The duties did they perform, and what constituted

The Statue of Ashurnasirpal II is a sculpture in the round of a king of Assyria. He is depicted holding a scythe of the gods and a scepter of office which identifies him as king, Ashur’s representative-on-earth. This is fairly typical of kingly depictions of the era and near east cultures. The symbols of his office reinforce the notion that kings stood above mere men. The connotation of him holding a scythe wielded by gods implies, at least, that he wields similar power. I often wonder how these looked to the kings themselves. They must have known of their own mortality. The fact that they commissioned such works displays that clearly – for if they knew that they might endure, what purpose to create such memorials? Did they see these symbols of godly power as warnings, or just as the way things should be? I cant pretend to know, but I wonder at the mortal thoughts of those once placed in the realm of gods.3. Kings were perhaps the most common subjects of Near Eastern art. How did such art depict kings? What conventions were used to denote royal status? What relationship between the kings and the people did works of art portray? What was the relationship between the kings and the gods? How did Near Eastern kings use art to establish and maintain their authority? Based on Near Eastern art, what functions did kings serve, what duties did they perform, and what constituted a good ruler?It seems clear that most Kings were depicted as stiff, resolute, and stern – though, there are some notable exceptions. Even then, many included symbols of power, including scepters, rings and the use of scale to indicate power and raise kings above the status of ordinary men. This idea was very useful to those kings. Through these images, they could become more than mortal men – they could claim a divinity of a sort and rule through divine providence, thus securing their power from usurpation. After all, what mere mortal could hope to act as the gods’ spokesman on earth? In that world, kings might not have quite been gods, but they weren’t too far off either. Based on the depictions, one can assume that kings made decisions concerning the nation, held final word on determinations of justice, and, in many cases, acted as mediator between the general public and the gods simply by virtue of proximity, if nothing else. I can only imagine that the true test of any ruler would be that their kingdom lasted longer than they did.Painting from the tomb of Petosiris at Muzawaka (XI)Ever since I first learned of him, I was always a little fascinated by Anubis, a god of the dead in Egyptian mythology. To be fair, I was fascinated by death gods in any mythology. I suppose a fascination with death is something I share with the peoples of ancient Egypt. Depicted in the picture with the head of a jackal, Anubis was a guide and judge to the souls of the dead as well as the deity invoked to protect the resting places of the dead. It was he who first created mummification for the dead god Osiris, killed by Osiris’s jealous, and possibly cuckolded, brother Seth/Set. I chose Anubis because of the large impact and direction death, and, by extension, the god of death, had upon the art of ancient Egypt.2. The pyramids of Ancient Egypt represent impressive feats of architectural engineering, but they had no direct administrative or practical purpose, being used instead to house the corpses of pharaohs. What does it suggest about Egyptian society that it devoted so much labor and capital to the construction of tombs? What view of death does this practice convey, and, more importantly, what view of life does it suggest? Can one see similar traits in other works of Egyptian art? Can all Egyptian art be said to favor death over life? My overall impression of art of the period is that it was an attempt at permanence. I feel as though man was struggling to make something which would remain. I imagine that this fixation on eternity caused a preoccupation with death, the one single permanent fixture of their world. Death lasted far longer than life, and as such, required much greater attention than the fleeting gasp of mortality one experienced while alive. Life seems to have held some meaning at least, but death was, by far, the more worrisome state. I don’t know that all Egyptian art can be said as such. To be certain, there does seem to be an overall focus on the afterlife, but there are still more than enough depictions of simple, everyday life to conclude that it was at least celebrated in some way.Aulos Player, CycladesThe Cycladic figures, such as the one depicted here, were rather interesting to me. The Aulos Player, which I will be honest, I first thought was a man looking up while holding his beard, is fundamentally different from many of the rest of the pieces covered in this period, though it does seem similar to the Minoan sculptures in the text. I chose this statue because it was so different and the realization that an aulos must be some sort of flute actually made me laugh at my early impressions of the figure. I don’t have a whole lot of feeling about most of the art here. mostly I feel a bit of pity that they should struggle so hard to leave impressions that would last across the ages. A lot of the art of the period just seems so serious and desperate. This figure, though, it made me smile. It just seems like it was made by some one who was happy to be and not an attempt to reach for eternity.3. Works of art are often treated as transcendent, timeless objects. How important is it to understand the cultural context in which they arose? Can art be understood on its own, or must it be situated in time and place? How important is the artist’s intention to understanding a work of art? Might more be lost than gained if Linear A were deciphered, and the meaning and purposes of Minoan artwork were known more certainly? I assume here that transcendent here refers to the idea that art can speak across barriers of language. And it is true that some can, but I posit that it isn’t a universal truth. Some aspects of the art could be considered transcendent, but I think there is some value in the artist’s intent and the purposes and culture of the art. I cannot imagine that more knowledge gained would invalidate the impact of any of the works created by these ancient peoples. And by my own response to the piece I chose for this chapter, I don’t imagine that people will ever stop associating their own feelings or evocations with pieces of art in whatever way they might.


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