Babylon - Myth and Truth

One of my Doppelkopf friends sent around an email the other day: "Have any of you made it to the Babylon exhibition? Didn't think so! [Geez, she didn't wait for an answer, but she is, of course, dead right.] So let's go together. I've set up a doodle with the times I can go. I'll order tickets for whenever the most of us can go."

Well, we actually managed to find a time when five of us could meet, so we were in the museum last night. They sell entrance tickets in advance by time so you don't have to wait in line.

We donned our little speaker guides (that were actually quite well done) and set off through the "Truth" part. This was the history of Babylon - what they have excavated and decoded. Man, they had cuneiform writing on everything! I quipped to one of our group that they must have invented graffiti.

The Ishtar Gate reconstruction, which is part of the permanent exhibition at the Pergamon museum, is really quite magnificent. And there were all sorts of exhibits about the deities, the Gilgamesh, the Code of Hammurabi, and a nice collection of science books. They had astronomical charts, used the Pythagorean theorem (pre-Pythagorus), etc. etc.

We were already full of impressions, but there was still the Myth section to go.

The sign said: not suitable for children under 18. This will be interesting. It was a collection of modern exhibits, Old Master's paintings of Babylonian motives, video installations, audio installations - wow. I really need to go back and spend a day here, but it is only open until October 5.

Having been raised a Christian, many of the terms were indeed familiar to me: the stories of Daniel, of Nebuchadnezzar, of the writing on the wall, of Psalm 137, of the Antichrist, of the Whore of Babylon, of the Tower of Babel.

And I am aware of many fundemental Christians in the US seeing Iraq as a modern-day Babylon, with Saddam Hussein the king to be crushed. ("The Bible told us to march into Iraq. Unfortunately, it doesn't say anything about leaving again..."). One of the exhibitions pieces that apparently many find distasteful consists of 20 front pages from the sensationalist press about the capture and execution of Saddam Hussein. Each has semen spritzed on it which has had glitter spread over it. I found it very fitting to the mood in the US after the capture of Saddam Hussein - in a hole in the ground, as an animal.

There was an audio exhibition that released sounds when people moved in the room, and a large room filled with renditions of the Tower of Babel. Best of all was a piece from 1968/1974 by Timm Ulrichs entitled "Übersetzung/Translation/Traduction". It is a sort of telephone game, in which the definition of the word "Translation" in German is given to a translator, and that translator to the next one - and so on through 26 languages. Greek, Turk, Chinese, Arabic - all sorts of difficult languages are included, and the last step is back to German. The text is still more or less the same, but quite different. (The first and last pages are available online.)

I've spoken with a number of friends who all thought the "Myth" part of the exhibition to be really bad. I wonder if it because these are religious motives that have no meaning for people today?

Anyway, I liked the exhibition and wish I had time to go back and spend more time with some of the exhibits.

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