Mesopotamian literature: what it is, development and history, authors, characteristics and more


What is Mesopotamian literature?

Mesopotamian literature is the artistic heritage of the literary creations that took place in the territory of Mesopotamia, a civilization that arose from a series of cultures that occupied part of the Middle East, the region between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Due to its antiquity and development, Mesopotamian literature has become one of the most important references of universal literature, besides being one of the radical figures for the change of history in humanity.

At present the territory of Mesopotamia is occupied by the states of Syria and Iraq. That is why the term Mesopotamia, although it designates a geographical space, refers mainly to one of the first civilizations of the Ancient Age, as well as to the succession of empires that were part of it in the first recorded years of civilization.

Origin and history of Mesopotamian literature

The emergence of this literature in this region took place in the ancient kingdom of Babylon, approximately in the year 3000 B.C. By this time, the relations and coexistence that existed between Sumerians and Akkadians, generated the need to create a writing that could be understood by both languages, so that the cuneiform writing arises. In addition to these inhabitants, Mesopotamia also had the presence of Babylonians, who actively participated in the development of the culture.

With the conquest of Emperor Nebuchadnezzar II, Babylon reached its cultural peak. The emperor decides to rebuild the city, improving its conditions, which will allow the city to expand to large dimensions and with this, literary works also expand, which begin to spread to nearby kingdoms.

The compilation of texts in this region is also carried out and is the responsibility of Ashurbanipal, one of the Assyrian kings whose rule took place in the seventh century, and who devoted much of his life to the construction of one of the first libraries in history, which was built in Nineveh. All this thanks to the advances of Sumerian literature, the oldest known in the world and in which its managers devised the first writing system.

What is Mesopotamian literature

Development of literature in Mesopotamia 

The first literary manifestations fell into three main categories. In the first place were the myths, which collected information about the gods and the creation of mankind. Then there were the hymns, whose content was based on praises referred to the gods, but also to the cities and to each of the kings of the inhabitants. And then there are the lamentations, a set of songs referring to catastrophic events suffered by the inhabitants around the destruction of cities, wars, the abandonment of temples, floods and other conditions.

As for Akkadian developments in Mesopotamia, literary development focused mainly on religious and epic texts. Religious texts addressed poems written for the gods, similar to what was composed in epic texts. On the other hand, it is considered that one of the main advances in the literature of this region was the creation of dialogic poems based on the opposition of concepts, a work that is mainly attributed to Sumerian literature.

Characteristics of Mesopotamian literature

Among the most important particularities of the literature of this historical region, we find the following:

Theme: an important relationship with mythology will often be seen in this region, as well as the religious, which will be evidenced within their stories. The texts created allude not only to the gods and their characteristics, but also to their life and personality, as well as their work and the creation of the human being.

Proto-literary objective: one of the most important aspects of Mesopotamian literature is that it begins with a writing that aims at proto-literary purposes. That is to say, writing at this time was used for administrative purposes, activities that were directly related to the community and whose advances allowed the transmission of news, legends, events and stories.

On the other hand, it is also considered that the literary manifestations produced in this area, had other alternate functions among which are the fixation of legends, the explanation of facts and the possibility of maintaining and announcing news and changes that the inhabitants lived in terms of political and social conditions.

Mode of writing: during the first steps of Mesopotamian literature, writing was made from stone and clay, using the form of cuneiform writing, which included wedges arranged at different angles that allowed the configuration of messages and ideas that were transmitted. That is why each of the signs implemented had an ideological and syllabic value, which made it complex for years for experts to read.

The main works and most important authors 

During the development of Mesopotamian literature, writers who were the emperors of the Mesopotamian civilization stand out, among them Nebuchadnezzar II and Nabopolassar, mainly. Hammurabi, the sixth king of Babylon, also stands out, and who developed a legislative work, reason for which it bears his name.

As for the works, there is information of texts compiled thanks to oral transmission, as well as others among which are “The Enuma Elish”, “The Poem of Zú”, “The Epic of Erra”, “The Poem of Gilgamesh”, “The Code of Hammurabi”, “The Poem of Creation”, among others.