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Werkcollege Akkadisch 1: Humor and parody in Akkadian literature


Admission requirements

Students should have completed the BA1 course Inleiding Akkadisch en Spijkerschrift (Introduction to Akkadian and Cuneiform Writing) or an equivalent course.


Humor offers a unique insight into the worldview of ancient societies. The course Humor and Parody in Akkadian Literature will look at both well-known pieces of humorous Akkadian literature such as “The Poor Man of Nippur” and “At the Cleaners” as well as parodies of the vernacular technical literatures that first appear at the beginning of the second millennium BCE. Towards the end of the course, we will also look at literary dialogues in Akkadian. The course will consist of short introductory lectures followed by reading of the texts in the cuneiform script. Students will initially be allowed to use their notes during reading sessions, but over the course of the semester, students will be increasingly restricted to reading from the cuneiform text alone. All course materials will be distributed via Blackboard or as handouts.

Course objectives

Students will be expected to have mastered the full range of Akkadian comedic literature and parody in translation and will also be expected to develop a detailed knowledge of the Akkadian passages that are read in class in the original language. Each student will be expected to prepare a passage from a specific text, each week before class, be able to translate the passage and to explain both the orthographic and linguistic features of the passage. The course will also introduce the students to Akkadian poetics as well as the preparation of the texts for digital corpora and lemmatization.


The timetable

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Course Load

The course is 5 EC, so 140 hours during the semester: 26 hours of classroom time (13 x 2h); 4 hours of exams (2h midterm and 2h final). In the remaining 110 hours (ca. 8-9 hours per week), outside of class, should be evenly divided between the preparation of textual passages that will be read in class and preparations for the exams. All students are expected to prepare all assigned texts. Some collaboration between the students in their preparation is allowed, but will be discontinued if, in the opinion of the instructor, it is interfering with the objectives of the course.

Assessment method

The grade for the course will be based on a mid-term and a final exam. All tests will consist of passages in both cuneiform script and transliteration that the student will be expected to analyze and translate. Passages given in cuneiform will need to be transliterated; passages given in transliteration will need to be transcribed, including all necessary notations of macron and circumflex as well as indications of damage and uncertain readings. These tests will also include short essay questions concerning both the broader social and historical significance of these texts as well as broader questions about Akkadian grammar and discourse.

The exams will be closed book, with no use of notes or other materials.

The course grade will be based on the following percentages: 20% attendance, 40% for the mid-term, 40% for the final exam.

One session of the class will be devoted to review of the midterm prior to the final, and students can come to office hours in order to review their final exam. If a resit is necessary, it will take place one week after the original exam, and consist of different questions.


Blackboard will be used for distributing primary source materials as well as secondary literature.

Reading list

Introductory Bibliography (full reading list will be posted on Blackboard):

—Bakhtin, M. M., selections from Rabelais and His World (1984) and Speech Genres and Other Late Essays (1986) —Foster, B. 1974. Humor and Cuneiform Literature. JANES 6: 69ff. —Foster, B. 1995. Humor and Wit in the Ancient Near East. In J. Sasson, ed., Civilizations of the Ancient Near East, pp. 2459-2469. —Frahm, Eckart. 1998. Humor in assyrischen Königsinschrfiten. In Jiri Prosecky, ed., Intellectual Life in the Ancient Near East: Papers Presented at the 43rd Rencontre assyriologique internationale, Prague, July 1-5, 1996. Prague: Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, Oriental Institute. —Kraus, F. R. 1960. Altmesopotamisches Lebensgefühl. JNES 19: 117-32 —Worthington, Martin. 2010. Medicine, Comedy, Power and their Interconnections in Babylonia and Assyria. JMC 15: 25-39.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available in [English]) and Dutch


Dhr.Dr.J.C. Johnson