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7-10-2015, 04:31

The building of Ningirsu’s temple (extract)

The building of Ningirsu’s temple is the longest account of temple-building known in Sumerian, and also the longest literary composition in the language. It is inscribed on two large clay cylinders and relates how Gudea, the ruler of the state of Lagas, extended and rebuilt the temple E-ninnu as the magnificent principal earthly residence of the god Ningirsu. The temple complex was in Girsu, the capital of LagaS, a large and flourishing city in the third millennium bce whose patron deity was the god who bore the city’s name, Ningirsu (literally, ‘Lord of Girsu’). Two smaller cities in the same state also play a role in the narrative, Nigin and LagaS, the latter being the city after which the state was named.

Given the impressive appearance of the cylinders, it is possible that they were displayed within the rebuilt temple, commemorating the building work of which they give a dramatized account. However, the cylinders were excavated from a less glorious spot, a drain close to the temple’s walls. They may have ended up in this ignominious position when the city was sacked, an event to which the many decapitated statues of Gudea bear witness.

The composition divides into two parts. One, the first cylinder, concludes with two lines marking the middle of the hymn. The other, the second cylinder, concludes with another two lines marking the end of the hymn. These lines refer to the composition as ‘The building of Ningirsu’s house’ (more literally, ‘Ningirsu’s house having been built’); each pair is preceded by a line in praise of Ningirsu. The first part of the composition is primarily concerned with the construction of the temple, and the second primarily with its inauguration.

The first part begins by giving the building work divine approval: the senior deity in the pantheon, Enlil, the father of Ningirsu, blesses the project. Ningirsu then indicates his intentions to Gudea in a dream. For clarification and verification of the dream Gudea resolves to visit the goddess Nanse, the sister of Ningirsu whose skills include dream interpretation and whose principal earthly residence is in Nigin. First, however, he visits the temple Bagara in the city of LagaS, praying there in turn to Ningirsu and the birth-goddess Gatumdug.

Having received their blessings, Gudea goes to Nigin, where he relates the contents of his dream to NanSe. She analyses the dream, interpreting its images one by one, and advises him to construct a fabulous chariot for Ningirsu to ensure his continuing approval.

Gudea returns to Girsu and puts this advice into action. What he needs now, however, are more detailed instructions on how to proceed. To obtain these, he offers animals and incense to Ningirsu at Su-galam, one of the gates to the E-ninnu, and then petitions him in the Ub-Su-unkena, another part of the temple complex. Ningirsu replies with a further dream, this time verified by a different type of divination, the performance of extispicy on a white kid. The extract given here ends at this point.