Cyrus Cylinder Tour

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Date/Time
Date(s) - 10/05/2013
5:00 pm - 7:00 pm

Location
Zarathushti Heritage and Cultural Center

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Cyrus Cylinder

One of the most iconic objects of religious tolerance and multiculturalism, the Cyrus Cylinder, was exhibited in the United States for the very first time.  The Cylinder, currently housed in the British Museum, was be on display in five major museum venues in the U.S., with the Houston exhibit planned at the Museum of Fine Arts (MFAH) from May 3 to June 14, 2013.  The Cylinder travelled with an exhibition of sixteen objects under the title “The Cyrus Cylinder in Ancient Persia”.

The Cyrus Cylinder is one of the most famous objects to have survived from the ancient world.  An object of world heritage, the Cyrus Cylinder is an ancient clay cylinder inscribed with a declaration in Babylonian cuneiform script in the name of the Persian king, Cyrus the Great (539-538 B.C.).  Over the centuries, the Cylinder has come to symbolize mankind’s first document on human rights, and fittingly, a replica of the Cylinder is also kept at the United Nations Headquarters.

The Event

There are some events in our lives that create memories and stay with us for a long time.  The weekend of May 10 and 11 was such an event.  For months, a lot of excitement had been whipped up in the press about the first-ever tour of Cyrus Cylinder in the U.S.  The ZAH Library Committee geared up to work closely with the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston (MFAH), where the Cylinder is on display till June 14.

Our priest Bahmanshah Sanjana, in our traditional priest garb, gave the benediction at MFAH on the first day of the exhibition.  According to the Houston Chronicle: “Righteousness is the greatest good,” said Zoroastrian priest Dastoor Bahmanshah Sanjana after chanting a blessing to open the cocktail party.  We’ve never seen cocktail parties start with a prayer before. But this was the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, as patrons got the first look at “The Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia.”  Opening weekend featured talks by John and Vesta Curtis, curators of the British Museum where the Cylinder is permanently lodged, and Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum.  (MacGregor’s interview by CNN correspondent is worth seeing on: cyruscylinder2013.com/media/amanpour-macgregor/)  It is gratifying that ZAH was prominently featured and recognized during these events.

We had arranged to have the reputed scholar, Jenny Rose, come to Houston during the exhibition.  Jenny Rose is a historian of religions, who teaches Zoroastrian Studies at the School of Religion at the Claremont Graduate University in California, holds a doctorate in Ancient Iranian Studies from Columbia University, and lectures extensively at other academic institutions, museums, and Zoroastrian Association events throughout North America and Europe.

Jenny Rose delivered lectures at the MFAH on Friday, May 10 at 1:30 pm and on Saturday, May 11 at 4 pm.  In between these two lectures, Jenny came to our Center for a special meet and greet event on Friday, May 10 at 7 pm.  This gave our members a chance to listen to Jenny talk about her recent tour of Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan, her books that were on sale for discounted prices, and the upcoming Zoroastrian Exhibition in London.  Her book: “Zoroastrianism, An Introduction” is considered one of the most thorough and lucid explanation of our religion and its history.  It is a chronological approach to the religion based on courses she has taught at Stanford University and Claremont, and is available in our library.  Jenny Rose’s tour included a visit to Chilpik Kala, the oldest Dakhma known to man, and considered to be so important that it is included in the flag of Uzbekistan.  She also showed slides of different kinds of ossuaries displayed in the Afrasiab Museum.  The exhibition in the Brunei Gallery, London spread over three floors of the museum, will focus solely on the Zoroastrian religion, and include a replica of the inside of a Fire Temple.  Details of this exhibition that will run from October 11 through December 14, 2013 can be found on the web site: theeverlastingflame.com.  The free evening event at the Center was attended by over 80 people, and everyone enjoyed the sharing of knowledge in a friendly informal setting and the refreshments thereafter.

Over 50 of us caught a bus, so graciously offered by Rustom and Nasreen Khosravian, from the Center to the Museum.  At the Museum, joined by many others from our community, we saw the Cyrus Cylinder and other related artifacts, displayed in a room dedicated to the exhibit.  Our Vehishta Kaikobad, who is a docent at the MFAH, gave the group a conducted tour with interesting insights and commentary.

This set the stage for the lecture by Jenny Rose in the Brown Auditorium of the Museum.  Jenny Rose is a historian of religions, who teaches Zoroastrian Studies at the School of Religion at the Claremont Graduate University in California.  She holds a doctorate in Ancient Iranian Studies from Columbia University, and lectures extensively at other academic institutions, museums, and Zoroastrian Association events throughout North America and Europe.The large theater was filled to capacity, with a large number of attendees from our community.  It was gratifying that ZAH was prominently featured and recognized during this event.

In her lively, beautifully illustrated presentation, Dr. Jenny Rose explored the ways in which, beginning with the Cyrus Cylinder, the Ancient Persians were able to appeal to the “hearts and minds” of their various subjects in the Ancient Near East.  She also presented how Cyrus’s diplomatic tolerance of local cultures and religions reflect a “Zoroastrian” understanding of the world.

Cyrus was hailed as “Friend of God” and Paradise Builder.  Putting the time and place of the museum’s displays in perspective, Jenny painted a fascinating tapestry of history, taking us through Persepolis, Pasagarde, Darius and his son Xerxes.  She spoke of the Cyropaedia, a biography of Cyrus the Great, written in the early 4th century BC by Xenophon of Athens, a student of Socrates.  Also on display at the Museum, this historical book offers a glimpse of Cyrus’ character and his rule as a benevolent despot over his admiring and willing subjects.  Many of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America sought inspiration from the Cyropaedia, and Thomas Jefferson had two personal copies of the book, which was a mandatory read for statesmen in those days.

Cyrus, “King of the four quarters of the world”, left us a model of political and religious understanding, and his enduring legacy of power, growth and peace embodied in the Cyrus Cylinder.

Members of the ZAH community who were interested in listening to any of the other speakers, were free to attend the remaining sessions in May and June at the MFAH that were described in the attachment: “Programs for Adults”.  Each one was different, and each one was presented by distinguished scholars coming to Houston for the event.