How Art Made the World episode 4

First Stories
in Stone

Greeks and
Their Epics
Aboriginal Style


D. Attenborough
Power of Images and Sound
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The First Stories in Stone
The First Stories in Stone

The story of Gilgamesh, the lion-killing king, was well known throughout the Middle East. In about 645 BC, King Ashurbanipal of Assyria sought to promote himself by capitalizing on the hero's power and glamour. Knowing full well that few of his subjects could read, Ashurbanipal came up with a groundbreaking solution. He departed from a story told in words and devised a story told in pictures with himself playing the lead role instead of Gilgamesh. His sculptors created a series of freeze frames in stone depicting Ashurbanipal as the slayer of lions, and placed them around his throne room.

Though the freezes are filled with blood and violence, there is no real rage, tears, or emotion.

Ashurbanipal then went on to create what is probably the world's first complete visual story, an epic blockbuster with a cast of thousands. The story told of his war with his enemies, the Elamites, and used a visual storytelling technique that had never been seen before - a complex tale that unfolded over many scenes. Not only did it have a beginning, middle and an end, it also had subplots that made the whole story more intriguing. In the end, however, though the freezes are filled with blood and violence, there is no real rage, tears, or emotion. The story is as cold as the stone it is engraved on, making it hard to feel engaged with these characters.

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