More Unanticipated Legibility

In university history classes the textbooks provided shots of cuneiform for our wonderment. It was hard to imagine reading the stuff, though, and I recall being told that the ancient Messopotamian tablets were mostly accounting documents. Well, no more. According to Knowlegde and Power:

The Neo-Assyrian capital of Nineveh in northern Iraq, from the mid-7th century BC, is the earliest attested site of courtly scientific patronage in world history. This website presents the scholars’ letters, queries, and reports to their kings and provides resources to support their use in undergraduate teaching. Since the summer of 2008 it also gives access to court poetry, royal prophecies, and correspondence from temple personnel to the king.

Surprisingly, these “tablets” are quite small:

This one is titled “Will the Queen Mother’s Illness Pass?.” It is a “Divination Query”, or, more simply, a question to the oracle. But note its legal, or at least proceedural, character:

Šamaš, great lord, give me a firm positive answer to what I am asking you! Niq’a, mother of Esarhaddon, king of Assyria, who is now ill, and on whom the ‘hand’ of god Iqbi-damiq was placed in extispicy — will it pass by unto sacrificial sheep and oxen? If she is ill with this disease, is it decreed and confirmed in a favorable case, by the command of your great divinity, Šamaš, great lord? Will he who can see, see it? Will he who can hear, hear it? Disregard the (formulation) of today’s case, be it good, be it faulty. Disregard that a clean or an unclean person has touched the sacrificial sheep, or blocked the way of the sacrificial sheep […] Disregard that I, the haruspex your servant, have eaten, drunk, or anointed myself with anything unclean, changed or altered the proceedings, or jumbled the oracle query in my mouth. Let them be taken out and put aside! I ask you, Šamaš, great lord: Be present in this ram, place (in it) a firm positive answer, favorable designs, favorable, propitious omens by the oracular command of your great divinity, and may I see (them).

Compare the modern version.

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