Ancient Assyrian tablet maker? Egyptian priest? George T. W. Patrick? George S. Godard? Frederick C. Ferry? Cicero? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: The world was supposed to end in 2012 according to many individuals. But the entity assigned the task may have been too busy destroying other worlds. The Smithsonian website posted an article titled: “Ten Notable Apocalypses That (Obviously) Didn’t Happen” which mentioned the following: 1
An Assyrian clay tablet dating to around 2800 B.C. bears the inscription: “Our Earth is degenerate in these later days; there are signs that the world is speedily coming to an end; bribery and corruption are common; children no longer obey their parents; every man wants to write a book and the end of the world is evidently approaching.”
However, the reference work “Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations” published by the Library of Congress suggested that this story was spurious. 2 Could you examine this topic?
Quote Investigator: This popular tale of a tablet listing eerily familiar societal criticisms has been in circulation for more than one-hundred years, and many versions of the supposed inscription have been described. The earliest instance known to QI of this prototypical claim was printed in the August 1908 issue of a periodical for bicyclists called “Bassett’s Scrap Book”. A short item contrasted the modern age to ancient times and presented a variation of the epigraph: 3
The “good old times” seemed as bad to the “good-old-timers” as the present times seem to the modern man, as shown by the following translation on an inscription on a tablet in the Imperial Museum at Constantinople, Turkey:—
Naram Sin, 5000 B.C.
We have fallen upon evil times, the world has waxed old and wicked. Politics are very corrupt. Children are no longer respectful to their elders. Each man wants to make himself conspicuous and write a book.
There are multiple points of similarity with the version given on the Smithsonian website, but this does not end with the ominous claim that “the end of the world is evidently approaching.”
Also in 1908 the same story was printed in two medical journals: “The Cincinnati Lancet-Clinic” 4 and “The Medical Fortnightly” 5 together with a newspaper: “Lexington Herald” of Lexington, Kentucky. 6
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 2009 November 12, Smithsonian Magazine Website, “Ten Notable Apocalypses That (Obviously) Didn’t Happen” by Mark Strauss. (Accessed at Smithsonian.com on October 21 2012) link ↩
- 1993, Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations Requested from the Congressional Research Service, Edited by Suzy Platt, Quotation Number 456, Page 91, Barnes & Noble Publishing, New York. (Google Books preview) (link to 1989 edition at bartleby.com) ↩
- 1908 August, Bassett’s Scrap Book: Scraps of History, Fact and Humor: Official Organ League of American Wheelmen, Volume 6, Number 6, Quote Page 84, League of American Wheelmen, Boston, Massachusetts. (Internet Archive) link ↩
- 1908 August 22, The Cincinnati Lancet-Clinic: A Weekly Journal of Medicine and Surgery, [Freestanding short article titled “7,000 Years Ago”], Page 235, Column 2, Published by Lancet-Clinic Publishing Co., Cincinnati, Ohio. (Google Books full view. Thanks to “Julie L.” who located this citation and shared her discovery on the blog “Making Light” of editor Nielsen Hayden) link ↩
- 1908 September 25, The Medical Fortnightly, Byron Robinson’s Note Book, Quote Page 466, Column 2, Fortnightly Press Co., St. Louis, Missouri. (Google Books full view. Thanks to John Mark Ockerbloom who located this document and shared his discovery on the blog “Making Light”) link ↩
- 1908 September 18, Lexington Herald, The Ragged Edge by Splanchnic, Page 4, Column 3, Lexington, Kentucky. (GenealogyBank) ↩