Marvel's 'Eternals' enlisted academic's help for extinct Babylonian language

Marvel's 'Eternals' enlisted academic's help for extinct Babylonian language
The latest Marvel film, Eternals, included the ancient, extinct language of Babylonian, for which the filmmakers had to enlist an expert's help.
2 min read
17 November, 2021
Eternals opened in UK cinemas on 5 November [Getty]

Filmmakers behind Eternals, the latest instalment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, secured guidance from an academic to help them with their use of the ancient dead language of Babylonian.

In the new film, which features superhuman god-like “eternals” who have been living on earth for centuries, two of the main characters, played by Richard Madden and Gemma Chan, converse with each other in ancient Babylonian.

Dr Martin Worthington, an expert in Babylonian, was enlisted by the film's makers to advise on the use of the language. He provided Babylonian written translations for the dialogue, as well as audio recordings to help the actors with their pronunciation. 

“My understanding is that the film operates on multiple time planes, and because one of these time planes is ancient Mesopotamia, they wanted to include the original language, to make it more authentic and, in a sense, more intellectually exciting,” Dr Worthington told Irish broadcaster RTE.

“And so they turned to someone who works in that line of business, and that’s where I came in,” he explained. 

According to Dr Worthington, one of the hardest aspects of the work was providing accurate translations for common everyday expressions. For example, simple phrases such as “thank you” proved to be a challenge. 

“It is ubiquitous today, but as far as we know it was not used in ancient Mesopotamia, so I had to find workarounds. Expressions such as ‘May the gods bless you’ (‘ilū likrubūki’ to a woman; ‘ilū likrubūka’ to a man),” the author of the book Complete Babylonian and academic at Trinity College Dublin told The Telegraph

The Babylonian language hasn’t been spoken for over 2,000 years, and existing evidence of the ancient language is found mostly on cuneiform stone tablets, documenting administrative records, formal letters, or stories. 

Dr Worthington believes that the use of the long-dead language in Eternals could be the first time that it has been spoken on film.

“It’s a film which is breaking ground, and hey, they decided to break ground by bringing in some ancient authenticity, so that’s fantastic,” he told RTE

The Babylonians lived in what is now Iraq, and have been credited with the discovery of mathematical astronomy. 

One of the best-known pieces of Babylonian writing is The Epic of Gilgamesh, which was inscribed on clay tablets.