Instructions of Shuruppak

Sumerian wisdom literature

The Instructions of Shuruppak (or, Instructions of Šuruppak son of Ubara-tutu) are a significant example of Sumerian wisdom literature. Wisdom literature, intended to teach proper piety, inculcate virtue, and preserve community standards, was common throughout the ancient Near East. The text is set in great antiquity by its incipit. The precepts are placed in the mouth of a king Šuruppak (SU.KUR.RUki), son of Ubara-Tutu. Ubara-Tutu is recorded in most extant copies of the Sumerian king list as being the final king of Sumer prior to the deluge. Grouped with the other cuneiform tablets from Abu Salabikh, the Instructions date to the early third millennium BCE, being among the oldest surviving literature.

You should not serve things; things should serve you.


  • A loving heart maintains a family; a hateful heart destroys a family.
    • A variant is found in a collection of Sumerian proverbs: "A loving heart builds houses. A hating heart destroys houses." [1]
  • You should not use violence.
  • Nothing at all is to be valued, but life should be sweet. You should not serve things; things should serve you.
  • In those days, in those far remote days, in those nights, in those faraway nights, in those years, in those far remote years, at that time the wise one who knew how to speak in elaborate words lived in the Land.
  • The instructions of an old man are precious.
  • A thief is a lion, but after he has been caught, he will be a slave.
  • The night: it can hide both good and evil.
  • The eyes of the slanderer always move around as shiftily as a spindle. You should never remain in his presence; his intentions should not be allowed to have an effect on you.
  • The warrior is unique, he alone is the equal of many; Utu is unique, he alone is the equal of many. With your life you should always be on the side of the warrior; with your life you should always be on the side of Utu.
  • The palace is like a mighty river: its middle is goring bulls; what flows in is never enough to fill it, and what flows out can never be stopped.
  • When it is about someone's else bread, it is easy to say "I will give it to you", but the time of actual giving can be as far away as the sky. If you go after the man who said "I will give it to you", he will say "I cannot give it to you -- the bread has just been finished up".
  • The artistic mouth recites words; the harsh mouth brings litigation documents; the sweet mouth gathers sweet herbs.
  • Heaven is far, earth is most precious, but it is with heaven that you multiply your goods, and all foreign lands breathe under it.
  • At harvest time, at the most priceless time, collect like a slave girl, eat like a queen; my son, to collect like a slave girl, to eat like a queen, this is how it should be.
  • To speak arrogantly is like an abscess: a herb that makes the stomach sick.
  • Fate is a wet bank; it can make one slip.
  • The elder brother is indeed like a father; the elder sister is indeed like a mother. Listen therefore to your elder brother, and you should be obedient to your elder sister as if she were your mother.
  • You should not work using only your eyes; you will not multiply your possessions using only your mouth.
  • You should not speak arrogantly to your mother; that causes hatred for you. You should not question the words of your mother and your personal god. The mother, like Utu, gives birth to the man.
  • Without suburbs a city has no centre either.
  • It is inconceivable that something is lost forever.

See also

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