Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Cuneiform tablet: Utukku lemnutu, tablet 3

Period:
Seleucid
Date:
ca. late 1st millennium B.C.
Geography:
Mesopotamia, probably from Babylon (modern Hillah)
Culture:
Seleucid
Medium:
Clay
Dimensions:
5 x 3.75 in. (12.7 x 9.53 cm)
Classification:
Clay-Tablets-Inscribed
Credit Line:
Purchase, 1886
Accession Number:
86.11.379a, c–f
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 406
The invention of writing in approximately 3300 B.C. was one of many developments in administrative technology--including the use of geometric tokens for counting and cylinder seals to guarantee transactions--that accompanied the growth of the first cities and states in southern Mesopotamia. Proto-cuneiform is the name given to the earliest form of writing--pictograms that were drawn on clay tablets. Gradually, the pictograms became abstracted into cuneiform (Latin, "wedge-shaped") signs that were impressed rather than drawn. At its greatest extent, cuneiform writing was used from the Mediterranean coast of Syria to western Iran and from Hittite Anatolia to southern Mesopotamia. It was adapted to write at least fifteen different languages. The last dated cuneiform text has a date corresponding to A.D. 75, although the script probably continued in use over the next two centuries.

In later periods especially, scribes produced long, multi-tablet series of writings. One series, known as Utukku lemnuti, records incantations to aid in and prevent against attack by demons and ghosts. Some incantations derive from texts dating back to the third millennium B.C., when such texts were first composed, and were transmitted over the centuries as part of the lore of the magician (Akkadian ashipu). This clay tablet, partially reconstructed from fragments, is the third in the series. The text, which reads from left to right, focuses on the protection of the magician himself, when he goes to visit a patient.

Several tablets of the series Utukku lemnuti are in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of art: in addition to this tablet (tablet 3), there are multiple copies of tablet 12 (86.11.367 + 86.11.486 + 86.11.537; 86.11.366 + 86.11.542; 86.11.379b + 86.11.534) and a copy of tablet 16 (86.11.382a, b + 86.11.382c).
Acquired by the Museum in 1886, purchased from the Reverend William Hayes Ward.
Spar, Ira, and Wilfred G. Lambert. 2005. Cuneiform Texts in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Volume II: Literary and Scholastic Texts of the First Millennium B.C. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, no. 25, pp. 136-141, pls. 38-39.
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