Monday, December 14, 2015

"Lessons From The Last Time Civilization Collapsed"

This is a repost from March 25, 2014.

“1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed.”
No, I am not reminiscing. I'm not that old.
And short oil, WTI $99.98, up 38 cents.

From the New Yorker

Of Hippos and Kings
A new and exciting book fell into my lap the other day, adding an archaic flavor to the current stew of apprehension and awe about where the world is going, and what we might find when it gets there. The book, by Eric H. Cline, an archeologist and anthropologist, is called “1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed.” It adds that remote date, previously inauspicious to all but scholars of the Late Bronze Age, to other, later ones—476 A.D., when Rome got sacked for good; 1348, the first year of the Black Plague; and that grim centennial favorite, 1914—as one more marker showing how a thriving civilization can gasp, fall over, and give up. 
Cline is concerned with figuring out all the ingredients in the “ ‘perfect storm’ that brought down the flourishing cultures and peoples of the Bronze Age—from the Mycenaeans and Minoans to the Hittites, Assyrians, Kassites, Cypriots, Mitannians, Canaanites, and even Egyptians.” That’s some roll call of collapse, one that used to be ascribed to the invasions of mysterious “Sea Peoples”—the Bronze Age version of the Vikings, in the Dark Ages. Cline, like many modern historians, is inclined to believe that legendary battles were actually screen memories of much longer processes, internally lit, in which the civilizations were undermined as much as invaded. They leaked away, like water under a sink, and weren’t simply shut off, like a faucet. (It is the aim of all academic historians in our time to drain as much drama from history as is consistent with the facts; and it is the goal of popular historians to add as much drama to history as is consistent with the facts, or can be made to seem so.)

But the memorable thing about Cline’s book is the strangely recognizable picture he paints of this very faraway time. The silent conspiracy of stones—the obvious fact that architecture survives best and longest, showing us the vast, the Cyclopean, the cool, the pyramidal—makes the Bronze Age look strangely monolithic and remote: all those burned-out palaces, all that broken pottery, all those Egyptians in profile procession. In truth, as Cline explains, it was as globalized and cosmopolitan a time as any on record, albeit within a much smaller cosmos. The degree of interpenetration and of cultural sharing is astonishing. Minoan painters (or what we call Minoans, anyway; no one knows what they called themselves) were employed in Egyptian halls and palaces to decorate them with their pet imagery of diving women and dancing bulls, utterly exotic in Egyptian royal circles, while King Hammurabi, of Babylon—the big guy with the Code—seems to have ordered a pair of stylish leather shoes all the way from Crete, “which were returned.” (“Perhaps they simply didn’t fit, “ Cline speculates.) One has the sense that the Minoans were, in the period, rather like the French at the end of the nineteenth century, the go-to guys for refinement and style all around the known world.

Indeed, the likeness of Minoan art to Art Nouveau used to be put down to the fantasy reconstructions of the British archeologist Arthur Evans, but as Minoan stuff pops up elsewhere, including in Egypt, the recaptured artistic gestures now seem true—just the way they painted—and the resemblance meaningful: a stylish style for a stylish time....MORE
HT: naked capitalism