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
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


   anše, the Sumerian sign for "donkey"

Transliteration of tablet SEM 114, the story of The Great Fatted Jackass.

by Jerald Jack Starr


Tablet SEM 114. Much of the tablet is heavily damaged.

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.

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

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




o1   […] mahX lugud2   

             great tight/reduced

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 repeatedly on BE 31 28, The Princess Wife.

This line occurs on both Tablet #36 and BE 31,28 (BE 28 for short). It happens after the wives
have given away all of the grain that belongs to Lu-mah and Mulu, and they both know
“a great hunger”, i.e., their stomachs know a great tightness/reduction.

On Tablet #36, the corresponding line is r14:  ta (ES, a-na, interrogative) dili šag4 zu
, “’What? Only one?’ His stomach knows a great hunger.” On BE 28, the corresponding line is o13:  ta-a-aš šag4 ba/zu? maḫX lugud2, “’Why? For what reason?’
His stomach knows a great hunger.”


o2   […] še pisan#? sa-sa gar gemeX  #? tah tah  [...]  

             grain basket jewelry heap slave woman adds

GemeX is a "trick sign" for geme2, meaning a "female servant or slave". Geme2 is usually written with three reverse cunei, but gemeX is written with only two, so that it looks like gu, "cord". This was meant to help disguise the meaning of the text, as explained in Sumerian Trick Signs.

In this sentence, the wife has given Mulu's grain and his jewelry to the slave women.


o3   […] ma mu du lum ma mu ukur3# x  

             go he walk manure country he pauper x

On BE 28 line o15, the sentence reads, mu-lu lu2 du a ak i bar mu du lum ma mu ukur3 dim2, “Mulu person go to act defeat outside he walk manure he pauper made”, which translates as “Mulu goes away acting like a man defeated. Outside, he walks in the manure of the country. He has become a pauper.”

Ukur3, "pauper", is composed of the signs lal2 and du. Here, du is crowded under the overhang of lal2 (see below right) as if the scribe forgot to write it and then had to add it later after the sentence had been written. Or perhaps he was concerned about running out of space on this crowded line. I never would have been able to figure out the sign if I hadn't already read ukur3 on BE 28. For comparison purposes, du is also written in this sentence (third sign from the left). The sign ukur3 is also written this way on another tablet, probably to save space (see a Sumerian proverb; ukur3 is the first sign).


o4   […] nu-zid na

             no-virtue man

On BE 28 line o16, the sentence reads, nu-nus-a lu nu-kal-la nu-nus nu-zid na, “woman-in abundance not-powerful no-woman no-virtue man”. In English it is, “While the women live in abundance, he is a man without power, without women, and without virtue.”


o5   […] ab# ba an-še šu dal/dirig?

On BE 28 line o17, this portion of the line reads ab-ba ba-an-tu (with two ba(s)). Ab-ba means “father”, so Mulu’s father is named ba-an-tu (Bantu). Here, it is written with just one ba, so the ba could apply either to ab-ba (father), or to the father’s name, ba-an-še (Banše, or perhaps Banšešu) because ab by itself also means “father”. Either way, notice that the father’s name contains a pun for donkey (an-še = anše).

SEM 114, reverse  


r1   […,x] ne za pisan […] 

               this, bead(s) basket

Here and in the next two lines is where Mulu’s father shows him the beads that he can exchange for baskets of food.


r2   … sa10-aĝ2-(ES, niĝ2)-ne pisan # …  

          purchase thing-this basket


r3   […] pisan pisan [x x ...]

         basket basket


r4   […] zu umuš ? uĝ3 egir? za e aĝ2 [x ...]

This line on BE 28 (r1) is where the princess tells Mulu that she’s wise to his plan to [x,x]. Unfortunately, that line, like this one, is also damaged, so it is difficult to discern its meaning.


r5   x ba zu! za!-an (am3) ta lal

      ? ?  know that character lack

On BE 28 (line r2) the servant girl has informed the wife of Mulu’s lack of character. There am3 is written correctly. Here am3 (a-an) is miswritten as za-an.


r6   še 1{diš} sila3 am3 pisan#? [pad3 ne] en na ba

      grain 1 unit that basket [purchase price reveals] lord stone gave

On r3 of BE 28, the beginning of this line is written correctly as 1{diš}-ta še-am3, “one-each sale-price”. Here the signs are written out of order and ta is miswritten or incorrectly transcribed in the line-drawing. The [pad3 ne] is from BE 28 r3. These two lines together clearly translate as, “The selling price for each bead also reveals that the lord gave you these stones {beads}.”  


r7   bi aĝ2-(ES, niĝ2) sa10- aĝ2-(ES, niĝ2)  # # šah2?-ne  

      these things purchase # # pig?-this

This is where the wife makes a counter offer to Mulu. The damaged sign (second from the right) is probably a compressed version of šah2 (pig). This leads me to believe that on BE 28 the princess wife is offering Mulu a half basket of pig slop in exchange for the beads.


r8   [na]-la-ba-ni-ur la2-la2-{e} en  

      [man]-not-his-servant throttle lord

Versions of this line occur on Tablet #36 (r8) and BE 28 (o8).

In the stories of The Great Fatted Bull and The Princess Wife, the attack happens under the cover of darkness, so the identity of the assailant remains a mystery. In the story here, the attack happens in broad daylight, after the negotiations have been concluded.


r9   munus-ĝal2 za-e ki#?-aĝ2 lu2 kalag [...]
      unmarried-woman you love man strong

Munus-ĝal2, woman-available occurs in line r15 of Tablet #36. I translated it as “unmarried woman" because she seems to offer Lu-mah many fields of grain as a kind of marriage dowry.


r10   lu2 zuh! [ir#] ra munus munus-kin [du3 ...]  
        man-rob-plunder-for woman prostitute all

Zuh!/saĝ and munus-kin(prostitute) are both explained in line r6 of the transliteration for BE 28.


r11   e-ne-eĝ3 (ES, inim) pisan# gu7 gu7 sag [du ...]
       decree basket food person go

This sentence also occurs on BE 28, line r7.


r12   […] zu2-zu2 […]


There’s Zuzu, the brother of Mulu.

© April 2015. All rights reserved.