Ludlul Bēl Nēmeqi is one of the few Akkadian literary texts that attracted the exegetical attention of ancient scholarly commentators. Its commentary, preserved only on K.3291, follows the typical Assyrian mukallimtu form: a line of the main text is cited and then a lemma (or two) from the cited text is equated with another word or words, thereby providing an explanation. The present commentary may be the same mukallimtu that the catalog Rm.618 refers to in line 19.
The commentary uses two formats to present the cited text and commentary. In 28 cases, the commentary cites a line from Ludlul and uses the following line for commentary (e.g, 12ˊ-13ˊ). In 36 cases, the cited text from Ludlul is immediately followed on the same line by an explanation of a lemma; only a colon separates the citation from the explanation (e.g., 14ˊ). (The last four lines of the tablet are not counted in these totals.)
The commentary is generally consistent with its use of indentation. When the beginning of a line comprising only commentary is preserved, the line is always indented (21 times; e.g., 13ˊ and 16ˊ). On the basis of space considerations, r37, whose beginning is not clearly preserved, may not have been indented. The position of the traces of the second sign in this line suggests that the first sign was written flush with the left margin. Thus, the scribe likely began without an indentation in this line.
The colon, ubiquitous in commentaries, is used for a few different purposes in K.3291. Every time there is text and commentary on the same line and the transition is preserved, a colon separates the citation from the commentary. There are no exceptions. The colon is also used to separate different comments on the same line. When there is more than one comment in succession, a colon usually separates the comments. See lines 13ˊ, 45ˊ (first colon), 51ˊ, r20, r28 (second, fourth, and fifth cola), and r42. Exceptionally, the colon is absent between two comments on the same line in r40. Finally, when two lemma are being equated in the commentary, a colon sometimes (not always) separates the equated lemma. See lines 31ˊ, 38ˊ, 39ˊ, 40ˊ, 45ˊ (second divider), 49ˊ, r3, r17 (the first one is a triple Winkelhaken rather than a normal colon), r22, r24, r25, r26, r28 (first and third cola), r29, r37, and r40.
In terms of its hermeneutical intention, on the surface of it, the commentary seems simply to explain obscure words (or spelling, see lines 1ˊ-2ˊ) via more frequently occurring ones. For example, ṣabāru, “to chatter,” in line 13ˊ is explained with dabābu, “to speak.” This kind of explanation is attested clearly in almost 40 lexical equations, that is, over half of all equations in the commentary. But there are about 10 cases in which a rare word is equated with an equally rare word (according to our modern lexica). And, oddly, there is one case in which a word is explained with a more obscure word: ṣillâtu, “thorns” in 51ˊ occurs many, many more times than the word used to explain it, katâtu, “needles,” which is a hapax. We might presume that these lexical equations followed the majority pattern; that is, the explanation was indeed a more common word in the commentator’s time. But we cannot prove this on the basis of available evidence. Moreover, we should not exclude other explanations.
Many of the lexical equations in the text are known from lexical series, thus suggesting that they were traditional within scribal circles. For example, there are about a dozen common lexical equations in the Ludlul commentary and the Akkadian synonym list Malku.
Evidence suggests that this commentary, however, sometimes does more than simply equate synonyms in order to explain lemma in the cited text. For example, the commentator utilizes a paraphrase in line 34ˊ, cites Tintir V 63 in r37, and may use a single word at the end of a comment in r28 to sum up the purpose of the entire line: “to wipe dirt” results in something becoming ebbi, “clean.”
The commentary may also have used some of the same exegetical and philological techniques that are found in commentaries exhibiting a more sophisticated presentation. A few simple examples make this clear.
1. Lemma in the commentary may be equated because both translate a common Sumerian term. For example, ḫurbāšu can be equated with kuṣṣu in 4ˊ because both Akkadian words translate Sumerian sed in Aa VIII/1 174, 177 (see MSL 14, 493) and še₄ in Idu II 270, 272 (cited in CAD K, 594). (Both Sumerian words are written with the same sign: mùš×a-di.)
2. A more interesting case occurs in 31ˊ, where ippiru is equated with mānaḫtu and gig (= murṣu). Mānaḫtu is equated with ippiru in Malku IV 205. But ippiru is never equated with murṣu. Note, however, that Sumerian gigam, “conflict, trouble,” is translated by ippiru, “trouble,” in Diri VI B 29 (see MSL 15, 190) and elsewhere. This fact could have easily suggested the equation of ippiru (Sum. gigam) with the very generic murṣu, “illness,” written logographically in the commentary as gig. In other words, the shared syllable /gig/ may have been enough to suggest the lexical equation.
3. The final example uses Akkadian homonymy for a contextual interpretive purpose. Napraku, “crossbar,” is equated with pirku, “fraud,” in line 11ˊ (Ludlul I 69). But there is no lexical evidence outside this commentary for such an equation. Note, however, that napraku, “bar, bolt, obstruction,” is similar in meaning to CAD’s pirku B, which is some part of a gate that can be bolted (parāku, “to bar, bolt”; see CAD P, 408), and there is a homonym, pirku A, which means “harm, wrong, fraud” (CAD P, 403). The commentator may not have made a distinction between the two pirku’s based on semantic domains (or ignored them if he did). Thus, napraku could be explained as pirku in the sense of fraud through Akkadian homonymy (contra CAD P, 407). This lexical equation shifts the semantics of napraku in a way that explains the relationship between napraku and tuššu, “slander,” used earlier in the same line. The nature of the obstruction was fraud. It was slander and fraud that the sufferer’s enemies put in alliance against him.