Thursday, April 1, 2010

Monday, March 22

Still unable to adapt to the time change I awake before dawn. I do some work on this blog while the sun comes up. It appears that it is going to be clear and sunny. Realizing this may be my only chance; I bolt the room and go to the Louvre. The courtyard, with its great pyramid, is quiet, a great opportunity to take pictures on a bright sunny morning. For the next hour or so I happily snap away.

I go into the museum as soon as it opens and work the lobby underneath the pyramid. This is the best light I have ever had down here and I enjoy myself.

The group gathers in our meeting spot and we plan the day’s adventures - Three thousand years of ancient history, starting in Mesopotamia and ending in Egypt.

Starting with a small figure of a seated king we move on to a statuette of the king as the giver of life. He is holding a vase, from which water flows down the statue. In the valley of the Euphrates and Tigers rivers, water is life and he who rules the waters rules life. But this is a mere prelude to what comes next – the stele of Hammurabi. Carved on it are the laws of King Hammurabi (~1700 BCE), know as the Law-Codex of Hammurabi. On this stone monument are carved 263 laws whose fundamental idea is that the Law is King (Lex Rex) as opposed to the King Is Law (Rex Lex). A spirited discussion follows on the subject of the possibility that the Jews, held in slavery 1000 years later in the same area by the evil Assyrians were aware of the Laws and while reformulating the Torah incorporated these concepts into what will become the Old Testament. We are having so much fun we lose track of time and a docent shoos us away – a group like ours is not allowed to monopolize individual pieces.

While the Assyrians were truly one of humanities most evil societies they also produced two of archaeologies greatest finds – the cities of Nineveh and Khorsabad. From Nineveh we get the ancient library, which includes the oldest written story ever found – Gilgamesh. (For the story of the library see last years trip to the British Museum.) And from Khorsabad, the great bulls with human heads and the huge statue of Gilgamesh holding one very unhappy lion. One must take all these great artistic achievements with a strong dose of reality – they were made possible by slavery and death on a scale unimaginable even to the Romans or the Christians.

We spend some time with the ancient Persians prior to the wars with the Greeks that will produce western civilization as we know it.

And finally the Egyptians, up to the conquest by Alexander the Great. For all of Napoleon’s “work” in Egypt, it seems to me that the British got the best stuff. (The exploration done by Napoleon’s army while in Egypt (~1800 CE) is general thought to be the beginning of scientific archeology as we know it today.)

By the end of the day my brain is in meltdown from overload and my feet are delivering notice of an imminent strike. However the sun is still shining and it is a great day to be in Paris.

About the images:

1. Ducks in the fountains.

2. Multiple pyramids.

3. Statue of the giver of life, Gudea, King of Lagash, ~2120 BCE.

4. The stele of the Code of Hammurabi.

5. Sometimes the rooms are as beautiful as what is in them.

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