Awesome or Awful ?
Without question pyramids are awesome, especially the Great Pyramid at Giza. Not only because of its enormous size, six and a half million tons of rock, (enough to build almost 18 Empire State Buildings) – but by its very existence.
If it was built today using state of the art equipment and technology it would still be considered quite a feat, that it was built when it was, and by the people who built it, is bordering on the miraculous. So much so that a lot of people view it in that light; as though it is more of a mystical entity than a physical one.
My own introduction to the pyramids was as a child when they were included amongst the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World which were held up to us as examples of civilization at its peak. An example of what can be achieved if people have, not only the vision, but the discipline to carry it out. That it survived as it has done down through the ages being a powerful vindication of their efforts. Or, hard work pays off’, as it might be put in an inspirational seminar in today’s world of the sound-bite’ and inspirational seminars.
The fact that the pyramids are impressive is, of course, no accident. The Great Pyramid of Giza was conceived as having to be great, with greatness for the sake of greatness’ being an essencial element of the whole thing, whereas the Empire State Building was conceived as a great amount of wealth generating real estate built on a tiny amount of available ground. The fact that this resulted in it being the tallest building in the world was an aside, albeit a very welcome aside; a bonus rather than a requirement.
When it comes to discussing them another important difference between the Great Pyramid and the Empire State Building is that with the first, the word civilization’ has become almost inextricably linked, and in the case of the latter the somewhat less than awe-inspiring word tallest’ is linked. Even if it is only to state that it used to be’ the tallest building in the world. There is no question of the Great Pyramid at Giza ever, ever being referred to as used to be’ Great; even if someone like Donald Trump builds an identical building only twice the size as a casino in Las Vegas.
At this point you have likely discerned that I have some sort of beef with the pyramids; that my attitude is considerably short on reverence. And you’d be right. To cut to the chase I’ll put it as succulently as I can. The Great Pyramid at Giza is a #*#*ing headstone!
The biggest headstone in the world, I’ll grant you, but still a headstone. Or, as Shakespeare might have put it, ” a headstone by any other name is still a headstone.”
It is the knee-jerk joining of the idea of civilization with pyramids that annoys me, and that it was done deliberately in the name of educating me. I had a teacher who, using beautifully illustrated books, took me to a Godforsaken desert and showed me this great, big headstone and told me that it was evidence of a Great Civilization.
We were taught about what went into creating a pyramid the huge amount of material and the mind-boggling, backbreaking, labor involved. Some people devoting their whole lives to it, not to mention the poor souls who were killed to prevent them giving away the secret of its secret passages. (How civilized can you get?)
As if its, again, ‘mind-boggling’ physical presence wasn’t enough to impress us we were further taught about why they were built. Apparently they were not merely tombs; they were intended to be a contradictory mix of preservation chamber and portal to eternity. I say contradictory because to preserve implies staying where and what you are while portal to eternity implies moving endlessly forward. This is an example of the clich (no less true for being a clich) to express total selfishness, having your cake and eating it’.
To make sure that we got just how civilized and advanced these people were we were told that they had mastered the art of mummification. And this thousands of years before ICI, Merck and the rest of the Petro-Chemical industry were even dreamt of. Wow!
Of course, being something of a sore-head, I have a quibble here. Have you ever seen a mummy?
Lift off the solid gold face mask and unfurl what look like plague infested bandages and what you are confronted with is something like a life-sized statue of an Anorexia victum carved out of petrafied dog-turd. Apparently being able to do this to a corpse is quite an accomplishment. One just has to glance at a mummy and the word ‘civilization’ pops right into one’s head. As a normal, blood-thirsty, thrill-seeking kid I remember thinking, ‘Wow … I can’t wait to see what the savages do.’
Bear in mind that when I was being taught all this about the civilization which created the pyramids I was still grappling with basic reading and writing, a part of which involved the use of illustrated dictionaries. If I had happened to look up the word preservation’ and was presented with a picture of a mummy as an example of it, can you imagine what my grasp of language would be like. Well I can – I can see myself wondering why they turned down my artical on babys which I’d embellished with a photograph of George Burns.
Interesting, then, that a lot of people would have a problem with my rejection of the word civilization as applied to the society which created the pyramids. As far as I’m concerned that society is about as civilized as a mummy is preserved. Technically, a tiny little bit; philosophically, abysmally.
Show me a pyramid and I’ll show you a monument to utter selfishness and terrible cruelty. The people who had them built sucked all the life out of everyone around them with the intention of keeping on doing it forever and ever and ever.
Aren’t we lucky that their selfishness was matched in magnitude by their stupidity.