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Cyrus Cylinder Goes West


By A.J. Cave

In 1851, the American John Babsone Lane Soule (1815-1891, the first Superintendent of Schools in Indiana) penned his famous line: “Go West, young man!” in an article in the Terre Haute-Indiana Daily Express. And while the iconic clay cylinder bearing the name of Cyrus the Great is hardly young (over 2,500 years old), after trekking through Washington D.C., Houston, and New York, it heeded Soule’s imperative and headed out West.

The Cyrus Cylinder & Ancient Persia: A New Beginning
The Getty Villa: 2 October-2 December

The Cyrus Cylinder arrived in San Francisco during the first week of August and went on display at the Asian Art Museum on Friday, 9 August 2013.

One of the events during the opening weekend was the revised and expanded version of the symphony: Cyrus the Great: Symphonic Suite conducted by Loris Tjeknavorian, and sponsored by the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans (PAAIA). The original version, inspired by the works of the Classical Greek writers Herodotus (~ 484-425 BCE) and Xenophon (~ 430-356 BCE), was composed in 1972 and performed at Persepolis-the ancient capital of the Achaemenid Great Kings-during the 2,500-year anniversary celebrations of the Persian Empire.

Over 30,000 people visited The Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia exhibit at the Asian Art Museum (30,414 to be exact). This figure does not reflect participation in various public and private cultural, musical and social events organized and hosted by PAAIA, Society for Asian Art, and Asia Society, and group visits by students from various Bayarea schools. Among the notable gatherings at the museum was a private event organized for the executives of Google, the Silicon Valley Internet juggernaut.

My most memorable anecdote comes from a Russian-American friend who saw the exhibit 3 times. When she was heading back to the museum for the third time, I tried to be helpful by pointing to the other exhibit at the museum, In the Moment, Japanese Art from the private collection of the American high-tech billionaire Larry Ellison, and my friend said: “I can see Japanese art any time, but Persian art-now that is something special!”

Sunday, 22 September, the autumn equinox ending the summer, was the last day of The Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia exhibit in San Francisco. There was a long line of visitors all day long waiting patiently to see the exhibit and at some point according to the museum staff, the line snaked around the block. Inside, the line stretched from the bottom of the steps to the second floor all the way to the doors leading to the exhibit. It must have been like any day the subjects of Cyrus the Great stood in line for an audience with the Great King.

Dr. John Curtis (the British Museum curator of the exhibit) was overheard replying to an informal question as: “I am the guy with the Cyrus Cylinder.” A perfect quote for an American T-shirt.

Recapping the exhibit highlights in Babylon by the Bay (San Francisco):

Couple of the notable lectures (without videos) were:

A related lecture was given on 28 August by Dr. Jon Taylor, Assistant Keeper of Cuneiform Collections at the British Museum: “Hormuzd Rassam and the Discovery of the Cyrus Cylinder” at Cal (UC Berkeley). The talk was hosted by the Assyrian Heritage Fund and co-sponsored by the Center for the Middle Eastern Studies and the Townsend Center for Humanities.

The most anticipated (and the last) stop of the Cyrus Cylinder Tour in the U.S. is at the Getty Villa, sponsored by the Farhang Foundation with the generous support from the local Iranian-American community, detailed in foundation’s 2012-2013 Annual Report.

The opening day of the exhibit, Wednesday, 2 October, coincides with the ancient Iranian Festival of Mehregan.

Los Angeles (dubbed Tehran-geles) is home to the largest population of Iranians outside of Iran and an estimated half a million people are expected to visit The Cyrus Cylinder & Ancient Persia: A New Beginning exhibit at the Getty Villa. Streets of L.A. have been decorated with colorful Cyrus Cylinder banners.

Along the objects from the British Museum, a recent acquisition by the Getty Research Institute: the Italian officer Luigi Pesce’s Album Fotografico della Persia (Photographic Album of Persia, 1860, dedicated to Sir Henry Creswicke Rawlinson) with earliest photographs of Pasargadae and Persepolis will be on display.

Full list of events and activities in southern California, including concerts and culinary courses, can be found on the website of Farhang Foundation.

Please note that each event has its own reservation and registration process, and the Dates/Times are subject to change. Check for updates on Farhang’s Facebook page and other relevant websites.

Here is a sneak peek at some of the planned academic events:

The Getty Villa: The Cyrus Cylinder & Ancient Persia: A New Beginning (2 October-2 December)


Wednesday, 2 October 2013, 7:00 pm (sold out)
The Cyrus Cylinder: The Discovery and Creation of an Icon
Getty Villa
Speaker: Dr. John Curtis

Sunday, 13 October 2013, 2:00-5:00 pm
Cyrus Cylinder: Modern Myths and Ancient Realities
University of Southern California (USC) - Tudor Campus Center
Elizabeth Carter (University of California, Los Angeles): From Anshan to Persepolis: An Overview of the Achaemenid Heartland from c. 1000-500 BCE
Ryan Byrne (University of Texas, Austin): The Impact of the Expansion of the Persian Empire on the Adoption and Spread of the Alphabet
Bruce Zuckerman (University of Southern California): Innovative Imaging Techniques and the Cyrus Cylinder
Tamara Eskenazi (Hebrew Union College): Cyrus and the Bible

Saturday, 2 November 2013, 2:00 pm
Empire, Authority, and Autonomy in the Achaemenid Persian Empire
Getty Villa
Speaker: Elspeth Dusinberre (University of Colorado)


Sunday, 20 October 2013, 10:00 am-6:00 pm
Cyrus the Great: From the Bible to the European Literary Imagination
University of California, Irvine (UCI) - Humanities Gateway
Rahim Shayegan (University of California, Los Angeles): From Cyrus to Darius: Conquest, Usurpation, and Continuity
Ali Mousavi (University of California, Irvine and Los Angeles): Pasargadae and the Kingdom of Solomon
Khodadad Rezkhani (University of Nevada, Reno): Cyrus as the Ideal King in European Medieval Literature
Sheiba Kaufman (University of California, Irvine): To bestow a Cyrus upon the world to make many Cyruses: Discovering Europe’s Ideal Ruler in Persia’s Legendary King
Screening of the silent movie: Intolerance (directed & produced by David Llewelyn Wark “D. W.” Griffith, 1916)
Allison Perlman (University of California, Irvine): Griffith’s Intolerance in its Time: Melodrama and Moviegoing in 1916

Sunday, 27 October 2013, 10:15 am-5:15 pm
Cyrus the Great and the Persian Empire: Perspectives from Antiquity to Today
Getty Villa
Irving Finkel, British Museum
Ali Mousavi, University of California, Los Angeles
Gregory Nagy, Harvard Center for Hellenic Studies
Timothy Potts, J. Paul Getty Museum
Matthew Stolper, Oriental Institute, University of Chicago

Monday-Tuesday, 28-29 October 2013, 10:00 am-5:00 pm
Cyrus the Great: Life and Lore
Day 1: World of Cyrus
Day 2: The Cyrus Reception
University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - Royce Hall
Details: TBD

Sunday, 6 October 2013, 6:30 pm
Recreating Pasargadae: Cyrus the Great’s Paradise
PBS SoCal Plus 50.2 (check local listings)

Two new books to be added to the reading list are:
Cyrus the Great: an Ancient Iranian King edited by Touraj Daryaee (Afshar Publishing, 2013)
The Private Lives of Women in Persian Egypt by Annalisa Azzoni (Eisenbrauns, 2013)
The ground-breaking museum tour has been organized by the British Museum in partnership with the Iran Heritage Foundation and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of Smithsonian Institution, with additional funding and support provided by various local individuals and organizations.
Additional content is found on the official Cyrus Cylinder Tour website:

Be a part of this historic event. Come and share our farhang.


Related Articles:

Who broke the Cyrus Cylinder?

- Just one look at the Cyrus Cylinder (normally on display at the British Museum, on tour in the United States during 2013), and it is obvious that the celebrated cylinder was badly broken at one point during its existence and pieced together, with roughly one-third of it missing. -A.J. Cave - 9/9/13

Cyrus Cylinder U.S. Tour Culminates At The Getty Villa This Fall - On loan from the British Museum, The Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia: A New Beginning will conclude its highly successful U.S. tour at the Getty Villa beginning October 2 and continuing through December 2, 2013. The tour began in the nation's capital at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and traveled to the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, before its final showing in Los Angeles. 8/22/13

Catching up with the Cyrus Cylinder - Following in the footsteps of the Cyrus Cylinder trekking through five museums in the United States, we have reached the mid-point in Manhattan. So let's pause for a commercial break and see how far this iconic object has come, as we eagerly await its arrival on the West Coast. -A.J. Cave 7/19/13

Ancient Persian Ruler Influenced Thomas Jefferson, U.S. Democracy - The discovery of the Cyrus Cylinder was a hundred years in the future when Thomas Jefferson and other founders of the United States adopted the progressive ideas of the ancient Persian ruler Cyrus the Great. They knew of Cyrus through classical Greek writers and Biblical accounts. -Lea Terhune, IIP 03/17/13

Cyrus Cylinder: Ancient Persia Foreshadowed Modern Values - The Cyrus Cylinder has left its British Museum repository for its first U.S. tour, beginning at the Smithsonian Institution's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington. "The Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia" showcases this 2,600-year-old archeological treasure amid other artifacts from the Achaemenid Empire (550-331 B.C.) founded by the Persian ruler Cyrus the Great. -Lea Terhune, IIP 03/13/13

The Cyrus Cylinder Tour Of The United States: Washington, Houston, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles -- March-December 2013 - The Cyrus Cylinder will be on display in an exhibition entitled "The Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia: A New Beginning." This touring exhibition is organised by the British Museum in partnership with the Iran Heritage Foundation (IHF) and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, and in collaboration with four other major museums. 02/23/13

Cyrus, Ben-Gurion and Ben-Zion - By all accounts. Cyrus was a magnanimous man and the archetype of a wise ruler. The policies that he introduced did indeed promote religious tolerance, and the right for communities to live according to their own laws and beliefs. What Cyrus promoted is a model to be emulated and not criticized. One must be grateful that Neil MacGregor delivered his TED talk, and is allowing the Cyrus Cylinder to tour the United States of America. -Abolala Soudavar 02/20/13

The Cyrus Cylinder: Its Significance for Today

- The Cyrus Cylinder has traveled to the United States for the first time, and it will tour five major metropolitan centers, starting March 9th at the Smithsonian Institution's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington, D.C., traveling afterwards to Houston, New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Despite its antiquity, the cylinder may still have a significant role to play on the international stage today. -Farhang Jahanpour 03/11/13


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