Sunday, June 28, 2015
Dating back to the 21st century BC the Epic of Gilgamesh is regarded as the first great work of literature. The poem is a product of Ancient Mesopotamia and consists of two halves that span twelve tablets. The first half tells the story of the wild beast Enkidu and his adventures with Gilgamesh. Part two details Gilgamesh’s jouney to find the secret of eternal life following the death of Enkidu. Included in the second part is the tale of Utnapishtim and the Great Flood which is believed to have served as the inspiration for the flood narrative in Genesis. The Gilgamesh epic has made its way into popular fiction and has clearly influenced both biblical and classic literature as well. It tells a similar story to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, has parallel advice similar to that of the Book of Ecclesiastes, eludes to a Nebuchadnezzar-type Babylonian king and has an uncanny similarity to the works of the Greek bard Homer.
1. Elvis Presley 2. Chuck Berry 3. Buddy Holly 4. Jerry Lee Lewis 5. Little Richard 6. Bo Diddley 7. Frankie Valley 8. Richie Velez 9. Bill Halley 10. Big Bopper
City States evolved to protect the Agricultural domains. Most were controlled by kings or ruling elites but were highly influenced by a priestly class who legitimized their existence by claiming direct (or feigning) contact with the gods. Mesopotamia (the land between the rivers ie. The Tigris and the Euphrates) was the earliest one of these city state civilizations to flourish and together with the Egyptian Nile based culture most impacted the Western World. The earliest Mesopotamian city was Ur that appeared to have been founded as early as 6500 BC and abandoned about 500 BC. It was located in the flood rich South Mesopotamian. Like the other cities of the time it was surrounded by a wall, had roads and streets and a sewer system. It prospered greatly during a time when all sea traffic entering Mesopotamia had to pass through this port city. Ur’s greatest ruler was the king Ur-Nammu who ruled between 2047 and 2030 BC. He built the famous ziggarut (massive raised structure that resembles a step pyramid with its terrace like form), many temples and improved on the region’s irrigation system. At the height of its power Ur’s population was estimated to be around 65,000. However this dropped substantially following periods of droughts and sacking by nomad groups. By 500 BC it was abandoned as power in the region shifted to the Northern Mesopotamian city of Babylonia. Nevertheless Ur features prominently in Biblical history. In the Book of Genesis Ur Kadashim is identified as the birthplace of Abraham and it is mentioned in Nehemiah as well. Ur was not the only Mesopotamian city of note. Eridu, Lagash, Nippur, Sippar and Uruk also played key roles in the regional history.
Conventionally the Agricultural Revolution is taken as ground zero in the birth of civilization. By regimenting and increasing food production yields the revolution freed up time for other human endeavours. This included the wholesale development of various artisan pursuits that in turn galvanized a technological revolution that continues today. In one could argue that the revolution was in a sense the fore bringer of our modern world. However the shift toward planned farming (which in the west involved the domestication of wheat, barley, rye and oats and various livestock) was not without its disadvantages. Some feminists see it as the beginning of patriarchy for one. Others argue that it was destructive towards the environment, resource draining and over reliant on a societal hierarchy that at times promoted slavery. It cemented the idea of territory making war an inevitable outcome. While some of these features endured many were more consistent with the early stages of an evolving dynamic. The Agricultural Revolution cemented the success of our species, freed us from the shackles of subsistence living and opened up the potential that is so evident across the landscape of human achievement.
Our hunter-gatherer ancestors were more sophisticated than popular culture would have you believe (Yes the ‘me man…. you women’ is somewhat of a stereotype). They trapped animals, developed an arsenal of tools, buried their dead, utilized fire on multiple levels, understood the practicalities of nature, made art and survived in defiance of nature’s many curve balls. They also worshipped their deities who were often related to the supernatural forces that appeared to govern their world. Female fertility was key (and may be related to a larger belief in an Earth mother goddess). It ensured the survival of the clan and this too was reflected in the art. The Venus figurines, of which the Venus of Willendorf is the most famous, epitomizes this belief. Dating back to a time between 25,000 to 28,000 years (Paleolithic Period – Late Stone Age), this 11-cm tall statuette of a woman was designed as a symbol of fertility and childbearing. However there were others as well. One piece of art that has not been well publicized is the Lion Man of the Hohlenstein Stadel, Germany that is believed to be the oldest animal-shaped sculpture in the world (dating back 40,000 years) and depicts what is believed to be an anthropomorphic deity. The Art of the Hunt is seen in the cave paintings at Lascaux and are thought to be 17,300 years old. Another examples of hunt art include the Mammoth spear thrower that was found in Tanet-Garonne, France and dates back to a time 18,000 years ago It seems as though humanity has an innate desire to create art and that is certainly a wonderful characteristic of our species. While the judgement of art is no doubt subjective the compulsion is universal and in the long run western civilization has been the better for it.
Champions of the primitive often see the Hunter-Gatherer Period (HGP) in human history as some type of ideal. A shangri-la where humanity lived in blissful co-existence with their environment, where resources were rarely strained and the fight for territory was at most ephemeral. More detailed studies of hunter-gatherer societies that exist on the periphery of the great civilizations reveal that this ideal does not agree with observed actualities but there are nevertheless many positives that are associated with this lifestyle. Simplicity, an egalitarian social-ethos, kinship in smaller bands and a focus on the fundamental of human existence are a few that spring to mind. In a world where persist as the optimum for a substantial span of time. The longevity of the HGP (by some accounts 1.8 million years if you go back to Homo Erectus - but in terms of Homo sapiens sapiens 70,000 years or so) are testament to this reality. The term HGP is somewhat of a misnomer as many humans survived during this time period by scavenging and foraging. Nor were the hunting methods as clean as mythology would have one believe. In fact persistence hunting, involving long distance running may have been somewhat of a norm and the basic foundations of wild forest gardening may have provided the transition into the agricultural revolution that would supersede the HGP. However what bought this period to an end in the west seems to have been a combination of overexploitation, unsustainable killing as well as the encroaching footprint of the Agricultural communities that started their expansion about 12,000 BCE. Will it return? (Perhaps in a post-apocalyptic scenario - The Walking Dead Series certainly hints at that). However it did provide the leg up for the Agricultural Revolution to follow and seems for all intent of purpose to be a necessary stage in the collective evolution of the neophyte western civilization.
Sunday, October 19, 2014
A lot of the bad publicity surrounding Marie Antoinette emanates from the smear campaigns directed against her by the Jacobins, although incidences such as the Diamond Necklace Affair and the Madame Deficit labelling clearly pre-date the Jacobin attacks. I don’t believe that she was bad person however she does appear to be both frivolous, naive and if I have to say so not particularly bright. Her love for her husband and children is admirable and she did seem to support Jacques Necker in his bid to bring the nation’s finances under control. Historians have debated for some time as to the degree of influence that she had on her husband but I do believe that she had a significant role in encouraging Louis XVI to make his ill-fated ‘Flight to Varennes’, a turning point in the fate of the monarchy as an institution. Her connection to the arch-enemy, Austria, was no doubt a legitimate concern for the revolutionary government, and did materialize into a real threat to France with the War of the First Coalition. I think that is reasonable to compare Marie Antoinette to Catherine the Great at least with respect to their origins in the political scene. Both were foreigners (Antoinette from Austria, Catherine from the Germanic States), both were married to weak kings (Peter III for Catherine, Louis XVI for Marie Antoinette), both arrived in countries with large populations, that had strong nobilities and a gigantic poorly treated peasant/serf /third estate class. Each nation was a key centre for a brand of rigid Christianity (Eastern Orthodoxy for Russia, Catholicism for France). Both countries had a very strong war driven monarch who in the not too distant past had resurrected their countries fortunes from the doldrums (Peter the Great for Russia, Louis XIV for France). Yet one of these women went on to greatness, Catherine, while the other, Antoinette, is associated with failure. It is tempting to blame this on spending but Catherine the Great was no fiscal conservative either. What I do believe was the big difference (other than their intellect) is that Catherine successfully ‘Russified’ herself from day one. She changed her name and dropped all connection to her German background. Antoinette did none of this and was always seen as a foreigner. So that when the revolution came it was natural that she should be vilified as an enemy of the state. If Marie Antoinette had stepped down from her pedestal on day one, it is possible that she may have become the People’s Queen, like Catherine and saved the nation from some of the bloodbath which was slated to occur