School Begins – here in Burundi, as it did in the Ancient Middle East

Yesterday school began throughout the country; many bright and shiny faces trooping of to their respective schools. In the ancient Near East, too, school was an important avenue to achieve money and, perhaps,  fame.  Below are a few items from Sumerian history, taken from texts of the time, showing that education  could be as stressful then, as it can be now.
Education of a Sumerian Scribe:
Composition from Nippur c. 2000 B.C.E.1
Master: Schoolboy, where did you go from earliest days?
Boy: I went to school.
Master: What did you do in school?
Boy: I read my tablet, ate my lunch, prepared my tablet, wrote it, finished it; then…Upon the school’s dismissal, I went home, entered the house, (there) was my father sitting. I spoke to my father of my hand copies, then read the tablet to  Him, (and) my father was pleased; truly I found favor with my father. 
“I am thirsty, give me drink; I am hungry, give me bread; wash my feet, set up the bed, I want to go to sleep; wake me early in the morning, I must not be late, (or) my teacher will cane me.”
When I awoke early in the morning, I faced my mother, and said to her: “Give me my lunch, I want to go to school.”  
mother gave me two ‘rolls’…I went to school. In the tablet-house, the monitor said to me: “Why are you late?” I was afraid, my heart beat fast. I entered before my teacher…my ‘school-father’…caned me.
Samuel Noah Kramer, SchooldayS-A Sumerian Composition
A Father’s Concern for His Son’s Education2
Father: “Where did you go?”
Son: “I did not go anywhere.”
Father: “If you did not go anywhere, why are you late? Go to school, stand before your teacher. Read your assignment, open you school-bag, write your tablet, let your big brother (i.e. teacher’s assistant) write your new tablet for you. After you have done your assignment, after you have reported to your overseer, come, please, to me. Do not wander about in the street, return to me. Do you know what I said to you?”
Son: “I know, I will tell it to you.”
Father: “Come, repeat it to me.”
Son: “I will repeat it to you.”
Father: “Tell it to me.”
Son: “I will tell it to you.”
Father: “Come, tell it to me.”
Son: “You told me to go to school, to read my assignments, to open my school-bag, to
write my tablet, my big brother will write my new tablet; after I have done my
assignment, to proceed to my job and, after I have reported to my overseer, to come to
you, you told me.”
Father: “Come now, indeed, be a man. Do not stand about in the public square, do not
wander about in the boulevard; when walking in the street, do not look all around. Be
humble, show fear before your overseer; when you show terror, your overseer will like
HEL231657 The scribe Dudu, a votive to Ningirsu, 2900-2450 BC (diorite) by Sumerian diorite height: 45 Iraq Museum, Baghdad © Held Collection out of copyright

The scribe Dudu.

Self-Praise of Shulgi, King of Ur, for His Education: (Shulgi, 2094–2047 B.C.E.) 3
As a youth, I studied the scribal art in the edubba, from the tablets of Sumer and Akkad,
Of the nobility, no one was able to write a tablet like me,
In the place where the people attend to learn the scribal art,
Adding, subtracting, counting and accounting—I completed all (their courses);
The fair Nanibgal, Nisaba [patron goddess of the scribal art,]
Endowed me generously with wisdom and intelligence.
1 Adapted from Samuel Noah Kramer, “Schooldays: A Sumerian Composition Relating to the Education of a  Scribe,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 69, 4 (1949): 205. The image of the cuneiform tablet is Plate I  between pp. 214 and 215. The article is a good example of how an ancient text that existed in multiple but incomplete copies is analyzed and published. The Sumerian word for school was é-dub-ba “tablet-house,” the pupil was dumu-édub-ba, “son of the tablet-house,” and the trained professional scribes dub-sar “tablet-writers” (pg. 199 of the article).
2 Kramer, “Schooldays,” 208–210, adapted from Kramer and G. R. Driver in Semitic Writing: From Pictograph to Alphabet (London/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976), 235.
3 Jacob Klein, The Royal Hymns of Shulgi King of Ur: Man’s Quest for Immortal Fame (Philadelphia: The American Philosophical Society, 1981): 15.
 As shown in Sample Texts from the Ancient Near East, U of Washington, n.d. no author. 

About dianabuja

With a group of BaTwa (pygmy) women potters, with whom we've worked to enhance production and sales of their wonderful pots - fantastic for cooking and serving. To see the 2 blogs on this work enter 'batwa pots' into the search engine located just above this picture. Blog entries throughout this site are about Africa, as well as about the Middle East and life in general - reflecting over 35 years of work and research in Africa and the Middle East – Come and join me!
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