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The Creation of the Pickaxe

The tool we must recall had its own magical power. Its particular facilities would thus have their own sanction, their compelling power. The tool cutting or carving the wood was in some degree felt as an autonomous force working on a material with its own demands, its own ways of wanting to be treated. The Sumerian poem, The Creation of the Pickaxe, brings out clearly this inherent energy felt to reside in the pool. It opens with an account of Enlil separating heaven and earth. Then-

He brought the Pickaxe into being, the Day came forth,
He introduced labour, decreed the fate,
Upon the Pickaxe and Basket he directs the Power,
Enlil mad his Pickaxe exalted...
Whose tooth is a one-horned ox ascending a large Wall.

He sets the holy crown on it. 'The heah od man he placed in the mould'. He hands the tool to the gods, who hand it to the Blackheaded People (the Sumerians). Various deities add to its powers and usefulness. A long gyric ends:

The Pickaxe and the Basket build cities,
The steadfast house the Pickaxe builds.
The steadfast house the Pickaxe establishes,
The steadfast house it causes to prosper.
The house which rebels against the king,
The house which is not submissive to its king,
The Pickaxe makes it submissive to the king.
Of the bad... plants it crushes the head,
Plucks at the roots, tears at the crown.
The Pickaxe spares the..; plants,
The Pickaxe, its fate decreed by Father Enlil,
The Pickaxe exalted.

From A Short History of Culture from Prehistory to the Renascence by Jack Lindsay


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