Of course music has been as much a part of human civilization as breathing. The Bible cites Jubal in Genesis 4 as “the father of all those who play the harp and flute.” But what did those instruments sound like? Did the compositions soothe the human spirit or agitate it?
According to a recent article on the Biblical Archaeology Review site, discussion continues to go on about the interpretation of an ancient hymn that dates back more than 3,4000 years to the Bronze Age. The composition was discovered on cuneiform tablets discovered in the 1950s. The composition was dedicated to a Hurrian deity in Syria.
In Seven Gates of the Kingdom: Fall of the Savior-King, I weave music and epics into the story because the arts played a part in Mesopotamian life during the Bronze Age, the era which inspired my book. As Seven Gates of the Kingdom attempts to show, music can convey inspiration and strength or coerce and threaten. In the novel, mysterious figures from Ianis, a mountain in western Seth, use song to comfort, guide and reveal, but the enemies of Seth use the lute to seduce while they intimidate.
This book excerpt shows how the Mikana use music to make war:
Most people in Seth, though, were not fully at ease in the presence of even amicable Mikana. Their height, their odd bodies—half dog, half man with hind legs—made people tense and fearful. But Aikah understood the descendants of the star-born; he defeated them in war and discovered their secrets. Deadly, territorial, and possessing incredible powers, the Mikana must be outwitted to be overcome.
The envoys scanned the commanders and soldiers lining the walls as if summing up characters in a poem, while their asymmetrical faces shifted slyly.
“Of course there is cause, Aikah, and you know it,” Pinchas retorted, leaning forward and caressing the nubby double horns centered on the forehead of his beast.
Aikah sighed, appearing unperturbed. “I received the living tablet from the council of the Mikana. I do not understand the need for threats.”
The king indolently toyed with his jeweled left ear as Dathan fixed himself behind him and wrote on the tablet.
“You know the terms; you made the agreement,” said Pinchas, whose sword at his hip was the length of Aikah’s throne chair and glimmered more than the golden necklace embedded with green chalcedony encircling his throat.
“Seth will come under the banner of the Mikana by the next moon. We will control the fields, hills, livestock, and water sources. We will no longer deliver you tribute,” said Pinchas, grinding out the last few words. “We will be the savior-kings of Seth.”
“And the other terms?” Aikah said placidly.
“I assume there are no terms that can be . . . renegotiated,” Aikah said.
“No new terms, no fresh negotiations. Only what is due. Prepare yourself. Prepare your kingdom.”
As Pinchas sat on his beast, his height and those of the other envoys swelled. One of them played a lute as the odor of burning embers rose to the top of the city walls, overpowering the fragrance of flowers and herbs in the gardens, and transforming the cool breezes into broiling air. Soldiers puckered their noses in distaste but did not speak. Some fainted. The Tiriphy clutched their swords with sweaty, clenched hands.
Aikah did not move, though perspiration poured from his temples and puddled beneath his robes. Dathan gasped, as if he could not breathe, and Chazon placed a hand on his shoulder.
“Citizens of Seth!” Pinchas shouted, his eyes roaming the walls.
Aikah’s face was rigid. Pinchas wanted his voice to produce anxiety in the people who were below inside the city walls, not just the soldiers. The Mikana always sought to intimidate the weak, Aikah thought. They would seduce infants with the sour milk of fear if they could.
“Your savior-king has betrayed you. He made a blood oath that will cost his life and yours if you do not welcome us as the rightful lords of Seth. Honor us as master, and you will walk in peace!”
Everyone on the wall stood impassively.
“We have hidden our strength from you!” Pinchas roared, his voice rising as heat smothered the soldiers on the wall. “When we reveal our power, you will be unable to withstand us. You may perform now like boys being told to be quiet by the priests in the temple schools. But you will wrestle with us like men and fall like flies.”
Pinchas glimpsed Mattan, who stood taller than the other soldiers on the wall. “Son of Rabbah!”
Aikah released a sardonic grin as Mattan, his bulky arms folded and his face impassive, cocked his head at Pinchas. Mattan was one of his best commanders and had been in his service since he was a youth. Stern in appearance, Mattan, like Chazon, possessed an inner kindness that earned Aikah’s respect. Men fought to serve in Mattan’s command, and Aikah took pleasure in the fact that he recruited him. Other men like Mattan had helped to build the walls of the City of Kings. The strength and knowledge they gained from their star-born forebearers allowed Seth to retrieve limestone from miles away and cut the massive walls with precision.
“Why stay with these mere men when you have the blood running through your veins? Why not honor our star-born fathers and mothers? ” Pinchas called to him. “Our ways of power exceed those of mortal men.”
Mattan tightened his lips but said nothing.
“You dishonor your own kind,” Pinchas said. “We will reserve special punishment for you, son of Rabbah.”
Suddenly cooler temperatures returned. The stench faded, and flowers and herbs scented the air again. The sounds from the lute stopped.
Pinchas and the envoys, their half-dog faces grinning, turned their beasts slowly and returned to the north.
Maybe the next time we don a headset and bob our head to song, we might consider how our music affects us.