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
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The Sumerian Scribe
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A not-so-fatted Sumerian donkey. Detail from a rein post found in the grave of
Queen Pu-abi. Click here to see the entire image.

Translation of cuneiform Tablet SEM 114, the story of The Great Fatted Jackass
by: Jerald Jack Starr


Tablet SEM 114 obverse (front). Much of the tablet is heavily damaged.
Fortunately, the reverse side of the tablet is in better shape, as shown below.
SEM stands for Sumerian Epics and Myths.

Tablet SEM 114 was first discovered a hundred years ago. Edward Chiera first attempted to translate this tablet in the early part of the twentieth century, but he could not read the tablet. Chiera was a world renowned Sumerologist, an expert in the field. He has almost 500 translations listed on the CDLI. I've studied so many of his transliterations, I can recognize
one of his line-drawings from a mile away. Chiera could translate anything written in the Sumerian language, including massive, complex literary tablets, and yet he could not read
this one simple tablet.

Most of the tablet is damaged or destroyed, but it's clearly a version of The Great Fatted Bull
and The Princess Wife, the latter story in particular. All three are basically the same story;
and many of the sentences match word for word. All three tablets satirize lords and kings.
Since this was a risky thing to do (powerful kings didn't like someone making fun of them)
many of the same tricks are used to disguise the meaning of the text. The encoded writing
is why Chiera could not translate this tablet; not even another Sumerian scribe could
translate it without first knowing the secret context (subject) of the story.

But I already knew the secret context of the story (from The Great Fatted Bull and BE 31,28, The Princess Wife). I'm also wise to the scribes' tricks, so this translation wasn't too difficult for me.

I wanted to give Tablet BE 28 the title of "The Great Fatted Jackass" to match Tablet #36,
The Great Fatted Bull. The tale told on BE 28 is about Mulu, the Great Fatted Donkey,
but I was going to call it The Great Fatted Jackass because I thought it better expresses
his true nature. However, the main character in the story is Mulu's wife, the princess.
It's really her story more than his, so instead I entitled it The Princess Wife. I did so
reluctantly; it seemed a shame to waste a good title like "The Great Fatted Jackass".

Fortunately, this tablet is a variation of the story of The Great Fatted Donkey. It has many of the same sentences, but in a different order. It also has the brother Zuzu. So as it turns out, there is no need to waste a good title:

The Great Fatted Jackass


Tablet SEM 114 obverse.

Note:  This tablet is an abbreviated copy of BE 31 28, so after reading this "pocket edition",
you may want to read The Princess Wife to get the full meaning of the story.

For those of you who are interested in this sort of thing, the Transliteration is given on a
separate page. Select the Transliteration tab on the left.

This is a "composite translation". Some of the details are supplied from the undamaged portions of Tablet #36 and BE 31,28. This is standard procedure for "filling in the blanks"
on damaged tablets.

[x-x] = damaged text   [...] = text supplied from other tablets   {... } = explanatory comments

After the damaged area on the tablet, the story begins when Mulu's wife has taken away his
henbur grain. She's gives him with just one single twig of his grain.

o1  [...] [His stomach knows] a great hunger   

o2  [... ] His heaps of grain and jewelry are given to his slave women.

o3  [He goes away acting like a man defeated.] He walks in the manure of the country.
      He has become a pauper.

o4  [He is a man without power, without women] and without virtue.

o5  [He goes to] his father ba-an-še  {a pun on anše, the Sumerian word for donkey}



Reverse (back of the tablet).

r1  [His father shows him] a basket of [stone] beads.

r2  “Barter these for baskets of [x,x...]”  {Mulu can trade the beads for food from his wife}

r3  […] baskets [x,x… ]

r4  [something, something]

r5  [The wife says, “My trusted maidservant] has informed me about your lack of character.”

r6  “One unit of grain [for each bead reveals] that the lord gave you these stones {beads}.”

r7  "So these I will purchase with a a basket of [x,x]"

r8  The "[man] not his servant" and the lord throttle each other.

r9  An unmarried woman says, “I love you!  You are a strong man!”             

r10  The wife says, “For men who rob and plunder, all women are prostitutes.

r11 “I decree that the baskets of food go to the person […]”

r12 […]  Zuzu  […]

©  April 19, 2015. All rights reserved.