Enuma Elish

(ca. 1500 BCE)


Enuma Elish has had an ever-changing audience throughout its history. The poem was originally composed for performance during the New Year’s Festival in the city of Babylon in celebration of the city’s patron god, Marduk, sometime in the second half of the second millennium BCE. Not much is known about its performance, but it was unlikely to have been a simple reading. At a minimum, it would have been sung by a musician accompanying himself on a lyre, but it is also conceivable that it received a much fuller performance, perhaps with an orchestra and a group of singers, though any specific reconstruction must remain speculative. The high degree of repetition should also be considered in this light, compared to the choruses of modern songs. In any case, its primary audience would have been the people of Babylon, who likely heard it each year in something like the manner modern Americans listen to Handel’s Messiah every Christmas. The audience would seem to have been...

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The ruins of Babylon (Library of Congress)

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