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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Sunday, October 02, 2005

mirror of the past

Steady rain falls through colder air.

Morning notes: A History of Technology and Alexander the Great. From the former I'm now learning about early metallurgy. The specific subheadings this morning were "Beginnings of Metal-Working" and "Gold", both by R. J. Forbes, professor of pure and applied sciences in antiquity at the University of Amsterdam. From the latter I'm now learning about the culture and administration of the Persian empire that Alexander, its soon-to-be conqueror, is taking on. The Persians, tolerant of and open-minded about the cultures they absorbed into their empire, freely intermarried with their new subjects and appointed them to high administrative positions. From their new subjects they absorbed ideas about religion, statecraft, and even how to structure their own royal court.

Alexander, a man in his 20s, in his turn found it advantageous to adopt the methods of the Persians, installing many of his vanquished enemies as satraps and administrators over the territories he was putting under his control. This ecumenical approach was to become the hallmark and defining characteristic of the succeeding Hellenistic age, when Greek-educated Macedonian kings would rule over Oriental domains. It was the first great melting-pot of East and West, and for that reason I see it as a mirror of our own global village.

The imposition of Greek-style political and social systems on nations that had never known these, as far east as Afghanistan, triggered a kind of answering wave from the East, the vital power of Asian religion and mysticism, which washed over the Western societies of Greece and Rome before they realized what had hit them. Gradually, then increasingly, citizens of these seemingly supreme conquering civilizations became converts to religions of the East, which promised direct personal experience of contact with the divine, the absolute--a far cry from the dry, habitual relics that were the state cults of the West. From the East came the idea of the immortal soul and its status, and Western women and men--mainly in that order--discovered a thirst for salvation.

The Western cults had little to say to seekers of salvation; the Eastern had plenty to say. The cult that became known as Christianity was one of these, and for a number of reasons it would triumph in the spiritual marketplace that was Rome and, later, Europe.

Little by little, piece by piece, I put the puzzle together in my mind. The ancient world is a mirror of our own. My very fascination with it is the surest evidence that this is so. I see myself reflected back there, and therefore I see us all.

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  • I followed a link from my site counter back here and have been reading through the pages for the past hour or so. Your writing is fascinating. Makes me wish I still had the time/inspiration for serious writing attempts.

    By Blogger Kyle, at October 02, 2005 8:08 PM  

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