Twain Didn’t Have Much To Say About Babylonia Or Assyria

When I’m not wasting my time with other things, I’m plugging away at my Babylonian Prayer allocation. Recently, I submitted the draft of my first effort. Alan Lenzi, editor in chief, made a few thousand, hundred, dozen comments that I’m now working my way through. A few minutes ago, I decided to see if Mark Twain had anything helpful that I could use. Note that this isn’t wasting time; it’s research.
Well, I’m sorry to report that Twain was not all that up on Akkadian but he may have known something of excavations in Babylon. While working as a typesetter in Philadelphia, he wrote to his brothers of a granite pillared mansion under construction on the outskirts of the city. Here is part of what he said,

No marble pillar is as pretty as these sombre red granite ones; and then to see some of them finished and standing, and then the huge blocks lying about of which the other was to be built, it looks so massy; and carries one in imagination, to the ruined piles of ancient Babylon.

This was in late October of 1853, the year that Hormuzd Rassam discovered Ashurbanipal’s palace and library. But Rassam’s work at the time was largely clandestine and I think the actual discovery took place in December, too late in the year for Twain to have known anything about it in October even if the excavations had been public. And then Assyria is not Babylonia. Twain’s remark is more likely informed by his general knowledge and possibly by reports of the first year of Fulgence Fresnel and Julius Oppert’s ill fated excavation of Babylon that began in 1852.
As far as I can tell, Twain didn’t have anything at all to say about Assyria except as he was able to use part of Lord Byron’s “Destruction of the Sennacherib” in combination with Charles Wolfe’s “The Burial of Sir John Moore after Corunna” to hilarious effect.
Enough research. Back to work.

2 thoughts on “Twain Didn’t Have Much To Say About Babylonia Or Assyria”

  1. Claude,
    Hmmm, it looks like I need to do more research and less work. I did miss this and I’ve read Reflections on Religion from which these “dictations” come. It’s interesting how much was known by 1906 when he dictated those words.

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