When I was in high-school, I remember spending a lot of time at home, reading about ancient civilizations. I would listen to my Seattle grunge music1 and read long books from the school library about the Sumerians, the Egyptians, Babylonians, Assyrians and all the other great civilizations in the Near East. The earlier they were, the more fascinating they were to me.
Like reading Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings, I was fascinated with the ancient cities of Ur, Eridu, and Uruk. How people fought and died there, the gods, and how the language sounded like.
To be honest, I never really thought I would see these things in person, but I was really happy to hear that the Pacific Science Center here in Seattle had an exhibit featuring the treasure of King Tutankhamun2 and other Egyptian kings or “pharaohs”.
The exhibit really was worth the visit. The treasures and the lives of the Egyptian pharaohs seemed like another, different world. In those days, most people rarely lived past 40, the gods were very real, and life could be brutal, nasty and short. The Egyptian civilization lasted 3,000 years, and think of how many births, romances, heartaches, worries and fears happened in that time. It’s amazing to think of how many people lived in this civilization:
But while life was difficult for regular people, the pharaohs really lived as gods. Being there, seeing all the treasure and religious objects, it made me realize that people then viewed the world very differently than people do now. It was the same world, but they interpreted it in a way that seemed alien to someone now.
Somehow it reminded me of that quote from Zelazny’s Jack of Shadows which I posted about here:
“You were both correct,” said Morningstar. “It is the same thing that you both describe, although neither of you sees it as it really is. Each of you colors reality in keeping with your means of controlling it. For if it is uncontrollable, you fear it. Sometimes then, you color it incomprehensible. In your case, a machine; in theirs, a demon.”
Jack: “Then which one is correct?”
Morningstar: “They all are.”
Jack: “But to see it as it is, beneath it all! Is this possible?”
Morningstar did not reply.
When I saw this stele below:
I really thought about all the symbols on there. The writing, the religious symbols and such, it all seems so exotic and different to me. To an Egyptian person at the time, it had a lot of meaning, the same way an American flag or a picture of Abraham Lincoln or a statue of Amitabha Buddha has for me. But to an Egyptian at that time, symbols familiar to me would seem alien to them.
And yet, obviously people then had many of the fears and desires as people do now. They couldn’t talk to their therapist about it though, like we can. Most were lucky to not starve year after year, and yet somehow they endured and thrived.
But in 3,000 years, I wonder how much we’ve changed. The symbols and culture are very different, but they must be expressions of the same deep human patterns.
3,000 years from now, I wonder how we will look to future generations.
Reading Herbert’s God Emperor of Dune is another good book to make you think about these things. When Emperor Leto II becomes a god-like being, he lives for thousands of years and suppresses civilization and his enemies to the point of utter submission. In this time, the book describes his total boredom and sense of futility, but imagine how many countless people he watched grow and die.
Anyhow, just some things to think about. Here’s the rest of the photos I took. Not great photos. I decided to not photograph some things, so that people would be encouraged to see it if possible.
P.S. Edited some paragraphs to make it less ambiguous.
1 Like every Seattle “grunge” kid, I also wore the flannel regularly. I was a different person then. ;p
2 For reference: ツタンカーメン in Japanese, 투탕카멘 in Korean just in case your curious.