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Humor In Cuneiform: A Dog Walks Into A Tavern
[Bactrian tin-smith]...[fragment missing] said to the priestly representative of Ur-Nammu…[after seeing] fate of the Chaldeans?
What’s mine is Ur’s.
Q: What do musicians and the king of Uruk have in common?
A: They both depend on lyres.
I tell you what, I’m sick of farming in the land between the two rivers. Cutting fresh canals, dredging the waterways, removing silt deposits, raising aqueducts, rigging up well sweeps….I tell you, it’s hardly worth the irrigation.
Q: What is raked three times, pulverized fine with a hammer, and handled with a whip? The barley-harvest, the barley-harvesters, or the children of the idle?
A: Plow straight furrows where you have plowed diagonal furrows.
The other day I asked someone in the Afroasiatic language family for directions.
She said, “Well, where you trying to go?” I said, anywhere beyond the lands of Ningirsu and Šara.
She asked, “Can you be a little more Semitic?”
Q: Why is a red-haired man considered unlucky in the court of the Hurrians?
A: He is sick with the samānu-disease, the muscles of his neck, the muscles of his thigh.
I’ve been married now for ten years, according to the short chronology. But if you ask my wife, she’ll tell you it feels more like ten years according to the long chronology.
Fertile Crescent or Girdle, Incessant
Q: Three gur barley are planted in one bur.
A: All strength and sustenance is in the plow! …Nothing, huh? Boy, you’re a tough crowd. Must be a lot of wheat farmers in the house tonight.
Here in the underworld, our only food is the dust we crushed beneath our feet in life. But I can have all the dust I crushed beneath my feet in life I want!
I’m not saying my wife doesn’t love me. But when I heard about the flood, I built an ark with two of every kind of animal inside. My wife says, “This one’s full. I’ll wait for the next ark and maybe we can meet up after.”
My wife left me for a scribe last week. Says she can’t resist a man in cuneiform.
If there’s anyone who hates farming in the land between the two rivers more than I do, it’s my wife. She hails from the blessed city-state of Elam, so she’s always asking me to take her out for a little culture. I tell her we’ve got all the culture we need in the land between the two rivers – agriculture, horticulture, aquaculture, and viticulture. She says, you call this the cradle of civilization? Sure I do – we’ve got riverbeds, seabeds, lakebeds, flowerbeds, deathbeds…
An old Assyrian merchant is struck by the king’s chariot. Inanna-Gula, great doctoress, Lady of Nippur, spirit of healing, rushes to his side. She bandages his wounds, she anoints his face with soothing oils, she places soft reeds underneath his head for a pillow. She says to him, “Man of dust, are you comfortable?”
“Comfortable? I don’t know about that. But I can’t complain, I make a good living,” he says.
Q: When shall the barley be harvested?
A: At just the right moment.
Enshakushanna arose early one day in autumn and looked over the canals of Ur. The night had been clear and cloudless, so the ground near the irrigation channels had cooled rapidly. He bid farewell to the warm waters of the canals of Ur, “for they will be mist.”
Q: How does Enūma Eliš aid mankind with the forbidden gift of fire without awakening the jealous gods?
A: He waits until the demiurge passes.
Sixty bases in our sexagesimal numeral system, and my wife won’t let me get to any of ‘em.
Q: There are two hats which cause suffering and one hat which alleviates it. What are they?
A: A widowhood. A falsehood. A neighborhood.
[…]He said, “Enkidu?” and …[fragment missing]
I said, No, I’m perfectly serious!
Q: There are eight cows in the field. Yet you report only seven cows’ wealth to the tax-collector. Why?
A: The eighth — it is the calf of the sun, Marduk.
Here in Akkad, farming is very difficult. Very difficult. There are numerous pests which regularly swarm upon our fields in large numbers and devour all the crops. We either divert water from the canals, trying to drown their larvae and drive off the adults, or else by stampeding beasts out in the hopes we might crush them. And no sooner do my wife’s relatives leave town that we have to start worrying about locusts.
Q: How do you scare away the rats from the granaries and storehouses of Nippur?
A: With a ziggurat.
My wife doesn’t hold grudges. She’s just passing them on through oral tradition until someone gets around to inventing the stylus so she can write them down.
I don’t think I’m very popular with the gods either. I’m the only high priest of Inanna who she rejected as a candidate for human sacrifice. “But come back later – I’m reviewing candidates for animal sacrifice at ten.”
Even as a child, none among my people esteemed me. One day I grew so overcome with shame I fled to Kur, the underworld, that dark cavern which is only a shadows and dust, and all sexual activity on earth ceased during my six-month absence. My parents never noticed the difference.
It was the same way at school. I asked my girlfriend Enheduanna if there was someone else. She handed me the Babylonian King List!