Re: Ancient Technical Writers - and flame wars

Subject: Re: Ancient Technical Writers - and flame wars
From: Ed Gregory <edgregory -at- home -dot- com>
To: "Carma C Allen" <ccallen -at- beckman -dot- com>, "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 21 Oct 1999 21:26:14 -0500

When I read the sometimes energetic discussions here about the merits of
various tools and techniques, I am reminded of a passage I read years ago
in *The First Cities*, one of the books in by Little, Brown's *The
Emergence of Man* series (not the Oxford Press book of the same title.)
The translations below were originally published in *The Sumerians*, by
Samuel Noah Kramer.

Anyway, the researchers said a major Sumerian literary exercise was the
disputation, in which insults were hurled back and forth. Perhaps the
following excerpted argument might sound oddly familiar.

You dolt, numskull, pest, you illiterate, you Sumerian ignoramus, your hand
is terrible; it cannot even hold the stylus properly; it is unfit for
writing and cannot take dictation. And yet you say you are a scribe like me.

What do you mean I am not a scribe like you? When you write a document it
makes no sense. When you write a letter it is illegible. You go to divide
up an estate, but when you survey the field, you can't hold the measuring
line. You can't hold a nail in your hand; you have no sense. You don't know
how to arbitrate between the contesting parties; you aggravate the struggle
between brothers. You are one of the most incompetent of tablet writers.
What are you fit for, can anyone say?

Why, I am competent all around. When I go to divide an estate, I divide the
estate. But you are the laziest of scribes, the most careless of men. When
you do multiplication, it is full of mistakes. In computing areas you
confuse length with width. You chatterbox, scoundrel, sneerer and bully,
you dare say that you are the heart of the student body!

What do you mean I am not the heart of the student body? Me, I was raised
on Sumerian, I am the son of a scribe. But you are a bungler, a windbag.
When you try to shape a tablet, you can't even smooth the clay."

From one who has smoothed much clay,


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