Minerva- May/ June 2013
Having had my fortune told by a rabbit (in Turkey), a budgerigar (in Iran) and a dove (in Armenia), I feel that the art of divination has really gone downhill in recent centuries. At least, in Delphi, the Ancient Greeks could consult a real woman, even if she was hallucinating and spouting gibberish (see pages 26-29).
What the future holds for Iraq no one can predict, but its precious archaeological sites, such as Uruk, are all under threat from neglect and looting. Uruk was first evacuated by German archaeologists 100 years ago, and an exhibition to mark the event is currently on show at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin. On pages 18 to 21, we go back 5,000 years to a time when Uruk was a megacity, ruled by the legendry king Gilgamesh, hero of the ancient epic in which he and his companion, Enkidu, do battle with an ogre called Humbaba, who fiercly guards a great cedar forest.
Cedar wood was greatly prized, for all sorts of reasons, not only in Mesopotamia but throughout the ancient world; in Egypt it was used for making coffins. On pages 22-25 you can read about all sorts of valuable trees and their uses throughout history.
Still in Egypt, we hear about a forgotten pharaoh called Horemheb (see pages 8-11). Although not of Royal blood, he was accepted as ruler and helped to restore stability to the country after the traumatic Amarna period, when Akhenaten moved the capital north and placed and replaced the worship of Amun with the monotheistic religion of the Aten. Horemheb re-established maat (divine law) and helped to lay the foundations for the great Ramesside dynasties.
It was also in Egypt that the archaeologist Flinders Petrie accrued information to corroborate Francis Galton’s theory of racial types. Although this theory has long been discredited, it is interesting to hear how Petrie collected what is called ‘racial heads’ and made images of foreign captives brought back as prisoners-of-war, as pictured on Egyptian temples. He even donated his own head, which he considered to be a fine specimen, to science. You can read all about these heads on pages 46-49.
The Native American culture stretches back thousands of years, but it was not until the 19th century that it was extensively recorded by the artist George Catlin. His colourful Indian portraits show dozens of strong, dignified, handsome men and women in their traditional feathered and beaded dress. He respected and trusted these people, and in this he was well ahead of most of his countrymen, who regarded them as ‘savages’. Catlin also portrayed hunting scenes, the rituals of medicine men and initiation ceremonies. His work is on show at the National Portrait Gallery in London (see pages 12-17).
The story of the confiscation of land from Native Americans and how they were made to live on reservations is well known. Today, attitudes are more enlightened towards indigenous cultures, and one of the champions of their preservation is Global Heritage Fund. This year GHF celebrates its first decade and, on pages 38 to 40, we look at 10 of the top sites around the world that it has helped to preserve.
Cooperation, tolerance and peaceful coexistence were the hallmarks of the inhabitants of the ruined Byzantine city of Kastron Mefa’a, now Um ar-Rasas, in Jordan, as Stefan Smith discovers when he pays the site a visit- turn to pages 42-45.
You can read about another peaceful healing influence on pages 34-37, this time emanating from the church of Santa Maria Antiqua in the Roman Forum, whose beautiful wall-paintings have recently been restored. The kindly presence of the saints and angels in the paintings were thought to have a beneficial effect on any sick person who spent the night sleeping on the floor of this Early Christian church.
Divine love is one thing but it was a very different kind of love that had a strong influence on the art of the Classical world- as you can see in an exhibition called Sleeping Eros on show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, or on pages 26-29.