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A Customer Complaint Letter from Mesopotamia

In this installment of Cpl. Cadaver's Corner, host William Combs articulates a number of grievances against the popular online auction website eBay.

Former eBay seller William Combs, a.k.a. Cpl. Cadaver, expressed his dissatisfaction with the popular online auction website over alleged pro-buyer policies in a recent profanity laced installment of ‘Cpl. Cadaver’s Corner’ [1]. According to Combs, he found himself on the wrong side of a growing trend of eBay sellers being ‘fucked over’ by buyers without any means of support from eBay.

It all began with the sale of a Tech 1A code scanner to the owner of an undisclosed automotive repair shop in Oregon, Ohio. A dispute ensued when the owner accused Combs of being ‘a lying, cheating son of a bitch’ for failing to send ‘various plugs and adapters’ that Combs maintains were not included in the original auction listing. After a week of repeated efforts on the part of the buyer to extort Combs for the accessories, and in spite of the corporal ‘actually trying to help the guy out’, he eventually ‘just said fuck it’ and appealed to the repair shop owner to return it for a refund. In the process of mediating the exchange, eBay customer service really ‘started pissing’ Combs ‘off’ for (among other things) insisting that he effectively reimburse the buyer twice. He makes a point to add how ‘they (eBay) will fuck ya comin and goin with PayPal’ also. The proposal was in the end accepted, the buyer reimbursed, and the scanner returned. But on the downside Combs was left with a negative feedback rating which can be neither challenged nor removed.

Three days later Combs resold the scanner to ‘some shithead down there in Oklahoma’. This shithead, we are told, took issue with Combs for failing to include a power cable and OBD-II interface cartridge in the delivery. Combs wrote the shithead at once, instructing him to ‘fuck off’ and ‘just go fuck himself’ on the ground that the requested items had not been listed in the auction. In response, the shithead leveled allegations against Combs that his own mother would be ashamed of him, and subsequently escalated the matter to customer service. Combs ‘was like whatever’ and reciprocated with a complaint of his own in regard to the shithead abusing the buyer protection program. No response from customer service was forthcoming and the matter remained unresolved by the time of the making of the video. The only thing that is for certain is that the dispute resulted in Combs being given a second consecutive negative feedback rating.

The upshot of all this is that Combs’ perfect 100% feedback rating ended up getting ‘all shot to shit’ as a result of ‘dealing with these last two clowns’. This, we are made to understand, did irreparable damage to his seller reputation on the website. Combs insists that rather than doing business with eBay in the future, he will post whatever he has to sell on Craigslist and ‘hope for the best’.

Cuneiform tablet CDLI no. P414985: A letter from Nanni to Ea-nasir complaining about the quality of copper ingots delivered after a gulf voyage and about misdirection and delay of a further delivery, from Ur ca. 1750 BC. The photo is a crop of the original posted by Reddit user tcb34 on Imgur. This tablet is presently housed at The British Museum.

Cuneiform tablet CDLI no. P414985: A letter from Nanni to Ea-nasir complaining about the quality of copper ingots delivered after a gulf voyage and about misdirection and delay of a further delivery, from Ur ca. 1750 BC. The photo is a crop of the original posted by Reddit user tcb34 on Imgur. This tablet is presently housed at The British Museum.

Customer complaints of the sort articulated by William Combs have a long history. It is only the medium of communication that has changed. In my childhood, there were still old people around with nothing better to do than to fire off handwritten complaint letters left, right and centre. Troublesome busybodies of that cast are nowadays little more than a lingering memory from a bygone age. In modern times, the telephone, email, and in instances of extreme frustration YouTube have supplanted the handwritten letter as means of conveying formal statements of dissatisfaction. But it was the dependable old handwritten letter that dominated this mode of communication the for the better part of four millennia.

The oldest customer complaint letter of which I am aware is due to a businessman named Nanni, who wrote to one Ea-nasir with a grievance concerning the quality of copper ingots delivered to him after a voyage to the land of Dilmun. The letter, which is written in Akkadian on a clay tablet, was found by Sir Leonard Woolley during his excavations in Ur and dates from around 1750 BC [2]. Distinguished Assyriologist A. Leo Oppenheim translated and published the letter in the 1960s as part of a very curious volume that is now of print (see footnote 1) [3]. The letter became the subject of renewed attention this year, after a photo of the tablet surfaced on the entertainment news website Reddit [4]. Here is the text of Oppenheim’s translation in its entirety:

Hand drawn facsimile of Nanni's customer complaint tablet; image courtesy of Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative.

Hand drawn facsimile of Nanni’s customer complaint tablet; image courtesy of Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative.

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.

There is much to be said in light of Nanni’s various accusations against that shithead Ea-nasir. First of all, it is easy to imagine a stark raving mad Nanni toiling for hours chiseling out an angry rant on his tablet, only to think better of sending it off to Ea-nasir by the time he had finished. This pleasant picture is, however, wrong for two reasons: 1) clay tablets were fired or dried in the sun after messages were pressed into the soft clay with a stylus, and 2) Nanni, being, a businessman of some repute, would have dictated his rant to a literate slave. Second, it would be interesting to hear Ea-nasir’s side of the story. The reality is that we will probably never know. It could be, however, that a return tablet from Ea-nasir to Nanni lies waiting to be discovered in the Al ajarah Desert, although I admit this is highly unlikely. Third, what distinguishes a fine quality copper ingot from a shitty one? I assume the distinction is based on the purity level, but the details of this determination are unclear. These are some of my own pet curiosities. The reader will find many more delightful speculations and agreeable parallels with modern life on the associated Reddit post.

[1] The ‘A’ stands for Adolf.


[1] Combs, William (2013-09-12). “Cpl. Cadaver’s Corner: eBay Sucks”. YouTube. Retrieved 2015-12-13.

[2] Clay tablet; letter from Nanni to Ea-nasir. “Museum object ID WCT53297”. The British Museum. Retrieved 2015-12-13.

[3] Letters From Mesopotamia: Official, Business, and Private Letters on Clay Tablets from Two Millennia by A. Leo Oppenheim (1967), The University of Chicago Press, pages 82-3. This book is currently out of print, but a more or less complete pdf version is available for download from The Oriental Institute at The University of Chicago. Note that page 82, which contains the opening of Nanni’s letter to Ea-nasir, is unfortunately missing.

[4] tbc34 (2015-02-25). “1750 BC Problems”. Reddit Pics. Retrieved 2015-12-13.

{ 1 comment… add one }
  • JP February 3, 2017, 11:18 am

    Ha! Some things never change.

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