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Book Reviews
Lightbulb Moments in Human History
By: Scott Edwin Williams / Chronos Books / $27.95

Description: Need hope? Lightbulb Moments In Human History’s wry look at humanity’s big ideas proves that while times are tough, we’re not going to hell in a hand basket!

Verdict: Lightbulb Moments in Human History tracks humanity’s big ideas and the eccentricities of those who conceived them. Along the way you’ll find answers to questions such as: Why did the Sumerians have temple prostitutes?

Just how psychotic was the God of the Old Testament? Why did parents in ancient Greece encourage their young sons to take older male lovers? And what on earth inspired the Mayans to have tobacco enemas?

All those questions get answered, whilst along the way others, and as only the curiousness of humankind could itself wonder, we dive back into prehistoric ape era, into Roman inventions, and travel through Babylonia, India, China, Mesoamerica, and oh-so many more gloriously colorful, if not a wee bit dusty now, destinations.

In what is a truly invigorating, and wholly-informative read, and one that I myself have now personally read right through twice, and taking just a couple of the subject matters, the first being Why did the Sumerians have temple prostitutes?, well, taking it from the start (for those unaware), the Sumerians were the people of southern Mesopotamia whose civilization flourished between c. 4100-1750 BCE.

Indeed, their name comes from the region which is frequently, and incorrectly, referred to as a country. Sumer was never a cohesive political entity, however, but a region of city - states each with its own king.

So, what we learn is here in Lightbulb Moments in Human History: From Cave to Colosseum from author Scott Edwin Williams, is that sacred prostitution, temple prostitution or cult prostitution, and religious prostitution are simply general terms which describes a sexual ritual consisting of sexual intercourse or other sexual activity performed in the context of religious worship.

Furthermore, some historians prefer to use the terms sacred sex or sacred sexual rites to sacred prostitution in cases where payment for sexual services and advantage was not involved.

Greek historian Herodotus’s account and some other testimony from the Hellenistic Period and Late Antiquity suggest that ancient societies encouraged the practice of sacred sexual rites not only in Babylonia and Cyprus, but throughout the Near East.

Another subject delved into is what on earth inspired the Mayans to have tobacco enemas?! Well, throughout Mesoamerica there are indications that confirm the use of enemas, that is, instruments (clyster is a technical name for the wide tube syringe) to introduce liquids into the lower digestive tract.

Although most pre-Hispanic enemas were made with perishable materials such as gourds or bules, intestines and even rubber, some were made of ceramics and persist as archaeological evidence (Taube 1998). There are abundant representations of the use of enemas in Classic Maya art, especially in Late Classic vessel scenes, but along with the archaeological evidence, we also have the colonial collections and current traditions of the indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica (Taube 1998).

Well, that’s the history lesson over with, and so as for the question to hand, the use of enemas to was most likely, at first blush, to administer medication, which is also well documented among the 16th century Aztecs. There are a lot of medicines that were applied anally through enemas, to cure diseases such as bloody urine, hemorrhoids, diarrhea, urine retention and persistent cough or cough with phlegm and blood.

There is also knowledge that the medicinal use of enemas is applied in other parts of Mesoamerica, in addition to that practiced by the Aztecs. Among the contemporary Maya of the Guatemalan highlands, enemas are used to cure dysentery and constipation (Taube 1998).

It is also likely that enemas were also used in ancient Mesoamerican ceremonial purification’s for the purgative qualities. So, some Maya wanted to get the drugs into the body to stay and create the desired reaction; but perhaps other people wanted to clean out their intestines.

Today many doctors ask you to have an enema done before they examine the inside of that part of your body. Healing and purifying are closely related categories, and purification rituals were often part of the healing process. In some contexts, enemas must have been part of a ritual purification complex that included fasting, cleansing, and bathing, often in a temazcal, a sweat bath.

That all said, and yes, dived into a lot more than was needed, but hey, get me intrigued and tell me to write about said same topic and I’m off and running, Williams points out that whilst his book is en mass of quite wondrous, culled prose from times all now littered in memory, the book cannot, and will never be a complete history of every consequential idea of all time.

Thus, and in keeping with the theme of accessibility, he has only chosen big ideas that he himself found impactful and interesting. And so, in life, and on show at times throughout this most splendid of books, when a historical story is contested, he makes no apologies for choosing the more entertaining option.

Funny. Irreverent. Never boring. And full of funny black and white pictures complete with oft-times hilarious speech bubbles of talk, this is not the history you were taught in school, trust me (although, what I have written about at length above, well, that might have been).

Simply put, Scott Edwin Williams’ Lightbulb Moments in Human History engages, entertains, and provides hope that while times are tough, as aforementioned, we’re not all going to hell in a hand basket!

About the Author - Scott Edwin Williams is an optimistic smart ass, writer, humorist, and history nerd. His fascination with humanity’s lightbulb moments began as a child while watching the first moon landing. Scott splits his time between writing and making learning fun for his students. He lives in Sydney, Australia.

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