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The chorus constitutes a kind of constant in the light of which things change and are examined, a constant which sees everything and heralds the truth even when it is unpleasant. On the face of it, there is a substantive difference between the Greek chorus and the river: the former speaks, even sings, and the latter is silent. Such a statement is not just politically incorrect, it is simply incorrect. Perhaps the deaf person cannot hear and some will say even that is doubtful , but there is no doubt that a deaf person can speak.
And yet, like deaf people engaged in lip-reading, one must look at the river in order to converse with it. In other words, losing the river is like losing an internal witness, an internal compass, perhaps even a kind of superego. However, Bader does not talk about the union of the Nile and the Tigris, nor of the Danube and the Tigris. This statement, in addition to others that Bader makes, indicates that under the right conditions there is a sense in which it is possible to enter a particular river while actually immersing oneself in another.
Perhaps it is indeed possible, then, to step into the same river twice. Baghdad is the creation of a river, in fact of two rivers. One may call it Mesopotamia, for instance, at least according to history, as it was thus called by Herodotus. Then it dissipates, shining softly until it flickers and melts away little by little. In fact, it fades slowly from my consciousness and my memory. This is nothing strange for me at all. The river Tigris likewise means nothing at all to many of my acquaintances when compared to the importance of the Euphrates or the Nile for some, or the place the Danube occupies, for instance, in the heart of a writer such as Claudio Magris, whose Danube had a great impact on me.
I am not concerned with the fact that this Italian author, born in Rome in , was a celebrated professor of German rather than Iraqi literature, and a renowned correspondent of the newspaper Corriere della Sera rather than a paper in Baghdad or elsewhere in Iraq.
In my opinion, this book is the greatest work ever written on the flow of a river: it is a journey which in its entirety develops into a richly intricate and colorfully woven fabric that tells the story of European history and multiculturalism, and not just that of a waterway connecting Europe and Asia. According to Magris, the Danube is the symbol that nourishes the distant Germanic, Hungarian, Slavic, and Jewish regions.
Thus the author traces the river from the hills of Bavaria to the Black Sea and follows its flow through villages, forts, Viennese coffeehouses, historical sites, and cemeteries. Throughout the book, he constantly contemplates the violent tensions between Teutonic philhellenism and Roman civilization. Today when I look at the course of the Tigris River, I instantly recall what Magris did when he precisely traced the intellectual and philosophical roots that produced the raw form of all the fascist ideologies on the banks of the Danube.
But why do I remember this? This is how I read Magris in light of Iraqi history—with the names echoing in my memory. I recall here one of the brilliant ideas conceived by Magris, who had dealt with the enigmas of the House of Habsburg.
Like Magris, who without ambiguity emphasized the rise of Nazism along the river, I observed the rise of inflammatory nationalist thoughts along the banks of the Tigris in Baghdad. The river is a constant reality in the emergence of a nation-state because it not only binds the state together by providing connections, but also holds it together through ideas and myths.
Similarly, the search for the Self led to the self-destruction the Iraqi nation witnessed along the river. This act of self-destruction is the same as the suicide of the German nation in its constant search for Self. So I explored the chain of splendid tableaux along the Tigris—images infused with both culture and history—just as Magris explored the river scenes described by Kafka, and those by Kepler, Hayden through his music , Heidegger, Elias Canetti, and Vasko Popa.
I searched for the image of the river in other literature.
Beautiful Babylon: Jewel of the Ancient World
Badr Shakir al-Sayyab is the first of those who expressed the idea of the river by describing it as a collective revolution. Muhammad Mahdi al-Jawahiri bestowed upon the Tigris a declaration that resembled armed disobedience. But why is it that when I read this book and sink into its lively, pulsating sentences I feel as if the expanse of the two rivers were but one?
From the window of this big house I gazed for a long time at the calm and shining surface of the river: it was glitteringly white in the glaring light of the morning, and dissipated in the distance as a translucent spark. I listened to it from my window, how it faded into the sand with a soft murmuring. This murmuring is known by anyone who has lived close to the river.
I looked at the river in this way when I was a boy, living in the house of my grandfather. There, the rays of the morning sun would traverse their golden stage, then descend, little by little, across the muslin curtains, and settle down on the furniture in the living room. This image will never leave me, nor will the family life there ever leave me. It is as if the river with its murmuring and the passing moments of time brought us together: the image of grandfather, grandmother, father, mother, the uncles, and the aunt who was a young woman in her twenties.
I see her in the morning moving with the dark locks of her hair, with her smile that still had the signs of childhood in it. She moves close to the mirror with soft elegance, the mirror that always slept in the living room, reflecting the faces of the girls of the family as they place a piece of myrtle wood in the front of their hair. At first light, the door of our big house witnesses the awe-inspiring spectacle of the daily work: dozens of villagers in the gardens overlooking the river collect palm leaves; the stores of chaff are opened as the cattle moo, asking for the women to milk them; from among the pillars of the bridge the sea gulls circle over the courtyards and terraces; and the young peasants lead their cattle to the nearby pastures in the gardens of the river.
When I see my grandfather preparing himself for his morning promenade, I rush to my mother so she will change my clothes, and I go down quickly to accompany him on his walk.
There we watch the pigeons as they pick seeds on the pavement, and dark bees on the rows of damask roses standing loftily among the palm and citrus trees. This awesome pastoral idyll passes in front of our eyes as if it were a theater play. This is the Tigris.
One Reply to “Legend of THE TIGRIS”
Yet in the popular narrative of Baghdad, this Tigris is the gift of the flood, just as Baghdad is the gift of the Tigris, or the gift of the Two Rivers. When the flood receded to the middle of the large sea, the river rose high as the first Babylonian legend.
It was naturally a Babylonian legend in the first instance, and only then a Semitic one. I myself felt that I was in the midst of two legends, belonging to two rivers, to two geographies, to two cultures, although they are one. I felt the air of the river in the distance as one: how the wet air gushed onto my face, carrying the sweet-smelling scent of water. The myth of the Danube shed light on the pillars of the Jewish temples, as Claudio Magris says. The Tigris, which repeats the myth of the deluge, reflects the same brilliance through its dark blue color. The Torah is obviously the creation of the Hebrews, and Hebrew is a sacred language created by the Tigris, as the Semitic people speaking it gradually gained power, and its flickering flame passed silently and swiftly through history.
In this way the Tigris and the Danube meet at the turning point of the path that leads to God, exhausted after a lifelong journey, spreading out and receding, continuously rising and receding, then spreading out again. Babylon has resonated in Judeo-Christian culture for centuries.
Outside the biblical tradition, Babylon intrigued Greek and Roman writers, who added to the rich store of legends that have come down to the present day. The Greek historian Herodotus wrote about Babylon in the fifth century B. A number of inconsistencies in his account have led many scholars to believe that he never traveled there and that his text may be closer to hearsay than historical fact. Yet to historians and archaeologists, Babylon is a real bricks-and-mortar place at the center of the vibrant Mesopotamian culture that it dominated for so many centuries.
The site of Babylon was first identified in the s in what is now Iraq. Later excavations, undertaken by the German archaeologist Robert Koldewey in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, established that the city had been built and rebuilt several times, most notably on a lavish scale by its king, Nebuchadrezzar II reigned B.
These excavations unearthed what was to become one of the most magnificent Babylonian landmarks built by Nebuchadrezzar II: the dazzling blue Ishtar Gate, now reconstructed and on display at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin. Babylon first rose to prominence in the late Bronze Age, around the beginning of the second millennium B.
For the rest of the second millennium B.
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It was successively occupied by Hittites and Kassites; later, Chaldean tribesmen fought for dominance with another tribe, the Aramaeans from Syria a tribe that had also sparred with Israel. By B. But despite periods of stable rule, Babylon would always fall to someone else. Given this pattern of constant conquest—Cyrus the Great in the sixth century B. The Babylonians themselves were keenly aware of the great antiquity of their civilization.
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Babylon enjoyed its heyday during the seventh and sixth centuries B. A new dynasty founded by a tribe known as the Chaldeans had wrested control from the Assyrians in the early s B. The second ruler of the Chaldean line became notorious for both cruelty and opulence: Nebuchadrezzar II, the king who sacked Jerusalem and sent the captive Jews to the capital of his new and increasingly powerful regional empire.
A successful military man, Nebuchadrezzar used the wealth he garnered from other lands to rebuild and glorify Babylon. Beautification projects were on the agenda as well. The grand Processional Way was paved with limestone, temples were renovated and rebuilt, and the glorious Ishtar Gate was erected. Babylonian citizens saw their city as a paradise—the center of the world and symbol of cosmic harmony that had come into existence when its supreme divinity, the god Marduk, defeated the forces of chaos. No ancient city was so desired and feared, so admired and denigrated. But in the Hebrew tradition, Nebuchadrezzar was a tyrant, and Babylon a torment.
The king had conquered Jerusalem in the early sixth century B. The Bible says that he also stole sacred objects from the Jewish temple and took them back to Babylon to place in the temple of Marduk. In the story, Belshazzar, the successor to the throne, holds a feast served on the sacred vessels looted from Jerusalem. During the festivities a ghostly hand appears, and strange writing appears on the wall, forming the mysterious words: Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin.
The exile Daniel is brought in by the terrified king to interpret the writing on the wall. The city would be conquered two centuries later by Alexander the Great in Although Alexander had planned to make Babylon the capital of his empire, he died before that came to pass. The great city would eventually be abandoned by his successors, and the splendors of Babylon would pass into the realm of legend. One of the most famous stories about Babylon is that of the Tower of Babel, a story that some biblical scholars believe may be based on a mistranslation, or ingenious pun.
The Book of Genesis tells how the survivors of the Great Flood wanted to build a tower that would reach the heavens, but God smites the builders for their arrogance and disperses them over the Earth, where they are forced to speak many different languages.