Wednesday, August 7, 2013

It's 1984 BC

Piotr Michalowski makes the following observation:
Although contemporary evidence is still sparse, it appears that sometime under Ur-Namma and Šulgi the masters of the academies wiped the literary slate clean and discarded all but a few of the old compositions that went back to Early Dynastic times. They kept most of the lexical teaching tools but discarded old narratives, replacing them with materials written in honor of the contemporary ruling house—royal hymns, stories about their Uruk ancestors, and so on. (Piotr Michalowski, The Correspondence of the Kings of Ur (Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns, 2011), 9.)
So, according to Michalowski, the Ur III kings were not only reformers but systematically rewrote the historical and literary record. Fortunately they overlooked Lagash which has provided a treasure trove of inscriptional material unedited by the Ur III censors. The problem with Orwell's novel 1984 is that it aimed to be futuristic.

One irony, however, is that most of our literary accounts of the Ur III period come from the Old Babylonian period and have a tendency to depict the Ur III monarchs in less than flattering terms.