Myths of Babylonia and Assyria
Page: 13The epochs in the intellectual life of an ancient people are not comparable to geological epochs, for instance, because the forces at work were directed by human wills, whether in the interests of progress or otherwise. The battle of creeds has ever been a battle of minds. It should be recognized, therefore, that the human element bulks as prominently in the drama of Babylon's religious history as does the prince of Denmark in the play of Hamlet. We are not concerned with the plot alone. The characters must also receive attention. Their aspirations and triumphs, their prejudices and blunders, were the billowy forces which shaped the shoreland of the story and made history.
Various aspects of Babylonian life and culture are dealt with throughout this volume, and it is shown that the growth of science and art was stimulated by unwholesome and crude superstitions. Many rank weeds flourished beside the brightest blossoms of the human intellect that wooed the sun in that fertile valley of rivers. As in Egypt, civilization made progress when wealth was accumulated in sufficient abundance to permit of a leisured class devoting time to study and research. The endowed priests, who performed temple ceremonies, were the teachers of the people and the patrons of culture. We may think little of their religious beliefs, regarding which after all we have only a superficial knowledge, for we have yet discovered little more than the fragments of the shell which held the pearl, the faded petals that were once a rose, but we must recognize that they provided inspiration for the artists and sculptors whose achievements compel our wonder and admiration, moved statesmen to inaugurate and administer humanitarian laws, and exalted Right above Might.
These civilizations of the old world, among which the Mesopotamian and the Nilotic were the earliest, were built on no unsound foundations. They made possible "the glory that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome", and it is only within recent years that we have begun to realize how incalculable is the debt which the modern world owes to them.