For this lab, I will be comparing an artifact from 1390-1353 BCE, found in Egypt (most likely Thebes) to a Greek artifact from the 7th Century BCE, found at the ancient Greek city of Heraclea. The Egyptian textual artifact is a relief found in a tomb, containing fifteen lines of biographical hieroglyphics about the tomb’s occupant. The Greek artifact is a libation bowl, made as an offering at Olympia, with the inscription “The son of Kypselos dedicated [this bowl] from Heraclea.”
Analyzing each object immediately brings up the question of classism and who had access to both these materials and the type of text found on these materials. The relief was carved from limestone, whereas the libation bowl was made from one of the most valuable materials at the time: gold. (Thus, this particular libation bowl would have been considered an extremely valuable offering). The material of gold would only have been available to wealthy people; the fact that a significant amount of money would have been spent on a gold bowl that was going to be given as an offering, not kept for use by the individual itself, further demonstrates the likely upper socioeconomic class owner of this bowl. As for limestone, while the material itself was not as expensive as gold since it was commonly found, the sheer amount of manual labor involved with the creation of a large funeral relief implies those who had the means to mandate production of such reliefs belonged to the upper class. Further, similar to the Greek libation bowl, the relief was not something that would be used in real life, bringing up the question of a tremendous amount of effort and money being put into an object that would not effect the quality of daily life.
A theme of religion enters the conversation here; both of these artifacts were mediums created for the sake of religion. However, a distinct trace of identity remains: though both artifacts primarily serve a religious function, “The son of Kypselos dedicated [this bowl] from Heraclea” on the libation bowl and the fifteen lines of biographical text of the tomb’s occupant found on the relief in the tomb demonstrate the pervasive need for identity in use of these mediums, even when the primary purpose was serving a higher power. Liu stated: “The historical, socio-political, and subjective registers of media identity…are not just neutral substrates…on which programs of determinism and resistance run. Instead, they are doped with human contingencies that switch, bend, refract, refocus, and otherwise mediate the very experience of media.” Both of these artifacts are steeped in socio-political influences, as both are religious items and religion, particularly at the time, was highly intertwined with state. Expensive materials and language of identification towards the owner alongside tangible proclamations of religious faith could help the owner establish a stable footing for themselves in the society they lived in. Just as language today (particularly through higher education) often lays the foundation for person’s economic or social class, text had the potential to do so at the time of the creation of these artifacts.
McLuhan wrote, ““It is the medium that shapes and controls the the scale and form of human association and action” When analyzing these artifacts as textual mediums, that sentiment is intrinsically important. The textual messages conveyed by the funeral relief and the libation bowl are secondary to the medium the messages appear on; it is more important that the libation bowl exist as a medium at all than the textual message that actually appears on it (although the person mandated the creation of the bowl, Kypselos, cared enough to ensure he was properly recognized for his offering–perhaps particularly due to the high value and expense of the material used to create this medium.) It is also more important the relief appear in the tomb than the biographical hieroglyphic text that appears on it, as 1) the relief was an architectural element of the tomb and b) the text details a tradition undertaken by all Egyptians with the means to pay for such a tomb–the text depicts scenes ensuring the occupant of the tomb will have all of the necessities needed for the afterlife. Both of these mediums, along with the materials they were constructed of, are the most fundamental mediums of these artifacts, not necessarily what the text says itself. With that said, it is important to note the kind of textual messages that were left behind on these important religious artifacts. The messages were ones identifying a person, working to forge a positive association between the religious elements of the artifacts and the person involved with their creation. The messages of these artifacts, along with the medium, worked to form a positive association between the person they belonged to and that person’s society.
The mode of writing for the text found on the funeral relief was through sculpture and carving. It was an arduous, time consuming process involving a multitude of people, making it out reach for anyone except the upper socioeconomic class. Language is represented primarily describing religious and traditional scenes, although it did claim identity for the occupant of the tomb. The inaccessibility for most of this type of language would represent a slower means of spreading language and use of language; however, the roots in traditional Egyptian religion and culture would make it more likely that this type of language would have a more universal appeal which would conversely encourage the spread of reading and writing versus a more specific, individualistic language. Though the owners are being identified, they are being identified with regards to religion shared by many, not simply, for example, a legal case they undertook. The images on the funeral relief work alongside the language on the artifact; each enhances the other and the meaning of the purpose of the funeral relief would not be clear without the other one.
The mode of writing on the text on the libation bowl was engraved into the gold by the artist’s hand. This demonstrated literacy on the part of the artist. The text on this artifact is grounded in societal practices–giving an offering on a religious occasion. The visual aesthetics of the bowl and the expensive material used on the bowl enhance the textual inscription, “ “The son of Kypselos dedicated [this bowl] from Heraclea” as they both work to create a sense of identity, via the expensive material used and the personalized inscription on something that is meant to be a religious offering.
Each of these artifacts would clearly only have been available to wealthy, upper-class citizens, due to the both the material used (particularly in the case of the gold libation bowl) and the amount of manpower it took to create the object. Further, the money spent on these objects was for something that would never be used in day-to-day life; even beyond the money not being spent on a necessity like food, vast sums of money was spent on something that would never be used by the owner at all. Presumably the owner would also be paying for their food, etc, meaning if they had the resources to commission such a valuable object, they were likely in a favorable financial position, and thus likely a favorable social position as well. Each artifact has fundamentally religious purposes and the motivation behind the creation of the object was mostly religious; however, the grandiosity of each artifact relays the wealth and class issues at play as well. The aesthetic design of each artifact is meant to dazzle, demonstrating the social standing of the owner through their use of wealth to influence the social perception of their piousness. Ultimately, the text found on each artifact was meant to identify the owner and work to create a positive association of that owner, demonstrated by the type of material used (expensive) and the format of these artifacts (religious items.)
FIELDBOOKS · MODEL