Borrowings to create anew: intertextuality in the babylonian poem of "creation" (enuma elis).

Author:Seri, Andrea
Position:Critical essay

Assyriologists engaged in the study of literature have identified the existence of quotations borrowed from other texts since the early days of the discipline, although back then they did not refer to those citations as "intertextuality" because this neologism appeared only in the late 1960s. In her book on poetry from Babylonia and Assyria, Erica Reiner (1985: 33) was one of the first to have employed the term in connection with literal quotes present in Akkadian literary texts. According to her:

Such verbatim quotes (...) play the same role in Babylonian poetry as the quotes and allusions that punctuate modern poetry; they constitute intertextual relationships, and enable the well-read modern Assyriologist to make the same linkages across the ancient poems as the ancient reader was expected to make.

Although succinct, Reiner's explanation implies that the purpose of quotations and allusions is to trigger associations that make it possible to contextualize a literary work within a constellation of other compositions and genres. Her interpretation also suggests the possibility of various layers of meaning depending on the reader's (or listener's) level of instruction and familiarity with other texts and traditions. In this essay I explore intertextuality and its uses in Eniima elis. in an attempt to understand the poem's architecture. (1)


Julia Kristeva coined and first explained the concept of "intertextuality" in her book published in 1969. Since then intertextuality has experienced multiple redefinitions to the point of becoming an elusive category. Intertextual analyses are usually applied to medieval and modern fictional narratives, although in recent years they have become relatively common also in the study of ancient literary texts. (2) In works on ancient Near Eastern literature, however, intertextuality is frequently circumscribed to the search for and identification of phrases or sentences copied from one text into another. (3) But intertextuality as conceived by Kristeva and by other scholars entails a much more complex and manifold understanding of literary practices. In the words of Rabau (2002: 15), an intertextual perspective allows us to "envisage la litterature comme un espace ou un reseau, une bibliotheque si l'on veut, chaque texte transforme les autres qui le modifient en retour."

Kristeva (1969: 146) drew a number of insights from the works of Mikhail Bakhtin, and it is often pointed out that his concept of dialogue has played a fundamental role in the development of the idea of intertextuality. Kristeva mentioned, for instance, that with his understandings of dialogue and ambivalence Bakhtin first introduced into the domain of literary theory the idea that "tout texte se construit comme mosaique de citation, tout texte est absorption et transformation d'un autre texte." Although the text is construed as a mosaic of citations, this image should not overshadow the importance that Kristeva assigned to the process of absorption and transformation. This is apparent from her interpretation of a text as a "permutation de textes, une intertextualite: dans l'espace d'un texte plusieurs enoncds, pris a d' autres textes, se croisent et se neutralisent" (Kristeva 1969: 113).

A few years later, Kristeva (1974: 59) stressed her view that intertextuality does not suppose simply an imitation or a reproduction but a transposition, and she expanded her original notion by stating that "[1]e terme d' inter-te.xtualite designe cette transposition d'un (ou plus-ieurs) systeme(s) de signes en un autre (...)." As a later commentator has put it, for Kristeva a text is intertextual not because it contains mimicked or deformed borrowings but because, while creating a new composition, the writer redistributes, deconstructs, and disseminates earlier texts (Pidgay-Gros 1996: 12). Intertextuality then includes not only allusions, parodies, or pastiches, but also forms of reminiscences and rewritings between the text and the language in which it is written.

Kristeva's intertextual theory soon became a recurrent theme in certain literary analyses, but other scholars have adopted, adapted, furthered, and contradicted some of Kristeva's notions. (4) Successive reinterpretations of intertextuality have fluctuated from more general and relative understandings of it as the reader's perception of interplay between texts (e.g., Riffaterre 1980 and 1994), to more restrictive views of intertextuality as a relation of co-presence between two or more texts (Genette 1982: 9). Therefore, Kristeva's original analytical category has experienced a number of mutations, and it currently encompasses a considerable variety of approaches.

In what follows I do not aim at summarizing the history and development of intertextual studies. Rather, I make my own selection of aspects of intertextuality that I find helpful in understanding a complex ancient text such as Enama MS% My interpretations draw from

Kristeva's theories and from a number of ideas that Gerard Genette developed in his book Palimpsestes. (5) I consider, on the one hand, Genette's hypertextual relations that unite a specific text to a previous one, as for example through imitation. On the other hand, I take into account Genette's relations of co-presence between texts, understood as the effective presence of a text within another, which can be traceable through quotation, citation, reference, plagiarism, and allusion.

Naturally, these typologies work for relatively modern literary pieces, but not necessarily for a text written in Mesopotamia some three millennia ago. For example, Genette differentiates between quotation and plagiarism by the use of inverted commas in the first case and the intentional omission of quotation marks and reference in the second. However, in Akkadian cuneiform or literary conventions there is no symbol for the quotation mark and the ancient idea of authorship had very little to do with ours. (6) Mesopotamians did not have a notion of copyright and in most cases the name of the scribe at the end of a composition, if mentioned at all, indicates the copyist rather than the author. (7) One should therefore dismiss plagiarism and nuance our approach to quotation. Since categories used in intertextual studies originated mostly from the analysis of Western literary texts, they cannot be adopted uncritically. In this paper, I deal with three levels of intertextuality: 1) a basic level, which corresponds to the phrase and the sentence, 2) an intermediate level, which consists of several lines or a passage, and 3) the structural level, encompassing the entire composition. I first present a selection of examples from a variety of Akkadian texts and then trace the uses of intertextuality in Entima elis to explain how intertextual relations such as citation, allusion, re-writing, and imitation play a significant role in this particular text.


The basic level of the quotation can appear as a verbatim inclusion or as a slightly altered insertion. There are borrowings from and into literary pieces, from literary texts into royal inscriptions and letters, and from technical series into literary compositions, among others. (8) An example of a simple quotation of one line from a literary text into a royal inscription is found in The Annals of Sennacherib inscribed on a prism in the collection of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago (Luckenbill 1924: 47, Grayson and Novotny 2012: 184). Wilfred G. Lambert pointed out that The Annals of Sennacherib uses a simile that resembles the one attested in The Fable of the Fox (Lambert 1996 [1960]: 334). Due to the close parallel, however, it is possible to suggest that the line in the royal inscription in fact comes from The Fable of the Fox, thus:

As can be seen, the variations are minimal. The Sennacherib inscription has sa and tu-musen (Akk. summatu, 'dove'), which are not in the fable. Otherwise, the differences pertain mostly to syllabification and writing conventions. Of course, the writer of the prism may have been working from another version of the fable, and this may explain the variants. (10)

Another, more elaborate, instance occurs in a building inscription of Sennacherib, which contains a number of lines from the series Abnu Sikinsu, dealing with stones (Schuster-Bran-dis 2008: 21). Here 1 single out passages of the royal inscription and provide the lines from Abnu sikingu beneath (11):

OI Senn. vi 29-30: Like a pursued fledgling dove their hearts were fluttering. Fable obv. 11: Like a pursued fledgling their hearts will flutter. (9) OI senn. vi 29-30. ki-i sa at-mi tu-musen/kus-su-di i-tar-ra-ku lib-bu- [su.sub.2]-un Fable obv.11. ki-i-ma at-mi ku-us-su-di i-ta-ra-ku[ b.3]-bu-su-nu I wish to thank Gary Beckman, Walter Farber. and John Wee for reading and commenting on this paper.

In this case, four lines from the series Abnu gikin[section]u--whether they come from the same or from a similar manuscript--were not only borrowed in a chiastic manner, but they were also interwoven into the narrative of the royal inscription. Aside from this, the only difference is that in Sennacherib A:12 .yubatum is written in Akkadian, whereas in Abnu 21.A.21 the word is rendered logographically, t u g,-b a. 13 Intertextuality is also apparent in a passage of a literary piece mentioned in a letter, as Erica Reiner (1982: 320-26) demonstrated. In this instance five lines from the Advice to a Prince appear in a Neo-Babylonian missive to king Esarhaddon, possibly sent by Bel-liger from Nippur. The borrowing is as follows: (14)

Advice. A.55: If either a shepherd, or a temple overseer, or a chief officer of the king, Advice. A.56: who serves as temple overseer of Sippar, Nippur, or Babylon,

Advice. A.57: imposes forced labor on them (i.e., the inhabitants of Sippar, Nippur, or Babylon) in connection with the temples of the great gods,

Advice. A.58: the...

To continue reading