Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 46.djvu/266

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the Roman was coming into existence; for, as Sir Walter Raleigh puts it, "In Alexander's time learning and greatness had not traveled so far west as Rome, Alexander esteeming of Italy but as a barbarous country, and of Rome as but a village. But it was Babylon that stood in his eyes, and the fame of the East pierced his ears."

The recovered literature covers a vast field of human interest, in science, as in astronomy and mathematics, particularly in astronomy, for the Chaldeans were famous star-watchers, and had already named the stars and constellations, associating them with the deeds and mighty works of their heroes and demigods, so that the starlit sky became a pictured dome, and the zodiac a frieze to the Assyrian, reminding him of history or fable, like the sculptures and paintings which adorned the king's palaces; in religion and poetry, and in commerce, many of the tablets recording business contracts, and revealing a system of mortgage and banking, money being frequently lent at from thirteen to twenty per cent, which was moderate; for the advantages of cent per cent were already known and appreciated by these simple Semitic folk.

It was among the tablets from King Assurbanipal's library at Nineveh that George Smith, now over twenty years ago, made a famous discovery. He found a fragment of a tablet, bearing words, which he deciphered as follows: "On the Mount Nizir the ship stood still. Then I took a dove, and let her fly. The dove flew hither and thither, but finding no resting place, returned to the ship." Every Englishman who knows his Bible would have guessed, as George Smith immediately did, that he had before him a piece of a Chaldean account of the deluge. He searched for more fragments, and found them. He went out to Assyria, visited the king's palace, and found still more tablets and pieces of tablets, some of them just those he required to fill up missing gaps in the story. Since its first translation by its discoverer it has been again translated and retranslated by some of the acutest scholars in Europe, so that we now possess a fairly complete knowledge of it; a few missing words or even lines, and occasional obscurities occur, but these are of no great importance. In a town which has the privilege to number the distinguished Assyriologist, Prof. Sayce, among its residents, there will be no necessity to present the story more than briefly. It runs as follows: Sitnapistim, the Chaldean Noah, is warned by Ea, the god of wisdom and the sea, that the gods of Surippak, a city on the Euphrates, even then extremely old, had decided in council to destroy mankind by a flood. Sitnapistim is told to build a ship in which to save himself, his family, household, and belongings. Anticipating the curiosity of his neighbors, since he had never before built a boat, he asks what answer he is to make