Ancient-World Lessons In Simplicity
In the ancient world, people had time to create such remarkable works of art. They’re not simple at all, but are simpler lives the reason they were able to complete such amazing tasks?
The pyramids in Egypt and the beautiful and functional carvings of the Mayas aren’t simple at all. They’re highly complex works that required specialized skill and years of effort to create. There are some simple lessons in them, however, if we can find them.
In December, I visited two museums, and I came away with something worth mentioning.
First, David and I visited an exhibit at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History exploring what modern science has taught us about ancient Egyptian society. The next week, we spent David’s birthday, December 15, at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth — one of the most respected museums in the country — exploring some Mayan artifacts in a traveling exhibit.
The Egyptians and the Mayans share many things in common, not the least of which is the careful attention to detail in their art, structures and religious devotion.
Building a pyramid is a mind-bogglingly complex task, but don’t you admire the simplicity of a spiritual practice intended to equip the dead for a comfortable afterlife? And creating earthen vessels requires a set of skills very few people have, but isn’t the act of drawing what you need from the planet itself really simplicity in its purest form?
For many people in these cultures, life was hard and consumed by the work necessary to support their families. The things of these cultures that survive, however, often show that both common people and the elite of their times took great care in building or having built remarkable structures, commissioning or creating amazingly powerful works of art and carefully tending to the burial and remembrance of the dead.
It’s easy to idealize a culture based on a positive portrayal of it in a well-meaning museum. Things like poverty, slavery and disease are easily glossed over, and they shouldn’t be forgotten. Life in the ancient world was difficult from many people who were born in the wrong place or bloodline — as it is today.
Still, does the care and attention some ancient people put into their work have a lesson for us?
Without televisions, blenders, the Internet or triple-bladed razors, some people of the ancient world lived beautifully intricate lives that live again because their greatest works have been rediscovered. Will your life’s work be worth rediscovering?
Do you think the ancient world hold any lessons we can apply to our simple, deliberate lives?