I. Even-Zohar: "The Role of Literature in the Making of the Nations of Europe: A Socio-Semiotic Examination"


One defined "being a king" for example, by looking at some accessible source, such as contemporary neighbors. One did the same when kingship was already established, but it then naturally had to be matched with some permanent standard. The story in Samuel I:8, about the establishment of kingship among the Israelites, is highly instructive in this context.

    The elders of Israel come to the prophet Samuel and say: "[...] now make us a king to judge us like all the nations." Samuel, giving a speech in the people's Gathering, attempts in vain to deter them from such an idea, describing the undesirable behavior a king was likely to display:

And he said, This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots. And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties; and will set them to ear his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots. And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers. And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants. And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants. And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his servants. And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the LORD will not hear you in that day. (Samuel I, 8:11-18).

    But the Elders are not convinced; they, too, know something about the obligations of a king: "Nay, but we will have a king over us; That we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles." (Samuel I, 8:19-20).

    One could argue that the Kingdom of Judah was a small and insignificant province; therefore it always looked to measure itself up to some external standard. But comparisons of these kind readily occur between equal groups. It is even plausible that the more powerful the group, or the higher its aspirations, the more likely it is to place itself in competition with other groups which happen to possess items that are not yet available to it. The efforts invested by several Egyptian Pharaohs to obtain an adequate quantity of the precious lapis lazuli certainly are connected to the fact that the Mesopotamian kings had this stone in abundance (see the Tell El-Amarna correspondence). Since lapis lazuli is no longer held to be a very prestigious commodity in our modern world (though still sought in Central Asia), these efforts may seem ridiculous today. But so too may the elephant skins that a certain king of Judah (Hezekiah) is forced to send as tribute to the Assyrian Emperor according to the Annals of Sennacherib I mentioned above, or anything that seems to lack concrete value. Along the same lines, even the xenophobic Egyptians could not afford to be unaware of the culture of Mesopotamia. They thus taught the Akkadian language and a formal canon of Akkadian texts in their elite schools.

    There are numerous channels by which knowledge about the indispensabilia of another culture is acquired. They unfortunately lie beyond the scope of this study. This knowledge, however, may often be quite intimate, and therefore not of a secondÄhand nature. In such cases, it may play a decisive role in the making of a culture, i.e. of the indispensabilia through which it works and can be acquired and internalized.

    While the respective roles of Mesopotamian, Phoenician, and Egyptian cultures in the making of the Greek, if any, are often the subject of heated debates, no one contests the role of Greek for either Etruscan or Roman, and subsequently for all European cultures, both Eastern and Western. It seems that the kind of relationship we could observe between Sumerian and Akkadian has been repeated in the relationship between Greek, or rather Hellenistic, and Roman cultures.

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AS/SA nº 1 (1996): 6 of 11

© 1996 Even-Zohar
© 1996 AS/SA

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