Students should study Egyptology and Assyriology
Egypt and Mesopotamia have some of the richest cultures to share.
From literary works to archaeological monuments, these two civilizations have a legacy unlike any other civilization. Despite their amazing gifts to humankind, most people know nothing about these civilizations. Even if they do, it is either through a biblical lens, a Greco-Roman democratic lens, an Afrocentric lens or an Egyptomania lens.
This is due to the fact that current scholarship ignores the past and focuses solely on contemporary issues. I call upon the University of Houston’s College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences to form an Egyptology and Assyriology department.
Some naysayers espouse that studying ancient civilizations isn’t important because they are old, and we are better than them. If that’s the case, then why do the ancient Greece and Rome classes always fill up to max capacity with a waiting list? If there is so much enthusiasm for Ancient Greece and Rome, then history or literature courses on ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia will have just as much interest, if not more.
Studying Egyptology and Assyriology provides students with a new breadth of knowledge. It exposes students to the two oldest pagan religions that laid the foundation of the western world. It features fascinating art and architectural monuments, and it features a breadth of literary genres.
Students will also have the chance to study the world’s oldest languages. By learning these scripts, students will know what those coffins at the Egyptian exhibit say. They will gain an appreciation of the linguistic, philological and literary patterns of the languages’ texts.
Students can also gain an appreciation of the historical monuments that still stand to this day. Students can visit the pyramids, temples and ziggurats, if there are any left, and approach them with an advanced knowledge of these architectural marvels.
More importantly, students will be protecting two at-risk cultures. Though these cultures are already dead, the artifacts remain at risk of being forgotten or destroyed. Already, ISIS has bulldozed an entire ziggurat, reducing it to a beach of sand. Tons of ancient papyri sit in temperature controlled rooms untranslated at the Free University of Berlin.
Furthermore, we barely know anything about the kings and queens of Egypt and Mesopotamia without some sort of biblical or modern lens. Who actually knows the real Cleopatra or Ramses the Great, or the real Khufu, or the real Hammurabi?
And what of the literature? Who knows of the Tale of Sinuhe, or the Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor, or the Tale of the Two Brothers? Setna the Magician? Who really knows Gilgamesh? Can we truly name any of these cultural heroes like we can Hercules, King Arthur and Beowulf? By reading these stories, it will diversify the literary and historical curriculum.
These stories can be forgotten. If another great war happens, and these texts don’t get a translation—and fast, we risk losing the countless voices of our ancestors and our cultural heritage.
It shouldn’t matter whether one is white, African American, Mexican, Irish, Hispanic, German, Chinese, Arabic or any other ethnicity. These two cultures are the founders of western civilization. We should honor these cultures with integrity and respect.
We cannot let the sands literally blow away these fascinating cultures into dust. By adding an Egyptology and Assyriology department, UH will add diversity to the University’s curriculum and enrich our very beings as a whole.
Travis Kane is an English literature senior and a regular contributor to Cooglife magazine. He can be reached at [email protected]