“That’s Gilgamesh’d Up”: Recreating the Music of Ancient Sumer

We know what you’re thinking. Gilgamesh… sung? No, it’s not the newest historical musical, hoping to capitalize on the hysteria for history-themed performances catalyzed by Hamilton. We’re talked here aboutthe opening lines of the Epic of Gilgamesh performed by musician Peter Pringle. The piece is not only played on a Sumerian lute called a “gish-gu-di” but is also sung in ancient Sumerian. You can’t get any more authentic than that, or so says Pringle:

The EPIC OF GILGAMESH is the earliest great work of literature that we know of, and was first written down by the Sumerians around 2100 B.C.

Ancient Sumer was the land that lay between the two rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates, in Mesopotamia. The language that the Sumerians spoke was unrelated to the Semitic languages of their neighbors the Akkadians and Babylonians, and it was written in a syllabary (a kind of alphabet) called “cuneiform”. By 2000 B.C., the language of Sumer had almost completely died out and was used only by scholars (like Latin is today). No one knows how it was pronounced because it has not been heard in 4000 years.

What you hear in this video are a few of the opening lines of part of the epic poem, accompanied only by a long-neck, three-string, Sumerian lute known as a “gish-gu-di”. The instrument is tuned to G – G – D, and although it is similar to other long neck lutes still in use today (the tar, the setar, the saz, etc.) the modern instruments are low tension and strung with fine steel wire. The ancient long neck lutes (such as the Egyptian “nefer”) were strung with gut and behaved slightly differently. The short-neck lute known as the “oud” is strung with gut/nylon, and its sound has much in common with the ancient long-neck lute although the oud is not a fretted instrument and its strings are much shorter (about 25 inches or 63 cm) as compared to 32 inches (82 cm) on a long-neck instrument.

Andy Lowings plays The Flood.  Image for the Lyre EnsembleInterested in more Sumerian music? Then you shouldlisten to The Flood by the Lyre Ensemble, as recommended by Core alum and University of Texas grad Dygo Tosa (Core ’06, CAS ’08)… he’s a Classics teacher at Brookline High School, and he knows from oldies but goodies. The Floodis an album of ancient Sumerian and Babylonian music that features the sounds of a replica of the Gold Lyre of Ur. Listen to a preview here and let Core know what you think. (We envision the first week of CC 101 as far more impressive if the lecturer opened with a reading of Gilgamesh in its original tongue, but that’s just us.)

From Vox: Trumps grab ‘em by the p***y line anticipated by 600 years

That “Canterbury” contains “Cant-“, and that “cant” shares a precarious assonance with another word, suggests that one of our most Donald_Trump_(8566730507)_(2)literate bards and bawds, Chaucer, might have anticipated Trump’s latest perversion. This possibility was recently illuminated by Constance Grady at Vox. Or, less likely, Trump might have been paying tribute in his comment to some of his favorite poesy. If so, then he is in every sense of the word medieval, but classicist in delivery, combining with his own thumping demagoguery the Roman art of declamation. The most famous of these rhetoricians was Quintillian, whom in addition to Trump, Chaucer might have been alewding while brooding the following lines.

And prively he caught hire by the queynte,
And seyde, Ywis, but if ich have my wille,
For deerne love of thee, lemman, I spille.

Suprisingly, wille is not willy, and spille is not spilly. In modern English, which translates roughly into Trump, it would read:

And discretely he caught her by the pleasing thing,
And said, Oh, but if I have my will,
For secret love of you, darling, Ill die.

This was from Nicholas, a puerile bibliophile, to the beautiful Alison, who today, willy-nilly, would probably not have given her number, or vote. “This kind of violent, domineering act is not acceptable. It has been around for centuries, and it has never been acceptable. If Trumps words emerge, as Drimmer and Fleming argue, from our cultural legacy, then it is our responsibility to come to terms with that legacy. It is our responsibility to show the Nicholases and Don Drapers and Trumps of the world that their actions are reprehensible,” and pusillanimous.

Read Grady’sfull post at Vox.

From BUToday: Rite of Passage 2016: Learning from Adversity

If anyone has a story that can justly be called BUnique and BUtiful, then one of our Core first-year students, Abbey Janeira, has certainly made her own a strong candidate. She was profiled in a recent article at BU Today:

Abbey Janeira (CAS ’20) is used to facing challenges. As an eighth grader, she was diagnosed with a chronic, often debilitating medical condition that led to frequent hospitalizations throughout high school and often left her feeling alone. Despite that, she says, she was able to maintain a 4.0 grade point average.

Image for BUToday

Image for BUToday

A year and a half ago, Janeira’s family life changed dramatically when her mother decided to adopt five children from Bulgaria, all with special needs or critical medical issues. (She also has an older sister.) Where many would be daunted by the challenge of helping to care for so many siblings with pressing health care concerns, Janeira embraced it.

When you’re having a bad day and you’re sitting there and feeling upset, she says, they can tell and they just come up to you and give you a hug. Its not something you can replicate with anyone else.

Janeira says she’s wanted to be a doctor her whole life, but that dealing with her own illness and that of her brothers and sisters has made her determined to become a pediatric surgeon and researcher. Her goal is to find a cure for spina bifida, a condition that has left her four-year-old sister, Addison, in a wheelchair. “It’s made me more understanding of other peoples situations as well as my own,” she says.

The last bit really strikes the Core note doesn’t it?On that note, welcome to Core, Abbey. We’re glad you’re part of our community. (We encourage readers to leave their own message of welcome in the comments section below.)

Meet Abbey at BU Today.

From The Guardian: Stop pushing the same ‘classic’ books, trust modern writing

One reason why it is necessary to keep “pushing” the “classic books” is that they strengthen the things that remain. For one of our present monomanias is for “innovation,” against which the classical works provide much needed traction.Without it, it is easy to feel one is living a chopping-block mode of existence, bound to cut oneself as the present accelerates implacably toward the “cutting-edge.” Slashing away, Samantha Shannon, writer of paranormal and dystopian juvenilia, is dyspeptic that the BBC (Big Boring Classicist) recommends for kids a list of books so predictable that it has made us all clairvoyant. Dyspepsia relieved:

Shutting todays children out ... a closed library in Hackney, London. Photograph: Garry Weaser for the Guardian

Shutting todays children out … a closed library in Hackney, London. Photograph: Garry Weaser for the Guardian

The list isnt a bad one. Its just not a new one. Created by the public, it sets out 10 books that children should read, and includes the usual suspects: The Lord of the Rings, To Kill a Mockingbird and the Bible, with Harry Potter coming out on top. Yes, its right that we acknowledge that they are all important contributions to the history of literature; yes, it is also understandable that we want the next generation to experience the books that we have loved.

But havent we seen lists like this one too many times before? I was reminded of the 25 books that will stick with you and blow your mind list that the Independent released in February. With the exception of Frankenstein, the list was made up solely of books by white men, most of whose names are already entrenched in the public consciousness. The list in question acclaimed the books for withstanding the test of time but what about books written in our time? Why do we invest such little trust in books written today?

I should think that H.P. Lovecraft would be the stronger candidate than H.P. “the boy who lived.” But then, the former is one of the white men who died. But to answer: the book and the cask show that time makes lucrative both the investment and the interest. And it is Poe and the Apostles who show how in combination (books and wine), they can also make for good paranormal fiction.

Read her full post atThe Guardian

From The Atlantic: How Banning Books Marginalizes Children

In this corner, the cries for diversity are heard so regularly, that one can’t help but to feel they are unified into some kind of chant. Meanwhile, the coroner is busy trying to figure out why a tiny but vicious minority of those marching is taking aim at the canonical paladins, otherwise called Dead White Men (DWMs). Professor Paul Ringler has therefore raised a very timely beacon at The Atlantic, which might provide a useful distraction for the diversifiers. Quickly, they must dispatch a band for the children’s publishing industries, where not only are paladins and Aladdins alike being held prisoners, but where their arguments would seem comparatively adult. If nothing else, there is evidence to suggest that the publishers have DWMs, and we must not let the children get hold of them at any cost. What costs, Dr. Ringler?

52 percentof the books challenged or banned in the last 10 years feature so-called diverse contentthat is, they explore issues such as race, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, mental illness, and disability.

Who benefits when Sherman Alexie’s TheAbsolutely TrueDiary of Part-Time Indian, which deals with racism, poverty, and disability, is banned for language and anti-Christian content?

Illustration for The Atlantic

Illustration for The Atlantic

Who’s hurt when Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings’s picture bookI Am Jazz, about a transgender girl, is banned? The history of children’s book publishing in America offers insight into the ways in which traditional attitudes about appropriate stories often end up marginalizing the lives and experiences of many young readers,rather than protecting them.

When librarians and teachers reject works that may be emotionally inappropriate for children (a common reason), they’re adhering to the traditional and mostly prevailing view that children’s literature should avoid controversial topics. Its understandable that adults want to minimize children’s anxiety, and schools are often under intense social and financial pressure to maintain established standards. But it s also important to recognize that this tradition was established in the 19th century to serve the needs of the white, wealthy Protestant producers and consumers who have dominated the field of American children’s literature for much of the past 200 years.

With Dr. Ringler beating the drums of war, now more than ever it is time to find a leader. We sound the clarion for Lord Nelson, in whom is combined all the powers in the grand lineage from Homer to Joyce, to return in due course and restore to order the office that has been pillaged, ravaged, and debauched in her absence.For the kids: “Once more unto the breeches, dear Nelson, once more.”

Read his full post at The Atlantic.

A note from Lord Nelson

Our “Lord Nelson” — Prof. Nelson, director of Core, on sabbatical this year while the ship is being helmed by Acting Director Prof. Diana Wylie — is in Ireland, away from the academic high-mindedness (and occasional hijinks) of the Core office. Thinking that we wouldn’t want her to miss out, we wrote her a quick note last week, letting her know how things were going. In Nelsonian fashion, she wrote back quite soon after, addressing comments to some of the specific Core office inhabitants, and to the Core community generally. For your interest, we share her email below.

From: Nelson, Stephanie
Sent: Friday, September 30
To: Core Curriculum

faculty_nelson_saddleHello Core Curriculum!

How great to get your message. I’m delighted all is well there and you seem to have all wonderfully under control.

Tell Femke [Femke Hermse, Senior Peer Mentor for the Natural Sciences courses]that I’ve discovered something very extraordinary, which is that if you actually get to sleep as much as you want to at night you don’t find yourself falling asleep during the day. You actually don’t even feel tired! It’s amazing. Tell her that she should try it. And so who says Yanni will necessarily be getting a Polytropos award?[Yanni Metaxas, Core senior and office staff member]

Everything is wonderful here. The only tragedy was that one of my hens was run over, but the poor woman who did it was so very upset I couldn’t be mad. And she left a whole big bag full of strawberry plants for the garden the next day, which was very sweet. I just need to find a day that it’s not raining so I can plant them. I’m going this evening to Cavan, the big town, to the immigration officer who seems to drop by the Garda (Police) Office once a month or so, to see if he’ll let me stay until December. Fingers crossed!

And I diligently write away at the Joyce and Homer book every morning until at least 1:00. Even if the sun is shining and I have strawberry plants to plant.

Very much looking forward to meeting Gilligan [the Core office’s resident freshwater turtle]. Do give him my best and tell him he’s very welcome indeed. I was thinking we needed some intelligent life around the place…



Persons wishing to say hello to Prof. Nelson themselves, can reach her via email: nelson@bu.edu.

From The New York Times: Can You Read a Book the Wrong Way?

Some people are so religiously devoted to a method of reading that we may properly call them Methodists. Others feel the text should be all things to all men, which is good politics but bad for criticism. For if every interpretation is welcomed open-armed, then little room is left for pressing one reading against any another.Lolita may then be read as a spiritual allegory, a

Adam Kirsch Credit Illustration by R. Kikuo Johnson, for The New York Times

Adam Kirsch Credit Illustration by R. Kikuo Johnson, for The New York Times

policy solution, or anything else in between with equal justification. Two agnostics at The New York Times, Adam Kirsch and Anna Holmes, debate the matter. Ultimately, both invoke the impenetrable defense: Its subjective! Where do they differ? On Virgil, Kirsch writes:

One thing he surely did not think he was writing was a fortunetelling guide. But soon enough, readers began to use the poem to perform the sortes Virgilianae, or Virgilian lots, in which you would think of a question and then select a verse at random to

answer it. Using the Aeneid as a kind of oracle remained popular for a very long time: The emperor Hadrian did it in the second century A.D., and King Charles I was still doing it 1,500 years later.

Here, if anywhere, is surely an example of reading a book the wrong way.

Centuries ahead, Mrs. Holmes opines:

As for reading portions of a narrative out of order, some books are obviously meant to be consumed this way

Anna Holmes Credit Illustration by R. Kikuo Johnson, for The New York Times

Anna Holmes Credit Illustration by R. Kikuo Johnson, for The New York Times

(collections of essays and poetry; reference books and anthologies) or, at the very least, manage to dispense with the very idea of a beginning and an end. Skipping or skimming parts of a narrative should not only be expected but encouraged, particularly if an author is writing without clarity or purpose or showing off. Lifes too short to slog through some smarty-pants attempt to demonstrate a mastery of mechanical engineering or botany.

Advice that would make it difficult to learn either mechanical engineering or botany: Or am I just reading her unjustly? Says who? Blunt surface reading can lapse just as easily into prating interpretation, and it is not clear which is the worse. Ideally, close reading will show the work of literature as standing in tension with itself. It is the task of the critic then to tilt the lenticular, showing the immense implications that subtle differences in meaning can have. Is it “April is the cruelest month,” or “April is the cruelest month”? Or December?

Read the debate at The New York Times

From The Wall Street Journal: The Classic Books You Haven’t Read

Finnegans Wake and Fifty Shades of Grey are at two extremes of the incomprehensible: one is a classic that befuddles; the other a plastic that bewilders. Many feel guilty about not having read the books of the first kind. And most of these would be unwilling

Do you have a classic novel youve always meant to read but havent? Most readers have their own story about book guilt and how they handle it. PHOTO: F. MARTIN RAMIN/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Do you have a classic novel youve always meant to read but havent? Most readers have their own story about book guilt and how they handle it. PHOTO: F. MARTIN RAMIN/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

to expiate themselves in any shade or variation recommended by the second. So what should we do? Erin Geiger Smith of The Wall Street Journal has set herself up for solving this knotty problem. She has asked the well-read in all their shades–publishers, teachers, editors–whether they had any advice, confessions, or comeback stories to inspirit the awry. The results? Heres one:

Curtis Sittenfeld, author of Eligible,the 2016 best-selling retelling of Pride and Prejudice, says readers disclose to her at nearly every book signing that they haven’t read the Jane Austen classic. Her reaction depends on the readers level of guilt. Sometimes the readers are sheepish, she says, essentially asking me if its legal to read Eligible without reading Pride and Prejudice. She gently encourages them to give it a shot. But Eligible readers who exhibit no remorse for bypassing Pride?

It makes me a schoolmarm, Ms. Sittenfeld says. Well, you should!

She handles her own book guilt with a similar mix of forgiveness and tough love. This is shocking and appalling, but I have not read Beloved, Ms. Sittenfeld says of Toni Morrisons prizewinning novel. She hasnt read Moby-Dick, either. But unless someone she considers brilliant invites her to read it together, she has no plans to.


Penguin Classics vice president and publisherElda Rotorbelieves small bites reading a chapter at a time and not being obsessed with finishing can be a satisfying way to approach the classics. Her imprint, celebrating its 70th birthday this year, also tries to attract new readers by tapping artists and graphic designers to reinterpret covers that may feel too stuffy for the modern reader.

But what about those who pled not guilty? Should the ambitious reader honor as classic any book that is shoved as being so, or may he justifiably resist? For what its worth, Infinite Jest was mentioned. But has this very long punch line endured long enough for us to be able to say guiltlessly that it has earned classic status, to be placed among the ranks of Austen and Dickens? Potentially, the answer is equally deserving of guilt.

Read her full post at The Wall Street Journal

From New Republic: Does Karl Marx still matter?

In the opening line of Michael Kazin’s article Prophet and Loss, the author asks, “Does Karl Marx still matter?” He directs the question to those readers interested in Gareth Stedman Jones’ new book Karl Marx: Greatness and Illusion, and addresses the question‌ in a book review-esque article.

Both Kazin and Jones acknowledge Marx’s failures to describe the workings of capitalism, but highlight his ability to understand the dynamic upon which capitalism worked. Kazin writes:

Where Marx did excel, according to Stedman Jones, was in his vivid and lavishly detailed descriptions of the miserable lives of ordinary English workers, which he had spent years researching in the British Museum. He thus became a pioneer in the systematic study of social and economic history. In other words, Marx achieved greatness only when he set aside his theoretical illusions and stuck to the facts, exposing a cruelly oppressive system. This may be the kind of conclusion one would expect a social and economic historian to make, although Marxs theory of how capitalism supposedly works has surely stirred more people over time than the richness of his empirical prose.

He concludes, “Marx the materialist does not matter as he once did. But the Marx who imagined capitalism liberating humanity from the bonds of tradition still might.”

Read the full article here at The New Republic.

From The New York Times: Shakespeare First Folio Discovered on Isle of Bute

Tidings do I bring and lucky joys and golden times and happy news of price. Benvolio, Malvolio, and many between have averted a second tragedy with the discovery of another First Folio, in time for the bards 400th year anniversary. It was found on

"The newly discovered Shakespeare First Folio is bound in three volumes. Credit Mount Stuart." Illustration for The New York Times

“The newly discovered Shakespeare First Folio is bound in three volumes. Credit Mount Stuart.” Illustration for The New York Times

the Island of Bute, and authenticated by Shakespeare expert and enthusiast Emma Smith at the University of Oxford. It’s significance is therefore best expressed in her own words:

“Finding it right now is almost crazy,” said Emma Smith…discovering a new First Folio, she added, “is like spotting a panda.”

Between quotations is Jennifer Schuessler of The New York Times, who is paraphrased in the first line. Happy news of price?

The copy in Scotland was not, strictly speaking, totally unknown. It had been listed in the typed catalog of theButefamilylibrary as early as 1896, but its existence seems never to have been made public, even after a census of First Folios in 1902 by the scholar Sidney Lee led more than one millionaire to complain that his prize treasure had not been listed.

Mount Stuart, which is owned by a charitable trust, has recently been trying to assemble a full catalog of its substantial library and art collection, both to attract visitors and to make the holdings accessible to researchers. Alice Martin, the director of collections, said she had pulled the Folio, which is bound in three separate volumes, off the shelf at some point last year.

First Folios are among the worlds most sought-after and valuable books. Christiesrecently announcedthat it was selling what it calls a previously unrecorded First Folio from a discreet and off-the-radar private collection, valued at $1.1 million to $1.7 million.

We, andHamlet, can sympathize with Emma Smith when she says that Shakespeare has a way of driving us toward the brink of insanity. It is debatable though whether the pleasures of reading himare as great as thosehe must have felt while writing, and thereafter: Immortality, millionaire status, and a mansion for a home at Mount Stuart.

Read her full post at The New York Times