Archive for June, 2020

On the Fall of Nineveh

June 7, 2020

A cool story from the second book of the Library of History by Diodorus Siculus, set in the four-year revolutionary spasm that brought down the centuries-old Assyrian empire. As Nineveh fell, king Sardanapallos heaped up his royal fabrics, gold, and silver into a pyre in his palace’s innermost sanctum, lit it, and threw his concubines, personal eunuchs, and then himself onto the fire. Afterward, once Arbaces had been crowned the new king of Asia, Belesus (an astrologer general who would himself go on to found a Neo-Babylonian dynasty) – knowing what was hidden within them – asked to keep the palace ashes as a boon. He proposed to build a burial mound outside Babylon commemorating the fall of the Assyrians. Arbaces agreed and Belesus began transporting the melted gold and silver out of flood and fire ruined Nineveh in shipments of ash. He was later found out, but managed to survive a court martial death sentence. Basically, a Three Kings-like heist story set in an empire-destroying rebellion, in which the thief was a magical warlord.

The Mineral Cocoon of a Pupal God

June 2, 2020

In the second volume of Didorus Siculus’ Library of History, he describes an ancient Ethiopian funerary practice I find fascinating. After someone died, they were first embalmed, then entombed in an effigy of gold, silver, or clay (depending on their resources), then encased in a block of glass and set upon a pillar. According to Herodotus, however, the dead were only embalmed and entombed in glass, like flies in clear amber. The idea of the mineral-effigy-as-armor came later — as an explanation for how corpses might have been protected from gross disfigurement when drowned in molten glass. Either way, if true, imagine what that landscape must have eventually looked like! A deathscape in the Ethiopian highlands functionally equivalent to Walter De Maria’s Lightning Field.

Elsewhere, I came across an intriguing, related tidbit as I tried to figure out what became of Alexander the Great’s corpse. Did you know his body was hijacked en route to Macedon from Babylon by Ptolemy I Soter? Alexander was originally buried in Memphis, but later exhumed and reburied in Alexandria. Now, get this. When he was first entombed, he was supposedly wearing a form-fitted, hand-hammered “coffin” of pure gold. This was removed at some point (NB: his tomb wasn’t just looted, it was robbed by queens and kings! Cleopatra, the last of Ptolemy’s pharaonic line, paid for her war against Octavian with gold from it; Caligula and Caracalla also helped themselves to objects on Alexander’s dead person) and his remains were re-encased in crystal or glass, like the mineral cocoon of a pupal god.