-,

Brodsky

"Slave,come to my service!"

This text dates back to the eleventh or tenth century . . and is known among Sumerian scholars as The Dialogue of Pessimism. In antiquity it was regarded as a philosophical text; now some argue that it is, rather, a skit. For my translation, I used two interlinear renditions; one was taken from Babylonian Wisdom Literature, by W G. Lambert (Oxford, I960); the other, from Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, by James B. Pritchard (Princeton, 1955). - J. B.

I

Slave, come to my service! Yes, my master. Yes?

Quick, fetch my chariot, hitch up the horses:

I'll drive to the palace!

Drive to the palace, my master. Drive to the palace. The

King will be pleased to see you,

he will be benevolent to you.

No, slave. I won't go to the palace! Don't, my master.

Don't go to the palace. The King will send you on a

faraway expedition, down the unknown road, through

hostile mountains; day and night he will make you

experience pain

and hardship.

II

Slave, come to my service! Yes, my master. Yes?

Fetch water, pour it over my hands:

I am to eat my supper.

Eat your supper, my master. Eat your supper. Frequent

meals gladden one's heart. Man's supper is the supper of

his god, and clean hands catch

the eye of Shamash.

No, slave. I won't eat my supper! Don't eat your

supper, master. Don't eat your supper. Drink and thirst,

food and hunger never leave man alone, let alone each other.

III

Slave, come to my service! Yes, my master. Yes?

Quick, fetch my chariot, hitch up the horses:

I'll go for a ride in the country.

Do that, my master. Do that. A carefree wanderer always

fills his belly, a stray dog always finds a bone, a migrating

swallow is especially skilled

in nesting,

a wild donkey finds the grass in the driest desert.

No, slave. I won't go for a ride in the country.

Don't go, my master. Don't bother. The lot of a

wanderer is always dicey. A stray dog loses its

teeth. The nest of a migrating swallow gets buried

in plaster. Naked earth is a wild donkey's

bedding.

IV

Slave, come to my service! Yes, my master. Yes?

I feel like starting a family, like begetting children. Good

thinking, my master. Start a family, start a family. Who has

children secures his name, repeated

in posthumous prayers.

No, slave. I won't start a family, I won't have children!

Don't start it, my master. Don't have them. A family is

like a broken door, its hinge is creaking. Only a third of

one's children are healthy;

two-thirds always sickly.

So, should I start a family? Don't start a family.

Who starts a family wastes his ancestral house.

V

Slave, come to my service! Yes, my master. Yes? I

shall yield to my enemy; in the court, I'll stay silent

before my detractors. Right, my master, right. Yield

to your enemy; keep silence, my master, before your

detractors. No, slave! I won't be silent, and I won't

yield! Don't yield, my master, and don't be silent.

Even if you don't open your mouth at all your

enemies will be merciless and cruel to you,

as well as numerous.

VI

Slave, come to my service! Yes, my master. Yes?

I feel like doing some evil, eh?

Do that, my master. By all means, do some evil.

For how otherwise can you stuff your belly?

How, without doing evil, can you dress yourself warmly?

No, slave. I shall do no evil!

Evildoers are either killed, or flayed alive and blinded,

or blinded and flayed alive and thrown into a dungeon.

VII

Slave, come to my service! Yes, my master, Yes? I'll

fall in love with a woman. Fall in love, my master.

Fall in love!

Who falls in love with a woman forgets his griefs

and sorrows.

No, slave. I won't fall in love with a woman!

Don't love, my master. Don't love. Woman is a

snare, a trap, a dark pit. Woman is a sharp steel

blade slitting man's throat

in darkness.

VIII

Slave, come to my service! Yes, my master. Yes?

Quick, fetch water to wash my hands: I am to make

an offering to my god.

Make an offering, make an offering. Who makes offerings

to his god fills his heart with riches; he feels generous, and

his purse is open. No, slave. I won't make an offering!

Rightly so, my master. Rightly so!

Can you really train your god to follow you like a doggy?

All the time he demands obedience, rituals, sacrifices!

IX

Slave, come to my service! Yes, my master. Yes? I'll

invest with the interest, I will loan for the interest. Yes,

invest with the interest, make loans for the interest. Who

does so preserves his own; his profit, though,

is enormous.

No, slave, I won't lend and I won't invest!

Don't invest, my master. Don't lend. To

lend is like loving a woman; to receive,

like siring bad children:

people always curse those whose grain they eat.

They'll resent you or try to reduce your profit.

X

Slave, come to my service! Yes, my master. Yes? I

shall do a good deed for my nation! Very good, my

master, very good. You do that! Who does good deeds

for his nation has his name

in Marduk's gold signet.

No, slave. I won't do a good deed for my nation. Don't

do that, my master. Don't bother. Get up and stroll across

ancient ruins, scan the skulls of simple folk and nobles:

which one of them was a villain, which one a benefactor?

XI

Slave, come to my service! Yes, my master. Yes?

If all this is so, then what is good?

To have your neck broken and my neck broken,

to be thrown into a river that's what is good!

Who is so tall as to reach the heavens?

Who so broad as to embrace plains and mountains?

If that's so, I should kill you, slave:

I'd rather you go before me.

And does my master believe that he can survive

for three days without me?

1987

 

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OCR: Ash from Ashtray. http://www.ashtray.ru/