Friday, 22 July 2016

What do you take me for?

Sitting behind a sheet of glass at the British Museum in London, inscribed on a clay tablet in an ancient script known as cuneiform, is solid proof of two things: firstly, that poor customer service--an affliction that somehow feels like a modern phenomenon--has actually been a plague on societies for at least 3775 long years, and secondly, that humans will never really change. For this is in fact a letter of complaint, sent by a furious man named Nanni to a Babylonian copper merchant called Ea-nasir, in which said customer makes very clear his dissatisfaction with the service experienced by his messengers. The letter was discovered in Southern Iraq, in a place then known as Ur.

Translated transcript follows.

(This letter, and many other fascinating pieces of correspondence, can be found in the bestselling book, More Letters of Note. For more info, visit Books of Note. Image © Trustees of the British Museum.)

Tell Ea-nasir: Nanni sends the following message:

When you came, you said to me as follows : “I will give Gimil-Sin (when he comes) fine quality copper ingots.” You left then but you did not do what you promised me. You put ingots which were not good before my messenger (Sit-Sin) and said: “If you want to take them, take them; if you do not want to take them, go away!”

What do you take me for, that you treat somebody like me with such contempt? I have sent as messengers gentlemen like ourselves to collect the bag with my money (deposited with you) but you have treated me with contempt by sending them back to me empty-handed several times, and that through enemy territory. Is there anyone among the merchants who trade with Telmun who has treated me in this way? You alone treat my messenger with contempt! On account of that one (trifling) mina of silver which I owe you, you feel free to speak in such a way, while I have given to the palace on your behalf 1,080 pounds of copper, and umi-abum has likewise given 1,080 pounds of copper, apart from what we both have had written on a sealed tablet to be kept in the temple of Samas.

How have you treated me for that copper? You have withheld my money bag from me in enemy territory; it is now up to you to restore (my money) to me in full.

Take cognizance that (from now on) I will not accept here any copper from you that is not of fine quality. I shall (from now on) select and take the ingots individually in my own yard, and I shall exercise against you my right of rejection because you have treated me with contempt.