Saturday, 23 June 2018

Babel

Towers  have always been aspirational in form and intent; imposing structures reaching up to the heavens; testament variously to religious conviction, civic pride, architectural ability, wealth, power, ego. Blackpool has one, for which it is rightly famous, and my fellow bloggers have written entertainingly about it this week, so I shall focus elsewhere in space-time and I'll précis for you what I know about the daddy of all towers - the first, the finest, a wonder of the ancient world.

Those of you familiar with the Bible (book of Genesis to be exact) will know it references the tower of Babel in its apocryphal account of that time when "the whole earth was of one language and of one speech" and of a people who said "let us build us a city and a tower whose top may reach unto heaven." It goes on to tell how the Lord intervened to remind them not to over-reach themselves, "and there confounded their language that they may not understand one another's speech. So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence...and they left off to build the city..." - divine 'divide and rule' tactics if ever there were (and a Hebraic re-writing of history).

Of course there is a historical basis in the story, for that tower did exist in ancient Babylonia, a city state in Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq).

Babylonia in happier times - with tower in the background
Babel, or the great tower of Babylonia, was known at the time as the Etemenanki and was a ziggurat begun by the Chaldean King Nebuchadrezzar around 1,000BC. It was further enhanced by King Nabopolassar and completed by his son King Nebuchadrezzar II. It was a temple structure dedicated to the Mesopotamian god Marduk and was recorded as being the tallest single building in the civilized world, having seven stepped tiers and standing over 300 feet high. As well as being the site of religious and cultural practices, at its top was an astronomical observatory from which the movement of sun, moon and stars was plotted and calculations about cyclical events such as eclipses was made.

The great tower of Babylonia dominated the city (with its famous hanging gardens) and the surrounding countryside for several hundred years until Alexander the Great came to power in the region. In iconoclastic mood, he ordered its destruction in 330 BC. Alexander had plans to replace it with an even more audacious structure to his own Greater Glory, but he died before the rebuilding could commence.

Tower of Babel (artist's impression, after Breughel)
Here's the start of what will probably end up being quite a long poem on the theme of impermanence:

Babel
Where velvet-headed vultures drift in circles
high above the blistering plain by day,
where tessellated moonflowers unfurl their blossom
in the chill of silvery nights,
here lies a dust compounded of the bricks and bones,
of what was mighty Babel, once a wonder of the world...

(to be continued...once the World Cup is over)

Thanks for reading. Come on England, S :-)
Reactions:

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Lovely piece!

Matt West said...

Towering buddy!

Anonymous said...

Most interesting Steve. Looking forward to the finished poem.

Anonymous said...

Really fascinating blog about Babel. Can't really comment on the poem as there's not much to go on yet.

Anonymous said...

Full of eastern promise. Look forward to hearing the finished poem.

Anonymous said...

A fascinating account of the original tower of Babel - but as my old school teacher used to write in my exercise book: Finish this please!