Records of the Past, 2nd Series, Vol. III

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Records of the Past, 2nd Series, Vol. III

By A. H. Sayce

Introduction- Ancient Babylonian Agricultural Precepts

The tablet which contains the agricultural precepts is one of the series called by the Babylonians, from the first line of the first tablet, uludinebisu = ana itti-su, 1 formerly read ki-kankala-bi-su = ana itti-su. This collection, which must have contained at least ten or twelve tablets, was a compendium of precepts and prescriptions written at an early date in Akkadian for the guidance of the people in their various professions. 2 The work, as we know it from the fragments in the British Museum, is accompanied with a Babylonian translation, probably of the time of Sargon of Agade; and the fragments recovered are those of a Ninevite transcription made in the time of Assurbanipal for his library.

The tablets are divided into two columns, the left-hand one giving the Akkadian and the right-hand one the translation. The first six tablets and part of the seventh contained what may be called the commentary, that is, the list of the most difficult words and expressions, with explanations or translations. The notion, strange at first sight, of beginning with the commentary, appears natural when we bear in mind that these works were the text-books of the Babylonians, which they had to copy in order to master their complicated system of writing and the literary Akkadian language 1; the text-book therefore began, as in our reading-books for children, with simple expressions or isolated words; the learner having acquired these, next undertook and understood without difficulty the connected text.

These tablets contained no laws, as has been sometimes stated, but precepts drawn, perhaps by a philosopher like Confucius or Mencius, from the customs and usages of the time. The seventh tablet contained "Precepts for a man in his private life." 2 The agricultural precepts covered no doubt more than one tablet; the only one we possess is partly mutilated, and, the colophon being lost, we do not know what place exactly it occupied in the collection. What we possess, however, strange to say, has never been entirely published; the fragments found at first were published by the trustees of the British Museum, 1 and a fragment found afterwards was published by Dr. Haupt. 2 No complete translation of the fragments has been attempted, 3 no doubt because the tablet was considered to be a list of unconnected words and sentences; some of the paragraphs have, however, been incidentally explained in order to support the interpretation of other texts. 4

In the following translation the Akkadian has been taken as the standard text, but it has often been necessary to follow the Babylonian translation. Some parts of the translation are doubtful, partly on account of the mutilated state of the text and partly because, as many words are not found anywhere else, we have no means of testing their signification, 5 and some paragraphs are still obscure.

91:1 E. G. Pinches.

91:2 S. B. A., vol. viii. part 2; Akkadian Precepts, pp. 4 and 5.

92:1 An exercise book (on clay) has been found in which some parts of these tablets have been copied three times over for practice; this fragment of a copy-book is now in the British Museum.

92:2 W. A. I., ii. pl. 10, and v. pls. 24 and 25. It is the tablet which revealed to me the real character of this collection. See my paper which contains a translation of it; it must be remembered that our knowledge of Akkadian has made great progress since its publication. A mutilated tablet of "Commercial Precepts," which belong probably to the same collection, is published, W. A. I., ii. pl. 13.

93:1 W. A. I., ii. pls. 14 and 15.

93:2 Keilschrifttexte, p. 74. In the same publication Dr. Haupt has also republished the two first columns, pp. 71–73; it is difficult to see why he has not also republished the other parts, so as to make the publication complete.

93:3 Prof. Sayce has given in the Records of the Past, vol. xi. p. 153, the translation of the fourth column nearly complete.

93:4 The difficult passages have been generally omitted, and in the vocabularies already made public many words found in these texts are left out.

93:5 I may also state that the translation is free, as my object is to give the meaning of the text and not that of the isolated words; I reserve the discussion of the words for a critical paper, where the text can be reproduced.



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