Wednesday, 10 January 2007

Cyrus Cylinder: "human rights charter" propaganda

On PaleoJudaica, Jim Davila posted a list mail from Jona Lendering explaining that 'Cyrus was not the author of the first charter of human rights' and that that idea was created through a 'falsified translation - possibly created by followers of the late Shah'.

[Updated on the 18th of January 2007.]

I have to admit that I bought into the propaganda about the Cyrus Cylinder and repeated it in my DPhil research proposal. I was trying to show that 'universal moral entitlements [were] neither a Western, nor a recent, construction', citing Ashoka as an example, before I stated that 'it was Cyrus, in west Asia in the Sixth Century B.C.E., who set out the as yet first known "Charter of Freedom of Humankind"'.

Davila had already challenged inaccurate representations of the genuine article. Noting its image in the Lebanon Daily Star, which observed the artefact's convenience for the Shah 'to reawaken nationalism', Davila commented that, 'it still was an empire, with "hegemony" and "oppression" and all those other bad things we associate with imperialism today'.

After an article in the Persian Journal, which revealed the complexity of the myths surrounding the Cyrus Cylinder when it quoted the National Museum of Iran's Shahrokh Razmjou as saying that, '[people] feel strongly about it because it is about freedom and giving freedoms', Davila countered that:
The Cylinder doesn't promise the freeing of all slaves; that idea never would have occurred to anyone in antiquity. (You can read a translation of the whole thing here.) Still, I can see why the Mullahs don't like it: no terrorizing the populace; no detaining foreigners against their will; bringing relief to dilapidated housing (one thinks of Bam); honoring all religions.
I would have to disagree with him that 'the idea [of the abolition of slavery] never would have occurred to anyone in antiquity':
  • although it does not refer to anyone calling for total abolition and does not directly contradict Davila, in the sixth book of his Dialogues, Plato noted that, 'slavery of the Helots is approved by some and condemned by others; and there is some doubt even about the slavery of the Mariandynians at Heraclea and of the Thessalian Penestae'; however,
  • in the first book of Politics, Aristotle presented a defence of slavery, then stated that, 'Others affirm that the rule of a master over slaves is contrary to nature, and that the distinction between slave and freeman exists by law only, and not by nature; and being an interference with nature is therefore unjust', which does show that 'the freeing of all slaves' had been thought of and advocated by some in antiquity.
[We don't disagree about the abolition of slavery anymore.] Still, he is correct about the translation of the Cyrus Cylinder disproving interpretations of it as the world's first human rights charter and about the importance of its accurate representation; idealistic myths are still myths and need to be countered. [That's the point he was making and that's the important one.]

The accurate translation of Fragment A and Fragment B of the genuine Cyrus Cylinder are available on Livius, prefaced with their role as both ancient and modern propaganda.

No comments:

Post a Comment