Praise of Kingship: Širgida-Hymns in the Old Babylonian Liturgical Tradition
Johns Hopkins University
Prof. Dr. Paul Delnero
Sumerian hymns to deities, sung by professional musicians in the framework of ritual, represent a significant portion of the literary record of the early second millennium BCE, corresponding to the Mesopotamian Old Babylonian period (ca. 2000–1500). Although the words of these hymns, along with the clay tablets on which they were recorded, represent one of the most direct sources of evidence for ritual practice during this period, the hymns’ performative setting has only rarely been the focus of Assyriological scholarship. Instead, Sumerian cultic hymns are studied as works of literature, more closely aligned with compositions learned in scribal schools than with other liturgical material. Hymns are regularly classified according to criteria imposed on them by the requirements of modern scholarship, despite the fact they typically bear native labels (“subscripts”) classifying them according to features of performance. This dissertation aims to shift the scholarship on Sumerian hymns towards understanding their role as performed liturgical pieces, taking as a case study one group of hymns as defined by a native performative label: hymns classified with the label širgida.
A starting thesis of this dissertation is that (1) the significance of the text of Sumerian cultic hymns cannot be appreciated without taking into account their extra-textual, non-verbal elements of performance, and (2) consideration of such texts in light of their performative setting can offer important insights on second-millennium ritual. I test the hypothesis that natively defined hymnic groupings, such as širgidas, can be productively investigated as corpora, and that this approach will allow us to access otherwise obscure performative elements.
Investigating the širgida corpus, I present evidence for their general Sitz im Leben, clearly linking them to ritual performance and royal ideology (Chapter 2); identify patterns in the language of the hymns, considering their potential impact in ritual settings (Chapter 3); more fully explore kingship in the širgidas, arguing that they directly involve the Mesopotamian ruler (Chapter 4); explore the implications of the hymns’ references to material ritual elements (Chapter 5); and demonstrate that, in addition to kingship, the themes of prayer and offering play an essential part in the širgidas’ performance.