Martin Lang (University of Innsbruck, Austria) “How to Lament Appropriately: Correct Ritual Acting and Correct Lexicography”


The literary tradition of Ancient Babylonia contains a lot of liturgical texts which were handed down in written form from the early 2nd mill. BCE to the end of cuneiform writing. Many of these texts were to be performed by priests at certain liminal situations, like e.g. the re-building of temples or eclipses in order to avoid divine anger possibly caused or accompanied by the respective actions and situations. These texts, or rather songs, are composed in Emesal (“fine language”, women’s language), a peculiar sociolect of Sumerian. In the first millennium these texts were often written down together with an Akkadian translation. These translations are most helpful for lexicographical purposes because they serve for a better understanding of Sumerian as an isolated language. So far so good, but there is one problem: The Akkadian translations of the Sumerian often correspond and mirror a verbal rendering of the Sumerian text, but sometimes they do not. The “translations” try to seek other hidden, “cabbalistic” meanings in the canonical Sumerian texts. This was a challenge for the ancient specialists and it is a challenge for modern lexicographers as well.