The Apocalypse repeats itself

“Our Earth is degenerate in these later days; there are signs that the world is speedily coming to an end; bribery and corruption are common; children no longer obey their parents; every man wants to write a book and the end of the world is evidently approaching.” — From a translation of an inscription on an Assyrian clay tablet, circa 2800 B.C.E. I'm just sayin'. (Via Bart King.)


  1. It’s not as if the author was necessarily wrong.  The Assyrian world certainly isn’t around anymore.

    1. The assyrian empire antedates that of the babylonian empire. So, they had books — it’s just that, being made of clay, the books were very heavy.

    1. In some form or other, yes. (Though there’s also the question of whether the “Assyrian” in the description refers to the kingdom or just the geographic region. The linked article implies the former, but there’s always the chance they actually mean the latter.)

  2. “children no longer obey their parents”

    If that is the metric, I’m raising the apocalyptic demon spawn that will most certainly usher the end of the world.

  3. “I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent onthe frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are recklessbeyond words. When I was a boy, we were taught to be discrete and respectful ofelders, but the present youth are exceedingly wise and impatient ofrestraint.” — Hesiod, Eighth Century B.C. “The world is passing through troublous times. The young people oftoday think of nothing but themselves. They have no reverence forparents or old age. They are impatient of all restraint. They talk asif they knew everything, and what passes for wisdom with us isfoolishness with them. As for the girls, they are forward, immodestand unladylike in speech, behavior and dress.” — Peter the Hermit, A.D. 1274

    1. Those two are fake as well, see the “misattributed” sections of the Hesiod wikiquote page for the first, and as for the second I did a google books advanced search for the exact phrase “what passes for wisdom with us” with a date range of 1800 – 1960, it turned up only five published examples (the earliest from the 1937 proceedings of the Allegheny Regional Advisory Board, not exactly a scholarly source) and they all seemed to be passing along a quote they heard somewhere, none actually gave a specific text it was supposed to have come from (also, if you do the same type of search for the later phrase “immodest and unwomanly in speech” you can see from snippets that several of these sources claim that Peter the Hermit said it in 1274, as do many on the internet, but in reality he wasn’t alive then, wikipedia says he died in 1115 but if you don’t trust wikipedia,the bottom of the first page of this paper mentions he began preaching at the end of 1095)

  4. “We need to re-establish traditional FAMILY VALUES!”

    Meaning, of course, that our opponents are a bunch of goat-fucking sodomites.

    1. In the same area only a thousand years earlier, being a goat-fucking sodomite was considered normal; having no superhuman sexual drive was considered to be immoral. One of the popular songs began with the line “Let me cover you with honey and lick you like a newborn calf”.

  5. Uh, you can find essentially identical sentiments from any people at any moment in history. CHILDREN ARE DISOBEDIENT. THE WORLD IS NOT WHAT IS WAS. This is simultaneously perpetually true and meaningless. Good lord, this is how “psychics” operate. I SENSE THAT YOU SEEK RESOLUTION. I SENSE IT INVOLVES SOMEONE WHO HAS AN “E” IN THEIR NAME. I SENSE YOU HAVE EXPERIENCED LOSS.

  6. Well, darn.  I’m always hoping for that next civilization-ending Apocalypse around the corner, and what do I get?  Peace and prosperity.  Relative regional stability and plague and famine at minimal levels.

    Booooring.  We need some Divine Wrath up in this bitch: maybe then people would dress more conservatively when shopping downtown and folks would call their Moms more often. . .

    1. If you want apocalypse, go to London and advise the British authorities on how to handle the riots. Only, use Troll Diplomacy. [trollface.jpg]

      What, you’re rioting? MILITARY OCCUPATION

      (At least they’re not facing Princess Trollestia; What, you’re rioting? BANISHED TO THE MOON)

  7. Human brains have evolved to be unappreciative of change and to struggle to empathise with anyone sufficiently ‘different’ (e.g. the young). So no surprise here.

  8. “every man wants to write a book” <– This is an odd thing to say before books were even invented.

    There are a few indications of shenanigans about this quote.

  9. Last time I checked I don’t remember about groups of teens looting and setting shops on fire.

    Just sayin.

    1. One of the characters in the film Waking Life mentions a theory that we are all, in fact, dead, and the world we perceive is a dream. And that the message of the dream is to wake up (so that we can join Jesus in Heaven). It’s philosophical. Just a random little connection.

      1. Yeah in that scene in “Waking Life”, Richard Linklater was talking about a vision that the science fiction writer Philip K Dick once had, that we were really all still in 50 AD and all of later history was an illusion, you can read an excellent cartoon rendering of Dick’s vision by R. Crumb on this page, and Dick gives an account of it midway through this speech (if anyone’s really interested, you can read more about some of his strange theories and speculations in The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick, or go for the motherload and buy his “Exegesis” journal which will be published this fall). Then after explaining this theory, Richard Linklater goes on to mention the other theory that every moment we’re being invited to stay in eternity with God (don’t think he mentions Jesus), and time is just us repeatedly saying “no” to that. A Buddhist might say there is no real difference between this world and “eternity”, it’s just a matter of how you look at it…

        1. It’s been several years since I watched it (I should watch it again; I have the DVD), so I was going off of memory. I got the small details wrong, but I remembered the gist of it more or less properly, though I think I also conflated those two theories in my head.

  10. @elix  @hypnosifl Thanks, debbie downers. The comment thread really funny and fluffy, then you two had to step with your deep philosophicuh thoughts. With links, citations, sources even.

    Actually, in conventional Buddhism there is a huge difference between this world and “eternity”, if I understand correctly what you imply by “eternity”. The ultimate state of being would to be in nirvana/nibbana/nothingness/peace, or “no rebirth”, to take yourself out of the cycle of existence in this world. By our very existence in this world and not in “eternity”, we will suffer – so the crux of Buddha’s teachings is on how to deal with the suffering and how to be happy.
    How to be happy according to the Four Noble Truths: accept that there will be “suffering”, understand that the cause of “suffering” is uncontrolled attachment, know that “suffering” can be dealt with, how to deal with “suffering” and be happy.

      1. Did you just copy that from wikipedia or a website somewhere? :D

        Prajñāpāramitā is a Mahayana focus, and does include the Four Noble Truths. For most of us normal folks not trying to be monks, just trying to get a lark out of life and do some good for people around us, the Four Noble Truths is already good enough, no?

        “Good enough” : another Buddhist concept. Do your best, and that is good enough. Understand that everyone is trying to do their best in their circumstance – that makes it easy to forgive (Love your enemies, Jesus said), or to provide service to help them change their circumstance.

        1. I admit to copy-pasting the word out of Wikipedia to get the accented letters right without having to noodle around the character map, and I’m not too particularly knowledgeable about the deeper details behind the different branches of Buddhist tradition. But to me, it’s “enough,” as it kind of sums it up. I don’t identify as a Buddhist (clearly!), but I pay more attention to it than I do to the people that try and convince me that Big Invisible Sky Daddy doesn’t like my hands going anywhere near my penis if it doesn’t involve excretion or procreation.

          P.S. It’s your turn to be the debbie downer. :D

          1.  I identify as a Buddhist, but when trying to get my guidance in person, the monks tend to speak from their perspective which they forget is not applicable to us non-monk folk. It’s cool though cos the Buddha is the only religious leader to have adviced – “question everything, even whatever I say, until you understand it.” So there is scientific questioning goin’ on.

            Other religions – just ask you to believe based on “faith”, or whatever is written in a book.

            I think the Buddha views self-pleasuring on the same level as eating too much. He would just “tut tut”, wag a finger and say, “It’s OK, I know humans have desires. I’m not sending you to hell, because you’ve already kind of punished yourself by taking time away from other ways of being happy or being selfless. So think about that if you do it too much.” Or at least that’s what Thai Budhist monks would say. Smilingest monks on the planet, those guys, esp. Ajahn Brahm in Australia.

            The Prajñāpāramitā you mentioned, actually is a syllabus of sorts, and certain sections is tailored only for monks, certain sections only for normal folk. We don’t need to know about all the different branches. If it gets boring, you just skip to the good parts or change books!!

            The basic teachings of Buddha is pretty simple though – don’t need no extra material. But the understanding and practising this material should already take up quite a bit of brain space!

            YEah, you guys started it!! :D

    1. Actually, in conventional Buddhism there is a huge difference between this world and “eternity”, if I understand correctly what you imply by “eternity”. The ultimate state of being would to be in nirvana/nibbana/nothingness/peace, or “no rebirth”, to take yourself out of the cycle of existence in this world. By our very existence in this world and not in “eternity”, we will suffer – so the crux of Buddha’s teachings is on how to deal with the suffering and how to be happy. 

      If by “conventional Buddhism” you mean the Hinayana schools, or the “relative” teachings of the Mahayana schools, then yes. But in the Mahayana schools (which include things like Zen and Tibetan Buddhism, there is an important teaching that samsara (the cycle of existence) and nirvana are only distinct in a relative sense, but they are really the same thing from the “absolute” perspective of the enlightened mind (which in some sense is the common basic nature of all of us, even for people who from the relative perspective appear unenlightened…though from the absolute perspective there aren’t really an separate selves to begin with). See the perfection of wisdom as well as absolute and relative truth (also known as the two-truths doctrine) There’s also this article which compares these ideas to some from Western philosophy, and to me they also seem related to the philosophy of Bradley (I like these connections because they suggest to me that these ideas aren’t pure mystic paradoxes, that to a degree they can also be understood conceptually)

      1. Something tells me simplicity is a more skilful path to follow.

        To delve too much into the different branches, to be overly academic about it – is like admiring the menu, instead of enjoying and eating the food that the menu points to! Or like admiring the capacitors on a motherboard, instead of using the machine to enjoy the wonder of the Internet or a game! The first involves at least a bit of scrunching of the brow and a lot of focus on the details, the latter is just.. fun and might make other people happy too.

        Even with that, saying that they are “distinct in a relative sense”, but are the same from an “absolute perspective of the enlightened mind” seems to be an impressive and verbose way of saying “an apple is different from an orange – but they are both fruits to a smart person”. Don’t get me wrong, I understand what you are getting at – and it is an interesting point. But somehow I think only two of us cares hahaha.

        1. Personally I do enjoy a certain degree of academic analysis, but that’s not the main reason I think these teachings are an important part of Buddhism, to me the “absolute” perspective also appeals much more to my mystical/poetic/right-brain side. The idea that we are all part of one interconnected world, and all forms of separation or dividing us and the world into distinct “chunks” is just a sort of rough approximation, that our own basic nature or “original face” is already enlightened so there is no use striving in a serious determined way to obtain enlightenment, but rather we just need to trust what’s already there in the most quiet parts of our mind…that, to me, is more compelling on a spiritual level, and it’s also a perspective that helps with defusing a sense of purposefulness or trying-to-do when engaging in meditation. These kinds of notions aren’t just abstract and philosophical, they can also be expressed in a down-to-earth and poetic way, I recommend thich nhat hanh’s book on the heart sutra for instance. So yes, I agree it’s all about skillful means, but I don’t think these kinds of teachings would only be “skillful means” for a philosophy-minded person, I think they get right to the heart of what Buddhism is about and a skillful teacher is going to work them into his or her teachings in a way the listener will be able to appreciate.

  11. It depends on your definition of ‘speedily’.   We’ve already been around for ~50,000 years, so from an evolutionary perspective 2800BCE to the present day is not a long time. 

  12. On an unrelated note, did anyone else look at the URL and momentarily think it was from rather than the Smithsonian Institute?

  13. Meanwhile, some even older Assyrians were smugly assuring themselves that this “tablet device” thing was just a fad.

  14. This quote came up on the Making Light blog some time back, and people had a lot of fun trying to track it back to its real source.  You can follow the full discussion here: (interspersed with a lot of other chat and general silliness.) 

    At first the earliest cite that would turn up from the 1926 ‘Report of the Commissioner of Industrial and Vocational Education’ for California:
    Another copy of the quote was in an essay by the State Librarian of Connecticut, in the 50th anniversary ALA review in 1923.

    G.T.W. Patrick, of the University of Iowa, claimed in a book published in 1913 to have seen such an inscription himself in a museum in Constantinople, attributed to the King Naram Sin
    (and there’s your 3800BC date, BTW)  The name of Isabel Dodd, a female archaeologist living in Constantinople, kept coming up in interesting connections; she was on the faculty at the School for Girls, and Patrick’s sister was the founder of the school.

    But then someone found a cite from 1908:|istanbul%29+%28papyrus|tablet%29+%22no+longer%22+%22write+a+book%22&client=firefox-a&cd=5#v=onepage&q=%28constantinople|istanbul%29%20%28papyrus|tablet%29%20%22no%20longer%22%20%22write%20a%20book%22&f=false

    … and the date for the first appearance of “The Quote” started getting pushed back further and further.  IIRC though, we never did manage to find out if there was some actual (mis)translation of a specific actual tablet (Assyrian, Sumerian, Chaldean, or whatever) in that museum.

    In a book of archaeology published in 1898, I stumbled across a mention of an actual translation of a tablet in Sumerian from Abu Habba, translated as saying: “Whoever shall distinguish himself at the place of tablet-writing shall shine as the light.”  As scribe was a high-status occupation, it seems possible that some tablet of the time might have written “Everybody wants to become a writer of tablets [scribe]” which a reader of a modern translation might easily have converted to “Everybody wants to write a book” and muddled it together with other “everything sux” sentiments.

    1. “G.T.W. Patrick, of the University of Iowa, claimed in a book published in 1913 to have seen such an inscription himself in a museum in Constantinople, attributed to the King Naram Sin”

      Well, if there are any Turkish boingboingers, or any planning a trip to Istanbul, I suppose they could go look for it–those old tablets should be in the “old eastern works museum” at the Istanbul Archaeological Museums. Interesting though that this version, from someone who claims to have actually seen the tablet, doesn’t mention the part about “every man wants to write a book”, it’s just quoted as saying:

      We have fallen upon evil times
      and the world has waxed very old and wicked
      Politics are very corrupt
      Children are no longer respectful to their parents.

  15. Assyrians still exist, actually. My previous bicycle repairman was Assyrian. It’s now a small Christian ethnic group in Iraq.

  16. Hah! They had NO IDEA what bribery and corruption were 4800 years ago. One of our modern 3-year-olds knows more about the subject.

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