Who (and I ask this sincerely) the fuck are you?
How we tell stories about ourselves to establish trust, and how it all might change pretty soon.
King Sargon of Akkad, who ruled roughly 4300 years ago, is considered the first emperor in history. He was the man who united the many disparate city-states of northern and southern Mesopotamia after conquering the Sumerian city of Uruk, and then went on to take over a chunk of what later became Persia.
But my interest in him, for the purposes of this essay, is much smaller, almost trivially so. Sargon offers the first grand example of someone pumping their resume in order to get a job, choosing which parts of his past to emphasize, which to hide, and which to just make up entirely.
You see, Sargon wasn’t a royal. His dad was a gardener and he became cupbearer to King Ur-Zababa of Kish, a city south of what’s now Baghdad. Being cupbearer was no joke of a title back then. It meant he tasted the King’s food, making sure it wasn’t poisoned and, since he was always at the King’s side, he acted as something of an advisor. When another king, Lugal-Zage-Si conquered Kish, he kept Sargon on. We don’t know what Sargon did, exactly, but one day Lugal-Zage-Si was king and then Sargon was.
The resume pumping is right there in the name. Sargon–or Šarru-ukīn–wasn’t his real name. It means “Real King,” or “Confirmed King.” Which is precisely what the son of a gardener who suddenly takes over a country would call himself.
He then conquered all the key cities for hundreds of miles and placed his resume–carved into rock–in each town center. Like this one in Nippur:
Sargon, king of Akkad, overseer of Inanna, king of Kish, anointed of Anu, king of the land, governor of Enlil: he defeated the city of Uruk and tore down its walls [and] took Lugalzagesi king of Uruk in the course of the battle, and led him in a collar to the gate of Enlil.
Since few people could read at the time, there would always be a cartoon-like version of the resume with scenes of the king conquering various lands and being anointed by the gods.
I’ve had to hire people—sifting through resumes, having awkward interviews—and it always makes me think of old Sargon, as they highlight those things they’ve done that make them look good (conquerer of Uruk; producer of a podcast about fine dining), hide things that make them look bad (killing their prior boss; getting fired after being way too lazy), and just make things up (a very much not confirmed king calling himself “confirmed king”; a low-level mailroom intern claiming credit for “project lead for interoffice communication.”) The end result is a myth, a tale about how every event since their birth has had one, clear purpose: to ensure that they, and they alone, would be the greatest Associate Producer of Podcast Development in history.