The Sources and Attribution of the Texts

The Assurbanipal Libraries

The libraries assembled by Assurbanipal at Nineveh have probably contributed more than any other single source to modern knowledge of ancient Mesopotamian literature. Using the material from these libraries is however a painstaking process, since they were smashed to pieces and burned when Nineveh was sacked in 612 B.C. by a coalition of Median and Babylonian forces. This was the final outcome of the Assyrian attempt to control Babylonia, a theme ever present in several of the genres presented below. Clay tablets are not destroyed by fire, but many pieces have been lost and some probably remain yet to be recovered. Despite these difficulties, the extreme importance of this material, now housed in the British Museum, can be gauged by the fact that it accounts for 42 of the total of 65 tablets or fragments edited here.

Little is known of the arrangement of the libraries in Nineveh, but something can be said of their formation and composition. An amat šarri, or royal directive, in Babylonian dialect, instructs a certain Šadunu to obtain for the king a number of specified compositions in Borsippa,[[6]] and other evidence shows that this was not an isolated occurrence. It was usual then for such compositions to be recopied in Neo-Assyrian script and entered into one of the libraries. Some tablets with Assurbanipal colophons specify the cities from which exemplars had been used in various stages of the redaction of the text. As to where the new tablets were to be placed, many tablets were specified in their colophons for Assurbanipal's palace, while others were for the temple of Nabû. In several texts edited below, Assurbanipal emphasizes his eruditeness and strong dependence on Nabû, patron of the scribal craft (cf. in particular nos. 2, 12, 13, and 47). Several ancient catalogues of texts and tablets suggest that present knowledge of the content of late libraries is not so incomplete as one might have feared, since most of the texts can be identified.[[7]] In relation to specifically Assyrian literature, however, the situation is more complicated, as will be explained below. What is at least certain is that literature in a strict sense constituted a relatively small proportion of texts, within a much greater mass of functional and quasi-scientific material: ritual directions, incantations, divination, magic, omens, medicine, astronomy, as well as lexical and historical texts, and much else.

6 CT 22 1, edited by E. Ebeling, Neubabylonische Briefe (1949), Nr. 1, p. 1ff.

7 W. G. Lambert, "Ancestors, Authors, and Canonicity," JCS 11 (1957) p. 1ff with additions and corrections on p. 112; idem, "A Catalogue of Texts and Authors," JCS 16 (1962) 59ff; idem, "A Late Catalogue of Literary and Scholarly Texts," Kramer Anniversary Volume, AOAT 25 (1976) 313ff; S. Parpola, "Assyrian Library Records," JNES 42 (1983) 1ff.

Alasdair Livingstone

Alasdair Livingstone, 'The Sources and Attribution of the Texts', Court Poetry and Literary Miscellanea, SAA 3. Original publication: Helsinki, Helsinki University Press, 1989; online contents: SAAo/SAA03 Project, a sub-project of MOCCI, 2020 []

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