I was reading this blog post today about the rediscovery of an ancient Iranian goblet as one of the earliest (perhaps the earliest) cartoons, illustrating a goat in several different positions around the bowl. There’s a short video of the ‘animation’ on the post which shows the goat leaping twice and eventually reaching the leaves of a plant in front of him. There’s some early theory that the plant represents the Assyrian Tree of Life, despite the fact that the artifact itself predates Assyrian civilization.
As I was reading this, I was first drawn to the tree of life reference, perhaps because of my Christian background. My first assumption was that the Biblical tree of life (the one in Genesis that’s not the apple, aka not the tree of the knowledge of good and evil) preceded the Assyrian one. After all, the Assyrians are part of later books of the Bible and the history of the Jewish people. Evidently, this is not necessarily true: 2/3 of Assyrian history preceded the supposed initial writing of the Genesis tales. So, though oral history may have carried one or both at the same time, it’s difficult to say who borrowed from whom.
Perhaps a more accurate summary would simply state that the Tree of Life, or World Tree, could be peeking out from this goblet as it peeks out in a wide variety of myths and stories around the globe. Take the peach immortality tree of the Taoist, or early Chinese depictions of trees including both the dragon (immortality) and the phoenix (balance). Take the pomegranate of the Greeks or Yggdrasil of the Norse, or the ceiba tree of the Maya. Take any old tree you know personally – its power to lift the eyes; its strong, deep roots and its dancing green lights. What can such a tree tell you about age, death, and growth?