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Mon Aug 22, 2022, 02:14 PM

The languages that live forever

More than 2,000 years ago, in a temple in the city of Borsippa in ancient Mesopotamia, in what is now modern-day Iraq, a student was doing his homework. His name was Nabu-kusurshu, and he was training to be a temple brewer. His duties involved brewing beer for religious offerings, but also, learning to keep administrative records on clay tablets in cuneiform script, and preserving ancient hymns by making copies of worn-out tablets. These daily tasks, and his devotion to beer, writing and knowledge, made him part of an extraordinarily resilient literary legacy.

Cuneiform had already been around for roughly 3,000 years by the time Nabu-kusurshu picked up his reed stylus. It was invented by the Sumerians, who initially used it to record rations of food and indeed, beer paid to workers or delivered to temples. Over time, the Sumerian texts became more complex, recording beautiful myths and songs including one celebrating the goddess of brewing, Ninkasi, and her skilled use of "the fermenting vat, which makes a pleasant sound". When Sumerian gradually slid out of common use, and was replaced by the more modern Akkadian, scribes cleverly wrote long lists of signs in both languages, essentially creating ancient dictionaries, to make sure the wisdom of the oldest tablets would always be understood.

Nabu-kusurshu's generation, who would have spoken Akkadian or maybe Aramaic in everyday life, was among the last to use the cuneiform script. But he probably assumed that he was just one ordinary young writer in a long line of writers, preserving cuneiform for many more generations, under the benevolent eye of Nabu, the god of writing and "scribe of the universe". He faithfully copied the old tablets, noting down for example that a Sumerian sign pronounced "u", could mean marriage gift, burglar, or buttocks. He wrote on the tablets that he copied them "for his own study", perhaps as practice or scholarship, and placed them in the temple as an offering.

"He's learning how to write, and learning these lists, alongside other things, and then dedicating his work to the god Nabu and the temple," says Jay Crisostomo, a professor of ancient Near Eastern civilisations and languages at the University of Michigan, who has studied Nabu-kusurshu's tablets in depth.

It was these humble lists, quietly written in the shadow of a giant ziggurat a pyramid-shaped stepped temple tower that would earn Nabu-kusurshu immortality.

https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20220818-how-to-write-a-message-to-the-future

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Reply The languages that live forever (Original post)
Jilly_in_VA Aug 2022 OP
SWBTATTReg Aug 2022 #1
Igel Aug 2022 #2

Response to Jilly_in_VA (Original post)

Mon Aug 22, 2022, 03:19 PM

1. Literally the power of the pen, over thousands of years, earned this lowly clerk immortality. ...

Amazing what the power of the pen/scribe is.

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Response to SWBTATTReg (Reply #1)

Tue Aug 23, 2022, 08:50 PM

2. More like "resurrection."

Unknown for millennia, and now known to a very small number.

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