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The Nineveh Treatise
Notions of Kingship in Visual and Textual Narration in the Ancient Near East
Characterization and Meaning


Neo-Assyrian royal inscriptions are always narrated in the first-person voice of the king. Within this framing narrative, the device that we would call ‘direct speech’ is used only rarely, and judiciously. The texts that make the greatest use of this literary device both come from a period of particular innovation and experimentation in royal text forms: Esarhaddon’s Nineveh A and Ashurbanipal’s narratives about his campaign against Elamite king Teumman. In these examples, and in other texts of the time including Esarhaddon’s Succession Treaty, the words of enemies stand out as particularly threatening – and yet also particularly useful, as a literary device employed to further Assyrian agendas. Royal narratives use enemy speech for one of two purposes: either to document criminality, or to show enemies, in defeat and despair, testifying to the might and rightness of their Assyrian conquerors. Looking at all examples of speech – from enemies, gods, and the Assyrian king – I distinguish between ‘direct speech’ (as a literary device) and ‘quotation’ (as a practice). Most, though not all, direct speech in the sources considered here is also quotation, in that it seeks to document and preserve speech made in some other prior form (a verbal statement, a letter, an omen on an animal’s liver). Quotations demonstrate royal legitimacy and enemy culpability, while literary invention allows enemy voices to be turned to new purposes, as forced testament to Assyrian supremacy.