It’s a persistent melancholy with me that I read a huge number of books that I never get a chance to cover as reviews, so this section will be a chance to redress that omission. That said, I may well review Richard Miles’ Carthage Must Be Destroyed: The Rise and Fall of an Ancient Civilization. On the basis of the first few chapters it’s a bold attempt to reconstruct a culture known mostly through the memories of their destroyers. I never realised that “Hannibal”, the name of the great Carthaginian general who almost brought Rome to its knees, actually means something: “The Grace of Baal” (another deity who gets a bit of bad press from the Good Book).
Also reconstructing a lost culture is the magisterial 2000 Years of Mayan Literature by Dennis Tedlock (University of California Press). I’d always thought that the Mayan glyphs were pretty much indecipherable, and although it takes a massive mind-shift to get to the “literature” after the ritual dates, it’s worth the effort. “This is the Root of the Ancient Word Here in this Place called K’iche” is astonishing: a syncretic work mixing Christian influence with traditional aetiologies of the Mayans – astonishingly, their creation myth had multiple creations of humanity, with the Gods refining their early attempts as each proves inadequate. They begin with monkeys who lack language, then try a man made of mud (just like the Biblical Adam) who is also inarticulate and dissolves in water (a bizarre un-writing of the Genesis story!). The third attempt is wooden puppets, but they lack memory and are destroyed by a divine hurricane. Some of the glyphs, from chocolate drinking vessels, even give us the Mayan word for McShandy – “ajch’uh huun – the Master Who Looks After Books”. And for my weekly poetry catch-up: Robin Robertson’s The Wrecking Light. Just remembering some of the lines and images gives me goose-flesh.