Researchers Make Recordings of Ancient Babylonian Poems Available Online

Akkadian, the language of the Babylonians, was once spoken widely across the entire Middle East.  It was the language of Hammurabi and of the epic poem Gilgamesh.  Considering that the language died out 2,000 years ago, we still have a surprising amount of cuneiform writing from ancient Babylon preserved on clay and stone tablets. While scholars figured out how to decipher the text in the mid-19th century, nobody knew what spoken Babylonian (the Akkadian dialect spoken in Babylon) sounded like…until now.

According to the Daily Mail, researchers at Cambridge University have been able to reconstruct what ancient Babylonian sounded like by looking carefully at texts in the original Babylonian and at the same texts translated into other known, related languages. This analysis allowed them to uncover patterns in the language that helped them to determine how different words were pronounced.  Now, the researchers have made audio recordings available online of ancient Babylonian poetry and other writing, all read in the original Babylonian.

Cambridge’s Dr Martin Worthington, who led the project, explained his work in more detail to the Daily Mail:

‘Whenever I tell people what I do, the first question they ask is what did Babylonian sound like, and how do you know? It’s essentially detective work.  We will never know for sure that a Babylonian would have approved of our attempts at pronunciation, but by looking at the original sources closely, we can make a pretty good guess. In the end I decided that the best thing to do would be to create a resource where people can listen to it for themselves.”

The recordings, available here, include portions of the Code of Hammurabi, several versions of the Epic of Gilgamesh, an “Incantation for a Dog Bite” and more. Translations, alas, are not included with the audio, but you can find them online via the magic of Google.

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