The Dawn Of Literature May Have Sounded Like This

Submitted by: squrlz4ever 8 months ago in Entertainment


The "Epic of Gilgamesh," dating back to 2100 BC, is commonly regarded as the earliest surviving great work of literature. Here, musician Peter Pringle recreates what the poem's opening lines may have sounded like, singing the text in Sumerian and playing a gishgudi, a three-string Sumerian lute. Basically, what you're hearing is a melodic, highly-evocative, 4,000-year-old version of the storyteller's phrase "Once upon a time...."

A tip of the hat to fellow IAB'er Buttersrules, who has a passion for ancient languages and who brought this amazing video to my attention.
There are 10 comments:
Male 1,049
It's funny to think, that in the worlds oldest known piece of literature, they are talking about the past...what is past to them. Speaking of ancient days....They're ancient to us, and are discussing das that were ancient to them....ancient is a relative term...
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Male 4,945
buttersrules Psst, Butters. Are you online right now? I've got a favor to ask. Lemme know. Thanks.
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Male 4,945
buttersrules Yes, we do think alike because I was musing on this myself just the other day.

By the way, I looked up the lines Pringle is singing. They are the opening lines of Tablet XII (the EOG, as it was found by archaeologists, is written on 12 stone tablets). Tablet XII is sort of an appendage to the poem; it's related, but not a part of the main story. Anyway, the translation I found goes like this:

"In those days, in those distant days, in those nights, in those remote nights, in those years, in those distant years; in days of yore, when the necessary things had been brought into manifest existence, in days of yore, when the necessary things had been for the first time properly cared for, when bread had been tasted for the first time in the shrines of the Land, when the ovens of the Land had been made to work, when the heavens had been separated from the earth, when the earth had been delimited from the heavens, when the fame of mankind had been established, when An had taken the heavens for himself, when Enlil had taken the earth for himself, when the nether world had been given to Erec-kigala as a gift; when he set sail, when he set sail, when the father set sail for the nether world, when Enki set sail for the nether world -- against the king a storm of small hailstones arose, against Enki a storm of large hailstones arose."

I have never read the EOG, but I'm thinking I might now. It's not terribly long. It looks like it could be read closely in four hours or less.

The best online version I found is here (although that version omits Tablet XII, on the rationale that it's not a part of the epic proper).
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Male 361
And just think: you can almost hear the cries echoing across time of the people from that age period yelling "music sucks now! It was way better back in my day!"
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Male 4,945
mrsnowmeiser LOL. Yeah, all the music after 1500 BC absolutely sucks.  :)
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Male 1,049
cheers for posting this, my furry friend. Now for some Mongolian throat singing, followed by icelandic folk music...
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Male 4,945
buttersrules My pleasure. Thanks for showing it to me.
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Male 260
Damn, that's cool. Love to think this is close to accurate.
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Male 4,945
mikesex My thoughts exactly. The question as to the accuracy of this rendition is a great one, even if it may never be answerable. We know it's a male human voice, we know the instrument is right in a general way, and we know the words are accurate. All else is conjecture.

We do know that the musicians who played these early epics sang an incantory prologue in a spiritual style, often invoking the aid of gods to help convey the mood of the story ("Sing, Goddess, the anger of Achilles..."). So I think the style of singing is probably pretty close to what a performer of EOG would have used.

The music is more of a mystery. I've heard some very early melodies from the Bronze Age and they were pretty rudimentary compared to what Pringle is doing here. This raises the question, Are the ancient melodies we have rudimentary because the notation style itself was rudimentary? Or does it truly reflect the music of the time? I suspect those early notated melodies were treated as simplified outlines of the tunes, to be embellished by the performer, but I really have no idea.

The reverb, of course, is added here. But I've got to think that Bronze Age musicians, just like subway buskers of today, sought out chambers that enhanced their music with the right amount of echo. That view behind Pringe, by the way? It isn't some green-screened digital image (as I first thought). He recorded this in the courtyard of Nebuchadnezzar's palace in Babylon (modern-day Iraq).

At any rate, I really love this video. If there's a finer recreation of what the opening of EOG may have sounded like, I don't know of it. 
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Male 1,049
squrlz4ever damn, you and I think a lot alike...me mam, bless her, might have been keeping a ferret in the woodpile. 
I'm no scholar, however:
I suspect those early notated melodies were treated as simplified outlines of the tunes, to be embellished by the performer, but I really have no idea. 
This is my understanding of how music was, particularly in pre-history, when the vast majority was oral tradition. As far as I'm aware, although I could be wrong, the formalised arrangements of music didn't occur until literacy became open to all classes, not just the priests, scribes, and royalty. In western society, at least, this would have been around the time of King James iv/v.

 But I've got to think that Bronze Age musicians, just like subway buskers of today, sought out chambers that enhanced their music with the right amount of echo 

I thought about this, too. It wouldn't surprise me in the least. No proof to that, of course, but it makes sense. Musicians throughout history have attempted to find and/or have constructed edifices that would give an appropriate resonance to their performances. From the bronze age through to the modern...Why is the Hollywood Bowl shaped that way? Not by happenstance, certainly. But to capture the sound, and ampliphy it to the audience....There's a lot of science that goes into that stuff, too...when I was a kid I was amazed when we went to a (a, not THE) whispering wall...being able ot speak in a soft conversational tone, and have my sister several hundred yards away hear every word blew my mind...

Tomorrows piece (if Fancy approves it) is a 13th Century Icelandic poem, sung by Eivør Pálsdóttir; :) If you share your acorns with me, I might submit some Gaelic music...Karen Matheson, Karan Casey, Julie Fowlis. Liam O Mainlai....or mebbe some Morris Dancing? (no, OK, NOT morris dancing. That's stupider than a clown with a squirting flower...Clog dancing, mebbe?...."I knew Abba when they were a Lancashire clog dancing trio"...Or, some Renaato Carsone, or Charles Trenet?

I need to go to bed...night shift's killing me...

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