barbed arrows at them with my powerful strength.

1 line unclear

As they collapse (?) on the plain, I topple them like old towers. I make their heads plunge to the ground like crushing pestles. For the wild asses I set no snares, dig no pits, shoot no arrows against them. But I race after them as against my own rivals; I do not try to surround them to kill their young, as people kill slim ass foals.


When a burly wild boar (?) is running across the plain, I pierce its lungs with an arrow. With only one shot of mine I bring it to the ground; no single clansman from my regiments can surpass me in archery. I am a man with sharp eyes. When I lead the ...... of the crack troops, I know best of all how to cast the throwstick, running as quick as light radiating from heaven. What I hit no longer rises from its place.

1 line unclear

I can throw an ellag (a weapon) as high in the air as if it is a rag. I can bring down quadrupeds lightning-quick with the sling. I, Culgi, can catch a goat with a quick pace; nothing checks my power. ...... has been given to me. Wherever I direct my steps, I always achieve something; when I return from the desert, I always bring something more for her -- for Ninsumun, my own mother, I am her son of five things, of ten things (= of everything) .


Let me boast of what I have done. The fame of my power is spread far and wide. My wisdom is full of subtlety. Do not my achievements surpass all qualifications?


I, the king, am the Land's most excellent fighter against the enemy. I, Culgi, am respected for my immense bodily strength. I am mighty; nothing resists me; I know no setbacks. My barges on the river do not sink (?) under me (alludes to a proverb (?)) ; my teams of asses do not collapse under me. Striding forward like my brother and friend, the youth Utu, as if with the legs of a lion, I am the good groom of my dust-making asses that bray like lions roaring. Like that of a stallion, my strength is unwavering during the running-race; I come first in the race, and my knees do not get tired. I am fearless; I dance with joy. My words shall never be forgotten. Praise for me because of my reliable judgments is on everyone's lips.


I am a ritually pure interpreter of omens. I am the very Nintud (creator deity) of the collections of omens. These words of the gods are of pre-eminent value for the exact performance of hand-washing and purification rites, for eulogy of the en priestess or for her enthronement in the jipar, for the choosing of the lumah and nindijir priests by sacred extispicy, for attacking the south or for defeating the uplands, for the opening of the emblem house, for the washing of lances in the "water of battle" (blood) , for the taking of subtle decisions about the rebel lands. After I have determined a sound omen through extispicy from a white lamb and a sheep, water and flour are libated at the place of invocation. Then, as I prepare the sheep with words of prayer, my diviner watches in amazement like an idiot. The prepared sheep is placed at my disposal, and I never confuse a favourable sign with an unfavourable one. I myself have a clear intuition, and I judge by my own eyes. In the insides of just one sheep I, the king, can find the indications for everything and everywhere.


Let me boast of what I have done. The fame of my power is spread far and wide. My wisdom is full of subtlety. Do not my achievements surpass all qualifications?


I, Culgi, king of Urim, have also devoted myself to the art of music. Nothing is too complicated for me; I know the full extent of the tigi and the adab, the perfection of the art of music. When I fix the frets on the lute, which enraptures my heart, I never damage its neck; I have devised rules for raising and lowering its intervals. On the gu-uc lyre I know the melodious tuning. I am familiar with the sa-ec and with drumming on its musical soundbox. I can take in my hands the miritum, which ....... I know the finger technique of the aljar and sabitum, royal creations. In the same way I can produce sounds from the urzababitum, the harhar, the zanaru, the ur-gula and the dim-lu-magura. Even if they bring to me, as one might to a skilled musician, a musical instrument that I have not played previously, when I strike it up I make its true sound known; I am able to handle it just like something that has been in my hands before. Tuning, stringing, unstringing and fastening are not beyond my skills. I do not make the reed pipe sound like a rustic pipe, and on my own initiative I can wail a sumunca or make a lament as well as anyone who does it regularly.


I bestow joy and gladness, and I pass my days in pomp and splendour. But people should consider for themselves -- it is a matter to keep in one's sights -- that at the inescapable end of life, no one will be spared the bitter gall of the land of oppression. But I am one who is powerful enough to trust in his own power. He who trusts in his own exalted name may carry out great things. Why should he do less? Since it was for my true mother Ninsumun that my mother together with her actually bore me to bestow joy and gladness, lovingly she cherished my unborn fruit. She did not endure scandal from anyone's mouth. Before she released her little one, this lady passed her time in my palace in the greatest joy.


Before Utu son of Ningal, I, Culgi, declare that in my long life in which I have achieved great things since the day that my kingly destiny was determined, in my life in which everything was richly provided in contentment, I have never lacked anything. Until the distant future may this song bless the name of me, the king, with a life of long days. As I am musical, as I am eloquent, I am a heavenly star of steadfastness. It is an awe-inspiring brow that establishes palaces, just as a peg and a measuring cord are the builders of cities. With the awesomeness that radiates from my forehead, which I make the foreign lands wear like a nose-rope, and the fear-inspiring lustre, my personal weapon, which I impose on the Land like a neck-stock, I am able to root out and undo crime. I have the ability to reconcile great matters with one word.


When I ...... like a torrent with the roar of a great storm, in the capture of a citadel in Elam ......, I can understand what their spokesman answers. By origin I am a son of Sumer; I am a warrior, a warrior of Sumer. Thirdly, I can conduct a conversation with a man from the black mountains. Fourthly, I can do service as a translator with an Amorite, a man of the mountains ....... I myself can correct his confused words in his own language. Fifthly, when a man of Subir yells ......, I can even distinguish the words in his language, although I am not a fellow-citizen of his. When I provide justice in the legal cases of Sumer, I give answers in all five languages. In my palace no one in conversation switches to another language as quickly as I do.


When I pronounce a completed verdict, it is heartily welcomed, since I am wise and exalted in kingship. So that my consultative assemblies, sitting together to care for the people, inspire respect in their hearts when the chief herald sounds the horn, they should deliberate and debate; and so that the council should decide policy properly, I have taught my governors to deliberate and to debate. While the words at their dining tables flow like a river, I tackle crime, so that the foundations are securely established for my wide dominions. I vanquish a city with words as weapons, and my wisdom keeps it subjected just as violence with burning torches would. I have taught them the meaning of the words "I have no mother". My words can be words smooth as the finest quality oil; I know how to cool hearts which are hot as fire, and I know how to extinguish a mouth set on fire like a reed-bed. I weigh my words against those of the braggart. I am a man of the very highest standards of value. The importance of the humble is of particular value to me, and they cannot be counter-productive to any of my activities. By command of An and by command of Enlil, prayers are said for the life of the Land and for the life of the foreign lands, and I neither neglect them nor allow them to be interrupted.


I also know how to serve the gods, and I can cool the hearts of the Anuna gods. I am Culgi, whose thick neck becomes fat (?) in majesty. Grand achievements that I have accomplished which bring joy to my heart I do not cast negligently aside; therefore I give pride of place to progress. I give no orders concerning the development of waste ground, but devote my energies to extensive building plots. I have planted trees in fields and in agricultural land; I devote my powers to dams, ......, ditches and canals. I try to ensure a surplus of oil and wool. Thanks to my efforts flax and barley are of the highest quality. The thirst and hunger of the gods are a cause of the greatest anxiety to me; I, Culgi, am the life of Sumer.


I have no equal among even the most distant rulers, and I can also state that my deeds are great deeds. Everything is achievable by me, the king. Since the time when Enlil gave me the direction of his numerous people in view of my wisdom, my extraordinary power and my justice, in view of my resolute and unforgettable words, and in view of my expertise, comparable to that of Ictaran, in verdicts, my heart has never committed violence against even one other king, be he an Akkadian or a son of Sumer, or even a brute from Gutium.


I am no fool as regards the knowledge acquired since the time that mankind was, from heaven above, set on its path: when I have discovered tigi and zamzam hymns from past days, old ones from ancient times, I have never declared them to be false, and have never contradicted their contents. I have conserved these antiquities, never abandoning them to oblivion. Wherever the tigi and the zamzam sounded, I have recovered all that knowledge, and I have had those cir-gida songs brilliantly performed in my own good house. So that they should never fall into disuse, I have added them to the singers' repertoire, and thereby I have set the heart of the Land on fire and aflame.


Whatever is acquired is destined to be lost. What mortal has ever reached the heavens? At some time in the distant future, a man of Enlil may arise, and if he is a just king, like myself, then let my odes, prayers and learned songs about my heroic courage and expeditions follow that king in his good palace. He should take to heart the benefit that has been conferred on him; he should exalt the power of my odes, absorb the exuberance of my songs, and value highly my great wisdom. Just as a strong person can consider on an equal basis even those things which he has not brought about by his own efforts, let him applaud and welcome my achievements. Let him call upon my good name.


But if his heart devises treason against me, and he commits violence against anything of mine, may Nanna then adjudicate against this rebel, and let Utu the torch catch him. Wherever that king's path may lead, his word shall be wiped out. Until he has completed the days of his life, he shall do everything in his power to keep the hymns in their proper form. Through becoming familiar thereby with me, the king, he will speak of me in awed amazement. Because of my extraordinary wisdom and my ancient fame as a master, he should choose my hymns as examples, and himself beget heavenly writings.


In the south, in Urim, I caused a House of the Wisdom of Nisaba to spring up in sacrosanct ground for the writing of my hymns; up country in Nibru I established another. May the scribe be on duty there and transcribe with his hand the prayers which I instituted in the E-kur; and may the singer perform, reciting from the text. The academies are never to be altered; the places of learning shall never cease to exist. This and this only is now my accumulated knowledge! The collected words of all the hymns that are in my honour supersede all other formulations. By An, Enlil, Utu and Inana, it is no lie -- it is true!


Furthermore no one will assert under oath that to this day there is any mention in my inscriptions of a single city that I have not devastated, or wall that I have not demolished, or land that I have not made tremble like a reed hut, or praise that I have not completely verified. Why should a singer put them in hymns? An eminent example deserves eternal fame. What is the use of writing lies without truth? For me, the king, the singer has recorded my exploits in songs about the strength of the protective deity of my power; my songs are unforgettable, and my words shall not fall into oblivion. I am the best king of the Land. From the very first origins until the full flourishing of mankind, there will never be any king who can measure himself against my achievements whom An will let wear his crown or wield his sceptre from a royal throne.


I am gifted with power, insight and wisdom. The high point of my great deeds is the culling of lions before the lance as if they were garden weeds, the snapping of fierce felines like reeds as if under the carding-comb, and the crushing (?) of their throats under the axe as if they were dogs. Great powerful wild cows, indomitable bulls, cattle on their way to their mountain pastures, which were killed in the plain, were ...... the mountains. That the hills were impenetrable and inaccessible ...... -- those are pure lies. Where, in important words on tablets, my wisdom and my power

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He who knows, and does not ...... the truth about me as lies, will applaud and praise me.


I am a warrior whose might is enormous might. I am Culgi, whose shadow lies over the mountain lands. I am the king, the weapon and the downfall of rebel lands. Thus I have spread far and wide my everlasting renown.


Now, I swear by Utu on this very day -- and my younger brothers shall be witnesses of it in foreign lands where the sons of Sumer are not known, where people do not have the use of paved (?) roads, where they have no access to the written word -- that the firstborn son is a fashioner of words, a composer of songs, a composer of words, and that they will recite my songs as heavenly writings, and that they will bow down before my words as a ......

8 lines fragmentary


For that house, I am the right man to step over the threshold. I am the man whose name has been chosen by Nanna. I am the steward of Enlil's temple, the domestic slave of An. I am Culgi, and my house E-hursaj is the palace of palaces. My royal residence is above all praise; I made it tower up like a lapis-lazuli mountain. Inana, the queen of the gods, the protective deity of my power, has perfected the songs of my might -- the foremost among kings -- in respect of everything in the whole world. It is good to praise me. Praise be to Nisaba.



A praise poem of Shulgi: translation



I, the king, was a hero already in the womb; I, Culgi, was born to be a mighty man. I am a fierce-looking lion, begotten by a dragon. I am the king of the four regions; I am the herdsman and shepherd of the black-headed people. I am a respected one, the god of all the lands.


I am a child born of Ninsun. I am the choice of holy An's heart. I am the man whose fate was decided by Enlil. I am Culgi, the beloved of Ninlil. I am he who is cherished by Nintud. I am he who was endowed with wisdom by Enki. I am the powerful king of Nanna. I am the growling lion of Utu. I am Culgi, who has been chosen by Inana for his attractiveness.


I am a mule, most suitable for the road. I am a horse, whose tail waves on the highway. I am a stallion of Cakkan, eager to run. (1 ms.: I am a donkey of Cakkan, who loves running.)


I am a knowledgeable scribe of Nisaba; I have perfected my wisdom just as my heroism and my strength(1 ms. has instead: my distinction). Reliable words can reach (?) me. I cherish righteousness but do not tolerate wickedness. I hate anyone who speaks wickedly.


Because I am a powerful man who enjoys using his thighs, I, Culgi, the mighty king, superior to all, strengthened (?) the roads, put in order the highways of the Land. I marked out the double-hour distances, built there lodging houses. I planted gardens by their side and established resting-places (1 ms. has instead: I established gardens (?) and resting-places by their side), and installed in those places experienced men. Whichever direction one comes from, one can refresh oneself at their cool sides; and the traveller who reaches nightfall on the road can seek haven there as in a well-built city.


So that my name should be established for distant days and never fall into oblivion, so that my praise should be uttered (1 ms.: spread) throughout the Land, and my glory should be proclaimed in the foreign lands, I, the fast runner, summoned my strength and, to prove my speed, my heart prompted me to make a return journey from Nibru to brick-built Urim as if it were only the distance of a double-hour.


I, the lion, never failing in his vigour, standing firm in his strength, fastened the small nijlam garment firmly to my hips. Like a pigeon anxiously fleeing from a ...... snake, I spread my wings; like the Anzud bird lifting its gaze to the mountains, I stretched forward my legs. The inhabitants of the cities which I had founded in the land, lined up for me; the black-headed people, as numerous as ewes, looked at me with sweet admiration.


I entered the E-kic-nujal like a mountain kid hurrying to its habitation, when Utu spreads broad daylight over the countryside. I filled with abundance the temple of Suen, a cow-pen which yields plenty of fat. I had oxen slaughtered there; I had sheep offered there lavishly (some mss.: butchered there). I had cem and ala drums resound there and caused tigi drums play there sweetly. (1 ms. has instead the line: I ...... the balaj player (?).) I, Culgi, who makes everything abundant, presented food-offerings there and, like a lion, spreading fearsomeness from (?) the royal offering-place, I bent down (?) and bathed in flowing water; I knelt down and feasted in the E-gal-mah of Ninegal.


Then I arose like an owl (?), like a falcon to return to Nibru in my vigour. But a storm shrieked, and the west wind whirled around. The north wind and the south wind howled at each other. Lightning together with the seven winds vied with each other in the heavens. Thundering storms made the earth quake, and Ickur roared in the broad heavens. The rains of heaven mingled with the waters of the earth. (1 ms. has instead: The rains of heaven competed with the waters of the earth.) Small and large hailstones drummed on my back.


I, the king, however, did not fear, nor was I terrified. I rushed forth like a fierce lion. I galloped like an ass in the desert. With my heart full of joy, I ran (?) onward. Trotting like a solitary wild ass, I traversed a distance of fifteen double-hours by the time Utu was to set his face toward his house; my saj-ursaj priests looked at me with admiration. (1 ms. has instead: ...... numerous (?) ......; I prayed in the ...... of Enlil and Ninlil.) I celebrated the ecec festival in both Nibru and Urim on the same day!


I drank beer in the palace founded by An with my brother and companion, the hero Utu. My singers praised me with songs accompanied by seven tigi drums. My spouse, the maiden Inana, the lady, the joy of heaven and earth, sat with me at the banquet.


Truly I am not boasting! Wherever I look to, there I go; wherever my heart desires, I reach. (1 ms. adds at least 10 lines: By the life of my father holy Lugalbanda, and Nanna the king of heaven and earth, I swear that the words written on my tablet are .......

at least 4 lines missing or unclear

...... since the days of yore, since ........., no king of Sumer as great as I has existed for the people.) An placed a legitimate and lofty (some mss. have: golden) (1 ms. has.: good silver) (1 ms. has.: silver) crown firmly on my head.


In the lustrous E-kur, I seized the holy sceptre and I lifted my head towards heaven on a shining dais, a throne with firm foundation. I consolidated my kingship, subdued the foreign lands, fortified the Land. May my name be proclaimed among the well-guarded people of the four regions! May they praise it in holy hymns about me! May they glorify my majesty, saying:


The one provided with lofty royal power; the one given heroism, power and happy life by Suen of the E-kic-nujal; the one endowed with superior strength by Nunamnir; Culgi, the destroyer of foreign lands, the fortifier of the Land, the purification priest of heaven and earth, who has no rival; Culgi, who is cared for by the respected child of An!"


Nisaba be praised! (1 ms. has instead: Culgi, be praised (?) by An's respected son! )





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