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Spiritual Meditations (19 Nov 2018 NewAgeIslam.Com)

Ancient Texts We Read Have a Startling Immediacy


By Danielle Allen

November 16, 2018

This fall, I am teaching, as I do every other year, ancient and medieval political thought. For this generation’s presentist students, the course is a tough sell. I count myself lucky to have some 40 self-selecting students ready to turn their minds toward distant millennia. I believe they genuinely expected to find something dusty.

Instead, they are discovering that the ancient texts we read have a startling immediacy.

We start with the “Epic of Gilgamesh.” From ancient Mesopotamia, this poem, considered the oldest literary text on the planet, tells the tale of how an unjust, selfish, grasping king is reformed and learns to serve the interests of his people. The first recorded political problem in the world is sexual assault.

In David Ferry’s translation, we hear this when Gilgamesh is introduced:

Neither the father’s son

nor the wife of the noble; neither the mother’s daughter

nor the warrior’s bride was safe. The old men said:

“Is this the shepherd of the people? Is this

the wise shepherd, protector of the people?”

Gilgamesh’s transformation, his ability to put aside his habit of sexual predation, depends on his discovery of his own mortality. He, too, the king realizes during the course of a long journey, will die. Death is the great equalizer. The discovery of a bedrock human equality is what makes it possible for Gilgamesh to become a servant, a shepherd and a protector of his people.

Gilgamesh’s political success is characterized in the poem by his construction of a great wall:

The Outer Wall

shines in the sun like brightest copper; the inner

wall is beyond the imagining of kings.

Study the brickwork, study the fortification;

Great walls appear all across the landscape of ancient political thought. The beginnings of China’s Great Wall date to the 7th century B.C., and the father of history, Herodotus, who journeyed across Greece, Egypt and the ancient Near East, records many a remarkable case of the enclosure of cities. The aspiration to build a wall speaks to some deep and long-felt human need for security.

Herodotus also records the brutality with which ancient tyrants treated their enemies. One such tyrant, Astyages, feared — on account of a dream — that his daughter’s newborn son would grow up to overthrow him. He ordered one of his soldiers to take the infant and expose him in the wilds, where the child would not survive. The soldier was unwilling to do this and secretly gave the child to a farmer to raise. When the child was grown and his noble nature evident to all who met him, Astyages discovered him and, fearing for his sovereignty, determined to punish the dissenting soldier. He killed the soldier’s son and dismembered him.

This tyrant’s cruelty did not end there; he then had the child cooked and fed the meal to the soldier.

We believe we live in a world that has left antiquity behind. This is because we believe that time moves forward in a steady upward march, an arc of history that bends toward justice. This view is a misapprehension. Human brutality lurks always just below the surface. Our ancient violence is always with us.

The project of justice is to achieve for a specific people, in a specific place, for this society, this polity, an oasis of peace and decency that can keep violence, domination and grasping tyranny at bay. Over millennia, humankind has been able to invent the tools that make it possible to cultivate such oases for all of us — the rule of law, constitutionalism, an expectation that free and equal citizens can rule and be ruled, in turn, in a polity that defines membership inclusively on principles of human equality. These inventions did not emerge all at once. Their pieces and parts have appeared, here and there, over the course of long spans of time on the world’s stage. I am sure there are still more inventions of this kind to be secured so as to increase the prospects of safety and happiness for future generations.

But these inventions do not put millennia between us and the alternative of disorder, domination, disunion and despair. They scarcely put more than one generation between us and those things. It is always only a question of whether we can keep alive for another generation the peace-bringing knowledge, the freedom-protecting expertise, and the equality-respecting wisdom.

This is why I have committed myself to the work of civic education, not only in my classroom, but also in my efforts to support the renewal of civic education in our K-12 system. I wish there were more of us pursuing this work.

Danielle Allen is a political theorist at Harvard University and a contributing columnist for The Washington Post.

Source: washingtonpost.com/opinions/what-we-can-learn-from-the-worlds-oldest-literature/2018/11/16/70a8e0ae-d24f-11e8-8c22-fa2ef74bd6d6_story.html

URL: http://www.newageislam.com/spiritual-meditations/danielle-allen/ancient-texts-we-read-have-a-startling-immediacy/d/116912



  • Poor Hats Off has nothing left but ad hominem attacks! I had asked him to produce even one example of my denigrating the religions of others. He has failed to do so. He is not big enough to apologize for lying about me, so I shall not ask for an apology.

    He actually thinks that I, a citizen of the U.S., have no right to criticize my government! If he criticizes Modi's policies, does that mean that he is spitting in the plate from which he is eating? With such views he would probably be better off living in Saudi Arabia or North Korea!

    He brings up the absurd analogy of Islamic nations where one cannot speak freely. Well, I am not living in an Islamic nation. I do not hold any brief for any Islamic nation. In fact I have been a harsh critic of Islamic nations. So what point is he trying to make with such a moronic argument?

    The rest of his drivel is not worth any attention! It is interesting however that a little push back from me has brought out his gutter-level vitriol!

    By Ghulam Mohiyuddin - 11/21/2018 1:10:15 PM

  • if you - a deceitful, lying, smooth talking moderate, is not ashamed of himself, why should i? i talk straight.

    i never begged for a green card from a "kuffar" nation. i never spit into the plate from which i am eating.

    maybe its time you sought some counseling. or get back to where you once belonged.

    you "love" the american freedom precisely because they let you spit into the plate they provide for you.

    can you you criticize the foreign policy of any "islamic" nation (or even your native hell-hole - wherever or whatever that was) and then still be able to see the sunrise the next day?

    soft islamists and stealth jihadis always find greener pastures from where they can sabotage the very system that allowed them in. this happened in egypt, sindh and hind.

    you are just haroon mughal version seven point six two eight zero.

    treachery is your forte. you slobber over cair and claim to be a liberal. you think your spelling-bee vocabulary can hide your deciet. no. they cannot.

    i never beg for green or white or red cards. i live and die in the land i was born.

    bur rats do not. they always flee.

    By hats off! - 11/21/2018 5:47:31 AM

  • I have said several times that I consider  the war verses to be a case of over-inclusion. I am not surprised that you want to dwell on them. They serve the purpose of your  execrable hate dissemination. 

    Your deceit and mendaciousness again are in full display when you accuse me of  subtle denigration of non-islamic religions, mild ant-semitism, condescension towards the country that hosts you. Can you quote even one example of my denigrating the religions of others? You equate any political criticism of Israel or Zionism with "anti-Semitism". You should be ashamed of yourself! By the way, your total indifference to Palestinian suffering is just disgraceful. Even Jews are more empathetic about the injustice done to Palestinians than you are.

    Saying that I am condescending to the U.S. is sheer foolishness. I often criticize American foreign policy but I love its freedoms and tolerance. You seem to have a cringing slavish mentality since your repeated forays in this subject seem to suggest that I should be eternally grateful to the Americans for letting me live here! You are totally ignorant about the nature of the American society and about the rights of American citizens. If you are miserable with your green-eyed envy, I cannot help you.

    By Ghulam Mohiyuddin - 11/20/2018 11:52:41 PM

  • Biology enables, religion regulates - eg It is not biology but religion/culture that forbids incest. 

    All social mammals are biologically xenophobic. Mankind instinctively divides humanity into, ‘we’ and ‘they’. It is religion/culture that has made cooperation among large groups of people possible.

    By Naseer Ahmed - 11/20/2018 11:08:00 PM

  • there is an uncontrollable deceit and dishonesty in every comment you write.

    and your puny logical capacity cannot see that religious texts are full of exhortations to kill those of the out group and spare those of the in group.

    in other words, religious texts hunt with the hounds and run with hares.

    that is precisely why your hollow tolerance, subtle denigration of non-islamic religions, mild ant-semitism, condescension towards the country that hosts you and passive hatred for anyone who disagrees with you shines through every meaningless one liner you type out.

    By hats off! - 11/20/2018 4:16:40 PM

  • There is uncontrollable hatred for Muslims and Islam in almost every comment that you write. 

    What is hardwired in the human brain will be reflected in all aspects of human ethos and all codes of human conduct, irrespective of whether they are monotheistic or pagan. Attempts to rise above biological instincts is what religions and nonreligious wisdoms are all about. Hence the Commandment: "Thou shalt not kill." or 6:151: "Take not life which God hath made sacred."

    Why does your superior logical prowess fail to grasp that?

    By Ghulam Mohiyuddin - 11/20/2018 1:14:22 PM

  • logic was never your forte.

    let me try to really make it simple enough for you.

    aggression has biological, evolutionary and genetic basis.

    men are biological, evolutionary and carry hard wired instincts.

    men make religions. or to make it easier for you, religions are man made.

    so religions have this aggression built into them.

    also try yet again to prove my uncontrollable hatred as against your uncontrollable love.

    By hats off! - 11/20/2018 3:22:35 AM

  • Hats Off says aggression is a biological fact but then goes on to blame monotheistic religions for it! Such a person would say anything to justify his uncontrollable hatred.

    By Ghulam Mohiyuddin - 11/19/2018 11:50:28 PM

  • aggression is a biological fact. aggression is an evolutionary need. aggression is a hard wired trait.

    that is precisely why much of religious text (especially those of middle eastern compulsive obsessive monotheism) consists of exhortation to violence against perceived and imagined insults.

    religions are designed to legitimize violence against the out groups and tolerance towards the in group. most of the Qur'an is about kufr and kuffar (out group) more than 100 of its sentences are about jihad (violence against out groups)
    By hats off! - 11/19/2018 4:48:04 PM

  • A slap in the face of those who claim that aggression is a product of religions!

    By Ghulam Mohiyuddin - 11/19/2018 1:34:49 PM

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