I

In the inky, dismal, and unprofitable research of a recent leave of
absence from my life, I happened upon a historical prism of
Assurbanipal that I found to be somewhat disquieting. Of an
enemy whose remains he had abused in a manner that does not
bear repeating here, this most scholarly of Mesopotamian kings
professes:

         I made him more dead than he was before.

         (Prism A Beiträge zum Inschriftenwerk
         Assurbanipals ed. Borger [Harrassowitz 1996] 241)

Prisms of this sort were often buried in the foundations of
government buildings, to be read by gods but not men. Somewhere
in the shifting labyrinth of movable stacks I could hear a low dial
tone humming without end. In Assurbanipal’s library there is a
poem, written on clay, that corrects various commonly held errors
regarding the venerable realm of the dead. Contrary to the accounts
of Mu Lian, Madame Blavatsky, and Kwasi Benefo, et al., it is not
customarily permitted to visit the underworld. No, the underworld
visits you.