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I've been sent an email saying that every generation thought that kids were too stupid or unruly, with this text as evidence:

"Our Earth is degenerate in these later days; there are signs that the world is speedily coming to an end; bribery and corruption are common; children no longer obey their parents; every man wants to write a book and the end of the world is evidently approaching." From an Assyrian clay tablet, circa 2800 BC.

Is this attribution accurate?

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    I can't verify the veracity, but it seems that the quote may have been popularized by "The Book of Facts" edited by Isaac Asimov in 1979: abhota.info/end1.htm – Beofett Jun 28 '11 at 16:23
  • Updated original title asking whether it was written by Babylonians - no. Babylonia was a neighbour to the South of Assyria. (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assyria en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Babylonia_and_Assyria) I updated the title rather than give a pedantic answer. – Oddthinking Jun 28 '11 at 16:45
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    "Every man wants to write a book..." What would a book look like in a world of clay tablets? Note that paper was invented--as far as is currently known--about 2800 years after that quote was purportedly laid to tablet. – horatio Jun 28 '11 at 18:00
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    @horatio That was my first reaction, too. But the word “book” predates the invention of what we currently understand by it by a long time. Still, this assertion seems weird and anachronistic. – Konrad Rudolph Jun 28 '11 at 20:31
  • I wondered about the history of the use of the word "book" (the ancient non-English equivalent) of course. I was going to stop at tablets, but got carried away with the paper tangent. I also skipped my musings about how "every man wanting to write a book" implies ubiquitous literacy, and my wondering if 2800 BC might have been a time of increased learning WRT other eras... – horatio Jun 28 '11 at 20:59
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In this answer, I address some moderately pedantic issues that make the answer to the question "No", but I do not address the substantive question of whether that quote is more than 90 years old.


There are several versions of the quotation floating around. So, the first step is to try to find the earliest mention.

Here, I am leveraging off the work of Jim L who addressed this same question on a competing Q&A site. (He concluded that the quote was invalid, but that site has differing standards of evidence than here.)

He found two cites that I have been unable to beat:

A tablet (Assyrian) 2800 B. C. says :
" Our earth is degenerate in these latter days ; there are signs that the world is speedily coming to an end; bribery and corruption are common ; children no longer obey their parents ; every man wants to write a book, and the end of the world is evidently approaching."
Tablet preserved in Constantinople

From here, two points stick out.

The first is "write a book"? This is written on tablets! What is the Assyrian word for book? I'm going to give the benefit of the doubt here to Dawson — perhaps the translation was very literal, and the word "book" had a different meaning.

The second is that it is said to be an Assyrian tablet in 2800 BC.

There is some debate about whether Asyrria existed in 2800 B.C. (for example, a poorly cited Wikipedia entry suggests it was formed when the Akkadian Empire fell circa 2080 BC, while also suggesting it was a part of the earlier Akkadian Empire.)

Whether it existed as a geographical place, there is another question of whether it existed as a language. Jim L., (above), claims, without substantial evidence the Assyrian language hadn't been developed by then.

Andrew George explains that the some earlier Akkadian works, were ascribed to Assyrian:

Because the first substantial discoveries of written Akkadian where made in the ruins of Assyrian cities, Akkadian was known to its first decipherers as Assyrian.

Reference: George , Andrew (2007) "Babylonian and Assyrian: a history of Akkadian". In: Postgate, J. N., (ed.), Languages of Iraq, Ancient and Modern. London: British School of Archaeology in Iraq, pp. 31-71.

[Note: I had some difficulty displaying that link in my browser, but found it worked by downloading it and opening it directly]

In his time-chart (Table 2), George shows Old Assyrian didn't develop until 2000 BC.

By the same chart, it seems suggestive that even Akkadian writings didn't exist in 2800 BC. Certainly, some forms of writing, such as Sumerian did, but I haven't found any references that claim to have samples of Akkadian writing prior to 2500 BC.

In summary:

  • I have not shown whether or not this is a quote from an ancient work.
  • I've shown that the quote, and its provenance has survived largely intact since the 1920s at least.
  • In particular, it has been traced far further back than Sir Isaac Asimov's book (as suggested by others here).
  • However, I have shown it was not both Assyrian and from 2800 BC. It may have in Akkadian, a related language, from 2800 BC, but that is earlier than any references I found so I find it unlikely. It might have been Sumerian.
  • IMHO, given the dubious provenance of the source, a more likely scenario is that it is either a true quote, oddly translated, from a much later date, or invented in the early 20th Century.
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    +1 for civil use of "competing Q&A site" (though that's one the best questions and answers I've seen over there). – erekalper Jun 29 '11 at 12:16
  • See books.google.nl/… for at least part of the quote in Report of the Librarian. – SQB Feb 17 '17 at 13:11
  • I think the quote was actually published here first jstor.org/stable/25686194?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents because, even though the 1922 Connecticut document specifically says it was published in 1922, it refers to events as late as Oct. 23, 1923 (see page 28). Both references involve George S. Godard of the state library of Connecticut though. – DavePhD Jul 26 '17 at 16:11
  • Its possible that the accepted dating for the Assyrian empire has changed since the 1920s. – Paul Johnson Apr 8 at 11:05
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The quote originally came from Prof. George T.W. Patrick of University of Iowa, who translated an ancient stone tablet into modern English and published in "Popular Science Monthly", May 1913. The full text of the original can be found online at archive.org: https://archive.org/details/popularsciencemo82newy, page 493.

As mentioned by Javier Rosa, the quote reads:

In the museum at Constantinople the writer [Prof. George T.W. Patrick] saw an inscription upon an old stone. It was by King Naram Sin of Chaldea, 3800 years B.C., and it said,

We have fallen upon evil times
and the world has waxed very old and wicked.
Politics are very corrupt.
Children are no longer respectful to their parents.

This old and ever-recurring complaint does not depend upon any actual deterioration of the times, for the times are constantly growing better.

So, essentially the answer is yes (as Prof. Patrick would agree), it was a very ancient stone tablet that certainly was about unruly kids with no respect for their elders. However the book-writing part seems to have been added later, and the dating in your quote is 1000 years later, but even Prof. Patrick's dating might have been off since that was before carbon dating. Also, Prof. Patrick believed Naram Sin was Chaldean, not Assyrian (though he is now considered Akkadian).

  • There is no such thing as "King Naram Sin of Chaldea, 3800 years B.C." Naram-Sin of Akkad did not write any tablet like this: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naram-Sin_of_Akkad – Avery Mar 7 '17 at 22:48
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    Agreed, there is no Naram Sin of Chaldea, that was a mis-attribution the tablet was given back in 1913. The dating is probably wrong as well, but give the poor professor some slack! You live in 2017 with all the magic of the modern world. He just barely had photography! – 00prometheus Mar 11 '17 at 14:33
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    @Avery I'm not sure if your statement is relevant here. Even in completely modern dating, there is substantial uncertainty in dating stuff from around that time. More than 100 years variance depending on the chronology that you use. This answer was talking about a claim from a professor from over a century ago. Could his date for a Chaldean king have been off by 1000 years from a modern, Middle Chronology value? Absolutely! A lot of the sources used in dating nowadays weren't even known back then. – KAI Jul 25 '17 at 19:57
  • I already proposed, in my own answer, how the writer might have been referring to Naram-Sin of Akkad when he wrote "Naram Sin of Chaldea" (they are not the same). However, my answer is currently at a negative rating for some reason. – Avery Jul 26 '17 at 15:40
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I wanted to forward this link: http://quoteinvestigator.com/2012/10/22/world-end/ .

It indicates an older source from 1908 which has a different variant of the quote:

In the museum at Constantinople the writer saw an inscription upon an old stone. It was by King Naram Sin of Chaldea, 3800 years B.C., and it said,

We have fallen upon evil times and the world has waxed very old and wicked. Politics are very corrupt. Children are no longer respectful to their parents.

This old and ever-recurring complaint does not depend upon any actual deterioration of the times, for the times are constantly growing better. It comes usually from older people whose outlook may be biased by subjective conditions due to decaying powers and by the tendency to regard all changes as changes for the worse, the only really good times being the bright days of our own youth.

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Updated 2019, regardless of the fact that it has been downvoted.

As another answer reads, this complaint has been attributed to a specific king:

In the museum at Constantinople the writer [Prof. George T.W. Patrick] saw an inscription upon an old stone. It was by King Naram Sin of Chaldea, 3800 years B.C.

As above, this does not seem to refer to a real poem and there was no such king in Chaldea.

However, there was a stele of a King Naram-Sin of Akkad which has been exhibited in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum since 1892. The inscription on this stele is fragmentary and has nothing to do with degeneration. Quoting from Peasnall and Algaze, "The Survey of Pir Hüseyin, 2004", Anatolica 36 (2010):

When it first came to light, and for most of the 20th century, the stele was thought to commemorate Naram Sin's laying of the foundation of a temple.

A period translation of it by Fr.-V. Scheil, in "Inscription de Naram-Sin", Rec. Trav. 15, 1893, attests that the stele was dated to 3800 BC at the time, and that it was thought to refer to the building of a temple. (More recently it has been thought to commemorate the destruction of a rival army.)

Where did Prof. Patrick get the idea of "degeneration" from? One possibility is that a local guide at the Istanbul museum simply made up a story, which he believed.

Alternatively, there is an actual poem written in 2000 BC about Naram-Sin, called "The Curse of Agade: Naram-Sin's Battle with the Gods", and it does contain passages describing the collapse of a state:

On its plains, where fine grass grew, now the reeds of lamentation grew. Agade's flowing fresh water flowed as brackish water. When someone decided, "I will dwell in that city!", he could not enjoy the pleasures of a dwelling place. When someone decided, "I will rest in Agade!", he could not enjoy the pleasures of a resting place!

This poem is not about a king lamenting decline, but is a Babylonian poem celebrating the defeat of their enemy state's king. Indeed, this destruction is the result of a curse laid by the gods upon the city, and the very next line reads:

Inana be praised for the destruction of Agade!

The stele on which this poem appears was exhibited at the Louvre starting in 1908, mixed with other Akkadian and Chaldean works. The catalog of the exhibit is available online.

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    The poem is interesting, but you are aiming a rather serious accusation when you are claiming that a published article by a professor in a scientific publication is made up! Please make sure you have some real evidence when you make such accusations, rather than just musings of your own. – 00prometheus Mar 11 '17 at 14:40
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    Is "Popular Science Monthly" a scientific publication? Who does the peer review? – Avery Jul 26 '17 at 15:41
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    It was what counted for one, back in those days. Darwin, Pasteur and Edison published articles there. In those days, review was mostly just done by the editors themselves. Formal peer review didn't really take hold until mid 1900's; even Nature didn't get formal peer review until 1967 (nature.com/nature/history/…) – 00prometheus Jul 26 '17 at 16:52

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