Learning from the past (or not)

A recent article by Ian Jack in the Guardian stated the case for Iraq being the “cradle of civilisation”, with the British Museum‘s Mesopotamian section – ironically, rarely more popular than now – providing a home to tens of thousands of clay tablets telling the world’s first written epic, Gilgamesh, in cuneiform script, as well as the beautiful stone reliefs from Nineveh, all of it dating back to the Iraq of up to 3,000 years before Christ. I posted a link to this article to The Kraken, the newsgroup for the work of my favourite living novelist Russell Hoban (and, while we’re at it, my erstwhile virtual home-away-from-home), on the basis that the Nineveh bas-reliefs play an essential part in Hoban’s great 1970s novel The Lion of Boaz-Jachin and Jachin-Boaz – not to mention the disturbing resonances the article has of his post-apocalyptic masterpiece Riddley Walker. Fellow Krakenite, artist and curator of the latter site Eli Bishop responded with a shrewd cartoon and commentary by New York political cartoonist Tim Krieder, who, while with a group of artists sketching Mesopotamian artefacts at the Metropolitan Museum, realised that “[what] we were all dutifully sketching in order to honor and celebrate the ancient and glorious heritage of the people our government was about to bomb … were bas-relief steles immortalizing the rulers of the first military empires in human history — bearded, barrel-chested deity-kings with eagles’ wings and cannonball calf muscles straight out of ‘How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way!’, accompanied by lengthy fine-print cuneiform inscriptions that I happen to know, from art history classes, consist entirely of grandiloquent and dubious boasting about their bloody conquests …” Sound familiar, George?