The Royal Tombs of Ur 1.0: The Bull-Headed Lyre

The Royal Tombs of Ur 1.0: The Bull-Headed Lyre

I finally saw The Bull-Headed Lyre.

My life is complete.

Iraq's Ancient Past: Rediscovering Ur's Royal Cemetery tells the story of the discovery and excavation of the Royal Cemetery at Ur in modern-day Iraq. The collection includes the famous gold and lapis lazuli bullheaded lyre.

The imagery used in the lyre represent significant parts of Early Mesopotamian funerary rituals. The bearded bull on the front represents the sun god Shamash, depicted in cuneiform texts as the golden bull with lapis lazuli beard. Shamash is the divine judge who shines light on all things. Only Shamash can descend into the underworld and emerge again at sunrise.

The front panel of the lyre tells the story of the funeral ritual itself. At the top, the nude hero grapples with two rampant human-headed bulls, representing royal control over nature. Beneath are three scenes that show the ritual with otherworldly actors. A hyena carries butchered meat on a table. Behind his is a lion, holding a jar and a pouring vessel identical to ones found in the graves. The third register depicts music-making: an equid plays a lyre while a bear supports it, nearby a small animal shakes a rattle. The lyre depicted is similar to the very lyre to which it was attached. On the bottom is the last stage of the ritual, where the deceased meets the scorpion man, the guardian of the entrance to the underworld. Showing this ritual in the symbolic language of animals acting as humans was borrowed from the Elamites in Iran. Taken as a whole, the lyre imagery shows the human cycle of the kings’ control over nature, the funerary ritual and entry into the underworld. All of this is presided over by the god of judgment and destiny, the sun god Shamash.


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