The Statue of Gudea & the Art of Serenity

It’s not always easy to be the epitome of serenity and piety. Yet, Sumerian ruler Gudea worked hard to portray these qualities. He even immortalized his calm image in stone! Let’s look at this peaceful Statue of Gudea.  

Gudea Rises!

Before Gudea could start his wondrous rule (and create his statues), the Akkadian Empire had to collapse. In fact, the Akkadians fell after TWO centuries of rule. Wow! That’s quite an empire they had. With this collapse, the following fifty years saw power in the hands of local kings. They ruled over independent city-states throughout southern Mesopotamia.  

Gudea reigned over the city-state of Lagash from ca. 2150 – 2125 B.C. His son Ur-Ningirsu took over from ca. 2125 – 2100 B.C. During these times, Lagash created many statues of their kings alongside numerous Sumerian literary hymns and prayers. Interestingly, this Neo-Sumerian culture produced works that embodied serenity and a pious reserve, a vast divergence from Akkadian art of dynamic naturalism.  

Gudea hopped on this religious train because one of his kingly goals included rebuilding Lagash’s temples. He also placed statues of himself throughout these new temples to accentuate his piety, setting an example for his people and appealing to the gods. 

Pious Poses

Statue of Gudea at the Metropolitan Museum

This diorite statue of Gudea at the Metropolitan Museum is a popular example of pious reserve and serenity. Gudea is seated like a ruler before his subjects. His hands are folded in a traditional gesture of prayer and greeting. He is in a state of perpetual prayer forever appeasing the gods through worship while also immortalizing the perfect example of piety for all who enter the temple. Additionally, this statue of Gudea creates a sense of calm as we look upon it. It is far from chaotic or flamboyant. In fact, Gudea is dressed very humbly creating a distinct contrast from other excessive kings. Instead of wealth and luxury, Gudea is elevated through his devotion. Not to mention that the statue looks more welcoming towards fellow worshipers!  

The Written Story

Closeup of the Inscription on Gudea’s Robe

See all those fancy symbols on Gudea’s robe? They are inscriptions that tell us an interesting story. In fact, many of Gudea’s statues were inscribed with his name and divine dedications. Read the translated Sumerian inscription on Gudea’s robe below! 

When Ningirsu, the mighty warrior of Enlil, had established a courtyard in the city for Ningišzida, son of Ninazu, the beloved one among the gods; when he had established for him irrigated plots(?) on the agricultural land; (and) when Gudea, ruler of Lagaš, the straightforward one, beloved by his (personal) god, had built the Eninnu, the White Thunderbird, and the…, his ‘heptagon,’ for Ningirsu, his lord, (then) for Nanše, the powerful lady, his lady, did he build the Sirara House, her mountain rising out of the waters.

He (also) built the individual houses of (other) great gods of Lagaš. For Ningišzida, his (personal) god, he built his House of Girsu. Someone (in the future) whom Ningirsu, his god – as my god (addressed me) has (directly) addressed within the crowd, let him not, thereafter, be envious(?) with regard to the house of my (personal) god. Let him invoke its (the house’s) name; let such a person be my friend, and let him (also) invoke my (own) name. (Gudea) fashioned a statue of himself.

“Let the life of Gudea, who built the house, be long.” – (this is how) he named (the statue) for his sake, and he brought it to him into (his) house. 

(Pssst: the translation originates from Edzard, Dietz-Otto. 1997. Gudea and his Dynasty. The Royal Inscriptions of Mesopotamia, Early Periods Volume 3/1. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, pp. 57-58) 

It’s a messy text right? That’s because translation from ancient Sumerian isn’t exactly perfect!

Reading Between the Lines

Still, we get the gist of the message. The text illuminates all the temples Gudea built throughout Lagash. Once again highlighting Gudea’s devotion to the gods. Additionally, it names and blesses Gudea. Kind of like an acknowledgement of his good deeds so everyone recognizes their king’s awesomeness while rallying them to come and worship at the temple. And, hey, if the gods happen to read it, maybe they’ll perform an extra miracle for Gudea and his people as a reward for such great dedication. 

Are you feeling motivated to achieve a serene state like Gudea? Did the statue of Gudea peak your interest? Also, did you know there’s another statue of Gudea at the Louvre? That’s right, come and join us for a treasure hunt and we’ll help you discover more interesting ancient artifacts!  

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