1,000 Year Old Apology for Drunken Behaviour

I’m reading a book about archaeological expeditions in central Asia at the moment called “Foreign Devils on the Silk Road,” primarily because I’ve been spending a lot of time at work lately preparing the Mellon International Dunhuang Archive for delivery via ARTstor, and it’s interesting to find out some of the background behind the material.

Basically the story behind these artifacts is not far from being a real-life version of Tomb Raider or Indiana Jones; around the turn of the last century, sundry European adventurers were running around Central Asia excavating ancient sand-covered settlements in various inhospitable deserts (such as the Taklamakan, Lop and Gobi deserts), bribing the locals and shipping back crates of ancient manuscripts, paintings, sculptures and frescoes to museums in Europe, India and Russia.

By far the most famous and controversial haul was that made by Sir Aurel Stein, a Hungarian-born British archaeologist who, among many other notable exploits, managed to smuggle out of China the entire library of manuscripts — some 500 cubic feet — from the “Caves of the Thousand Buddhas” in Dunhuang, China. To this day, Stein is held by the Chinese in the same regard as Lord Elgin is held by the Greeks.

Apparently, one of the many manuscripts he brought back is a 1,000 year-old “model letter” for an apology to a host for drunken behaviour at a social function, which I found amusing:

“Yesterday, having drunk too much, I was so intoxicated as to pass all bounds; but none of the rude and coarse language I used was uttered in a conscious state. The next morning, after hearing others speak on the subject, I realized what had happened, whereupon I was overwhelmed with confusion and ready to sink into the ground with shame…”

The model letter also provides a helpful template for the host’s response:

Yesterday, Sir, while in your cups, you so far overstepped the observances of polite society as to forfeit the name of gentleman, and made me wish to have nothing more to do with you. But since you now express your shame and regret for what has occurred, I would suggest that we meet again for a friendly talk…”

Anyway, it’s not exactly a blockbuster read, but here’s a filthy lucre link to the book at Amazon anyway:

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