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Lament for Ur – The Oldest Lamentation

Lament for Ur

Lamentation over the City of Ur

The “Lamentation over the city of Ur” dates back at least 4000 years to ancient Sumer, the world’s first urban civilization.

The Cuneiform clay tablet is a Sumerian lament composed around the time of the fall of Ur to the Elamites and the end of the city’s third dynasty in about 2000 BC.

The lament is composed of over four hundred lines and describes how the goddess, weeps for her city after pleading with the leader of the Mesopotamian gods to call back the destructive storm.

Interspersed with the goddess’s wailing are other sections, which describe the ghost town that Ur has become. The account recounts the wrath of god’s storm, and invoke the protection of the gods against future calamities.

The goddess’s name is Ningal, the wife of the moon god Nanna, who petitions the leaders of the gods, to change their minds and not to destroy Ur. She explains to the other gods :

“Truly I shed my tears before An, and truly I made supplication,
I myself before Enlil: “May my city not be ravaged, I said to them, May Ur not be ravaged.”

Ur’s temple treasury was raided by invading Elamites, and the center of power in Sumer was moved to Isin. Thee control of trade in Ur passed to several leading families of the city.

The destruction by the Elamites is compared to the imagery in the myth of a rising flood and raging storm:

“Alas, storm after storm swept the Land together: the great storm of heaven, the ever-roaring storm,
the malicious storm which swept over the Land, the storm which destroyed cities, the storm which destroyed houses,
… the storm which cut off all that is good from the Land.”

Laments

A lament or lamentation is a passionate expression of grief, often in music, poetry, or song form. The pain is most often born of regret or mourning.

Laments constitute some of the oldest forms of writing, and examples can be found across all human cultures.

The Lament for Ur contains one of five known Mesopotamian “city laments” for ruined cities in the voice of the city’s goddess. Other ancient Mesopotamian city laments are for the cities of Nippur, Eridu, Uruk.

Elements of laments appear in the Hindu Vedas, and the Jewish Tanakh, which would later become the Christian Old Testament.

The Book of Lamentations of the Old Testament, which bewails the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon in the sixth century B.C., is similar in style and theme to these earlier Mesopotamian laments.

Similar laments can be found in the Book of Jeremiah, the Book of Ezekiel, and the Book of Psalms, Psalm 137 (Psalms 137:1-9).

Laments are present in both the Iliad and the Odyssey and continued to be sung in classical and Hellenistic Greece.

Famous Laments

Many of the oldest and most lasting poems and texts in human history have been or include laments:

  • The Lament for Sumer and Ur and other Ancient Near Eastern religious texts.
  • The Iliad, the Odyssey, and other classical and Hellenistic Greek texts.
  • The Jewish Tanakh, which would later become the Christian Old Testament.
  • The Book of Job, The Book of Lamentations, and other books in the Old Testament. 
  • Hindu Vedas
  • The Lamentation of Christ in its many manifestations.
  • Beowulf
  • The Lament of Edward II
  • Shelley’s “Adonais” 

Ur

Ur was an important Sumerian city-state in ancient Mesopotamia, which was once a coastal city near the mouth of the Euphrates on the Persian Gulf.

The city dates from about 3800 BC and is recorded in written history as a city-state from the 26th century BC.

Today the ancient coastline has shifted, and the remains of the city are now well inland, on the south bank of the Euphrates, in modern-day Iraq.

The site is marked by the partially restored ruins of the Ziggurat of Ur. It contained the shrine of Nanna, which was excavated in the 1930s. 

Ur is likely the city of Ur Kasdim mentioned in the Book of Genesis as the birthplace of the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim patriarch Abraham (Ibrahim in Arabic).

Ur is mentioned four times in the Torah or Old Testament. There are; however, conflicting opinions identifying Ur Kasdim with other ancient sites.

Ur was the largest city in the world from c. 2030 to 1980 BC. Its population was approximately 65,000. Ur fell around 1940 BC to the Elamites.

Lament for Ur

  • Title:              Lament for Ur or Lamentation over the city
  • Date:             1800 BC
  • Culture:         Sumerian
  • Writing:         Cuneiform
  • Language:     Sumerian
  • Materials:      Clay
  • Type:             Ancient Texts
  • Museum:       Louvre Museum

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~~~

“Peace, peace! he is not dead, he doth not sleep
He hath awakened from the dream of life.”
– Adonais: An Elegy on the Death of John Keats by Percy Bysshe Shelley

~~~


Photo Credit: 1) Louvre Museum / CC BY-SA (creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

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