Book Impressions: Sumerian Liturgies and Psalms

Dusty book header

Sumerian Liturgies and Psalms is a book by Stephen Langdon, who was a professor of Assyriology at the Oxford University, Philadelphia. It was published by The University Press in 1909 and is available for free on Amazon Kindle.

Book Cover Sumeria Liturgies and PsalmsThe tablets that have been translated in this book is from the library of ancient Nippur, and includes examples of liturgical compilation texts and various prayers, like the “Prayer of prostration, a great song unto Enlil” (No. 16).

Langdon notes that the “[p]rayers of the private cults are almost entirely nonexistent. Later Babylonian religion is rich in penitential psalms written in Sumerian for the use in private devotions… know[n] by the rubric eršaggúnga or prayers to appease the heart”. This collection also shows the “rich collection of tablets… pertaining to the cults of deified kings”.

As can be expected, there are many instances where part of the text is missing or cannot be deciphered, but even then their beauty still shows through. Just look at this part of the “Lamentation of Isme-Dagan over Nippur”:

en-šú bar be-íb… ùl

How long shall the soul be terrified? Book cover Sumerian Liturgies and Psalms

šag nu-ub-ši-túg-e

And the heart repose not?

… gar-ra-bi er-šú ba-ab-bi-ne

…in tears they speak

sìr-ri-eš ba-ab-bi-ne

…in misery they speak


The volume also contains descriptions of the tablets translated in the volume and a very handy index supplied. Babylonian cult symbols are also covered and translations given, for instance:

  • The amphorae is Igi-BALAG, gardener of Enlil
  • Gypsum is the storm god (Ninurta)

It is important to note at this stage – as you might have already guessed – that this is a scholarly volume and not a collection of stories like the Prose Edda or poetry like the Elder Edda. (The Eddas are texts I am very well acquainted with, which is why I use them here as examples).

If you are only looking for Sumerian/Babylonian mythology, I would suggest another volume, like perhaps Sumerian Mythology by Samuel Noah Kramer (please note that I have not read this volume, so I am only speculating). However, the book does contain some mythology and explanations as to the mythology as it pertains to these texts in particular. So, if you want to get a good feel for them, this free Kindle volume is a good way to go about it.

And, just to prove to which world my mind wanders half the time, I couldn’t read “gardener of Enlil” without picturing Samwise Gamgee for a moment. I regret nothing.

Samwise Gamgee, Lord of the Rings

By Carin Marais

Bibliophile, writer of speculative fiction, non-fiction, and maybe-fiction, language practitioner, doer of stuff.

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