The Great Fatted Bull
Tablet #36
Sumerian Images
Sumerian History
The Royal Tombs of Ur
The Standard of Ur:  War
The Standard of Ur:  King
The "Standard" of Ur?
Vulture Stele Translation
Sumerian War Chariots
War Chariot Deconstructed
Gudea Translation
The Face of Gudea
The Face of Ur-Ningirsu
The Face of Lugal-agrig-zi
Ur-Namma Translation
The Face of Ur-Namma
Face of Ur-Namma, part II
I am Ur-Namma
The Face of Shulgi
Who Were the Sumerians?
Other Sumerian Kings
The Princess Wife
BE 31,28 Sign List
Sumerian Trick Signs
The Great Fatted Jackass
Sargon's Victory Stele
Helmet: the King of Kish
The Standard of Mari?
The Invention of Writing
Adventures in Cuneiform
The Sumerian Scribe
A Masterpiece
Site Map

Some of the cuneiform signs on BE 31,28.

In 1914, Stephen H. Langdon wrote a scholarly paper about an obscure cuneiform tablet
called BE 31,28. The tablet is owned by the Archaeological Museum in Istanbul, Turkey. Langdon classified it as a literary tablet, as A Dialogue between Two Women, but he never published a complete translation of it. That’s because he couldn’t read the entire tablet, so most of the writing remained untranslatable. BE 28 is officially entitled “Dialogue between fPN and fPN”, where fPN means female Personal Name, which shows how little of the tablet was translated since even the names of the two protagonists wasn’t known. Langdon was a world renowned Sumerologist, an expert in the field. He could translate complicated literary tablets, and yet he could not read this one simple tablet.

Throughout the years BE 28 made the scholarly rounds. Many prominent Sumerologists attempted to translate this tablet, but without success. They speculated on the meaning of various sentences, but they could not make any sense of the tablet as a whole. The sentences never coalesced into a single cohesive story.

The same is true for Tablet #36 in the Library of Congress. It had been around for 100 years and the experts couldn’t translate it either.

In December 2008, I posted a translation of Tablet 36, the story of The Great Fatted Bull.
The very next day, December 7, a date that will live in infamy, Bendt Alster, a world famous Sumerologist, announced that Tablet #36 wasn’t really about a great fatted bull. He said
it was actually a missing part of the Dialogue between Two Women, based on Langdon’s
incomplete, unpublished translation and Alster’s own “somewhat incomplete manuscript”
that had also never been published. We had a big fight about it (via email).

So I posted a new page on this website where I challenged him to a “Sumerian Showdown!”, my translation against his. I hoped to provoke Alster into attempting to disprove my translation, and failing that, he would be forced to confirm it. I said if these tablets are
indeed a "Dialogue between Two Women", then they are of great historical importance, here in the Feminist Era, and he needs to publish them. I said this because I wanted to see why he thought the two tablets were related. Was BE 28 a continuation of The Great Fatted Bull?
I also asked him to publish the line-drawing of the tablet, but he refused.

Needless to say, Alster could not convert the story of The Great Fatted Bull into a Dialogue between Two Women, and neither was he able to offer a complete translation of BE 28.

That was seven years ago. Just recently I finally saw a copy of the line-drawing for BE 28,
and I immediately knew why Alster thought the tablets were two separate parts of the
same story.

Many of the sentences occur word for word on both tablets. In addition, both tablets use
many of the same "trick signs", such as mahX and gemeX (explained below) to disguise the meaning of the texts. That's because both stories are political satires about lords and kings. Since ridiculing kings was a dangerous thing to do, the scribes deliberately made the tablets difficult to read – to keep their meanings secret. That is why the professional Sumerologists were unable to decipher the tablets. The tablets were meant to fool even other Sumerians.

I was able to translate this tablet only because I had already "decoded" Tablet #36, so I
wasn't fooled by the trick signs. As soon as I saw tablet BE 28 I knew it was a story about
the Great Fatted Something, though at first I didn't know what. Soon afterwards, when I saw anše in line r4, I quickly realized that it's the story of The Great Fatted Donkey. However,
I entitled it The Princess Wife because she is the star of the show. If you want to read
a version of The Great Fatted Donkey, you can always check out my translation of SEM 114,
the story of The Great Fatted Jackass
When I first published my translation of Tablet #36, the story of The Great Fatted Bull,
it was quite the anomaly because there were no other tablets like it. Tablets BE 31,28
and SEM 114 prove that my reading of the signs was correct all along.

Transliteration of tablet BE 28 31, the story of The Princess Wife.

by Jerald Jack Starr

If this is your first time reading a Sumerian transliteration, you may want to read the explanatory comments at the beginning of the Transliteration for Tablet #36.

See the entire line-drawing of the tablet with line numbers or without line numbers.

Below, click on the underscored line number to magnify the drawing of each line.

# = damaged but readable sign   x = damaged unreadable sign   [...] = missing signs

! = miswritten sign   {...} = prefix or suffix   (ES) = Emesal dialect   PN = personal name



o1a   #?   a       ak            šu-um-du-um              mu-     ni      inim#-    dug3
        ?     to      act           lip (ES, nundum)        name  his/her word     sweet


o1b                     ur      nu       za3        mu-lu       gam      kalag        #?
                     servant-without-equal        PN    bow down   powerful      ?

The sign inim is partially damaged, with just the “head” of the sign remaining.

In the Sumerian format, the indentation of the second part of the line shows that it is
a continuation of the first part.


o2      ki-ma    an          ze2-ir       lu2-            kal-la               nu-          te
          earth  heaven  feel worried  man-           strong             not-        near


o3  eš-   ir-    -da              zu2-zu2             na-                guru3-             la
  much-plunder-with           PN                man-              imbued-        wealth

Guru3 is often used as a modifier meaning “to bear, carry, to be imbued with, to be loaded”. Thus, man-imbued-wealth becomes “wealthy man”.

Zuzu's name could be interpreted as Zuh-zuh (the same signs but with different definitions and pronunciations) meaning "steal-steal".


o4    igi umun ze2    la-na-    lum   ze2   šu-na-tam  ba-na-am3   ba   gi-    ni
behold lord  you wealth-man-satisfied you authority-man-trusted giving-man rations verdict-his


I went crazy looking for a sign that looked like the first one in this sentence. Then I realized
it was actually two signs joined together, igi and umun (ES, en). Four of the signs in this sentence are joined together in this same way, some of which are merged across each other. There are so many joined signs that I thought maybe they were some sort of “ligatures” (signs that are "tied" together and pronounced in reverse order, like lugal, which is written gal-lu2 but pronounced lu2-gal). As it turns out, they are just normal signs. Perhaps they are merged together to save space on the line because there are so many signs crowded into the sentence. On the other hand, perhaps they were written this way to help obscure the context of the tablet, to disguise the secret meaning of the story.

Speaking of which: U (umun) is a seldom-used alternative sign for en, meaning “lord”. It is definitely used to obscure the fact that the story is mocking great lords and kings. In this way, it is like Lu2-mahX on Tablet #36, which is used to disguise the “king” context in the story of The Great Fatted Bull, as described in the Transliteration.


o5    šaḫ2   ka-a   gu7   gu7       zi2      mur-i          ka-a       šu     eš2-la2-a
       pig   mouth-in   food         cut fodder-captured  mouth-in hand choke-in/on

Many sentences on this tablet also occur on Tablet #36, the story of The Great Fatted Bull, and on tablet SEM 114, the story of The Great Fatted Jackass. In this transliteration, I don’t point out all of the occurrences because there are so many of them. I mention them only when they are relevant to the discussion at hand.

This line is lacking a verb meaning "to place" the food in his mouth, so I used the verb from
the corresponding line on Tablet #36 (r4). Du3 means "to drive in", which in the context of the sentence is interpreted as "to cram". He crams the food into his mouth and chokes on it.


o6  da-gu10      gu3    ka     aĝ2-(ES, niĝ2)- gu7-gu7  šu-  da-   bi   eš2-dab5#-ba
      side-my   cry out  mouth  thing(s) to eat  (food)   hands-with-these  to-grasp

The first part of this sentence is written da-ĝu10, “my flanks” but I translated it as da-ĝu10 lu, “my flanks grow fat” because that’s the way it’s written on Tablet #36 (line r5). The lu sign is missing in the above sentence. On both tablets, lu (defined as “abundant”) means
“to be fat”.

Gu3: “to cry out, often said of animals”. The definition of this sign changes depending on which animal is mentioned. A bull bellows, a lion roars, a donkey brays, etc.


o7    ĝi6 dim2    sa2-sa2  ni2-ba   nigin    na-ta    utul2  gug2-munu4  ir-ir
      night forms rivals by themselves wander man-from large bowl cakes-malted plunder

Ir = plunder/steal. The sentence is written “a man is plundering a bowl of malted cakes”, but I translated it as “a man is stealing a bowl of malted cakes”. “Plundering” is more meaningful
in the context of the tablet, but “plundering a bowl of malted cakes” would be confusing for a first-time reader.


o8a   uĝ3    ba-    bi     eš2-   gu3      mahX               sig3                   gin6
      people ration these to-  cry out    great      burning indigestion   permanent

MahX (AL/mah2) is the trick sign on Tablet #36, the story of The Great Fatted Bull. It is used to obscure the “king” context of the story, as explained in line o3 of the Transliteration. It is also used on SEM 114, The Great Fatted Jackass, in line o1.

For a description of all the trick signs on the tablets, see Sumerian Trick Signs.


o8b                  kiri3  kiri3-   mu5         la-ba-ni-ur                   la2-la2-{e}
                       nose nose-  fatted       not-his-servant             throttle

Variations of this sentence occurs on all three tablets (SEM 114, r8 and Tablet #36, r8). On Tablet #36 the phrase is written kiri3 kiri3, “nose to nose”, but in the above sentence it is written kiri3 kiri3-ni, where ni is the suffix for “his”, meaning “nose to his nose”. This would be the normal way to translate the phrase. However, ni is completely unnecessary because
both noses are “his nose”, as it were, since two men are fighting. In this sentence, NI is actually mu5, meaning “good, beautiful, pleasing, plump”, and rarely, “fatted”. The scribe had to get “fatted” in there somewhere. After all, this is the story of the Great Fatted Donkey. But the scribe uses the lesser known definition of NI (mu5) to get the message across, rather than the usual niga (fatted), which would be too obvious.


o9  e-ne-eĝ3 (ES, inim)    gaba!-ri       ka-{ba}-ab         ze2-eĝ3 ze2-eĝ3 (ES, šum2, twice)
           Oath                 adversary   mouth-opened                    give (plural)

gaba-ri, "enemy", as written on this tablet and on Tablet #36.

This line appears word-for-word on Tablet #36, but on BE 31,28 it has a slight difference.
There is a small vertical mark added to gaba. It’s a very minor difference, but it’s enough to change the definition of the sign. With the added mark, gaba becomes isin, meaning “stalk”. Stalk doesn’t make any sense in the sentence, making it confusing for the reader. It also “hides” the enemy (gaba-ri). In a way, the enemy disappears completely behind that one
single stalk. Now there’s no enemy in the sentence, only a stalk, so the reader would not guess that la2 in the previous sentence actually means “to throttle”. In a normal sentence,
la2 has a dozen other meanings that would make more sense in the context of a stalk
(“small, light, hold, carry”, to name just a few). So, without an enemy in this sentence,
it’s unlikely that anyone would correctly guess the meaning of “throttle” for the sign la2. Fortunately, I was able to easily read the above sentence because it is written correctly on Tablet #36. Otherwise it would have been a struggle to decipher this sentence if I was reading it for the first time.

Without an enemy in this sentence, there is no conflict. Without a conflict, the overall context of the tablet becomes difficult to discern, making it harder to translate the tablet. When I was trying to translate Tablet #36, a big breakthrough occurred when I realized there was a
conflict in the story, so I was able to correctly interpret the signs by using this context.
On this tablet, the conflict is obscured by the simple addition of one little mark.

It's not like the scribe didn't know any better. He wrote the same sign (du8) correctly at the end of line o14.


o10 munu4 šu4 gu7  ĝeš-ur3  ne   ?    [maḫX   gu7-ka   be6]               ud?!
       malt all fodder   abandon this       [great food-mouth (eating) to diminish]


I drove myself crazy looking for a sign that looked like the first one in this sentence. Then I realized it is really just two signs joined together. The first sign is actually a simplified version of munu4, "malt", as shown on CDLI P392795. The second sign is U (šu4, "totality, all").
It seems I would have learned my lesson the first time, as explained in line o4 above.

I translated the rest of the line as, “This great eating to diminish!” because that’s the way it is written on Tablet #36 (line r10). The last sign in this sentence, designated as ud?!, should be be6, like on Tablet #36.


o11  nir-nu-      mu   uĝ3       gi         {d}en-lil2-a       suhuš    nu-  mu   mar
       lordly-not-he   people   judgment    Enlil          support   not-he    place


o12  dam a-ni henburX   tar gemeX-ni#  gemeX   zi2     li-      ne  henburX   tuku
       wife his  grain-his decide servant-her slave  cut    twig  this(one)  grain-his  get

There are two trick signs in this sentence, henburX and gemeX. They both occur twice.
See Sumerian Trick Signs.


o13    ta-a-aš                        šag4     ba/zu!         mahX                 lugud2
          why?  what reason?  stomach  know          great                  reduction

 zu, as it appears in line r2

zu!:  A variation of this sentence occurs on Tablet #36. It is written šag4 zu mahX lugud2,
“his stomach knows a great reduction”, meaning "a great hunger". In the above sentence, zu seems to be written as ba, but it is actually zu. The scribe uses a very simplified version of zu in line r2, with only one interior vertical line, as shown on the above left. The scribe omits the vertical line for the sign in the above sentence so that it looks like ba.

As explained in o9, the scribe adds a mark to gaba so that it looks like isin. Now the scribe omits a line on zu so that it looks like ba. The scribe does this several times on the tablet. That's why many signs in the line-drawing are denoted with a "!", meaning "written wrong".
Of course they could all be scribal errors, but I believe they're done deliberately to obscure
the meaning of the text. Sometimes the scribe adds a mark, (gaba o9, dim2 o20, and še r9). Sometimes he omits a mark (zu o13 and zuh r6). They are all signs that are written correctly elsewhere on the tablet.

It's just a little something something here and there to keep the reader off balance.

The scribe of Tablet #36 does something similar. On four out of five occurrences of gu4 (bull), the sign is missing the vertical mark,


o14 geštin si  mu   sur-sur  henburX a-ni    ir     gar    gemeX-la     du8-du8
      wine   fill  he squeezes henbur   his plunder pile  slave-happy  spread


o15  mu-lu   lu2    du    a-    ak     i    bar  mu  du  lum   ma  mu   ukur3  dim2!
        PN   person go    to-  act defeat outside he walk manure he pauper made


o16 nunusX-a! lu     nu-kal-la            nunusX           nu-zid                    na
     woman-in abundance not-powerful   no-woman  no- virtue                man

NunusX is the trick sign of this tablet. It is best explained with pictures on a separate page,
see Nu-nus.

The sign a! is explained below in line o20b.


o17  u4-da-am3              mu-lu          ab-ba        ba-an-tu       dal/dirig    en
        storm-like                PN            father            PN       fly/supreme  lord

RI = dal/dirig = fly/supreme.

Dal is a verb meaning “to fly”. If used as such, the verb is awkwardly placed in the sentence, almost at the end of the line with just one sign dangling after it. Another interpretation is that the sign is a seldom-used alternative definition for dirig, an adjective meaning “supreme”.
In this case it would apply to en (lord), meaning “supreme lord”. But if it’s used this way,
then the sentence is lacking a verb.

I doubt that it’s a scribal error, that the scribe simply forgot to add the verb. I believe the sentence was deliberately written this way to make it difficult to read. I also think the scribe fully intended for the sign to do “double duty” as both a verb and an adjective, so that’s
the way I used it:  “Like a storm Mulu flies to his father Bantu, the supreme lord.” 

In Sumerian, if a syllable begins with the same letter that the previous syllable ended with, then the syllables merge together. Thus, Ba-an-tu becomes Ban-tu.


o18  šag4-kug bad   i-bi2 (ES, igi)     za sa                          a             na
       heart-pure open      behold      bead jewelry                  of           stone


o19  bi        sam2 sam2        aĝ2-(ES, niĝ2)-ne         pisan      gu7- gu7
        these      barter                 thing-this                basket       food

As per the Sumerian Lexicon, page 228, sam2 (sa10) means, “n., equivalent; (barter) purchase; sale price; merchandise (Akk. loanword from šīmu(m) I, ‘to buy, purchase;
goods for commerce” and “v., to barter, exchange”.


o20a  i-bi2 (ES, igi) mahX! ba dim2   mahX-         mahX                   dim2
         behold          great gift  make  splendid      magnificent       to fashion

Ba usually means "give" (verb). Here it means "gift" (noun).


o20b                             ta-nu                 kar!                   bi
                                    from-not        marketplace         these

    a      nunusX     nunusX-a !              kar !               kar (te-a)  

In o16, nunusX-a is written with the sign a compressed between nunusX and lu, as if it had
originally been omitted and then squeezed in afterwards (as shown in the third sign from the left, denoted by the ! ). As a result, the sign a looks like three vertical strokes. These same vertical strokes appear after the sign kar! (te-a), even though there is plenty of room to draw the sign a correctly. I don't know if was carelessness on the part of the scribe or if it was done to obscure the meaning of the sign kar.

Mulu. Or is it Zuzu?



r1 dam šag4-egir2  nu-  mes- ba     za-e     umuš    [...]
    wife heart-princess not-hero-give   you    plan


r2   gemeX-gin zu!                  am3                 ta                       [lal]
      maidservant- trust inform   that                 character           [lack]

Lal/la2, “lack, deficiency”. The end of this sentence is damaged, but the corresponding line on SEM 114 (r5) shows lal at the end of the line, meaning “a lack of character”.


r3 1{diš}-ta    še-am3       ad        pad3        ne               [en na ba]
one-each sale price       bead      reveal       this              [lord stone give]

En na ba. These signs occur at the end of r6 on tablet SEM 114. It translates as “the lord
gave you these stones (beads)”.

Sam2/še-am3:  The sign sam2 is composed of the sign ninda, which forms the outer shell, and the internal signs of še-am3, as shown below. In the above sentence, only the signs
še-am3 appear. Perhaps the scribe omitted the ninda portion of the sign, intentionally or not. On the other hand, the corresponding line on SEM 114 reads "še 1{diš} sila3", which translates as "grain 1 unit" (še is the sign for grain) as the selling price for each bead. So perhaps the above line should read "1 each [unit of] grain" for each bead. Take your pick.


r4   bi           sam2-sam2         aĝ2-(ES, niĝ2)-ne   pisan-sur3#   [x,...]
      these       purchase                  thing-this        basket-half

At the end of the corresponding line on SEM 114 (r7) there appears to be a damaged and compressed version of šaḫ2, meaning “pig”, which leads me to believe that the half basket contains “pig slop”. Mulu "eats his food like a pig" and so does Lu-mah on Tablet #36.


r5    u3       za-e          zu-     nu nunusX  e-ne-[eĝ3#? (ES, inim)] [...]
      and      you        know-   not woman  ...

I translated this line as, "You don't know women", but with the trick meaning of the sign
nu-nus, this line could easily be translated as, "You don't know beads." Both translations fit perfectly in the context of the story, and I believe both versions are the intended meanings
of the signs. That is why I used both versions in the translation..


r6 lu2-zuh!-   ir-      ra          nu-nus      munus-kin               du3   [...]
    man-rob-plunder-to/for     woman      prostitute                all

Gu3/zuh/saĝ: This phrase occurs in line r2 of Tablet #36, except it is written as lu2 gu3 ir, “man who cries out (bellows) for plunder”. In the above sentence, it is clearly written as
lu2 saĝ ir. It is also written this way on r10 of SEM 114. With saĝ it could be translated as “he who is a person who plunders”, which is awkward sounding. So I translated it as zuh, which means “to steal”, i.e., “man who robs and plunders”, because it sounds better and it does not change the meaning of the sentence. The sign was probably miswritten to obscure the meaning of the sentence. KA (gu3,zuh) and saĝ are essentially the same sign, except ka
has a few more interior marks. As mentioned before, the scribe adds or omits marks on a sign to keep the reader off balance.

Munus-kin:  Munus means “woman”, kin means “work”. I suggest that munus-kin means “prostitute”. The definition doesn't appear in the ePSD, the ETCSL, or the Sumerian Lexicon. The only occurrence of the signs on the CDLI is an inscription on a statue of Gudea (431884, lines 54 – 58).  The lines describe the people that Gudea cast out of the city during the dedication of the holy temple of Ningirsu:

The sexually impure persons who inspire fear,
the [...] man,  {lu2 si gi4-a, the man who “deflowers” women?}
he with a shriveled(?) penis,
and the woman who had been in labor(?),  {munus-kin}
he sent out of the city.

The question mark after “the woman who had been in labor(?)” shows that the translator had serious doubts about this interpretation of munus-kin. Rightfully so, because if Gudea exiled all the women who had been in labor, then most of the women would have ended up outside the city walls. Plus, Gudea would not punish the women who gave birth to the citizens of his country. Notice how the other people on the list could be described as “sexual deviants”.
That means munus-kin also has a sexual connotation. So perhaps woman-work is like
“working girl” in English, a euphemism for a prostitute. KIN also means to love or to seek.
A “woman to love” or a “woman to seek” both suggest a prostitute. Now it makes sense that Gudea would banish the prostitutes from the city during the dedication of a new temple.

Munus-kin appears in line r10 of The Great Fatted Jackass where it also means a prostitute.

I therefore suggest that munus-kin means "prostitute". Surprisingly, it's always been thought that the Sumerians didn't have a word for prostitute. I say, "Of course the did."


r7  e-ne-eĝ3 (ES, inim)   pisan#?    gu7-gu7        sag    du   [x, ...]
        decree                  basket        food         person  go


r8  aĝ2 (ES, niĝ2) pap  zu2-zu2  gu3      anše-    la-      bala  [x, ...]
    possessions elder brother PN bray  donkey- happy- replacement


r9     e-ne        ze2-eĝ3 (ES, šum2, twice)     mu-lu   gana2-še!-lu     zu2-zu2
        she                 gives                            PN    field-grain-abundant PN

Še/mu:  In the line-drawing, this sign is clearly written as mu:  “Mulu gana2 Mulu Zuzu”,
which suggests that the princess wife is giving Mulu’s fields to both Mulu and Zuzu.
I find this to be highly unlikely. There’s no way that the wife is giving Mulu half of his fields;
she barely wants to give him a half basket of pig slop. Plus, it doesn’t make sense that the
wife is giving back to Mulu what he already owned, which she has already taken from him.
Besides, this would shortchange Zuzu, who is her co-conspirator, and who clearly expects
to get all of the fields. On the other hand, if you ignore the horizontal line in mu, the sign
looks like ŝe (grain), so the sentence would read Mulu gana2- ŝe-lu Zuzu, which translates
as “Mulu’s abundant fields of grain” that are given to Zuzu. This makes sense because Zuzu
is being given Mulu’s fields as a reward for his part in the conspiracy. It is written this way
to obscure the meaning of the sentence, just like all the other instances where the scribe
slightly alters the signs with the addition of a single mark.


r10  libir       za-e          lu2    mah#?   lu                          me              en
     live long   you         person great  abundant                to be             lord

Mah, "great":  This damaged sign may be a compressed version of mah, but I'm not too sure about it. In the meantime, it is simply a "place saver" until I figure out a different interpretation of the sign, if indeed there is one.


r11   a-gug2    a-gug2   gug2-a   egir2 mur hur                  hur            ?
       of-cake    of-cake  cake-of princess fodder forever      ever again

The use of three identical signs in a row (with different meanings) occurs three times on
Tablet #36. They also occur three times on this tablet, twice in this sentence alone, and once
in r8. They are intended to make the tablet difficult to read. This is the only instance where three signs in a row mean three different things (instead of just two, like other examples).
Mur means "fodder", hur means "forever" and "ever again". The "ever again" adds a nice
twist to the end of the story, suggesting the events have happened before, and they will
happen again, ever again, for all of eternity. It's very clever.


lower margin  

 te?     4{diš}      ?

© April 2015.  All rights reserved.