Friday, 14 June 2013

Sumeria: just the guide for modern living

Occasionally we come across a religion that seems to speak directly to our hearts, because it embodies our own feelings about life and we can relate immediately to its underlying principles.

The Judaeo-Christian tradition sets the origin of mankind in the Garden of Eden. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love a garden. I particularly like the small one we have at home. And I like it not just because under the careful hand of my wife Danielle, it’s becoming an increasingly attractive place to eat outside on the few occasions our English weather allows it, but also – dare I admit it? – because she’s decided to have flowers, vegetables and trees, but no grass.

Mowing strikes me as one of the deadliest punishments invented by man for the torment of his fellow creatures. Though I have to say that breaking clods of earth up is even worse, and schlepping great sacks of compost isn’t far behind.

So I’m not sure about a religion with its roots in a garden. That’s why I was so inspired by a recent visit to an exhibition about Sumerian society. Even though those guys lived in Mesopotamia some five millennia or so ago, they had a message which spoke directly to me down the ages. 

OK, so they may have been a bit odd on style,
but they knew a thing or two about life
Their creation myth was based around the city.

Now I really like cities. They’ve got theatres and cinemas and museums and shops and restaurants. And cafés. The café, or at any rate the coffee it serves, is on its own sufficient evidence that human evolution hasn’t been entirely in vain, that despite appearances to the contrary, there has been some progress towards civilisation.

It has to be said that the city in the Sumerian creation myth left a little to be desired. Uru-ul-la, the city of distant times, was black and bleak, inhabited only by dead souls, making it somewhat lifeless and dismal. Think Birmingham on a wet autumn evening, perhaps just at the fag end of the rush hour. And if you don’t know Birmingham, I’m sure you can think of other examples.

Gloomy and miserable it may have been, but it was the model on which all other cities were based. It was the birthplace of the gods and it there even before living beings had emerged. They came along when one of the gods, Enki, decided to create men, as helpers to make things a bit livelier. Presumably, he needed some of them to be barristas in the cafés which, no doubt, he knew the cities would eventually attract.

Clearly, we owe it to Enki and his human assistants that we can enjoy Chinatown in San Francisco, Covent Garden in London or the Ramblas in Barcelona.

Pretty smart: the Ramblas brings the garden into the city
Now that sounds like a religion worth following. Certainly preferable to all that stuff about apples you should or shouldn’t eat. 

I mean, when it comes down to it, wouldnt it be more fun to have the apple in the form of a cold cider on a café terrace anyway?

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