Monday, March 26, 2007

Mesopotamian Literature

This fragment from a longer prayer displays the characteristic Mesopotamian attitude toward the gods, who are seen as hos­tile, demanding, and inscrutable.
The sin, which I have committed, I know not.
The iniquity, which I have done, I know not.
The offence, which I committed, I know not.
The transgression I have done, I know not.
The lord, in the anger of his heart, hath looked upon me.
The god, in the wrath of his heart, hath visited me.
The goddess hath become angry with me, and hath grievously stricken me.
The known or unknown god hath straightened me.
The known or unknown goddess hath brought af­fliction upon me.
I sought for help, but no one taketh my hand.
I wept, but no one came to my side.
May the known and unknown god be pacified!
May the known and unknown goddess be pacified! ...
(Penitential Psalms.)”
In Assyrian and Babylonian Literature was therefore a recurring theme. Even death offered no hope of relief. In the great­est of all Babylonian epics, the hero Gilgamesh is inspired by the death of his friend Enkidu to wrestle with the problem of the hereafter. His discoveries are not reassuring. The nether world is portrayed as a grim place, and neither the mythical Gilgamesh nor any other Mesopotamian could apparently imagine the idea of personal salvation.
If their extensive literature is an indication, the peoples of ancient Mesopotamia knew how to enjoy life, but their enjoyment was tempered by a grim fatalism. In the land between the rivers, with its terrible inundations and vulnerability to invaders, it could hardly have been otherwise.

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