ME(1) is a Sumerian word (perhaps pronounced "may") that has no single exact English equivalent. Samuel Kramer explained Me as the "fundamental, unalterable, comprehensive assortment of powers and duties, norms and standards, rules and regulations, relating to the cosmos and its components, to gods and humans, to cities and countries, and to the varied components of civilized life." The usual Akkadian translation is parsu, "rite, ordinance, office." Although the Me in general are referred to frequently in hymns, prayers, and stories, few specific Me are mentioned. We are told that there are 7, 50, or 3600 Me. These numbers are collective numbers symbolizing completeness and totality. Me was obviously a fluid concept that could apply to any type of power, Above or Below.
The most detailed list of Me comes from a story generally called "Inanna and Enki." The story relates how Inanna sets sail from her city, Uruk, to that of her uncle Enki, in Eridu. Enki welcomes her and they begin to drink beer. When Enki becomes drunk, he bestows 96 Me, in 15 groups, upon his neice. She loads them into a boat, the Boat of An, and begins the return journey. When Enki recovers, he regrets what he has done and tries to stop Inanna by sending various demons after her. After she successfully fends off six successive attacks, she docks at the quay in Uruk loaded with the precious Me. Enki thereupon rewards her with 17 more Me.
This list of the Me gained by Inanna follows. Although comprehensive, it should not be taken as exhaustive. Moreover, since several Me, in one case a whole section, are missing, I have suggested concepts in keeping with the needs of Mesopotamian civilization. These suggestions are indicated in round brackets ( ).
|1. nam-en||High Priesthood|
|4. aga-zi-mah||Noble Enduring Crown|
|5. gigu-za-nam-lugala||Throne of Kingship|
|6. gidri-mah||Noble Scepter|
|7. sibir eskiri||Staff and Noserope|
|8. tug-mah||Noble Dais|
|11. nam-egi-zi||Princess Priestess|
|12. nam-nin-dingir||Divine Queen Priestess|
|14. nam-lu-mah||Noble Priest|
|15. nam-gudu4||Libations Priest|
|17. GA (?).HE||House of Abundance (?)|
|18. si-(EGIR; -arki?)||(?)|
|19. kur-e11-de||Descent to the Underworld|
|20. kur-e11-da||Ascent from the Underworld|
|21. kur-gar-ra||Sword-bearing Priesthood|
|22. ba-da-ra||Dagger and Sword|
|23. sag-ur-sag||Chief Warrior|
|24. tug-gi6||Black Garment|
|25. tug-gun-a||Colorful Garment|
|26. gu-bar||Loosening of the Hair|
|27. gu-||Binding of the Hair|
|35. gissu-nir||The Standard|
|36. mar-uru5||The Quiver|
|38. gis-ki-su-ub||Kissing of the Penis|
|39. nam-kar-ke4||Art of Prostitution|
|40. nam-HUB.DAR||Art of Speeding|
|41. nam-eme-di||Art of Forthright Speech|
|42. nam-eme-sig||Art of Slanderous Speech|
|43. nam-se-er-ka-an||Art of Ornamental Speech|
|45. amalux (AMA.dINANNA)||Cult Prostitute|
|46. es-dam-ku||Holy Tavern|
|48. -an||Divine .....|
|49. nu-gig-an-na||The Lover of An|
|50. gis-gu-di||Resounding Instrument|
|51. nam-nar||Art of Song|
|54. nam-kal-ga||Art of Being Mighty|
|55. nam-ni-ne-ru||Art of Dissimulation|
|56. nam-ni-si-sa||Art of Being Straightforward|
|57. uru-lahx-lahx (DU.DU)||Plundering of Cities|
|58. i-si-is-ga-ga||Setting up of Lamentations|
|59. sa-hul-la||Rejoicing of the Heart|
|61. kur-ki-bala||The Rebellious Land|
|62. nam-du10-ge||Art of Being Kind|
|64. ki-tus-gi-na||The Secure Dwelling Place|
|65. nam-nagar||Carpenter's Art|
|66. nam-tibira||Coppersmith's Art|
|67. nam-dub-sar||Scribal Art|
|68. nam-simug||Craft of the Smith|
|69. nam-asgab||Craft of the Leatherworker|
|70. nam-aslagx(LU.TUG)||Craft of the Fuller|
|71. nam-sidim||Craft of the Builder|
|72. nam-ad-KID||Craft of the Reedworker|
|73. gestu||Perceptive Ear|
|74. giz-zal||Power of Attention|
|75. su-luh-ku-ga||Holy Purification Rites|
|76. e-DAG.KISIM5-xX-ra||The Feeding-pen|
|77. ne-mur-dub||Heaping up of hot coals|
|78. ga-udu||The Sheepfold|
|82. LUL.KA.SES||The Bitter-toothed Lion|
|83. izi-SAR.SAR||Kindling of Fire|
|84. izi-TE.TE||Extinguishing of Fire|
|85. a-kus-u||The Weary Arm|
|86. KA.GANA-ge||The Hungry Mouth|
|87. im-ri-a-gu-gar-ra||The Assembled Family|
|89. du14-SAR.SAR||Kindling of Strife|
|93. di-ku5||Giving Judgement|
|95. umus-ki-ga-ga||Placing the Garment on the Ground|
|96. hi-li nam-munus-e-ne||Women's Allure|
|97. me-su-du7||Perfect Execution of the Me|
|100. ti-gi-ku||The Tigi-drum|
|101. li-li-is-ku||The Lilis-drum|
|102. ub||The Ub-tambourine|
|103. me-ze||The Meze-tambourine|
|104. kusa-la||The Ala-tambourine|
|111. kas ba-ni-sur-re||Permission to Pour Beer|
The story in which this list is contained could very well be acted out. One can imagine it being played or recited for entertainment during a festival, especially one in which Inanna's barge makes a (real) journey to Eridu, down-river from Uruk. At the down-river journey, the barge may have stopped at various cities and gained oaths and wishes from people, and then proceeded on to Eridu. In Eridu, Inanna's entourage would place her statue with Enki's in the Absu, Enki's temple. After Enki grants the Me to Inanna, the barge would proceed back up-river to Uruk, meeting symbolic resistance like that told in the story at the six stages. Finally, the barge would dock at the quay with full ceremony and festival.
There is no record of such a ceremony or the dates between which it would have occured. An alternative point of view, not necessarily exclusive of a periodic festival, is that the story was told as an etiology of Inanna's rise to supremacy in Uruk, for which holding her Me would be a prerequisite. The story would take place in the time before history began, in the "dream-time," the eternal ever-now, in which all myths are occuring.
The Me themselves are fruitful subjects for meditation. Here are five suggestions.
1. Think about each of the Me in turn, and draw or paint a picture of what the concept means to you. Use Appendix 3 to transliterate the Sumerian words into cuneiform for captions.
2. Think about each of the Me, and write something about how it is active in the modern world. Do this especially for those Me that seem obsolete - spare no effort to find a modern equivalent for all the concepts. For instance, for the first Me, nam-en, "High Priesthood," think about why it is first, even before Godship. Think about the role of divine mediators, and what form they take today. The obvious choice, the leaders of religious groups, is not necessarily the only one. What is religion, and what power does it have? If religious leaders cannot be trusted to exercise power in real-life issues - to take money with the force of law, to commit the nation to war, and to try, imprision or execute those accused of crime - who can? And does not taking this perogative away form religious courts imply that the religious view of the world is not as important as the secular? Who has authority to say what society should be like, what it should do, how individuals should act, and from where does this authority derive? Are politicians necessarily more just than religious leaders? On the other hand, how would the world look without secular states, with only larger and smaller theocracies? Is this a possible conception, or is the growth of the state somehow dependent upon minimizing the real power of religions? How is the "Throne of Kingship" different from "Kingship"?
Another instance could be the less controversial topic of musical instruments. Why are there three types of tambourines in the list? To help answer this, think about the differences among brass instruments, or guitars. What is the emotional difference in the music produced by a bass, a six-string electric guitar, and an acoustic guitar? What type of mood or spiritual excitation is caused by cymbal, as opposed to a bell? Is one type of instrument more suited to a specific type of ritual or celebration than another? Why?
3. One scholar (check Kramer) has called the Me "a proto-(Platonic) idealism." This means basically that there is an archetype, a prototype of every object and event, in an abstract realm only accessible to a highly trained reason or spiritual insight, and not to physical beings. What do you think of this suggestion? What does it mean to believe in a mind-body duality? Do some or all of the Me bear this interpretation? Don't come to a quick answer and shut your mind off; think about it for at least half an hour, and every time you come up with a "final" answer, ask why you came up with that answer, and how it would be different if considerations opposite to those that brought you to your conclusion were true.
4. Find a common link between all the Me of a specific group, and think about why they were arranged in that order. Since some of the translations and conceptions behind the translation may not accurately represent the original meaning, don't be afraid to stretch the meaning of a Me to make it fit. Draw up a list of the 16 summaries you have made, and try to reduce them to one word each. What categories of life and reality are missing? Write down at least 3, and then expand them with some basic concepts, technologies, and behaviors, at least 5 to a category. Notice that some of the Me are general, and some are probably specific to Inanna. What Me, not on the list, could belong to another God or Goddess? Where would you put a Me such as "The Art of the Nuclear Physicist"? Would it be an addition to one of the existing categories, or would you put it into a new one?
5. Think about the difficult Me, such as "The Plundering of Cities," and "Deceit." What is the morality of the Me? How are such concepts necessary and useful in the world? It may be helpful to think first of historical instances and their circumstances, or to use non-pejorative synonyms to analyse them, such as "pre-emptive strike" and "camoflage" respectively. Is there any nation that has not fought and killed people to gain or preserve what it has? Is it not often helpful and necessary to be able to hide your true feelings or intentions? Is lying always wrong?
1. Although most scholars use an anglicized plural, "me's," I will use the form Me to mean both the singular and collective plural.