Tuesday, 6 January 2009


Finally tottered along to the BM to see this exhibition: Babylon - Myth and Reality. Bit more Myth than Reality but that's OK, nothing much but lumps of clay with cuneiform scribbles all over them and some sandy ditches remain of the glory that was Babylon. Doesn't have much original artefact on display but it has lots of imagery based on legend and approximate history, with some reconstruction based on archaeological finds.

The legendary stuff is fun but it's not originals by and large: copies of Brueghel's Tower of Babel (see top), Rembrandt's Belshazzars's Feast (see right) and other depictions of that old testament hullabaloo that were new to me, Blake's Nebuchadnezzar (see below).

There were several absolutely marvellous original panels from the processional way that led from the Ishtar Gate down to a channel off the Euphrates. I was particularly interested in Mushhushshu (see below), the Babylonian dragon, many images of which adorn the Ishtar gate. Its name means "furious snake" and it has the head and tongue of a horned snake, a lion's legs and feet at the front, the claws of an eagle at the back, and a serpentine tail. And it had scales. I want one of those! There are those who think that it's the Behemoth of the Book of Job.

I learned lots of other stuff. The biblical legend of Nebuchadnezzar being banished to the wilderness for 7 years where he became bestial, conflates two kings. The exhibition suggests that this may be a reference to a later king, Nabonidus, who abandoned Babylon for the oasis of Teima and abandoned the worship of the great god Marduk for the henotheistic worship of the moon god Sin. I also had never twigged that Nabucco is the Italian for Nebuchadnezzar. But, then, I've never seen the opera. Explains why it features The Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves then, of course. I am a simpleton...

And other stuff: the Hanging Gardens, the Whore of Babylon, the prophet Daniel (although not this camp one!), the Writing on the Wall, further artistic interpretations of the Tower of Babel (above), the damage done by the war and by the US Army building a base of operations right in the middle of one of what is now, belatedly, a World Heritage Site. Go and see for yourself. It runs till March. Only £8. A Credit Crunch bargain!

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