Ancient history and ancient writing.
I have always been rather fond of ancient history and ancient writing.
As a child, I very much enjoyed reading the stories from the so-called old testament Bible, with their fantastic fairy-tale quality of miracle, divine intervention, and best of all, dreams.
Growing older, ten, eleven, twelve, I began to read the scriptures themselves, not just the sanitized “Bible Story” versions (which my parents and grandparents had gifted me with shortly after I learned to read). I soon discovered how much more peculiar, fascinating, confusing and disturbing the “word of God” truly is, in the translated version we have received thousands of years after it was written and spoken. So much more perverted sex and murder in the original.
Discovering the Roman Empire when I was nine, I had the delightful epiphany of realizing that Jesus Christ and the Christian Church were very much a matter of imperial institution and historical transformation and translation from one language world into another. Never mind the fact that I am also faithful, a believer.
The annals of 19th and 20th century archeology further opened my eyes to ancient worlds and cultures which had long since crumbled into dust around the corners of far-off libraries and museums. I wept for the burning of Alexandria.
14 July 2013
I was minded yesterday to begin writing these notes about my love of ancient writing, seeing as how I am slowly reading through a copy of Sheherezad’s One Thousand and One Arabian Nights.
This is another of those ancient classics to which I was first introduced via a “child’s version” i.e “sex-sanitized” edition of the famous compendium of stories, the Arabian Nights, some of which may be much older than the actual Arabic collection itself. It took me quite a few years before I realized that the naughty bits had been artfully deleted, and, I suspect, some of the violence, too.
Be that as it may, as I set down the book at the kitchen table (where I am reading it) yesterday, I thought to myself I would like to write something about my fascination with ancient writing.
So here I am.
15 July 2013
I have always been somewhat more fascinated with the Romans than the Greeks, those twin pillars of the ancient world (as we see them now, two thousand years later).
I remember taking a copy of my family three-volume set of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall… complete with jaw-dropping eye-popping reproductions of prints of ruins by Piranesi, and sharing it during show & tell. That was during that crucial year of the Fourth grade when I discovered so many facts both intellectual and emotional, intuitive and sensory. That was the year I was in a mixed fourth/fifth grade class, perhaps even being considered for advancement by one year directly into the sixth grade. It did not happen.
That was also the year I began to listen to rock & roll on the radio, 1960, as I pondered the personal mystery that soon I would turn ten and complete a decade of existence, indeed already was completing it, if we count in utero existence, which was undeniably real, even if I don’t concretely remember anything before two or three years of age.
Like that film I would see some years later, The Powers of Ten, I was now able to set my own identity firmly into a set of numerical boxes within boxes, ten, hundred, thousand, ten thousand. We sat together, nine, ten, and eleven year old girls and boys in Ms. Beverly Foster Glines (she got married that year) mixed class of semi-genius fourth and fifth graders, and watched filmstrips about the fertile crescent, or Encyclopedia Britanica movies about Egypt and the discovery of King Tut’s tomb. Two thousand, three thousand, four thousand years ago, the predecessors of Greece and Rome.
This is the fertile crescent.
It was Foster-Glines who dared to whisper to us a Supreme Court forbidden secret (no religious teaching in public school), namely that prophecy of Daniel and the dream of Nebuchanezzar: the great image with head of gold, etcetera, that was knocked down by a stone cast by no hand. Perhaps she even said “the stone that the builders rejected” or some such word and words.
She even gave us the fundamentalist interpretation: that the clay and iron mixed feet were representative of the struggle between Communism and Freedom. That the end of the world would come when there were ten members of the European Common Market.
As for me, I suddenly saw something in her conspiratorial tone of teaching, something I would see over and over for years to come: how ancient writing from thousands of years ago was still – as a certain member of a video sharing website fifty years later would say – “is f*cking our brains in the @ss.”
He who controls the present controls the past. He who controls the past controls the future. (George Orwell).
Besides, there are now, what… seventeen members of the European Union?
16 July 2013