Miguel Civil, RIP.

A great Sumerian scholar has died; here’s Harrison Smith’s Washington Post obit:

You have to go back 4,000 years, colleagues said, to find someone as fluent in Sumerian as Miguel Civil. A Catalonian-born professor with a purported photographic memory, he spent decades studying ancient cuneiform tablets, examining the last wedge-shaped traces of what is probably the world’s oldest written language.

Dr. Civil, who was 92 when he died Jan. 13 at a hospital in Chicago, was a giant in the field of Sumerology, an expert in the Mesopotamian civilization that is widely credited with developing the first cities, sailboats, irrigation systems and potter’s wheels, as well as the seven-day week and writing itself.

“He was the most knowledgeable authority of Sumerian since 2000 B.C.,” said Christopher Woods, a fellow Sumerian scholar and director of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, where Dr. Civil taught from 1963 until his retirement in 2001. […]

“Civil was a brilliant linguist,” said Benjamin Foster, a Yale professor of Assyriology and Babylonian literature, “who carried forward the reconstruction of ancient Sumerian language and literature begun by Samuel Noah Kramer, Adam Falkenstein and Thorkild Jacobsen in the mid-20th century.” […]

“He took up many difficult problems, such as Sumerian phonology, grammar and semantics, and pioneered the use of computer technology to place small fragments of Sumerian writing in their original contexts,” Foster added. “We all stood in awe of his breadth and depth of knowledge and his originality of thought.”

And here’s Maureen O’Donnell’s for the Chicago Sun-Times, with an excursus on Sumerian beer-making (“The brewmaster said that when he questioned the professor about whether there was a dictionary to consult about Sumerian, ‘He looked up at me, and he said, “I am the dictionary.”’”) and several good photos, including one of Ninkasi Sumerian Beer. Thanks, Bill and Trevor!


  1. I stand in awe of such people.

  2. A great linguist.

    Two quibbles, though:
    Catalan Spanish
    Ecole Pratique des Hutes Etudies


  1. […] Hat mourns linguist, and fluent speaker of Sumerian, Miguel […]

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