Myths of Babylonia and Assyria

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The doom of Babylon was also foretold:

Bel boweth down, Nebo stoopeth.... Come down, and sit in the dust, O virgin daughter of Babylon, sit on the ground: there is no throne, O daughter of the Chaldeans.... Stand now with thine enchantments, and with the multitude of thy sorceries, wherein thou hast laboured from thy youth; if so be thou shalt be able to profit, if so be thou mayest prevail. Thou art wearied in the multitude of thy counsels. Let now the astrologers, the star-gazers, the monthly prognosticators, stand up, and save thee from these things that shall come upon thee. Behold, they shall be as stubble; the fire shall burn them.... Thus shall they be unto thee with whom thou hast laboured, even thy merchants, from thy youth: they shall wander every one to his quarter; none shall save thee.[545]

Against a gloomy background, dark and ominous as a thundercloud, we have revealed in the last century of Mesopotamian glory the splendour of Assyria and the beauty of Babylon. The ancient civilizations ripened quickly before the end came. Kings still revelled in pomp and luxury. Cities resounded with "the noise of a whip, and the noise of the rattling of the wheels, and of the prancing horses, and of the jumping chariots. The horseman lifteth up both the bright sword and the glittering spear.... The valiant men are in scarlet."[546] But the minds of cultured men were more deeply occupied than ever with the mysteries of life and creation. In the libraries, the temples, and observatories, philosophers and scientists were shattering the unsubstantial fabric of immemorial superstition; they attained to higher conceptions of the duties and responsibilities of mankind; they conceived of divine love and divine guidance; they discovered, like Wordsworth, that the soul has--

An obscure sense
Of possible sublimity, whereto
With growing faculties she doth aspire.

One of the last kings of Babylon, Nebuchadrezzar, recorded a prayer which reveals the loftiness of religious thought and feeling attained by men to whom graven images were no longer worthy of adoration and reverence--men whose god was not made by human hands--

O eternal prince! Lord of all being!
As for the king whom thou lovest, and
Whose name thou hast proclaimed
As was pleasing to thee,
Do thou lead aright his life,
Guide him in a straight path.
I am the prince, obedient to thee,
The creature of thy hand;
Thou hast created me, and
With dominion over all people
Thou hast entrusted me.
According to thy grace, O Lord,
Which thou dost bestow on
All people,
Cause me to love thy supreme dominion,
And create in my heart
The worship of thy godhead
And grant whatever is pleasing to thee,
Because thou hast fashioned my life.[547]

The "star-gazers" had become scientists, and foretold eclipses: in every sphere of intellectual activity great men were sifting out truth from the debris of superstition. It seemed as if Babylon and Assyria were about to cross the threshold of a new age, when their doom was sounded and their power was shattered for ever. Nineveh perished with dramatic suddenness: Babylon died of "senile decay".