Read quickly, Modern One. I have but scant faith in your paper or your computer screens. They are but transient conveyors of words. In a more advanced civilization, you would be reading this on stone. I know from long experience that for serious record-keeping, no “information technology” has ever rivaled solid rock. Yet, most of you Modern Ones prefer texts that travel—your mail, your faxes, your downloads—rather than ones that endure the centuries. So be it. I reluctantly commit this memoir to an ephemeral medium not of my monumental choosing.
I, the obelisk of Seti I and of his son Ramses II, was born and raised a devoted Egyptian in spite of my current address…
“I, the obelisk of Seti I and his son Ramses II, have risen and fallen like the pendulum of history itself. Up I swung at Holy Anu* when my fathers ruled all the lands. Down I pivoted and up again when the Romans took over the world. When their empire fell, I tilted, too. When the Middle Ages passed, I swept upright again to announce the dawn of Europe’s Renaissance. Now I wait tirelessly for the next downbeat, for surely I must signal someday another age yet unimagined…
One of the worst things the Romans ever did, they at least did well. Taking me down, transporting me across the sea and setting me up again was a remarkable feat of engineering. By the time it was done, Octavian had taken the new name Augustus, and he had established himself as the first emperor of Rome. He had me hauled to the Circus Maximus, where I was raised on the infield of the racecourse. There, I bestowed fame on the emperor as I once had the pharaohs.
The Romans could not read my hieroglyphs, but they busied themselves between races by mouthing the words inscribed in Latin on two sides of my base. Augustus listed there his numerous titles followed by the obvious boast: “Having brought Egypt under the dominion of the Roman people, I dedicated this gift to the Sun.” Since the Circus Maximus was itself originally designed for solar worship, I was indeed a fitting adornment. My popularity was such that I set a trend that eventually brought many of my brother obelisks to Rome: There are now more of us here than in any other city in the world. Only one still stands in Heliopolis, a lonely sentinel of Ra, while a few more live solitary lives in a kind of obeliskoid diaspora in places like Paris, London, Istanbul and New York.”I, Obelisk, by Frank L. Holt, Saudi Aramco World, September/October 2007
* Anu is the ancient Mesopotamian divine personification of the sky, supreme God, and ancestor of all the deities. Anu briefly appears in the Akkadian Epic of Gilgamesh with his daughter Ishtar (Ashtoreth, Astarte) “Queen of Heaven“.
Babylon is the most famous city from ancient Mesopotamia whose ruins lie in modern-day Iraq.Continue reading