The First Children’s Literature? The Case for Sumer / Gillian Adam

Posted by on Oct 7, 2013 in Library | Comments Off on The First Children’s Literature? The Case for Sumer / Gillian Adam

Children’s literature, as the term is generally understood today, cannot be said to exist before the eighteenth century and the advent of printed books marketed to children for their enjoyment. Some scholars, however, believe that works from earlier periods routinely associated with children, even if their purpose is didactic or they were not written specifically for children, can also be classified as children’s literature. Standard bibliographies of children’s literature begin with texts from the medieval period; in addition, recent scholarship has focused on medieval and renaissance literature associated with children.1 In fact, works just as closely associated with children are to be found at a much earlier period, in the oldest written literature so far recovered in any significant quantity, the Sumerian. This investigation of the Sumerian child’s literary world will describe these works and attempt to demonstrate how they reflect certain values found in Sumerian culture as a whole and how they are an important means for transmitting those values to the more influential members of Sumerian society.

Extant Sumerian literature consists of more than thirty thousand lines of text found in over five thousand tablets and fragments. It was composed by a people who lived in Mesopotamia (now the southern half of Iraq), between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. By the fourth century B.C., the Sumerians had developed an urban society organized into nine city-states headed by kings, who in turn were supported by a powerful priesthood and the scribal bureaucracy needed to administer an agricultural economy based on an elaborate, state-centered irrigation system. Although the earliest literary documents date from around 2400 B.C., before the conquest of Sumer and neighboring areas in 2334 B.C. by Sargon of Akkad, most of the texts discussed here come from the time of the Sumerian renaissance, which was ushered in by the founding of the Third Dynasty of Ur in 2112 B.C. The end of the Sumerian period and the[End Page 1] beginning of the Babylonian are marked by the accession of Hammurabi, King of Babylon, to the throne in 1792 B.C. Nevertheless, the culture of Mesopotamia, if not the language, remained predominantly Sumerian, and Sumerian language and literature continued to dominate the school curriculum until about 1000 B.C.2


Songs and lullabies provide the first literary experiences for many children. A “chant,” purported to be created by the wife of Shulgi, a ruler of the Third Dynasty of Ur, is the first lullaby known, according to Samuel Noah Kramer (History 327).3 Apparently troubled by the ill health of one of her sons, the Queen begins(trans. Kramer, History 329-31):

U-a a-u-a
In my ururu-chant may he grow big,
In my ururu-chant may he grow large,
Like the irina-tree may he grow stout of root,
Like the shakir-plant may he grow broad of crown.

After several lines she continues:

Come Sleep, come Sleep,
Come to where my son is,
Put to sleep his restless eyes,
Put your hand on his painted eyes,
And as for his babbling tongue,
Let not the babbling tongue shut out his sleep.

She goes on to promise her son lettuce and cheeses to make him feel better and toward the end of the chant wishes he may have a family, food, happiness, and the good will of the gods:

May the wife be your support,
May the son be your lot,
May the winnowed barley be your bride,
May Ashnan, the kusu-goddess be your ally,
May you have an eloquent guardian angel,
May you achieve a reign of happy days,
May the feasts make bright your forehead. [End Page 2]

This lullaby fulfills the definition of the genre in the Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature, “a song or chant designed to soothe babies or young children to sleep,” and predates by at least a thousand years the Roman lullaby “Lalla, lalla, lalla” there referred to (326). The Oxford Companion adds that the beginning of the term is said to derive from “lu” and “la”; the Sumerian lullaby begins with the same vowel sounds, although the initial l is missing. The Sumerian lullaby in addition invokes sleep and wishes for a bright future for the child, two salient characteristics of the lullaby as it is known today. Similar conclusions wishing for future benefits are also to be found in Sumerian works associated with older children, as is the shift from third person to direct address. There is a difference between the Sumerian lullaby and current lullabies, however; the former is directed at a particular child, addressed as “son of the lord Shulgi,” and not, as is usual, to an unspecified child. Still, it is not unreasonable to suppose the lullaby is a representative example of the lullabies Sumerian children heard from their elders.

The lullaby appears to be the only Mesopotamian text so far discovered that can be associated with preschool children. Although even very young children, to different degrees depending on their social status and location, would have come into contact with various types of oral literature, particularly of a religious nature, not enough is known about Mesopotamian oral culture to make valid generalizations about its content or audience.

There is much more substantive information about the literary world of those Mesopotamian children who went to school at theedubba or “tablet house.” The edubba was a private, secular institution, a center of learning and literary creation, established to train scribes for the palace and temple; not only were the classics copied there, but new works were also composed. Most, if not all, of the students were male and came from wealthy families and, since it was traditional for at least one son to follow his father’s profession, many were the children of scribes.4 School exercises, like other Mesopotamian texts, were written on clay tablets, which, particularly when baked, form the most durable writing surface yet devised. This fact provides two special advantages to the investigator of the origins of children’s literature. Not only have numerous baked tablets survived at sites of libraries, but unbaked clay tablets, discarded because clay was too cheap and readily available to bother erasing [End Page 3] and reusing, have been found at school sites, providing a gold mine of ephemera for modern cultural historians.5 Mesopotamians apparently learned to write by copying literary texts of progressive difficulty; on the premise that the skill of the calligraphy on a tablet provides an indicator of the educational level of the person who wrote it, the researcher is able to specify what texts formed a part of the student’s literary universe at each level (Gordon, Proverbs 20).

Click for larger view

“Schooldays: The Teacher’s Blessing.” Note the signature of the writer below the double line on the lefthand column of the tablet.

The conquest of Sumer and neighboring areas by Sargon of [End Page 4]

Click for larger view

Obverse of the “Schooldays” tablet.

Akkad complicated the task of training the scribal bureaucracy, since the result was the gradual replacement of spoken Sumerian by Akkadian, a Semitic tongue. Because Sumerian continued to be the official state language, in spite of the fact it was fast becoming a dead literary language like Latin in the European Middle Ages, a scribal education centered on the difficult task of learning to read and write it, and this circumstance may be partly responsible for the large number of surviving practice exercises. Exactly how children learned the Sumerian language is not certain, but on the evidence of[End Page 5] the lexical lists and grammatical texts that have survived, scholars once hypothesized that children first memorized vocabulary and the rules of grammar and then applied themselves to the texts (Kramer, Sumerians 235). Recently, however, H. L. J. Vanstiphout has demonstrated how the sixty-three line Lipit-eštar Hymn B, “Lipit-eštar, King of Justice, Wisdom and Learning,” could have been used for the teaching of Sumerian at the elementary level and how, as a beginner’s text, it covers the meaning of the signs used in Sumerian cuneiform, the basic features of the Sumerian verbal system, different sentence patterns, stylistic features, and phraseology. He bases his conclusion that the hymn served as an elementary text primarily on an analysis of its grammar and of the twenty tablets on which the text appears. Two tablets are obviously not first stage exercises; the remaining eighteen are large and clumsily written, and some contain vocabulary lists or short extracts of other works.

The simplicity of the hymn’s lexical and grammatical construction is not the only feature that makes it peculiarly suitable for teaching Sumerian on the elementary level; the content is also important. Learning to read and write Sumerian is difficult and tedious because the system of writing is syllabic, not alphabetic; children need to be encouraged by a sense of the importance of the task they are undertaking. In his analysis of the contents of the hymn, Vanstiphout points out that about a third of the text glorifies scribal activity and equates that activity with the functions of royalty. This is not simply a matter of inculcating loyalty to the king as a patron of the arts in those destined to serve in his bureaucracy. Rather the young student working with the text is encouraged to believe that as a scribe he will be doing what the king does, and thus what the goddess of scribes Nisaba wishes done, since the king’s hand is guided by hers (“How Did” 123-24). For example, the hymn addresses the king:

Nisaba, the woman radiant with joy,
The true woman scribe, the lady of all knowledge,
Guided your fingers on the clay,
Embellished the writing on the tablets,
Made the hand resplendent with a golden stylus.
The measuring rod, the gleaming surveyor’s line,
The cubit ruler which gives wisdom,
Nisaba lavishly bestowed upon you.

(18-24a) [End Page 6]

Later the hymn makes the identification of scribal and royal activity even more concrete:

Lipit-eštar, king of Isin, king of Sumer and Akkad,
To Nippur you are the Scribe;


The Lipit-eštar hymn posits an integral relationship between the goddess, the king as chief-scribe, and the scribes who serve as his instruments and act as his surrogates, literally as well as figuratively ruling his royal city of Nippur and the other city-states subject to it. The child is implicitly promised that if he learns to be a scribe, he will be second only to the king in power, in prestige, and in carrying out the will of the gods. The hymn to the king as the son of Enlil, the air-god, concludes:

Your praise shall ne ver disappear from the clay in the Edubba;
May every scribe therefore sing of this bliss
And glorify you greatly,
So that your laudation in the Edubba shall not cease.
O leading shepherd, youthful son of Enlil,
Lipit-eštar, be praised!

(59-63) (trans. Vanstiphout, “Lipit-eštar” 36-37)

In this passage the king’s fame and the scribal art are inextricably entwined; the immortality of one depends on the immortality of the other, and the final wish is for the immortality of both by means of the clay tablets of the school. Both the king and the young student, then, participate in a shared immortality guaranteed by the survival of the king’s persona in the literary work that embodies it and by the continuous copying of that work by beginning scholars.6


A type of literature which had much the same function as the Lipit-eštar hymn and which the Mesopotamians considered suitable for students at all stages of their education, but particularly at the first stage, was the proverb (Vanstiphout, “How Did” 126). Sumerian proverb collections contain not only the precepts, maxims, truisms, adages, and bywords generally classified as proverbs, but taunts, compliments, wishes, short fables, and anecdotes; it is often difficult to draw the line between one category and another (Gordon, [End Page 7] Proverbs 17). The proverbs are found on seven hundred tablets and fragments; some of these contain whole collections, while the most primitive are large, often clumsily written, school practice exercises containing one proverb or a line or two from one of the longer proverbs.7 Although there is evidence that scribes collected some of the proverbs, particularly those relating to household and family and those in dialect, from the oral tradition, they composed many of them themselves, presumably for the edubba (Gordon 19). Indeed the simplicity, brevity, and moral point of proverbs make them particularly attractive to educators working with beginners, especially if some of the proverbs are already well known to them. In addition, the proverbs and fables cover a wide range of subjects, enabling the student to master a large vocabulary in a number of fields.8 Whatever the source of the proverbs may have been, it was the scribal teachers who selected them and arranged them in the order in which they are to be found in the collections.

Not all of the twenty-seven or so proverbs found on the most primitive tablets, those used at the elementary teaching level, correspond to present-day American conceptions of what is suitable for young children. In fact, due to lack of concrete information, at present there appears to be no scholarly consensus on the age at which Mesopotamians began their studies at the edubba or how long they remained there. Kramer and Gadd routinely use the terms “boys,” “lads,” and “schoolboys”; Kramer, in his translation of the text “School-Days” discussed in detail below, calls the protagonist “young fellow” and “little fellow.” The student portrayed in this text is clearly quite young, as the opening question, “Where did you go from earliest days?” as well as the nature of his activities at school and of his infractions of the rules indicates (Kramer, Sumerians 237). On the other hand, one Sumerologist who read an earlier version of this essay suggests that students began about age nine to thirteen; yet another feels that the nature of the edubba curriculum makes an age before the early teens unlikely. But studies in child development and language acquisition indicate that it is far easier to teach computation, reading, writing, and foreign languages, even difficult languages such as Greek, to children than to adolescents, and that the mechanisms in the brain that facilitate learning of this type actually become moribund at puberty.9 Given the much shorter lifespan of [End Page 8] the average person prior to the twentieth century (and thus the brevity of childhood), any culture that delayed educating its members until almost half their lives were over would be highly inefficient.

If Sumerologists are correct in believing that texts were chosen primarily for their grammatical and lexical features and that their primary purpose was pragmatice—tarto teach writing—with content a secondary concern, the appropriateness or inappropriateness of certain texts to certain ages according to present standards is not a reliable indicator of the approximate age of the Sumerian student. Thus two proverbs that occur on more than one tablet, for example, have to do with the necessity for making a will; their purpose must have been to introduce pupils to the legal vocabulary (Gordon 1.67, 2.10).10 Other proverbs do seem to be more appropriate in content for young people: 1.79 (trans. Gordon 79), “Like a clod thrown into the water, he will be destroyed in his own splash,” is a warning against ostentation and presumption reiterated by 2.65 (trans. Kramer, Sumerians 226), “The fox trod upon the hoof of a wild ox, saying, ‘Didn’t it hurt?'” and 2.67 (trans. Gordon 222-223), “The fox, having urinated into the sea, [said,] ‘The whole[?] of the sea is my urine.'” But three more tablets of the same type contain proverbs from Collection Two about the evils of poverty, reflecting the Sumerian preoccupation with money and status: a variation on this theme is 2.137 (trans. Gordon 270):

Build like a [lord], go about like a slave!
Build like a [slave], go about like a lord!

Eight proverbs concern the scribal art as did the Hymn to Lipit-eštar: for example 2.49 (trans. Gordon 208), “A scribe who does not know Sumerian, where will he obtain[?], a translation[?]?”

When the proverbs that occur on tablets of the next higher level of skill are added to the twenty-seven on the most elementary tablets, practically every proverb in the two main collections is represented, since a number of proverbs occur on different tablets. Taken as a whole, the proverbs translated by Gordon in Collections One and Two, as well as those from the other five collections translated into English by Gordon, Kramer, and others, advocate good conduct, hard work, common sense, right-speaking, humility, and prudence,[End Page 9] and condemn haste, greed, and selfishness (Kramer,History 123).

Proverbs are considered to be a valuable index to the cultural preoccupations of a society; although Sumerian proverbs are diverse and cover a wide range of experience, it seems significant that a relatively high proportion of proverbs concern the scribal profession and promote effective communication between men and animals in direct or fable form.11 A number of the animal proverbs and fables found in the Proverb Collections make fun of ineffective communication like boasting, thus promoting effective communication by reverse example. Animals loom large in Sumerian culture; they are, for example, a major source of imagery for Sumerian poets (Kramer, History 294). Sumerian literary animals are, for the most part, characterized in ways familiar to us from Aesop’s fables: we meet the enormous elephant, the insignificant insect or bird, the sly fox, the greedy wolf, the foolishly stubborn donkey, the helpless sheep or goat, and the predatory lion, the strongest of the beasts, who can also be friendly. Only the dog is portrayed unconventionally: it is often faithless and greedy instead of faithful and true.12

Most Sumerian fables are of the Aesopic type: they begin with a short narrative passage and conclude with a speech by one of the characters demonstrating how his opponent is a boaster or a fool lacking contact with reality (Alster 211). This is true of the two proverbs about the fox quoted above; in the story about the elephant and the wren below, the theme is reversed and it is the larger animal who has an exaggerated idea of himself and receives his comeuppance (trans. Kramer, History 128).

The elephant boasted[?] about himself, saying: “There is nothing like me in existence! Do not [compare yourself to me?].” The wren answered him saying: “But I, too, in my own small way, was created just as you were!”

This fable has a second theme which is reiterated not only in proverbs and other fables, but in the debate literature discussed below: an insistence that the small and the humble are in some way equal in worth to the mighty and powerful. One way in which the weak and the hunted could defend themselves and prove their equality was by effective communication. Thus a number of fables, like the one which follows, instead of making fun of poor speaking,[End Page 10] celebrate the witty speech, prudence, and quick thinking of the weaker animal (trans. Alster 214).

The lion had caught a helpless she-goat:

“Let me go! I will give you an ewe, a companion of mine, in the bargain!”

“If I am to let you go, tell me your name!”

The she-goat gave the lion the following answer: “You do not know my name?

‘I cheated you’ is my name.”

When the lion came to the fold,

“I have released you!” he shouted.

She answered from the other side:

“You have released me, ‘You were clever’: as far as sheep are concerned, there are none of them here!”

Not only has the goat gotten away from the lion by playing on his greed (that is, by promising him better eating and then not keeping her promise), but she has also twisted the knife in the wound by the play on her name: “I cheated you” sounds almost identical to “you were clever” in Sumerian (Alster 214).

The most complex and fully characterized of the animals of proverb and fable is the fox, perhaps because, as both hunted and hunter, he is the most like man. On the one hand, he is a coward: “The fox gnashes its teeth, but its head is trembling” (trans. Kramer,History 125). On the other hand, he is always on the make, reflecting the self-aggrandizing spirit also to be found in the literature about scribes discussed below and raising the possibility that the juxtaposition of proverbs about scribes and foxes in Collection Two may be design and not accident:

The fox could not build his [own] house, [and so] he came to the house of his friend as a conqueror[?]

(trans. Gordon 218).

The fox had a stick with him [and said]: “Whom shall I hit?” He carried a legal document with him [and said]: “What can I challenge?”

(trans. Kramer, History 125)

As a result of his aggressiveness, the fox is always on the run: [End Page 11]

The fox with . . . heart was seeking the “way of the lion,” For the “way of the wolf” he was exploring the meadow land. As he approached the city gates, the dogs drove him away: To save his life he departed like an arrow

(trans. Lambert 217).

But the fox runs effectively; like his heir Reynard, he epitomizes the quick-wittedness and self-reliance of the born survivor. “The man who seized the tail of the Lion sank in the river. He who seized the tail of the fox escaped” (trans. Lambert 281).13 Perhaps of all the animals the fox most clearly mirrors what Kramer calls “the contentious and aggressive behavioral pattern which characterized [Sumerian] culture” (Sumerians 267).

Thus as elementary students copied and recopied proverbs and fables like these, learning from them the rudiments of the literary language, they also learned the importance of understanding the nature of their place in a hierarchical society mirrored by the structure of animal society. As the weakest and smallest of humans, they would be led to identify with the weaker and smaller animals and reassured by their survival skills. Although Sumerian religion portrayed the world as a difficult and fearful place, yet these fables and proverbs confirm that it is not strength that wins in the end but intelligence, and that the tongue (and by extension the stylus) can be mightier than the sword.14


The nature of the tablets on which the Hymn to Lipit-eštar and the material used from the Proverb Collections appear make it clear that they pertain to the most elementary level of education. This literature is not, moreover, mentioned in the “Ur Curriculum,” the designation given the list of works found in three literary catalogues from Ur.15 Vanstiphout believes that this is because as first-year exercise texts, they may not have been considered worthy of inclusion in the official literary curriculum (“How Did” 123). The Ur curriculum does list, however, the works that Vanstiphout surmises were used at the second educational stage; most of the literary debates and all of the “school compositions” (“How Did” 126). The greater length, the more sophisticated language, and the higher quality of the tablets support Vanstiphout’s hypothesis; it is further supported by the [End Page 12] nature of the works themselves, which seem singularly appropriate for pupils at the middle level, given the aims of a Sumerian scribal education.

Literary debates of the mythological type, in a sense longer and more complex fables, form one category of the literature studied at the next educational level.16 Unlike some of the proverbs and short fables, the mythological debates were apparently not originally intended for use in the schools; in several cases the evidence indicates that they were composed as court entertainment for the kings of the Third Dynasty of Ur (Lambert 150). They were no doubt chosen by the scribes as educational material because, like many of the proverbs and fables, they emphasize the value of hard work, intelligence, and verbal ability. The debates consist of a confrontation between two entities in which one has the final say. The winner, however, is not revealed until the very end of the composition, the verdict being delivered by a third party, usually the air-god Enlil. Most of the debates begin with a mythological introduction which sets the scene, explains the creation of the participants and their place in the scheme of things, and sets up the terms of the argument. This always centers on the question of which contestant is most useful to man.

Seven Sumerian literary debates have survived, and five of them appear in the Ur curriculum: the best preserved are the disputes between Summer and Winter, Cattle and Grain, and the Pickax and the Plow. The debate between the Pickax and the Plow is a representative example, although it lacks the mythological introduction. It begins with a description of the Pickax as a “poor fellow, always losing his loincloth.”17 Nevertheless, the Pickax challenges the more aristocratic Plow on the basis of the greater number and range of tasks that the Pickax accomplishes. The Plow responds to the challenge by trying to pull rank, calling himself “the noble field-registrar of Father Enlil,” and claiming that the king pours out beer and sacrifices sheep and oxen to him at his feasts, even taking hold of his handles while the great nobles walk beside; the Pickax, on the other hand, is used by slaves. The Pickax responds by calling the Plow an incompetent bungler who is always breaking and only works part of the year at that; then he emphasizes how helpful he is to the working classes: “I make it possible for the worker to support his wife and children.” His final argument is:[End Page 13]

I in the waterless steppe,
Have dug up its sweet water,
He who is thirsty is revived by the side of my trenches

(trans. Kramer, History 346).

Enlil then gives the verdict in the Pickax’s favor.

This debate is interesting not only because it considers water and its management the crucial element in the maintenance of Sumerian civilization, but because it affirms that the lowly Pickax, on the basis of his greater productivity and range of achievement, is of greater worth in the god Enlil’s eyes than the aristocratic Plow, in spite of his royal connections.18 All of the debates, in fact, stress the value of hard work for gods and men, no matter in what area it may be carried out or by whom, and emphasize the rewards to be gained by such work. Since the loser of the debate has also worked hard, he is not punished; but he does have to accept that he is in some sense inferior to the winner, at least in the eyes of the gods. This idea is also found in a number of the proverbs. It is not only the actions of the contestants, however, that enable them to win their disputes, but their eloquence in describing those actions: an eloquence which is above all aggressive and self-aggrandizing. The literary debates, then, on the one hand, place an emphasis on the rewards to be gained by hard work and, on the other hand, serve to reinforce a major implied lesson of the literature already copied by children on the elementary level: that verbal skills are of prime importance in achieving success.

Unlike the mythological debates, the “school compositions,” the other category of texts used at the second educational stage, may well have been created expressly for teaching purposes. Six of these compositions, all of which appear on the Ur curriculum list, have survived: two works, usually referred to as “essays,” which involve a student and his father, and four debates between two students or recent graduates of the school. In these texts, the term ummia(“expert” or “school-father”) is used for the head of the school, while the pupil is known as the “school-son.” There is also a “big-brother” or assistant, perhaps an older student, something like a graduate student, and there are monitors and proctors who take care of attendance and discipline (Kramer, Sumerians ch. 6). [End Page 14]

Of the four surviving school debates, the one most often excerpted is “School Rowdies.” This recounts a quarrel between a student, Enkimansi, and his “big-brother” Girnishag. The “big-brother” begins the dialogue (trans. Gadd 32-33):

“Son of the tablet-house, what shall we write today after the tablet?”

Enkimansi replies:

“Today in grammar[?] we will not write out individual dialects.

We will say anything that the master knows,

We will answer just so-and-so.

I’m resolved to write something of my own; I’ll give the orders.”

This burst of independence appears to irritate Girnishag, who responds:

“If you’re giving the orders, I’m not your ‘big-brother.’

How, pray, does my ‘big-brotherhood’ come in?

In being a scribe, a name too great [i.e., conceit] destroys ‘big-brotherhood.'”

Girnishag then begins the series of insults which comprise much of the text. Not only is the student Enkimansi quite able to defend himself, but he is also able to respond with insults of his own, charging that his “big-brother” is stupid, uncreative, unlearned in both sacred and secular matters, and mathematically and linguistically incompetent, with a “broad tongue, an evil tongue.” Girnishag defends himself in turn, concluding (trans. Kramer,Sumerians 241-42):

“Me, I was raised on Sumerian, I am the son of a scribe. But you are a bungler, a windbag. When you try to shape a tablet, you can’t even smooth[?] the clay[?] tablet. . . . You ‘wise-fool,’ cover your ears! Cover your ears! [Yet] you [claim to know] Sumerian like me!”19

The debate continues, but the text at this point is fragmentary. Finally someone appears, perhaps a monitor, and upbraids the student Enkimansi, threatening to beat him and to put him in chains.[End Page 15]

“Why do you raise a commotion in the school!—Why were you insolent[?], inattentive[?], [why do you] curse and hurl insults against him who is your ‘big-brother’ and has taught you the scribal art to your own advantage[?]! Even the headmaster who knows everything shook his head violently[?] [saying]: ‘Do to him what you please.’ If I did to you what I pleased—to a fellow who behaved like you [and] was inattentive[?] to his ‘big-brother’—I would [first] beat you with a mace—what’s a wooden board?—[and] having put copper chains on your feet, would lock you up in the house [and] for two months would not let you out of the school.”

After four unintelligible lines, the piece ends, “In the dispute between Girnishag and Enkimansi, the headmaster gave the verdict.”

It is a verdict delivered by man, not a god as in the mythological debates, and what that verdict was has not survived. Nevertheless, it is possible to guess what it might be. In his initial response to his “big-brother’s” polite request for a suggestion about the next writing assignment, Enkimansi gets more and more outrageous, ending up with the statement, “I’ll give the orders.” Girnishag recognizes right away that this is a violation of the chain of command at the school and that Enkimansi, like the proverbial fox in relation to the ox and the sea, does not understand or choose to recognize his proper place. Girnishag is not only superior to Enkimansi because he is his “big-brother,” but because, according to him, he is the son of a scribe and raised on Sumerian. The monitor’s speech toward the end of the debate affirms that Enkimansi is out of place, commenting as it does on his insolence and his rudeness to a “big-brother” to whom he should be grateful. Perhaps the monitor’s threat of beating and chains is an exaggerated one, meant to be humorous, but that he believes that some punishment is due such upstart behavior is clear; the monitor’s status is being threatened, too.20

Although it is not always clear in the body of the debate who is speaking, the insults traded demonstrate what the attainments of a scribe should be: good handwriting, a knowledge of Sumerian and the ability to speak it as well as write it elegantly, creative literary skill, and mathematical ability, particularly as it applies to surveying. Moreover, like the mythological debates, the school debates serve as[End Page 16] a further illustration of the aggressive, competitive nature of Sumerian culture. The same emphasis on what the competent scribe should be able to do, the same self-praise, and the same disparagement of the opponent are evident in the other three school debates.

Gadd speculates about the purpose of the debates, noting that they “have decidedly an air of burlesque, though of no very agreeable kind.” He concludes that “it was pure interest in contemporary life (naturally, with a bias to their own profession) which inspired the writers of these scenes” (36-38). It does not appear to have occurred to Gadd, nor to other commentators on this material, that it was composed expressly for an audience of would-be scribes and was designed to teach them what young scholars should be striving for in school and out. There is an age at which schoolchildren particularly enjoy exchanging insults; it is possible that the scribes who created these dialogues were deliberately trading on this propensity in order to promote good behavior and scholarship in school.

The promotion of good behavior and scholarship also appears to be at least part of the purpose behind the two other school compositions, usually referred to as “essays,” although the one called “School Days,” the narrative of a boy’s two days at school and their after-math, is arguably a story. “School Days” begins with a dialogue between a student and his father (trans. Kramer, Sumerians 237-39):21

“Schoolboy, where did you go from earliest days?”

“I went to school.”

“What did you do in school?”

The student’s account of one day’s activities takes up the first part of the narrative. They do not sound unfamiliar: he recites his tablet, eats lunch, prepares a new tablet, writes it, finishes it, gets his oral and written assignments, and finally goes home to tell his father about his work and recite his lessons. His father is delighted with his son’s progress. The student’s next day does not go as well. He asks the servants to wake him on time and gets two rolls for lunch from his mother on his way out, but somehow he gets to school late and is reprimanded by the monitor. Then he is caned by various members of the school staff for not completing his homework, for loitering in the street, for sloppy clothing, for talking without permission, for [End Page 17] going out of the gate without permission, and for not speaking Sumerian. Finally the headmaster canes him for poor handwriting. It is because of all this punishment, presumably, that the student loses interest in learning and his teacher loses interest in teaching him.

I [began to] hate the scribal art, [began to] neglect the scribal art. My teacher took no delight in me; [even stopped teaching?] me his skill in the scribal art; in no way prepared me in the matters [essential] to the art [of being] a “young scribe,” [or] the art [of being] a “big-brother.”

The student then suggests to his father that he soften up the headmaster.

Give him a bit [sic] extra salary, [and] let him become more kindly[?]; let him be free [for a time] from arithmetic; [when] he counts up all the school affairs of the students, let him count me [i.e., not neglect me any longer].

The father agrees to invite the headmaster to dinner.

At this point the narrator takes over and describes the ensuing events as if he were an eyewitness. The father seats the headmaster in the seat of honor and flatters him:

My little fellow has opened [wide] his hand, [and] you made wisdom enter there; you showed him all the fine points of the scribal art; you made him see the solutions of the mathematical and arithmetical [problems], you [taught him how] to make deep[?] the cuneiform script[?].

After this, the father orders the servants to pour out fragrant oil and announces his intentions of bestowing clothes, a ring, and an extra salary on the fortunate headmaster. As a result of these attentions, the headmaster’s attitude toward his pupil changes radically. His final speech reads:

Young fellow, [because] you hated not my words, neglected them not, [may you] complete the scribal art from beginning to end. Because you gave me everything without stint, paid me a salary larger than my efforts [deserve], [and] have honored me, [End Page 18] may Nidaba, the queen of guardian angels, be your guardian angel; may your pointed stylus write well for you; may your exercises contain no faults. Of your brothers, may you be their leader; of your friends, may you be their chief; may you rank the highest among the schoolboys, satisfy[?] all who walk[?] to and fro in[?] the palaces. Little fellow, you “know” [your] father, I am second to him; that homage be paid to you, that you be blessed—may the god of your father bring this about with firm hand; he will bring prayer and supplication to Nidaba, your queen, as if it were a matter for your god. Thus, when you put a kindly hand on the . . . of the teacher, [and] on the forehead of the “big-brother,” then[?] your young comrades will show you favor. You have carried out well the school’s activities, you are a man of learning. You have exalted Nidaba, the queen of learning; O Nidaba, praise!”

If this schoolboy is as young as his activities and the epithets used in Kramer’s translation indicate, and if it can be assumed that the Sumerians believed a story about a young schoolboy was appropriate for use by students of the same age, much as primers today have first- and second-graders as major characters, then it seems likely that this story was written for the use of elementary students and that those students were young. The student’s misadventures would be amusing to young children; even more so, perhaps, to children who viewed corporal punishment as a matter of course. Finally, the immediate goal emphasized by the headmaster’s final speech, scholastic success, would be easy for children to understand.

The headmaster not only wishes for perfect work from his student, but he also wishes that perfect work will lead to tangible social rewards for him: top-rank among his fellow-students and their recognition of him as a leader. In addition, the headmaster wishes that the student, as a result of his achievement in school, will eventually receive the same kind of homage now paid to his father who is clearly, on the internal evidence in the story, a man of wealth and status; the headmaster places himself second to him even though the scribal class was a privileged one. As a final guarantee of success, the headmaster hopes that the father’s personal god will intervene on the student’s behalf with Nidaba, the goddess in charge of writing [End Page 19] and literature, much as the father had intervened with her representative, the headmaster.22 There is no mention in the headmaster’s words of learning for learning’s sake; rather it is assumed that the rewards of learning are material, not spiritual.

There is a further materialistic slant to “School Days” that, viewed from a modern perspective, makes the story appear to be ironic. The radical change of attitude on the part of the headmaster toward his pupil takes place only after the receipt of flattery and tokens of respect, as well as considerable material benefits. Indeed, the headmaster admits as much: “Because you gave me everything without stint, . . . may Nidaba . . . be your guardian angel.” While the headmaster is not exactly bribed, since he only wishes for the future success of his pupil but does not guarantee it, the implication is that the student will be viewed more favorably from this point on. Is the story advocating that a student encourage his father to treat his teacher handsomely in order to promote his son’s success? That the Sumerian culture may have been one that viewed such pay-offs positively is not only probable on the evidence of current practices in many places, but on the evidence of the text as well. The headmaster has already made an equation between the relationship of the father to himself and the relationship of the father’s personal god to the scribal goddess Nidaba. The Sumerians believed that you must do something for your god in order for him to do something for you: that there was a reciprocal relationship between man and deity (Jacobsen 154, 160). “School Days” implies that the same kind of reciprocal relationship applies between the student and those in authority in the school, indeed, perhaps applies in all social relationships.

Since it was the scribal teachers who decided which compositions were to be copied by their students, the message that it pays to be good to your teacher may partially account for the popularity of “School Days”: twenty-one copies exist, some with translations into Akkadian, the demotic language, to help the student (Kramer,History 12). Moreover, the piece may contain a warning directed at its adult audience: excessive punishment results in poor performance, since the schoolboy’s inability to apply himself in school appears to stem from his continuous chastisement by school personnel. On the other hand, it is possible that “School Days” is to be read by its adult [End Page 20] audience as a satire on the materialism and limited goals of certain headmasters and parents. That the Sumerians were quite capable of such satire has been the conclusion of several recent studies; Alster, for example, speaks of the “constant play on ambivalent possibilities” to be found in Sumerian literature. If this is indeed the case, teachers must have enjoyed the irony of the work while correcting their students’ exercises.

A text even more popular than “School Days,” judging by the fifty-seven extant copies and fragments, is “A Scribe and His Perverse Son.”23 This is an amusing diatribe by an angry father who complains that his son is not living up to parental expectations. The piece opens with a typical father-and-son dialogue.

“Where are you going?”

“I’m not going anywhere.”

“If you aren’t going anywhere, why are you wasting your time?

Go to your school, be ready for school!

Read your lesson, open [your] . . .

Write your tablet,

let your big [brother] write [your] new tablet for you.

When you have finished [your] lesson

and have recited it [before] your monitor, then come here to me.

Say . . .

Don’t wander around [on the street].

Give me [quickly your answer?]

. . . Do you know what I have said to you?”

“I know it and I’ll say it to you!”

“Now then, repeat it to me!”

“I know it and I’ll say it to you!”

“Now then, repeat it to me!”

“I’ll repeat it to you.”


After similar exchanges, the son does repeat what the father has said to him. Then the father embarks on a long and not unfamiliar monologue containing advice mixed with complaints about his son’s grumbling, his imperiousness, his laziness, and his love for pleasure. The father remarks that he never asks his son to work in the fields as other fathers do, that he has worked harder than anyone for his[End Page 21] son, and yet all he gets is ingratitude. He urges his son to imitate his older and younger brothers. He follows this with some remarks about the scribal profession.

Click for larger view

Copy of the popular text “A Scribe and His Perverse Son,” sometimes called “Juvenile Delinquency.”

“Under the expert masters who dwell in the land, who are named with names, has Enki [the god of wisdom and the arts] [End Page 22]

no profession which is as difficult as scribal work—now then he has named it!

He names with names, with the exception of the art of song:

like the sea-shores which are far away from each other,

so far away is the ‘heart’ of the art of song.

You do not direct your understanding to my . . .

You do not say: ‘I will attend to . . . of my father!’

That which Enlil has established for men is

that the son follow his father’s profession.”


There are fifty-eight more lines, many of them fragmentary, of complaints and advice. Then the father concludes, as did the headmaster in “School Days,” with good wishes for his son’s future.

“May you find favor before your god!

May your humanity ‘exalt your neck and your breast!’

May you become the best among your city’s scholars,

so that your city, that beautiful place, calls your name glorious!

May your god name you with a good name, an enduring word;

May you find favor before [the moon-god] Nanna, your god;

May you be well-regarded by Ningal [his consort]!

Nidaba be praised!”


The son in this work appears to be somewhat older than the schoolboy of “School Days,” but he is still young enough to be under the supervision of a “big-brother.” The father’s complaint that he has never asked his son to work for him and support him is no indication of maturity, given the age at which young children are still sent out to work in certain cultures.24 Thus there is no conclusive evidence on the age of the son addressed here; perhaps he is approaching adolescence, the age when, in our culture, boys are prone to “stand around in the market place and wander about in the street” (29-30).

A son older than the one in “School Days,” however, as well as an older audience for the work, is indicated by the father’s sophisticated perception of the nature of the scribal arts and of the future benefits to his son he wishes to result from the mastery of those arts. Sjöberg’s translation makes clear the distance of the art of song from the scribal art, which is only the most difficult of the professions which Enki has named.25 The art of song is the exception (Ausnahme) [End Page 23] to the naming process, and song’s “heart,” presumably its essence, is as far away from what can be named as the sea-shores are from each other. To name, for the Sumerians, is to make what is at the heart of a thing manifest, to make it known to the consciousness (Kramer, Inanna 138-39). Thus these lines emphasize the ultimate ineffability at the heart of song, while seeing the scribal art which transmits it as the most difficult of those things which can be named. The father’s recognition that there is something in the creative act that cannot be “named” is evidence of a philosophical stance that moves beyond the materialism of “School Days.”26

The type of ultimate success that the father wishes for his son also transcends the material. In line 177 the father uses the term nam-lúulù, usually translated as “humanity.” According to J. J. A. Van Dijk (23), nam-lú-ulù corresponds to the Latin humanitas and has the same two senses: it refers both to men collectively and to that through which man is what he is, the complete blossoming of human values, or, as Kramer puts it, “all conduct and behavior characteristic of humanity and worthy of it” (Sumerians 264).27 The student must not rely solely on his technical ability as a scribe to gain glory and status, but on the humanity, the inner worth as evidenced by outer conduct, which is the fruit of a scribal education. Humanity will lead to an even greater benefit, the favor of the personal god, who was not only a kind of sublime parent but the “personification of the power that causes luck and success in an individual” and the source of all pride in accomplishment (Jacobsen 161). The father wishes, then, not simply that his personal god intervene with the goddess of scribes, Nidaba, on behalf of his son as did the father in “School Days,” but that the student will win his own favor before his personal god Nanna, such favor that his god will give him an “enduring” name and perhaps the kind of immortality an enduring name guarantees.28 In the hymn to Lipit-eštar, the scribe’s immortality was only to be gained through his association with the king and was dependent on the survival of the king’s name; here the scribe may win immortality through his own deeds and in his own right.

This work, given its more sophisticated content and its concern with goals that are not only material, may serve as a transition to the literature which was included in the third stage of a scribe’s education, [End Page 24] that “song” whose essence is so unapproachable. The last years at school were spent in the copying and perhaps memorization of the longer wisdom tests and the hymns, myths, and epics of the Sumerians. At this stage, however, the student should probably no longer be considered a child, but a young adult who is well-embarked on his scribal career.


Such a survey of the literature to which Mesopotamian children were exposed from about 2500 B.C. to the end of the Sumerian period, about 1800 B.C., is necessarily limited by the fragmentary nature of the surviving evidence. The oral component of the child’s literary universe can never be reconstructed; in addition, the children that are known to have come into contact with written literature formed only a small segment of the population and for the most part belonged to the wealthier and more powerful stratum of society. In spite of these limitations, however, the presence of certain texts on the Ur curriculum lists, the nature of the tablets on which those texts are found, and the location of the tablets at school excavation sites render certain the association of a small number of school-age children with a significant group of literary works.

Can this literature be called “children’s literature”? Certainly not using definitions such as the Opies’ “books intended to be read by children in their leisure hours for enjoyment.”29 This is because, with the exception of the “lullaby,” which is arguably not a real lullaby since it is directed at a particular child, the proverbs, fables, debates, and school compositions either were not written specifically for children, or, when they were, seem to have been composed primarily in order to educate them and only secondarily to amuse them.

What can be said with certainty is that the Mesopotamians had a literature which they considered peculiarly suited for children at the elementary and intermediate levels of their education. Even if the primary consideration for choosing a given text was based on lexical and grammatical grounds, its content was also significant. Thus while some of the literature used at the earliest educational stages was not composed for children but came out of oral tradition, with[End Page 25] the exception of the mythological debates, the material used at the second educational stage, centered as it was on the school and its graduates, was probably written specifically for students by teachers. Moreover, these are imaginative literary works, not designed to impart specific information, and are not as overtly didactic as Aelfric’s Colloquy, St. Anselm’s Elucidarium, or Comenius’ Orbis Sensualium Pictus, which are sometimes cited as early children’s books. In addition, the Sumerian animal fables and “school compositions” belong to two of the most common categories of children’s literature, the school story and the animal story.

A definition of children’s literature, then, that would prove serviceable for the eras before the invention of printing and that would include the works with which Mesopotamian children came into contact could be: “an imaginative literature which may or may not have been originally composed for younger children or directed at them, but which was considered particularly suitable for them and to which they were regularly exposed.” Given a definition as inclusive as this, children’s literature is as ancient as the adult literature to which it is so intimately related.

The literature which the Sumerians thought “particularly suitable” for children, the proverbs, fables, debates, and school compositions, is considered by most scholars to belong to the category of wisdom literature, and it does transmit an identifiable ethical stance. The fact that a given ethic is pervasive in the literature to which children are deliberately and regularly exposed is a good indicator that such an ethic is considered of major importance. Indeed the ethical stance (perhaps a better term would be agenda) to be found in Sumerian children’s literature reflects the characteristics of a philosophy of life that Kramer and Jacobsen see in Sumerian culture as a whole. The highest good appears to be the favor of the personal god and then of the king, in those texts which mention them, but chiefly because their favor, implicitly or explicitly, is a guarantee of fame, status, and material prosperity in this life.30 Even the literature to which younger children were exposed, the lullaby and the hymn to the king Lipit-eštar, reflect this point of view. The proverbs, fables, and the literary debates portray in addition a competitive society in which hard work, perseverance, prudence, initiative, a certain aggressive, self-aggrandizing foxiness, and, above all, verbal [End Page 26] skills were prerequisites for gaining the rewards of this life. In the school debates and compositions, as in the hymn to Lipit-eštar, it is clear that a total mastery of the scribal arts is the key to ultimate success. On the other hand, “A Scribe and His Perverse Son,” directed at older children, posits the limits to self-aggrandizement: know one’s place and act for the benefit of other men and of the gods in order to receive the divine favor essential for continued success. Thus for enduring fame in one’s own right, it was necessary to cultivate nam-lú-ulù, humanity, a concept which included the practice of truth, goodness, justice, mercy, courage, loyalty, and other virtues.

The Sumerians achieved at a remarkably early date, and with unusual rapidity, a high civilization in every sense: artistic, intellectual, legal, political, and even scientific and technological. They are responsible, as far as is known, for a great number of “firsts” in the cultural history of man. The impetus behind the Sumerians’ rapid cultural development was provided by the scribal bureaucrats who were exposed from early childhood to a literature, created largely by themselves, which not only promoted the primacy of their profession, but which emphasized hard work, intellectual achievement, and humanity as the prerequisites for every kind of success including an enduring name.31 Even at the beginning of history, then, children’s literature played an important and well-recognized role in shaping the minds of the future leaders of a society and thus the direction in which that society would move.

Gillian Adams

Gillian Adams, who teaches children’s literature, fairy tales, and fantasy at the University of Texas, is currently completing a translation of Ysengrimus, a twelfth-century Latin beast-epic.


1. For example, see Brockman, the McMunns, and Smith; volume 1 of the recent series Masterworks of Children’s Literature begins at 1550.

2. Kramer, Inanna 115-119; Brinkman 335-37; Hallo and Simpson 27-29.

3. Kramer (329) remarks of the lullaby that its “translation and interpretation are difficult and to a considerable degree uncertain.”

4. There was at least one female scribe, and it is worthy of note that the deity of scribes, Nidaba, is female. Kramer surmises that women who were literate were privately educated (History 351).

5. Olivier (49) notes that a private house excavated at Ur contained a bench for pupils, a podium for the teacher, and nearly two thousand tablets.

6. This is only one of a number of texts that promote the scribal arts; see Sjöberg (“In Praise”) and the works discussed below. Vanstiphout (“How Did” 124) notes that “the closing passage may well be intended as a self-fulfilling prophecy: of course his [End Page 27] fame will endure when this text will remain in use for many centuries (with some interruption, just about forty by now) as a school text.”

7. For a detailed description of the types of tablets on which the proverbs occur and the arrangement of their contents, see Gordon,Proverbs 6-10. All further citations in the text and notes, except n. 8 below, refer to this work. It is possible, thanks to Gordon’s careful scholarship, to pinpoint which proverbs from Collections One and Two are found on the tablets of the four general types that he describes. Type A and B tablets are composed by professional scribes, perhaps as library copies; type C are rough, badly written, often consisting of only one line accompanied by vocabulary lists and mathematical exercises; type D contain short excerpts and represent a higher level of writing skills; and type E are fairly well-written and contain longer excerpts.

8. Gordon in “Sumerian Animal Proverbs and Fables” lists allusions to the following: geography, weather, wild fauna and flora, minerals, agriculture, domestic animals, animal anatomy, crafts and industry, commerce and transport, hunting, property rights and inheritance, social status, political and legal institutions, family, household, religion, education, art, recreations, human physiological and pyschological traits, interpersonal relationships, and abstract ideas about time, quantity, truth, and pleasure.

9. See, for example, Lenneberg, particularly ch. 8, sec. 5, “Growth Characteristics of the Human Brain and Their Possible Relationship to Language Acquisition.”

10. A more extreme example is provided by the fragmentary proverbs 1.41-43 also found on elementary tablets; Gordon (61) thinks they may refer to “sexual acts frowned upon by the Sumerians,” although he admits that the text is problematical and the translation uncertain.

11. Gordon gives valuable cultural analyses of the proverbs; he discusses proverbs about children on 304 and proverbs about education on 311-12.

12. Gordon (287) does not think that the fox of Sumerian proverbs is the clever, sly beast he later becomes.

13. Both these texts are Neo-Assyrian, but the first is similar in theme to the longer Sumerian fable, 2.69, in Gordon. Of the second, Lambert says, “If this is really a proverb, its point eludes us.” The point is that when one is in trouble, it is more effective to act like a fox than like a lion.

14. The Sumerians saw the world as a place in which man was put only to serve gods who were unpredictable and whose favor was difficult to win. Life after death was merely a dusty, grim reflection of life on earth; see Kramer, Sumerians, vii.

15. A collation of the three catalogues is provided by a table in Hallo (90-91).

16. Lambert (150) classifies the later Babylonian and Assyrian debates as “fables, not of the Aesopic type.” The key to the difficulty in classifying this material may lie in Alster’s observation (210) that a proverb, a fable, and a debate contain the same “traditionally coined statement” but in a more or less expanded form.

17. Kramer (History 133-36) translates part of the debate and summarizes the rest.

18. Sumerian civilization was not only based on a complex irrigation system, but flooding was a constant threat. The Sumerians had a flood story remarkably similar to that found in Genesis.

19. “Wise-fool” (galam-hu-ru), according to Gadd (34), is the literal equivalent of the Greek sophos-moros, from which we get the term “sophomore.”

20. For Mesopotamian brutality to children, see DeMause (33-34).

21. The work was first edited and translated by Kramer in 1949, who gave it then the title “School Days.” Kramer’s translation inSumerians uses “Old Grad” in the first line. All other translations, including Kramer’s excerpt in History 10, use the term “schoolboy.” Saggs (346) claims that “the boy is in his second year.” [End Page 28]

22. Every Sumerian had his own personal god, among the many deities of the Sumerian pantheon, with whom he had a close personal relationship. A father passed on his personal god and goddess to his sons. For a recent discussion, see Jacobsen ch. 5, “Second Millennium Metaphors. The Gods as Parents: Rise of Personal Religion.”

23. Until recently the only relatively complete translation has been that of Kramer in Sumerians 63ff. Kramer adds some more lines inHistory 15-17. I have translated into English the German translation of Sjöberg, which is based on forty more tablets and fragments than Kramer’s and which adds about sixty lines.

24. Kramer translates lines 124ff. as “You have accumulated much wealth, have expanded far and wide, have become fat, big, broad, powerful, and puffed,” giving the impression that a young man is being addressed. On the other hand, Sjöberg has “You with your exploits! You are bloated, you make yourself big, you make yourself broad, you are imperious[?]” “Du mit deinen Grosstaten! Du bist aufgedunsen, / Du . . ., du machst dich gross, / Du machst dich breit, du bist gebieterisch[?], du . . .'”, and the context supports the meaning “You have become too big for your breeches.”

25. A comparison of Sjöberg’s translation of lines 107-14 with Kramer’s (History 17) underlines the complexity of the father’s approach to his profession. Kramer’s rendering is, “Among all mankind’s craftsmen who dwell in the land, as many as Enki called by name, no work as difficult as the scribal art did he call by name. For if not for song [poetry]—like the banks of the sea, the banks of the distant canals is the heart of the song distant—you wouldn’t be listening to my counsel and I wouldn’t be repeating to you the wisdom of my father.” Kramer’s translation implies that there is an equation between song (poetry) and the scribal art and that it is the transmission of the former by the latter which enables the father to carry on the wisdom tradition by transmitting that tradition to his son.

26. Alster (212) sees the text as “a satire on the art of the singers, from the viewpoint of the scribes.” His reading is very different from mine.

27. Van Dijk (24) sees the development of the concept in certain edubba compositions, particularly this one, as an illustration of the evolution that the Sumerian intellectual milieu has undergone in the direction of rational humanism, that is, the idea that man’s humanity is the result of his formation by men, not by the gods.

28. Van Dijk’s (26) translation of line 180, “que ton dieu t’appelle d’un nom doux ‘dans une parole inchangeable!” underlines the enduring quality of the name. Sjöberg has “ein festes Wort.”

29. As quoted in Bator (4). His discussion of modern authors who claim that they leave it up to their publishers to decide whether a work is juvenilia or adult fiction demonstrates that intention is probably not a reliable component of a definition of children’s literature.

30. Buccellati (37) notes that “the gods are considered as procurers, they are intermediaries to something else which is in reality the main reason for the relationship.” Buccellati finds “no trace of a unified doctrine, system, or intellectual program” among the Mesopotamians.

31. For the influential status of bureaucrat-scribes and their importance for the development of Mesopotamian civilization, see Oppenheim.

Works Cited

Alster, Bendt. “Paradoxical Proverbs and Satire in Sumerian Literature.”Journal of Cuneiform Studies 27 (1975): 201-27.

Bator, Robert. “Definition: Perpetual Exception.” In Signposts to Criticism of Children’s Literature. Ed. Robert Bator. Chicago: ALA, 1983. [End Page 29]

Brinkman, J. A. “Appendix: Mesopotamian Chronology of the Historical Period.” In A. Leo Oppenheim. Ancient Mesopotamia: Portrait of a Dead Civilization. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1964. 335-37.

Brockman, Bennett A. “Robin Hood and the Invention of Children’s Literature.” Children’s Literature 10 (1982): 1-17.

Buccellati, Giorgio. “Wisdom and Not: The Case of Mesopotamia.”Journal of the American Oriental Society 101 (1981): 35-47.

Butler, Francelia, ed. Masterworks of Children’s Literature. Vol. 1 of 8 vols. Gen. ed. Jonathan Cott. Bryn Mawr: Chelsea, 1983.

Carpenter, Humphrey, and Mari Prichard. The Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1984.

DeMause, Lloyd. “The Evolution of Childhood.” In The History of Childhood. Ed. Lloyd DeMause. New York: Psychohistory Press, 1974. 1-65.

Gadd, C. J. Teachers and Students in the Oldest Schools: An Inaugural Lecture Delivered on 6 March, 1956. London: School of Oriental and African Studies, U of London, 1956.

Gordon, Edmund I. “Sumerian Animal Proverbs and Fables: ‘Collection Five.'” Journal of Cuneiform Studies 12 (1958): 1-6.

———. Sumerian Proverbs: Glimpses of Everyday Life in Ancient Mesopotamia. Philadelphia, 1959; rpt. New York: Greenwood, 1968.

Hallo, William W. Rev. of Literary and Religious Texts, First Part by C. J. Gadd and Samuel Noah Kramer. Journal of Cuneiform Studies 20 (1966): 89-93.

———, and William Kelly Simpson. The Ancient Near East: A History. New York: Harcourt, 1971.

Jacobsen, Thorkild. The Treasures of Darkness. New Haven: Yale UP, 1976.

Kramer, Samuel Noah. History Begins at Sumer: Thirty-Nine Firsts in Man’s Recorded History. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1981.

———. “Sumerian History, Culture and Literature.” In Diane Wolkstein and Samuel Noah Kramer. Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth. New York: Harper, 1983.

———. The Sumerians: Their History, Culture, and Character. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1963.

Lambert, W. G. Babylonian Wisdom Literature. Oxford: Clarendon, 1960.

Lenneberg, Eric H. Biological Foundations of Language. New York: Wiley, 1967.

McMunn, Meradith Tilbury, and William Robert. “Children’s Literature in the Middle Ages.” Children’s Literature 1 (1972): 21-29.

Olivier, J. P. J. “Schools and Wisdom Literature.” Journal of Northwest Semitic Languages 4 (1975): 49-60.

Oppenheim, A. Leo. “The Intellectual in Mesopotamian Society.”Daedalus 104.2 (Spring 1975): 37-46.

Saggs, H. W. F. The Greatness That Was Babylon. New York: Hawthorn, 1962.

Sjöberg, Äke W. “Der Vater und Sein Missratener Sohn.” Journal of Cuneiform Studies 25.3 (July 1973): 105-69.

———. “In Praise of the Scribal Art.” Journal of Cuneiform Studies 24 (1972): 126-129.

Smith, Elva S. The History of Children’s Literature. Chicago: ALA, 1937; rev. 1980.

Van Dijk, J. J. A. La sagesse suméro-accadienne: recherches sur les genres littéraires des textes sapientiaux. Leiden: Brill, 1953.

Vanstiphout, H. L. J. “How Did They Learn Sumerian?” Journal of Cuneiform Studies 31.2 (April 1979): 118-26.

———. “Lipit-eštar’s Praise in the Edubba.” Journal of Cuneiform Studies30.1 (Jan. 1978): 33-39. [End Page 30]

Copyright © 1986 The Children’s Literature Foundation, Inc.

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The First Children’s Literature?

The Case for Sumer