The Great Fatted Bull
Tablet #36
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Sumerian History
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Vulture Stele Translation
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War Chariot Deconstructed
Gudea Translation
The Face of Gudea
The Face of Ur-Ningirsu
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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
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Helmet: the King of Kish
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 A Sumerian princess

Tablet BE 31,28 was found by the Babylonian Expedition of the University of Pennsylvania
in 1893. The first attempt to translate it was by Stephen Langdon in 1914. He thought
it was a Dialogue between Two Women, but he was unable to offer a complete translation
of the tablet so he did not publish it.

For the next hundred years many prominent Sumerologists also tried their hand at translating this tablet, but to no avail. Individual words and phrases hinted at many possible meanings for the story, but the tablet could not be read.

Until now.

This is my translation of BE 28. It is not a Dialogue between Two Women. It is actually the story of the young prince Mulu, otherwise known as The Great Fatted Donkey. It is similar to Tablet #36, the story of The Great Fatted Bull. Both stories are political satires about great lords and kings. Since mocking the nobility was a dangerous thing to do, both tablets were deliberately encoded to keep their meaning secret. Puns, “trick signs”, and clever wordplay were used to disguise the meaning of the tablets, making them almost impossible to decipher. That is why modern Sumerologists had so much difficulty reading them. Not even another Sumerian scribe could easily read these tablets.

Many of the same events occur in both stories, and many of the sentences in The Great Fatted Donkey seem to have been lifted word-for-word from The Great Fatted Bull. In addition, both stories include murder mysteries that the readers must solve for themselves using the clues provided.

You may be wondering why I keep referring to the Fatted Donkey when this tablet is entitled The Princess Wife. That's because the donkey prince is the central character in the story,
but in my opinion, his wife is the star of the show.

In the story of The Great Fatted Bull, the wife is deliberately hidden in the background to enshroud her in mystery and to conceal her part in the conspiracy. She doesn't even have a speaking role; she doesn't say one word throughout the entire narrative. I doubt many readers would realize the wife’s importance to the story unless I pointed it out to them.

In the story of The Great Fatted Donkey, the wife is front and center. She’s the one doing
all of the talking and making all of the decisions. She’s clearly the boss, even in the presence of her husband (the prince) and his father (the lord).

Apparently there were several versions of The Great Fatted Donkey making the rounds in scribal circles (see my translation of The Great Fatted Jackass). BE 28 is a later variation of the original donkey theme, but unlike the others, it is written from the woman's point of view. While I was translating this tablet, even though I didn't know all of the signs, I kept thinking, "That's a woman talking." It was like hearing a faint voice in the distance. I couldn't hear
what was being said, just a few words here and there, but I knew it was a woman's voice.

For these and other reasons, I believe that BE 28 was written by a woman. Female scribes
were a rarity in ancient Mesopotamia, but many noblewomen were taught to read and write
so they could be the high priestesses of important temples (a high priestess was always
a noblewoman). A notable example was Urukagina’s wife Sasa, who was the high priestess and chief administrator for the temple of the goddess Ba-u. Another example is Enheduana, the daughter of Sargon the Great. She was the first female author in history. Perhaps the author of The Princess Wife was herself a princess, and hence her affinity for the part.
In this regard she would be just like Sasa or Enheduana – a woman, a scribe, an author,
a princess and a priestess.

It may be too much to hope that the author was a princess, and it isn't really necessary.
Perhaps she was merely the daughter of a wealthy merchant (only rich people and the
nobility could afford scribal school because it was very expensive). She may have
become a scribe to help take care of her father's business in a family that had no son.

Nor is it necessary that the woman who wrote this story even knew how to read and write. Even if the scribe who actually wrote the signs on the tablet was a man, like most scribes,
the author of the story was certainly a woman, possibly his wife. She's the one who came up with the storyline. Here’s how I see it happening:  A scribe is reading the story of The Great Fatted Donkey to his wife. It has the usual ending, like that of The Great Fatted Bull, where the women are hidden in the background. They both have a good laugh about the story. Then the wife says, “That’s funny . . . but you know what would be even funnier? At the end, the wife of the prince starts talking. She tells him . . . Are you writing this down?”

In effect, the husband was just taking dictation. It was likewise for me while I was translating
this tablet. I was merely transcribing it the way she wanted me to write it, from the woman's
point of view.

This tablet is all about the women.

You've heard the story of The Princess Bride, now read the story of The Princess Wife.