A Book, Changed — On Writing

At what point in writing does one book become another? In the editing, rewriting, re-editing and re-rewriting of a project engaged over years, should we just call it a different book? (The shadow question is, of course, at what point does one pack it away, brush off one’s hands, and turn to something else?)

In the book I’m working on now, I have gone from two main characters to one, and she from a spoiled princess to a tomboy with no sense of her worth. I have gone from a many-faceted narrative to a single tale, driven by a young woman’s desire to protect the wild land that she loves.reading-and-writing Suzanne Lilly

Revision as Revelation

It was only when I began revising an essay that I discovered what it was about. I had thought the piece would be a simple meditation on what I’d learned about Cyrus the Great over these past few years – the sexy “messiah” byline, author of the first declaration of human rights, all that… and how my research led to a more complex portrait of the man and his times. And I guess it was, but only secondarily. Primarily, the essay is about change — how, over the years, changes in my Cyrus project have dovetailed with changes in my own life. I wouldn’t have discovered that without going back to the beginning again.reading-and-writing Suzanne Lilly

Cyrus the Great and the Ishtar Gate

If I had to pick one grand architectural image to go with the Cyrus Cylinder, I think it would be the Ishtar Gate (though built by Nebuchadnezzar II, not Cyrus). Oddly enough, the best place to see the ruins from Babylon of a gate complex named for the Mesopotamian goddess of love and war is in Berlin, Germany. The Pergamon Museum has reconstructed (with some reproduction) a display of the impressive gate. Here’s a great, informative video: Ishtar Gate on YouTube

Ancient Cyrus Cylinder Stirs Modern Passions and Debate

What should we do with knowledge that undermines a force for good? I attended the Cyrus Cylinder symposium at DC’s Freer Sackler Gallery, the artifact’s first stop on its U.S. tour. It was a sunny Saturday morning, yet the hall was packed, and no one was snoozing. Rightly so, as the presenters are among the world’s “A team” scholars of ancient Persia.

But from the start, things did not go as many had hoped. For the scholarship presented complicates our widely accepted and most popular images of Cyrus the Great as a uniquely benevolent ruler who instituted policies of peace and tolerance such as the world had never seen before.

Dear President Obama, abt the Cyrus Cylinder

The Cyrus Cylinder has great potential for Iran-U.S. relations. So I was thinking: wouldn’t it be great if President Obama were to hike on down to the Freer Sackler Gallery, just a few blocks from the White House to take a look? Here’s my letter inviting him to do so. If you like it, feel free to copy and paste into the handy online note-dropping feature at the White House website.

Dear President Obama,

History, Fiction and Non

Whatever possessed me to tell uber-expert Dr. Amelie Kuhrt that I’ve made Cambyses I a depressed opium addict subject to the clutches of an evil groundsman in ancient Persia?! It couldn’t have been the alcohol — I was drinking tea, she hot cocoa. But what what a thrill to be able to talk nonstop for hours at a cafe in central London with this most formidable scholar of ancient Near Eastern history and literature. Our topics ranged from Cyrus II, Nabonidus (we share a fondness for the much maligned king), and women such as Atossa and Irdabama, to the complex landscape of religion in ancient Babylon and Persia, from food and drink, to clothing and climate.

U Chicago’s Oriental Institute

The eunuchs especially got my attention this time — a little plump, double-chinned, and very dignified in their ancient, stone-carved representation. I’ve visited the Oriental Institute in the past but am each time struck by something different. What a gem — a small museum in a beautiful old building on a tree-lined street in Chicago’s South Side, it houses extraordinary artifacts from the ancient Near East. One impressive section includes material from Assyria’s golden days in the 8th and 7th centuries BCE, during which time they conquered the northern kingdom of Israel. There is the magnificent lamassu, a simulataneously benevolent and fierce winged-bull-man statue, dramatic hunting scenes, as well as also panels depicting the court. It was the latter, specifically a portrayal from the fortress/palace at Khorsabad of Sargon II’s eunuchs striding behind a royal figure probably the crown prince that caught my attention. They are armed, yet their hands are clearly disengaged from their swords, held in graceful passivity. Eunuchs were often the product of tribute — boys offered from conquered lands and selected to serve in the royal court. As this particular panel demonstrates, they could rise to important positions as trusted attendants. I had the good fortune to run into Matthew Stolper, showing some friends around the museum. Dr. Stolper, Professor of Oriental Studies at Univ. Chicago, has excavated in Iran including Tall-i Malyan, a site that should probably be identified with Anshan (Cyrus’ home of origin) and has recently been working with the intriguing Persepolis Fortification Tablets, enormously helpful for my research on Cyrus the Great. During my ambling visit, staff were setting up tables and chairs for the 30th class reunion of Chicago grads. Amongst these priceless ancient treasures, what a venue in which to celebrate! Dr. Stolper said, “it’s white wine only.”