Description: Literature uses symbolism as a means of making the unfamiliar familiar. Myths and legends from Sumer, written approximately 5000 years ago, are filled with metaphors, allegory, and symbolism. Not only are these stories the oldest known stories in recorded history, but they are stories that share with us historical information on how the ancient Sumerians lived, what they believed, but more importantly, what was their enduring legacy. In studying the stories left us by the ancient Sumerians, who lived in the region known as Mesopotamia, we will not only learn about these far distant peoples, but we will also discover much about ourselves – how we became the people we are today.
Goals: The overall goal of these lesson plans is for students to gain an appreciation and interest in history, in ancient history in particular, through the medium of myth as well as to develop an enjoyment for literature from cultures different from their own.
Objectives: in general, benefits realized from this set of lessons will be:
Discuss what a myth is and how is it different from a legend. Myths are stories about the gods, while legends are stories about mankind, and yet both are rich with symbolism. In Inanna, Goddess of Love, the myths are filled with a pantheon of gods who, for the most part, are personifications of nature or natural phenomenon. For example, to the early Mesopotamians sunlight meant more than simple light and warmth. Darkness fled before the rising of the sun. To the ancients, it would logically follow that the sun would shed its all-knowing, all-seeing light on the world below to uncover wrongdoing and administer justice. Therefore Utu, the Sun God, was also known as the God of Justice. He became the personification of a force of nature, the sun’s light, and the shedding of light on dark deeds became the metaphor for administering justice. While a legend, on the other hand, is a story about a man usually going on a journey, usually of self-discovery. For example, although the character of Gilgamesh in the Epic of Gilgamesh, seems to be about one man’s quest for immortality, it is more of a story about growing up, maturing, accepting responsibility, and ultimately in leaving behind an enduring legacy. Even though there are gods featured in these stories, it is not so much a myth about the gods, but rather, it is a collection of legends about what it is to be a man living in a man’s world.
Read some of the myths from Inanna, Goddess of Love, in particular “The Queen of the Dead”, pages 27-34, and “The Lord of the Underworld”, pages 106-118. Discuss the commentaries after each story. How do these myths explain the Sumerians’ concept of life and death? These stories also show how the Sumerians actually lived, within a hierarchy and class system. They even tell how the gods (personified as people) ate and dressed and interacted with one another. Note how the hierarchy of the gods mirrored that of the people, as if one were the model for the other.
Assessment:These assessments will all be age dependant. The teacher will know best how to grade the class. Class assignments will be evaluated in the following areas:
9. For an even more in-depth study of the factual information from the book Inanna, Goddess of Love presented in the introduction “The Land Between the Rivers” the teacher may use this section to introduce the subject of geography. This section shows where the Sumerians originally lived, from page 1 it states “…an area situated south of the Black Sea in the southern half of modern day Iraq. …and reached from modern day Baghdad to the Persian Gulf.” Discuss with the students the significance of what is happening today in Iraq. Why is this land such a contested area? For thousands of years this land has been fought over. Is it so very rich in resources? Or perhaps its strategic location for trade plays an important role in its history? What is so important about Iraq (and Mesopotamia) today? How can we learn from the past to understand the present and possibly even anticipate what may happen in that region in the future?10. To give the students an understanding of how geology works to uncover the facts behind an event such as a flood, read pages 1-2 from the introduction of Inanna, Goddess of Love titled “The Land Between the Rivers” especially the part about the Black Sea flood. For further information, listen to Reading Two, which are passages taken from pages 143-151 from Noah’s Flood: The New Scientific Discoveries About the Event that Changed History, and which tell of the scientific information behind the possibility of such a flood occurring. Discuss the science used to piece together the facts of such a tremendous flood. Discuss how the fascinating research from a variety of sources, from archaeology to anthropology and geology to Assyriology, have combined to bring us an understanding of such an ancient culture.