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.
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”
Kate, I would love to know. What if we could go back and ask him?
Yet another instance where a time machine would be most useful, Sidey!
How about asking that wiley hubby of yours to create one for us?
What an amazing face! I can imagine the powerful impact of that direct gaze Kate! I wonder whose likeness that is.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to find out, Madhu…
Yes, the power of his direct gaze. Like you, I saw him and that it a her but you were clever to note the sheath.
It took me about 24 hours, Tammy, and some photo analysis 🙂
An enchanted visage no doubt.
Lovely, Lou. The classics never really go out of fashion, do they?
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.
i expect so. I think technology will prove to have had a more detrimental efefct on us than we all currently believe.
It’s a pity there is no written legacy to tell us more about these figurines 🙂
It is. There may be more written, but I could not find it at the museum or online. It will take a special question to a curator to find out more, Tandy.
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?
Maybe, Lame. Maybe it was stored in cotton while its neigbours just had to put up with sand.
A beautiful face for a man or a woman.
It is, PT…
The perfect post for me today. Maybe someday you’ll know why. Thank you.
How intriguing 🙂 But whatever the reason, I’m very glad, Andra.
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.” 😀
That quote is from the movie, Home for the Holidays . . . trailer below.
I love Holly Hunter, and I’ve never seen this, Nancy. Thank you so much: I feel a ba of popcorn is in order.
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!
Ah: another museum scourer, excellent, Debra 🙂
I can only imagine what his unfinished business is…
I know, The beginning of a novel, isn’t it, Belle?
The perfect beginning.
That remarkable carving so full of personality, Kate. I wonder what will outlive us. Not just our bridges and buildings, I hope. But also beautiful art, writing and music.
That’s a good question, Judy. It may be the ugly things that prevail. Time will tell.
It sounds to me like you do know, Kate. The important part that can’t really be spoken anyway, that is…
Quite, Brett. Enigma is half of the draw, I suppose.
The wondering why is part of the beauty and the mystery, it seems to me. Such a provocative post, Kate.
I agree totally, Penny. And we will never really know….
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.
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.
Quite exceptional, isn’t it. Are they quite sure it is of the same antiquity? It just seems on a different plane.
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.