Lundwall contends that far from being ignorant and backward savages, the preliterate cultures that created mankind’s most ancient mythological tales had a high degree of intellectual sophistication.
Lundwall finds fault with the general line of thinking regarding humanity’s oldest known stories, mythologies, and the religious lore of the Egyptians, Babylonians, Mesopotamians, etc. Western European scholarly arrogance—“often the product of the ego”—is at fault, he says, for the Darwin-inspired mindset that our ancestors were either howling barbarians, ruled by childlike superstition and uncouth brutality, or noble hippie-type simpletons living in Edenic harmony and peace with each other and nature. Nor does he agree with so-called “Conspirators,” who believe that ancient feats (e.g., the Egyptian pyramids) could only have resulted from contact with and technical assistance from space aliens. In fact, though the ancients relied on oral more so than written traditions, leaving enormous gaps in the annals of history, Lundwall argues that our forebears were much like ourselves, with sublimely subtle levels of metaphysical thinking and nuanced spoken/written languages—ones that have suffered in later translations. They also created tremendous architectural wonders, intricate concepts encoded in ritual dance, and sophisticated astronomical observations. According to Lundwall, even such seemingly indefensible practices as the Aztec rite of cutting out a human heart as a sacrificial offering has, in context, symbolism going far beyond gross savagery. Admirably wary of self-described authorities who tend to oversimplify, Lundwall argues in prose that sometimes crosses the boundary from academic to pop (he once cites a Jay Leno comedy routine). In terms of actually dissecting a myth, it’s mainly the Epic of Gilgamesh (and some of the works of Heracles) that gets a full narrative recounting. In his latter pages, he covers the overlapping of the Old Testament and Genesis with pre-existing lore and historical truth. Several of his salient points stand out, particularly his refreshingly broad perspective of what is, in modern times, the fragmented pursuit of knowledge. “The modern division between these areas of knowledge has no parallel in the ancient world,” he says. “Each branch of knowledge is really nothing more than a function of some invisible principle of the omnipotent cosmos who has one divine source.”
Recommended reading for classicists (and budding Indiana Joneses) graduating beyond Edith Hamilton.