Literary allusions to Babylon and Assyria are often not very complimentary, and they are most certainly based on common misconceptions.
In a collection of essays penned by Arab women reporting from the Arab world, one can expect destruction and bullets, bodies and despair to litter the pages. And rightfully so. Our Women On The Ground: Essays By Arab Women Reporting From The Arab World does not shy away from the front lines and splashes copious amounts of reality onto readers who dare to venture into its chapters.
The Epic of Gilgamesh, as it’s usually titled by scholars and translators, may in fact not be an epic at all. It’s not even a single poem, but “a confusion of stories”, a number of reassembled fragments and tablets in more than one ancient language plus an “edition” assembled and organised out of scattered bits by one Sin-leqi-unninni, who between 1300 and 1000 BCE made what we would now call a “standardized text” out of it, adding, as Schmidt tells us, “prefatory lines … and a reprise that echoes the opening but in a darker tone.”
Much of early-modern history, up until the early 20th century, was characterized by empire—not just or even particularly the colonial projects of Britain and Spain, but contiguous empires of Russia, Austria-Hungary, China and the Ottomans. These latter were multi-ethnic and—using modern sensibilities—in some ways multinational edifices. They all came to an end around the time of the First World War: China and Russia morphed into republics and largely kept their territories; the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires were replaced by a welter of new countries.
Fatima Bhutto’s latest, powerful novel, The Runaways, highlights the whys and wherefores that drive young people to join such terrorist organizations as the Islamic State. Anita Rose and Monty live in Pakistan and Sunny resides in England, despondent, living with anxieties about their identity and their place in this world. When a propagandist radicalized narrative presents itself as an answer, they latch onto it in a desperate attempt to fulfill what they feel are their destinies.
There’s a rather ungrammatical saying which goes “sometimes I eats to live, but mostly I lives to eat.” That’s why we have cookery books; we love to eat and we love the things that go along with eating, namely social interaction and sheer sensual pleasure.
History by way of “things” has itself become a “thing”. Archaeologists, of course, always did history this way. But they would focus on, usually, assemblages of objects, rather individual pieces. While perhaps not the first—nothing is ever the first—the BBC and the British Museum’s A History of the World in 100 Objects by Neil MacGregor popularized the concept.