I need to set aside this side-obsession with Mesopotamia and focus on writing teenagers on journeys of self-discovery,1 but before I do, I did want to share one thing I find really interesting which is The Poem of the Righteous Sufferer. People often call this an ancestor of the Book of Job, because it’s about suffering for reasons that aren’t apparent to the sufferer. I think there’s kind of a big difference between believing that god (potentially one of many) allows good people to suffer even though intercession is within his power and that god causes good people to suffer, whether through direct action or action implied by omnipotence. So, this would be a case in which the context of the work would matter a lot when you think about its potential meaning, and that is something I just don’t know enough about to really speak to.
But, mostly, I was just kind of struck by its existence at all.
One of the banal profundities I am constantly amazed by is that humans have been humans as long as they’ve been human.2 That human concerns existed before any record of them. That emotions and self-reflection existed in living humans who stood on this same earth thousands of years ago. That there was almost certainly a person who, looking at the Lion Hunt of Ashurbanipal, had the same frisson of wonder I felt, because that feeling is in part a biological reaction process no matter the weight of academic knowledge or cultural context behind it. That people have always been talking about “that guy” who was totally diligent in his ram-sacrificing and still got hit by a runaway chariot. That humans have felt bliss, and curiosity, and poignant shame, and sought knowledge, and beauty, and an end to emptiness as long as we have been human. I just find that so incredible.
It’s hard to get a whiff of that feeling, I think, in the fractured remains left by the truly distant or differently-documented past. So, when I do find a moment of wonder that jumps out in history, I try to ride that feeling of universal meaning as long as I can. It’s super weird that we’re both incredible alone in that other minds are truly unknowable, and incredibly woven into the history of the world.
Being human is weird.
- Someday I will find a way to jam this particular academic interest sideways into a book, but sadly this is not that book.
- Let me just pause here and mention that I do actually believe many of the qualities we think of as “human” are actually shared by a lot of animal species, and that our whole idea of species is really problematic. But that is another story, and shall be told another time.