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Spadina Literary Review  —  edition 11 page 14

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Before I go, let me say a few words about those broken tablets. A notable feature of this book is that many of Kim Echlin’s translations suffer from lost words and lines, sometimes dozens of lines in a row. While there were occasions when I felt I was missing out on some plot point, by and large that was compensated by a sense of authenticity. It was almost like holding the battered tablets with their crumbling edges in my very own hands, it was like being immersed in a type of concrete poetry. Here is a passage with lots of lacunae due to missing pieces, altho in this particular example the spirit of the original shines through well enough. The example comes from “Inanna and Enki.” The story is that Inanna has secured the sacred meh, the fundaments of civilization which I will describe later, and she triumphantly brings them to her native city of Uruk in the Boat of Heaven, a boat shaped like a crescent moon:

It will sail, magnificent
through the city

The people in the streets
will stand in awe

[...] in joy
[...] the old men of the city [...]
comfort [...] the old women
[...] counsel [...] the young men
[...] strength of arms
[...] the children
[...] joy
[...] Uruk

Hold on a second! A sex goddess bearing the sacred meh? Hard to figure. Here’s how it happened: in that time, that long-ago time before what was to be came to be, Inanna of Uruk visited the ancient city of Eridu where she had a drinking contest with Enki the long-established, actually pre-Sumerian, earth god. Enki got the drunkest, Inanna stayed the coolest, and in a fit of generosity Enki handed over the meh, the ingredients of civilized life as decreed by the gods. The meh included laws and professions and all aspects of civilized culture from kingship to hairstyles. Next day, when he recovered, Enki sent a pair of galla demons (there’s that word again) chasing Inanna to get the ingredients of civilization back, but Inanna always stayed a step ahead of the demons.

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