The life and death of Ur-Namma, and his resurrection.
The life and death of Ur-Namma is composed of selections from Babylonian literature (Sources). These were edited to eliminate some (but not all) of the repetition that is typical of Babylonian compositions. They were then strung together to make a cohesive whole, to which I added the least amount of explanatory comment. More than 90% of the text is direct quotes from the cited works, which I changed to first-person.
Ur-Namma in the Netherworld is my own composition.
I am Ur-Namma
The mighty man
The king of Ur
The king of Sumer and Akkad
Ur-Namma, the mighty king whom no one dares to oppose, Ur-Namma, the ornament of the royal offering place, occupies the magnificent courtyard.
I am Ur-Namma. I am the trustworthy shepherd favored by An, the Lord of Heaven. I was given strength by the god Ningublaga. Utu the sun god endowed me with eloquence. Nintur assisted in my birth and Enki treated me kindly. I was loved by Inanna, the goddess of war. Because of my broad wisdom and understanding, I was entrusted by An with the kingship of the Land. The god Enlil called me by an auspicious name. He beamed at me approvingly and decreed for me a great destiny, for all of time.
For all of time.
I am Ur-Namma, the mighty king of Ur! I am the protecting genius of my city. Wickedness cannot pass unnoticed before my eyes! I am the knowledgeable judge. I strike against those guilty of capital offenses and make them tremble! No evildoer dares to lay his hands on the holy statues. I clamp down on evildoers, who will be caught like snakes, and I place my foot on the necks of thieves and criminals!
Ur, city as beautiful as the sky, colorfully decorated, the home of the gods, the white terraces of your temples are like clouds in the midst of heaven. Your gate is the blue sky; only when it is opened does Utu illuminate the horizon.
I am Ur-Namma, the ornament of all the lands. I made Ur resplendent. I made Sumer flourish with joy in days filled with prosperity and I caused the people to eat splendid food. Because of me, Ur-Namma, the king of Ur for whom a favorable destiny was determined, the roads have been made passable. In the desert the roads are made up as if for a festival; the roads are passable because of me. The joy in my city of Ur and the territory of Sumer delights me.
The lord rides high in the city of Ur. The lord rides high in joy!
Utu the sun god marches before me.
I am Ur-Namma, the cosmic bond of Sumer. I am the radiance that covers the nation. I am the lord of great wisdom who acts as the constable. I place a shackle on all the hostile foreign countries, and I block the way to Sumer with a strong bolt. Wickedness cannot pass! I fill the wicked lands with my battle cry! In the whole extent of heaven and earth, no one can escape battle with me. Enlil, the lord Nu-nam-nir, gave to me the lofty mace that heaps up human heads like piles of dust in the hostile foreign countries. With the mace that heaps up piles of human heads, I smash the rebel lands. I beat down the foreign rebel lands, and I trample them underfoot!
For I am Ur-Namma, the mighty man. The king of Ur. The king of Sumer and Akkad.
It all started so many years ago, when I was but a youth, when I first caught the eye of Enlil.
With my brother Utu-hengal, the mighty man, the king of Uruk, the king of the four quarters, the king whose orders cannot be countermanded, I helped wipe out the name of Gutium, the fanged snake of the mountains who acted with violence against the gods, who carried off the kingship of Sumer to foreign lands, who filled Sumer with wickedness, who took away spouses from the married and took away children from the parents, who made wickedness and violence normal in the Land. We drove the Gutians out of Sumer and Akkad.
After the storm, after the month had been completed, upon the death of my beloved brother Utu‑hengal, Enlil looked around among the people. Enlil chose me by extispicy on a day that was very auspicious for him. The great god Enlil chose me from the multitude of people, making me the mightiest in the Land. Enlil caused me to arise from my family to become the good shepherd of the Sumerians, the civilized people. He beamed at me approvingly and bestowed the kingship on me. Thus I became the king of Sumer and Akkad. For me, the kingship had been sent from heaven. I became a living god.
The people lined up before me. I lifted my head up high. I was the tallest of all the lords, appearing as the noblest among them.
Seldom before had there been a single king for all of Sumer. The many Sumerian city-states often battled each other for supremacy in the Land: “Who was king? Who was not king?” Because of this disunity, for the last two centuries, since the days of Sargon the Great, the Akkadians were the masters and the Sumerians were the vassals. I, Ur-Namma, was now the undisputed king of both nations. Now Sumer and Akkad walk the same path. My wise judgments create concord in Sumer and Akkad. As if I were fire, even my frowning is enough to create concord. For I am Ur-Namma, the king of Sumer and Akkad.
The lord rides high in the city of Ur. The lord rides high indeed!
I am the king of the Land!
Detail from the Ur-Namma stele: Above: Ur-Namma stands before Enlil and the Tree of Life. Below: Enlil leads Ur-Namma and a worker to begin work on a new temple.
The divine plans of brick-built E-Kur were drawn up. The god Enlil had made up his mind. Filled with pure and useful thoughts, he made them shine like the sun for the E-Kur, his august shrine. He told me to make the E-Kur rise high. I myself prepared the brick mold. At the dedication of the temple, I solemnly carried the first bricks for the temple in a woven basket on my head. The foundations were laid down firmly and the holy foundation pegs were driven in. The enkum and ninkum priests praised it duly, and Enki made the temple rejoice with his artful incantations.
I made the E-Kur, the Mountain Temple, grow high in Dur-an-ki, “The Bond of Heaven and Earth.” It was wonderful to behold by the multitudes of people. The eyebrow-shaped arches of the Lofty Gate, the Great Gate, the Gate of Peace, the Gate of Perpetual Grain Supplies, these gates I made glittering by covering them with refined silver. The Anzud bird runs there, and an eagle seizes enemies in its claws. The temple is lofty; it is surrounded with a fearsome radiance.
In the Gagiššua of the great palace, Ninlil rendered her verdicts in grandeur. Ninlil the great mother was glad. Enlil and his wife Ninlil, my queen, relished it there. In its great dining hall, I had them enjoy a magnificent meal. They looked at me with approval. The E-Kur rejoiced. Enlil decreed for me a favorable destiny for all of time. He spoke:
"I am the Great Mountain, Father Enlil, whose firm commands and decisions are immutable! You have made my lofty E-Kur shine gloriously; you have raised it high with brilliant crenellations. Trustworthy hero, you have made it shine gloriously in the Land. Ur-Namma, mighty lord, may your kingship be unparalleled, may your fame spread to heaven's borders, as far as the foot of the mountains!"
When Nanna the moon god wanted a new temple for himself, I built for him the towering ziggurat at Ur, its terrace surrounded with a fence of gold and lapis lazuli. At the dedication of the temple, I inspected the foundation statue of me. This was important. I carefully read the inscription, making sure it was written correctly. Then I looked into the face of the statue, making sure it looked like me. I put it in the foundation box, and watched as it was buried by the priests. Thus I presented myself to the gods for all eternity, for all of time. For Nanna, my master, I built his temple as if it were a verdant hillside. I would not live to see it completed.
Ur-Namma is the mightiest in the land, the first among the people!
Not only did I serve the gods, I served the people.
I accomplished quite an achievement – justice! I made justice apparent. I codified the laws of the land; I was the first in the world to do so. I did it three hundred years before that Babylonian, Hammurabi! As a knowledgeable judge, I struck against those guilty of capital offenses and made them tremble. I placed my foot on the necks of thieves and criminals!
I brought peace and security to the Land. There was no civil war between the city-states during my reign. I declared an amnesty for all the people.
I am a source of joy for the Land; my life indeed creates! Fields of barley are resplendent under my rule. Since I have been adorned with the kingship, no one imposes taxes on my abundant crops, which grow tall. The owner of the fields walks through the barley; it rises up to his chest. I have drained the marshes, and I have freed the sons of the poor from their duty of going to fetch firewood. I straightened the road that runs from north to south.
There now is joy and abundance in the city of Ur because of Ur-Namma.
Sweet is the praise of me, the shepherd Ur-Namma!
Once again, I was called to defend my people against the savage hands of the Gutians. So once again, I went to war. I have a terrible fame in the houses of the rebellious lands. I stormed the houses of the wicked; I destroyed the cities of the wicked. With heavy oppression I turned them into haunted places. The shepherd Ur-Namma destroys the cities of the wicked; I turn them into haunted places.
This was the year in my reign that I named “The year the land of the Gutians was destroyed." It was a very good year.
After I made the evil-doers return to their homeland, I returned to my beloved city of Ur. I loaded its grain on barges; I delivered it to the storehouses. I directed ships to both the Karĝeština of Enlil and the lapis lazuli quay of Nanna. I returned the citizens to their homes, and I restored the walls that had been torn down. I am the foremost workman of Enlil.
Who will dig it? Who will dig it? Who will dig the canal? Wealthy Ur-Namma will dig it. The trustworthy prosperous youth will dig it.
For the people of Sumer, I am their Enkimdu, their god of irrigation and cultivation. For my beloved people of Sumer, I built not just one canal, but several. I was proud to name two of the year-names of my reign for these canals.
I release life-giving water into the canals of Sumer, making the trees grow tall on their banks. The watercourse of my city is full of fish, and the air above it is full of birds. Its arable tracts grow fine grain, sprouting abundantly like a forest.
Ur-Namma is the source of joy for the Land; his life indeed creates!
I am clad in linen in the ĝipar, the cloister of the high priestess. I lie down on the splendid bed in its delightful bedchamber. Today, I have enacted the Sacred Marriage of the gods with the high priestess of Inanna, my lady, the goddess of love and war. Tonight, our union will bring fertility to the fields, to the sheepfolds and the cattle-pens, to the people, and to the gods themselves. There are many goddesses in the land of Sumer, and many pretty priestesses.
It is good to be the king.
Ur-Namma is the good shepherd; may the population multiply!
To me, the shepherd Ur-Namma, let life be given as a reward.
For Inanna/ His queen/ Ur-Namma/ The mighty man/ The king of Ur/ The king of Sumer and Akkad/ Her temple/ He built
The Gutians, again. I thought I had destroyed them. Once again I was called upon to defend my people against the savage hands of the Gutians. Once again I went to war. I called upon my beloved Inanna, my lady of war, and rushed to the battlefield.
In the vanguard of my troops, I led my soldiers into battle. Like a lion, I roared my battle cry. Like a fierce storm flashing lightning, I plunged into the fray.
I was wounded, but I fought on. I was wounded again; I fell to the ground.
Seeing this, my soldiers lost heart and fled in panic. A few brave heroes fought to save me. They carried me from the battlefield, wounded and bleeding.
Where was Inanna?
The entire land was struck. The palace was devastated. Panic spread rapidly among the dwellings of my beloved people. The people abandoned their homes. In Sumer, cities were destroyed in their entirety; the people were seized with panic.
Evil came upon the city and made the trustworthy shepherd pass away. It made Ur-Namma, the trustworthy shepherd, pass away.
An had altered his holy words completely; his words had become an empty promise. Enlil, deceitfully, completely changed the fate he had decreed for me. Because of this, Ninmah began a lament. Enki shut the great door of the Eridug temple. Nudimmud withdrew into his bedchamber and lay down fasting. At his zenith, Nanna the moon god frowned at the words of An, the lord of the heavens. Utu the sun god did not come forth in the sky. The day was full of sorrow.
My mother, miserable because of her son, holy Ninsumun, the mother of the king was crying "Oh my heart!” because the fate decreed for Ur-Namma had been overturned. The fate for her son had been overturned. She was weeping bitterly in the broad square, which had once been a place of entertainment.
The wise shepherd does not give orders any more, in battle and combat. He was taken to the city of Ur. The king of the Land was brought into the house. The proud one lay in his palace.
My pleasing sacrifices were no longer accepted. My pleasing sacrifices were treated as if they were dirty. The Anuna gods refused my gifts. In heaven, An would not say, "It is enough." He would not complete my days. Because of what Enlil ordered, there was no more rising up. My beloved people had lost their wise one.
His appointed time had arrived. He passed away in his prime.
I lay down my head and died.
I, Ur-Namma, the mighty man, king of Ur, king of Sumer and Akkad, had passed away.
Silence descended upon the land of Sumer. The plains did not grow lush grass anymore; they grew the grass of mourning. The farmer’s fertile fields yielded him little because the vigor of the land had died.
I, Ur-Namma, the true shepherd, had passed away. I was in my prime.
My body was brought to Arali, the preeminent place of the Land. The soldiers who accompanied their king shed tears.Ur-Namma, their boat, their ship of state, was sunk in a land as foreign to them as Dilmun. The ship was buried in saltpeter. I was buried in saltpeter.
His steeds and his chariots are to be found with Ur-Namma; they were buried with him.
The roads were thrown into disorder. The roads that once were made up as if for a festival were thrown into disorder; no one could go up or down them. Thus in the confusion I was buried in secret. No one knows where I lay.
Sweet sleep did not come to the people of Sumer. They passed their time in lamentation over the trustworthy shepherd who had been snatched away.
Alas, my wife had spent her days in tears and bitter laments as my strength ebbed away. Now my wife has become a widow. She is cast adrift like a boat in a raging storm. Her kind protective god has left her, and her kind protective goddess, holy Ninsumun, does not care for her anymore. My mother, Ninsumun, no longer rests her august arm firmly upon my wife. Nanna, Lord Ašimbabbar, no longer leads her by the hand. Enki, the lord of Eridug, does not comfort her. She has been silenced; she can no longer answer. Like a lioness lured into a perilous pit, she has been treated heavy-handedly. Like a lioness fallen into a pitfall, a guard has been set up for her. Like a dog kept in a cage, she is silenced. Utu does not pay heed to her cries of "Oh my king!" overwhelming her.
My wife is treated so heavy-handedly? What treachery is this?
The fate decreed for Ur-Namma had been overturned.
While I was so treated, foremost Inanna, my warlike lady, was not present at my verdict. Enlil sent her as a messenger to all the foreign lands, saying it concerned important matters.
After Inanna had turned her gaze away from the foreign lands, she humbly entered the shining E‑kur. Then she saw Enlil’s fierce brow. Enlil said, "Great lady of the E-ana, once someone has bowed down, he cannot rise again. The trustworthy shepherd, you cannot see him anymore." Then my lady Inanna, the fierce storm, the eldest child of Suen, made the heavens tremble and the earth shake. Inanna destroyed cattle pens and devastated sheepfolds, saying: "I want to hurl insults at An, the king of the gods ‑ Who can change the matter if Enlil elevates someone? Who can change the import of the august words uttered by An, the king? If there are divine ordinances imposed on the Land but they are not observed, there will be no abundance at the gods’ place of sunrise. My holy ĝipar, the shrine E-ana, has been barred up like a mountain. If my shepherd cannot enter it before me, I will not enter it otherwise! Why should I enter it otherwise? Only if my strong one could grow for me like greenery in the desert would I enter the ĝipar. Oh, if only he could hold steady for me like a river boat at its calm mooring." This is how the holy Inanna, my beloved goddess of war, how my lady Inanna spoke to the gods. She alone defended me.
I descended into the netherworld, the land of no return. The journey to the netherworld is a desolate route.
I presented gifts to the seven chief porters of the netherworld. When the famous kings who had died, and the dead išib priests, lumaḫ priests, and the nindiĝir priestesses, all chosen by extispicy, announced my coming to the people, a tumult arose in the netherworld. Then I seated the people at a huge banquet. For them, numerous bulls and sheep were slaughtered, because the food of the netherworld is bitter, and the water of the netherworld is brackish. The trustworthy shepherd knew well the rites of the netherworld, so I presented my offerings to all the gods. To Nergal, the Enlil of the netherworld, I offered a mace, a large bow, and an artfully made dagger. To Gilgamesh, my brother, the king of the netherworld, I offered a spear, a heavenly lion-headed mace, and a shield. To the valiant warrior Ninĝišzida I offered a chariot with wheels sparkling of gold. To all the gods of the netherworld I presented as many faultless bulls, faultless kids, and fatted sheep that I could bring.
Lord Ninĝišzida seated me on a great dais and set up a dwelling place for me in the netherworld. At the command of Ereškigala, all the soldiers who had been killed by weapons and all the men who had been found guilty were given into my hands. I, Ur-Namma, with my beloved brother Gilgamesh, will issue the judgments of the netherworld and render the decisions of the netherworld.
Like my younger brother Gilgamesh, I could not be reconciled to death.
After ten days passed, the lamenting for Sumer overwhelmed me; my lamenting for Sumer overwhelmed me. My king's heart was full of tears. I complained bitterly that I could not complete the wall around the city of Ur. I could no longer enjoy the new palace I had built. I could no longer bring pleasure to my wife with my embrace, or hold my sons on my knees. I would never see in their prime the beauty of their little sisters, who had not yet grown up.
I, Ur-Namma, the trustworthy shepherd, made a heart-rending lament for myself. "I, who have been treated like this, served the gods well, set up chapels for them. I created evident abundance for the Anuna gods. I laid treasures on their beds strewn with fresh herbs. Yet no god stood by me and soothed my heart. Because of them, anything that could have been a favorable portent for me was as far away as the heavens. What is my reward for my eagerness to serve the gods during the days? My days have been finished for serving them sleeplessly during the night! Now, just as rain pouring down from heaven cannot turn back, alas, I cannot return to the brick-built city of Ur.
How iniquitously was Ur-Namma abandoned by the gods, like a broken jar!
Lord Ninĝišzida, god of the netherworld, god of healing, spoke to me among the tears and laments. He decreed a fate for me. "Ur-Namma, you will be remembered. Your august name will be called upon, from the southlands to the uplands, to your palace. The people will admire the canals you dug, the large and grand arable tracts you created, the reedbeds you drained, and the wide barley fields that you caused to grow. In the fortresses and settlements which you have made, they will call upon your name to drive away the evil spirits. Ur-Namma, you will always be remembered."
Ur-Namma in the Netherworld:
I lived in the eternal twilight of the netherworld. The food I had brought did not last for long; so like everyone else, I ate the bitter food of the netherworld, I drank the brackish water.
I never learned what I did to offend the gods.
Was I too proud? Did I praise myself too extravagantly? Did I overreach myself? Did I need to be reminded that I was just a mortal man?
Was it because I loved war too much? Did I too greatly love Inanna, my warlike lady? Surely this was not the reason I was laid so low. I did what I had to do. I died in defense of my kingdom and my people. It was a fitting end for a king. Every king should do as much.
Enlil never told me the reason why the gods were so offended. This is what made my fate so difficult to bear; not knowing, to always be wondering, “Why?”
I never did forgive the gods, Enlil in particular, for whom I had done so much. I never forgave his lies, his betrayal.
When the soldiers killed in battle descended into the netherworld and stood before me, I would ask, “What news do you have from Sumer? What news do you have of my family?” From them I learned that my son Shulgi reigned for 48 glorious years. Shulgi was just like his father. He was proud and boastful, just like me, and just as capable. He was also very educated; he could correct the grammar of the Gutian ambassadors in their own language! Shulgi was musically and artistically inclined. During his reign, Sumer enjoyed a cultural renaissance. I was very proud of him. Lucky is the man who has such a worthy son.
So, in a way, I was able to enjoy the contented old age that had been denied to me on earth, watching my son grow and mature. This took away some of the bitterness of my fate.
In Sumer I was still worshiped as a god. The statue made for me when I was a living man was worshiped as a god. Unlike other kings of the past, I did not portray myself as “pretty” and perfect. My people already knew that I wasn't handsome like Gudea. I wanted them to look into the face of my statue and see me as I really was; to recognize me, Ur-Namma, their king. My statue was crowned with a gold shepherd’s hat and draped with golden robes. It was imbued with magic by the lumah priests. Through the eyes of the statue I could still see the people bow down before it, touching their noses to the ground. Through the ears of the statue I could still hear the people's prayers to me, even in the netherworld.
So things continued for almost a hundred years. Shulgi died and ascended to heaven; as did his successors, Amar-Suen and Shu-Suen. All Sumerian kings ascend to heaven to live amid the stars. Gilgamesh and I were the only god-kings to be consigned to the netherworld. Enlil had seen to that. There's not a lot to do in the netherworld, so I was restless and bored. I was never reconciled to my fate, but I got used to it. I learned to live with it.
Gradually I started receiving bad news about my beloved Sumer from the soldiers who descended into the netherworld. First there was drought, then famine. Then the barbarians started crowding the borders. The last king of my dynasty, Ibbi-Suen, was having difficulties trying to hold everything together. He was a good man, brave and strong, but he was not the best judge of character. He allowed himself to be cheated by Ishbi-erra, a petty little king who took twenty talents of silver for desperately needed grain supplies, then reneged on their delivery. Then in the ultimate betrayal, while Ibbi-Suen was valiantly fighting our enemies in the north, the traitor Ishbi-erra switched alliances, leaving Ibbi-Suen outflanked in the south. Ibbi-Suen had to beat a hasty retreat back to Sumer. Meanwhile, Ishbi-erra began to carve out his own little kingdom in the region and he even made pretensions to the throne of Sumer! Ibbi-Suen did nothing; he let Ishbi-erra get away with it. Had I been there, Ishbi-erra would have been treated differently. He would have felt my mace on his skull!
Then, disaster. From the thousands of dead Sumerian soldiers suddenly pouring into the netherworld, I learned that Sumer was under full-scale attack by the Amorites from the west, the Gutians from the north, and the Elamites from the east.
One by one the cities of Sumer fell to the invading hordes of Amorites, Gutians, and Elamites; barbarians by any other name. One by one the cities fell, until only Ur, my beloved city of Ur, was all that was left to Ibbi-Suen.
After a prolonged siege of Ur, the Elamites broke through the walls around the city, the walls that I had built. The Elamites poured into the city; killing, raping, burning, pillaging.
Breaches were made in the walls; the people groaned. On the lofty city-gates where walks had been taken, corpses were piled. On the boulevards where festivals had been held, heads lay scattered. In the places where the dances of the Land had taken place, people were stacked in heaps. They made the blood of the Land flow down the streams like copper or tin. The corpses, like fat in the sun, were left to melt away of themselves. (Lament for Urim)
I wept for Sumer; I wept for my beloved city of Ur.
That night, in the glow of my burning city, a gang of marauding Elamites with weapons drenched in the blood of my people, burst into my temple looking for plunder. They crashed through the door of my inner-sanctum. They saw my golden crown and robes gleaming in the light of the lamps. They gave a shout and raced toward me. When they got closer, they suddenly stopped. The barbarians looked into my face, the face of a god. They just stood there dumbfounded. The Elamites had never seen a lifelike face on a statue. In the flickering light of the oil lamps, I must have seemed to them like a living god of molten metal. Clearly I wasn’t someone to be lightly reckoned with. After a moment, the leader started shouting loudly at his men, giving orders. The men formed into a semicircle around me, facing outward like a bodyguard. It wasn’t for my sake. They meant to defend me against other looters, so they could present me to their general and collect a reward.
The next day, in the smoking ruins that had once been my beautiful city of Ur, the men dared to put their savage hands on my statue! With much sweating, grunting, and cursing, they managed to load my heavy statue onto a wagon. My statue was secured to the wagon with ropes. I was like a war captive. Through the eyes of the statue, I watched as Ibbi-Suen, the last king of my dynasty, in shackles and looking frightened and disheveled, was dragged to the front of the wagon and kicked to the ground by the hooting Elamites. After he was cruelly beaten, he was pulled up from the ground by his beard. Ibbi-Suen would lead the way, as we made the long march to Elam.
That day I died again. I had died once before, as a man, when I was wounded in battle. I died again, as a king, when I was led into Elamite captivity.
Never again would I see my beloved city of Ur.
We were paraded through the stinking streets of the Elamite capital, hissed and booed and spat at by the populace. We were taken to the “palace” of the barbarian king. I watched while Ibbi-Suen, still shackled, was roughly hauled before the Elamite king and forced to his knees. After a short boastful speech by the king, Ibbi-Suen was made to lie on the ground, face up. Then the Elamite king ceremoniously, and none too gently, placed his foot on the neck of Ibbi‑Suen, to the shouts and jeers of the people. Ibbi-Suen would later die a humiliating death at the hands of his captors. He never should have allowed himself to be taken alive.
Next, the barbarian king turned his attention to me. He walked up to me, full of insolence, greedily admiring my golden robes and crown. When he got closer, he stopped in his tracks. He was surprised, like the soldiers in the temple, by my living face. He stepped up to me, gingerly. He put his ugly monkey face close to mine. He gulped noticeably. Oh how I wanted to plant my fist into his face! Then he stepped back, as if he had read my intent. With a wide sweep of his arm, the barbarian king made some joke that I didn’t understand, to the nervous laughter of his audience.
For a while, I was displayed in his palace. I was an object of curiosity, to be gawked at by the visiting dignitaries; but the Elamite king never seemed comfortable in my presence, so he ordered that my statue be destroyed.
The king’s soldiers first stripped off my golden robes. The evildoers had dared to lay their savage hands on my holy statue! One of the soldiers took off my shepherd’s crown of gold. The stupid monkey danced around with my crown on his head, making a mockery of me. Then my head was removed from its dowel-socket. It would later be displayed again in the palace of the barbarian king, like a head taken in battle. It was the only way the Elamite king could feel comfortable in my presence. Then my holy statue was chopped to pieces for the valuable copper that it contained. My holy statue was chopped to pieces, to make Elamite pots and pans, to make Elamite swords and weapons.
In the netherworld, there was nothing left to do. No more dead Sumerian soldiers descended into the netherworld to be judged by their king. Now soldiers fought and died for other kings; they were judged by other gods, in other regions of the netherworld.
All the people who ever knew me when I was a living man had died off long ago. By now, I was no longer a living memory in the minds of my people.
I was still worshiped as a god, fervently, by some Sumerians. They seemed to hope that I could somehow help them, that I could throw off the yoke that had been placed upon them. They called upon my name to chase away the evil spirits.
I desperately wanted to help, but what could I do? I was still trapped in the netherworld. I became numb with grief and helplessness. It was like I was paralyzed. I grew weaker every day.
The prayers became fewer and fewer as hope faded away. Then one day the prayers stopped. There were to be no more prayers for me.
For the third time, I died. I had died as a man; I had died as a king; and now I died as a god.
I, Ur-Namma, the living god, was dead.
The Babylonians, the inheritors of Sumerian civilization, still knew who I was. They did not remember me directly, but at least they knew who I was. They wrote praise poems for me, they recorded my heroic deeds. Sumerian history became Babylonian history. School boys learned of my exploits. I am grateful to the Babylonians; were it not for them, I would have been completely forgotten.
As the centuries passed, even the Babylonians started to forget about me. Fewer and fewer Babylonians knew about me. Only a few historians – scribal, scholarly kinds of men – remembered who I was. I had become the faintest of memories.
Eventually, even the Babylonians forgot about me. They forgot their Sumerian roots. The Babylonians had become too “Babylonian”.
In their turn, it was the Babylonians who were destroyed, in the constant rise and fall of civilizations that is the history of the world. The clay tablets recording my heroic deeds were buried beneath yet another collapsing civilization.
I, Ur-Namma, “the king of eternal fame", was completely forgotten.
So much for the prophecy of Enlil, who had decreed for me great destiny for all of time, for all of time.
Enlil, too, was forgotten. All the Sumerian gods were forgotten; An, the Lord of Heaven; Utu the sun god; Nanna the moon god; Inanna, my lady of love and war; and all the rest of the Sumerian gods, they were all forgotten.
All the Sumerian kings were forgotten. Even the Sumerian people and their glorious history were forgotten.
It’s as if we never were, as if we had never walked the face of the earth.
At last, complete oblivion. I was no longer tormented by my fate and the fate of my people. Sweet and welcome, complete oblivion had come at last.
I awoke into a dream, the sunlight blinding my eyes.
My holy statue had been found. Well, the head at least; the body had disappeared long ago. The head was dug up from beneath the ruins of yet another burned city that had been destroyed in the numerous wars that occurred in history. It was discovered in Azerbaijan, wherever that is.
Four thousand years had passed. Four thousand years!
I was in a strange and wondrous world, unlike anything I could have imagined. I was placed in a box and driven across the land at an awesome speed in a magic chariot without horses. The box was opened; people stared into my face. The box was closed. I was transported here and there. This happened many times.
Then one day I flew (flew! even as a god I could not fly) across a boundless ocean. I eventually ended up at The Met Museum in a place called New York City, wherever that is.
Sumer had been rediscovered! Men had been crawling like ants over the ruins of my great ziggurat at Ur. Clay tablets, thousands of clay tablets, had been found all across the region. At first, no one could read them. They were thought to be Assyrian or Babylonian; no one remembered Sumer. Over the course of a century, scribal scholarly kinds of men had painstakingly learned how to read them. Thus they rediscovered Sumer. It took a while for them to decipher my name (Ur-Gur, Ur-Engur, Ur-Nammu, and then Ur-Namma). The administrative tablets of my kingdom were read. The Babylonian tablets recording my deeds were read.
The scholars had resurrected Sumer, which had been buried so long ago. They also resurrected the Sumerian gods, who had been completely forgotten. An, Enlil, Utu, Enki, Inanna, and all the other Sumerian gods, returned to the heavens. They still reign there in a small part of heaven.
Still, nobody knew who I was. I was just a few lines in a history book. My glorious deeds were but a footnote in the long history of the world. I was just a name on a tablet, written in a script that only a few people in the world could read. Nobody really knew who I was.
My foundation statues were rediscovered. I had thought they would lie buried for all eternity. I had made sure they looked like me, with the heavy-lidded eyes, the large ears, the rounded nose, and the asymmetry of my facial features. I didn't want to present myself, to the gods or to my people, looking like everyone else. My “Ur-Namma Stele” was also discovered. It was heavily damaged, but there were several images on it that looked exactly as I appeared in life (I had seen to that). But no one recognized me. To them, the images of me were just a generic portrait of “a man”, one that looked any other man.
The curators of the museum thought I was an Elamite. An Elamite! Of all the indignities! This was to be my Second Elamite Captivity.
Every day, thousands of people filed past me in the museum; year after year after year. They stared into my face, they looked at me from all angles; but nobody knew who I was. I wanted to shout, “I am Ur-Namma! Don’t you know who I am?” But I couldn’t, of course. I was still stuck in limbo. I was still trapped in the netherworld.
Then someone finally recognized me. He was merely a scribe, but at least he recognized me for who I am.
I am Ur-Namma
The mighty man
The king of Ur
The king of Sumer and Akkad
Now everyone in the world knows who I am.
I am Ur-Namma, resurrected!
I have returned from the dead. I have arisen from the netherworld, the land of no return, to burst upon the world in all my former glory.
I take my rightful place alongside Caesar and Alexander, Qin Shi Huang and Charlemagne, and all the other great kings of the world.
Now when people look into my face, they will know exactly who I am: Ur-Namma, the man, the king, the living god.
I cannot be buried and forgotten again beneath the ruins of another collapsed civilization.
So Enlil was right all along when he decreed for me a great destiny for all of time, because I shall always be remembered.
So once again I am immortal. Once again, I am a god.