‘Phonecian Civilization: A History from Beginning to End’

Phoenicians were more than smart ancient people who ruled the Mediterranean before the grandeur of Rome took over the world under the sandals. They were brilliant seafaring merchants, navigating the open waters with the direction of the Polaris, the occupants of Canaan, the biblical land of honey and milk, the high-end manufacturer of Tyrian purple, and the inventor of the alphabet. They were adventurous and impetuous, wild and civilized, just as Dido, the queen of Phoenician Carthage, was to Aeneas and General Hannibal to his Roman enemy force.

As aforesaid, Phoenicians were Canaanite of Semite groups that shared the same cultural and linguistic roots with Jews. Interestingly, Phoenicia was not a single country but a confederate of city-states located along the eastern Mediterranean Sea, comprising modern-day Syria, Israel, and Lebanon about 3,000 B.C. Phoenicians sailed across unknown seas of antiquity, always bringing seeds of vine tree with them to sow them on foreign lands, propagating the bliss of wine everywhere they went. So they went to North Africa and established their city-state called Carthage, located in what is now known as Tunisia, and planted vine trees producing melliferous wine. Perhaps it’s the aura that the land of vine trees infatuated Aeneas, a Trojan prince, destined to become the founder of the Roman race, in the person of sultry queen Dido. Sure, Dido was a Baal worshipper. So was Hannibal because Phoenicians regarded Baal, the dignitary in the circles of hell, to Christians, as the god of fertility and weather, with El, the father of all gods, and Astarte, the progenitor of Greek Artemis and Aphrodite. Moreover, human sacrifices of children during natural disasters or wars were performed, while sacred prostitution to honor their gods Adonis and Astarte, just as Babylonian women did in the temple of Ishtar. It seems that except for the Jews, the ancient peoples from the Middle East, near the Middle East, and the Mediterranean seem to regard physical pleasure as the essential component of euphoria that accounted for sacred ecstasy in the worship of their deities.

Such is my impression of ancient Phoenicians whom Alexander the Great couldn’t even dominate. Romans destroyed Phoenician city-state Carthage, after which it was said that a priest cursed Phoenicians, sprinkling grain of salt on the conquered land, lest they arise again, evermore. Whether it was true, the curse proved not as effective as the Romans wished because the Phoenician legacy continues in the form of cultural influence as aforesaid.

‘The Histories’, by Herodotus – review

The HistoriesThe Histories by Herodotus

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


We are all too familiar with the word ‘History.’ Still, we are seldom comprehensive of its original meaning, making its luster dull with the banality of academic subject we commonly associate. History in its Ionic Greek epistemological root means ‘research, investigation,’ a term nurtured by Father of History Herodotus. An inquisitive travel journalist, a tireless peripatetic lecturer, Herodotus is such an excellent raconteur of the ancient worlds that his engaging narratives of The Histories collapse millenniums between his writing and our reading them. The collective history of ancient people is woven into a wondrous tapestry of collective humankind in multiple strands.

Herodotus uses parataxis, which combines individual storytelling narrative account with associative thinking. It emphasizes the interconnection between ordinary personal lives and the concatenation of events interwoven to humankind’s collective history. Using ‘a-b-a’ strategy with numerous subjects interlocking the thematic of human history, Herodotus does not dictate his historian’s perspective over readers’ views and encourage autonomous understanding of events and causalities universalities of human tendencies in a democratic way. Herodotus is an objective commentator of human dramas in war, cultural customs, artifices, and artificers broadcast in a textual documentary record still appealing to posterity.

Despite the criticism from Plutarch and Thucydides, who regarded Herodotus as something of a lighthearted reporter of a modern-day travel magazine, Herodotus’s innovative narrative style became a model for latter-day European explorers struggling to describe discoveries of terra incognita to their peoples at home. Take Marco Polo of the Silk Roads, Christopher Columbus’s New World, Magellan’s Voyage to the Far East, etc. The European descendants found vivacious inspirations in entertaining storytelling from Herodotus’s Histories that would attract general readers flocking to the books about undreamed shores and unpathed lands populous with exotic natives in wonderment.

Herodotus is a polycentric historian who moves among different peoples in different landscapes without prejudice but with an intelligent passion for learning about them. He believed that the foundation of historical events, such as wars and political insurgencies, as part of humankind’s natural order, say, what comes around goes around, injustice giving rise to retribution passing down from generation to generation. Herodotus lets readers reflect on the past and subject its values to an outside standard of rational evaluations. In short, reading The Histories is like viewing a colossal road map, full of routes, roads, thoroughfares, rest areas, mountains, seas, cities, towns, etc., linked together through Interstate Highways. Histories is a textual equivalent of an ancient road map showing who lived where and what and why they did in a mixture of literary favor and historical objectiveness. No wonder Herodotus Still Rocks.



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From Egypt with Meow: ‘The Cat in Ancient Egypt’, by Jaromir Malek – review

The Cat in Ancient EgyptThe Cat in Ancient Egypt by Jaromir Malek

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I admit that most of my posts relate to the cat nowadays. But what else should I write about when an orphan kitten enters my castle and in need of care and love? My five-month-old cat Toro is a domestic short-haired breed as subsumed by a vet at the shelter, but his appearance and characteristics make me believe that he must be a descendent of Egyptian Mau. My conjectural reconstruction of Toro’s possible ancient scroll of his family (paternal) led me to  Jaromir Malek’s  The Cat in Ancient Egypt, which tells all about how cats became naturally harmonious with humans, which played a significant role in the anthropological and social aspects of splendid ancient Egyptian civilization.

The domestication of cats resulted from the advent of agriculture when man began to settle on the farm, and civilization came to blossom. It was about 1,500 years later than the domestication of dogs as hunting assistants to men. Of all the ancient civilizations, the Egyptians sow the seeds of love between the cats and humankind. Abounded with various fauna and flora benign to the human inhabitants, the jungle cats and African cats thrived and became familiar animals to the Egyptians, who began to use the cats to drive off pesky mice poisonous snakes threatening their lives and crops. Naturally, wild cats gradually learned to adapt their wild instinct to their new protective human environs. 

The frequency of cats’ representations in ancient Egyptian art is a creditable source to understand cats’ familiarity and recognition as pets in the overall culture and society. The images of cats first sporadically appeared in the tombs of pharaohs built during the Old Kingdom period (2647 -2124 B.C) and became widespread mural art features by the New Kingdom (1549-1069 B.C.), which is also called the renaissance of the pyramids. Maybe it was because of the mysterious aura surrounding the inscrutable demureness of a cat, or it was the otherwordly aloofness wrapt in ethereal agility. Cats became popular hieroglyphic and effigial motifs for artists and priests alike in cultural and religious contexts decorating chambers within sacred tombs and temples. Also, cats were the aesthetic muse for women’s high fashion, used as motifs for the jewelry of queens and women of high society.

What evolved from a quid pro quo relationship between man and beast for the survival of the species found its way to the high seat in the eternal world. The familiarity and recognition of cats’ usefulness blessed with physical charm elevated the beastly origin into a divine status in the statuesque form of goddess Bastet, the sister of the Sun god Ra, representing female sexuality and fertility, which reflected the specific characteristics of the animal. The Sun god himself was also called the Great Tomcat because the god meowed during what he was doing. So much so that the ancient Persians used to equip the shields with live cats at war with the Egyptians, who dared not to harm their sacred animals.

On the other hand, cats were not altogether distant from the everyday lives of the ancient Egyptians. The Greek historian Herodotus further corroborated that the Egyptians shaved their eyebrows when their cats died as a sign of mourning. The more cats became domesticated, the more multiferous their features became. Artists started using cats as a caricature of specific human characteristics illustration of fables with a moral content, representing the absurdities of reality in a humorously wise way. Such artistic trend was most conspicuous during the Ptolomy period when Egypt was under the Hellenistic influence to resist foreign cultural force. Cats were symbolized as the animal inherently Egyptian to the land of pharaohs.

Beautifully written with sentences that conjure up the images of ancient Egyptian cats, Malek’s The Cat in Ancient Egypt serves its purpose of educating and entertaining the curious reader who wants to know more about his or her beloved feline creature at home. That doesn’t mean that this book is reserved only for cat owners or lovers. This book has refreshingly excellent archeological and anthropological knowledge about human civilization, impacting animal life. The affection is the elder sister of the understanding. I personally selected this book to read because I wanted to know more about my cat. Likewise, this book is for readers who want to know more about Nature and People’s history.