… Any soldier who fell while on his lord’s service,
All humanity, from the East to the West,
Who have no one to care for them or call their names,
Come, eat this, drink this,
And bless Ammi-Shaduqa, son of Ammiditana, King of Babylon.
— W. G. LAMBERT1
THE FIRST FOUR chapters in this volume dealt with the impact of writing on ancient Near Eastern art. The following three chapters focus upon the reverse phenomenon: the impact of art on cuneiform writing. In this chapter, I will show that masterpieces of art inscribed with personal names liberated writing from the mundane task of accounting and set it up for the quest of immortality. Before presenting this new phase of the interface between writing and art, I will discuss the importance of personal names in Mesopotamia and the status of writing in 3000 B.C.
Universally, humans bear personal names with which they feel a unique bond. Names, however, have different connotations from culture to culture. In our own society, names identify people. We use them to address, talk about, refer to, quote, list, and register people. Expressions like “he has a good name” or “he made a name for himself” indicate that we associate names with reputation. Other idioms, such as “to speak in the name of,” illustrate that names are used as an extension of a person. Engraved tombstones and war memorials, which enshrine the names of fallen soldiers, show that names survive death, becoming the closest substitutes for the dead.
In the ancient Near East, names also identified people,2 but the Mesopotamians