Stele of the Vultures

The Temporary Thesis

A scrap from Liability.

In “Liability,” Emmett’s character description is “A Sumerologist, currently temping.” When I first started working on that script, I was fascinated by different writing systems, including Emmett’s specialty, Sumerian cuneiform. Early drafts probably had too much about Emmett’s specialty; at any rate, over time, many references to his work got trimmed away, including the original title of his thesis:

Systematic Differences in Compound Cuneiform Characters as a Means of Identifying Scribal Colleges in Pre-Akkadian Sumer.

I imagined Emmett squinting over clay tablets trying to identify the handwriting of individual scribes; not that that turned out to have anything to do with the story I was trying to tell.

Lately, though, identifying the handwriting of individual scribes in the ancient world has been in the news, as evidence that literacy was widespread in the Holy Land quite early, which may change ideas about when biblical texts were first written.

In honor of Emmett and ancient handwriting, here’s a speech of his that also got cut.

EMMETT: The story of Enki and Ninmah.

Before there were people, the gods had to do all the menial work.

They complained about this to the water god, Enki; they got his mother to wake him up from his bed in the sea.

With the help of a number of goddesses, including Ninmah, the earth mother, Enki molded people out of clay, brought them to life, and set them to work.

Freed from the work they hated, the grateful gods threw a party for Enki. Enki and Ninmah had too much to drink. Ninmah started playing with the leftover clay.

“Enki, look at this, I made a blind one. What are you going to do with him?”

“He can be a singer. I’ll give him bread to eat.”

“Enki, look at this, I made a woman who can’t give birth. What are you going to do with her?”

“She can live in the women’s house. I’ll give her bread to eat.”

Finally, it’s Enki’s turn. He makes a weak and useless creature who can neither stand, sit, nor lie down. “All right, Ninmah, what are you going to do?”

Ninmah tries to speak to this creature, but he can’t answer; she offers him bread, but he can’t reach for it.

She can find no place for him.

So Enki wins. – At least, that seems to be the gist of how the story ends; several lines are missing or damaged at that point.

This text survives in two separate tablets, one excavated from Nippur and now at the University of Pennsylvania; the other, of unknown provenance, in the Louvre.


  1. Mark A Ackmann
    April 18, 2016
    1. Anne
      April 18, 2016

      Very nice.


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