There is power, drama and fatalism in Ancient Mesopotamian literature.
It is so far removed from today, and yet so very relevant to our modern existence. Timeless beyond the lives of its creators and boundless beyond its geography.

A lot more obscure for the contemporary reader than Greek literature, which it predates by three thousand years, it often is a great deal more laconic and intense, unique in its use of language and highly poetic.

The excerpt below is from the RIGHTEOUS SUFFERER (LUDLUL BĒL NĒMEQI) c.1700BC, a Sumerian, and later Babylonian, poem on the theme of unjust suffering. The Sumerian work is ‘Dialogue Between a Man and his God’ (c. 2000-1600 BC) and the speaker is Tabu-utul-Bel, an official of the city of Nippur, while in the Babylonian version, he is Shubshi-meshre-Shakkan, also an official, and both works address the problem of undeserved fate. Sumerian audio sample here.


From the day the Lord punished me,

And the warrior Marduk became furious with me,

My own god threw me over, he disappeared,

My goddess deserted, she vanished away.

The benevolent angel at my side veered off,

My protecting spirit was frightened away, she sought someone else.

My vigor was taken away, my manliness lost self-confidence,

My dignity bolted, it leapt for cover.

Terrifying signs beset me,

I was forced from my house, I wandered outside.

My omens were confused, they were contradictory every day,

With diviner and dream interpreter my way forward was unresolved.

What I overheard in the street portended ill for me,

When I lay down at night, what I dreamt was terrifying.

The king, incarnation of the gods, sun of his peoples,

His heart hardened against me, rendering indulgence unattainable.

Courtiers relentlessly relayed vile tattle about me,

They convened and urged themselves on with villainous talk.

If the first “I will make him waste his life”

Says the second “I’ve ousted him from his post!”

So likewise the third “I will usurp his office!”

“I’ll take over his household!” vows the fourth

As the fifth subverts the speech of fifty,

Sixth and seventh follow his evil example!

The clique of seven joined forces against me,

Merciless as fiends, they were very like demons,

Now one as a body, they still had each his mouth.

Their hearts were fulminating against me, ablaze like fire.

Slander and lies they tried to lend credence against me.

My eloquent mouth they checked, as with a snaffle,

My lips, which used to discourse — I became like a deaf-mute,

My resounding calls died away to dumbness.

My proud head bent down towards the ground,

My stout heart was enfeebled by terror,

My broad breast was thrust aside by a stripling,

My arms, once long of reach, clutched each other under my covering.

I, who walked proudly, learned slinking,

I, so grand, became servile.

Hätinen, A. (2022). Righteous Sufferer (Ludlul bēl nēmeqi) Chapter I. With contributions by Z. J. Földi, A. C. Heinrich, E. Jiménez and T. D. N. Mitto. Translated by Benjamin R. Foster. electronic Babylonian Library.