New Years – Old and New

Blog Post
So what is genuinely old and what is genuinely new?
There are books on the Epic story of Gilgamesh. Possibly the first epic written by man? (more HERE) Theories abound when it comes to interpretations (it mentions the Flood of Noah), but to me, it’s a reassurance that the difference between ancient peoples and us – with the intervening years – is very small. 
The story follows Gilgamesh, a young and handsome Uruk. Gilgamesh was the son of Ninsun, a goddess, and Lugalbanda, a priest-king. Wanting for nothing, he grew up spoiled, arrogant and cruel. He spends his time beating the other men of Uruk in fights and taking many women to bed, including the wives of other men – as royalty and the son of a goddess, he feels he is entitled. 
The people of Uruk, terrorized by Gilgamesh, and unable to do anything because of his royal and divine status, cry out to the king of heaven, Anu, to help them with the young king.
In response, the gods send Enkidu, a wild man who lives in the desert, to Uruk. Enkidu lives in the wilds, side by side with the animals when he encounters a priestess named Shamhat, who partially civilized him – she teaches him how to eat like a human being. Enkidu then heads to Uruk. 
There, he meets Gilgamesh and challenges him to a fight. They fight day and night, but eventually Gilgamesh wins. However, in the process, he begins to learn humility and becomes best friends with Enkidu.

It’s a story of buddies, an epic of friendship.  We can understand it today because the same forces that impacted Gilgamesh and Enkidu impact all of us. We relate at a very deep level to their adventures. It’s not all that different than a modern hero (pick any of them).

There’s a general sense – and I am generalizing, that in the past, people were ignorant, believing in mystical, religious explanations of natural phenomena. That argument rests on the idea that people in the past were incapable of making rational, well thought out, scientific arguments, and that now through the redemptive, mystical power of science mankind has been transformed into a blessed state of rationalism.
So how would an educated Greek respond to the question of what causes lightning? Fortunately we can actually have an answer to that because we have some of the standard science texts from ancient Greece! In a 1965 article by H. Howard Frisinger in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society entitled “Early Theories on the Cause of Thunder and Lightning” Dr. Frisinger briefly the different theories of how lightning worked that were taught by various Greek philosophers.
All of the views of how lightning worked were based on the standard Greek physics of the four elements, earth, water, air, and fire. The theories taught by the Greeks, and the answer that your average educated Greek would give, generally attributed movements of air to be the cause of thunder (just like we teach today), and the motion or effects of fire (sometimes aether) as it interacted with the water and air in the clouds. There was debate about what came first the thunder or the lightning, and there was debate about whether or not one caused the other or if they were entirely separate phenomena.
The most widely accepted theory came from Aristotle who wrote that both thunder and lightning are a result of motions of air colliding with objects, such as clouds or other masses of air. If there was sufficient fire in the clouds then a lightning bolt would be formed, and depending on the purity of the fire you either get a defined bolt or a diffuse flash of light in the cloud. He made his arguments by looking at the evidence, such as when a local temple was struck by lightning, or how lightning was know to burn some kinds of materials but leave others unblackened.
These theories were put into the standard science textbooks of the day and would have been expected reading for an educated Greek. Just like today there would have been people who had no idea what the standard “scientific” explanation of lightning was. There has not been the assumed progression from less rational to more rational thought as is commonly asserted by those who promote science and eschew religion. The evidence does not support that theory.
So, what is my point?
People are more or less the same – 5000 BC or today. And there’s a lot of evidence to support the theory.

17 thoughts on “New Years – Old and New

  1. You only need to look at ancient structures to know mathematics and engineering are skills going back eons. What were the social structures? When did slavery start? The questions may never be answered but I would hazard a guess we are not much different.

  2. You make an excellent point, Viz. Ancient people were supposedly primitive and stupid, so they assigned superstitious cause to natural effect. Aristotle, et al disprove that, but we've become too stupid to read him. Such is devolution.

    Speaking of which, I'd argue that the ancient world bears the marks of a higher civilization still, pre-catstrophe. How far might this go back and what was lost? Good question.

    Thanks for the Gilgamesh.

  3. The engineering and mathematics were so good that people in our time claim that their wonders were built by advanced space aliens. There's no way to prove it either way but I rather doubt it.

    Different cultures had very different concepts of 'slavery'. In one case we have the scenario where people were worked to death in copper mines, and in another, we have people who were held for a defined period of time, rules of treatment were strictly enforced, etc.

  4. Interesting, I have often thought that we are too far removed from our roots, and then again not all that different.
    Gilgamesh resides on my night stand along with Marcus Aurelius, make of that what you will…
    Hope you are feeling better.

  5. Modern university students seem to be taught that there are 31 distinct genders (and you can switch them when you are moved to), race is fungible – based on a whim, and President Trump is evil. There were no ancient people who were that stupid — that we know of.

    So much for the march of progress.

  6. Yes, Brig, feeling much better. You must add Machievelli's The Prince in order to better grasp the "deep state".

  7. People haven't changed in 50,000 years. Only the efficiency by which we kill each other and the amount of leisure time we have. Laziness and killing.

  8. It's required of engineering and science students that they take courses in humanities and so-called "social sciences" so that they become "well rounded". It is never required of humanities students to take calculus. Or even enough trigonometry to navigate across a current without landmarks on the shore.

    As a result, most people trained in STEM have read enough Aristotle and Epictetus (to pick two) to know just how little humanity has changed – only that we stand on the shoulders of giants. While postmodernists on the other side of the campus debate whether there is any reality whatsoever or if our language defines everything. They never seem to take the argument all the way to refusing to believe gravity exists and stepping out the window, if that tells you anything about what they really believe.

  9. Yes, that's about it. Though certain classes always enjoyed leisure time. I'm thinking of Ancient Greece, Persia and Rome, but it's completely cross cultural. When it comes to killing, we do excel far beyond the most wild imaginations of the ancients. We can nearly strip the crust from the earth and if we worked hard at it, we could do that.

    We don't excel at kindness or loving our neighbors as ourselves except on a micro-level.

  10. The story of Gilgamesh and Enkidu at Uruk reminds me of "Darmok and Jalad… at Tenagra."

    One thing modern humans have over the ancient ones, we are more adept at nurturing snowflakes.

    I cringe at how little math and science the average modern adult knows, and yet, how vocal they are to point out just how much they know about everything.

  11. Star Trek took the story and adapted it, well, I think.

    The "educated" are very proud of their education. But wisdom and the application of wisdom that seems to be lacking along with basic decency. It's a shame that we don't seem to be able to promote decency.

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