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Sumerian Proverbs: A Selection

"Give me!" is what the king says.

"Though I still have bread left over, I will eat your bread!" Will this endear a man to the household of his friend?

A dog which is played with turns into a puppy.

A fox trod on the hoof of a wild bull: "It didn't hurt?"

A good word is a friend to numerous men.

A malicious wife living in the house is worse than all diseases.

A slave entrusted with a burial will be negligent.

A troubled mind makes you sick.

Accept your lot and make your mother happy.

After becoming a thief, one becomes an outcast.

An unjust heir who does not support a wife, who does not support a child, has no cause for celebration.

As long as you live you should not increase evil by telling lies.

Control the dog, but love the puppy!

Don't pick things ahead of time; some bear fruit later [Mod].

Even a dog can satisfy its hunger. It's over for me, but should I be happy?

For his pleasure he got married. On his thinking it over he got divorced.

From many oxen, is there no dung?

Give me my tools and I will launch my boat.

Good fortune [calls for] organisation and wisdom.

Hand added to hand, and a man's house is built up. Stomach added to stomach, and a man's house is destroyed.

Having wives is human.

He has not yet caught the fox but he is already making a neck-stock for it.

He who eats too much cannot sleep.

He who knows how to move around . . . will live longer than the sedentary man.

He who owns many things is constantly on guard. Or: He acquires many things, he must keep close watch over them.

Hunger works like a punishment [Mod].

If the foreman does not know how to assign the work, his workers will not stop shaking their heads.

Ignoramuses are numerous in the palace.

Keep your feet on the ground!

Let the favour be repaid to him who repays a favour.

Let the river swell when there is something in it.

Let there be unused land adjacent to a house.

Life is largely better than death [Mod]

Marry a wife according to your choice. Have children to your heart's content.

Marry some sweet wife of your choice [Mod].

My girlfriend's heart is a heart made for me.

Possessions make trust of crucial importance.

Something which has never occurred since time immemorial: a young woman did not fart in her husband's embrace.

Strength cannot keep pace with intelligence.

That the dog understands "Take it!", does not mean he also understands "Put it down!" [Mod]

The dog gnawing on a bone says to his anus: "This is going to hurt you!"

The donkey, after he had thrown off his packs, said: "Now I can forget the burdens of former days!"

The elephant spoke to himself: "There is nothing like me!" The wren answered him: But I, in my own small way, was created just as you were!"

The honest man will earn his pay.

The idleness of a low-life causes losses; his shying away from work is a pain [Mod].

The lion had caught a helpless she-goat: "Let me go! I will give you my fellow ewe in return!" - When the lion came to the fold, she answered him from the other side: No sheep live here!

The man whose feet are deformed accepts shoes.

The man with a troubled heart is sick.

The mother who has given birth to eight young men lies down exhausted.

The owner of a house should reinforce the windows against burglars.

The palace is a slippery place which catches those who do not know it.

The poor man chews whatever he is given.

The poor man must always look to his next meal.

The sheep-shearer is himself dressed in dirty rags.

The sun never leaves my heart, which surpasses a garden.

The terrifying wild bull can do what pleases himself first and foremost [Mod].

There is no baked cake in the middle of the dough.

There will be a prominent place for a capable scribe.

Things may be traded in the city but it is the fisherman who brings in the food supply.

Those who get excited should not become foremen.

To be sick is acceptable; to be pregnant is painful; but to be pregnant and sick is just too much.

To cry out like a dog in a frenzy.

To eat is good. When it comes up again, it is bad.

To remove something from its proper place is not a good thing [Mod].

Wearing a long beard like a goat.

What comes out from the heart of the tree is known by the heart of the tree. Or: What comes from the heart is known by the heart.*

When a man comes forward as a witness, saying: "Let me tell you what I know about him", but does not know the relevant information, it is an abomination.

When a man comes forward as a witness, saying: "Let me tell you what I know," but does not know the relevant information, it is an abomination.

When present, it was considered a loincloth; when lost, it is considered fine clothing.

When righteousness is cut off, injustice is increased.

When the lion caught a wild boar, he roared: "Your flesh has not yet filled my mouth, but your squeals have deafened my ears!"

When the sun is setting outside so that you cannot even recognise the hand in front of you, go inside!

Whether he ate or not, the seed was good.

Without relevant toughness, a man may find it hard to go about his business, even someone invested with full power [Mod].

About Sumer

Sumer was an early, settled society of southern Mesopotamia, and dates back about 7300 years. Sumer came to manifest essential features of a civilization.

The Sumerians were a non-Semitic people, perhaps starting out as an indigenous culture of hunter-fishers. The culture was male-dominated, and beneath the "great man" (king) the members of society were either free persons or slaves.

Sumerians grew barley, chickpeas, lentils, wheat, dates, onions, garlic, lettuce, leeks and mustard. They also raised cattle, sheep, goats, and pigs. They used oxen as their favoured beasts of burden. Sumerians caught fish and hunted fowl and gazelle.

Sumerians are credited with inventing the wheel, initially the potter's wheel, and later wheeled vehicles and mill wheels, as well as intensive agriculture and irrigation.

You may find several of these features reflected in their proverbs. The 74 proverbs here stem from a considerably larger corpus.


Proverbs of Sumer, Sumerian proverbs, Literature  

Source: Black, J.A., Cunningham, G., Fluckiger-Hawker, E, Robson, E., and Zólyomi, G. The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature. Oxford 1998-2003.

Harvesting the hay

Symbols, brackets, signs and text icons explained: (1) Text markers(2) Digesting.

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