According to Qamar Adamjee Associate Curator for South Asian Studies at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, the Cyrus Cylinder is “...A very traditional kingship document,” Adamjee says. “The inscriptions mention a particular ruler and his lineage and invite the blessings of the divinities to protect the structure they were building.” So Adamjee says, “it’s anachronistic to use 20th century terms to describe events that happened two thousand five hundred years ago.”
OK, I'm stretching this a bit. (a bit? really? a bit?) It's nothing new, I abhor the automatic celebration of the cylinder and the blind worship of Cyrus, as it makes it's damned way across the damned US on a damned tour that is pretty much just about a few self appointed organizations and individuals who are making money off it.
Or trying to at least. No business venture loses more money than the Iranian-American organization trying to raise funds for services the community doesn't need, by people the community doesn't know, or worse, trust to handle any amount of their cash. And you can keep your tax write off. The last thing rich Iranians want is IRS scrutiny into "Suspicious Iranian charities".
But let's not dwell on our diasporean ickiness.
Lets look at this object we are told we must worship. To begin with, the Cyrus cylinder is actually a clay cylinder. It has a suspiciously large chunk missing on the back. I often wonder if that is where the disclaimer was, that someone took out.
In ancient Persia cylinders were a common device used to negotiate and seal contracts. Merchants of the era, used to carry soft clay "sheets" in a pouch and when they struck deals, would unclasp a small cylinder around their necks, bearing their official seal, and "roll" it out onto the soft clay sheets and hand the resulting family or business logo seal, to the seller as their credit card, or promissory note, or CONTRACT, if you will. The seller would then deliver the goods to the buyer's home, and collect payment. This allowed merchants to buy things without carrying actual gold around, and pay their debts from the safety and security of their home. That's what a cylinder did, what it was for.
Cyrus, naturally had a lot more to CONTRACT with the people he conquered. So "his" was bigger. There was a lot more he had to make crystal clear to the new slaves he had acquired. Specifically what he expected them to do, and how he expected them to pay the taxes that built Persia. Now that he was their King and undisputed, unequivocal master.
The Cyrus Cylinder making the rounds of our new-aristocracy now, established several points of ownership of Babylon by Cyrus. First it locked in the Jewish administration of his tax collection and payment in return for reinstatement of the Jews who had been unceremoniously removed by the previous king Nabodinus. This was normal, because the ancient Persians learned that it was far less problematic, and easier, and cheaper to simply hire good managers, than try and run the show yourself. This is really what made Cyrus Great.
"...a matter of practicality and economy ... [as] it was simpler, and indeed cost less, to obtain the spontaneous collaboration of their subjects at a local level than to have to impose their sovereignty by force..."
The cylinder was also a great way to establish and remind everyone just exactly who was in charge now, and goes on (and on and on) extolling the many virtues and mightiness of Cyrus as the "King of Kings", the King of the King of Kings, and ultimately the "King of the Universe". A sobering reminder of the usual "Cyrus treatment" what will happen if anyone thinks of disobeying this king.
Among the many things that the Persians gave to world civilization, apparently effective PR is one of them.
In the Sixties, the Shah fell in love with Cyrus. and imagined himself to be somewhat like him, and even gave himself the title of "Shah-an-Shah" or the same "King of Kings" title as Cyrus held, and the more he learned about Cyrus the more infatuated he became with his personal totem. To the point of hosting a 1968 UN conference on Human Rights and "rolling out" the cylinder as the debacle it has become today. He even tried to reset Iran's calendar in 1971 to be based on the Cyrus' era, making 1971, ridiculously year 2500. Culminating in the gauchest display of the century, the "2500 year celebration" in which dignitaries and monarchs and leaders from around the world were invited to fly in by Concorde, sip French Champagne, eat French food, and see the Shah's imaginary vision of Iran.
It was a horrible event. Those who attended it, who are still alive, are still laughing.
While the glorification of brutal monarchy is certainly and aptly depicted in the cylinder, there are some things that the "modern day instant worshippers" of the cylinder claim that it says, that the cylinder does not in fact say.
It does not abolish slavery, or guarantee any right to self-determination, set a minimum wage, or make any slightest suggestion of the concept of asylum. It also does not make ANY reference to the often quoted,
"Every country shall decide for itself whether or not it wants my leadership."
Nowhere. No official translation shows this. All made up. Or a lie. Concocted to make it seem more cool and ceremonious. In other words, just to show off when you lie and tell everyone you can actually read (Mikhi) Cuneform because you are Persian.
Which is what is being done with it now, the "Cyrus the Great Lie" has been making its way across the US from New York to DC to Houston (Houston? Really!) to San Francisco to eventually LA (Where they really know how to throw a useless party!), at luxury homes hosting lavishly boring events, cold yet expensive dinners, and private overlit photo opportunities, that reinforce and waggle the the cylinder in the faces of Iranians who don't apparently get the hilarious irony of it all.
Celebrating the Cyrus Cylinder is in fact celebrating the very curse and evil spell we have been held under since the Cyrus era, to now. Apparently forever it seems. Whether you or we agree or not, the fact is, Iranians have always been under the heel of tyrannical oppressive rule.
Always. Even now, today, especially right this minute, Iranians are being ruled by a tyrannical King, whose entire claim to power is now the ultimate con job. The supposedly divine ascension. Better than Shah-an-Shah. Freaking Supreme Leader better! And we're not talking Diana Ross folks.
But the rich elite Iranians celebrating the cylinder tour, don't seem the least bit concerned about reality. the best exemplification of this kind of denial of reality, or simple fear of it is one of the sponsors of the Cylinder tour, Bita Daryabari (a self-divorced millionaire) who said,
"...There is a good reason for the Cyrus Cylinder being seen around the US,” says Darybari, “to bring hope and freedom and compassion to the people again. That meant so much 3,000 years ago. And that’s something we don’t see in other countries around the world, and I think most of the leaders around the world should revisit that message.”
I know, the grammar of our rich is horribly incoherent. When you are rich you don't need to speak English. You have people to do that for you. So OK, I'll try and translate. I think what she meant was to say was a big hint, that by referring to "other countries" she means Iran. And by "leaders around the world" she means Khamenei, or Rouhani, possibly Putin, and George Bush, maybe Cheney. One never knows what the hell the Iranian rich mean to say. They say so much it seems, yet make so little sense.
But maybe we will get lucky one day. Maybe one of the fat folks celebrating our collective misery, along with the cylinder's blessed arrival to LA, will accidentally let it slip through their tahdeeg-greased hands as they raise it to their Goose liver pate-stained lips, for a glorious wet kiss, and we will be free of it forever.
Posted on this day of our lord, 22nd of Mordad, 2542