I’ve been listening to BBC Radio 4’s A History of the World in 100 Objects podcast. I’ve already read (and own) the book. Briefly, it’s a chronological history of humans as told through 100 objects from the British Museum. It’s neat.
The episode about the statue of the head of Rameses the Great opened by quoting Shelly’s Ozymandias. “My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings, Look on my Works ye Mighty, and despair!” Because, of course, Shelly was looking at this statue and thinking of how all empires, however mighty, fall to sand.
Listening to the podcast, I thought, Shelly was wrong. We teach our kids about ancient Egypt. We, meaning, the entire world, not we meaning my household. Kids know what pyramids are, they know what mummies are, we collectively know what hieroglyphics kinda sorta look like even though we can’t read them.
Those immortality-seeking ancient Egyptians, they won. They did it. They are immortal. Rameses the Great lives forever.
This thought is nothing close to original. It’s even trite. That doesn’t … that doesn’t make it less true. We carry the dead with us in every single thing we do. We carry the dead on our roads, in our mobile phones, we carry our dead to other planets. In an earlier episode of the podcast a scholar was discussing the Jomon pots of Japan. Japan gives these pots as diplomatic gifts. Because Japan, as a nation, has decided to remember themselves as a people with a 17,000-year-old pottery tradition. The first humans on the planet to make a clay pot and cook stew. Every time you cook, you carry the dead.
The other day my son said, “We’ve come a long way. And we have so far to go.”
Yes. Yes, we do. I find it incredibly comforting to know we’ve gotten this far.