Sunday 13 August 2023

Sir Henry at the Rock of Behistun

 Talking of Darius, as we nearly were the day before yesterday, this arresting image greeted me on Facebook this morning – 'Sir Henry Rawlinson on the Rock of Behistun'. That's him up the perilous-looking ladder, doing archaeology the hard way, in the days before risk assessments or health and safety. The Rock of Behistun, in western Iran, is a sheer cliff face that bears a huge relief carving with an inscription written by Darius the Great when he was King of the Persian Empire (522-486BC). The inscription is in three languages – Old Persian, Elamite and Babylonian – and until Sir Henry got to work no one had fully transcribed or deciphered it. His painstaking close-up scrutiny of the cuneiform characters enabled him to come up with a full and accurate transcription and eventually, thanks to his knowledge of Old Persian, a translation. 
  I must admit that the only Sir Henry Rawlinson I knew of before I saw this picture was Vivian Stanshall's creation, as featured in the cult comedy Sir Henry at Rawlinson End ('It's impossible to do justice to the film's arrant and quite unique lunacy' – Financial Times). Unlike the fictional Sir Henry, the real-world version was a man of many parts and great abilities – an officer in the British East India Company, politician, diplomat and Orientalist who was dubbed the Father of Assyriology. His work on the Rock of Behistun came quite early in a career that also took him to Afghanistan (where he fought in the Afghan War), Ottoman Arabia and a long residence in Baghdad, followed by four decades of busy political and scholarly activity back in England. He died, laden with well earned honours, in 1895 and is buried in Brookwood cemetery. His son Henry was one of the leading generals in the Great War.
  Below is a more dramatic image of Sir Henry on the Rock of Behistun, narrowly escaping death after his ladder gave way. 

No comments:

Post a Comment