That got your attention, didn’t it. I’m sitting here this evening, passing the time by reading more of Will Durant’s Our Oriental Heritage and awaiting the Yankees/Rangers game at 8 PM. I’m well into the Persian empire and reading about the Persian religion. It seems that much of the Judeo-Christian formulation of Heaven and Hell were dervied from Persian morals. I’m reading this innocently enough, and asking various questions in my head (as I always do when I read), when I come to a squealing stop at this passage:
And yet–for it is in the nature of religion to threaten and terrify as well as to console–the Persian could not look upon death unafraid unless he had been a faithful warrior in Ahura-Mazda’s cause. Beyond the most awful of all mysteries lay a hell and a purgatory as well as a paradise. All dead souls [my emphasis] would have to pass over a Sifting Bridge: the good soul would come, on the other side, to the “Abode of Song,” where it would be welcomed by a “young maiden radiant and strong, with well-developed-bust,” and would live in happiness with Ahura-Mazda to the end of time.
When I came to this passage, I wasn’t wearing my philosophical seatbelt, and so all of the philosophical questions I’d been forming, went right through the windshield. All I could focus on was the phrase: “where it would be welcomed by a ‘young maiden… with well-developed bust.'” There are several reasons for this, which I will now present:
First, it sounded like the way a gentleman might describe a Hooters Restaurant. Anyone who has been to a Hooters restaurant knows what I am talking about. So taking the ancient Persian journey to heaven and translating it into modern American, it might go something like this: “When you die, if you’ve been good, you’ll cross the bridge on 4th Avenue and find yourself outside of Hooters. They’ll be a stacked waitress waiting out front for you.”
My second reason for stopping short here gives us an insight into the value of women in ancient history. On the one hand, women were clearly valued for their beauty, their charms, and the various pleasures they could give to men. Beyond that, I suspect that ancient Persians did not place much value. Furthermore, I suspect that women never got to heaven; or if they did, they rather wished they hadn’t. Remember the italicized part of the quote above: All dead souls would have to pass over the sifting bridge. The ones that made it would be greeted by the maiden with the well-developed bust. If a woman made it across the bridge, how was the maiden with the well-developed bust anything more than an anathma to her?
Clearly, the passage is focused on men. But it does make for a strange message, does it not? Behave yourself; live a chaste and proper life; fight for your country; pray to your god; and when all is said and done, you will be rewarded by spending all of eternity with a well-endowed maiden, doing all of those things you were not allowed to do the first threescore years and ten.
This is why I love to read history.