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Dance in Textual Sources from Ancient Mesopotamia Author(s): Uri Gabbay Reviewed work(s): Source: Near Eastern Archaeology,

Vol. 66, No. 3, Dance in the Ancient World (Sep., 2003), pp. 103-105 Published by: The American Schools of Oriental Research Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3210912 . Accessed: 16/03/2012 16:20
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Dance
from

in Textual Source6 Ancient Mesopotamia

Uri Gabbay
The textualsources dance fromMesopotamia portray bothas a private act of spontaneous joy andplayandas a in religiousrituals.Its connection cultic act performed with sexualitycan be seen in a few passageswherethe in a sexualcontext danceof girlsandwomenis mentioned the cult dancesperformed and in passagesdescribing by Ishtar. thecross-dressing the personnel of goddess Thejoyandvitality withdancing is illustrated associated in a letterto KingAssurbanipal (seventh BCE) in century whichtheAssyrianscholarAdad-shumu-usur describes thereign era: of hiskingas a golden A goodreign,righteous days,yearsof justice,plentiful enormous a goodmarket Thegodsare rains, floods, price! appeased,thereis muchreverence of god, the temples abound;thegreatgodsof heavenand earthhavebeen exaltedin the timeof the king,my lord!The old men and thegirlsare dance,theyoungmensing,thewomen and with and are married women provided merry happy; and the thrive! are births rings,boys girls brought forth, 1993:178). (translation adapted from Parpola Adad-shumu-usur goes on to mentiontheaid that the his on people,pointing out thathis own son kingbestows Urad-Gula howeverhas not benefited from the king's Adad-shumu-usur asksfor a postfor himand beneficence. a wishthathe and hisson can be happy likethe expresses in thekingdom: restof thefamilies "We tooshould bemerry anddancewithall thepeople, andblesstheking, mylord!" In this letter,the dance of old men is symbolicof the utopian nature of the king's reign. That dance was a joyful activityand indicativeof a happy, considered normal life, is further seen in the Old Babylonian version of the Epic of Gilgamesh. Here, the hero, devastatedby the death of his friend, Enkidu,travels to the end of the world seeking the immortalitythat will sparehimfrom the samefate. On the shoreof the waters that encirclethe world, he arrivesat a tavern. He tells the tavern-keeper of his sorrow and of his answershim: fear of death. The tavern-keeper areyouwandering? where "OGilgamesh, The lifethatyouseekyouneverwillfind: whenthegodscreated mankind, deaththeydispensed to mankind, life theykept for themselves.

Butyou, Gilgamesh, let yourbellybefull, enjoyyourself alwaysby dayandbynight! Makemerry eachday, danceandplaydayandnight! Letyourclothes be clean, let yourheadbe washed, mayyoubathein water! Gazeon thechildwhoholds yourhand, embrace! let yourwifeenjoy yourrepeated Forsuchis thedestiny men]" [of mortal 1999: 124). (George liminal state-he is unbathed andwearing Gilgamesh's withtheblessings animalskins-is contrasted of a mortal which include and family, food, life, enjoyment cleanliness. In othercontexts, was dancing a signof irresponsibility and disrespect, as in a letterdatingto thefirsthalfof the BCE. In this letter,Namram-sharur secondmillennium and the eldersof the citywriteto Shapirini complaining about a certain woman: "The woman has greatly In addition thematter. to dancing aboutevery aggravated has she us behaving day, slighted greatlyby consistently (citedin CAD R: 167 s.v. raqadu). thoughtlessly" is an act performed Elsewhere, dancing byyoungmen or women.TwoMesopotamian texts,themythof literary Nergal and Ereshkigal and a Sumerian love song, thedanceof younggirls.Although theverbused describe in thesetwopassages means its semantic literally "play," as includes dance well.' range In themythof Nergaland Ereshkigal (firstmillennium thegodNergalentersthe Underworld andbecomes BCE), but and he later lover, Ereshkigal's escapes goes up to heaven. When Ereshkigal, Queen of the Underworld, realizes that her lover has escaped, she summonsher the god Namtar,and ordershim to go up to messenger, thatNergalreturnto be withherin heavenand demand In a dramatic shetellsNamtarto theNetherworld. speech the deliver thefollowing to godsin heaven: message I wasa young Since girl, I have notknown thedance ofmaidens, NorhaveI known thefrolic girls! of little [Thatgodwhom]yousentto mehas lainwithme, let himsleep withme! thathe Send me [thatg]od,thathemaybemyhusband, the with me!" mayspend night Foster 1996:424-25). (translation from adapted In an early second-millennium BCEcopy of a cultic Sumerian love song, the goddess Inanna tells of her meetingwith her lover,thegod Dumuzi.After he takes herin hisarmsand embraces her,Inannaaskshimto set But herfreeso thatshe can go backhometo hermother.

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her to tell hermothera lie so thatshe Dumuziinstructs out where herdaughter has spenthertime: not may find Letmeteach you,letmeteach you! letmeteach Inanna, youtheliesof women: wasdancing withmein thesquare, "My girlfriend withme,playing thetambourine Sheranaround andtherecorder, shesang Herchants, sweet, forme, being I passed Inrejoicing, thedaythere sweetness, withher"Thisas a liedoyoupresent ownmother. before your As forus-let memake lovetoyoubythemoonlight! 1998:186) (lines13-20;Sefati andnaiveact Bothpassages referto danceas a natural at the same time,bothare by younggirls,yet performed withsexuality andintimacy. connected the Byjuxtaposing with adult sexual innocent of younggirls activity, dancing bothpassages dancewithsomeambiguity. portray As a partof culticceremonies, danceplaysan especially In ritualtextsfromthe rolein thecultof Ishtar. important millennium we BCE, late-first find two of Ishtar'scultic the assinnu and kurgarru, takingpart in personnel, ecstatic maskeddancingand performances,including in as partof bothculticactivities possibly cross-dressing, and and where these activities, healing temples, of magic in chasingaway diseaseor personnelhaveparticipated demonic influences fromthepatient(see,withreferences, Maul 1992). But dancing in Ishtar's cultwas not limited In an to thesespecial Akkadian personnel. mythbelonging to thefirsthalfof thesecondmillennium BCE,we hearof the goddessSaltum who confrontsthe aggressivewar calledAgushayain thismyth.In orderto Ishtar, goddess commemoratethe event, the god Ea commands the peoplein the streetto performa ceremonyincludinga whirl-dance(whichin Akkadianis a wordplay on the andhe tellsIshtar: nameAgushaya),
Leta whirling dancetakeplacein the ... of theyear.

Drawing of a cylinder-seal impression showing dancers with a seated instructor.Earlycuneiform lists of professions include dancers in both the secular and religious spheres. LouvreMuseum. Drawingby M. AfterKilmer( 995: 2609). Matousova-Rajmova.

Note
1. The verbusedin these passages is meluluin Akkadian ande.ne-dug4in Sumerian (glossed by Akkadian melulu). Although the verb melulu literally means "play,"it can include the meaning "dance"in some contexts (and note the the same root is used for Hebrewmahol "whirl, 1960: 119-20, n. 30). Note also the lexical dance"), see Landsberger and equationsof Sumeriane.ne-di.di with Akkadianraqadu("dance") saru ("whirl"), and the equationof meluluwith sdru (see CAD M/II:16, lexical section and Attinger 1993: 471). For a surveyof the Akkadian fordance,see Kilmer(1995:2609). vocabulary

References
P. Attinger, 1993 Elements de linguistiquesumerienne. Fribourg: Editions und Ruprecht. Vandenhoeck Universitaires; G6ttingen: CAD 1956- TheAssyrian Institute of theOriental of theUniversity Dictionary of Chicago. Chicago:The OrientalInstituteof the University of Chicago. B. Foster, An Anthology 1996 Before theMuses: Literature. Second of Akkadian edition.Bethesda, MD: CDL. GeorgeA. 1999 TheEpicof Gilgamesh. New York: Barnes& Noble. A. D. Kilmer, 1995 Musicand Dance in Ancient WesternAsia. Pp. 2601-13 in Civilizations of the Ancient Near East, Vol. IV,edited by J. Sasson.New York: Scribner's. B. Landsberger, 1960 Einige unbekanntgebliebene oder verkannte Nomina des Akkadischen. Wiener desMorgenlandes Zeitschrift fir dieKunde 56: 109-29. Maul,S. M. 1992 Kurgarru und assinnuund ihr Stand in der babylonischen Gesellschaft. Pp. 159-71 in Aussenseiter und Randgruppen: desAltenOrients, editedby V. zu einerSozialgeschichte Beitrdge Haas. Konstanzer AlthistorischeVortageund Vorschungen, 32. Konstanz: Konstanz. Universitatsverlag S. Parpola, 1993 Letters andBabylonian State Archives Scholars. fromAssyrian of Assyria,10. Helsinki: HelsinkiUniversity. Sefati,Y. 1998 Love Songs in SumerianLiterature:Critical Edition of the RamatGan:BarIlanUniversity. Inanna Dumuzi Songs.

about at allthepeople! Look


Let themdancein thestreet,

Heartheir clamor! 1996:90). (lines16-20;Foster These and otherreferences, whichare not citedhere, can shedsomelighton thesociological and culticsettings of dance in ancient Mesopotamia.As revealedby the textual sources, dance was closely connected to the and "frolic." Its performance evoked conceptsof "play" and couldalso be usedin cult joy, vitalityand sexuality, as a symbol events. of mythical

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Hittite

Dance
.t
A

I? xD\ , Dancingwas alwaysan integralpart of *fatS the inhabitants Anatolia (modem of lifefor Turkey)and some of the earliest known The shows two acrobaticdancers uppertier of the Hittitereliefvase from Inandik figural representations, dating to the performingto the accompanimentof musicians.The other three tiers complete the visual aceramic Neolithicperiod(ca. 8000-6300 reenactmentof a Hittite festival, perhaps a marriage. BCE), areof dance.In theLateBronze Age, dance was no less important,and of the Amongthemostdistinctive formsof Hittite dancesthattheHittites, whoruledAnatolia dance were mimetic where performances, in the latterhalf of the secondmillennium in costumed dancers would engage role in, somemust have had BCE,participated These mimes involve replaying. might theirorigins The context deepin prehistory. in a mock a or hunt, enacting participating bothtextual and sources, for dancein Hittite match. Re-enactments battle or of wrestling is invariably cultic:Weknow iconographic, the huntwerea partof the cult of Teteshapi, about the role have nothing dancingmay goddess of wild nature, where, on one playedin dailylifeamongthesmallfarming occasion, a hunter dances with a bow, communities of theAnatolian plateau. to shoot an arrow whereupon pretending Despite the numerous occasions for anotherperformer dressed as a bearwashes described in the Hittite textual dancing the the and feet of performers thenperforms sources, the actual steps that mighthave a dance (deMartino1995:2667). beenperformed aredifficult to reconstruct. Music and danceformthe coreof Hittite a seriesof dancestepsin One textdescribes which were essential to the processions, the in which but does not context order, give celebration As partof the of allHittite festivals. the dance takesplace (de Martino 1995: the KI.LAM a troop procession during festival, 2665). And whilewe knowotherstylesof a naked dancers acrobat) of parades (including dancefrom theirnames, we do not know beforethe king. Imagesof wild animals in what they might have looked like. For metalandsymbols of thehuntfollow precious are described as example,people dancing them. the Late Bronze Although by Agehunting "inthe mannerof the town of Lahsan" or, was no longera regularpart of life on the more descriptively, "in the manner of a celebrated theKI.LAM plateau, festival clearly thedancers or leopard," possibly crouching a tradition where andcultic prehistoric hunting In one it is to possible case, springing. wereinextricably linked. performance reconstruct a dance that is reminiscent of 7 at from deitymadeof ivory Temple folk dances in the Mediterraneanregion A dancing -BJC the Hittite Hattusha (modern Boghazk6y), capital. a which was "executed by groupof today, Sources were before the dances performed themselves in parallel MostHittite dancers whoposition Neve(1993:fig.82). Alp, S. family. rows or concentriccircles,and who first godsorthe royal 2000 Song,Music, and Dance of Hittites. dancein place,thencatchup with therow Ankara: Kavaklidere Cultural infront" (deMartino1995:2665). Publications. Bothmenand womendancein the texts de Martino, S. menarementioned more although frequently. 1995 "Music,Dance, and Processionsin Often the dancers were professional Hittite Anatolia." Pp. 2661-69 in other in the performers, although participants NearEast, Civilizations of theAncient edited by J. M. Sasson. New York: ceremony might also be called upon to dance. Certain religious functionaries Scribner's. Neve, P regularlyperformedin the cult. On two 1993 lattta: StadtderGotterundTempel. theHittitequeendances;on one occasions, Mainz: von Zabern. the dance. these occasions also of dignitaries The extensive vocabularly for dance ThisorthostatrelieffromKarkamish anddating had many suggeststhat dancemovements close to ca. 700 BCE shows the relationship variations. Dancers are described as between musicand danceamongthe Neoturning around, bending, running and Hittites. Thefigureon the rightdancesto the even standingon theirheadsor hands (de of the doublefluteand accompaniment Martino1995: 2665; Alp 2000: 52-53). castanets beside playedby the two musicians Such acrobaticmovesare also attestedin the limited him. Such late examples supplement the art;a reliefvasefound in the regionof visualevidencefor dancefromthe HittiteEmpire Inandikdepictsa seriesof musiciansand period. ?The ArtArchive/ Museum of Anatolian two of whom arejumpingor performers, Civilizations / Dagli Orti. somersaults. turning
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