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Format of Volumes §I and §II.2

Headings of excerpts allow only concise references to specific Sa-gig commentary entries, and I indicate with each such heading the relevant section of my Edition of the Sa-gig CommentariesII.1), under which the reader may find the commentary text in full, along with tablet and bibliographical information. A convenient list of each commentary tablet’s field and/or museum number, as well as abbreviations of commonly cited editiones principes, is included as part of the Contents page for §II.1. For readers without immediate access to my second volume (§II), a sense of how individual commentary entries appear as part of larger blocks of text may be obtained by referring to Excerpts 340–344. Cuneiform transliterations and English translations in excerpts appear in continuous linear text—except in cases where I discuss Commentary Tablet FormatsI.1.4.1), where effort is made to reflect in typesetting the ancient text’s appearance in columns and indented lines on the physical tablet. To save space, entries from lexical lists and serialized compilations may be presented as continuous text such as “(47) nam-dub-sar = scribal art, (48) eme-gir15 = Sumerian, (49) ka-ka-si-ga = syllable sign” (Excerpt 120), with the number of each line specified in parentheses for easy reference. Line divisions occurring naturally at the tablet’s edge are marked by using a single slant line (/) in transliterations, but are unmarked in translations. Horizontal lines intentionally etched across the tablet by the ancient scribe are either replicated in print, or labeled in transliterations and translations as {line divider}. Text restored to damaged portions of the manuscript are represented within [square brackets], which however never interrupt the spelling of a translated English word.

Format of Edition of the Sa-gig Commentaries (§II.1)

In order to foreground commentators’ motivations and knowledge assumptions, I adopt a two-column format, where brief remarks are interpolated with translations. In the left column, each new commentary entry is introduced by a reference in bold print to the base text commented on, such as Sa-gig 3: 15, Sa-gig U1: 39b (S1: 4), *Sa-gig 40: 5, or *Sa-gig 7. The ‘base text’ refers to the manuscript methodically studied by the commentator (§I.1.4.2), and base text readings quoted in commentaries can differ from other manuscript copies that are preserved and available to us today. It bears repeating that these references in bold indicate textual positions in modern composite editions of Sa-gig, which may not always accurately reflect forms in the commentator’s manuscript, but which nonetheless serve as convenient shorthand. I make clear note of cases where there are detectable discrepancies of orthography or content between base text manuscripts and our modern editions.

The use of an asterisk (*) in references like *Sa-gig 40: 5 and *Sa-gig 7 indicates that the topic of the commentary entry does not correspond exactly to forms in available Sa-gig manuscripts, though enough of the context is preserved for us to be certain of the Sa-gig Tablet or even line number that is commented on. The asterisk is occasioned in cases where damage to the Sa-gig or commentary tablet makes their connection less sure, where the commentator seems to have relied on a base text manuscript that differs from those available to us today, or where the commentator intentionally deviated from base text forms in order to express a Single Member ArgumentI.2.3.3). For the sake of clarity, a short portion of the version preserved in manuscripts today is sometimes quoted along with its reference—e.g., *Sa-gig 40: 111—“his IGI.2 are suffused(?),” which corresponds to what is written in the commentary tablet as “His IGI.MEŠ are suffused(?).”i

The remainder of the left column consists of short explanations of the commentator’s argument and/or possible motivations in his choice of commentary topics. The two-column format articulates my view that such information, external to the commentary tablet itself, is indispensable for a proper understanding of the commentator’s craft. To give an example, Comm. Sa-gig 4A contains what appears at first glance to be a rather superfluous entry involving unremarkable terms: “ ‘It shakes.’ To shake means to tremble.”ii The Akkadian topic “it shakes,” however, occurs rarely and only as a description of the patient’s temple. On the other hand, the comment “to tremble” is a more general Akkadian synonym applicable to many other parts of the human body, and which was in fact a favorite explanation recurring in several commentaries. Seen in this light, the commentary entry represents a reasonable effort to clarify a less common medical description and to explain it in a way congruent with other known body behaviors. While the use of descriptors such as ‘rare,’ ‘unusual,’ and ‘less common’ admittedly reflects my own subjective impressions of the frequency of lexical or grammatical items in the medical literature,iii I endeavor to validate such impressions by providing substantial lists of medical text references on the said item(s) in my Notes. Future discoveries and publications of additional medical texts may fine-tune our understanding of the nuances of particular arguments, but my hope is that the larger picture of commentators’ motivations and audience assumptions will remain credible.

Moving on to another example in Comm. Sa-gig 5, for instance, we seem to detect nothing more than a straightforward lexical equation: “ ‘ŠID’ means limbs.”iv The full significance of this entry, again, cannot be appreciated until we realize that the term “limbs” is almost always represented in the Diagnostic Handbook as the logogram UB.NIGIN, and only in the base text here (Sa-gig 5: 89′) as the logogram ŠID. In other words, the commentator was affirming that the word in the base text should in fact be understood as ŠID—meaning “limbs”—even though its deviation from conventions in medical writing appeared to cast doubt on this interpretation. Furthermore, it is significant that the explanatory comment “limbs” is not expressed logographically as UB.NIGIN—as is typical of the Diagnostic Handbook—but syllabically as minâtu as is typical of therapeutic texts. Choices of topics and comments can tell us much about knowledge assumptions shared by the commentator and his audience, revealing technical vocabularies, orthographies, and concepts current among particular groups of medical practitioners and professionals. The rhetorical pattern here is one repeatedly noted in the left column: Commentators on Sa-gig often chose topics that differed from basic medical language of the kind used in therapeutic texts—even if these topics were common in Sa-gig itself—and chose comments that were typical of descriptions of the sick body in therapeutic texts. This is a phenomenon whose implications I discuss extensively in §I.3.

The right column contains my English translation of the Sa-gig commentary, with each statement beginning with its line number(s) in the commentary tablet written in parentheses. Double inverted commas (i.e., quotation marks) are reserved for words or expressions actually cited in ancient times from a base text or from another source, but no quotation marks are used for individual components (e.g., KI and ud, or A and gur) or dictionary forms (e.g., talālu) that result from analyzing cited logograms (e.g., “KI.UD.BI”) or syllabic spellings (e.g., “agurru” or “uttatallil”). I also omit quotation marks in the few instances of ‘single member arguments’ (§I.2.3.3) where, in the position we expect to find a cited topic, we find instead a different written form of the commentator’s own choosing. Where modern references in the Notes to these English translations already employ double inverted commas, the portions quoted in antiquity appear within single inverted commas instead—e.g., “ ‘It is puckered’ means it is broken up.”

Translation Issues in Volumes §I and §II

The thoughtful reader may be concerned that I do not render base text topics in a consistent way, sometimes translating them into English, sometimes leaving them as logograms (e.g., SAG.GIŠ.RA), sometimes expressing their normalized Akkadian forms (e.g., ittenenbiṭū), and sometimes even separating out their component signs (e.g., rík-su, ma-rak(/šal), i-ta-na-áš-šá-a). While such translation decisions can be subjective and may at times reflect uncertainties in reading, my overriding principle is to prioritize the clarity of the commentator’s larger argument over that of individual lexical items.

In cases where the commentator appears to be giving lexical definition to a less familiar logogram or syllabic form, this less familiar term is not translated into English: for example, “ ‘SAG.GIŠ.RA’ (means) to smite” and “ ‘ittenenbiṭūderives from the dictionary root to have cramps.”v For the latter example, a translation such as “ ‘(his innards) keep having cramps’ derives from the dictionary root to have cramps” would inaccurately appear as a tautology: If one were already certain that ittenenbiṭū means “keep having cramps,” there would be altogether no need for the commentator to identify its verbal derivation—i.e., “derives from the dictionary root to have cramps.” Other written forms were of interest, because they could be suspected of multiple meanings or were likely to be misread, and I have tried to reflect the ambiguity experienced by ancient audiences. For example, in my translation “ ‘[His belly] i-ta-na-áš-šá-a [to] vomit’ means his belly rises to vomit,” my depiction of the individual syllables i-ta-na-áš-šá-a (from the verb našû, “to rise”) illustrates their possible confusion with orthographies like i-ta-na-áš (Sa-gig 22: 25, 28; from the verb âšu, “to retch”) that appear in similar contexts of vomiting, and which therefore would have prompted the commentator to clarify the

I am well aware that such translation methods may create difficulties for readers who are unfamiliar with cuneiform signs or Akkadian words. In my Edition of the Sa-gig CommentariesII.1), even when terms are left untranslated in the right column to better reflect the logic of an argument, I supply English translations of these terms as remarks in the left column. On the other hand, there are times when topic and comment both need to be translated into English, in cases where audiences were expected to have known the meanings of the individual words involved, but had to be instructed in their nuances for specific situations. An example would be the entry “ ‘His ka is pressed down, he will die.’ To press down means to become palsied. To press down means to twitch.”vii It is unlikely that the commentator’s audience was ignorant of the meaning of the common verb “to press down” (ṣapāru). Rather, the commentator was concerned to express the range of meanings possible for the ambiguous body part “ka”—i.e., whereas “palsy” was the likely reason for medical descriptions of pressed down “mouth” (logogram KA) and lips, “twitching” indicated similar behavior by the “nose” (cuneiform sign ka as logogram KIR4).

By not translating logograms into English, I follow the usual practice by other scholars, which recognizes that commentators tend to treat logograms as written symbols requiring syllabic—and verbal—explication. This, however, does not necessarily imply a precise one-to-one relation between a logogram topic and its syllabic comment. As a matter of fact, lexical lists frequently pair the same logogram with several different Akkadian syllabic forms, or the same Akkadian syllabic term with different logograms.viii At times, the particle ša (“in the case of / where”) appears explicitly to introduce the prescribed context within which a particular “logogram–syllabic term” pair is valid (§II.2.2). Our commentaries, moreover, employ B:A′:B:C and B:C:B:A′ arguments (§I.–5) that propose a connection between a cognate of the base text topic (A′) and another syllabically written term (C), on the basis that both may be expressed by the same logogram in position B.

One way of distinguishing a logogram from its Akkadian syllabic form might be to express the logogram in terms of its etymology, such as “GIŠ. dUTU (Sum.: ‘tree of Šamaš’) : plane tree.”ix Such translation strategies, however, raise the question whether the commentator was proposing alternative names or identifications for the same object, or whether he was clarifying a single name or identity label. To complicate matters, it is not always clear if etymology figured consciously in the popular usage of a term or in the commentator’s argument, or whether some logograms were simply treated as frozen symbols of Akkadian expressions. In this edition, I have generally refrained from etymological translations of logograms, except in cases where the analysis of logographic forms (§I. is clearly a part of the argument.

Transliterations of vocabulary and grammar in the Sumerian language are expressed with expanded character spacing (e.g., šag4 íb-ba-dab5-e-ne ĝe). Cuneiform signs functioning as Akkadian syllables are transliterated in italicized lowercase letters (e.g., a-ga-nu-til-la-a), while those functioning as logograms (word signs) of Akkadian words appear in non-italicized uppercase letters (e.g., SIG4.AL.ÙR.RA, A.GA, and TI.LA), according to conventions in John Huehnergard’s A Grammar of Akkadian (2011). While it is true that logographic values depicting Akkadian words and particles are historically indebted to Sumerian vocabulary and grammar, a clear distinction between Sumerian and Akkadian meanings becomes important in commentarial argumentation. For example, whereas one commentator interpreted the writing al-du as a fossilized form AL.DU essentially identical to the common Akkadian logogram DU “to move” (Comm. Sa-gig 4A), other commentators gave weight to the stative sense of the Sumerian prefix al- and therefore shunned this straightforward explanation that involved movement (Comm. Sa-gig 4B and 4C).x Furthermore, commentarial arguments sometimes require discussion about a cuneiform sign without affirming its role either as a logogram or as a syllable sign. I have chosen to depict such cases in unitalicized lowercase (e.g., gur4, aš-tenû, and si-gunû) or to use circumlocutions such as “the cuneiform sign for ŠIKA” and “the logogram for ‘pig’ (ŠÁḪ) is the same cuneiform sign as the logogram for ‘youth’ (ŠUL).” Terms cited from lexical texts that are not in syllabic Akkadian are also mostly rendered in unitalicized lowercase. While many of such readings have values reminiscent of logograms of Akkadian words, ancient commentators seem at times to be cognizant of distinctions between the two, preserving lexical forms such as ki-šá-ra, which, as they would have been aware, differed from familiar logograms such as KI.ŠÁR.(RA)—meaning “all” (kiššatu).xi

Two slant lines (/ … /) are used to enclose rough approximations of how terms were pronounced. The pronunciation /makutu/, for instance, could refer either to the noun makūtu (“pole”) or to the verbal adjective makûtu (“lacking”).xii Such pronunciations do not always appear with cuneiform orthography that accurately reflects the vowel lengths or verbal accentuation of the words pronounced. Thus, ḫa-bu-ú refers to the pronunciation /ḫabu/ that can express not only the verb ḫabû (“to draw up water”), but also the verb ḫâbu (“to consecrate”).xiii In other words, the writing ḫa-bu-ú with its long final vowel does not technically depict the verb ḫabû (“to draw up water”), but represents the abstract pronunciation /ḫabu/ + an additional nominal ending -u, in much the same way that Akkadian sign names such as ubû (the sign aš or aš-tenû) and anšû (the sign for ANŠE) also appear with a long final vowel.xiv While modern linguistic convention presents phonemic transcriptions within slant lines and phonetic transcriptions within square brackets, my general use of slant lines for the approximate pronunciations of terms does not express a firm or consistent decision whether the values enclosed are always phonemic or phonetic. In any case, it would be inappropriate to use square brackets here for phonetic transcriptions, since it is the Assyriological convention that square brackets enclose readings restored in damaged texts.

Ancient commentators and modern scholars sometimes make arguments based on the visual appearance of cuneiform graphs (i.e., written symbols). Such arguments are roughly illustrated in my Notes using the Unicode Cuneiform font (TTF) “Assurbanipal” for Neo-Assyrian signs, which was designed by Sylvie Vanséveren and generously made available freely to the scholarly community. I do not mean to imply that cuneiform graphs printed in my volumes precisely replicate sign-forms on Sa-gig commentary tablets, which reflect idiosyncrasies in hand-writing by different scribes, and which are mostly written in Neo-/Late Babylonian script that can differ slightly from the Neo-Assyrian signs.

Depictions of commentarial arguments such as A:B(:A):C, A:B:C, and B:A′:B:C, among other patterns, reflect my own system of shifting sigla that I discuss more extensively and illustrate in §I.2.3.2. Whereas specific positions in an argument can be represented by varying sigla—depending on how much of the argument is recorded or preserved in ancient texts, or excerpted for purposes of modern discussion—these sigla shift in such a way as to maintain the same logical relationships among the positions. The siglum A is reserved exclusively for the base text topic, while comments are depicted alphabetically as B, C, D, E, and so on, in the order they appear within the argument being considered. Cognates such as A′ and B′ with the prime symbol (′) most frequently represent the dictionary forms of their antecedents (in this case, A and B), and can also denote variations on their antecedents’ inflection, orthography, or sign value. By designating, say, A′ as a ‘cognate’ instead of just another comment, its relationship to its antecedent (A) is emphasized for purposes of further argumentation.


Comm. Sa-gig 40B, rev. 5′ (§II.1.30).


Comm. Sa-gig 4A, obv. 9 (§II.1.9). See also [ra-ʾ-bu] : sa-la-ḫu⸥, “[To shiver] means to tremble” in Comm. Sa-gig 3B, rev. 3 (§II.1.7).


To avoid sounding repetitive, my Notes and remarks are not always explicit that such descriptors refer to frequencies only within ‘medical texts’ or the ‘medical literature,’ but this should be understood as the context of my two volumes.


[Š]ID : mi-na-a-tú (Comm. Sa-gig 5, line 28 in §II.1.12).


Comm. Sa-gig 39, obv. 2–3 (§II.1.28) and Comm. Sa-gig 4B, obv. 9 (§II.1.10) respectively.


Comm. Sa-gig 7B, rev. 2′–3′ (§II.1.14). Again, a translation such as “ ‘[His belly] keeps rising/heaving [to] vomit’ means his belly rises to vomit” obscures the commentator’s motivation for choosing to comment.


Comm. Sa-gig 39, obv. 12 (§II.1.28).


See Excerpts 392–393 in §II.2.2.


GIŠ dUTU : dul-bi (CTMMA II, 69 = MMA 86.11.109, obv. 2) in Finkel (2005: 280–281).


Comm. Sa-gig 4A, obv. 2–3 (§II.1.9). The signs al-du were interpreted syllabically as al-ṭù (from the root wašāṭu, “to become stiff”) in Comm. Sa-gig 4B, obv. 9–10 (§II.1.10) and Comm. Sa-gig 4C, obv. 4′ (§II.1.11).


The writing ki-šá-ra comes from a version of Erimhuš V, 46. See Note on Comm. Sa-gig 36, rev. 10′ (§II.1.27).


Comm. Sa-gig 21 & 22a, obv. 2 (§II.1.23).


Comm. Sa-gig 1B, obv. 21′ (§II.1.2).


For the sign names ubû and anšû, see Comm. Sa-gig 1B, rev. 25 (§II.1.2) and Comm. Sa-gig 7A, rev. 13 (§II.1.13) respectively. Sign names are often Akkadianized by adding the endings -u or -a. Gong (2000: 42–51); cf. Gong (2003: 2–19). In other instances, sign names may be represented without these endings, again analogous to the way pronunciations like /makutu/ may be written simply as ma-ku-tu4 (Comm. Sa-gig 21 & 22a, obv. 2 in §II.1.23) without an additional -u ending.

Mesopotamian Commentaries on the Diagnostic Handbook Sa-gig

Edition and Notes on Medical Lexicography, Cuneiform Monographs vol. 49/2