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Poetry and War among the Hittites

Weeden, Mark (2013) 'Poetry and War among the Hittites.' In: Kennedy, Hugh, (ed.), Warfare and Poetry in the Middle East. London: I.B. Tauris, pp. 73-98.

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Abstract

The Hittites ruled a kingdom and then an empire in central Anatolia from the 17th to the 12th centuries BC. Their language is attested on thousands of cuneiform tablets from their capital city Hattusa from at least the 15th century BC, if not before, and is the earliest written Indo-European language. Identification of poetry is difficult, not least because of the intricacies of the writing system, but advances have been made of late. Long known is the so-called Soldier's Song, which is embedded in a tale of military adventure and stands out for its repetetive, chant-like structure. Further military stories also contain highly vivid imagery and poetic themes, acting as a mythico-poetic re-enactment of episodes from Hittite history. Heavy use of dialogue may point to a performance context for some of these. Some of these narratives do not contain entirely favourable perspectives on the shared past. Hittite rituals also contain incantations of a clearly poetic nature, often phrased in the closely related language known as Luwian. Many of the rituals have an explicit military context. Mention should be made of an obscure group of songs in this language which is held by some scholars to contain elements of a Luwian poem about the Trojan war, a so-called Wilusiad, although this is rather unlikely. Beyond native material the Hittites also imported a great deal of literature from the neighbouring Hurrians in northern Syria, as well as from the Babylonians in Mesopotamia. One such piece, preserved in Hurrian with a Hittite translation, is clearly poetic and appears to contain a narrative on the siege of a Syrian city transposed into an analogy with a myth concerning the detention of the Storm-god in the underworld. These items will be considered in the context of a discussion of the functions of ancient poetry in a warlike context. These functions range from the practical aspect of achieving influence on history through ritual, to the not always positive construction of community identity through historical narrative and the reception of foreign belles lettres in a scholastic environment.

Item Type: Book Chapters
SOAS Departments & Centres: Faculty of Languages and Cultures > Department of the Languages and Cultures of the Near and Middle East
ISBN: 9781780763620
Copyright Statement: Pre-publication proofs
Depositing User: Mark Weeden
Date Deposited: 09 Dec 2013 14:11
URI: http://eprints.soas.ac.uk/id/eprint/17760

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