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iS     The Political Abroach to the Classical World
of the spade may reveal some document of historic value, some
vital clue to a problem hitherto unsolved.
In these countries of the ancient East we can trace the first
attempts of man to chronicle for posterity his experiences and
his achievements, the first beginnings of history. These begin-
nings are crude and tentativeŚwe may even hesitate to call
them history in the modern sense. The kings whose inscriptions
vaunted their achievements, the nobles who perpetuated their
moral virtues in stone, had little sense of proportion and seldom
a strict regard for truth; but with the invention of writing came
the desire to record, and by maintaining record offices, compil-
ing annals, and copying king-lists the scribes of antiquity were
laying the foundations of a great science which found its first
full expression in the historians of Greece and Rome. The his-
torical experience of the ancient Near East is expressed in lan-
guage which for the most part cannot claim a place among the
world's great literature. Here the Old Testament stands alone.
The kings and rulers of the Hebrew people have had but a small
part to play in the story of empires; their poets and their
prophets have brought them glory for all time. But the records
of Egypt and Babylonia are as a rule dry reading; the Assyrians,
whose annals form the most complete body of historical texts
from the pre-classical world, related their campaigns in language
for the most part monotonous in its repetition of phrase and
repellent in the brutality of its expression. Yet in spite of the
strangeness of the setting, these recitals of unembellished fact
often need little imagination to give them colour and life.
Numerous examples could be quoted; let the reader turn to such
passages of Egyptian historical literature as the exploits of the
general Amenemhab, who saved the life of King Tuthmosis III
when he was charged by an angry elephant, or the description
of the arrival in Egypt of the Hittite princess, walking
proudly at the head of her soldiers. Vivid similes are a character-
istic of the Assyrian chroniclers; an advancing army is said to