By the Waters of Babylon Questions and Answers
by Stephen Vincent Benét

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In "By the Waters of Babylon", what are three things John finds in the "Place of the Gods" and why does he think things are magic.

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As John crosses the forbidden river of to "the Place of the Gods, with its “bitter waters,” he is actually crossing the Hudson River (“Oudis-sun”); the “god-roads ”he has followed were originally complex highway systems; “ubtreas” is the “Subtreasury”; the statue of “ashing” is of George Washington, and the other great men are Abraham
Lincoln, Moses, and, Biltmore (referring to the the one magnificent Biltmore Hotel); the “chariots” seem to be cars and trucks; the magic torches are electric lights; the falling fire that causes the “Great
Burning” and the poisonous mist is from a super bomb, and the resultant "mist' killed the inhabitatnts .It is interesting to note that the story was written many years before the invention of the atomic bomb.At first John thinks these things are magic because he has been taught he is in the "Place of the Gods". As he explores further, though, he sees a "dead god" looking out the window at the ruins of the city. He then realizes that these so-called gods were once just humans like himself who "ate knowledge too fast". However, he decides, that he can teach his people this knowledge and control it at the same time. Thus Benet is commenting on the cyclical nature of history. Great civiliations rise and fall, each one thinking they can ignore the lessons from the past and yet falling victim to them the same as their predecessors.

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