I like reading myths from around the world and from different historical periods, but it’s taken me a while to get into the Sumerian stuff. It might be because they seem so removed from me – they were one of the earliest civilisations that we know much about, living in the late Neolithic/early Bronze age but actually writing stuff down.
But I’ve recently read Sumerian Mythology by Matt Clayton and suddenly it all seems a bit more understandable and a lot more fun. It’s a pretty short book, you can probably get through it in 2 or 3 hours if you can find a comfy chair and perhaps a nice cup of tea or two. I could share with you a lot of interesting things that I’ve learned from it, but this bit really grabbed my attention.
I’d really like your input here, folks. I (obviously) don’t pretend to be an expert in Sumerian mythology and I’m not an expert in Pokémon either, so I need your help.
So there’s an evil sorcerer, or at least a sorcerer who’s on the wrong side and is therefore a bad guy, called Urgirnuna (and apparently his name would be a bit of a joke, sounding a bit like ‘princely dog’ or ‘princely bison’). For various evil reasons, he goes to Ereš (the city of the good guys) and curses at least one cow and one goat so they can’t produce milk.
“May your milk go into your horns”, said the sorcerer. “May your milk to your back!“
But it’s okay, he’s challenged to a magical duel by Sagburu when she hears about his cruelty to the animals. Apparently the Sumerian words for ‘witch’ or ‘sorceress’ aren’t used to describe her, just a word that can mean either ‘old woman’ or ‘wise woman’. I don’t think she’s supposed to be super powerful or anything, but she’s willing to stand up to Urgirnuna.
“Sorcerer!” she said. “I have heard what you did to the cow and the goat […] Surely you will pay for your misdeeds!”
The sorcerer stood and faced Sagburu and said, “I will do no such thing. I am the mightiest sorcerer in the land and I answer to no one, save that they can defeat me in a contest of magic.
“What if I were to accept that challenge?” said Sagburu.
“You? Accept my challenge? I think you will lose”, said the sorcerer “but if you choose defeat, that is your business. So this is what I propose: we should each throw fish spawn into the river and make animals arise from it. If my animals defeat yours then I win. If your animals defeat mine then you win.”
“I accept your challenge”, said Sagburu.
…Does that sound like proto-Pokémon to you? Okay, fish spawn rather than Poké Balls but then the creatures fight on their behalf.
Anyway, the story has a happy ending because it turns out he’s rubbish at this game. First he creates a giant carp and lost when she creates an eagle – did he really think she was going to go for an insect? Some plankton? Seriously, poor tactical decision.
With his second handful of fish spawn, he creates a ewe and a lamb. I mean, well done for managing two animals but neither are particularly fearsome, are they? Sagburu made her fish spawn turn into a wolf which easily won the fight, unsurprisingly. In the third round, he turned his fish spawn into a cow and its calf – has he learnt nothing from this battle so far? She turned hers into a lion. She won.
Then for the forth round he went for an ibex and a wild sheep while she went for a leopard and obviously won, then for the final round he went for a gazelle kid. Not even a full-grown gazelle, a gazelle kid. Seriously, what was he thinking? And he claims to be the mightiest sorcerer in the land? It turned out that the old wise woman could also do two animals at once but she went for a lion and a tiger.
It was a resounding 5-0 victory for the old woman so she throws him into the river.