Variation in Sumerian literary compositions: A case study based on the Decad

Paul Delnero, University of Pennsylvania


In this dissertation, the topic of textual variation in Sumerian literary compositions was examined. Many of the literary works that were composed in Sumerian are known primarily from copies that were produced during the Old Babylonian Period (ca. 1900--1700 B.C.E.). The copies of these compositions, which, with few exceptions, have typically survived in an average of ten to fifty, but in some instances, as many as 200 duplicates, rarely, if ever, contain completely identical versions of the same text. Since, in the absence of single, definitive "master copies" of these texts, it is necessary to reconstruct their content solely on the basis of these divergent exemplars, and being able to distinguish correct from incorrect differences in these duplicates is critical for establishing reliable and accurate editions of these compositions, the primary goal of this dissertation was to develop a method for critically assessing and interpreting the variants that occur among the copies of these texts. Focusing on a small, but representative group of ten compositions known as the Decad, a methodology for analyzing textual variation was proposed and applied to the texts in this corpus. Since it can be shown that most, if not all of the copies of these compositions were written as exercises by scribes being trained to learn to write Sumerian, and that these exercises frequently involved copying from memory, the implications of this were considered as a means of identifying specific types of variants as errors that resulted from this process. In addition, complete catalogues of all the variants that occur both across this corpus as a whole and within each of the individual sources for these texts were compiled both to illustrate the use of this method, as well as to serve as a reference to facilitate the assessment of variants in the duplicates of these and the extensive body of related compositions, that would also provide a basis for future studies of this subject.

Subject Area

Ancient languages|Ancient civilizations

Recommended Citation

Delnero, Paul, "Variation in Sumerian literary compositions: A case study based on the Decad" (2006). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3246150.