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Babylonian and Assyrian Literature   By:

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BABYLONIAN AND ASSYRIAN LITERATURE

COMPRISING THE EPIC OF IZDUBAR, HYMNS, TABLETS, AND CUNEIFORM INSCRIPTIONS

WITH A SPECIAL INTRODUCTION BY EPIPHANIUS WILSON, A.M.

REVISED EDITION

1901

SPECIAL INTRODUCTION

The great nation which dwelt in the seventh century before our era on the banks of Tigris and Euphrates flourished in literature as well as in the plastic arts, and had an alphabet of its own. The Assyrians sometimes wrote with a sharp reed, for a pen, upon skins, wooden tablets, or papyrus brought from Egypt. In this case they used cursive letters of a Phoenician character. But when they wished to preserve their written documents, they employed clay tablets, and a stylus whose bevelled point made an impression like a narrow elongated wedge, or arrow head. By a combination of these wedges, letters and words were formed by the skilled and practised scribe, who would thus rapidly turn off a vast amount of "copy." All works of history, poetry, and law were thus written in the cuneiform or old Chaldean characters, and on a substance which could withstand the ravages of time, fire, or water. Hence we have authentic monuments of Assyrian literature in their original form, unglossed, unaltered, and ungarbled, and in this respect Chaldean records are actually superior to those of the Greeks, the Hebrews, or the Romans.

The literature of the Chaldeans is very varied in its forms. The hymns to the gods form an important department, and were doubtless employed in public worship. They are by no means lacking in sublimity of expression, and while quite unmetrical they are proportioned and emphasized, like Hebrew poetry, by means of parallelism. In other respects they resemble the productions of Jewish psalmists, and yet they date as far back as the third millennium before Christ. They seem to have been transcribed in the shape in which we at present have them in the reign of Assurbanipal, who was a great patron of letters, and in whose reign libraries were formed in the principal cities. The Assyrian renaissance of the seventeenth century B.C. witnessed great activity among scribes and book collectors: modern scholars are deeply indebted to this golden age of letters in Babylonia for many precious and imperishable monuments. It is, however, only within recent years that these works of hoar antiquity have passed from the secluded cell of the specialist and have come within reach of the general reader, or even of the student of literature. For many centuries the cuneiform writing was literally a dead letter to the learned world. The clue to the understanding of this alphabet was originally discovered in 1850 by Colonel Rawlinson, and described by him in a paper read before the Royal Society. Hence the knowledge of Assyrian literature is, so far as Europe is concerned, scarcely more than half a century old.

Among the most valuable of historic records to be found among the monuments of any nation are inscriptions, set up on public buildings, in palaces, and in temples. The Greek and Latin inscriptions discovered at various points on the shores of the Mediterranean have been of priceless value in determining certain questions of philology, as well as in throwing new light on the events of history. Many secrets of language have been revealed, many perplexities of history disentangled, by the words engraven on stone or metal, which the scholar discovers amid the dust of ruined temples, or on the cippus of a tomb. The form of one Greek letter, perhaps even its existence, would never have been guessed but for its discovery in an inscription. If inscriptions are of the highest critical importance and historic interest, in languages which are represented by a voluminous and familiar literature, how much more precious must they be when they record what happened in the remotest dawn of history, surviving among the ruins of a vast empire whose people have vanished from the face of the earth?

Hence the cuneiform inscriptions are of the utmost interest and value, and present the greatest possible attractions to the curious and intelligent reader... Continue reading book >>




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