From Cuneiform Writings Wisdoms, Proverbs and Debates Excerpted From Cuneiform Writings

Proverbs are mirrors of peoples, which reflect their knowledge and views of life. They are records of their experiences, stores of their philosophies, and reflections of their spirits, consciences, habits and traditions. They are the literature and the symbol of culture, mentality and morality. They also reflect the contradictions, paradoxes and positive faces of life. As such, we preferred to present to you some old proverbs and wisdoms (derived from the environment and human experiences of ancient peoples) which we found recorded on cuneiform tablets discovered in Mesopotamia and the Levant and belong to the third and second millenniums BC.

 Ancient proverbs were intended to give pieces of advice and wisdoms, and many times they dealt with intellectual, philosophical and religious issues. Some of them were presented in the form of poems like the famous Babylonian one which described the sufferings of man and was titled" I Shall Hail God of Wisdom". This poem was written on four mud tablets which were well preserved. The poem is made of 450 lines, only few of them were lost because of mud deformation.

The poet used the style of first person soliloquy. The Babylonian poem is about a man from Babylon whose name was ShabshiMashriShakan. He was pious and regular observer of prayers, a philanthropist, and at the same time of a high position in the state and of good fortunes. Out of a sudden his conditions change. He lost his wealth, his friends denied him, and evil people gathered around him. He was discharged of all his positions, and his relatives and friends started treating him like a stranger. He wrote this poem describing his catastrophic situation.

"My custodian soul deserted me seeking other people.

 My strength weakened and vanished and my manhood is gone.

 My prestige disappeared.

 And a terrible misfortune is besieging me from all corners.

 The king is angry with me and his fury is still boiling.

The kings attendants are roosting me.

 They gathered themselves and started telling lies about me.

 I, who used to walk nobly, learnt to sneak clandestinely.

 I, the man of sublime position, became like a slave.

Nobody listens to me in the street, and no eye looks at me when I enter the palace.

My city grins in my face as it does with an enemy.

My friends turned into foes, and into cunning evils.

My pals condemn me hard.

And my kins sharpen their blades consistently in my face.

My slave curses me openly in the council And those who know me turn their faces away

Even my family treats me like a stranger."

Literature of debates

Translation of cuneiform tablets revealed to us another type ofliterature, the sarcastic one known as the literature of debates.We discovered many debates which prove that this type ofwriting was common and preferable for many writers. Wehave a debate between 'Summer & Winter', 'God of kettle &God of Grain', 'The Shepherd & the Farmer', 'The Bull & theHorse', 'The Snake and the Falcon', the Dog& the Fox & theWolf' and others.

We chose a strong debate between two students, one of themtells his colleague:

"You are an idiot, a stooge and a school insect, You are illiterate, you are ignorant,

Your hand is so ugly...,To bear a pen in the correct way,It can not even write nor draw,And you pretend that you are a good writer like me!"

His colleague replied saying:

What do you mean I am not like you?

When you write a paper no body can understand.And when you measure a field,You can not hold the meter like I do.You can not even hold a nail in your handJust because... you have no mind".And so the debate continues until the school principal interferesand settles the quarrel.

Sarcastic wisdoms and proverbs

We also found various rich proverbs engraved on cuneiformtablets. They reflect the experiences of individual people insocial, economical and political life. They are characterized bysarcasm and rarity such as:

* Throw the dog a piece of bread and his tail will shake for you.

* Money is like a bird, it has no fixed home.

* If he feels he'll die he says: I shall eat all I have, and when herecovers he says: I'll economize.

* A spendthrift wife is more dangerous than Satan.

* You should bear the burden on behalf of those whom youlove.

* If you hurt your friend what would you do to your enemy?

* Control your mouth and count for your words because theyare the wealth of man. Remember that your lips are valuable.Don't say naughty words or tell lies.

* Beware of frequenting houses of justice, or slow down in aplace of a quarrel because they will involve you as a witnessand will embroil you in an ordeal which is not yours. So if yousee a quarrel, get on your way and don't look back, and if youare involved in it, try to quench its fire before it burns you.

* Poor people are the only silent people in Sumer.

* Obey your mother's words like you obey a divine order.

Haifaa Mafalani