Across a crowded room

It’s the strangest thing.

I was strolling through a museum, not expecting a bolt from the blue, scanning each glass case busily for stories. Minding my own business.

And then our eyes met across a crowded room, and that level gaze captured me completely, and I could think of nothing else.

The Heirakonpolis Ivories are not surrounded by their back story. The label at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, will tell us only that the people standing behind the glass were found in the ‘main deposit’ in the Ancient Egyptian city of the Hawk.

People have lived in that place since 4,000 years before Christ. Called Heirakonpolis by the Greeks, the Egyptians named it Nekhen. Between five and ten thousand people worshipped the hawk god, Horus, there on the banks of the Upper Nile.

Excavations have been going on there, on and off, since the end of the 19th century.  I do not know when the strange little ivories were taken from their cool, dark storage place into the dessicating heat and glaring light.

They stand in a glass case in the room which looks at Ancient Egypt and its origins. Many are word, and rough. Even clumsy.

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But then time has worn them. They date, it is said, from 3300-2175BC. They have had four millennia to become battered. We forgive them, and marvel at man who made such a thing so far back in time.

And then, I saw his eyes.

I thought He was a Her, until I realised that he wore a sheath, the emblem of a man of Ancient Egypt. But those eyes: they slew me. How was it that all the other faces were made grotesque, rude and rough by time and yet his has remained as fresh and haunting as the day it was fashioned to resemble its flesh-and-blood counterpart?

This world’s artists have succeeded in representing beauty with masterful timelessness. Look at the Venus De Milo and her marble calm, or the enigma that is the Mona Lisa.

But to me, personally, this small ivory surpasses any other representation of beauty I have seen.  An unknown figurine created by an unknown artist when civilisation was in its infancy, he radiates focus and energy. He stands among the stumps, refusing to surrender whatever was his life’s mission, a syudy in intensity.

The psychologists say, don’t they, that attraction can have something to do witha  mutual attitude to life. When I first saw this long-dead soul I scoffed. He’s just a pretty face, I tod myself, and walked away hugging my camera.

But his intensity – it was palpable. In meeting his gaze I was not just haunted by his face, but by his stance. This man, I feel sure, had unfinished business.

I suppose I shall never know.


38 thoughts on “Across a crowded room

  1. If civilisation was in its infancy some 4000 years ago, it’s taking a hell of a long time to grow up. I wonder if people will write, in another 4000 years, that present civilisation was in its unenlightened, tearaway period.

  2. That face certainly has a haunted quality to it, Kate. Maybe it’s the je ne sais quoi (oh, yay, high school French finally pays off 40 years later) factor to it that has helped it survive the test of time?

  3. To you, he speaks of “unfinished business.”

    To me, he speaks of the pointlessness of our existence:

    “What’s the point?”
    “There is no point ~ par, par, bogie, bogie, par, par.” 😀

  4. I know the interest of an unexpected connection to someone behind the museum glass. There are ties between cultures and time we don’t need to understand, just experience. I’ve never seen any representation quite like this, Kate, and I am a “museum scourer” like you. I am so pleased you introduced us!

  5. The photos of the little figurine took my breath away. His gaze is so direct and clear and as you said, “a study in intensity.”
    So interesting that his face is still in such perfect condition.

    1. I know – when all the others are worn away. It was the same haul from the same place at the same time, I believe; and we will never know how he survived time’s ravages so well.

    1. All I know is that they were all buried deliberately, in a deposit found at the city, and they are all displayed together, Col. Beyond that, there may be ancient age differences.

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