Friday, August 30th 12:00 PM IST

The eternal love for Gold

# gold  # ancient history  # Iliad  # Homer  # precious metals  # mining  

People cling on to anything precious-relationships are precious, that's the reason why we mourn the death of our beloved ones. When it comes to gold, it has held a fascination for people since ancient times because it's so precious that it costs a lot of money to extract one additional ounce of gold from underneath which the likes of Anglogold, Barrick Gold, Harmony Gold and others are realising now when the market turned bearish.

Interior of Vatican Museum-Image courtesy of Photoholic at FreeDigital Photos.net

By Sreekumar Raghavan
Shah Jehan tells his eldest daughter at the site of Taj Mahal where construction of a monument that was to become one of the seven wonders of the world was on: "Love, Sahanara, is more precious than gold. It should above all things be pursued." (Courtesy: John Shors: Beneath a Marble Sky, A Novel of the Taj (Rupa Publishers, India, 2013).

What if that eternal love is for gold? Have we understood the man's real fascination for gold which transcends cultural, geographical and economic barriers? One analyst recently said, excessive love for gold had led to the ruin of Greek, Roman civilisation and now the Indian economy that forces rulers to tell their subjects to stop investing in this commodity and sell their gold so that less dollar is needed to import them.

People cling on to anything precious-relationships are precious, that's the reason why we mourn the death of our beloved ones. When it comes to gold, it has held a fascination for people since ancient times because it's so precious that it costs a lot of money to extract one additional ounce of gold from underneath which the likes of Anglogold, Barrick Gold, Harmony Gold and others are realising now when the market turned bearish.

Barclays recently released a new pricing model for gold and they have admitted several times that the yellow metal is a complex commodity to understand from a market perspective. Remember, this has come from a financial institution which has understood asset values and how to profit from them much better than anyone else in the world.

It is this mystery about the precious metal, the complexity associated with and the myths surrounding it that attracts me to this asset ofcourse not to forget the beauty of it. My quest to understand gold better is taking me back to ancient civilisations from Indus Valley to Greek, and Roman civilisations with the help of some excellent books already available.

Homer has described Mycenae(1600-1100 BC) as place that is rich in gold.
"Where are the birth-places of the heroes?|The few you see hardly break the plain,I passed you by, Mycenae, and Knew you,dead, more desolate than a goat-field,talked of by the goat-herds, 'It stood here'(saidthe old man) 'covered in gold, the giants built it..'-Alpheios of Mytilene

An archeologist Heinrich Schliemann (1822-90), whose archaeological credibilty has often been questioned and often worked on the assumption that Homer was true, according to Stephen Kershaw in his book, Classical Civilisation (2010, Constable and Robinson, London).

He did sent a telegram dated 28 November 1876 to King George of Greece informing him that he had discovered some tombs that belonged to Agamemnon, Cassandra, Eurymedon and their companions, all slain at a banquet by Clytemnestra (Agamemnon's wife) and her lover Aegisthus. His findings were quite stunning.tstunning details of the tombs he found in the region.

Five of the males had burial masks made of hammered gold sheets. One had a splendid breast plate decorated with spirals, and a gold masking showing an aquiline face witha beard and a moustache, which has become known as the 'mask of Agamemnon'. Several necklaces, earrings, rosetters, ornaments, ceremonial swords with hilds decorated iwth gold plate or discs were found. It denoted that the Myacenae civilisation had a advanced knowledge of metallurgy.

Drinking cups of gold and silver included the so-called Cup of Nestor, which resembles the Nestor in Iliad: It was set with golden nails, the eared handles upon it were four, and on either side there were fashioned two droves of gold, feeding, and there were double bases beneath it.

According to Stephen Kershaw, the Mycenae may not have been rich in gold or precious metals but they were a prosperous agrarian economy that cultivated staple crops like barley and wheat. I think it has resemblance to the ancient Indian economy which depended on its spices exports to aggressively accumulated precious metals of all hues-- diamonds, gold, silver, natural pearls from the Gulf region.

The gold came "from Nubia, Egypt, Macedonia or the island of Thasos, and was probably paid for by a healthy agricultural economy that in turn sustained the activities of craftsmen, solders, sailors and rulers, who are characterised by an Odysseus-like resourcefulnes," writes Stephen Kershaw.

In an earlier article, I had suggested that India could take the lead in setting up world's first international museum on jewellery history because of the diversity and quantity of precious metals accumulated from ancient times through trade and the continuing fascination for gold in this emerging nation.

It was the discovery of several clay tablets with writings in some arachaic form of Greek that has enabled archaelogists and historians to reconstruct the life of ancient Greeks. (That belonged to another era, now we have the digital tablets!).

My son has often asked me why learn about the French revolution, Russian Revolution or the world wars or history itself. Perhaps,a reading of John Shors historical novel on Shah Jahan and his love for Mumtaz and Stephen Kershaws wonderful academic cum informative book on ancient Rome and Greek civilisations could change the views of anyone who finds history quite dull and uninspiring.

I still don't have any final word on why ancient people loved gold and continue to do so. May be relationships have their limitations, a person however dear to us will part ways. Shah Jehan's love Mumtaz departed causing grieve to him for the rest of his life but the monument that he built in her memory still survives although John Shors says much of the beauty of it could be attributed to his eldest daughter Sahanara who was in love with the architect, Isa!

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