Myth and Politics in Ancient Near Eastern Historiography - Mario Liverani

Myth and Politics in Ancient Near Eastern Historiography - Mario Liverani

4. Leaving by chariot for the desert

Myth and Politics in Ancient Near Eastern Historiography - Mario Liverani

Mario Liverani [+-]
University of Rome “La Sapienza”, (Emeritus)
Mario Liverani is Emeritus Professor of “History of the Ancient Near East” in the University of Rome “La Sapienza”. Member of the Italian National “Lincei” Academy, honorary member of the American Oriental Society. His most recent book is Immaginare Babele (2013); his general handbook Ancient Orient is now available in English translation.


In the early fifteenth century a local ruler of the city of Alalah, today in southern Turkey some 50 km west of Aleppo in Syria, left a statue of himself with an inscription recounting his career. He started out in Aleppo, was chased from the city with his family, crossed the desert and fled to Emar on the Euphrates. There he decided to join bands of warriors called  habiru . Seven years later he conquered the city of Alalah, and was eventually recognised by the ruler of the region, Barattarna, king of Mitanni. The story provides a justification for Idrimi’s rule over a city with which he had no previous connections (see chapter 7), and was manufactured in order to make the king look especially qualified for the task. It includes a literary motif of the hero taking off by himself into hostile territory where he can prove his worth. The chapter here identifies that motif, akin to what is found in fairy tales, and traces it through other literatures from the ancient Near East. It analyses the motif using V. Propp’s methods for the analysis of fairy tales. The Egyptian tale of the ‘Doomed Prince’ provides the clearest parallel to the Idrimi story. In it the only son of an unnamed Egyptian king, whose death through a crocodile, snake, or dog was prophesied at birth, is kept in a safe house by his father. But one day he takes off by himself on his chariot to Nahrin in Syria where he is chosen to marry a local princess because he alone is able to pass a test. Afterwards his wife urges him to protect himself against his fate, and he probably ends up escaping it, although the end of the text is not preserved. That text is clearly a fairy tale, but several other Near Eastern texts of various genres contain parts of the motif. Such texts then have to be analysed as what they truly are, fictional stories, rather than as historical accounts. Idrimi’s inscription has been translated numerous times. The most recent English translation is by Longman (1997).

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Liverani, Mario. 4. Leaving by chariot for the desert. Myth and Politics in Ancient Near Eastern Historiography. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. p. 85 - 96 Aug 2004. ISBN 9781845532802. Date accessed: 20 Sep 2021 doi: 10.1558/equinox.18751. Aug 2004

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