Their opponents complain that, “Daesh terrorist gangs continue to defy the will of the world and the feelings of humanity.” I am quoting Iraq’s minister of tourism, who uses the Arabic acronym for the group that has apparently bulldozed the archaeological remains of Nimrud, on top of its other accomplishments. I’m sure the presidents of the United States and France, the prime ministers of England, Italy, and Japan, the chancellor of Germany and many other world leaders would agree with this sentiment. And let me add that these gangs have hurt my feelings, too.


When I was rather younger, I awoke one morning to hear birdsong: city sparrows, singing in the ivy outside my window. This window faced east, and the dawn was coming in, “with little feet, like a gilded Pavlova.” If memory serves, I was also curled up with a beautiful Jewish ballerina, penniless but quick in the belief that we would live happily ever after — thus completing the translation of a poem by Ezra Pound, life imitating art:

Come, let us pity those who are better off than we are.
Come, my friend, and remember
That the rich have butlers and no friends,
And we have friends and no butlers.
Come, let us pity the married and the unmarried.

Life is short, or long, depending on one’s choice of timer. We were all young once, and some of us more foolish than others. I think back on my Ophelia, from forty years ago, fallen into the waters of time; loved, and quite lost. …

My thought on that morning had been: time itself must be immortal. Though not, then, in any way a Christian, let alone the fierce crazy Roman I’ve become, I was nevertheless in the habit of entertaining theological speculations. I became convinced the very moment I experienced was perfectly immortal; that it would be preserved whole in the memory of God through all ages; or perhaps even in my memory, after my own death.


The history of Nimrud on the Tigris, as we knew it from dry bones — the biblical Kalakh; the Levekh of the cuneiform inscriptions; the city of the Great Ziggurat, once capital to the prodigious Assyrian empire; the site near the little Christian village of Noomanea, where Sir Austen Henry Layard once turned his spade — can make a very grand topic. What it looks like now, we can only check from satellite photographs.

Happily the late Polish archaeologist, Janusz Meuszynski, systematically recorded on slides every fragment from the site that remained at location, back in the 1970s. From that, what the Jihadis have destroyed can still be “virtually” recreated. The inscriptions that provide such extraordinary historical detail, from the reigns of kings dead through thirty centuries, were also, long before, carefully transcribed by the learned Christian Orientalists. All this, too, will be lost in due course, from one cause or another; but meanwhile let us take such cold comfort, as may still be in the taps.

The Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III — thank God, removed to the British Museum more than a century ago — was found at Nimrud. It depicts, among foreign tributaries, Jehu, the ancient King of Israel, and is thus a direct transcription onto dated Assyrian limestone of what is also reported in our Bible. That was 841 BC: one of innumerable physical proofs of the historical veracity of what our children are taught to sneer at as “fairy tales,” in today’s jackboot-secular schools.

For more than a generation, now, the barbaric savages who teach in our post-Christian universities have been filling their heads with e.g. the malicious lies of the late Edward Said. They are drilled by these Pavlovs to drool, promptly, upon hearing the word “Orientalism,” and then woof, yap, and bay at “Western Imperialism,” like little attack poodles. This also hurts my feelings.

The bas-reliefs, the ivories, the sculptures — the colossal, winged, man-headed lions that once guarded palace entrances and were found in such a wonderful state of preservation — are, so far as they remained on site, or were retained in the Mosul Museum, now being smashed to bits on camera; or ground to gravel by heavy machinery beyond the local competence to manufacture or design. The “irony” here is that much of this sophisticated equipment, and probably even the mallets, were paid for by the profits from other archaeological objects which these Muslim fanatics, and their “moderate” enablers, have been selling in the international black market for art and antiquities.

Indeed: these videos of gratuitous destruction, which our media so generously promote, are probably designed to drive the prices up on the gems they have for sale; as, too, the beheading videos are intended to increase prices, and guarantee payment, on the heads of such other hostages as they may capture, from time to time. (I have noticed that many of the objects we see being smashed are actually plaster copies, of originals exported in the good old days. One must be familiar with practices in the bazaars of the Middle East to follow the many angles, in a culture that exalts low cunning.)

Mostly the Jihadis purchase weapons with this money, which they use to kill Christians and other “infidels.” This provides a nice moral illustration of a circumstance in which it would be wrong to pay for the goods offered, and right to take them by violent force.


But set all this “punditry” aside. What strikes me now is the thought of ancient Nimrud, in the days when living men and women filled its streets, rulers ruled, but also children played, and lovers retired to their bowers. And there were birds, then, and vines I should think, and even east-facing windows.