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Parodying Songs of Praise: towards an understanding of Sumerian mock hymns

April 6, 2022 @ 7:00 pm9:00 pm

Invitation to an online lecture


Dr. Jana Matuszak

University of Tübingen


Parodying Songs of Praise: towards an understanding of Sumerian mock hymns


Wednesday, 6 April 2022, 19:00 (GMT +3)


Sumerian literature is recognized as the world’s oldest literature. It has only been recovered in the last century and this pioneering work continues today. While most major compositions such as epics and myths are available in modern translations, Sumerian mock hymns are hitherto completely unknown.

Taking as its starting point a nearly 4000 years old Sumerian literary text that has so far defied translation and interpretation, the paper will outline possible approaches to better understand a small group of texts whose genre is open to question. Previous scholarship – virtually non-existent as it is – has solely highlighted the texts’ derogative content, consisting of an abundance of verbal abuse directed at stereotypical incompetent and morally depraved characters. Allegedly devoid of literary sophistication, they have been dismissed as half-baked exercises in invective. By shifting the focus to their formal resemblance to hymns, I argue that these texts are not mere collections of random insults but can more aptly be described as parodies of hymns, or mock hymns. The longest and most complex of these compositions moreover contains intertextual allusions to practically all genres of Sumerian literature, ranging from proverbs to lamentations, from epics to love songs, and from lexical lists to prayers. The mock hymns hence reveal important new insights not only into the reception of traditional Sumerian literature from the 3rd millennium BCE by Babylonian scribes in the early 2nd millennium BCE, but also into the composition of humorous new texts in the intellectual milieux of Babylonia.


Dr. Jana Matuszak is Assistant Professor in Sumerology at the Institute for Ancient Near Eastern Studies (IANES) at the University of Tübingen, Germany and co-editor of the bi-annually published academic journal Altorientalische Forschungen. Previously she worked as Research and Teaching Associate at the University of Jena and as Lecturer in Ancient Near Eastern Studies at SOAS University of London. Her research focuses on the recovery of Sumerian literature, the intersection of gender, law and morality in Mesopotamia, as well as the intellectual history of Babylonia. Her award-winning PhD dissertation was published in 2021 by De Gruyter under the title “Und du, du bist eine Frau?!” Editio princeps und Analyse des sumerischen Streitgesprächs ‘Zwei Frauen B.’ With the support of a Gerald D. Feldman travel grant of the Max Weber Foundation Dr. Matuszak is currently conducting field-research in Istanbul as a visiting scholar at the Orient-Institut Istanbul.


April 6, 2022
7:00 pm – 9:00 pm