"What is the nam-shub of Enki?"
The Librarian stares off into the distance and clears his throat dramatically.
"Once upon a time, there was no snake, there was no scorpion, There was no hyena, there was no lion, There was no wild dog, no wolf, There was no fear, no terror, Man had no rival. In those days, the land Shubur-Hamazi, Harmony-tongued Sumer, the great land of the me of princeship, Uri, the land having all that is appropriate, The land Martu, resting in security, The whole universe, the people well cared for, To Enlil in one tongue gave speech. Then the lord defiant, the prince defiant, the king defiant, Enki, the lord of abundance, whose commands are trustworthy, The lord of wisdom, who scans the land, The leader of the gods, The lord of Eridu, endowed with wisdom, Changed the speech in their mouths, put contention into it, Into the speech of man that had been one. . . .
"The nam-shub of Enki is both a story and an incantation," the Librarian says. "A self-fulfilling fiction. Lagos believed that in its original form, which this translation only hints at, it actually did what it describes." . . .
"This is a Babel story, isn't it?" Hiro says. "Everyone was speaking the same language, and then Enki changed their speech so that they could no longer understand each other. This must be the basis for the Tower of Babel stuff in the Bible. . . . You mentioned before that at one point, everyone spoke Sumerian. Then, nobody did. It just vanished, like the dinosaurs. And there's no genocide to explain how that happened. Which is consistent with the Tower of Babel story, and the nam-shub of Enki. Did Lagos think that Babel really happened?"
"He was sure of it. He was quite concemed about the vast number of human languages. He felt there were simply too many of them. . . . In many parts of the world, you will find people of the same ethnic group, living a few miles apart in similar valleys under similar conditions, speaking languages that have absolutely nothing in common with each other. This sort of thing is not an oddity‹it is ubiquitous. . . . Lagos had a theory.. . that Babel was an actual historical event. That it happened in a particular time and place, coinciding with the disappearance of the Sumerian language. That prior to Babel/ Infocalypse, languages tended to converge. And that afterward, languages have always had an innate tendency to diverge and become mutually incomprehensible that this tendency is, as he put it, coiled like a serpent around the human brainstem."
"The only thing that could explain that is‹" Hiro stops, not wanting to say it.
"Yes?" the Librarian says.
"If there was some phenomenon that moved through the population, altering their minds.
Neal Stephenson Snowcrash
La Biblioteca Total