Sunday, November 7, 2010

Perspectives on selected pieces of Egyptian Art

Shambi McGill
HIS 111-I1; K. Bradshaw
Essay #2
October 30, 2010
The Bowl with Human Feet is both whimsical and delightful. It is the type of artwork that evokes a smile when spotted. Had it not been in this collection, I would not have associated it with Egyptian culture. The fact that it is crafted from clay out of the Nile river bed lends the piece a timeless quality. That same clay is still available and an individual could theoretically craft an identical piece today. It is almost modern in theme. Though I could imagine someone using it as a candy dish on a desk today, I wonder if it was used alone 6000 years ago, or if it was only one piece in a set of tableware. Since it is not very large, perhaps it held an individual serving of soup or a couple handfuls of grapes. The Bowl with Human Feet demonstrates that Ancient Egyptians had a quirky sense of humor.

Although the Statue of Demedji and Hennutsen is a statue of a husband and wife, it is far from romantic as they stare straight ahead with each other’s arms barely touching. I wonder if the large disparity in size is attributable to an actual size difference in the man and woman or if it demonstrates a less important societal role the woman held compared to the man. It would seem unrealistic that the male could be twice as tall as the female, though if the man was standing erect in this piece, he would be. It is interesting that contrary to current Western custom, the man is sitting while the woman stands. The woman’s small belly protruding out is life like, but with the flattering proportions of her other body parts, perhaps having a slightly plump midsection was considered attractive in that culture. I think this piece might have been owned by the couple shown and created either for display in the couple’s home, or to be placed in their burial chamber, much like a portrait might be today.
The Sistrum Inscribed with the Names of King Teti is a fascinating piece. Both the falcon and the cobra are symbolic of tremendous strength. The many names of King Teti inscribed on the sistrum arouse curiosity of the commonality of multiple names being given an individual. It is amusing to note that decorating musical instruments has been a practice for many millennia. Today’s guitars and drums are colorful and adorned with pearl inlay though appearances have no effect on the sound they emit. Similarly, this sistrum is elaborately carved. It would be interesting to hear the type of music that Egyptians enjoyed, music that would welcome an accompaniment of the sound of shaking papyrus that this instrument produced. I wonder what the ceremonies were like where it was played, if they were celebratory or eerie and haunting. I could imagine multiple sistrums shaking out a slow crackling rhythm during some mystical flame-lit ceremony in a burial chamber.

I chose the Cosmetic Vessel in the Shape of a Cat because at first glance it was unapparent how the sculpture functioned. Upon closer examination a hollow area atop the cats head is likely where some type of makeup was contained. I think it must have been owned by a wealthy female who had it sitting atop a large vanity with a broad assortment of other decorative cosmetic cases. Perhaps the cat held creamy ivory foundation, or indigo eye shadow, or berry rouge, or maybe ebony powder used as eye liner drawn dramatically out past the eyes like Cleopatra. This statue reinforces the common association of cats with Egyptian culture.

The Cosmetic Vessel in the Shape of a Cat, as well as the Bowl with Human Feet and the Sistrum Inscribed with the Names of King Teti, demonstrates that Egyptian culture was not focused solely on functionality of objects. Conversely, they spent tangible and creative resources crafting objects that not only served a purpose, but also presented novelty or beauty to the beholder.

Augustine, City of God

Shambi McGill
HIS 111-I1; K. Bradshaw
Essay #1 Augustine, City of God
September 12, 2010

They had denied the multitudes of gods worshipped by those around them, and yet, it seemed their one God had failed to protect their home, Rome. When pagan neighbors blamed them for the fall of their great city, a retort was necessitated. St. Augustine of Hippo presented such a response with The City of God. Augustine comforted his followers by explaining that they were a part of one of two cities and proceeded to elaborate on the nature of these two cities: the heavenly and the earthly. These “cities” are described by their founding, the nature of their inhabitants, and their eventual fate.
The foundation of both cities is love, the love of their inhabitants. The earthly city dwellers love themselves and material goods, arrogance is a common vein from ruler to pauper, and each person prioritizes his own self-interests. The heavenly-city-intended love God above all else, in humility give all the glory to God, and serve one another in love.
Both the earthly and the heavenly cities pursued peace, however, they sought it through different means and with differing intentions. Peace to enjoy the spoils of war, won through mass brawn and superior intellect, drove the earthly cities. The inhabitants of the heavenly city preferred peace, but never at the cost of forfeiting their faith.  Either city may battle feverishly for this peace. If the victor had a just cause, the war could be justified.
All man-kind, whether of earthly or heavenly city, has need of food, clothing, and shelter. Two types of families are described with regard to securing these necessities. Faith-equipped families acknowledged their need of such things, but relied on God to be their supplier and could find consolation in an assurance that those needs would be met. They focused on their eternal future and saw material goods only as assistance through this life. Those families described as faithless found comfort only in the tangible commodities themselves and diligently chased after them for fear of lack.
Augustine directly addresses the allegations against the Christians for the demise of Rome by defending Monotheistic truth. He shepherds the believers, defending the worship of one sovereign God, and goes so far as to say that the philosophers teaching allegiance to many gods were demonically influenced. Reference is made to the incompatibility of the two belief systems and the pagan’s persecution of the early church.
The eternal fates of the two cities are drastically different. Augustine repeatedly alludes to the eternal when regarding things of the heavenly city. He encourages the faithful that they are merely pilgrims passing through this earth on their way to a celestial place without the common burdens of the flesh and soul. He describes this rebirth in saying, “this mortal life shall give place to one that is eternal, and our body shall be no more this animal body which by its corruption weighs down the soul, but a spiritual body feeling no want…” In a stark contradiction, he describes the earthly city as temporary and subjected to a severe judgment.
Massive influence to Christian culture is attributed to Augustine, though whether the accolades are justifiable is dubious. He was a student of the Bible and an advocate for the study of the Bible. Many of his teachings were rooted in these studies. Christianity, also, is founded in that same Word. All of Augustine’s teachings that share doctrine with Christianity cannot be credited solely to him. For instance, the worship of one God alone is a commandment Moses recited to the Israelites long before Augustine re-iterated the principle. However, stances on some other debatable issues seem more directly rooted in Augustinian precepts. One such concept is that of a “just war.” Though blood may be shed, he taught that a victory for the side with the just cause is favored by God.
The pilgrimage of believers through this world is another of his notions. Christian culture readily accepts that the time spent on earth is merely to be tolerated until the mortal body dies. Then, paradise awaits, a place where pain and suffering are no more, and all joy is beheld. This idea leaves a vacuum where the responsibility for this earth and the pursuit of joy may otherwise exist in this present life.
Augustine’s efforts to comfort and encourage the early church are manifest in this excerpt from The City of God. He assured them of the virtue in worshipping one God. He explained the temporary nature of this earth, and thus, by necessity the impermanence of Rome.   Be rest-assure, he declared, that God will meet their families’ needs. He proclaimed that in facing persecution, know that this life pales in comparison to the life to come and that righteousness is loving God to the extent of forsaking self.
Christian culture has indeed been altered by the application of Augustine’s precepts. Though directed at the early church, the encouragement of his teachings has been attractive to many generations since.