Saturday, October 31, 2015

Abraam the perfected monk

Abraam the perfected monk: 7th Century gravestone from the exhibit EGYPT: Faith after the Pharaohs currently at the British Museum.

For a review of the exhibit see this link. Ahdaf Soueif make the point that the aim of the exhibit (organised by Neil MacGregor, the museum's outgoing director) is to show "the development of the idea of faith itself, how each of the three great monotheistic faiths emerged from what came faith was articulated and expressed and how it was used--at the level of the state, of institutional religion and of the people."

Vanessa Thorpe in the Guardian describes this gravestone or stele with Coptic inscription for a monk called Abraam.

“It commemorates someone with a Jewish name and yet it bears Christian symbols inside a classical frame next to the ankh symbol, the ancient Egyptian sign of life,” said O’Connell. “What is more, the engraving on it says he was ‘the perfected monk’ and is written in Coptic Egyptian.”
The curators hope the exhibition will show how Egyptian society was transformed from one in which many gods were worshipped to one in which prayers were offered to a single god.
The impression it is likely to give, of a culture in which powerful religious symbolism was jumbled together, is a strange echo of the way in which fanciful writers in the west once saw Egypt. British Romantic poets and novelists often described it as a frightening and confusing place, made all the more mysterious because ancient Egypt was understood to be the origin of civilised European thought, the inspiration for the Greeks, and yet it was situated on the “dark” African continent.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Friday, October 02, 2015

Alexander the Great from the program "In Our Time"

BBC's Radio 4's In Our Time's latest episode is a good overview of Alexander the Great with scholars Paul Cartledge, Clare College, U of Cambridge, Diana Spencer of the U of Birmingham and Rachael Mairs of the U of Reading. 35 minutes in there's a mention of proskynesis (obeisance or worship) which Alexander introduced as a result of his Asian campaign: a practice that alarmed his Macedonian soldiers.

The Magnanimous Alexander

Veronese's painting of 1565–1567 represents the widow and daughters of the conquered Persian emperor Darius (defeated at Issus in 333 BCE), who beg on their knees for mercy from Alexander the Great. From the point of the viewer, we, like they, mistake Alexander’s friend Hephaestion for the Greek conqueror. 

One account is given by Diodorus Siculus, Histories Book 18, 37,5:

So at daybreak, the king took with him the most valued of his Friends, Hephaestion, and came to the women. They both were dressed alike, but Hephaestion was taller and more handsome. Sisyngambris took him for the king and did him obeisance. As the others present made signs to her and pointed to Alexander with their hands she was embarrassed by her mistake, but made a new start and did obeisance to Alexander. 6 He, however, cut in and said, "Never mind, Mother. For actually he too is Alexander."74 By thus addressing the aged woman as "Mother," with this kindliest of terms he gave the promise of coming benefactions to those who had been wretched a moment before. Assuring Sisyngambris that she would be his second mother he immediately ratified in action what he had just promised orally.

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