By Roxane Zand, Sotheby’s Director, Middle East Department, and the editor of Sotheby’s Cultural Crossroads Blog:
There are lectures and then there are lectures. British Museum Director Neil Macgregor has perfected the art of lecturing and nowhere is this more apparent than in his speeches about the Cyrus Cylinder—one of the museum objects that defines our concept of democratic governance. On 6 March, His Excellency Sir Peter and Lady Westmacott hosted a select audience at the British Embassy in Washington DC to hear Neil speak about the relationship of this 2,500-yr old clay object to modern cultural and political issues.
… As with all great legacies, Cyrus’s decree has had an almost Biblical propensity for re-interpretation. The Founding Fathers in the US urged the Cyrus philosophy of religious plurality and tolerance; the Jews heralded its message of freedom for their people, and even President Ahmadinejad pointed to its advocacy of helping the oppressed, namely the Palestinians. The cylinder is on display at the Smithsonian’s Sackler Gallery until 28 April.
For me, the key point of this seminal lecture was the fact that Cyrus’s archenemy Alexander saw fit to weep at the grave of perhaps one of the greatest rulers in history. Whoever has seized upon the extraordinary legacy of this “political prophet”, knows one thing above all: that his message was not just universal but timeless.
Read the article: Diplomacy at its Best