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- Austen Henry Layard, Nineveh and Its Remains
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- Langston Hughes
- McHenry, Yagisawa: Reflections on Philosophy
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The normal way
Interestingly, this emphasizes how before the 1840s there was nothing known of Assyrian archaeological remains. Furthermore, it would have been unclear where exactly were the capitals. Earlier European maps indicate that the region of Assyria was known, but the sites and their remains were not. The use of incorrect names for Assyrian kings and the mention that the cuneiform had not yet been deciphered is also notable. Assyrian people are described as having been relegated to the mythical.
Nineveh and its Remains: with an account of a Visit to the Chaldean Christians of Kurdistan and the Yezidis or Devil Worshippers, and an Inquiry into the Manners and Acts of the Ancient Assyrians. By AUSTIN HENRY LAYARD, D.C.L. In two vols. (Murray, 1849. FIRST NOTICE.)
Seven years ago, the only remains of Babylon, Nimroud, Nineveh – those cities of the plain, that cradle of the human race – known to exist, were a few sun-baked bricks covered with cuneiform inscriptions, and a still fewer number of female ornaments in gold or precious stones. Since then, however, thanks to the zeal, the courage, and the penetration of Mr. Layard, the world has been in [sic] put in possession of a description of the palaces of the "mighty hunter" of the Scriptures – Nimrod or Nimroud – and his successors in the reat Assyrian monarchy; and England will shortly rejoice in the presence of some of hte finest specimens of the earliest sculptures of that powerful people, whose knowledge of the fine arts must have been immediately derived from the patriarchs, and mediately, through them, from heaven itself. In the April of 1841, the author and a friend set out together from Aleppo and the Holy Land, whither they had been wandering for the previous two years, and, riding across the continent of Asia, struck the Tigris at Mosul. Penetrated with the conviction that the mounds of brick rubbish which rise out of the plains of the Tigris, in the vicinity of that city, were the remains of ancient seats of civilisation, he set on foot excvations into them, beginning with that known as Nimroud, five hours' journey, or from fifteen to twenty miles, below Mosul, towards Baghdad; and after incredible labours – for a stranger, in a strange land – he succeeded in exposiing the light of that day from which they had been excluded for five and twenty centuries, the ground plan of three distinct palatial residences of different epochs, one of them being, in all human probabbility, the abiding place of Nimroud or Ninus in person, certainly of Semiramis or Nitoocris, their successors. In exposing these magnificent halls, the walls of which to the cornices are still standing, an immense number of labaster slabs, with which the brick surfaces were faced, were also brought to light, man of them covered with sculptures in high and low relief, representing the histories of the race of sovereigns by whom they were erected, and all of them illustrated with inscriptions in the cuneiform or arrow-headed character, the meaning of which is still a hieroglyphic to the learned. Besides these, several colossal figures of divine attributes were awoke from the sleep of ages to which they had been consigned on the destruction of the Assyrian monarchy – among which were a human-headed, winged lion, a most wonderful work of art for expression, for beauty, for truth, and for knowledge of design – a winged, human-headed bull of the same character, an eagle-headed human body, and an immense number and variety of smaller figures, in alabaster, yellow limestone, bronze, and baked clay. The bas-reliefs have been already made mention of; but it may be permitted to add, respecting these monuments of ancient art, that they are likely to become most important pages of ancient history – a record lost before history, as it is known to modern nations, was commenced – and to serve as an elucidation to the ages of civilisation which intervened between the Deluge and the advent of the great Jewish lawgiver, Moses. The winged lions with human heads discovered by Mr. Layard, are worth a century of trouble to a nation; their value in money is priceless. They are about twelve feet in height, and twelve feet in length. "The body and limbs," says the discoverer, "are admirably portrayed; the muscles and bones, although strongly developed to display the strength of the animal, show at the same time, a correct knowledge of its anatomy and for. Expanded wings spring from the shoulders, and spread over the back; a knotted girdle, ending in tassels, encircles the loins." These noble specimens of Assyrian art are happily in perfect preservation; the most minute lines int he details of the wings and in the ornaments are all retained in their original freshness. Not a character is wanting in the inscription. Whether these magnificent monuments of a period and a people relegated to the mythical, during a space of twenty-five hundred years, shall be added to the collection in the British Museum, or left to disintegrate and perish on the shores of the Tigris or at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, is a question that the Government of this country only can answer. To England alone they appertain – England has the sole right to them; and if they be lost to her, it will be from ignorance or apathy on the part of those to whose management her interests are confided. The English people would never grudge the comparatively trifling sum it would cost to convey them from their present situation to this country. "I used," continues Mr. Layard, "I used to contemplate for hours these mysterious emblems, and muse over their extent and history. What more noble forms could have ushered the people into the temples of their gods? What more sublime images could have been borrowed from nature, by men who sought, unaided by the light of revealed religion, to embody their conception of the wisdom, power, and ubiquity of a Supreme Being? They could find no better type of intellect and knowledge than the head of a man; of strength than the body of a lion; of rapidity of motion than the wings of the bird. These winged human headed lions were not idle creations – the offspring of mere fancy; their meaning was written upon them. They had awed and instructed races which flourished 3,000 years ago. Through the portals which they guarded, kings, priests, and warriors had borne sacrifices to their altars, long before the wisdom of the East had penetrated to Greece, and had furnished its mythology with symbols long recognised by the Assyrian votaries. They may have been buried, and their existence may have been unknown before the foundation of the 'Eternal City.' For five and twenty centuries they had been hidden from the eye of man, and they now stood forth once more in their ancient majesty."
Mr. Layard suffered some inconveniences from the ignorance, or the cupidity, of the Turkish pashas, or governors of Mosul; but his dexterous management of these "dogs in office," conjoined with the activity of Sir Stratford Canning, the English Ambassador at the Ottoman Porte, sufficed not only to neutralise their opposition to his researches, but to procure the absolute and inalienable property in the invaluable relics of antiquity brought to light for the English nation. In the intervals of his labours, when interrupted by the interposition of these pashas, or compelled to desist by the intensity of the heat, which ranged in summer as high as 112-115 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade, the author extended his knowledge of the neighbourhood, and his friendship with those nomadic and stationary tribes who now inhabit the seat of ancient Chaldea, by excursions into the mountains. In these excursions he encounters Nestorian Christians, Kurds with scarcely any religion at all, though nominally Moslem, and Yezidis, or Devil Worshippers, a sect known only by tradition, even in the East, though it is probably that their faith is the antecessor of what is termed the Manichean heresy – or worship of the evil principle. His account of the massacres of the Kurds – their slaughter of the simple Nestorian Christians who dwell at the base of the mountains which comprise Kurdistan – is enough to make a man's hair stand on end with horror; while his experience of the votaries of Satan, on the contrary, prefigures a peaceful, happy, ingenuous, hospitable, and harmless community, celebrating rites which resemble more the Chinese feast of lanterns, or the Circassian feast of roses – the latter as described by Tom Moore, the poet – than what every one will expect to be the ceremonial [ceremony] of their worship. Their devil, however, is no Moloch; no little children, nor full-grown women, nor aged men, are immolated on his altars; in the middle watches of the night his votaries dispel the darkness with the light of countless torches, and dnacing through a dense grove, in the centre of which bubbles up a clear cool fountainn, ultimately whirl and cry out like the Corybeetes of the Greeks and ROmans, or the Shakers and Quakers of Christianity, until they sink down exhausted, or until the signal of cessation from the temple of their god puts a sudden period to their wild worship. "The Yezidis, or Devil Worshippers," says Mr. Layard, "have a tradition that they originally came from Busreh (Bassorah) and from the country watered by the lower part of the Euphrates; and that after their emigration they first settled in Syria, and subsequently took possession of the Singar Hill and the districts they now inhabit in Kurdistan." This tradition, with the peculiar nature of their tenets, points to a Sabæan or Chaldæan origin. He admits, however, that it is difficult to come to any conclusion as to the source of their peculiar opinions and observances; though he maintains that Sabæanism is the prevailing feature: and he adds, "It is not improbable that the sect may be a relic of the ancient Chaldees, who have at various times outwardly adopted the forms and tenets of the ruling people to save themselves from persecution and oppression." This doctrine, however, is invalidated by the fact that they live among Mohammedans – the Kurds – and that they are not Mohammedan.
A truncated obelisk of black marble, containing an inscription of 210 lines in length, was discovered in the halls of Nimroud by Mr. Layard, which, in all human probability, contains a record of the history of a portion of the Assyrian Empire. Scarcely a character of the inscription is wanting, and the figures are (or rather were) as sharp and well defined as if they had been carved but a few days before. The author conjectures from the bassi-relievi which ornament this monument, that it is a record of an Indian invasion and conquest, in which he would seem to be right. Possibly, the Bacchus, whose invasion of Eastern Asia has been traditionally preserved by the mythology of the Greeks, was an Assyrian monarch – the monarch whose exploits are here commemorated – through the lapse of ages; and whom the proneness of the human mind to hero-worship, metamorphosed into a god. These speculations might be pursued ad infinitum; but after all, what would they amount to? A proof of the ingenuity of the speculator – nothing more. They are, therefore, suspended upon this occasion. So also is further notice of the present volumes; but for this reason, viz., that every one interested in the progress of the human race and its history – the scholar, the divine, the historian, the artist – yea, and he who is neither only a mere reader for pleasure or for pastime, should have a copy of the work in his possession. To pursue the subject, therefore, would be but to anticipate the delight which all persons must feel in its perusal; a circumstance that would be satisfactory to none of the parties – the reader, the author, or the publisher.
In conclusion for the present, it may be stated that the work is most elegantly "got up;" and that it is as beautiful in its typography and its illustration as it is valuable in the matter of its contents. The subject, however, is one of such interest, and it evokes, moreover, so many remembrances of the past greatness of perished empires, that a second notice is deemed indispensable, to present an adequate view of its contents to the reader.
Interestingly, the Christians are never referred to as Assyrians, only as Chaldeans and Nestorians interchangeably. Mention is made of Renaudot and Le Brun's work on the eastern churches. The notice takes an extremely negative view of the Kurds, and tells a story of Christians massacred by Beder Khan. There is a brief mention — not well explained — that the Chaldean/Nestorian people were thought to be descendants of the ancient Assyrians. There is also a mention of the Roman Catholics of Assyria. This all suggests a poor delineation of terms being used geographically or to refer to a religious sect. The critic mentions many times that Mr. Layard is sectarian and has theological issues, but I do not totally understand what is meant by this in this context. It is suggested that Yezidis, not Chaldean Christians, may in fact be the closest remnants to the ancient Assyrian people.
I had not known that the Assyrian king supposedly self-immolated, along with all their concubines and belongings, when Nineveh was taken.
MR. LAYARD'S "NINEVEH AND ITs REMAINs."
Nineveh and its Remains. By AUSTEN HENRY LAYARD, Esq., D.C.L.
In two volumes. (London: John Murray. 1849.[)]
Mr. Layard's opinion respecting the ruins of Nimroud is, that they were of different dates, the three palaces which he succeeded in excavating; and that the first or most perfect, which must be taken as the type of the most ancient of three cities that stood on the spot, was buried beneath the surface of the soil before the second and third were begun. This first was in all probability the residence of Nimrod, "the mighty hunter before the Lord;" or at least that of his more immediate successors, who may have called it by his name — the name it still bears — in honour of the founder of their race and sovereignty. Mr. Layard believes also that the position of the alabaster slabs found by him in this edifice indicates that the architects of the more modern, or rather less ancient palaces — those to the north-east and south-west of the mound — were aware of the existence of these ruins; inasmuch as there is every reasonable proof that they went to them, as the Romans of the middle ages went to the Coliseum, for materials for their palaces, or the Turks, while in possession of Athens, went to the Parthenon, or the Temple of Theseus, for stones wherewith to construct the fortifications of the citadel of that city. The north-west palace, or temple, for it appears to have been both, was buried long before either of the others in question was raised; the foundations of the more ancient of the latter — the north-east — are on a level with the tops of the wall of the former; while those of that edifice which is with reason supposed to be the less ancient are considerably above both. It is not improbable that a new race, or races, of kings supervened upon the stock of Nimrod, either by fusion or by conquest, and that each built itself a separate residence. The oldest palace is untouched by any agency except time and neglect; the two that stand above and contiguous to it, have been destroyed by fire. There is a clear coincidence between this latter fact and history, for it is stated in ancient records that two Assyrian princes — Sardanapalus first, and one of his successors in the second instance — burnt themselves, along with their women and their treasures, in their palaces, in preference to falling into the hands of the Medes or Scythians, by whom their empire was destroyed.
It is a fact as singular as it is true, that every part of the more ancient of the three palaces excavated by Mr. Layard, at Nimroud, should be more perfect than anything in the more recent edifices — recent, comparatively speaking, be it remembered, inasmuch as they were all destroyed, and the empire or empires connected with them almost forgotten before history, as it exists, commenced to be written. There is more evidence of design in the structural character of this edifice; the sculptures are more masterly by very many degrees of excellence; the architectural and decorative ornaments are not inferior to those of the Greeks, or even to the arabesques so called, invented by Raffaelle; and the scope and hearing of each particular portion is more manifest. What a humiliated reflection this obtrudes upon the modern mind, long accustomed to look upon civilization, as it is now understood, to be a form of social life, unattained to by the ancient races who preceded the Greek and Roman, and to believe itself the inheritor of the accumulated excellence and experience of five or six hundred centuries. We boast of our numbers; but the mountains of Armenia and the plains of Scythia poured forth hosts, ten to one more than the densest modern population, within five hundred years after the birth of Arphaxad, or at the period of the "dispersion" and the confusion of tongues. We extol our greatness; but the Assyrian dominion extended from the Propontis to Afghanistan, when the human family may be said to have been in its infancy. We congratulate ourselves on our skill in the arts, our knowledge of the sciences, our improvements in the circumstances of life; but where are there palaces like those of the founders of the first monarchy known to men after the deluge? where are there sculptures to excel the monuments of Assyrian ingenuity and taste, disinterred by Mr. Layard? and where are the means of making existence more satisfactory in modern times, at all to be compared with those which have been brought to light by his patience and perseverance?
Mr. Layard's journal is a record of the application of those qualities which ensure success in all the affairs of life — viz., patience, perseverance, firmness, and decision. These qualities are exemplified as much n the episodes, if they may be so termed, of his existence in Assyria, as in the prosecution of his invaluable labours. When the heat became so oppressive as to suspend his excavations, or when Turkish pashas gave him so much trouble as to render a brief repose necessary, he is found in the mountains of Kurdistan, in pursuit of health; or in the valleys of those mountains — terra incognita to Europeans — investigating the ethnology of the tribes who inhabit them; or ascertaining, as far as he might, the nature of their religious rites and ceremonials. The Chaldean Christians — commonly called the Nestorians of the Esat — are among those whom he especially favours with his attention in these respects: and assuming his testimony to be unprejudiced, as regards them, they would seeem in every sense of the word not undeserving of respect and esteem at the hands of the traveller. He says that Nestorius followed them, or in other words taught the purer doctrine which they derived from the immediate successors of the Apostles; but Mr. Layard's theology is that part of his work which is most obnoxious to censure. Nestorius preached two distinct persons in Christ, that of God and that of man, maintaining that they were only joined by a moral union — the godhead dwelling as it were in the humanity as in a temple. He likewise denied the necessity of grace, though he taught original sin. But Mr. Layard, while stating that the Chaldean Christians uphold the same doctrine, which affirms that the incarnation, as such, never existed, and that the humanity assumed by God for the purposes of man's redemption was not hypostatical, states also that their creed, in theory as well as in practice, bears the closest analogy to that of the Church of England of any other known form of Christianity. How he can settle this with the "doctors" of the Church may not be predicated. Perhaps if he knew more of ecclesiastical biography he would be less prone to hunt up his heroes among the heresiarchs of the early ages of the Church; and it is not unjust to assume that if he had read the life of the founder, or ostensible founder, of the heresy in question, he would not have "exalted his horn," as he has done in this matter, at the expense of St. Cyril of Alexandria, a father of the Church whose piety and whose orthodoxy have never been doubted. Nestorius was a man of weak mind, full of self-conceit, vain, indolent, and obstinate — so say his contemporaries, Socrates, Theodoret, and Marius Mercator; and he was, moreover, upon being placed in the episcopal chair of Constantinople (A.D. 428) 'a furious persecutor of the Arians, Macedonians, Manicheans, and Quartodecimans, which heretics he finally drove out of his diocese. Mr. Layard has either not discovered all that is known to exist, on the subject of the tenets of the Chaldee Christians, or he has not communicated it to his readers. Besides the liturgy which they possess under the name of Nestorius, they possess also, according to Renaudot and Le Brun, learned French writers, ("Liturgies Orientales," tom. 2, and "Liturgies," tom. 3.) two others which they assert to be more ancient; each of whom, it is on the authority of these historians and critics, contains a clear profession of transubstantiation and the sacrifice of the mass. Be this, however, as it may, the condition of these poor simple people is one which calls for the sympathy of every person professing any of the forms of Christianity. Surrounded by hostile races — they themselves being in all probability a later remnant of the Assyrian people who ruled Asia before Greek or Roman was in existence — they remain exposed without the shadow of protection to the tyranny of the Turks of the plains and the Arabs of the desert on the one hand, and on the other to the fanatical rage and fierce cupidity of the semi-savage Kurdish tribes who dwell in the mountains above them. In fact they are like the flying fish in the fable — there is no resting place for the soles of their feet. There is a village at the foot of the Kurdish hills, known as Lizan; it stands on the river Zab — the Lycus major of the ancients. This village is or was occupied by those Chaldean Christians upon whom the zealous, well-meaning, but indiscreet labours of an American mission, headed by the Rev. Mr. Grant, brought desolation and ruin. "It was near Lizan," says Mr. Layard, "that occurred one of the most terrible incidents of the massacre of 1843, caused by the invasion of Beder Khan Bey, the chief of the adjacent Kurds. Ten thousand men, women, and children, were slaughtered in cold blood on this occasion, and a large number of girls besides were carried into slavery, which is worse than death. An active mountaineer offering to lead me to the spot," he continues, "I followed him up the mountain. Emerging from the gardens, we found ourselves at the foot of an almost perpendicular detritus of loose stones, terminated, about one thousand feet above us, by a wall of lofty rocks. We soon saw evidence of the slaughter. At first a solitary skull rolling down with the rubbish — then heaps of blanched bones; further up fragments of rotting garments. As we advanced, those remains became more frequent — skeletons almost entire, still hung to the dwarf shrubs. I was soon compelled to renounce an attempt to count them. As we approached the walls of rock, the declivity became covered with bones, mangled with the long platted tressacs of the women, shreds of discoloured linen, and well-worn shoes. There were skulls of all ages, from the child unborn to the toothless old man. We could not avoid treading on the bones as we advanced, and rolling them with the loose stones into the valley below. 'This is nothing,' exclaimed my guide, who observed me gazing with wonder on these miserable heaps, 'they are but the remains of those who were thrown, from above, or sought to escape the sword by jumping from the rock.' When the fugitives who had escaped from Asheetha spread the news of the massacre through the valley of Lizan, the inhabitants of the villages around collected such parts of their property as they could carry, and took refuge on a platform at the summit of the rock in question, hoping to escape the notice of the Kurds, or to be able to defend against any numbers, a place almost inaccessible. Beder Khan Bey was not long in discovering their retreat; but being unable to force it, he surrounded the place with his men, and waited until its occupants should be compelled to yield." "The weather," pursues Mr. Layard, "was hot and sultry; the Christians had brought but small supplies of water and provisions: after three days the first began to fail them, and they offered to capitulate. The terms proposed by Beder Khan Bey, and ratified by an oath on the Kuran, were accepted; and the Khurds [sic] were admitted to the platform. But after they had disarmed their prisoners they commenced an indiscriminate slaughter, until weary of using their weapons they hurled the few survivors into the river below." Out of one thousand human beings only one escaped; and yet Beder Khan Bey was never punished for this wholesale destruction of the subjects of his master the Sultaun.[sic]
The Yezidis of Chaldea, the devil worshippers, as they are generally denominated, naturally attracted a considerable share of Mr. Layard's attention; and it is a curious circumstance to remark, how in his case, the prejudices of a sectarian belief have been able to overcome a judgment in other matters as clear as may be conceived. Inferentially upon the testimony of this traveller, these religionists — assuming them to profess a religion — are placed next in point of purity of morals, and it may be deduced therefore of doctrine, to the Chaldean Christians — consequently before the Roman Catholics of Assyria and the Mohammedans, which latter are at least unitarian and monotheist — worshipping one supreme God. he says the Yezidis worship one supreme being; but he adds, "as far as I could learn, they do not offer up any direct prayer or sacrifice to him. Every topic connected with the existence of that deity they appear to shun with superstitious awe. The name of the evil spirit — Sheitan or Satan — is never mentioned by them; and any allusion to it vexes and irritates them so much that it is alleged they have put to death people who wantonly outraged their feelings by its use. When they speak of the devil they do so with reverence, calling him King Peacock, or Mighty Angel. His symbol is a bud, of which they possess a copper figure, occasionally represented in clay or wax. They believe Satan to be the chief of the angelic host, now suffering punishment — but still all powerful, and to be restored hereafter to his high estate in the celestial hierarchy." Hence they argue he must be conciliated and reverenced. Next to Satan in power they name seven archangels, of which three, viz., Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, only are known to the Jewish and Christian Bibles. Christ they believe to have been a great angel also, who had taken the form of man. He did not, however, in their theology, die on the cross, but ascended therefrom to heaven. They hold the Old Testament in high veneration, and they respect the New Testament and the Kuran. Mahommed is looked upon by them as a prophet; so is Abraham. They expect a second coming of Christ. It is doubtful whether their worship is antecedent or subsequent to Christianity; but there is every reason to believe the former. Their rites, as described by Mr. Layard (vide last week's Observer), are of Pagan origin, literally "holding a candle to the devil;" and from certain circumstances it is more than probable they follow a faith, having for its basis the worship of the Assyrian Venus (Astarte), upon whic has been superinduced portions of the religious forms of every nation which has settled down on the plains of Shinaar since the destruction or extiction of the originnal race of Ninus, the son of Belus. Mede, Persian, Greek, Christian, and Moslem observances are all mixed up together in their creed, in so far as it is known at present; which leads to the conclusion that they, and not the Chaldean Christians, are the most ancient representatives of the ancient Assyrian people. This, however, is a question of the solution of which seems wrapped in impenetrable mystery. The only conclusion that can be arrived at from Mr. Layard's account of their habits and customs, their religious ceremonies and moral observances, is that prefigured in the popular adage — "The devil is not so black as he is painted."
All these portions of the author's experience will be read with the interest attachable to adventure directed by ability; nor will the reader peruse with less pleasure his accounts of his experience among the Arab tribes with whom he is brought into contact. Apart, however, from Mr. Layard's theology, which is sectarian to an offensive degree, these volumes are unquestionably the most valuable contributions made for many a long day to the literature of this country.
This is very important for the description it gives of popular understanding of the ancient Assyrians before the excavations. Prior to the excavations, it was not totally clear if the ruins were natural or manmade, and people understood ancient Assyria through various legends about legendary (and not even necessarily true) kings.
NINEVEH AND ITS REMAINS: with an Account of a Visit to the Chaldean Christians of Kurdistan, and the Yezidis, or Devil Worshippers; and an Inquiry into the Manners and Arts of the Ancient Assyrians. By Austen Henry Layard, Esq., D. C. L. 2 vols. New York. George P. Putnam, 155 Broadway.
Over the lands watered by the Euphrates and the Tigris rises ridges of hills and tracts of table lands, grown with corn, or crowned with villages and Arab cemeteries; the chasms, formed by water-courses in the sides of these elevated grounds, are, and for thousands of years have been, the haunts of the hyæna and the jackal; the unlearned traveller looks upon these eminences as the natural inequalities of the country; and their symmetrical forms, which would prove less enormous masses to have been of man's construction, are scarcely sufficient to suggest their real origin to the modern mind, habituated to the pigmy productions of a Wren, or of a Michael Angelo. An energy of investigation, unparalleled in the history of human intellect, after having exhausted the secrets of Egypt, confirming or completing its history, and restoring to us its domestic life, has been recently directed to the more mysterious regions of the capital cities of that great Assyrian monarchy which once extended its dominion over half the world.
Two private individuals, M. Botta and Mr. Layard, have disinterred a history, which has been buried for three thousand years. Five years ago, the traditions of an empire, rivaling in magnitude that of later Rome, consisted of a mass of semi-fabulous stories, arranges themselves around personages of whose very existence there might be reasonable doubt; the stories of Ninus, Semiramis, and Sardanapalus, having claims upon our credit, much like those which are made upon it by the fables of Hercules or Arthur. Besides these traditions, we had the incidental witness of a few verses of the Old Testament, and of notices scattered rarely, here and there, among ancient and dubious Greek authorities. The importance of the Assyrian empire, strange to say, was the accidental cause of this paucity of records concerning it; for Herodotus, who was satisfied with allotting a single niche in his great work to Egypt, and to other considerable nations, intended the history of the Assyrian empire for a separate treatise, which, if it was ever written, has not descended to us. In Mr. Layard's words:
"Although the names of Nineveh and Assyria have been familiar to us from our childhood, and are connected with our earliest impressions derived from the inspired writings, it is only when we ask ourselves what we really know concerning them that we discover our ignorance of all that relates to their history and even to their geographical position. It is indeed one of the most remarkable facts in history that the records of an empire so renowned for its power and civilization should have been entirely lost; and that the site of a city as eminent for its extent as its splendor, should for ages have been a matter of doubt."
Thanks, however, to the labors of Mr. Layard and M. Botta, seconded by those of Major Rawlinson, and the greatest German and French philologists, we are now in a fair way to recover the lost records of Assyria, and of becoming as familiar with the domestic habits, the modes of warfare, the arts, and the religion of that empire, as we are with the customs and worship of Greece and Rome.
Mr. Layard, in the autumn of 1845, induced by the startling discoveries made at Khorsabad by M. Botta, commanded his investigations on the banks of the Tigris with a zeal and resolution worthy of his object. M. Botta, from the mound at Kouyunjik, had dug the first Assyrian monument a year or two before. This was an enviable distinction acquired by himself, and by the government – always liberal in expenditure for the advancement of art – which seconded his efforts. Mr. Rich had already made some interesting observations on the site of Babylon, but they were not of importance enough to abolish M. Botta's claims to be regarded as the first great discoverer of Assyrian antiquities. This gentleman, abandoning Kouyunjik, after slight and superficial examination, directed his labors to the minor ruins at Khorsabad. Here he made the discoveries which, during the last few years, have been the leading subjects of comment among the archæologists of Europe. In the trenches opened by M. Bota were found series of bas-reliefs, the products of a style of art wholly unlike, in many essential points, any style already known. Exhibiting analogies with the arts of Persia, Egypt, and Asia Minor, which render these reliefs of the highest import as additions to, and probably clues to problems in, the history of the origin and progress of arts in these countries, they constitute in themselves an independent chapter of no mean mark in the history of universal art. With an attention to details not inferior to that displayed by the artist of Egypt, the Assyrian sculptor combined a vivacity and truth which is nowhere to be found in the remains that strew the valley of the Nile. We cannot go along with the French critic, who affirms that the Assyrian relics will bear a comparison with the products of Phydias; but we are as little prepared to deny the superiority of some of the best fragments delineated by Mr. Layard to all but the very first efforts of modern art in the same kind. There are conventional forms and a total disregard to literal verisimilitude in the works of the Assyrian which must shock an unprepared and uncultivated taste, and distract it from the appreciation of the real excellence which abounds in them; but real excellence there is, and that, if we mistake not, of a high order. In details the art, as in all true schools, becomes suggestive rather than literally imitative, when literal imitation becomes inconvenient, from limited space, or other causes. In a lion-hunt, for example, the lion rolls dying under the chariot wheels, while the warrior is sending his arrow before him into space. In a siege, the height of the soldiers scaling the walls is out of all proportion to that of the walls themselves; but the lion and horses have true actions; the aspect of the warrior is bold and noble; the incidents of the siege are depicted with invention and power.
So much for the art which has been restored to the world by Messrs. Botta and Layard: and, by the way, let it be understood that we place the French discoverer before the English one, not on account of the magnitude of the discoveries of the first, but only on account of his priority in order of time, Mr. Layard's discoveries being much more numerous and interesting than those of M. Botta. To give our readers a nation of the value of these remains in restoring a picture of Assyrian life and data for Assyrian history, we need only state that the slabs of alabaster, upon which the principal works are executed, are many hundreds in number, and that they contain delineations of incidents of every order associated with the history of this ancient nation. But besides these reliefs, and more important still, for historical purposes, an immense body of inscriptions have been found, and carefully copied, and are not being deciphered by philologists of all countries.
Of course we can treat for the most part only in the most general terms, concerning the contents of Mr. Layard's volumes, but there are two or three details, which are of such commonly appreciable interest, that we must not neglect to mention them in an account which is to contain all that many readers will know, of these wonderful Assyrian revelations. It appears from the investigations of Mr. Layard at Nimroud, that the Assyrians were acquainted with the principle of vaulting by arches, and of supporting roofs by pillars; yet it is very remarkable that neither of these valuable expedients were employed, to any extent, in the enormous Assyrian buildings. – Consequently, all the closed apartments are long galleries, narrow enough to allow of roofing by horizontal beams. Mr. Lyard discovered only one instance of vaulting by the so called "Roman," or semi-circular arc, and that was in a position where it was not demanded by the necessities of construction. A bas-relief of a fishing, or pleasure, house, showed the only trace of columns; and these, it a most interesting and surprising fact, were distinctly "Ionic," showing that the order was the adoption, and not the invention, of the Greek colonists of Asia Minor. From the circumstances of the neglect of the discovery of the arch and the column, Mr. Layard infers that, it was not made until after conventional forms of architecture had been adopted, and an adherence to them, as in the case of Greek architecture, was become [sic] a point of religious feeling. Of the antiquarian results of Mr. Layard's researches, perhaps the most popularly interesting are the determination of the site of Nineveh, and the verification of the extraordinary and coincident descriptions of that city, to be found in the Old Testament and Diodorus Siculus. An oblong space, the angles of which are marked by four great masses of ruins, namely, Nimroud, Kouyunjik, Karamles, and Khorsabad, is covered with lesser mounds and traces of building. This space is about 480 stadia, or three days journey, or 60 miles around, which is the area assigned to Nineveh by Jonah and Diodorus. Moreover, the situation is precisely that ascribed to the city by later writers. – To understand how this immense size was consistent with the comparatively small number of inhabitants, we are to remember that the walls for he Assyrian cities enclosed arable land sufficient to grow corn for all the inmates, in case of invasion or siege. [Obviously not corn.] The other problem that will immediately strike all who think of the matter, namely, the present state of the ruins, which are mere mounds of earth, is satisfied at once by the fact that the bricks, which formed the chief building material, were merely dried in the sun, and were subsequently soon reduced to their parent earth when their thin cases of stone, or baked bricks, fell off, or were destroyed. With such an inherent tendency to ruin, what must have been the size of the separate palaces of Nineveh, when the mountain left by one of them, after the lapse of 3,000 years, is still 3,985 yards round, and 100 feet high!
We close this hasty glance at the antiquarian portions of Mr. Layard's work by the following passage from the letter of a traveller, conveying his first impressions of the sight revealed to him by the excavations at Nimroud:
"I took this opportunity whilst at Mosul of visiting the excavations of Nimroud. But before I attempt to give a short account of them, I may as well say a few words as to the general impressions which those wonderful remains made upon me, on my first visit to them. I should begin by stating that they are all underground. To get to them, Mr. Layard has excavated the earth to the depth of twelve to fifteen feet, where he has come to a building composed of slabs of marble. In this place, which forms the northwestern angle of the mound, he has fallen upon the interior of a large palace, consisting of a labyrinth of halls, chambers and galleries, the walls of which are covered with bas-reliefs and inscriptions in the cuneiform character, all in excellent preservation. The upper part of the walls, which were of bricks, painted with flowers, &c., in the brightest colors, and the roofs, which were of wood, have fallen, but fragments of them are strewn about in every direction. The time of day when I first descended into these chambers happened to be towards evening, the shades of which added, no doubt, to the awe and mystery of the surrounding objects. It was, of course, with no little excitement that I suddenly found myself in the magnificent abode of the old Assyria kings, where, moreover, it needs not the slightest effort of imagination to conjure up visions of their long departed power and greatness. The walls themselves were crowded with phantoms of the past.– In the words of Byron, 'Three thousand years their cloudy wings outspread,' unfolding to view a vivid representation of these who conquered and possessed so large a portion of the earth we now inhabit. They were in the oriental pomp of richly embroidered robes, and quaintly artificial coiffure. There, also, were portrayed their deeds in peace and war, their audiences, battles, sieges, lion hunts, &c. My mind was overpowered by the contemplation of so many strange objects; and some of them the portly forms of kings and viziers, were so life-like, and carved in such fine relief, that they might almost be imagined to be stepping from the walls to question the rash intruder on their privacy. Then, mingled with them, were other monstrous shapes–the old Assyrian deities, with human bodies, long drooping wings, and the heads and beaks of eagles; or, still faithfully guarding the portals of the deserted halls, the colossal forms of winged lions and bulls, with gigantic human faces. All these figures, the idols of a religion long since dead and buried, like themselves, seemed actually in the twilight to be raising their decorated heads from the dust of centuries: certainly the feeling of awe which they inspired me with must have been something akin to that experienced by their brethren votaries."
We have now said quite enough to enable our readers to judge of the almost inestimable value of Mr. Layard's discoveries, for the historian, the antiquary, and the biblical critic. We must take a glance at the matters of more popular interest with which these volumes abound. As a mere "book of travel," it is one of the most attractive we have had the pleasure of perusing; the glimpses which we cath of Arab life are vivid and impressive in the highest degree; the account of the Nestorian or Chaldean Christians, who have lived, untainted by Romish defection from the truth, from the earliest ages of Christianity, among the mountains of Kurdistan, is of the very highest interests for the multitudes of protestants who have clung to the example of the Vandois as being the most consistent historical refutation of the Romish system; the personal dangers to which Mr. Layard was continually exposed, from the neighborhood of the plunderinng Arabs, and sanguinary Kurds, keep constantly alive the lowest kind of interest in which all are capable of partaking; while that gentleman's invincible courage, unwearying perseverance, and admirable management of the strange company he was occasionally cast among, offer a spectacle refreshing to behold, in these days, when, thanks to the new police, we can, most of us, easily dispose with heroism of the sort exhibited by Mr. Layard. We present our readers with a few extracts, which will illustrate our remarks, and show the justice of our praise. Mr. Layard thus begins the description of his wanderings in the desert regions of Nineveh and Kurdistan.
"During the autumn of 1839 and winter of 1840, I had been wandering through Asia Minor and Syria, scarcely leaving untrod one spot hallowed by tradition, or unvisited one ruin consecrated by history. I was accompanied by one no less curious and enthusiastic than myself. We were both equally careless of comfort and unmindful of danger. We rode alone; our arms were our only protection; a valise behind our saddles was our wardrobe; and we tended our own horses, except when relieved from the duty by the hospitable inhabitants of a Turcoman village or an Arab tent. Thus unembarrassed by needless luxuries, and uninfluenced by the opinions and prejudices of others, we mixed amongst the people, acquired without effort their manners, and enjoyed without alloy those emotions which scenes so novel and spots so rich in varied association cannot fail to produce. I look back with feelings of grateful delight to those happy days when, free and unheeded, we left at dawn the humble cottage or cheerful tent, and lingering as we listed, unconscious of distance and of the hour, found ourselves, as the sun went down, under some hoary ruin, tenanted by the wandering Arab, or in some crumbling village still bearing a well known name. No experienced dragoman measured our distances and appointed our stations. We were honored with no conversations by pachas, nor did we seek any civilities from governors. We neither drew tears nor curses from the villagers, by seizing their horses or searching their houses for provisions; their welcome was sincere; their scanty fare was placed before us; we ate, and came, and went in peace."
Again, speaking of the Arab life, Mr. Layard says:
"There is a charm in this wandering existence, whether of the Kurd or the Arab, which can not be described. I have had some experience in it, and look backward with pleasure to the days I have spent in the desert, notwithstanding the occasional inconveniences of such a life, not the least of them being a strong tendency on the part of all nomads to profess a kind of communist philosophy, supposed in Europe to be the result of modern wisdom, but which appears to have been known from the earliest times in the east. Friends and strangers are not always exempted from the rules of this philosophy, and as reciprocity is as little understood in the Asiatic as in the European system, their property is made no less free with than that of Job was by Arabs and Chaldees some four thousand years ago. Still this mode of life has not always a bad effect on human nature; on the contrary, it frequently acts favorably. One cannot but admire the poor half naked Arab, who, entrusted with a letter or message from his sheik to the pasha of Bagdad, walks proudly up to the great man's sofa and seats himself, unbidden, upon it as an equal. He fulfils his errand as if he were half ashamed of it. If it be too late to return to his tent that night, or if business still keep him from the desert, he stretches himself under a tree outside the city gate, that he may not be degraded by sleeping under a roof or within walls. He believes that the town corrupts the wanderer; and he remembers that until the sheik of the desert visited the citizens, and were feasted in the palaces of their governors, oppression and vices most odious to the Arabs were unknown."
The following is an admirable description of an extraordinary scene – one of the annual festivities of the Yezidis, or Devil-worshippers. It is midnight, in a dimly illuminated forest of Kurdistan:
"The tambourines which were struck simultaneously only interrupted at intervals the song of the priests. As the time quickened they broke in more frequently. The chant gradually gave way to a lively melody, which, increasing its measure, was finally lost in a confusion of sounds. The tambourines were beat with extraordinary energy, the flutes poured forth a rapid flood of notes, the voices were raised to their highest pitch, the men outside joined in the cry, while the women made the rocks resound with the shrill tahlehl. The musicians giving way to the excitement, threw their instruments into the air, and strained their limbs into every contortion, until they fell exhausted to the ground. I never heard a more frightful yell than that which rose in the valley. It was midnight. The time and place were well suited to the occasion, and I gazed with wonder upon the extraordinary scene around me. Thus were probably celebrated, ages ago, the mysterious rites of the Corybantes when they met in some consecrated grove. I did not marvel that such wild ceremonies had given rise to those stories of unhallowed rites and obscene mysteries which have rendered the name of Yezidi an abomination in the east. Notwithstanding the uncontrollable excitement which appeared to prevail amongst all present, there were no indecent gestures or unseemly ceremonies. When the musicians and singers were exhausted, the noise suddenly died away. The various groups resumed their previous cheerfulness, and again wandered through the valley or seated themselves under the trees."
The emigration of an Arab tribe is thus described:
"We soon found ourselves in the midst of wide-spreading flocks of sheep and camels. As far as the eye could reach to the right, to the left, and in front, was the same moving crowd. Long lines of assess and bullocks laden with black tents, huge cauldrons and variegated carpets; aged women and men, no longer able to walk, tied on the heap of domestic furniture; infants crammed into saddle-bags – their tiny heads thurst [sic] through the norrow [sic] opening, balanced on the animal's back by kids or lambs tied on the oposite side; young girls clothed only in the close fitting Arab shirt which displayed rather than concealed their graceful forms; mothers with their children on their shoulders; boys driving flocks of lambs; horsemen armed with their long-tufted spears, scouring the plain on their fleet mares; riders urging their dromedaries with their short-hooked sticks, and leading their high bred steeds by the halter; colts galloping amongst the throng; high born ladies seated in the centre of huge wings, which extend like those of a butterfly from each side of the camel's hump, and are no less gaudy and variegated – such was the motley crowd through which we had to wend our way for several hours."
There was also a nearly identical article published with these additional pieces of information. The notion of Abraham engaging with the sculptures is utterly ludicrous and evinces a totally misunderstood historical chronology.
Most of our readers are aware that the remains secured by Mr. Layard are all to be deposited in the British Museum. Many of them are already exhibited; others are only just arrived at the establishment, and others are still upon their way to England. We infer, from Mr. Layard's work, that the least interesting are those which are, at present, open to the public; but there are few persons, we suppose, who have so little curiosity, and feel so little awe, while standing, as it were, in the presence of the Past, as not to have paid, or to be about to pay, a new visit to the British Museum for the purpose of beholding the sculptures upon which the eyes of Ezekiel and Jonah, and possible of Abraham himself, have dwelt.
With the following passage we close our extracts. We understand that Mr. Layard is to continue his Assyrian researches, with assistance from our government. Let us hope that it will be more liberal upon this occasion than upon the last; and that, in the publication of Mr. Layard's future researches, there may be found no such complaints as these:
I had neither knowledge nor experience as a draughtsman; and this I felt to be a great drawback, and, indeed, a disqualification which I could scarcely hope to overcome. Many of the sculptures and monuments discovered were in too dilapidated a condition to be removed, and others threatened to fall to pieces as soon as uncovered. It was only by drawings that the record of them could be preserved. There was no inclination to send an artist to assist me, and I made up my mind to do the best I could – to copy as carefully and as accurately as possible that which I saw before me. I had therefore to superintend the excavations, to draw all the bas-reliefs discovered, to copy and compare the innumerable inscriptions, to take casts of them, and to preside over the movin and packing of the sculptures. As there was no one whom I could trust to overlook the diggers, I was obliged to be continually present, and frequently to remove the earth myself from the face of the slabs, as, through the carelessness and inexperience of the workmen, they were exposed to injury from the blows of the picks.
[End of article]