With Cate Blanchett’s newly released Carol, the two actors met to discuss topics ranging from faking accents to working with different types of directors. Source: Watch Cate Blanchett and Ian McKellen Discuss Acting | Seroword
With Cate Blanchett’s newly released Carol, the two actors met to discuss topics ranging from faking accents to working with different types of directors. Source: Watch Cate Blanchett and Ian McKellen Discuss Acting | Seroword
Eis tin Poli. I’ll be seeing you in the city. The polis. Which polis? Constantinopolis! Yes, Istanbul. Istanbul is the greeting, Eis tin Poli, in the Turkish mind’s ear of 1929. Istanbul is charming and exotic, rich with history and the diversity of the people’s that have made it their home. And rich, of course, with the warmth and hospitality of the Turkish people. However visiting the polis in 2014 stirred up rational, irrational feelings I hadn’t expected – grief for a city, a homeland and times that were never mine. But they were my family’s. I couldn’t enjoy the city freely, everywhere I turned conquest met my gaze and its base sound reverberated through the ether and into my soul. Conquest in Machiavelli’s terms.
We stayed just off Taksim Square. Not the touristy side with all the grand hotels, nor the cosmopolitan side off Istaklal St but the far, forgotten edge. Here cobbled streets pushed the present past derelict mansions and stray cats, and strayer people lived temporary stays with permanent hopeless resolve. Refugees from personal and political cataclysms were taking refuge in homes abandoned to decay. Quiet façades and boarded doorways promised sound shelter for the homeless. How long had these buildings been neglected? Machiavelli whispered, since 1999? 1955? 1922? Machiavelli go away. Did they quake over the pressure of civil turmoil or seismic crisis? Who owned these buildings? Where were they now? Machiavelli kept whispering.(1)
The other superior expedient is to establish settlements in one or two places; these will, as it were, fetter the state to you… (The Prince) injuries only those from whom he takes land and houses to give to the new inhabitants, and takes land and houses to give to the new inhabitants, and these victims form a tiny minority, and can never do any harm since they remain poor and scattered. All the others are left undisturbed, and so should stay quiet, and as well as this they are frightened to do wrong lest what happened to the dispossessed should happen to them.”
The Prince, Machiavelli, Penguin Classics, Bull, George (Trans.), 1981, pp. 36-37.
When states newly acquired as I said have been accustomed to living freely under their own laws, there are three ways to hold them securely: first, by devastating them; next, by going and living there in person; thirdly, by letting them keep their own laws, exacting tribute, and setting up an oligarchy which will keep the state friendly to you.
The Prince, Machiavelli, Penguin Classics, Bull, George (Trans.), 1981, p.47
Machiavelli’s style of devastation was physical and spiritual in 1453. Did the residents of Constantinople really believe their unbreachable walls would fall? What was this explosive new weapon in comparison to the might of God? A story survives that a cleric – was it the Patriarch? a bishop? was fishing when news came to him that the Turks had broken through. He laughed it off. He just pulled up a good catch and stayed by the water to fry his meal. He replied to the messenger that if the walls had been breached then his half fried fish would jump out of his frying pan and back into the Golden Horn. Splash! and so they did.
In Istanbul in 2014 the pride of the Turkish people was everywhere on display, conquest declared on a sea of Turkish flags fluttering over the city. Each cloth depicted Sultan Mehmet’s victory moon on a background of blood red. The shape of the moon’s crescent declared the night of May 29th, 1453 ever present in the city – present on a full moon as well as the new, on government buildings and on private ones and even on Orthodox ones. The Orthodox, the descendants of the Rhomaioi/Byzantine keepers of Constantinople, can practice their religion in Turkey but there is tribute to pay to the mighty Turkish state, its flag declares their obeisance on the Orthodox Patriarchate College.
Conquest is constant. It seemed that wherever I saw an Orthodox Church a Mosque was built beside it, the call to prayers of the conquerors enveloping it intermittently throughout the day. Some Mosques began life as churches and like the Hagia Sophia, spear-like minarets now square them off. The Hagia Sophia itself has been and remains a psychological prize. Sultan Mehmet had to convert it into a mosque, whitewashing the historic and religious iconography of the Cathedral and the city. He tried to eradicate the grandeur and significance of an organic culture, millennia old. For the Byzantines, the Rhomaioi – the Greeks, it was the emotional rallying point for insurrection right up until 1922.
Conquest pervaded my senses the day we spent in Sultanahmet. We took a taxi (2) from Taksim Square where we were staying to where Byzantine monuments are concentrated and of course the Blue Mosque dominates the sea and landscape. Instead of dropping us off at the open square bounded by the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque and Justinian’s Basilica Cistern, the driver left us in front of a rug store on the other side. It was early in the day so we thought a detour was okay. It was a wonderful detour. No one does customer service like the Turkish people. The shop was multi-storeyed: just beneath street level they sold ceramics – beautiful, ethnic, colourful, and reminiscent of art nouveau. The design motifs were taken from nature with arabesque linework, watery glazing and a traditional feel that surely influenced the Arts and Crafts movement of the 1800s. Hefty in appeal, weight and price, I had to resist, but my appetite was whetted. Rugs, waited upstairs.
The salesman was warm and talkative as he sat us on a divan, serving us Turkish tea and the most amazing Turkish Delight I have ever tasted. Each style of rug was representative of a region of Turkey or weaving technique. The salesman imparted his knowledge and was patient with our indecisiveness. He was chatty as he tried to build a connection with us. Yet, with all of his gregarious warmth he couldn’t crack my shell. Yes, we have a Greek background. Yes, my family originated in Turkey – Pisidia, Propontos and the Dardenelles. Yes, I remembered the earthquake that devastated Istanbul in 1999…Tears began to fall…Yes, the Greeks were the first foreigners to run to their aid. The Greeks were passionate to return to the Polis, yes? I couldn’t reply to why the Greeks ran to save the city, but they did. I looked at more rugs. Finally, we chose one from Mt Ararat depicting animals from Noah’s Ark and descended to street level. Led out by an adjacent door, we walked through a narrow room with glass-topped counters filled with Turkish Delight. Not simple rose water infused loukum but exotic flavoured Delights mixed with dried flower petals, pistachios, a variety of other nuts, pomegranate and dried fruits and spices I didn’t recognise. And so soft – so fresh- so delicious.
We walked to the Hagia Sophia from the far side, buying the kids Fez’ to wear from a hawker on the way. The queue that awaited us was trying on the kids’ already stretched patience, it tracked far into the square. Thankfully, young boys with wooden spinning tops on long cords zeroed in on their next customers just ahead of us. Our kids were taken with the zeal that comes from wanting to get a closer look at something that is being offered to other children. Eventually the enterprising locals offered our kids the same attention. The simplicity of the mechanism and the beauty in its motion was mesmerising… But, for how long?
Was there another way in to the museum? I decided to walk around the complex to see. On the far side, sure enough, there was another entrance. No queue. A guard and a turnstile and no crowds either! I phoned my husband to get smart, leave his spot in the queue and bring the kids around. Removing the kids took longer than I anticipated. I walked into a couple of stalls that were set up on the road side. They sold ceramics!!!! They sold sets of Turkish coffee cups with imitation Iznik tile designs. I started to haggle – when in Rome, er, New Rome, er, Constantinople, er, Istanbul…
This is beautiful. I’ll give you this much for it.
No, that is the price.
I’ve seen it cheaper elsewhere.
Not this design.
Yes, this design. Much cheaper.
My price is what it is.
But I’ve seen it much, much cheaper in shops off Istaklal Street. Honestly.
When the half cooked fish jumped back into the water, honestly.
And there it was – a reference to the defeat of the Greeks/Byzantines where I wasn’t expecting it. Don’t forget you were conquered, and won’t win now. I walked away empty-handed, miffed and conquered.
Few of the hundreds of visitors to the Hagia Sophia took the time to go around the back. It wasn’t an entrance to the cathedral proper. It was an eye-opener. The courtyard is bounded by the baptistery off the once Christian cathedral on one side and by Islamic family crypts on the others. Beautiful Iznik tiles and calligraphy adorn the final resting place of sultans and their family members. Their coffins covered in green cloth still rest in state elevated off the floor. It is a quiet, reverent place. A place of contemplation.
“But when states are acquired in a province differing in language, in customs, and in institutions, then difficulties arise; and to hold them one must be very fortunate and very assiduous. One of the best, most effective expedients would be for the conqueror to go live there in person. This course of action would make a new possession more secure and more permanent; and this was what the Turk achieved in Greece…”
The Prince, Machiavelli, Penguin Classics, Bull, George (Trans.), 1981, pp. 36-37.
The Ottoman Turks didn’t settle with just moving in. They were and remain assiduous in proclaiming their dominance. They appropriated centuries old spiritual and historical sites and made them their own. First and foremost is the Hagia Sophia. Permanent fixtures, minarets and the royal tombs, were added outside and Islamic calligraphy adorns the central dome. When you walk inside you can almost imagine it being an Orthodox Christian Church again until you raise your head and look above and beyond the colourful masonry up to the pendentives. As minarets square off the outside of the building, inside, four large, painted, wooden discs lean on the base of each cherubim. Today the mosaics have been restored as the Hagia Sophia complex is a museum – a compromise solution between two heritages and two religions. Byzantine mosaics of Emperors pay homage to their Christian god in the upper gallery while below the library of Sultan Mahmut stands empty. A holy place regardless of the noise, the tour groups, the hide-and-seek antics of my youngest child. Historically a holy place for two opposing religions. Could Christians and Muslims ever share this space in common purpose – worship? Spiritually, could we ever reach that height of acceptance, forgiveness, love?
We arrived in Istanbul during Ramadan, a wonderful time to be in that city. Istaklal Street was abuzz with foreign visitors – tourists with a middle eastern flavour. In the morning floral garlands were offered in the Square away from the poised and watchful keep of four war heroes on their stone pedestal. Plastic helicopter blades shot off into the night sky and and flame fuelled miniature balloons delighted children and adults alike. We saw a harem for the first time. Eight people walking together through Taksim Square led by a man, an eight-or-so-year old boy by his side, then a black-clad woman wearing sunglasses, slightly to the side and behind, and followed by another six women. My western sensibilities were offended. But this turned to laughter that night when we encountered a different harem altogether. One man, seven women and multiple designer tote bags were an armada tearing through the Square. This time, the beleaguered gent was struggling to catch up to his wives. At least they were all running in the same direction. Many a western man would flinch at the idea of a shopping trip with one wife, let alone 7!
Ramadan in Turkey means a celebration of the shadow puppet theatre Karagöz. Visiting the city on our own, not knowing the language and staying in an apartment, not a hotel, I couldn’t find a venue to go and see a performance live. But it was being screened on TV.
Just before I first started blogging Karagöz and Karagiozis were mixed up on Wikipedia. The Karagiozis site had images of the Greek puppet and then the rest of the characters were taken from the Karagöz repertoire. Wikipedia prefixed their articles with their wish to amalgamate the two puppets into one entry. The thinking was that the puppets had the same name and therefore were the same. It was the first theatrical issue I blogged about. I argued that they may have the same name but they look very different. And while they both serve to entertain, where the laughs are derived from are very different. Karagiozis began as a barefoot pauper from a ramshackle shanty on the outskirts of town. Always trying to get one over his Ottoman overlords he provided a release to a repressed culture of people. Karagöz on the other hand, was the well-heeled bumpkin who was in need of sophistication and whose theatre, a comedy of manners and situation, satirised the many different ethnicities of the Ottoman Empire.
The obfuscation of the two puppets arises from an apparent general blending of Greek/Byzantine and Turkish culture since the fall of Byzantium. There is much layman debate over who was first to do what between Greeks and Turks. This extends to food – who was first to serve baklava, Loukum/Turkish Delight, pulverised coffee, kebabs/yeeros, revani, manti, imambaldi … Language is looked to, to provide the answer. Is a name Turkish or Greek? But in the Ottoman Empire language wasn’t always the greatest safeguard of culture. You just have to look at the tropes of the Karagiozis puppet theatre, so much of it is Roman. The world of Karagiozis exists in the streetscapes of Plautus’ comedy. Menander is said to have been the first playwright to incorporate stereotyping – stock characters – into his work which is what the shadow puppets are about. Comedy of the Late Romans in antiquity as well as the Romans under the Turkish yoke as in Karagiozis – is of satire and situations. It has been my contention that Karagiozis-style theatrical satire not as shadow puppetry, nor called Karagiozis, existed before Islam came into Asia Minor but had to metamorphise into a form that the authorities would condone. Islam at the time didn’t allow human representation, so shadows were a way of getting around religion. Karagiozis, possibly evolved from a Selenus-type character, took the name and form of the popular Turkish shadow puppet theatre to survive. In Italy, Roman comedy developed into the very physical, masked street theatre, the commedia dell’arte, in Turkey Roman Comedy developed into shadow puppetry.
Neither Greek nor Roman nor Byzantine. Why not Rhomaioi, that’s what they called themselves?
Language may not be a perfect safeguard for culture but it can help. The Turkish language has preserved the identity of its Greek speaking population as Romans. What, you ask? Well who are they, this ethnic minority? Are they Greeks? They don’t live in Greece. The Greek they speak is a little more formal, the food they eat differs… Are they Turks? They don’t have equal rights with their Muslim counterparts due to their Orthodoxy. Are they Byzantines? The Byzantines were Orthodox but lived in ancient and medieval times and identified as neither ‘Byzantines’ nor ‘Greeks’. Are they Rum, as the Turks know them? Rum, Rumla, the Turkish way of saying Roman. How could they be Roman when they live in Turkey, not Rome, and generally speak neither Latin nor Italian? It’s a problem Western scholars face when trying to come to terms with a Roman Empire that had lost Rome, spoke Greek and was not recognised by the West as Roman in medieval times. I like Rhomaioi. It’s simple if it doesn’t look simple on paper. Rom-Aye-E! It’s what Greek-speaking Byzantines called themselves. Rome – the seed of their empire gets a nod without the pure implication of being citizens of an ancient city no longer part of the Empire. Rhomaioi – Roman citizens transformed in name, language and religion all wrapped up in one word, Rhomaioi! Rum for the Turks, even today.
Often when Turkish people talk of their pre-1453, historic monuments and architecture they refer to the people who built them in a past tense. As if their race has extinguished. As if there are no people left who have a heritage, a bloodline that connects them to this architecture. Could they claim it as their own regardless of it being a Graeco-Roman ruin in Ephesus or a Christian Church in Istanbul? Regardless that Rhomaioi are still around? On the other hand Turkey can’t claim this history or culture completely as it doesn’t feed the narrative of the victorious, glorious conquerors. In any case Constantinople is just a small part of modern-day Istanbul – the western side. The eastern side is a modern economic hub, so , so different, so now. A lot of Constantinople’s history and significant sites are obscure or forgotten. This is best illustrated by a trip to Phanar, the seat of the Orthodox Patriarchate.
An eerie silence pervades Phanar. It’s an old neighbourhood with cobbled streets and fewer inhabitants than buildings it would seem. Off the main road, few stores exist and those that do, do so obstinately for the sake of maintaining their existence, they have given up any pretense of inviting customers. It’s a suburb trapped in a time warp, an alternate reality that you can walk in and out of. The streets are too steep for motor vehicles to access in low gear. Our taxi driver didn’t know how to find the Cathedral of St George and tried valiantly to push his car up the hill in low gear to the College. The College must be the Patriarchate, right? – it’s the only building with any semblence of prestige – former or current. The whining revolution of the engine was an invasion of sound that called the silence to attention. It felt right to dismiss the driver and just walk.
Once the equilibrium of silence and inactivity returned, gleeful wheeing swooshed down at us from even higher up those streets. A child astride a cardboard sled was tobogganing down a steeper block. Life in Phanar isn’t for the uninvited. Our coming had disturbed his play, but we weren’t the only ones – just the noisiest. There was a slow trickle of foreign visitors – history students and Orthodox faithful, puffing their way up the hill looking for the Patriarchate, the College, Byzantine museums or sites. From them we learnt that the Patriarchate survives at the bottom of those steep streets, unobtrusively tucked away and humbled.
Don’t look for the Vatican in Phanar. Don’t expect taxi drivers to know where to find the Patriarchate. We were guided by other pilgrims who found it on their own. When you reach the Cathedral of St George, don’t be disappointed with its size. The liturgy, the relics and the history will move you. And if one particular relic of the Virgin Mary is the one you most hope to see – the icon that St Luke painted, the one that paraded the Walls so often throughout history, know that it isn’t there. It no longer protects the Walls but is protected elsewhere.
Istanbul is no Rome and Phanar is no Vatican City.
Why is Phanar so neglected? Is it to cloak the Patriachate with invisibility? Is it because so much Byzantine power emanated from the Patriarchate? Would it have to be so if Byzantine history was universally appreciated? What does Byzantine mean for most people? For the polyethnic descendants of the Empire? Is it because no country can fully claim Byzantine heritage as solely their own that its study has been neglected? Is it because the history of the Byzantines is one of a waning empire? Because its sites and relics are not celebrated does this perpetrate a vicious circle of neglect? My generation of Greek learners outside of Greece weren’t taught any Byzantine history besides the fall of the Polis. Our texts were standard Greek government issue of the 1970s. I’m learning about it now through the History of Byzantium podcast. I knew so little then that when we returned from Istanbul we had a Verfremdungseffekt moment when an Armenian jeweller was taken aback that we, Greeks, would know what Byzantine meant. His implication was that it had more to do with Armenian history. We were perplexed that he would consider it anything but Greek. We both have much to learn. Byzantine history has been a casualty of conquest, obeisance, neglect and…Karma?
Lets be fair, the Byzantine/Romans/Rhomaioi didn’t respect the monuments of the lands they conquered.
Arghhhh! Splash! My Fez! Pluts, pluts, pluts!
No. Stop! You’re gonna fall in. Let your father get it.
Shhh! Wait for the group to pass.
Can you reach it? You might have to get in. Want me to hold the camera?
Looook at the fish!
Baba’s got really long arms.
My hat! Thanks Baba.
Trying to get a better look at the Medusa head column my excitable son had lost his new fez! Medusa’s head sits in a far corner of the Cistern, upside down, the base of a supporting column. It’s not the only architectural curiosity. Justinian’s Bascilica Cistern is made up many purposely built columns but also proud masonry from the far reaches of the Empire. They respected these foreign artworks so much, they ended up in a subterranean water works for no one to admire. Had conquest come hard for the Romaioi in the home of Medusa? The obelisk of Tuthmose III from the temple of Karnak was erected and still stands on the site of the Hippodrome, renamed the Obelisk of Theodosius and mounted on a pedestal celebrating that Byzantine Emperor and the races . Did it really need to be thus justified? It had its own majesty and purpose. Did it really need to be removed from Karnak? What purpose other than celebrating conquest could it have served? The Byzantines could never understand it. Did they have to celebrate their conquest of a much older and intriguing civilization thus?
Recently Robin Pierson of the History of Byzantium podcast brokered the idea of doing a Byzantine audio tour of Old Istanbul, Constantinople. It’s something that would benefit any Byzantine history buff. It placed me in a quandary as I’ve wanted to write about Istanbul for awhile but have run away from it. Should I write the post? How do I convey the grief, excitement, nostalgia, anger and curiosity that my brief stay there invoked? And if what I have to say is negative, should it be said at all? It’s not my home but it was a very important part of my family’s livelihood back when it was still Constantinople. Does this colour my perception? Does it render my conclusions unjust and my post irrelevant? Then I read history blogger, Sean Munger’s response to the city and why he hasn’t visited it. Then there was Palaiologinos Ultimate Byzanitine Roadtrip post (set in Greece) and the history Fangirl’s podcast re the Grand Bazaar and Walls of Constantinople – all very different in feel but all taking me back to my quandry. Do I, don’t I? Catharsis won in the end. So here I am in 2017, writing about my responses to the city in 2014.
We enjoyed so much of the city. The kids loved chasing stray cats, riding a Phaeton on the Princes Island, swimming in the Maramara Sea and marvelling at the steam-punk mechanism of the funicular – the subterranean trolley car connecting Taksim Square to the ferry quay. There was so much to discover in the Grand Bazaar. Playing backgammon amongst locals in a street lined on either side with coffeehouses offering baklava, arghele and Turkish coffee. We had a lot of fun dressing up as Ottoman Sultan’s in a store set up in a corner of the Basilica Cistern. It didn’t go unnoticed that there wasn’t a toga or a red boot to be offered but it was a lot of fun.
It’s the pain of the past that Old Constantinople conjures up that makes Istanbul bittersweet. If Istanbul were Rome, the site of the Hippodrome would be alive with al fresco cafes selling overpriced coffee and souvenir stalls selling bobbing chariot car toys. Kitsch but embracing the greatness of a civilization that once belonged. In Rome, Romans can walk in the steps of their ancestors with pride. Why can’t Byzantine history be paid tribute to in the old part of the city without acknowledging Ottoman conquest. What has Mehmet to do with Justinian?
(1) Travel Tip – when booking your stay online, don’t just look at the apartment on the website, go to google maps and check out the streets that surround it. Wherever we stayed was clean and comfortable but we could have stayed on streets that were better suited to children.
(2) Travel tip – when going by taxi get your hotel concierge to order it for you, that way you can avoid what I came to see as the 16-60 ruse. This is where you ask the driver before the journey the approximate cost, he clearly states a figure in the teens e.g., 16 lira and then demands 60 lira when you arrive. So 13 became 30, 19 became 90, etc. It happened whenever we didn’t get a local to order a cab for us.
(3) Travel tip – when planning your visit check the days that the site you wish to see will be open. They all seem to shut one day a week but it differs for each site.
Looking forward to reading this one!
When a writer chooses as their lead protagonist an actor and his main theme the theatre, possibilities abound. At first looking at Bernard Cornwell’s new novel “Fools and Mortals” you might dissapointedly think, oh, the creator of Sharpe has finally succumbed to the Tudor period eh? And oh look! He’s writing about Shakespeare, how original. Perhaps it was only a matter of time. But don’t be fooled, as we mortals often are, this is a story of layer and depth.
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Kingsway, Miranda 22nd September – 8th October
St Marys, 13th – 29th October
They say never work with kids or animals in the theatre, presumably because an adult can’t complete with the cuteness factor. Having seen the Stardust Circus, I have to question that. Rather, never work with an overseasoned prima donna resting on her laurels – more later. No, the animals were engaging, the young performers were abundant and abundantly talented but the clowns stole the show – particularly the adults and the way in which they interacted with both the animals and the children.
The Stardust Circus has loads of family appeal. They offer a traditional circus with acrobats and tumblers, clowns and performing animals – acts that will surprise you. Humour abounds in all of the ground routines. Mischievous rebellion on the part of the animals, like the horse who refused to be saddled and the dog who gave his trainer his comeuppance, are seamlessly realized. There was audience participation, clean humour and positive rolemodelling as the performers were of differing bodyshapes and ages.
There were ponies, pigs, monkeys, goats, dogs and lions. My younger son lapped it all up while my recalcitrant teenager who was determined not to enjoy the show left in high spirits and grudgingly admitted he enjoyed it. Which act unanimously was considered the best by my company of tweets and teens? A trio of adult tumbling clowns head over heels for the same seating, The Vixers.
Another aspect of the show that really impressed me was that it was a unified effort that you see in family run businesses or historical acting troupes (think Moliere in 17th century France or the travelling commedia dell’ arte). The aerial acrobats sold popcorn before the show, doubled as clowns and pushed and rigged as stage hands. Everyone had multiple roles it seemed. The children performing are growing up with sawdust in their veins – or should I say, Stardust. The littlest clown making a cameo appearance looked to be about 4. Captivating my young charges was the highflying duo, Cassira. The grace and strength of 12 year old Cassius and 9 year old Talira was enchanting. I’d love to know how little time they spend with their electronic devices. All of the children of the circus certainly charmed with their skilful, playful and comic delivery.
But what of the overseasoned prima donna, resting on her laurels? Yes there was one but I wouldn’t be questioning her commitment – she is a lioness. The show opened with the performing lions. They did or refused to do their jumps to the delight of the audience and returned to their stools. Every now and again one of the more experienced lioness’ would turn around and gauge audience response. I could almost sense her saying, “Well, come on, give us a bigger hand, we don’t bite!”
Well worth a trip out 😊
A Gentle Knight was pricking on the plaine,
Y cladd in mightie armes and siluer sheilde,
Wherein old dints of deepe wounds did remaine,
The cruell markes of many a bloudy fielde;
Yet armes till that time did he never wield;
His angry steede did chide his foming bitt,
As much disdayning to the curbe to yield:
Full iolly knight he seemd, and faire did sitt,
As one for knightly giusts and fierce encounters fitt.
Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queen, Canto 1
Picture a medieval knight, what do you see? A helmet? A sword? A horse? Heraldic trappings? Metal suits? Damsels in distress? St George? The Dragon . . . Fantasy? Mythology? Lies?
Recently my son came home from school and asked me to make him a full suit of armour – plate armour – not chainmail. It was a challenge that had immediate appeal. The only problem was my day job, I work very long hours in the family business. If this thing was going to be made I would need a lot of assistance. In fact, I would more or less co-ordinate the project and Junior would actually be making it.
Yes, he said he would be on board. He would do all of the paper mache I required of him. All of the painting too. Immediately he began working on the shield, so I began envisioning a plated armoured suit in corrugated cardboard. I cut the major panels of the suit and played with ideas of how to construct the necessary articulated elbow and knee joints. I had to think practically if he was going to wear the suit to Medieval Day at school. He would have to eat wearing it, which meant sitting down. He would have to kneel on the floor to work a miniature catapault and stand and stretch to fire an arrow from a bow. So it was to be flexible and durable to last the day – activities, lunch and toilet trips.
How flexible did it have to be? I thought back to the battles described by Procopius in his Persian Wars. Perhaps a little early in the Middle Ages and a little farther east than necessary but his accounts are that of an eye-witness. I thought about pitched battles and battlefields in general. When faced with an armed foe how functional would a suit of armour – plate armour be? Huns and horse archers had bows and swords and the ability to switch between both. Why didn’t the Roman cavalry wear a full suit – why did the best outfitted Roman wear chest plate only? Surely if plate armour was practical the Romans would have done it first? I had another look at the Bayeux Tapestry. Those Normans wore chain mail. Much more flexible but apparently just as heavy as plate armour. Could it be that plate armour wasn’t worn on the battlefield?
But what of all of those depictions of knights in shining armour – in history books, in the movies, in fairytales, in Scooby Doo? What of the tales of the Pre-Raphaelite canvases, the songs of minstrels and the epic medieval poems? Are they all romances? Is none of it based in historic reality? And what of the suits of armour that have been preserved through out history? Were they just for show? What purpose could plate armour have served? The full suit, visor down is intimidating – was this its purpose?
I wouldn’t want by sons to wear plate armour in a pitched battle but if they were on Sentry duty, such a suit may serve its purpose, that is, if the soldier was on guard duty – or heavily assisted by a page at a tournament.
Where is the Bayeux Tapestry for the later Middle Ages depicting knights on horseback in battle?
Could Edmund Spenser have been hinting at this impracticality of plate armour in the late 1500s when he wrote those lines? Did the major damage to plate armour come by jousts and not battles? No, I believe a real fighting knight wore chain mail – flexibility on a battlefield was key. Which was a great relief to my anxiety when the time came to make the suit. Sewing together faux chainmail and tunic was far less demanding than keeping Junior motivated to paper mache so many different panels of armour.
Photo Credit – Plate Armour
The Rover by Aphra Behn; Directed by Eamon Flack
Cast: Gareth Davies, Andre de Vanny, Taylor Ferguson, Leon Ford, Nathan Lovejoy, Elizabeth Nabben, Toby Schmitz, Nikki Shiels, Kiruna Stamell, Megan Wilding
Belvoir St Theatre, Sydney, until August 6
I was so looking forward to seeing this play, to seeing Aphra Behn psyche on stage. I’d never seen her work brought to life. This was going to be my first time.
The show was fun, funny, exhuberent, raunchy and altogether, very, very big! It was set in a Naples carnivale-mardi gras and the look and tempo of the performance was of a circus side-show – excitement and otherness was paraded and celebrated. There was lots of physical stage business, lots of sight gags and buffoonery. Their comic timing was impeccable. It seems like every comic device was employed to get a laugh – and received it. The cast played it up to the audience on every opportunity. The way that the sight gags were unravelled- or in the case of Gareth Davies, disrobed – was luxiourously allowed to develop and grow and build mirth with each prolonging gesture. In their silence and indulgence in each mime-like, clownish nuance (or drunken slip and crawl – in the case of Toby Schmitz’s beleaguered attempt to climb his courtesan’s window) there was no holding back – no skimping on the possibility to draw out the laughter. Megan Wilding, as Lucetta and Moretta was masterful in the way she played the audience – cajoling them with unencumbered silence, coyly approaching her lover, pulling faces, hammering obscenity or drawing out laughs with each puff of her cigarette. Beholdng such a spectacle was marvelling at their talents. Yet where was Aphra Behn in all of this business?
But she was there, you may point out. Just there, at the beginning of the play, an entr’acte all her own – her own soliliquy – her defence of her playwrighting and female playwrights. You may want to point out that Aphra Behn’s work is not so well known as Shakespeare’s and that the english used is obscure at times, so that following a verbose 350 year old play is aided by horsing around and bucking off the words. The problem is that in telling a story on the stage the physical metaphor that’s presented by the actors has to be felt to be understood. This metaphor was too often laid aside to keep its momentum as an emotional thread.
So, the first act was a joy ride, perhaps too much of one, as the second act paid the price for frittering away the opportunity to build the emotional connections between the lusty and the love-lorn. The first act down-played the script and up-played the physicality. There wasn’t enough attention to the script to build the empathy needed to allow the second act to reach its denouement plausibly. Toby Schmitz’s Willmore is more a larrikin than a cad who actually needs to fall in love to presumeably mend his roving ways and marry Helena (Taylor Ferguson).
Where the playwright makes her voice heard directly – via Angellica Bianca (Nikki Shiels) the noise and colour of the carnivale is muted by the veracity of Nikki Shiels’ performance driving home her point. Exotic, sensual, pitiable, garboesque, Nikki Shiels’ gave the story heart and intellect. We can feel for Bianca but in the convolutions of the storyline involving Don Pedro, Don Antonio, Belvile, Florinda, Willmore and Hellena, the suspense and subsequent release is missing.
With the number of jaunts into carnivale mode there was always the danger of big acting becoming ham acting. Big and ham are two differnt kinds of deliveries that look identical in performace photos but deliver different results in the auditorium. Foreign accents can blur the distinction too. Clowning and miming require big acting. Interject a steady stream of laughter and minimise the script, and big could devolve into ham. Ham doesn’t matter in the style of jokes being built – it probably aided them – but it didn’t aid empathy to be drawn on in the second act.
The use of asides to explain obscure terms was a brilliant stroke and worked well with the carnivale atmosphere and the use of the whole auditorium as a performance space. The audience connected with the show. It was a lot of fun, a really good night out. The academic in me was left a little cheated but nothing too serious.
Behn, Behn, Behn, Behn, Behn . . .BeeeeeeeehhhN! I’m so excited! Aphra Behn! Aphra Behn! Aphra Behn at the Belvoir St Theatre! What a treat! Oohhh . . . Behn! Behn! Behn! Behn! Aphra Behn . . . aaah!
What? What was that? Who/what is Aphra Behn? You don’t know? Okay, so if you’re a feminist, litterati you probably could fill me in, but if you’re not there’s a big possibility that you have no idea what or who I’m going on about. No, Aphra Behn is not an anti-frizz hair care product. She was a highly successful playwright of the English Restoration period – late 17th century. Touted as the first female playwright she claimed that her scandalous plays wouldn’t bat an eyelid if their writer were a man.
Poet, prisoner, debtor, spy, wife, novelist, lesbian, feminist, playwright – she wore all of these hats. She was a successful female playwright who owned her works as a female at a time when writing for the professional theatre was new and old in London and definitely not a career choice for polite women. Why new and old? Obviously formal theatre productions in professional playhouses had been performed in London from the mid-late 1500s. Shakespeare’s most productive period was in the 1590s. But with the advent of the civil war the playhouses were closed down in 1642 and remained so during the Interegnum. Playacting was restricted to private performances. With the restoration of the monarchy came the restoration of the theatres in the 1660s.
This was perhaps a unique time when incumbent playwrights didn’t have an exclusive attraction to playing companies. A time where London had two professioanl theatres and, as old, a populace with a voracious appetite for plays – new plays. Plays that spoke to a people who had been violently divided and reunited. It was a time of peace and a time of renewel. Women graced the professional stage for the first time, replacing the boy actors of old. The Revenge tragedies so popular before the war would no longer dominate the programmes. Comedy of manners reigned and Aphra Behn wore the crown.
Aphra Behn’s works were very popular. She thinly veiled commentary on her times with allegory. Audiences saw through it, as was her intent, and loved it. Her Rover is playing at Sydney’s Belvoir St Theatre from July 1. Set in Naples at a time of carnivale, the Rover pits a player-cavalier against the woman who may serve him his comeuppance, a nun. Sounds Like fun? Director Eamon Flack promises a wild and high energy interpretation. He did a sparkling job on Twelfth Night last year. I can’t wait to see Behn’s battle of the sexes through his vision. The production stars Toby Schmitz and Nikki Shiels. I’m sure its going to be a treat.
Visit the Belvoir St website page for The Rover here.
Aphra Behn – Poet
Aphra Behn on Project Gutenberg
Hartnol, Phyllis, The Theatre: A Concise History, Revised Edition, Thames and Hudson, 1968, 1985, Chapter 6:The English Restoration Theatre.
Photo Credit – The Rover
Anticipation was a murmur running beneath the mire of the afternoon sun. It was a weighty thing called forth out of cartooning tradition and penned in by stone pillars. It was in the sudden tweaks of necks snapping to, then forward. It was in the necessarily short, shallow, babble of amassing, Hello, how are yous‘: token salutations that would have to suffice, anything more would lose purchase when the pharaoh appeared. Yet the presentation porch was vacant save two sparsely clad sentinels, bare chested and baring spears. Anticipation simmered as the crowd waited to be awed.
From the shadows the scribe, Ay, looked on the ignorant and willingly beguiled. They flocked to see a God, the ever-living, ever-present presence, the immutable. They flocked to be uplifted, to be humbled, to be justified in their way of life by his physical incarnation. It was said that the great Pharaoh’s face radiated the golden beams of the desert sun. It was said that it pained the naked eye to gaze upon his countenance for long – just long enough to perceive his lapis-blue locks. Imperious in his stance, he need not speak, his presence was enough. That’s all they wanted. That’s all Khemet needed.
Did it matter that in truth the Pharaoh was only a feeble, nine year old boy who sought his mother when the night terrors set in? Ay would shelter the truth for and from them. He had his tools. He would give the people what they needed to see. He ensured order. He ensured maat. They didn’t need to see a debilitated, child-God as they didn’t need to see a female masquerading as a male God just a few generations ago, nor the 2 year old infant before her. No, The Pharaoh-Goldman was an empirical constant, like maat. Anything other was chaos.
No. Let the mask work its magic once again, while the child played indoors.After two lack-lustre attempts at recreating the nemes crown I decided that it was not made out of linen. Forget what egyptologists, historians, even archaeologists, or anyone who has made Ancient Egypt the focus of their lifetime’s research are saying. Listen to the housewife: it was made out of gold. Tut wore a golden crown, not a linen one! Whoever heard of a king ruling with the weight of cloth on his shoulders? Unheard of! And besides, I failed at making it, twice. (It’s all about me ;D). Continuing along this vein. . .
Tutankhamen wore a gold crown. He inherited it from his predecessors. He passed it onto his successor. That’s what happens with monarchs and the chief symbols of their power and majesty. Except . . . it was found on his mummy. So chances are that his predecessors’ and successors’ crowns could have been found with their mummies had their burials remained intact. And then there is that snake and vulture sticking out of it. Tut seems to have been the only pharaoh to have been depicted with this wadjet-nehkbet combination sticking out of his head. No, this crown was definitely made for Tut but was it made during his lifetime or specifically for his afterlife?
Egyptologist, Nicholas Reeves, wrote a paper, Tutankhamun’s Mask Reconsidered focusing on the burial bust. He found that it was probably made reusing other monarch’s jewels. He believes that the face is Nefertiti’s (Tutankhamen’s possible step mother or aunt (1)). If this is the case the mask had to be made before the crown. By looking at the way that the crown and mask were made we can determine which part was made first or whether they were made at the same time. Due to the preferred habits of jeweller-metalsmiths and the immutable facts of science – the melting point of gold, the burning point of lapis, the shock resistance of faienc e- a close look at its joins and surface can reveal much.As a former lapidary jeweller I would like to take a guess at what the burial bust could tell us. I’m using Nicholas Reeves article as a reference for what I can’t infer from just looking at photos of it. I have never seen the bust itself.
Reeves tells us that there were at least 8 components of the burial bust (the combined face, nemes crown and necklace.) It was assembled using a number of enduring techniques: cold hammering from sheet metal, riveting, casting, soldering and pressure setting. He singles out, “a series of rivets at the base of the throat together with visible lines of solder around the edges of the face and neck,” and ” a line of thickening around the brow band,” to “indicate that the face had been fashioned not as one with the front of the headpiece but as a wholly separate unit.” His 8 distinct parts of the bust are:
He continues, “In its fully assembled state, the mask’s metal surfaces had been smoothed, inlaid, chased, treated, and provided with the finishing burnish which, externally at least, conceals so convincingly today details of the construction process.” Reeves doesn’t specify which part was subjected to which technique but I’d like to take an educated guess.
1). and 2). The Front and Back Panels of the Nemes Crown
The general shape of these panels would have been hammered from sheet and fitted and resized as the metal was pushed and hammered into shape; first one panel and then the other, before they were soldered together. Channels for the inlaid blue faience (glass/enamel) would have been traced, scorped out, hammered, heated and quenched, re-scorped, re-hammered and re-quenched to imbue the otherwise malleable metal with strength. Additionally, the use of this technique would result in a pure gold veneer rising to the surface of the metal allowing the faience to bond evenly with the metal. Once the viscose fluid faience was applied to the channels it would quite likely have been fired in a kiln. A blow-pipe (predecessor of the blow-torch) may have been used to set the faience but I’m preferring a kiln due to the large area to be set and the possible risk of damaging lines of faience already set as the jeweller progressed.
Of the lappets represented by the front panel, Reeves has this to say:
“A second group of very different injuries is visible to both the front and the outer edge of the mask’s right lappet: two crudely punched holes made in antiquity to receive a wire to hold the royal flail firmly in position.”
From the death of Akhenaten to the death of Tutenkhamen not a lot of time passed. The same workshop could have catered for all four successive burials. If the Nemes Crown of the bust served a separate purpose during the life of the Pharaoh and then was reused for his burial it may explain the crude damage to the lappet. The nemes crown would have been designed to have a flawless appearance while the living pharaoh wore it but when it was reemployed in the burial bust it was punctured to accommodate the needs of the flail. Doing this to the finished bust for the burial would indicate a badly designed burial piece – couldn’t the workshop get it right after preparing three other royal funerals in fairly quick succession? Or wasn’t the piece originally intended for the burial bust but the necessity of perhaps a rushed ceremony resulted in clumsy measures and used wares?3). The Uraeus and Vulture
These animals would have been cast in gold and fired in a kiln, with channels for their ornamentation already part of their design. The wet faience would be applied and then they would be re-fired. The stones would be cut, polished and inlaid with glue. Possibly the second last step of assembling the mask, they would be riveted onto the front panel/forehead.
4). The Face
The face is stylised. The symmetry of the face belies that it’s not a true death mask. It’s a sculpture. It has no particular defining features, it could be anyone’s face really – Nefernefruaten? Smenkhare? Nefertiti? Tutankhamun? Could it have been cast directly from a statue via a mould, thus the official portrait of the pharaoh stayed constant and of Tut? Maybe not.
Reeves reports that the face is 3mm at the edges and 15mm elsewhere (3). This indicates that the mask was worked from a gold sheet, originally about 3mm thick. The features where the hammering and tracing were concentrated became thinner as the sheet was pushed and moulded under the pressure of a forming tool (today we use steel punches and a mallet.) The face, beginning as a gold sheet, would indicate that it was made to fit into the combined front and back panel, not the other way around. For ease of construction this would be done before the faience was set into the front and back panel and before the eyebrows were stone set on the mask. Logically the metal only face would be soldered to the gold-only nemes crown at this point – afterwards it would be almost impossible.
This is where the hard facts of science come in to play. The mask could not be soldered to an already finished gold, faience and stone set bust without damaging the faience and burning the stones (lapis, obsidian and white quartz). The heat required to gold solder a 3mm sheet of gold to another of comparable thickness would crack the faience and burn the lapis (inlaid in the eyebrows). To solder a gold mask to a completely finished gold and faience nemes crown would mean having to remove (destroy) the faience and stones, scorp clear the channels they were set in, clear them of any foreign impurities and then reapply fresh faience and refire the entire bust. This would expose it to the risk – very high – of running the solder joins and the mask dislodging or fully detaching. The stones would then have to be reset into the eyes and eyebrows.Today, lead solder is used to make repairs to costume jewellery and some finished jewellery set with ornamental stones. Lead solder melts at a much lower temperature than gold solder but doesn’t provide as secure a bond. We know from an inventory of goods brought back from the Levant during the reign of the 12th Dynasty king, Nebkaure Amenenhat II, (4) that lead was used by the Egyptians for something. In context of the rest of the items mentioned on the list: silver; bronze; copper (for alloying metals, making solders); emery (for polishing stones and metals); sand (for grinding stones); it seems highly likely that the importation of the white lead was for metalsmithing. Was it lead solder?
If the mask was going to be attached to an already finished and set gold nemes crown, lead solder may have been used. Reeves makes no mention of lead in the appearance nor the construction/composition of the bust.
Another possiblity is the use of heat sinks in collaboration with gold soldering to join the face to the crown. Dominic Perry of the Egyptian History Podcast (History of Egypt Podcast) tells us in his introduction to the podcast, Episode 39: The Wealth of Asia, that among the peoples that Egypt traded with were those of the Aegean Sea. It may follow that they obtained ochre (e.g., that mined since pre-historic times in the North Aegean on Thasos) which they could apply to their metalsmithing as a heat sink. By painting the surface of the metal with an ochre paste a jeweller can reduce its heat conductivity. Could the ancient egyptians have used a combination of gold soldering and heat draining to solder the golden face to an already finished and set nemes crown? Could the nemes crown of the burial bust be the nemes crown the young Pharaoh wore in life? Alternatively, could this technique have allowed the face of Nefertiti to be soldered onto the crown for a hasty burial?
The problem facing the jeweller when employing heat sinks is the risk of reticulation (wrinkling up and dulling down of the surface of the metal). Reeves tells us that the mask is burnished. This is where the surface of the metal is rubbed over until it is smooth and shiny by a hard, smooth metal tool. However, the undulations of the face preclude as perfect a finish as it appears to possess, if reticulation occurred, even with emery smoothing and burnishing techniques. Soldering a complete crown to a complete mask is getting harder with each supposition!
And there is the issue of two differing alloys. Reeves reports that the face has a bluish-silver appeareance in comparison to the crown which has a richer golden hue. This has been achieved by employing different alloys – mixes of gold. Could the face have been fashioned out of the highly reflective electrum? Electrum is a naturally occuring alloy of gold and silver. Like all alloys it would have its own working properties – ductility, malleability, tensile strength and melting point – that differ from a high carat gold alloy – very likely it would be harder. Most jewellers, although capable of working with all manner of metals and their alloys, tend to have a preference for one to streamline their processes. This indicates that the face was either made by a different jeweller from the crown, or in a different workshop, or at a different time. So how were they joined?
The technique that I would have expected them to use if they were to attach the smooth and shiny, stone-set, possibly electrum, face-mask to the golden, faience-set crown would be one that employed rivetting perhaps, but more-so, setting the mask in place from inside the bust. Reeves presents an image of the inside of the bust in his paper. (5) The join appears to have an abundance of metal supposedly depicting a very clumsy soldered line. Soldering lines are generally precise and chiefly contained in their join. This line is ostentatious and wasteful in its overabundance. More akin to a welding join – something achieved today with the pressurised liquid gas flame of an oxy-acetylene blow torch. Highly anachronistic! Could this clumsiness actually be evidence that it has been set from behind? This technique would require a greater amount of metal than soldering. The setting edge would have been rocked, pushed and burnished down to secure the face. Possible?
A further issue is the hole in the right lappet (see image above). If the lappet was punctured at the burial then the handler/jeweller was running the risk that the tension set face could dislodge and the faience around it cracking. A soldered face, of course was secure.
It would seem that this could be easily sorted out. The same techniques that were applied to determine the differing carats of gold used in the bust could be used to determine whether the join behind the face is a setting lip where it would be the same carat as the face or whether it is solder, whereby the carat of the solder would be markedly less than either the face or the panel it was soldered onto.
At this point I must say that on reading Reeves article I was surprised to see mention of differing carats of gold and soldering technique. I thought their ability to use these jeweller’s tools advanced for their civilization. I expected riveting, pressure setting and the use of threaded screws. Could the alloys of gold be an indication of not the production of differing carats of gold but different sources of gold – as gold forms in natural combinations (alloys).
5). and 6). The Ears
Reeves notices that the ears have been attached separately, riveted on. This is expected if they have been cast. The holes in the ears are a greater curiosity. Reeves proposes that holes for earrings on a now adult’s burial mask indicate that they have been taken from the funerary equipment of a female, probably Nefernefruaten (whom he equates with Nefertiti). Men didn’t wear earrings but boys and women did.
The discs that were found having fallen out are tattle-tale tellers. Surely they indicate that the ears weren’t made for this burial bust?Reeves asks why carve ears with holes that aren’t meant to be there? Why plug holes with earrings that don’t fit? If the discs were meant to plug the earring holes for eternity, why weren’t sprues soldered onto the back of them so that they could remain where they had been placed. Was the burial that hurried an affair? Why? War?
7). The Beard
My guess is that the beard was finely cast with the gold channels carved into the wax model. Once the gold had been fired the faience was poured into the channels and it was refired. The casting would have to be light as the beard itself was pressure set into place – probably the last procedure in the construction.
That the faience in the beard has faded but that of the crown itself retains its faux-lapis appearance is another indicator that this is a second hand rose. Does the faience of the beard contain a different type of pigment to the crown? Did the beard come out of a separate workshop than that of the front and back panels making up the crown?
8). The Collar Panel / Necklace
I assume that the collar panel was fabricated out of gold sheet. What looks like enamel/faience on the shoulders of the collar would mean that it would have been applied in a kiln or with the aid of a blow-pipe before the carnelian, lapis and turquoise were cut, polished and set into it’s breast panels. It appears to have been fully stone set and to be a stiff representation of a beaded necklace similar to the one above. This collar panel I believe was made at the time of the burial to fit into the front panel of the Nemes crown. Rivets at the base of the throat would indicate that either the collar or the lappets or both were already set when they were combined.
So what is it? Was the Nemes Crown made of cloth or gold? Was the mask originally Nefertiti’s? Could Tutankhamen have worn the crown in life? Was it really just made for his burial?
This sometime prop-maker and once-upon-a-time jeweller has come to this conclusion: the mask and crown were made at roughly the same time, perhaps using more than one workshop; the collar panel was made for the burial; and the mask-crown was made to represent the boy-king and was worn in life. Egyptians, masters of propaganda, surely knew how to awe, humble, amaze, mesmerize and befuddle their people. A mask and crown combination on a stand-in king may have served to propagate the illusion of the king as god and reaffirm the mythology of the golden skinned, silver-boned and lapis-locked pharaoh.
If you asked another jeweller you may get another conclusion. If you asked a milliner to have a go at making the nemes crown from cloth they may come up with a plausible way of getting the crown to sit square, not fall back and have its lappets stand perpendicular to its head. My problem of balancing the weight of the back and the front of the crown is solved with a golden nemes crown and face-mask combination. I’m neither an egyptologist, nor a milliner and no longer a jeweller, so I will always have room for doubts about this conclusion. For the moment, it has placated my curiosity. Thanks for taking the journey with me
This is the final of a series of posts on the beautiful nemes crown of Tutankhamun. To read them all, they have been published on my blog in the following order:
P.S., Addenda, and then there is …
If I were to have a third attempt at the Nemes Crown, it would definitely be a combination of metal and cloth and there would be a metallic form. Yes I’ve tried designing it but am not happy enough with the outcome, on paper at least, to publish it I will endeavoiur to post the step by step images for the first two attempts on my pinterest page – www.pinterest.com/craftytheatre – over the coming months. The first attempt is already posted on my facebook page.
(1) Dr Eric Wells is convincing when he posits that Tutankhamen may have been the son of a younger brother of Ahkenaten and not his son. See the podcast, Eric’s Guide to Ancient Egypt.
(2) Reeves, Nicholas, Tutankhamun’s Mask Reconsidered, Bulletin of the Egyptological Seminar: The Art and Culture of Ancient Egypt: Studies in honor of Dorothea Arnold, Vol. 19, 2015, p. 516.
(3) ibid. p.512. I have converted the measurements to millimeters as they are the preferred units used by jewellers in Australia at least – and the ones that I relate easiest to when thinking of jewellery manufacturing.
(4) Dominic Perry, Egyptian History Podcast (History of Egypt Podcast), Episode 39:The Wealth of Asia or Epsisode 39:The Wealth and Splendour of Nebkaure Amenemhat II
(5) ibid. p.525.
Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/fischerfotos/23785641449/ Mark Fischer http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/ CC BY-SA
Tutankhamun’s Death Bust
Egyptian beaded Necklace perhaps of faience beads
I feel thoroughly spoilt. Dominic Perry of the History of Egypt podcast has allowed me to interview him. Dominic took on the herculean task of presenting the history of Ancient Egypt, reign by reign beginning with the Old Kingdom. I love his podcast. Wonderous but never onerous he delves into religion, mythology, politics, daily life, literature. . . Literature! I particularly enjoy his readings of translations of ancient texts (Hatshepsut – very dramatic). He includes archaeological updates from the field and gives his take on it all. And then there are accompanying visuals on his website! For my recent series of posts where I have attempted to recreate a cloth Nemes crown, I have leant heavily on his podcasts to get a handle on who the ancient Egyptians were and how they would approach things. Here he answers my questions on Egypt, digs, rituals, theatre, Oedipus and Akhenaten. Enjoy.
I got into it as a child, and at first I have to admit it was mostly the gold and the treasure. Over time I became more and more fascinated by the idea of the pharaohs – what they represented, how they lived, what they wore etc. Then finally I became absorbed in finding the little details of their lives – particularly the economic aspect; how people lived and organised themselves, what they had to do to make sure their community functioned properly. It’s been an evolving series of interests!
Sure! I’m not a natural traveller – I like home and my creature comforts. But it’s important to overcome that internal desire, in order to do something special. It’s a rare opportunity to get paid to dig up a long-dead civilization, so I just sort of “suck it up” and get stuck in to the work. In terms of safety there’s never been a problem – Egypt and Sudan are a lot safer and friendlier than people realise.
When I was excavating a Roman-era wall that had been built over an old Egyptian temple we unexpectedly found a pharaonic-era statue that had been used as part of the masonry. This whole torso of an ancient pharaoh suddenly showed up among the bricks. That was definitely a surreal moment.
Yes. Egyptian festivals and rituals seem to have had pseudo-theatrical “re-enactments” of legendary events. Osiris’ death became a big one; the battle between Horus and Seth; the rampage of Hathor and her slaughter of mankind. These were important stories in the heritage of the ancients, and they were constantly reviving and renewing them to keep the memory alive. I often think of Japanese Noh-theatre as an analogy – legendary figures and supernatural beings interacting with the human world, and making a grand show of it. The Egyptians may have done something similar, but in a more religiously formal context. Over time that probably developed into something we would recognise as a theatre-esque “performance piece.”
Anything is possible, especially when Greek writers like Herodotos were fascinated by Egyptian history and culture
Of course you’re thinking of the pharaohs’ habit of marrying sisters or cousins. That certainly happened, but we’re still not certain of the role these sister-wives played – were they symbolic unions (platonic marriages)? Or did they consummate them? Our moral sensitivity would have us lean to the platonic end; but there must have been some incest going on occasionally. It’s a big question, and it can have a big impact on how you view their morality.
Not taboo, but it would be unnecessary. The legitimacy of the line appears to have been carried by the females (though there is debate on that). If a King died without heir, but his sister or daughter had a son, that son would be a perfectly acceptable heir. Queen Khenty-kaus I (about 2450 BCE) was the sister of King Menkaure, and when he died without heir she seems to have put her son Shepseskaf on the throne, ruling as a regent on his behalf.
Tough question! He was certainly a megalomaniac, but he doesn’t seem to have been a particularly adept politician – he alienated a great many of his subjects, and built an unsustainable legacy that was expunged after his death. As for his faith…I think he was a true believer in his religion – the kicker is determining exactly what his religion represented? Was Akhenaten worshipping a separate, all-powerful god, or was he worshipping a deified form of his father (the incredibly vain and grandiose Amunhotep III)? A lot hinges on how you interpret the god Aten, and what he represents.
If I can give a (spoiler!) glimpse at my take on Akhenaten I would describe him as a visionary, but a visionary unable to compromise enough to make his dream a reality. I think his religious beliefs became more extreme the more he felt he was being challenged. Akhenaten was not necessarily fit to be a king; he was either unprepared or unsuited to the role, which required a lot more compromise than we might expect. He was a remarkable man, but not always for the right reasons.
Thanks for having me!
Find the History of Egypt Podcast on iTunes, your favourite podcast platform, and at http://egyptianhistorypodcast.com/
Aliens , Ghosts and Vanushings is a wonderful book by the talented and fun-loving tweens author, Stella Tarakson. She looks at creepy, spooky, reality-pushed stories that have passed into Australian folklore. She presents these stories that are so beloved you just want them to be true in a manner that suggests they are and then gives the other-hand, scientific-historic explanation as well. It’s up to the reader to decide what they will accept.
There’s the Westall High School UFO sighting where 200 witnesses saw a UFO land and take off in a field near the school; the apparent discovery of a massive vein of gold outside Alice Springs in Lassester’s Reef and the location’s subsequent loss; bunyips and drop bears and many, many more curiosities.
The UFO story I find most convincing was caught on radar in 1954 and remains unexplained -the Sea Fury Incident. The disappearance of Harold Holt and Azaria Chamberlain are in there too.
My favourite story by far is the Princess Theatre ghost. She tells the nice side of the story. The story that won’t frighten away theatre-goers from attending the theatre nor actors and crew from working there. It’s a little scarier than that I found out when I was a prop girl on the Phantom of the Opera many years ago.
Stella Tarakson will be doing a book signing at the Berkelouw in Cronulla Mall this Saturday at 1 pm. A great time to pick up a copy, meet the author and get your copy signed.