Hail holy union! Wedded love on earth!
The highest bliss which crowns us from our birth,
Our joy! The mainspring of our life and aims,
Our great incentive when sweet love inflames
Our hearts to glorious deeds and ever wreathes
Around our brows, the happy smile that breathes
Sweet fragrance from the home of holy love,
And arms us with a courage from above.
O Woman! Woman! Weave thy love around
Thy chosen lover, who in thee hath found
A loveliness and purity so sweet,
That he doth watch for coming of the feet
That brings him happiness and thrill his heart–
For one, of all thy kind who can impart
To him the holiest bliss, the sweetest joy,
That e’er can crown his life so tenderly;
He worships thee within a holy fane,
Let not his hope and joy be all in vain!
O thou, sweet Queen! We crown thee in our homes,
And give to thee our love that holy comes
From Heaven to inspire and bless our lives.
For this mankind all hope to take pure wives
To sacredest of all our temples, shrines,
And keep thee pure within sweet love’s confines
That we may worship thee, and daily bring
Devotions to our altar,–to thee sing
Our orisons of praise, and sacred keep
Our homes till we shall softly drop asleep
Within the arms we love so tenderly,
And carry with us a sweet memory
Of purity and bliss that blessed our lives,
And children gave from sweetest of pure wives.
Thou art our all! O holy woman, pure
Forever may thy charms on earth endure!
Oh, trample not upon thy husband’s love!
For true devotion he doth daily prove.
Oh, shackle not his feet in life’s fierce strife,
His weary shoulders burden,–blast his life!
Or palsy those dear hands that work for thee,
And fill his eyes with tears of agony,
Till love shall turn as acid to his teeth,
And thorns shall tear his side with hellish wreath,
And daggers pierce his heart, and ice his soul,
And thou become to him a hated ghoul!
What married woman is untainted, pure?
She, who when married spreads for men no lure,
Bestows caresses on no man but him
Who is her husband; she who doth not trim
Her form to catch the vulgar gaze, nor paints
Herself, or in her husband’s absence taunts
Not her sweet purity; exposes not
Her form undraped, whose veil no freeman aught
Has raised; or shows her face to others than
Her slaves; and loves alone her husbandman;
She who has never moistened her pure lips
With liquors that intoxicate; nor sips
With others joys that sacred are alone
To him, her strength; who claims her as his own.
O Beauty, Purity, my theme inspire!
To woman’s love of old, my muse aspire!
When her sweet charms were equally bestowed,
And fairest of the sex with hopes imbued
Of capturing men of wealth and lives of ease,
When loveliness at public sale doth please
The nobles of the land to wealth bestow
Upon ill-favored sisters, maids of woe,
Who claimed no beauty, nor had lovely charms;
When crones and hags, and maids with uncouth forms,
Secured a husbandman despite of fate,
And love redeemed them from the arms of hate.
The proclamation Izdubar had made
To bring to the great plaza every maid,
For Beltis’ feast and Hergal’s now arrives,
When maidens are selected as the wives
Of noblemen or burghers of the towns
And cities of the kingdom; when wealth crowns
The nobles richest, ever as of old,
With beauty they have purchased with their gold.
The festival, the Sabat-tu hath come!
The Sabat-tu of Elul! hear the hum
Of voices filling Erech’s streets!
The maids are coming, how each gaily prates!
The day and hour has come for them to stand
And meet the bidders from all Sumir’s land;
The day that ends their maidenhood, and brings
Them joy or not. Oh, how the poor young things
With throbbing hearts approach yon gathering throng
To hear their fate pronounced; but is it wrong?
The custom old, Accadia thinks is good,
They all are young and fresh with maidenhood;
The ugly ones as well, shall husbands have,
And their young lives from shame thus they will save.
No aged maids shall pass from yonder throng
With bitterness,–their heart’s unuttered song
For some dear love to end their joyless woe,
And longings unallayed that e’er may flow.
But Love! O where art thou? art thou a thing
That gold may buy? Doth lucre thy bright wing
Unfold to hover over human hearts?
Oh, no! Thy presence to our soul imparts
A sweeter joy than selfishness can give,
Thou givest love that thou mayst love receive;
Nor asking aught of wealth, of rank, or fame.
True love in palace, hovel, is the same
Sweet joy, the holiest of sacred things.
For this we worship Ishtar, for she brings
Us happiness, when we ourselves forget
In the dear arms we love; no coronet
Of power, or countless gold, or rank, or fame,
Or aught that life can give, or tongue can name,
Can reach the heart that loyally doth love,
Nor hopes of heaven, nor fears of hell can move.
Mayhap, this Sabattu, some lover may
All wealth he claims abandon on this day,
For the dear heart that seeming pleads to him,
While her fond glistening eyes shall on him gleam.
A look, a glance; when mingling souls speak love,
Will in his breast undying longings move;
And let us hope that when the youths have lain
Their all before the herald, that no men
Who see their sacrifice will rob their hearts
Of all that gives them joy or bliss imparts;
Or that this day alone will maidens see
Who have not loved, and they will happy be
With him who purchases her as his wife;
Or proud young beauties will enjoy the strife
Of bidders to secure their lovely charms,
And love may bring their husbands to their arms.
The day is sacred, dedicated old
To Love and Strength, when loving arms shall fold
A vigorous husband to a maiden’s breast,
Where she may ever stay and safely rest.
The day of Ishtar, Queen of Love! the day
Of Nergal, the strong god, to whom they pray
For strength to bless with vigor Accad’s sons.
For many anxious years this day atones.
This day their Sar the flesh of birds eats not,
Nor food profaned by fire this day, nor aught
Of labor may perform nor “zubat” change,
Nor snowy “ku-bar-ra” anew arrange.
A sacrifice he offers not, nor rides
Upon his chariot this day, nor guides
His realm’s affairs, and his Tur-tan-nu rests.
Of soldiers, and of orders, he divests
His mind; and even though disease may fall
Upon him, remedies he may not call.
The temple he shall enter in the night,
And pray that Ishtar’s favor may delight
His heart; and lift his voice in holy prayer,
In Nergal’s temple rest from every care,
Where he before the holy altar bends
With lifted hands, his soul’s petition sends.
Around the square the palms and cedars shine,
And bowers of roses cluster round divine.
Beneath an arch of myrtles, climbing vines,
And canopy,–with wreathing flowers it shines,
There stands a wondrous garland-wreathed throne,
Where maids are gathered;–each unmarried one.
The timid maids and bold of Babylon
Are each in turn led to the rosy throne;
The crowd of bidders round the herald stand,
The richest and the poorest of the land.
The queen of Accad’s maids doth now appear,
We see the burnished chariot coming near,
Ten beauteous bays with proud steps, nodding plumes
Come first; behind, a train of nobles comes;
And now we see the close-drawn canopy
Thrown back by slaves, who step aside, that she
The queen of beauty crowned with lilies, rose,
May here alight. And see! she queenly goes
With dainty steps between the noblemen,
Who stand on either side the queen
Of beauty of the plains, who first this day
Shall reign upon the throne, and lead the way
For all the maids who shall be bought for gold,
And thus the first upon the throne is sold.
She takes her seat beneath the canopy,
Upon the throne high raised, that all may see;
As she her veil of fine spun gold flings back
From her sweet face and o’er her ringlets black,
Her large dark eyes, soft as a wild gazelle’s,
Upon the richest nobles dart appeals.
Her bosom throbs ‘neath gems and snowy lace,
And robes of broidered satin, velvets, grace
Her beauty with their pearly folds that fall
Around her form.
Hark! hear the herald’s call!
“Behold this pearl! my lords and noblemen,
And who will bid for her as wife, my men?”
“Ana-bilti khurassi ash at ka!”
“Akhadu khurassi ana sa-sa!”
“U sinu bilti khurassi!” two cried.
“Sal-sutu bilti!” nobles three replied;
And four, and five, and six, till one bid ten,
A vast amount of gold for noblemen:
But see! The bidders in excitement stand
Around a youth who cries with lifted hand
And features pale and stern, who now began
To bid against a wealthy nobleman,
Whose countless herds graze far upon the plain,
His laden ships that ride upon the main
He counts by scores. He turns his evil eyes
And wolfish face upon the youth and cries,
“Khamisserit!” The lover answering says:
“Esra’a!” “U selasa’a!” then brays
The gray-haired lover. “U irbaha!” cries
The youth, and still the nobleman defies;
Who answers cooly, “Khausa’a;” and eyes
The anxious youth, who wildly “Miha!” cries.
“Mine! mine! she is! though you “alapu” bid!”
“A fool thou art!” the noble, leaving, said.
“One hundred talents for a maid!” he sneered,
And in the crowd he growling disappeared.
The measures filled with shining gold are brought,
And thus the loveliest of all is bought.
The next in beauty on the throne is sold,
And thus the beautiful are sold for gold.
The richest thus select the beautiful,
The poor must take alone the dutiful
And homely with a dower which beauty bought,
And ugliness with gold becomes his lot.
The ugliest, unsightly, and deformed,
Is now brought forth; with many wriggles squirmed
She to the throne, where beauty late had sat:
Her ugliness distorted thus; whereat
The herald cries: “Who will this woman take
With smallest dowry? She can cook and bake,
And many household duties well perform,
Although she does not claim a beauty’s charm.
Who wants a wife?”
The ugly crone with blinks
Doth hideous look, till every bidder shrinks.
A sorry spectacle, mis-shapen, gross,
She is, and bidders now are at a loss
How much to ask to take the hag to wife.
At last one cries: “Five “bilti,” for relief
Of herald I will take, to start the bid!”
“And four of “bilti”, I’ll take, with the maid!”
“Three and a half!” one cries with shaking head,
“And she is yours, my man!” the herald said,
And thus she bought a husband and a home.
And so the scare-crows, scraggy ones, now come
In turn; the lean, ill-favored, gawky, bald,
Long-nosed, uncouth, raw-boned, and those with scald
And freckled, frowsy, ricketty and squat,
The stumpy, bandy-legged, gaunt, each bought
A man; though ugly as a toad, they sold,
For every man with her received his gold.
The heaped-up gold which beauteous maids had brought
Is thus proportioned to the bidder’s lot;
The grisly, blear-eyed, everyone is sold,
And husbands purchased for a pile of gold,
And happiness diffused throughout the land;
For when the maid refused her husband’s hand
She might return by paying back the gold.
And every maid who thus for wife was sold
Received a bond from him who purchased her,
To wed her as his wife, or else incur
The forfeit of his bond, and thus no maids
In all the land were found as grumbling jades,
Whose fate it was to have no husbandman,
For every woman had a husband then.
[Footnote 1: We have included in Tablet IV Tablets V and VI of the original, as classified by Mr. Sayce.]—[Footnote 2: The above is taken from an Assyrian fragment (“W.A.I.,” ii. 35, No. 4) translated in “Records of the Past,” vol. xi., pp. 159, 160, and presents the Assyrian view of purity and the customs of their people.]—[Footnote 3: Literally, “whose veil no freeman of pure race has raised.”Before slaves and men of mean rank, women of the East are not obliged to veil the face.]—[Footnote 4: Literally, “who has never moistened her teeth with an intoxicating liquor.” “Rec. of the Past,” p. 160, l. 6.]—[Footnote 5: The public sale herein described is taken from the statement of Herodotus (see Herodotus, vol. i., p. 196. Compare “Nic. Dam. Fr.,” 131, and Ælian. “Var. Hist.,” iv. 1), who says all the marriageable virgins in all the towns of the empire or kingdom were sold at public auction. The beautiful maidens were sold to the highest bidder, and the proceeds were deposited before the herald. The ugly maidens in turn were then put up, and the bidders were called upon to take them as wives with the smallest dowry to be paid from the proceeds of the sales of the beautiful maids, and they were in turn awarded to those who would accept them with the smallest amount as dowry. The numerous contracts for the sales of women now in the British Museum may possibly be records of these transactions.]—[Footnote 6: “Sab-at-tu,” a day of rest for the heart (“W.A.I.,” ii. 32), the Sabbath day, which was dedicated to the worship of the sun, moon, and stars, and their gods, which were known by different names.]—[Footnote 7: “Lain,” to lay, v.a. (pretr. “laid,” part, passive “lain,” from “liggan,” Sax.), “to place along the ground.”–Fenning’s Royal Eng. Dic., London, MDCLXXV.]—[Footnote 8: From the Babylonian Festival Calendar (“C.I.W.A.,” vol. iv., pls. 32, 33); also translated in “Records of the Past,” vol. vii., pp. 162, 163.]—[Footnote 9: “Zubat,” robes.]—[Footnote 10: “Ku-bar-ra,” linen robes.]—[Footnote 11: “And two golden talents!”]—[Footnote 12: “Three talents!”]—[Footnote 13: “Fifteen!”]—[Footnote 14: “Twenty!”]—[Footnote 15: “And thirty!”]—[Footnote 16: “And forty!”]—[Footnote 17: “Fifty!”]—[Footnote 18: “One hundred!”]—[Footnote 19: “One thousand!”]—[Footnote 20: “Five bilti,” about £3,165 sterling, or $15,825.]
SOURCE: Babylonian and Assyrian Literature (1901): Translated by Leonidas Le Cenci Hamilton, M.A.