Early Dynastic Incantations in English
a) General Introduction
Most enenuru members or readers will probably have heard this topic, Early Dynastic incantations, come up on numerous occasions. It has been my intention to eventually read over these incantations, published only in German, and to share this small feat with any non-German speakers who also feel this material is absolutely unique and important to one's study of incantation literature. So it's been almost two years since enenuru started and many things have been done in that time, and yet, strangely, the translating of the German editions of these texts into English has remained elusive - evasive? - enigmatic! 0_0 The book itself, Krebernik's highly tentative 1984 trailblazer, has taken on near mythical qualities to me: it is the great White Whale breaking the surface only to more conspicuously sink into the depths again, it is taunting me and I really hate it passionately! This effort is therefore an equalizer between man and aquatic mammal, it is an appeal to decency and fair treatment - it is a harpoon of quite unyielding decisiveness.
I'm a little nutty about this, so without further ado, I should mention the people who have helped on this effort. First there is me, I organize things at enenuru, and have been fixated on the ancient Near East for quite a few years now.
Manfred Krebernik. This erudite and skilled German scholar works from within University at Jena, Germany, and has published numerous monographs dealing with early texts from Ebla to Fara to Abu Salabikh, and other early literature. He is now curator at the Frau Hilprecht-Sammlung (a cuneiform collection at Jena.) For an overview of his scholarship please see this link and as for Krebernik's undertaking with the Early Dynastic incantations it is, as mentioned above, truly inspiring: to purchase a copy of this German language book entitled Die Beschwörungen aus Fara und Ebla, please visit the publisher's site: Olms Verlag (ISBN: 3487074796)
The Early Dynastic Incantations are the oldest written incantations inside and outside the field of Sumerology, and therefore their contents provide a rare glimpse into the concept and practice of magic at a very early stage. These archaic texts, which mainly have as their function the curing or avoiding of illness, could do much in illuminating the development of Mesopotamian Magic.. and by loose extension, aspects of the western magic tradition at large. However the limitations of the material in both archaeological fact and original form, should first be acknowledged.
Archeology discovery: Dating to approximately 2600 B.C., as Cunningham describes, there are 46 Incantations from the Early Dynastic period, 19 are from Sumer proper (primarily Šuruppak, also Lagash) and 24 written in Sumerian and Semitic are from Ebla, an ancient city in the north-west of modern Syria. (The presence of different types of text in Ebla that must have originated in the south, suggests to scholars that there was a strong Sumerian influence on the Eblaites in this period and the materials at hand help to confirm this.) The three tablets from Šuruppak which contain 16 incantations between them, are now housed in the Vorderasiatisches Museum. They were first examined in Deimals 1923 "Schultexte aus Fara" and so are tablets likely to have been excavated from that location in 1902-3 by a German expedition led by R. Koldewey. The Ebla corpus is first edited in ARET 5 (Archivi reali di Ebla) by D. O Edzard 1984, focusing on tablets excavated by the Italians in the 60s and 70s from Ebla (modern Tell Mardikh.) Incantations from both locals are frequently found on what is termed 'compendium tablets', that is, large tablets featuring multiple incantation texts. As an example, I have added a picture below of ARET 5 19 which is a compendium tablet containing 12 incantations (with thanks to Cdli):
Original form: As can be seen above, these incantations are typically short and are written in what has been described as 'cryptic and abbreviated' language, a brevity which is generally contrasted by later incantations. The only extensive attempts at translation of these these texts are made by Manfield Krebernik and given in his 1984 work "Die Beschwörungen aus Fara und Ebla. Untersuchungen zur ältesten keilschriftlichen Beschwörungsliteratur (=TSO 2)" That almost all available translations of the incantations from Fara and Ebla are localized in one German work is a considerable hurdle for the interested (English) layman, and even then Krebernik's translations are to be considered provisional. Geller notes about the work: "despite Krebernik's sober attempts at plausible translations, much of the terminology and contextual meanings of the passages remains obscure." But even these hesitations should not obscure that this word does indeed hold some intrige: there are theological curiosities to consider such as the early goddess of magic Ningirima (who is all but forgotten in later periods), Enlil as the senior god in the earliest divine dialogues, and that some incantations here even suggest Enki as a bringer of illness. Three of the early incantations relate to the founding of temples, and the ideas of purity and of the reed and tamarisk as divine purifiers are attested already here. The differences between demonology from this period to the next is also quite pronounced and Geller comments (BAOAS 1987): "The paucity of demons [may] reflect the type of incantations which appear in Ebla and Fara, namely, predominantly 'snake' incantations (presumably against snake-bite) and so-called kultmittel-beschwörungen (Falkenstein, LSS NF1 76 ff.)." To simplify this statement, Geller is saying these incantations focus primarily on curing or avoiding illness often caused by the snake/snake-bite, and/or often feature kultmittel-beschworungen (basically praise of divine purifiers - in this period that is either the reed or the tamarisk.)
- Many transliterations are available on the relevant CDLI entries,
which are mapped out in the "Early
Dynastic Incantation Catalogue"
Die Beschwörungen aus Fara und Ebla features treatments of 39 texts originating from Fara and Ebla, of which we are concerned with the approx. 30 in Sumerian (the additional nine are Semitic incantations.) Of those 30, I have four translated below, with the expectation that this number will grow again soon. We therefore start with Krebernik text #'s 2, 3, 4, 6 and 8. The reader must be aware that these texts are frequently broken, sometimes enigmatic, and other-times imperfectly understood by their original translator. In all cases an effort has been made to translate as closely from the German as possible. For transliterations to the Krebernik incantations, please see this ePSD resource.
Ningirima slipped into... (?)
On it's 4 corners are donkeys,
(d)NE.DAG let the spell emerge
In the pure house
The southwind is bound,
The (in the team) last(?) and
Like (how) the birds and locusts
* the translation of this line follows Cunningham p. 39