The Bronze Sumerian

16 Sep

King Shulgi of Ur had grown aware of silent restlessness among the people of his city. The prosperous crops of the past were no longer available due to unending drought. Armed bands of Amorites were constantly infiltrating his kingdom in Sumeria from the west.

The ruler suffered nightmares of being overthrown and killed in a popular rebellion and he was determined to avoid such a finish to his reign.

A wall began to be built under his personal command to keep out the nomadic invaders migrating into his territory.

Shulgi was determined to maintain and heighten the loyalty of his own population. A clever scheme by which to do so occurred to his inventive mind. He decided to discuss his plan with a man who appeared able to make it come true, the foremost metalsmith of the city of Ur, Lu-Gula.

The king, dressed in a commoner’s tunic, went in secret to the workshop next to which lived this master craftsman who was skilled in the making and molding of bronze. Shulgi had a grandiose order to place before him.

Lu-Gula was a towering giant taller than any of the many smiths working for him. He was pleased and honored by this royal visit and eager to find out why it was being kept completely private and unseen.

“How can I be of service to you, Sire?” he politely asked the monarch.

The metalist stood while the king sat in the best chair owned by Lu-Gula.

“I have a difficult order that you must fulfill for me, my loyal servant,” declared Shulgi. “You are to make a living replica of me in bronze. One that breathes and moves. An exact duplicate that can walk and even run. It has to resemble me so closely that no one suspects that it is not really myself.

“I know that this is a hard assignment but I believe that your skills are sufficient to produce such a living reflection of me in bronze. The necessary copper and tin for the alloy shall be furnished for you at my expense.

“How long do you think it will take to create this simulacrum of me?”

Lu-Gula was for a time speechless, his mind overwhelmed by the vast dimensions of what the royal request demanded he accomplish.

What was he to say to the king?

“Starting at once, Your Highness, I should be able to complete the order within half a year. It will demand all my time and a great amount of labor. The project is unprecedented. But your replica will not be able to speak or think like a genuine human person.”

“I know that,” softly admitted Shulgi. “My need is for a bronze figure resembling me who can move swiftly and carry out my commands without questioning them.”

Working at night by himself, Lu-Gula slowly cast the figure of bronze from a mold obtained from the body frame of clay modeled upon the ruler of Ur.

In the meantime, Shugli learned the identity of the person who was plotting to take advantage of public dissatisfaction and lead a revolt. The center of a hidden conspiracy to seize power lay with the king’s first cousin, Prince Ku-Sin. He was Shulgi’s closest male relative, a man who had been a jealous opponent from their youngest days. As boys, the pair had played rough games of sport in fierce rivalry with each other. They now competed in a burgeoning fight for royal power.

Shulgi came to see the replica of bronze as his primary weapon against his greedy cousin. He hoped to have a means of winning the population over to total loyalty to himself.

His bronze likeness was to be given the task of demobilizing the disloyal cabal revolving about Ku-Sin. It was to bring about victory for his legitimate authority. Shulgi believed he had conceived a means of achieving political success.

Lu-Gula saw the king come to his workshop many times at night to inquire about the progress of the project. Each time, the metal expert told him of failures and difficulties. “But I am moving forward, Sire. Do not despair, for I have confidence that the man of bronze, an exact replica of you, can be created. It will be able to move and work as a living person.”

“I wish it to be able to run as well,” asserted the monarch of Ur. “It must be capable of racing across the ground like a youthful athlete.”

Lu-Gula gaped at the king in profound amazement.

“It shall be accomplished, I promise that it will happen,” swore the craftsman. “A bit more time, several more months, and we shall see your dream come about.”

The long awaited day at last arrived when the replica was completed and began to move.

Shulgi was informed by messenger at once. He rushed breathlessly to the workshop and himself witnessed the bronze duplicate taking small steps carefully. It moved slowly in a small circle.

The king, his face radiant with joy, turned to Lu-Gula with a smile of triumph.

“I have what I dreamed of. Now there shall be a race like none ever before.”

A royal proclamation was announced to all the inhabitants of Ur. Their ruler was going to carry out a miraculous personal feat. All on the same day, he would attend two separate religious ceremonies, one in the capital city of Ur and the other in the sacred center of Nippur. Shulgi planned to be present at the festivals to the diety Enki in both places on the holiday of the god of the water. He intended to run the long distance from the earlier celebration to the second, then back to the capital.

The king meant to carry out the impossible, something never attempted before. No one had ever tried to span such a length in one day before. Such a rapid journey appeared to be beyond human strength or endurance. But Shulgi was going to make a roundtrip in one day of constant running.

The people of Ur were excited by this startling pronouncement.

Prince Ku-Sin,cousin of the king, insisted upon seeing him on the matter. Short and fat, the angry rival of Shulgi spoke to him in a menacing tone.

“What do you hope to prove by this madness?” he demanded in the royal throne room of the palace. “Are you planning on moving as fast as a whirlwind? It cannot be done. You will embarrass yourself and the kingdom. I advise you to desist from such a crazy enterprise.”

Shulgi stared at his cousin without saying a word on the subject of the race.

“Please be silent,” he commanded. “As long as I am king, I do what I consider best.”

Ku-Sin turned around abruptly and dashed out of the room, his face flushed with overflowing ire.

Shulgi smiled to himself, his thoughts on the coming race to Nippur and then back to Ur.

It was going to be his bronze double that did the physical running for him.

On the holiday of Enki, the metalsmith Lu-Gula had the bronze replica stationed on a wagon beside the road to Nippur, a short distance from Ur. When the running Shulgi arrived on the spot, the bronze creature replaced him and ran all the way to the festival in the other city. The king rested in the wagon while his simulacrum ran without exhaustion to Nippur. The metal double was a silent, speechless witness to the ceremonial worship ritual dedicated to Enki of the waters. As soon as this was ended, the bronze figure took to the road once more, returning at top speed to distant Ur. Shortly before sunset, it reached the waiting wagon, where King Shulgi took the trek back to Ur, pretending that he had run all the way from faraway Nippur.

The waiting crowd fell into a rapture of joy. A second festival began in the capital. It was the human monarch who watched the religious celebration.

No one beyond the few involved in the plan knew the secret of how the incredible feat was done.

The following day, Shulgi visited Lu-Gula at his workshop.

“I have won the favor and support of the people,” he grinned broadly. “Ku-Sin has been soundly defeated and his conspiracy ended. He will never be a danger to me again. I owe you a tremendous debt, my good man.”

The metalmaster suddenly frowned. “There has been serious damage to the object from its long run on the road. The feet and the legs are warped and bent. They will have to be rebuilt or replaced. That will take a long time to correct.”

“No,” sharply barked the king. “I do not need the replica any more. It has done what it was meant to accomplish. It would be risky to keep it in operation. What if someone should uncover the secret of how we used it? I think it wise to dismantle and destroy the thing.”

Lu-Gula gaped in wonder and disappointment.

“Very well, Sire,” he said in a saddened voice. “I will melt down the bronze tonight. There will be no trace of the shape remaining by tomorrow morning.”

He fulfilled his word and did precisely that.


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