The Sumerians appear to have excelled in many of the arts. I have already mentioned their skill in architectural design elsewhere. They were very skilled in sculpture, in particular the votive figurines, and the statues of kings and gods, all of which are very life like and well proportioned. Similar statues and facial carvings are present in the Americas, especially those Olmec jade faces probably representing elite personages. Good examples are also found in Nicaragua, Mexico (the giant heads in Veracruz), and Guatemala.
Kramer observes: “In the field of art, the Sumerians were particularly noted for their skill in sculpture … Sumerian sculptors were quite skillful in carving figures on steles and plaques and even on vases and bowls. It is from this sculpture that we learn a good deal about Sumerian appearance and dress (1318).” The practice of writing and carving steles is also present in the Americas.
Music was important to the Sumerian people. Beautifully designed and constructed harps and lyres have been discovered in the royal tombs of Ur. They also used drums, tambourines, and metal and reed pipes.
Kramer: “Poetry and song flourished in the Sumerian schools. Most of the recovered works are hymns to gods and kings for use in the temple and palace; but there is every reason to believe that music, song, and dance were a major source of entertainment in the home and market place (1320).” One special practice of the Sumerians was to convert their epics and legends into hymns which were then sung in their gatherings (2623).
This must have also been a practice among the Jaredites for when they were suffering adversity while crossing the sea “they did sing praises unto the Lord; yea, the brother of Jared did sing praises unto the Lord, and he did thank and praise the Lord all the day long; and when the night came, they did not cease to praise the Lord (Ether 6:9).”
The Sumerians were especially accomplished in poetry, and many poetic works have been found on the cuneiform tablets. Kramer tells us: “The large majority of the Sumerian literary works are written in poetic form. The use of meter and rhyme was entirely unknown, but practically all other poetic devices and techniques were utilized with no little skill, imagination, and effect: repetition and parallelism, metaphor and simile, chorus and refrain (2220). Hymnography to turn from epic to hymn was a carefully cultivated, highly sophisticated art in Sumer (2623). Hymn writing had become so sophisticated a literary art in Sumer that it was subdivided into various categories by the ancient poets themselves (2648).” These hymns were categorized by subject, type of accompanying instrument, by applicable ceremonies, etc.
Another Sumerian specialty was the Lamentation. A number of these are known and are of two types: those bewailing the destruction of cities, and those lamenting the death of one of the gods. Particularly numerous are the Lamentations regarding the destruction of Ur. In some ways these laments are similar to the Lamentation books of the Bible.
|Cylinder seal and impression.|
The Sumerians were skilled in metal work, and aside from practical uses, they created many beautiful works of gold, bronze, and silver. They were also adept at working with gem stones and cut, carved, and polished many lovely pieces. Regarding the Jaredites: they were very skilled at working in stone, especially jade. Some gold work has been found at Olmec sites, and although bronze artifacts have not been noted, they were probably skilled in working with copper and copper alloys as archaeological evidence of this has been found.
In the language arts, the Sumerian was a master of debate. This skill fit in well with his aggressive and competitive personality. Debate was taught and practiced in the schools and a number of common practice debates were transcribed on the clay tablets (3372).
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Return to Sumerian Origins