Friday, December 09, 2005

Starr on Ancient Mesopotamia

I’ve begun reading Chester Starr’s “A History of the Ancient World” and so far am enjoying it. In the second chapter “The First Civilization of Mesopotamia”, he makes a couple of observations that I thought might be of interest to readers here.

Speaking of the early Sumerians, Starr notes that in their view “Everything must have its name to assure its place in the universe, and one who knew the true name of something had power over it.” Now of course theirs is a mystical view of the universe, but it shows the first inkling of men recognizing the power of concepts and the need to put a name to something if one truly wants to conceptualize it and use it in thought.

He also has a short but interesting comparison between the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Iliad. If one were to use ancient texts as a jumping off point to comment on modern cultures, I think this comparison would be of much more use than the sickeningly appeasing editorial Diana rightly condemns in this post.

Lastly, in discussing the emergence of civilization, Starr observes:
“In yet another aspect differentiation became evident socially, in the relation of the sexes. Although the position of women was still so high in Sumerian days that they could buy and sell property, their independence tended to wane rather than to rise as civilization progressed.”
I don’t yet know enough about history to say how uniformly that statement applies, but I have often wondered why, until recently, no society appeared in which women were more or less equal to men. It seems to me that this would give the society a distinct advantage over others, and would allow it to ascend relative to others. The argument, as I see it, is similar to that which one would give regarding racism in a free society, i.e. everyone would be free to be racist (not to coerce or initiate force, but to associate with those with whom he liked), but anyone who practiced racism would be at a big disadvantage, e.g. he wouldn’t be able to hire from as large a pool of workers, so he would overpay in wages; he would forego customers that others wouldn’t, etc. and so a free society would assuage the problem. But if this line of reasoning is valid, why then didn’t something similar happen in history regarding the status of women in society? Was it that men considered military power as the foundation of society and because women were weaker they were also excluded from civil power? If that’s the case, then perhaps only an understanding of the importance of the mind in life and living could allow women their proper place in society? In any case it’s an open question that I have, which I hope will be better answered as I gain more knowledge of history.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Could you elaborate on what his comparison of Gilgamesh and The Illiand consisted of. I am a lover of the Illiad and I too found Hudgens piece a travesty.

12:07 PM  

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