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If your life was a sci-fi TV show… by guybrush
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Paper #3:
Palace and Temple as Archetypes in Mesopotamian Architecture

Through careful examination of ancient Mesopotamian architecture, it is possible for modern archaeologists to see two major patterns in buildings constructed between 2300 B.C.E. and 500 B.C.E. These patterns – the temple and the palace – remained in use for thousands of years. Though the specific buildings changed, the underlying patterns remained stable, Each culture in the Middle East learned from the palace and temple builders they conquered, and gradually an archetype of palace and temple architecture emerged – a perfect ideal palace, and a perfect ideal temple, that became the basis for all future construction.
Palace architecture is more common in Mesopotamia. The purpose of these palaces was threefold – each palace was the home of the king who built it; but it also served as the home of the king’s officials; and as a show-place for over-aweing foreign visitors and subjects. Each king built his own palace when his father or predecessor died, and each king built in a grander and more elaborate style than the previous palace. At the core of each palace was a series of rooms for ceremonial and diplomatic functions. The largest of these served as the king’s throne room, where he would meet with his subjects and with foreign visitors. The throne room would be reached along a processional path lined with elaborate sculptures designed to display the king’s power and wealth. Off of these ceremonial spaces were storage spaces for the king’s property, archives for his records, and living spaces for himself, his queens, and his children.
The archetype of the Mesopotamian temple is quite similar to the palace. At its core is a ceremonial chamber with a statue of the god, highly decorated and covered with gold. This serves as an earthly representation of the god’s divine throne room in heaven. The temple stands atop a high platform, in the center of a sacred courtyard. Within this courtyard stood an altar for sacrifices, and a large water-basin for purification rituals. Beyond the courtyard, closer to the mortal realm, stood a house for the priests of the temple to live in. Finally, an outer wall defined the edge of the temple’s sacred space. A highly ritualized ceremonial path, adorned with sculpture and glazed brick, would connect the inner chamber of the temple with its outer gate. The temple thus duplicates on a smaller scale the grander pattern of the palace.
This may be seen first of all in the so-called Eye Temple of Tell Asmar, built around 2300 B.C.E. A high outer wall surrounds the whole temple precinct, designed to keep out casual visitors, but not fight off an invading army. Directly within the gates and to the left stood the priesthood’s house, a plain two or three story building around a courtyard. Opposite the outer wall’s gate, a tunnel penetrated the temple platform, and a staircase ascended through the structure into the courtyard of the temple. Here there stood an altar and a water-basin, as well as a higher platform on which stood the actual temple itself. Surrounding the courtyard were numerous storerooms for objects given to the god, but no living quarters. Atop the platform in this inner courtyard, a three-chambered hall provided the god with an entrance porch, a ceremonial room, and an inner chamber where the god’s statue stood.
In the same way, the temple and ziggurat of Ishtar at Babylon follows the same basic plan. However, this temple was constructed around 750 B.C.E., so while the basic pattern remained the same, the Babylonians built on a larger and more expensive scale. Here, the temple stood atop an artificial mountain instead of a low platform, fifteen stories above the ground. The temple walls were built of blue-glazed brick, the result of melting lapis lazuli at high temperatures. This ziggurat stood within a broad courtyard, surrounded by a high wall filled with chambers for storage and the temple priests to live in. Access to the courtyard was only possible along the highly decorated Processional Way, and through the blue-glazed Ishtar Gate. Even so, only these important structures are highly decorated. Much of the decoration was of cheap materials, such as terracotta or easily-carved gypsum, and both temples were mostly built of sun-dried, rather than the more expensive kiln-fired, brick.
Sargon II’s palace at Khorsabad in modern-day Iraq illustrates the palace archetype on a grand scale. Built between 742 and 706 B.C.E., Sargon II’s palace stands atop a broad platform four times the size of any of the neighboring palaces or temples. A temple complex is incorporated into the palace, where the king can be worshipped as a god. Unlike the temples, where only a small part of the structure is decorated, almost every available surface in the palace was decorated. The lammasu, or human-headed bulls that guarded the entrance to Sargon II’s citadel, demonstrate the use of valuable and expensive stone instead of brick. Here, visitors must past through several grand courtyards before meeting the king, each highly decorated with images celebrating the king’s real deeds and genuine victories of recent days, rather than mythological events in the distant past.
An even grander palace, that of Persepolis or Susa, the Persian capital city, was constructed just two hundred years later. Covering an area equal to thirty football fields, the palace consists mostly of ceremonial spaces interwoven with living quarters. Two separate processional ways wind through the complex, with Persian visitors taking one route to a private throne room for personal time with their king; the other route, for foreign dignitaries, led past sculptures and stone carvings of the Persian kings sacking cities, enslaving rebels, and hunting lions. While the king’s Persian subjects had a chance to admire the king’s wives and children at the doors of the king’s harem, foreigners sat in a small lobby contemplating a wall-relief carving of the Persian emperor destroying a town. Both processional routes ended in the official throne room, the so-called Hall of Hundred Columns, where visitors could be cowed into submission by the splendors of the Persian king’s court.
Though the Temple archetype is certainly older than the Palace Archetype (the oldest known palace in Mesopotamia is still 500 years younger than the oldest temple), it is clear that the two building types borrowed extensively from one another. In the temple, a series of increasingly restrictive doorways limited a visitor’s approach to the divine, and that pathway became more highly decorated the closer one came to the god’s inner chamber. Mesopotamian palaces also had restrictive doors and ceremonial pathways, but the decorations for these paths were specifically designed to frighten some visitors and awe others. Where the temples directed and controlled the flow of people towards a mere statue, palaces directed visitors into the presence of a man who was more than mortal, and more genuinely dangerous than the average god.
These two building types, Temple and Palace, exist side by side for hundreds of years. However, over time the Palaces tended to overshadow their divine neighbors. Constructed by rulers eager for glory, and enriched by the wealth of their empires, palaces tended to become vast, rambling structures designed to impress, overawe, and instill fear in the hearts of their human visitors.

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6 comments

  1. Re: I don’t get it….

    They do write papers for me… but one of the things that’s true of most of my students, they have no idea how to write a 2-4 page paper. So I write the papers with them, and then they get copies of them to see them as models for their own work. It’s actually more useful to them than it might sound, because I also write first and second drafts with them, so they see “in progress” and “complete”, and see what an improvement there can be between one draft and the next.

    What I don’t tell them is how I retrofit my first traft to create a bad second draft, and then use the second draft as the “first draft”, and the first draft as the “second draft”.

    But I’m a lot better than they are at writing 2-4 page papers, so it’s the only way I can create something close to their level/ability… 🙂

  2. Re: I don’t get it….

    They do write papers for me… but one of the things that’s true of most of my students, they have no idea how to write a 2-4 page paper. So I write the papers with them, and then they get copies of them to see them as models for their own work. It’s actually more useful to them than it might sound, because I also write first and second drafts with them, so they see “in progress” and “complete”, and see what an improvement there can be between one draft and the next.

    What I don’t tell them is how I retrofit my first traft to create a bad second draft, and then use the second draft as the “first draft”, and the first draft as the “second draft”.

    But I’m a lot better than they are at writing 2-4 page papers, so it’s the only way I can create something close to their level/ability… 🙂

    • Re: I don’t get it….

      They do write papers for me… but one of the things that’s true of most of my students, they have no idea how to write a 2-4 page paper. So I write the papers with them, and then they get copies of them to see them as models for their own work. It’s actually more useful to them than it might sound, because I also write first and second drafts with them, so they see “in progress” and “complete”, and see what an improvement there can be between one draft and the next.

      What I don’t tell them is how I retrofit my first traft to create a bad second draft, and then use the second draft as the “first draft”, and the first draft as the “second draft”.

      But I’m a lot better than they are at writing 2-4 page papers, so it’s the only way I can create something close to their level/ability… 🙂

    • Re: I don’t get it….

      They do write papers for me… but one of the things that’s true of most of my students, they have no idea how to write a 2-4 page paper. So I write the papers with them, and then they get copies of them to see them as models for their own work. It’s actually more useful to them than it might sound, because I also write first and second drafts with them, so they see “in progress” and “complete”, and see what an improvement there can be between one draft and the next.

      What I don’t tell them is how I retrofit my first traft to create a bad second draft, and then use the second draft as the “first draft”, and the first draft as the “second draft”.

      But I’m a lot better than they are at writing 2-4 page papers, so it’s the only way I can create something close to their level/ability… 🙂

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