Floods and Eternity
The ancient Egyptians are among the most celebrated of civilizations. Anything Egyptian is instantly recognizable. They are remembered for being cultured, politically savvy, and excellent engineers. We are constantly in awe at their genius.
And yet it is also easy to marvel at the stupidity of ancient egypt. There are two things everyone should know about the ancient Egyptians. They were obsessed with floods, and they were obsessed with eternity.
The Egyptians were obsessed with floods because their lives depended on the annual flooding of the Nile. They were intimately familiar with the power of water to wash away what was, and make way for a new future.
At the same time, the Egyptians were concerned with eternity. They knew how easy it was for even great traditions to go away forever. So they built great monuments. Sure, they were tombs and temples. More importantly, their monumental constructions were artifacts that were too big to be lost or forgotten. Thousands of years after their construction, we are still impressed by the precisely engineered piles of rock in Egypt.
As wise and great as the Egyptians were, they also crazy. Their experience with the flooding river taught them that anything could be washed away. And yet, they still thought they could build things that would last forever.
Sure, we still have the Pyramids and the Sphinx, but many more of their works have been lost. How many times did a pharaoh set up a great statue or obelisk in the flood plain, only to have it wash away the next year? We will never know for sure, but I am certain that number is greater than zero.
And so, as celebrated as they are, the ancient Egyptians were just like everyone else who has ever lived. They were great storytellers and problem solvers. They were profoundly intellectual, but at the same time were stupid and contradictory.
The ancient Egyptians were obsessed with floods and eternity. And through this they teach us yet another lesson. Life is much more interesting when it is full of paradoxes.