Monday, December 11, 2006

Against His-story, Against Leviathan! Chapter 7 (Zoroastrianism and Darius's Persia)

This chapter has one of my favorite quotes from the book. See if ya can figure where it is.

With the Arrival of Medes, Persians and Scythians, we get a glimpse, but only a glimpse, of what has been brewing in the cauldrons of the witches and shamans of the Eurasian steppes and mountains.

When the Guti, Kassites, Hittites and Greeks arrived, we couldn’t look into their past because they forgot or repressed every memory of it. The Greek Hesiod remembered only that the past was golden compared to his own age, but he forgot most of the details.

When the Persians arrive, they remember a visionary, or a movement of visionaries, called Zarathustra, and they will preserve the surviving traces of this memory in books.

It is not known if this Zarathustra lived in the steppes or on the outskirts of the neo-Babylonian empire, or even if he was a man or a community.

Zarathustra reduced Hesiod’s five generations to two: one is outside the Leviathan, the other is inside.

The outsider is Light, Ahura Mazda, associated with the spirits of fire, earth and water, with animals and plants, with Earth and Life. Ahura Mazda is the strength and freedom of the generation Hesiod considered the first, the golden.

The insider is Darkness, Ahriman, also called The Lie. Ahriman is the Leviathan as well as the Leviathanic armor that disrupted the ancient community.

Nietzsche is going to recognize that Zarathustra called on human beings to rise in stature, to be more than merchants of wine and olives. Zarathustra announced and perhaps even proclaimed the war of Ahura Mazda against Ahriman.

This war would not be a polite exodus led by an official. Zarathustra knew that followers led by the nose would not recover their freedom. Ahriman is in the world and in the individual. It is simultaneously a struggle against Leviathan and against the armor. It is waged with fire, the great purifier. The mask is burned off, the armor is burned out, the Leviathan is burned down. And woe to the world if the fire should fall to Ahriman, to the hands of armored men!

In spite of Zarathustra’s warnings and precautions, the fire of Ahura Mazda does fall into the hands of an armored man, Cyrus, great-grandson of Achaemenes the Persian. This Cyrus did not hesitate before leading people by the nose. Trained by the Medes who inherited not only Elam but also everthing the Elamites had learned from a hundred generations of Mesopotamian Leviathans, Cyrus like Moses let himself be pulled by his armor.

Those who are letting themselves be pulled by the nose don’t see Cyrus’s armor. All they see is Cyrus’s mantle, the mantle of Zarathustra. They think Cyrus isn’t leading them back into the same old trap, but to an altogether different place.

Among these followers are numerous outsiders whose communities have been mauled by the Mesopotamian Leviathans, people from steppes and mountains, from Parthia, Afghanistan and India. Numerous armored insiders also follow Cyrus, those who earlier expected Chadeans to destroy, not restore, the Assyrian monster.

One of these armored insiders, a man called Isaiah who can think of liberation only narrowly, only in terms of his own immediate circle, thinks Cyrus is the Messiah:

I (the Lord) have roused up one from the north, and he is come…
And he shall come upon rulers as upon mortar,
And as the potter treadeth clay.

To open the blind eyes,
To bring out the prisoner from the dungeon,
And them that sit in the darkness out of the prison-house.

Thus saith the Lord to his anointed,
To Cyrus, whose right hand I have beholden,
To subdue nations before him,
And to loose the loins of kings;
To open the doors before him,
And that the gates may not be shut:
I will go before thee,
And make the crooked places straight;
I will break in pieces the doors of brass,
And cut in sunder the bars of iron…

The expectations of the less armored are undoubtedly larger. The Persian wearing Zarathustra’s mantle can give rise to such expectations because there is revulsion from the Strait of Gibralter to the China Sea, and the object of the revulsion is Leviathan.

In distant China people are saying that the armor and the mask of Leviathan are not the Way. They are learning to experience joy from the rising of the sun and the gushing of blood from a wound. They are starting to shed the armor. They are saying that the human being, who was so much, is becoming very little.

In India people are saying the Leviathan and its artificial distinctions and hierarchies is not the ultimate reality, is no reality at all. They are breaking all their ties to the Leviathan and concentrating on burning out the armor that has wrapped itself around their innards. They are intent on removing every last splinter, for they too remember that human beings were much, that human beings used to fly.

From one to the other extremity of the wide continent, circles of women are dancing around fires celebrating the emergence of new human beings out of the ashes. All of Eurasia is dancing.

If we must label the dance, we can call it a generalized rejection of Civilization and all its masks and armors.

We cannot call the dance “religion.” The way of a free human being is All; there is nothing above it. Religion is a part of a Leviathan; it may have started as a way but it is no longer one; it has been mangled and turned into a part of a Leviathan’s armor.

We do not learn the revulsion or of the expectation of human renewal from the dancers themselves because ignorant armies, Cyrus’s foremost among them, break up the circles.

We learn from the children and grandchildren who have not themselves danced, but who have heard.

In China the visions of Zarathustra’s equally shadowy contemporary Lao Tze are gathered up in books and come to be known as The Way.

In India the visions of one called Gautama are collected and come to be considered by masked and armored as techniques for removing the mask and armor.

In Greece, echoes of the hopes stay with the women who continue to dance and who remember having seen a new Dionysus emerge from ashes. Echoes stay with musicians who gather with Pythagoras of Samos in order to renew the hopes.

The main outlines of what Turner will call “the crisis cult,” Christianity, precede it by twenty-five or thirty generations. And the main outlines of the inversion of the crisis cult also precede it, and by at least as many generations. The Persian Cyrus who wears the mantle of Zarathustra and the later Indian Ashoka who wears the mantle of Buddha are both forerunners of Constantine and the Popes.

* * *

The Persians who overrun the neo-Babylonian empire of the Chaldeans do not reactivate the Assyrian war engines. Such a turnabout would not sit well with the expectations of the followers.

Cyrus moves slowly, with squadrons of elephants, camels and horses. He doesn’t need Assyrian terror. He simply walks his army across Eurasia. The sheer size and appearance of his moving host inspires terror, and the memory of Assyrian cruelty urges submission.

By the first few years of the reign of Curus’s son, the Persian Leviathan embraces Egypt too, and encompasses worlds the Assyrians had only heard of.

Meanwhile, the visions of Zarathustra are reduced to a religion. People who wanted to be more are urged to remain less and to wait. Priests demonstrate their unfaltering commitment by copying and preserving the Way, the Avesta, in a book. The same priests will convince the people that the renewal will come as surely as day follows night, but not during the reign of the great Cyrus. The renewal will come after the people die, for they will then cross the bridge to the path that leads to the realm of Light and there, only there, Saoshyant the Savior will raise them out of Death’s grip.

After the great Cyrus himself goes seeking Saoshyant on the path beyond the bridge, his son Cambyses guides his armored host across the Levant and all the way down the Nile. The sheer exoticism of the Persian’s traveling circus disarms any Egyptian who has a mind to resist. The Persian mocks the ancient Temple practices when he arrives, but he makes up for his mockery by promising to support the Temple. He promises to care for all the Temple’s needs, so that the Pharaoh and his priests can have even more time to devote to the gods.

What Cambyses doesn’t tell them is that some of his train, Levantine and Babylonian merchants, will stay behind when the great army returns to the Fertile Crescent. Egypt has raised its defenses to spare itself from the rapacity of the Mesopotamian merchant, and it was spared for a hundred generations. But by the time Assyrian merchants came no Egyptian remembered why the first wall had been built, and now that Cambyses leaves, few notice the busy men with wares.

Victorious Cambyses leaves Egypt, but instead of finding garlands he finds half his realm up in arms against him. It turns out that Cyrus’s former followers really did think Cyrus and his son had come from the north to set fire to the tribute-collection machine, not to make it run. Cambyses heads toward ancient Abram’s city, Harran, where the last Assyrians tried to hide from their uprisen zeks, and there, it is said, the son of Cyrus commits suicide.

Persians join with Chaldeans and Arameans in celebrating the death of the tyrant, and a follower of Zarathustra proclaims the end of Leviathan.

But Darius, a distant cousin of Cambyses whose title is in his might, surrounds himself with armored men nostalgic for Assyria, and with these men and methods he represses the rebels and repairs the tribute-gathering Leviathan.

Darius then proclaims himself King of the realm “by the grace of Ahura Mazda.” Whatever hope individuals have managed to keep alive now rot inside them like the empty ships of Tyre.

His-storians will call Darius “The Great” because he restores Assyrian methods to a far larger realm, to a Leviathan that stretches over half of Eurasia, from the southern Nile to the basin of the Indus.

But now, at last, the Egyptians remember why they built their wall. At last they notice that the merchants’ takings are huge compared to those of the tribute-gatherers who take far more than all of Egypt’s Temples need and give precious little of it to the Temples.

Egyptians try to withdraw from the Persian Leviathan, but the great Darius has access to conscripts from half the world, and his recruiters go seeking more in the forests and valleys south of Egypt, disrupting communities, setting in motion waves which will affect Africa as earlier waves affected Eurasia.

The great army beats down Egypt’s walls, definitively. By the time great Persians, great Greeks and great Romans are through with Egypt, the world’s wealthiest kingdom will be the world’s poorest colony.

The Persian Leviathan has now eaten every other Leviathan in the World. The existence of a distant Chinese Leviathan is suspected, but few go there, and the stories told of it by Scythians cannot by trusted.

In any case, the Persians know there’s a world outside of Leviathan closer at hand than China. They turn their attention to the Scythians, the fleet riders and iron-wielders who accompanied the first Persians to the Fertile Crescent but who have not yet been incorporated into Darius’ realm. Darius and his host set out to rpair this oversight. The huge army follows the abandoned Hittite route across Anatolia, traverses the Hellespont, moves on to Thrace.

But the Persians, with all their Assyrian and Babylonian armor, have forgotten just how fleet the steppe people used to be—and still are. The Persians catch a raider here, another there, but can find no city, no palace, no temple, not even a central camp. The armored men cannot imagine how people can live like that: in the woods, without labor gangs. This, to Leviathan’s armored men, is Wilderness. And Darius decides that his army, big as it is, is not yet big enough to swallow the wilderness.

* * *


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