The gates of the town are closed. The princes

have gone to sleep. The chatter of voices

has quieted down. Doorbolts are fastened.

Not until morning will they be opened.

The gods of the place, and the goddess,

Ishtar, Sin, Adad, and Shamash,

have gone into the quiet of the sky,

making no judgments. Only

the voice of a lone wayfarer

calls out the name of Shamash or Ishtar:

Now house and field are entirely silent.

the night is veiled. A sleepless client

in the still night waits for the morning.

Great Shamash has gone into the sleeping

heaven; the father of the poor,

the judge, has gone into his chamber.

May the gods of the night come forth — the Hunter,

the Bow, the Wagon, the Yoke, the Viper,

Irra the valiant, the Goat, the Bison,

Girra the shining, the Seven, the Dragon —

May the stars come forth in the high heaven.

Establish the truth in the ritual omen;

in the offered lamb establish the truth. — “Prayer to the Gods of Night,” Babylonian poetry (David Ferry, trans.)

Babylonian poetry — The Babylonian Empire emerged from the consolidating efforts of their King Hammurabi (1696–1654 BC). Taking their language from their predecessors — the Akkadians for spoken language and the Sumerians for written religious language — the Babylonians developed the potential of rule by empire first begun by the Akkadians. While the “Epic of Gilgamesh” is the most famous example of Babylonian poetry (translated from the original Sumerian), other texts are also extant in clay tablet form. In fact, last September, Cambridge scholars unlocked the mystery of what Babylonian language sounded like by devising a pronunciation key.

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