Prometheus – trickster, rebel and hero – links the realm of the gods with the world of humanity, with which he had such close affinity. His act of stealing fire has been viewed as the foundation of all man’s technologies.
Saddam Hussein was fascinated by ancient Babylon and Assyria. He made money available to protect and develop the great archaeological sites. The great achievements of Mesopotamian civilisation were pressed into the service of the Ba’athist regime.
For many, the icon of the British Museum is the Rosetta Stone, that administrative by-product of the Greek imperial adventure in Africa.
Our collective memories are welcoming places, and one image, that of Jesus, has absorbed and appropriated elements of other traditions and aspirations in order to shape our communal remembering.
The collapse of the Tower of Babel is perhaps the central urban myth. It is certainly the most disquieting. In Babylon, the great city that fascinated and horrified the Biblical writers, people of different races and languages, drawn together in pursuit of wealth, tried for the first time to live together – and failed.
In 1600, when Shakespeare’s audience at the Globe heard ‘Hamlet’ for the first time, every one of them knew very well what it meant to be handed a cup of wine by a figure of authority and told to drink.
Because of the long, long history of British shipping, immigration, trade, empire, missionaries, you can have a better shot at telling a worldwide story in the British Museum’s collection than any other. Britain has been more connected with the rest of the world than any other country, for longer.
Objects let you tell a narrative that encompasses everybody. Texts don’t.
The British Museum was founded with a civic purpose: to allow the citizen, through reasoned inquiry and comparison, to resist the certainties that endanger free society and are still among the greatest threats to our liberty.
Thanks to the unprecedented reach of British navigation, London in the early 18th century was not just the emporium of the world, it was the first place in which it was possible to assemble artifacts from around the world and allow people to study them.