I am somewhat deep into Agrippa’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy and the other evening I was in my lounge for a change, partaking in a sit by the fire to read, when I glanced at my bookshelf. My eye caught sight of a somewhat recent acquisition; a book about Ebla (Ebla, An Archaeological Enigma by Chaim Bermant and Michael Weitzman, 1978). In Agrippa’s work, as I recalled, there was mention of ‘Alba’.
“the Greek Hestia, goddess of fire, whose sacred flame was tended by virgin priestesses, which cult Livy says originated in Alba, and was carried to Rome by Numa”
Whilst not certain in that moment if these two places were related [which indeed they’re not] I felt the urge to start reading the book on Ebla.
“Ebla was one of the earliest kingdoms in Syria. Its remains constitute a tell located about 55 km (34 mi) southwest of Aleppo near the village of Mardikh. Ebla was an important center throughout the 3rd millennium BC and in the first half of the 2nd millennium BC. Its discovery proved the Levant was a center of ancient, centralized civilization equal to Egypt and Mesopotamia and ruled out the view that the latter two were the only important centers in the Near East during the Early Bronze Age. The first Eblaite kingdom has been described as the first recorded world power.”- Wikipedia
I’d picked this book up from a charity shop because it appeared out of place among the typical paperback novels or cookbooks one typically finds, even if not appearing all that thrilling to read (I’ve read a few books of an archaeological-nature and tend to find them somewhat dry and hard-going). Having said that, it has so far given me an insight into cuneiform.
Somewhat coincidentally, around the same time of starting this books, a video popped up in my Youtube feed of Irving Finkel doing an hour-long talk (via Zoom) about The Great Library of Nineveh.
“Irving Leonard Finkel (born 1951) is a British philologist and Assyriologist. He is currently the Assistant Keeper of Ancient Mesopotamian script, languages, and cultures in the Department of the Middle East in the British Museum, where he specialises in cuneiform inscriptions on tablets of clay from ancient Mesopotamia.” – Wikipedia
He’s also an author of books for children.
The Library of Nineveh, as I have come to learn, was Ashurbanipal’s library that burned down containing works produced in cuneiform on clay tablets. Most of the tablets having being broken have been gradually pieced back together and some translated.
“The Royal Library of Ashurbanipal, named after Ashurbanipal, the last great king of the Assyrian Empire, is a collection of thousands of clay tablets and fragments containing texts of all kinds from the 7th century BC. Among its holdings was the famous Epic of Gilgamesh.” – Wikipedia
Ashurbanipal ruled 668/9 BC until his death in 631 BC.
One can’t help but think of the Library of Alexandria, but that came later and largely consisted of papyrus scrolls, so when that burned down (642 AD) a mass of ‘knowledge’ was lost.
As with such ancient ‘texts’, I can’t help but think of Egyptian hieroglyphs and the difficulties of properly translating them. In the book on Ebla the author explains how cuneiform developed, beginning first with primitive pictures that were produced to illustrate a particular thing (their primary meaning), then those forms being developed to represent perhaps the sound formed by the word (with variations on the illustration), and then further on into developed cuneiform.
The original relationship may be somewhat lost or obscured along the way and since we might have our own words for particular things, how are we to know what that original ‘sound’ was?
I’ve read a few books about ancient Egypt (such as referring to the Book of the Dead) and things like the Dead See Scrolls and it often feels like the translation is heavily biased in the direction of the ‘mood at the time’ and that particular translator’s world-view; translations archaeological interpretations made 100 years ago may have a different interpretation today, indeed, new meaning can develop over time as more is learned. I read a translation and often feel like either the interpretation is missing something significant about the mindset of the authors, or who the original scribes were working for, or an interpretation downplays the piece, not giving it the respect it perhaps originally commanded. It takes some effort therefore to pick these interpretations apart and find a meaning that at least makes more sense to me.
I suppose it doesn’t necessarily help that, like with our modern day written word and print, we have in our possession a variety of works from the boring and mundane articles like receipts for things, business transactions, legal disputes, all the way up to literature and works of religious, philosophical… and a magical nature.
Perhaps how a piece is presented should be given more weight. A modern day receipt from McDonalds is in the form of a cheap slip of paper, a trashy novel in a flimsy paperback, hardback form might be chosen for something the author at least believes commands some air of quality and respect. All might, however, be presented in a typical font or script which on its own, and discarding the previous variety, belies the original ‘message’ of significance (or lack thereof), increasingly more so in the age of digital media.
Translations of ancient ‘written’ words can also lose their ‘weight’ given the fact that they are often only presented in their translated form for the rest of us to read, with perhaps only a small photograph of the original article for reference. Perhaps also the original setting, the building the item was originally located in and how the piece was displayed, now thoroughly disconnected through the act of ‘archaeology’. We have ancient sites that have been plundered in antiquity and items relocated abroad, sometimes in public museums, or adorning our streets; take the obelisk erected in St. Peter’s Square in Rome, stolen from Egypt in the 1580s as an example. Any meaning, function or other significance virtually lost (or not well conveyed). Sometimes things are removed for their ‘protection’, other times it’s a command or shift of power.
I think Irving Finkel did a good job in his video of painting a picture of the original library of Nineveh and the clay tablets of cuneiform, not only of how they look today, pieced back together (or a work in progress as many are), but also how they were displayed in that original library compared with how the curators chose to display they today, and why (both very different). Finkel himself objected to how they were displayed, but respected the decision why.
Finkel is also very enthusiastic about his work which helps to give some weight to the things he talks about and can help us appreciate significance where it is needed. He also delved a little into the magical nature of some of the topics covered in cuneiform, which given my present reading of Agrippa’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy was much welcomed. However, given that Agrippa’s work is produced quite seriously, and Finkel has youthful excitement, I feel (while Finkel was a joy to listen to, as such people often are) the magical aspects were perhaps conveyed in a way that either downplayed their significance or made those original authors appear… I don’t know, silly? Unwise? Unknowing?
I think it is all too common these days for us to assume that we know more in our modern age than say, even learned people one thousand, two thousand, or certainly five-thousand years ago. True, we have our “modern science” that can provide us with facts that people in antiquity didn’t have, but I believe they had a lot that us masses of today don’t have, or don’t have access to, or aren’t even aware of.
Indeed, I’ve started to appreciate with more certainty that ‘magical stuff’ is still present today, but that science is given the pedestal; pushed as the path of progress. In fact, in a lot of cases, magic was the science of the day in the past. I wonder what we are missing out on given this pursuit of science. I also wonder if this is a means of portraying the world to the masses (Flat-Earthers, for example may well question this as a reason for their beliefs). I consider how there is a “top 1%” who command the vast majority of the world’s wealth. But not only this, they also control the masses beneath them, they control us (in one way or another). What if this small but not insignificant minority also have for themselves, or full access to, a vast majority of human knowledge, while the rest of us are kept in the dark?
In the case of the site at Elba, there is this description:
[Once carefully excavated from the Tell at Mardikh the] most exciting discoveries find their way to Matthiae’s desk where he sits poring over them fondly…. He will try and interpret their significance or return them for a while to a colleague for a possible second opinion. Finally all the finds, the exciting ones as well as the unexciting, are crated in long, coffin-like wooden boxes and sent to Aleppo, where they are buried [once more] in the vaults of the local museum.
The most precious discoveries – numerous though they may be – are of course the cuneiform tablets and they are treated with special care. Epigraphers can, if they wish, obtain a sight of them at camp, but otherwise they work from photographs (which are often easier to follow than the originals). Nevertheless, there are reports that some Ebla tablets have already come onto the market and Professor Pettinato was startled to discover what looked very much like one of his tablets in an American museum… Museum curators are not always the most scrupulous of men and neither are antique dealers…
In the past, archaeological finds tended to be divided between the host country and the museums and learned societies which sponsored the expedition, though the host country always got the first pick…
My scepticism makes me consider this, how does the host country decide what to choose? It is surely relying on the interpretation of pieces shown to it. Something might simply look interesting on display, but something less “pretty” (and downplayed) could have some greater importance, and thus find its way elsewhere.
With so much control, power, and wealth, and seemingly being hell-bent on maintaining and growing that control, power, and wealth, surely such a mindset would include knowledge too. I recall that Adolf Hitler had a deep interest in not only hoarding invaluable works of art obtained through his various invasions, but also a deep interest in the esoteric (Napoleon also).
I therefore wonder about the personal libraries and collections of the wealthiest of the wealthy, because many must have such things. Surely they don’t simply or only fund the grand institutes we know about and those that are employed there, but perhaps either have their own significant collections, or, because of their positions, have the access to our ‘public’ places on a level they ‘need’ and we might never consider or deem important.
“Contrary to popular belief, not all art masterworks are held in museums and public galleries. Many of these are being kept in private art collections where only a selected few are able to observe them… This highly expensive and very exclusive hobby is mostly reserved for billionaires [controlling] assets of over $11 billion…” – [source with list of known examples]
We, as the masses may well have such an opportunity to appreciate the knowledge, insights, and interpretations of a great mind and character that is Irving Finkel, but what if such a person (although I’m not implying Irving himself) in that position was clandestinely employed by those in power, to provide assistance first-hand, or if there were other characters being employed on a completely different path souly for a few in that top 1%. Granted, this is all sounding very conspiratorial, or like the plot of many a Hollywood movie, but what if a [make believe thing like] magic is very real and very serious and being used by a significant few at the detriment of everyone else who largely believes magic, at best, is something only the imaginary Harry Potters of the world deal with, or at worst is about something specifically evil [and nonsensical] like devil-worship.
You don’t think you’re not controlled by magic or some other dark art that manipulates you day in day out? Consider advertising or the global media network; these are employed by people at least trying to get ahead in life, at least for financial gain, but also, in many cases power and domination in one form or another.
On that previous note of “devil-worship”, I have come see that things like ‘witchcraft’, and the occult in general, was pushed by those in power, whilst actually being used by those in power. Astrologers, for example, were employed by kings and popes at the time. The idea of ‘witchcraft’ was sold to the public as something to be feared and therefore something to be wiped out. The result, or the intended result, was to do just that; remove such things from the public domain whilst secretly keeping it for those that wanted it for themselves. A stigma was developed and is even in place and maintained to this day, whilst the dark arts are still employed by those that want to use them.