Tag Archives: ancient history

“Dear John…”

At the Archaeological Museum in Istanbul, Jack and I looked at clay tablets bearing letters from 1200 or so BC, and gravestones from sometime between then and 300 BC.

There is nothing new under the sun. One letter informed a man that the woman writing it was marrying “the farmer” instead of him. One stipulated that the wages for performing an exorcism were two sheep: one male, one female. Another extolled the virtues of Hypodia’s parties and invited the recipient to one. A gravestone erected by one Olympios suggested that, although he died a civil servant, he SHOULD have been elected provincial leader, and would have been had it not been for the jealousy of others, and he hoped the guy who’d gotten it rotted in hell. Hades, actually, but you get the point.

There is nothing new under the sun. From the time we’ve been able to write, we’ve focused on just a few things. People want love. We want a life that we feel fulfills the talents we believe ourselves to posses. ¬†And we want good stories.

Beside the gravestones–some of them very sweet and touching, actually, like the one from the woman who said she was “weeping, wailing, and mourning for her dear departed”–each sarcophagus in the museum had a tale told in figures around it: Psyche and Eros; how Apollo got married; the death of some guy I’d never heard of in a drunken brawl.

Then and now, 2000 BC or AD or whatever system you use, there is nothing new under the sun. The names change from Mahmud to Matthew, the hats morph from turbans to ball caps, and the women’s dresses get shorter or longer, but we people go on, chasing love, money, and a good job. And telling stories about ourselves and each other.

Kinda reassuring, ain’t it? Although I think exorcisms cost more like twelve sheep now.

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