Synopses & Reviews
Over 5,000 years ago, the history of humanity radically changed direction when writing was invented in Sumer, the southern part of present-day Iraq. For the next three millennia, kings, aristocrats, and slaves all made intensive use of cuneiform script to document everything from royal archives to family records.
In engaging style, Dominique Charpin shows how hundreds of thousands of clay tablets testify to the history of an ancient society that communicated broadly through letters to gods, insightful commentary, and sales receipts. He includes a number of passages, offered in translation, that allow readers an illuminating glimpse into the lives of Babylonians. Charpin's insightful overview discusses the methods and institutions used to teach reading and writing, the process of apprenticeship, the role of archives and libraries, and various types of literature, including epistolary exchanges and legal and religious writing.
The only book of its kind, Reading and Writing in Babylon introduces Mesopotamia as the birthplace of civilization, culture, and literature while addressing the technical side of writing and arguing for a much wider spread of literacy than is generally assumed. Charpin combines an intimate knowledge of cuneiform with a certain breadth of vision that allows this book to transcend a small circle of scholars. Though it will engage a broad general audience, this book also fills a critical academic gap and is certain to become the standard reference on the topic.
"This introduction to the birth of cuneiform writing in the Babylonian empire is an engaging primer on the lexicon of linguistics. Cuneiform writing, with its three dimensional requirement of light and shade, included 600 characters, all possessing either a syllabic (phonetic) or logographic value that showed both sound and meaning. It's all about communication: clay tablets were put in clay envelopes; to learn characters, students traced them; and scholars copied manuscripts to preserve them. Tablets of contracts, laws, and even literary works were archived and collected in libraries. Thus we have the Epic of Gilgamesh from the second millennium, telling us the story of the deluge. By the first millennium, it wasn't only scribes who could read and write but also administrators, generals, and even their wives. The fires of war baked the clay tablets, safeguarding them for future research (there is an inventory of 500,000 texts). Charpin has written a scholarly work of incredible breadth; read with reference books at the ready to discover an ancient world not so different from our own. (Nov.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
Co-Winner, 2010 Translation Prize, Non-Fiction Category, French-American Foundation and Florence Gould Foundation
About the Author
Dominique Charpin is Professor of Mesopotamian History at the Sorbonne, Paris.