Did Adapa Indeed Lose His Chance for Eternal Life? A Rationale for Translating Ancient Texts into a Modern Language

Shlomo Izre'el

Abstract

This paper takes as a model for discussing the issue of translating ancient texts into a modern language and for a modern western society an ancient Mesopotamian myth written in the Semitic Akkadian language. Aiming for an oral production for a Hebrew-speaking audience in contemporary Israel, the translator has tackled problems of transmission in both poetics and language. The genre and linguistic gaps have been bridged by the existent proximity of the two cultures in poetic meter. Both the theoretical approach and some practical problems and solutions are discussed.

Table of contents

The primordial sage, Adapa, had been chosen by Ea, the Mesopotamian god of wisdom, to be a leader to his people. Ea gave Adapa wisdom, but he did not give him eternal life. As a servant of Ea, Adapa did the chores needed to perform the daily rituals, among which was supplying fish from the nearby [ p. 16 ]sea. One day Adapa's journey to the sea ended unexpectedly in a sudden burst of the South Wind, which threatened to drown him. There was nothing for Adapa to do but to utter a malediction against the blowing wind, wishing that its wing be broken. And so it was: as soon as he uttered his words, the wing of the South Wind broke, and it could not blow any longer. Anu, the god of heaven and the head of the Mesopotamian pantheon, called upon Adapa for inquiry. The situation was indeed unpleasant for the disciple of Ea, and Ea supplied Adapa with minute instructions which were supposed to save his life. Among these were strict orders to avoid any food or drink offered to him in heaven, which were expected to be lethal. However, the situation turned out to be rather remote from that anticipated by Adapa: instead of being offered deadly food and drink, he was offered the bread and water of life. Adapa refused it, and thus—at least according to one tradition—lost a unique and irreversible chance for eternal life.

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