I am a native in this world And think in it as a native thinks
Monday, December 11, 2017
Sunday, December 10, 2017
Saturday, December 9, 2017
I must have seen these reliefs, from the North Palace of Ashurbanipal at Ninevah, before but I didn't remember them.
The royal seal of the Assyrian kings showed the king face to face with a lion, driving his sword through it, which symbolized his responsibility to protect his people from their enemies. In the mid-seventh century, the lions were more than just a symbolic threat. The records of Ashurbanipal report that “corpses of men, cattle and sheep lie in heaps as if the plague has killed them. Shepherds and herdsmen lament at what the lions have done. The villages are in mourning day and night.”
Clearly the king had to do something, and just as clearly it was more convenient, not to mention less risky, to have the lions brought to him. So this great lion hunt actually took place in an arena, where caged lions were released one at a time and the king killed them from a chariot.
Versions of these are found in most of the ancient cultures of the Middle East -- here's a photo I never posted of the Gate of All Nations at Persepolis in Iran.
The damage here from millennia of exposure to the elements -- plus at least one angry army -- gives some weight to the British Museum's argument for keeping the Parthenon marbles. While actually walking through the ruins of Persepolis and seeing the stones in context was a once in a lifetime thrill, not that many of us get to go to Iran. And it's not likely that I'll ever go back. But while I may never see the art of Persepolis again, I can take a bus uptown and see Assyrian art at the Metropolitan Museum any time I want.
When does protection become imperialism? Are they always the same thing?
It's complicated, obviously. Here's one more example: I knew that ancient Ninevah was somewhere in present-day Iraq, but I didn't realize until this last British Museum visit that it was on the outskirts of what is now Mosul.
Mosul was of course under the control of ISIS for much of the past several years. In addition to all the other havoc they created in the region, they destroyed all the statues of lumasi that had been left at the original site, as well as those in a local museum. So although I would have enjoyed visiting the ruins of Ninevah, the art would have been much safer outside of Iraq.
A lamassu was an Assyrian protective deity, usually regarded as female even though they had the heads of human males. The body might be either a lion or a bull, but they were always winged. Pairs of these statues flanked the entranceways at palaces.
My fascination with these creatures goes back to childhood -- one of my favorite books was All About Archaeology, which I borrowed from the library over and over again (thanks to the miracle of Amazon, I now own my very own copy!) It tells the stories of Heinrich Schliemann and Troy, Howard Carter and the tomb of King Tut, and Leonard Woolley and Ur, and one of the illustrations shows a statue similar to this being dragged on a sledge during the excavation of Ninevah.
There are examples in many of the major museums of the world, and I've been lucky enough to see them in the Louvre and the Metropolitan and the Pergamon, but these were the first. And they're still my favorites.
This particular statue guarded the throne room of Ashurnasirpal in the 9th century BC. You can't really tell the size from the picture, but it's almost 12 feet tall.
Friday, December 8, 2017
On the other hand, I leave for Santiago five weeks from tomorrow. And there will be no wi-fi or phone service on the ship to Antarctica -- it will just be me and my fellow adventurers and some icebergs. It's as close as you can get to radio silence in this modern world and I'm looking forward to it.
In the meantime, here are some fun shadows on Buckingham Palace Road.
Thursday, December 7, 2017
Let's head back to the British Museum, for an Assyrian relief of a cockerel that is probably not demented but definitely preening.
I was obsessed with the Assyrian collection during my first visits to the museum long ago; I remember writing what was probably a very bad poem about the winged lions and the irony of carving wings out of stone. It's still my favorite part of the museum -- one thing, at least, that hasn't changed.
I don't remember which particular palace this relief adorned, but it's probably about 2800 years old.
- More snow
- Sunday bird blogging
- The queen of the night
- The lions
- The lion hunt
- While we're on the subject of lumasi
- An ancient face
- The winged lions
- Saturday reflections
- Urban poetry
- Speaking of demented preening cockerels...
- There'll always be an England
- Astronomy Tuesday
- One day I'll be famous, I'll be proper and prim, g...
- Bonus bird blogging for Monday morning
- Sunday bird blogging
- The Elgin Marbles
- More Greek horses
- Wild horses
- Saturday reflections
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