Monday, April 11, 2011

On the Preservation of our Timeless Words of Wisdom

A current Facebook discussion of the topic compells me to re-post the following, which I think I posted some time ago (but have lost track.....)

Those concerned about what seems the inevitable transition from paper books to kindle-ware and Google-scanning may be interested in the recently translated text of a cuneiform tablet allegedly found in the ruins of Ninevah in Iraq. Like most antiquities in that country that have been found since the American invasion destroyed its historic preservation infrastructure and drove its residents to dig up and sell their heritage for food and clothing, it was unearthed by looters and sold on the black market, so its provenance is unsure. However, it appears to date to about 1000 BCE, when papyrus scrolls – long used along the Nile but new in Mesopotamia – were beginning to replace clay tablets as the popular writing medium. Like many such tablets, it has lost its first and last lines of script to erosion, but it appears to be a personal letter from one scribe to another. Loosely translated from the Akkadian, it goes like this:

“Yea, Inkidont, mark my words; the teaching of scribbling on flattened grass bodes ill for literacy and its pleasures. Soon, I fear, the calming smell of drying clay tablets will disappear from our writing chambers, together with the satisfaction one feels in the resistance of clay to stylus. In the reading chamber, the soft click-click of tablet on tablet will be no more, replaced by the crackling cacophony of “scrolls” being rolled and unrolled, and the stink of the “ink” slathered on the papyrus in imitation of script. Our children will lose all respect for literature when it is slothfully “written” in black liquid on rolled-up mats, to say nothing of the loss in dexterity that will come from unfamiliarity with the stylus! And oh, Inkidont, I shudder for the effect on our household economies! Clay is everywhere, and easy to acquire and make into fine tablets, but papyrus must be bought from those thieving Phoenician and Hebrew merchants! The transfer of wealth from east to west will be as a great sucking sound rolling across the desert. And what to do with this papyrus when it wears out? Leave it to litter the streets? Unlike tablets, it has no re-use as a building material, a doorstop, to throw at one’s child or pig….. And the stuff is useless if you spill beer on it…..”

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