Ancient Example of How Culture Impacts Our Perceptions of the World

Ancient Egypt was an essentially one-dimensional country strung out along the Nile, which flows from south to north. The winds were conveniently arranged to be predominantly northerly. To go north, a traveler could let his boat drift, while with a sail he could move south against the slow current. For this reason, in the writing of the ancient Egyptians, ‘go downstream (north)’ was represented by a boat without sails, and ‘go upstream (south)’ by a boat with sails. The words (and concepts) or north-south and up-downstream became merged. Since the Nile and its tributaries were the only rivers known to the ancient Egyptians, this caused no difficulties until they reached the Euphrates, which happened to flow from north to south. The resulting confusion in the ancient Egyptian mind is recorded for us to read today in their reference to ‘that inverted water which goes downstream (north) in going upstream (south).’

quote from P.L. Csonka, “Advanced Effects in Particle Physics,” Physical Review, April 1969, 1266-1281

The Rosetta Stone is not the only trilingual stele from Egypt. In fact, there are three three-language stele that are slightly earlier than the Rosetta Stone! These have become known as the "Rosetta Stone Series" or "Ptolemaic series." Any of these stele would have been enough to translate Egyptian hieroglyphs -- it just so happened that the famous Rosetta was the first one found.

The Depth of Nature

Nile Crocodiles dig the deepest (known) burrows, going up to 39 feet (12 meters) below the earth. The deepest plant roots belong to the Shepherd's tree in Africa's Kalahari Desert, which can reach 223 feet (68 meters) deep.

The fossa is the largest carnivorous mammal on Madagascar. These animals look like a mix between a cat, dog, and a mongoose, and they can reach 6 feet in length. Fossa are an excellent example of the unique animal life that has developed on Madagascar due to its long isolation from other continents and its range of biomes.

Religious Pluralism Has Ancient Roots

The Persian emperors, starting with the first emperor (ever) Cyrus, were willing and able to show reverence to local gods and participate in the religious rites necessary to solidify and maintain their rule in conquered territory. Cyrus showed deference and continued the royal rituals of Babylon's supreme god Marduk after he conquered the city in 539 BCE. Cyrus wanted his continuance of Babylonian religious rituals to be widely known and published his deference to Marduk on the famous Cyrus Cylinder. His son Cambyses publicly worshiped the Egyptian gods Apis and Re. Even the emperor who attacked Greece multiple times, Xerxes, ordered sacrifices and deference to the Greek gods after conquering various Greek cities.

None of this should be interpreted to mean that the emperors personally believed in and revered these gods. Rather, religious pluralism was good government policy!

Corn is a New World crop that was unknown throughout the rest of the world until Columbus accidentally connected Europe with the Americas. But the native words for corn did not become universal: many cultures have names for corn that reference other nation. In some African languages, the word for corn means “Egyptian grain”; in Egypt, corn is called “Syrian” or "Turkish grain”; in France, it is “Indian wheat”; and in India, corn is referred to as “wheat from Mecca.”

Ancient Greek Askos

An askos is a vessel for holding oil. You can see the little golden protrusion from the neck, which is to hold the wick. This particular one has been carved from solid agate, with gold mountings. Egypt's Ptolemaic Dynasty, 100s - 1st century BCE.

The Sauropods, a dinosaur clade, were the tallest animals that ever lived. Some were more than twice the height of a giraffe. (They also include some of the largest animals to have ever lived on land.)

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    HISTORICAL NON-FICTION

    By Lillian Audette

    This blog is a collection of the interesting, the weird, and sometimes the need-to-know about history, culled from around the internet. It has pictures, it has quotes, it occasionally has my own opinions on things. If you want to know more about anything posted, follow the link at the "source" on the bottom of each post. And if you really like my work, buy me a coffee or become a patron!

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