Mesopotamian Literature

The world's oldest known literature comes to us from Mesopotamia, the region bounded by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in roughly the same area as modern-day Iraq and Kuwait.

When writing was invented in Mesopotamia toward the end of the 4th millennium B.C.E., it was for purely practical purposes: to track trade in livestock, commodities, and raw materials. Over the centuries that followed, the cuneiform (literally "wedge-shaped") writing system progressed from simple notations of nouns and numbers to a fully developed method for recording every syllable of the region's spoken language. Eventually scribes began to use cuneiform to record a wide variety of texts, including royal inscriptions, personal letters, legal documents, and literature.

Hundreds of literary works written in Akkadian, a Semitic language related to Arabic and Hebrew, and Sumerian, a linguistic isolate unrelated to any other known language, have been unearthed over the past century and a half. From epic tales of heroes and gods to whimsical debates between everyday objects, these sophisticated texts shed light on the creative and intellectual lives of ancient peoples.

Hawthorn presents "Body Cleaning, Social Norms, and Value in the Epic of Gilgamesh" at the interdisciplinary workshop Cleaning and Value, hosted by the Research Training Group "Value and Equivalence," Goethe University of Frankfurt am Main, Friday, June 9, 2017.

Publications and Presentations

Refereed Journal Articles

Hawthorn, A. Forthcoming. "The Fish and the Tamarisk: Sexual and Celestial Symbolism in ‘Lugalbanda and the Anzu Bird’." ISAW Papers 16.

Hawthorn, A. 2015. "‘You Are Just Like Me’: The Motif of the Double in the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Agushaya Poem." KASKAL 12: 451-66.

Book Chapters

Hawthorn, A. Forthcoming. "Your Clothes Should Be Clean! Your Head Should Be Washed! Body Cleaning and Social Inclusion in the Epic of Gilgamesh." In Cleaning and Value: Interdisciplinary Investigations, edited by I. Bredenbröker, C. Hanzen, and F. Kotzur. Leiden: Sidestone Press.


Dicks, A.A. 2012. Catching the Eye of the Gods: The Gaze in Mesopotamian Literature. Ph.D. diss. Yale University.

Invited Talks

Hawthorn, A. 2017. "Hacking Sumerian: A Database Approach to the Analysis of Ancient Languages." Presented as part of the Digital Classicist Berlin seminar series, Deutsches Archäologisches Institut, Berlin, Germany. November 27.

Hawthorn, A. 2014. "Enkidu, Ṣaltu, and the Motif of the Double in Akkadian Literature." Presented at the Advanced Seminar in the Humanities, Ca' Foscari University of Venice and Venice International University, Venice, Italy. September 30.

Conference Presentations

Hawthorn, A. 2017. "Body Cleaning, Social Norms, and Value in the Epic of Gilgamesh." Presented at the Cleaning and Value Interdisciplinary Workshop, Goethe University of Frankfurt am Main, Frankfurt, Germany. June 8-11.

Hawthorn, A. 2016. "The Fish and the Tamarisk: Symbolism and Ritual Instruction in ‘Lugalbanda and the Anzu Bird’." Presented at Cult Practices in Ancient Literatures: Egyptian, Near Eastern and Graeco-Roman Narratives in a Cross-Cultural Perspective, Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, New York University, New York. May 16-17.

Dicks, A. 2013. "Divine Visions: Sight and Gaze in Mesopotamian Literature." Presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, Baltimore, Maryland. November 23-26.

Public Engagement Presentations

Hawthorn, A. 2018. "Mesopotamia and the Invention of Writing." Presented at the Lester B. Pearson United World College of the Pacific, Victoria, British Columbia. November 15.