A Musing on the Importance of Writing

While we were talking about the Rosicrucian Museum afterwards, Peter pondered why the Egyptians had such an evolved religious philosophy, but hardly anything else. Well, perhaps it’s because the only real solid record that still existed by the time we were curious about them was writings on tomb walls.

But it made me think why we study the cultures we do study when we learn ancient history. It all has to do with whether or not they could and would write about themselves and what they believed. All Western, secular history courses begin with Sumeria. And why? It wasn’t the first place people gathered, but the Sumerians had cuneiform writing, and even more significantly, The Epic of Gilgamesh. History continues following those who wrote: Egyptians, Hebrews, Greeks, and Romans. And all of their beliefs and philosophies have been preserved, interestingly enough, by religious orders that continue to this day.

As for the cultures that didn’t write, like the Mongols, all we know about them comes from those who wrote about them, and what is written isn’t unbiased. The Romans effectively destroyed Carthage, not only physically, but culturally, by destroying their records as well as taking over their country. And all we know about the traditional American Indians came from anthropological works and diaries by American settlers. Remarkably, when American Indians became interested in reviving their cultural traditions, they relied heavily on white mens’ records, which is why the dances and costumes you see at powwows date back to the 1880s at the latest.

What were the Sioux and the Shoshone doing before Europeans (or Chinese) came to their lands and wrote about them? No one really knows. But because of their copious writings, and the fact that they were preserved, we have a pretty good idea of what the Romans and Greeks were doing thousands of years ago, almost as clearly as if we were there.

1 Comment

  1. Inversereality

    So… history is shaped by the writers, not the winners? 😀 I would argue that we can still still learn a lot about cultures by studying their physical remanents, too. Examining architecture, garbage pits, weaving, pottery, etc. can fill in some of the blanks missing because of their unwritten history.

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