He cut through the chatter and everyone in the hall fell silent.
“… is knowledge of some ancient peoples commonplace, yet others, which may even be more historically important, are obscure; why are some cities brought up constantly by people arguing on the internet while others have long treatises and tomes written about them and then shelved in the basement of our library? By show of hands, how many of you have heard of the Hellenic League?”
Almost everybody raised their hands.
“Indus River Valley Civilization?”
“What about the Anasazi, or Teotihuacan, or hell, even the Kievan Rus’?”
Only the T.A. raised his hand.
“The Anasazi empire stretched from Chihuahua to Wyoming, the city of Teotihuacan was the 5th largest city in the world at its peak, the Kievan Rus’ united hundreds of petty kingdoms and threatened both the Mongol and the Byzantine Empires. Yet, you’ve never heard of them, why?”
“Our Eurocentric society doesn’t value that knowledge.” A student asserted.
“A simple answer, sure, but the Kievan Rus’ were in Europe, you’ve all heard of the Indus Civilization, and I’d wager you all have heard of the Aztecs, the Maya, the Inca, the three kingdoms of China, the Ethiopic Empire, ancient Egypt, and so on.”
“It’s hard for us to relate to their narratives?” A student asked, even though it was a statement.
“A thoughtful answer, but surely the Aztec blood sacrifice, the cryptic Mayan hieroglyphics, the realism-based religion of ancient Egypt, are difficult to understand from the modern perspective. Perhaps it’s the opposite, that Teotihuacan was too much like a modern city, and their story is too devoid of mystery that we don’t feel we can learn life lessons or glean entertainment from it? Despite the fact that it maintained its size with very little industry, mostly agricultural production, and was home to a comically difficult ball-game. People there carved gigantic heads out of granite which don’t seem to match any ethnic group which could’ve had contact with them. Sounds pretty fascinating to me.”
“Because they’re far away, and we tend to only learn about our own history?” A student suggested.
“A solid answer, but the center of Anasazi culture was around Arizona, and the story I intend to tell you today is about a city which ours was built right on top of. In one of the northern suburbs of Shaw’s Hill there is a small building containing a staircase leading down into a cavern which holds one of the largest archaeological digs on the continent. When ground was broken on our very own university in 1853, the excavators found the ruins of a sprawling government building containing books and scrolls written in a mysterious language. Being that it was the 19th century, the archaeologists of the time just cataloged everything and the construction continued. This language has been remarkably hard to decipher. You see, there’s no tradition of written language in this part of the world. The writing system that is used by native groups in the United States today was invented in the 1800’s, around the time that this civilization was discovered.”
“While I don’t think there’s any one answer to the question of what makes knowledge commonplace or esoteric, I can tell you with some certainty that the empire which up until recently was called ‘Civilization S.24’ is not very well known because of how cryptic its written records were. If this same thing had occurred in the old world, we would be able to translate those books within a year. Until around July of last year, the S.24 hieroglyphs were one of the great puzzles of archaeology. They were mostly deciphered using modern technology. Our very own Prof. Tahj Ba-Aazir managed to figure out the structure of the language using a complicated mathematical process which is well beyond the scope of this class. We now know that the civilization called themselves the ‘Great Society of Rabbit Eaters’. Tahj’s algorithm could get the meaning, but I suspect we’ll never know the phonology of ‘Rabbit Eater-ese’. The name is represented by these glyphs.”
He drew them on the board.
“Now, seeing as how we’ve only had a year to study these mysterious documents, and there are hundreds of them, many of which are long and honestly a little boring, I’ve been able to piece together a short history of The Society.”
You could really feel that capital ‘T’. If you had been able to take your eyes off the professor at that moment you would see that everybody was leaning forward slightly. He took a long pause to savor the attention.
“I’d like to take a moment to call attention to the name. ‘The Great Society.’ What a society calls itself can tell us a lot about it. Ancient-era Shaw’s Hill was certainly a triumph of civilization, and they knew it. There would have been nothing like it for hundreds of miles at the time. This was around the 60th century BCE, by the way, to add to the impressive-ness, to make matters more impressive, it seems to have stood for 1000 years. This is when the most complex societies in north america were building earthwork mounds and scrounging for berries, and The Rabbit Eaters had irrigation, agriculture, writing, a centralized government, specialized societal roles, the list goes on. Within the documents we’ve been reading we’ve been able to identify distinct philosophical movements, complex records of taxation and trade, and even theories about how these things evolve. By all accounts, this was a bronze age city, which sprouted up on the other side of the world, during the stone age. As far as I’m concerned they had earned the right to call themselves The Great Society. ”
“From what we’ve found, they didn’t do as much historical research as historians do today, the way they recorded historical events was through diary. It was the job of the historians to not just research and interpret what earlier people had wrote, but to write down what was happening at the time. Because of this, we know exactly how ancient Shaw’s Hill became the ruins that we found almost 200 years ago. Here’s an excerpt from the translation of the diary of Opossum-Blue-18, one of the last group of Rabbit Eating historians.”
My duty was to stand at the top of the tower and look onto the horizon. To the north there were the peoples/tribes/savages of the grasslands, many of whom fled to our city during the last northern war. Because of this, our chief/king/government is not as concerned about a war party coming from the north. The histories/library holds many tales of the north in war, thus they are a warlike people. This is why my city accepted them as our own after the war, it is our duty as the most civilized/advanced/holy of people to spread our great culture/rabbit to the rest of the world. To the south there were the monkeys/idiots, who build their houses of animal skin and twigs, and spend their days lusting/pining after our power. If there were to be an attack on our city, it would be from them. Of course, we forgive them these trespasses, as that is what it means to be a great society.
It is the pain of this duty that it is dull. An attack is a rare thing. Although they are not as civilized as us, the peoples to the north and south are aware of our power, and know that to attempt to breach our walls is suicide. They know that they may come peacefully as well, to sell their herbs gathered from the swamps, or the hides of the great bison/beasts of the north. We benefit from this arrangement just as much as they do, and we know this. Today however, it was not dull.
I awoke this morning and climbed the tower. In the east I saw a towering cloud. It was dark and swirling and massive. It was not like anything I saw before. I had seen storms/tornadoes before, and this is not that. As it got further over the horizon, I realized I was not seeing its full breadth. As is my duty, I told the lord/boss/bureaucrat although this is not a major issue, and he sent the news along to the next person/drone.
For the rest of the day I sat on my chair and stared at The Storm. I normally cannot focus my mind on one thing for that long, so this surprised me. I was watching the clouds swirl and swoop. So beautiful. So graceful. It is a different kind of beauty than the beauty of a person/man/woman, or the beauty of a flower/garden/tree. It is more akin to the beauty of blood/viscera on freshly fallen snow. It is like when you stand atop a tall building and watch people go about their lives below you. It is like somebody releasing confetti/feathers/butterflies into the air and watching them drift and scatter.
When I came down from the tower, I noticed that the others had also become enamored with The Storm. Artists were painting images of it so that its beauty may live forever. Lovers/couples were sitting on the roofs of their houses to watch The Storm hand-in-hand. Some horsemen were offering the opportunity to go on an expedition to get closer in exchange for large sums of money. Artisans were offering their normal goods, but with the sign of Chaos engraved in them as to pay countenance to The Storm. Surely these are great times, that we are blessed with such beauty.
The next morning, The Storm took up most of the horizon. This was an exciting day. People were euphoric. Priests/academics were preaching/teaching/yelling in the streets about how we were truly a great society, and that the beauty of The Storm was our reward. Soon it would envelop the horizon in all directions and surround our country/lands with its beauty. I fell to my knees and wept. If this were true, I feel I didn’t deserve it. Our artisans, our farmers, our holy men made this city so great, and I was being rewarded as well for their hard work? This disturbed me greatly. I went and lied down to calm my nerves.
When I awoke the euphoria in the streets had grown into a frothing fervor. I was swept up in it myself. “You are denying the obvious!” I heard a yell from a boy standing atop a vendors stall. “The Storm is not a reward! It will kill many people! Our society is a great creature, but even the greatest beast is felled by an arrow/spear through the heart/chest.” The boy was rightfully carried away by the crowd/mob.
“That’s where the histories seem to end. The archaeologists in the 19th century came to the conclusion that the city was destroyed by flood and fire. From the description, this storm is what meteorologists would call a 1000-year storm. A storm of a magnitude so great that it has one-tenth of one-percent of a chance of occurring each year. The Rabbit Eaters’ creation myth told of a great storm which created the primordial chaos from which humanity grew. Then they thrived for a thousand years, and returned to The Storm.”