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The Love Song of Shu-Sin: The Oldest Love Poem

Which is the earth's oldest love poem, regardless of language? The oldest extant love poem appears to be the ancient Sumerian poem "The Love Song of Shu-Sin," which has also been called "The Love Song for Shu-Sin" because it was apparently written to be recited to the ancient Sumerian king Shu-Sin by a woman he was about to marry or have sex with. The poem was written circa 2000 BC, making it ancient indeed! My modern English translation of the poem appears below.

The Love Song of Shu-Sin

loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Darling of my heart, my belovèd,
your enticements are sweet, sweeter than honey!
Darling of my heart, my belovèd,
your enticements are sweet, sweeter than honey!

You have captivated me; I stand trembling before you.
Darling, lead me swiftly into the bedroom!
You have captivated me; I stand trembling before you.
Darling, lead me swiftly into the bedroom!

Sweetheart, let me do the sweetest things to you!
The crevice you'll caress is far sweeter than honey!
In the bedchamber, dripping love’s honey,
let us enjoy the sweetest thing.
Sweetheart, let me do the sweetest things to you!
The crevice you'll caress is far sweeter than honey!

Bridegroom, you will have your pleasure with me!
Speak to my mother and she will reward you;                (As a surrogate for Inanna, the bride's mother would be either Ninlil or possibly Ningal, both goddesses.)
speak to my father and he will give you gifts.                  (As a surrogate for Inanna, the bride's father would be either Enlil or possibly Suen, both gods.)
I know how to give your body pleasure—
then sleep, my darling, till the sun dawns.

To prove that you love me,
give me your caresses,
my Lord God, my guardian Angel and protector,
my Shu-Sin, who gladdens Enlil’s heart,
give me your caresses!
My place like sticky honey, touch it with your hand!
Place your hand over it like a honey-pot lid!
Cup your hand over it like a honey cup!

This is a balbale-song of Inanna.

NOTE: This may be earth’s oldest love poem. It may have been written around 2000 BC, long before the Bible’s “Song of Solomon,” which had been considered to be the oldest extant love poem by some experts. The poem was discovered when the archaeologist Austen Henry Layard began excavations at Kalhu in 1845, assisted by Hormuzd Rassam. Layard’s account of the excavations, published in 1849 CE, was titled Nineveh and its Remains. Due to Nineveh’s fame (from the Bible), the book became a best seller. But it turned out that the excavated site was not Nineveh, after all, as Layard later discovered and excavated the real Nineveh.

Shu-Sin was a Mesopotamian king who ruled over the land of Sumer close to four thousand years ago. The poem seems to be part of a rite, probably performed each year, known as the “sacred marriage” or “divine marriage,” in which the king would symbolically marry the goddess Inanna, mate with her, and so ensure fertility and prosperity for the coming year. The king would accomplish this amazing feat by marrying and/or having sex with a priestess or votary of Inanna, the Sumerian goddess of love, fertility and war. Her Akkadian name was Istar/Ishtar, and she was also known as Astarte. Whichever her name, she was the most prominent Mesopotamian female goddess. Inanna's primary temple was the Eanna, located in Uruk. But there were many other temples dedicated to her worship. The high priestess would choose a young man who represented the shepherd Dumuzid, the consort of Inanna, in a hieros gamos or sacred marriage, celebrated during the annual Akitu (New Year) ceremony, at the spring Equinox. The name Inanna derives from the Sumerian words for “Lady of Heaven.” She was associated with lions–a symbol of power–and was frequently depicted standing on the backs of two lionesses. Her symbol was an eight-pointed star or a rosette. Like other female love and fertility goddesses, she was associated with the planet Venus. The Enlil mentioned was Inanna’s father, the Sumerian storm god, who controlled the wind and rain. (According to some god/goddess genealogies, Enlil was her grandfather.) In an often-parched land, the rain god would be ultra-important, and it appears that one of the objects of the “divine marriage” was to please Enlil and encourage him to send rain rather than destructive storms! Enlil was similar to the Bible's Jehovah, in that he was the supreme deity, and sometimes sent rain and plenty, but at other times sent war and destruction. Certain passages of the Bible appear to have been "borrowed" by the ancient Hebrews from much older Sumerian texts such as the Epic of Gilgamesh. Such accounts include the creation myth, the Garden of Eden myth, and the myth of the Great Flood and a mankind-saving ark. However, the Hebrew scribes modified the accounts to suit their theology, so in the Bible there is only one "god" who controls everything, and thus behaves like an angel at times and like a demon at others. And that is understandable if one posits that one god controls the weather, since earth's weather is unpredictable and at times seems like a blessing and at other times like a curse.

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