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Work Lament for the destruction of Ur

Department of Near Eastern Antiquities: Mesopotamia

Lamentation sur la ruine d'Ur

© Musée du Louvre, dist. RMN / Raphaël Chipault

Near Eastern Antiquities
Mesopotamia

Author(s):
Iselin Claire

The destruction of the city of Ur on the fall of its empire around 2000 BC made an enormous impression. A poet wrote a lament in eleven songs telling the terrible story, which takes place both on earth and in the heavens. In it, Ningal, the goddess of Ur, appears as a suppliant before the great gods, charged with the accomplishment of the decrees of Fate. In the end, the catastrophe will be undone and what remains "hung on a nail" before the temple of Enlil, the great god of Sumer.

The lament

The text is an example of the lament - a genre also exemplified in the Lamentations of the Bible - which is attested in Mesopotamia from the Early Dynastic Period (2600-2340 BC) onward, but flourished more particularly around 2000 BC, a time when the land witnessed several destructive invasions and wars broke out between the cities as they struggled for power after the fall of the Ur III Empire. Unlike most liturgical laments, with their stereotyped formulations, this is a very fine poem, composed and recited in response to a particular event: the destruction and rebuilding of the city of Ur. It tells of the decision of the great gods to allow the outrage (namely, the destruction of their temples), describes the sack of the city, and then reports the gods' final change of heart.

A rhythmical composition

This rhythmical composition consists of 436 lines divided into eleven 'songs' or stanzas of eleven lines (offering a complete idea and followed by a rest), separated from each other by a one- or two-line antiphon. There follows here a translation of the passage in which Ningal, goddess of Ur, appears as a suppliant before the great gods charged with the accomplishment of the decrees of Fate:

"The country's blood pools like bronze or lead;
Its dead melt of themselves like fat in the sun;
Its men laid low by the axe, no helmet protects them;
Like a gazelle taken in a trap they lie, mouth in the dust...
The mothers and fathers who go not out of their houses are covered in fire;
The children in their mother's lap, like fishes are borne away by the waters...
May this disaster be utterly undone!
Like the great barrier of the night, may the door be shut upon it!
[...]."

Bibliography

Genouillac Henri de, "Textes religieux sumériens", in Textes cunéiformes, 16, musée du Louvre, département des Antiquités Orientales, Librairie orientaliste Paul Geuthner, 1930, n 40.
Kramer S. N., Materials for the Assyrian Dictionary, 12, The University of Chicago Press, 1940, pp. 1-71.
Pritchard J., Ancient Near Eastern in Pictures Relating to the Old Testament, Princeton University Press (3e édition), p. 455.
André Béatrice (notice), Naissance de l'écriture : cunéiformes et hiéroglyphes, Grand Palais, 7 mai-9 août 1982, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1982, n 188, p. 242.
Michalowski Piotr, The Lamentation over the Destruction of Sumer and Ur, Winona Lake, Eisenbrauns, 1989.

Technical description

  • Lamentation sur la ruine d'Ur

    Vers 1800 avant J.-C.

  • Argile

    H. 24.5 cm; W. 13.6 cm

  • Acquisition 1913 , 1913

    AO 6446

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

    Richelieu wing
    Ground floor
    Mesopotamia, c. 2350–2000 BC
    Room 2
    Vitrine 6 : IIIe dynastie d'Ur, 2112 - 2004 avant J.-C.

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