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"A Good Day to Join the Hittite Army," Part II: There Are At Least Three Roads in the World
Previously: It seemed like a good day to join the Hittite army. I’d seen the advertisements at the trading-post – “Every day is a good day to join the Hittite army!” – and we were all great joiners at home. I come from a long line of persuadable men. My great-grandfathers had joined up with the Sumerians, the Akkadians, the Amorites, the Old Babylonians, and the Hurrians, depending on whomever was sweeping down out of the mountains with terrible swift swords, or flashing unexpectedly out from the sea on terrible white ships, or flaring out of the desert on lightning raids, at the time. People are always flashing unexpectedly into this part of the world, which is likely why those of us who live here year-round pride ourselves on our amenability. Some might call it easy conquering, but we prefer to think of ourselves as flexible hosts.
I wonder if you are familiar with “The Dispute Between Sheep and Grain”? Perhaps your mother never learned to read clay tablets. There’s nothing wrong with having a mother who can’t read clay tablets, of course. Most mothers can’t. Mine told me this story often when I was a child:
When upon the hill of heaven and earth An spawned the Anuna gods, and on the holy mound they created Sheep and Grain. Sheep received fences, grass and herbs, shepherds full of charm, while Grain received the field, the plough, yoke and team. Then there’s a longish bit about spring or something, and the long and short of is that Grain and Sheep start to argue about which of them is more important and should take precedence. The god Enki finally decides between them, saying, “Father Enlil, Sheep and Grain should be sisters! They should stand together! But of the two, Grain shall be the greater.”
There’s much to what the god Enki says, I think, because after all even sheep need to eat grain, although one could imagine delivering such a judgment in a slightly more diplomatic fashion. I mean if you have ever told two women that they ought to stand together like sisters, but that one of them is a bit greater than the other, you ought to be prepared to reap some pretty stiff consequences. I don’t mean to dictate to the god Enki, of course, but perhaps the god Enki can get away with saying things that you or I can’t. As for the content of the thing — You could imagine a pretty successful world without sheep in it, I mean, but you couldn’t imagine the same without grain, because when you get right down to it, sheep are really just an intermediary between people and grain. I mean a sheep is really just an elaborate way of making something new and exciting out of grain. And without sheep, you can still eat grain, and thereby keep body and soul together. But without grain there isn’t any grain and there couldn’t be any sheep, because what would the sheep eat if there weren’t any grain to begin with? And it’s no fair saying grass, because if sheep and grain are sisters, then grass and grain are sisters and cousins both. Grass is certainly more like grain than a sheep is like grain, I mean.
All of this is by way of saying it had been about six days since I had had anything to eat, my last meal having been that dish of spring onions given to me by Tarhundawiya at the house of Naram the Trader just before I left our village for good in hopes of joining up with the Hittite Army. As I had previously never had cause to leave our village, I found myself lost pretty much straightaway. As far as I know there are three roads in the world, and the Hittite Army was not on any of them.
There is the pony-track that goes from the middle of our village to the edge of the cliffs, which ends at the cliff’s edge and is used only by wild ponies. There is the King’s Road, which intersects the pony-track and leads in one direction to Babylon, along which some of the village boys had recently been led away in chains, and in the other direction towards Hattusa, along which the rest of the village boys had recently been led away in etc. Whether the road is named after some certain king who commissioned it, or just kings in general, I could not say.
Although it is difficult to imagine such a busy road being the particular property of just one king. If it is, he is either very generous in letting so many other kings and their armies use it so frequently, or he has placed his trust in unreliable satraps, who allow his road to be overrun by clients. Personally I am inclined to think that it cannot belong to just the one king. If there were the case there would be a sign. Kings are for ever leaving signs on roads and edifices and so on.
There is a wall surrounding the fortress of Tušpa, outside of Van Kalesi, which bears an inscription to Ishtarduri, King of the Four Corners of the World, not to be mistaken for King of the Heaven’s Four Corners nor even the King of the Four Corners of the Universe, which reads:
This is the inscription of King Ishtarduri, son of the great king Lutipri, the powerful king who is not afraid to fight, the incredible shepherd, the king who mastered the rebels. I am Ishtarduri, son of Lutipri, the king of kings, the king who received tribute from all other kings. Ishtarduri, son of Lutipri, says: I brought these stone blocks from the city of Alniunu. I built this wall.
— Ishtarduri I of Urartu
So that there is no mistaking that that wall is especial to King Ishtarduri, who in the grand scheme of things is not even an especially impressive king. Certainly he was no Lugalzaggesi of Uruk. So I think if there were any one king who could claim the king’s road as his own, he would have put a sign up saying so.
And then there is the road to the sea, which goes down to the sea and stops there. If you want to go any further from that point you must find a boat that is willing to take you.
I did not think the Hittite army was likely to be found either on the pony-track in town (besides not being wild ponies, they would have been very easy to spot if they had) or on the road to the sea, because why would they go to all the trouble of raiding our village of barley and men and good red cloth only to carry them off to the sea, which is full of demons only the Egyptians and the Minoans know how to propitiate? The likeliest place to find the Hittite Army, by my reckoning, was on the road back towards Hattusa.
What I had not counted upon was the possibility of there being more than three roads in the world. In my naïveté, I had thought that all the villages and cities in the world must be studded along them, and you simply had to walk farther in the same direction to reach wherever you wanted to go.
As it happens, there are at least five roads in all the world: the first three I already spoke of, the salt road which leads to Byblos, and a final road, as yet unnamed, that branches off from the road to Hattusa. As I had never turned off of one road onto another before, I quickly became lost on the second day of my journey, and was just as quickly visited by the gnawing demon of hunger, such that I started to ask myself questions like, If grain is the sister of sheep, and grass is the sister of grain, why should I not eat grass, as sheep do? If I can eat sheep, and sheep eat grass, why not simply eliminate the middleman and eat what satisfies the hunger of sheep to satisfy myself? The answer to that question, it may interest you to know, is that grass soon turns in the stomach and requires a quick exit.
I did not try to make a lunch of grass again, and for the next two days continued to make steady progress through this new country, which was mostly sand and rock and shadow. I had gone without food for several days before. It is not as pleasant as a banquet on a soft couch, but it is no real trouble either, provided one has some rock-salt in his belt and can reliably find water. I had not realized so much of the world was empty. By the fifth day I began to feel really quite let down, and wished with all my heart to kill something.
I expect you are familiar with the Poor Man of Nippur, the one who had “no silver befitting….[stature]…[??],” whose storage bins lacked grain, whose insides burned and whose face was unhappy, craving meat and first-class beer, who thought “Suppose I slaughter….[fragment missing]…still there could be no feast”? I felt just like that.
Just when I begin to think I could not possibly go on another minute, I came upon another fellow on the road, who straightaway pulled out his sword and seized upon me as his prisoner. Which by this point was fine by me. Anyone who knows where he was, and had a sword, couldn’t possibly do any worse than I had. Besides which, prisoners are usually kept on barley-rations. So as far as I was concerned this fellow had leapt over to me in order to insist on becoming responsible for all of my future meals, which was if anything doing me a favor. Things were finally looking up.
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