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The Age of Wisdom

Text by: Peri Musser

Greeks personified wisdom as an elegantly crafted statue of the Goddess Athena. Across ancient Asia, wisdom was found through practice of martial arts and meditation. In west Africa, the spider web, representing the complexity of human life, is a great symbol of wisdom. Kings, sultans, czars, presidents, lords, tyrants, emperors, and pharaohs have claimed to possess it. It can be given freely and sought after vigorously. It is revered and feared. It can come in an instant stroke of brilliance, and it can be cultivated throughout a long, patient life. Wisdom can be difficult to define, so thank goodness we have art, a mode through which it can be manifested, expressed, and explored.

The wisdom that I choose to discuss is one tied to memory, age, and timelessness. This kind of wisdom is something that surpasses the ephemeral nature of human life. Wisdom such as this is possessed in wonders. Its mystery is what captivates us and reminds us that we are small and insignificant. Objects and places can possess this kind of memory. This is what art history is all about — coming in contact with an object that has carried something through time and will continue to do so after you have passed on. It can be an idea, an emotion, an insight, an eternal truth, or it can bear the fingerprint of an individual, civilization, or God himself. The memory that it possesses can move you. The Pyramids, the Coliseum, the Great Wall of China... all of these magnificent buildings seem supernatural; they are testaments of the wisdom that still resides in our world today.

Like these great wonders of human history, Stonehenge, a 5,000-year-old monument located in Wiltshire, England, possesses this kind of memory. Debated over for centuries, its mystery still captivates. The effort and ingenuity needed to move and construct this landmark is something only a sophisticated society could have mustered. Little is known about Stonehenge, but what we do know is that it is the focal point of a landscape filled with prehistoric ceremonial and burial structures. The stones were carried over tens to hundreds of miles. How they were transported, organized, shaped, and raised still baffles scholars. The only tools accessible to the society were primitive — items like antler picks and bone shovels. And yet there is even more to this structure… Its orientation follows the pattern of the sun; common theories assert that the ancient society worshiped the sun or that Stonehenge is actually part of a larger astronomical calendar.

Whichever it was, this beautiful and mysterious structure, aged in its historical significance, stands and delivers a triumphant declaration. It bears the memory of centuries and centuries. Something so old and so significant to the people that labored to create it can only remind us that great wisdom exists, and it is something we, too, can access.