There is a lifestyle mall in Hollywood, California that was built as a replica of a movie set for Babylon, as seen in D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance (1916). It is a memorable spectacle along the boulevard, built within sight of the HOLLYWOOD sign, but it does not remotely approach the stupendous re-creation of the Babylonian walls in Griffith’s movie. The actual Babylon, if it could be visited at all, lies in the heart of Iraq and has been largely destroyed by ancient armies or by modern weaponry. Iran was once ancient Persia, the mortal enemy of Babylon. Babylon rose and fell in the times when a shopping mall was called a marketplace, or agora, 4,000 years ago. What remains of the ancient city sits in ruins about fifty miles south of Baghdad. There have been more Hollywood movies made about contemporary troubles in this area than have been made about life in Mesopotamia when it was the pinnacle of Civilization.*
Gilgamesh, the legendary Mesopotamian king who ruled at the city of Uruk about 4,500 years ago, is the culture hero of this area. The epic poem devoted to him, written on fragments of clay tablets, predates Homer by centuries. It’s a great story with a marvelous relationship between the king and his friend Enkidu (say Enky-dew), lots of action, and spiritual allusions. So how does it happen that there is not even a Steve Reeves or Schwarzenegger movie on this milestone mythical figure? Or to take it up a notch, what about the classical actors who have played Ulysses or Alexander the Great? Could they not have weighed in? Hollywood in its heyday preferred Greeks (Western) to Asians (Eastern).
Hollywood has shunned almost all of the foundational history of Civilization. Gilgamesh is only the most obvious omission. Can you name your favorite legendary or mythological characters from among the Hittites or the Akkadians (unless you count The Scorpion King, which is short on history and high on hardbodies)? Where is the movie about Sargon the Great or Hammurabi, or the revered King Ashurbanipal of Assyria? I am trying to whip up some cultural outrage here, but I have the feeling that if I circulated a petition it would fail to thrive. There is no reason to say these movies will never be made, but we can say with confidence that it did not happen in the 20th century – the Movie Century. Hollywood had a window of 100 years to give its account of the history of the world and what has been left out is instructive.
*Go to FAQ for use of the term post-paradigm and capitalization of Civilization.