5 Mar 2011

Babylonian philosophy

It came to me just yesterday that while people may write about Greek philosophy or Roman philosophy, nobody ever talks about Babylonian philosophy. I figure that this probably has something to do with the fact that Babylonian texts of this nature are hard to come by. However, I decided to look it up just in case I missed something (which is quite possible for any of us in the vast field of ancient history).

Unexpectedly I came across a small mention of a curious document called the Dialogue of Pessimism which records a series of odd conversations between master and slave talking about different courses of action the master could take in his life followed by input from the slave for or against these courses of action. In the end and absurdly, when the slave is asked which course he would take, he deems death the most preferable option in all things.

I'm sure the conversation was intentionally a spoof and not an earnest espousal of nihilism. Böhl once referred to similarities in its concept with the Roman holiday called Saturnalia where, for a day, the slave becomes master and master becomes slave during the celebrations, a kind of role reversal. I also think of the words of the legendary Greek satyr Silenus, constantly drunk on wine, who philosophized in his wild stupor that human beings would be happier if never born.

So I guess, pessimism is quite an ancient idea indeed.


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