Category — Architecture
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A “CLASSICAL ART” CELEBRATION
AT THE ADVENT OF SUMMER, 2013
An Art Historical Grand Tour of Ancient Mediterranean Cultures
by Dr. José Rodeiro, Art Editor
(Christie Devereaux, photo-documentor/image-researcher)
Usually, during times of affluence, acquisitiveness, and conspicuous consumption, art worlds (and art demimondes) thrive and bloom. The artistic opulence of the “Golden Age of Pericles,” the “Golden Age of Augustus,” the “High Renaissance,” the “Roaring ‘20s,” and “The 1960s,” all stand as prime examples of prosperous, historically viable, critically laudable, and aesthetically pithy “well-oiled” art worlds.
So it is that in the spring 2013, as employment figures rise, U.S. stock markets rally, and trickles of wealth reemerge in famished pockets, it is gratifying to observe the impending demise of the global bearish economic malaise, The Great Recession that has oppressed us far too long. Hopefully we are seeing the end of a protracted economic winter, and the resurgence of a healthier 21st Century contemporary art scene, one that is legitimate, that fosters and nurtures deserving and talented artists who come to it armed with true artistic ability. Thanks to the thaw, this long anticipated possibility seems each day more feasible, profitable, and on the verge of full realization.
Thus, it is a perfect time to suggest a celebratory and well-deserved art pilgrimage (“trekking” throughout late spring into the early summer of 2013) to visit both the Hellenic and Italo-Latin homes of many of the first great art historical cultural resurgences of the ancient Mediterranean world. In this journey, travelers will examine key examples of Mediterranean visual art in order to discover the Aegean and Archaic roots of Western Classicism, and ascertain how late-Classicism eventually sprouted divergent Hellenistic and Roman artistic vines, buds, and blossoms. This proposed “Classic” grand tour is the perfect reward for surviving the never-ending War-on-Terror, almost-ending “The Great Recession,” and a host of tenacious deadly mega-storms.
Hence, RAGAZINE’s somewhat optimistic Art Editor proposes another “soul-refreshing” grand tour. But, this time, going back “further” in time to explore ancient Greece and Rome, searching for the origins of Mediterranean classicism as well as concomitant Periclean and Augustan Golden Age “High-Classicism,” which has been often identified as the unplumbed anchor of all Western culture by an array of distinguished art historians and cultural-thinkers (i.e., Fr. Johann Joachim Wincklemann, Comte de Volney, Friedrich Nietzsche, Eugenio D’ Ors, Martin Heidegger, Sir Kenneth Clark, John Canaday, Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, Jacques Derrida and Alasdair MacIntyre). For example, while lecturing at the Ecole Normale Supérieur, Derrida, observed that Western civilization is preoccupied with determining a “center” as a normative ideal standard or model — a central core concept that furnishes a foundational base replete (“ideally”) with clear parameters (or boundaries) that serve(s) to restrict the amount (or degree) of possible variables, varieties, chance or play in relationship to what Derrida called “total form.”
As a result, Derrida argued that in the West, all philosophical thinking rises from either a confrontation with or against a core tenet (i.e. Western Classicism), or, on the other hand, during “Golden Ages” (“renaissances”), art and thought either return to, or maintain the central “tenet:” Classicism. In this same vein, in his shocking book, After Virtue (1981), the radical 21st Century Scottish thinker, Alasdair MacIntyre, suggests that classical traditions do more to support morality and ethics than most of the innovative social ideas generated during the 18th Century Enlightenment. In agreement with McIntyre, concerning Classicism’s intrinsic ethics and morality, is the early 19th Century pundit Count Constantin François de Chassebœuf (The Comte de Volney), who proclaimed that, “More than any other cultural force, the cult of Classical antiquity is responsible for the American and French Revolutions.”
Hence, the role of “Classicism” and the “Classical Traditions” in art and culture are sturdy guides for modern life and art as Fr. Johann Joachim Wincklemann advocated, seeing in Ancient Greek and Roman art something innately reassuring, noble yet simple, dignified and righteous. For Wincklemann, Apollonian Classicism afforded peacefulness, idealism, and control. In the 20th Century, Sir Kenneth Clark revealed that Classicism and Romanticism in artists of the first-rank always co-exist in degrees. Thus, renewed or recurrent classicism in the guise of Neo-Classicism is always a salient hallmark of a “Golden Age,” forever providing guiding aesthetic principles during any and all past and future “Renaissances.” This law of cultural revival is affirmed by such art-thinkers as G. W. F. Hegel, Heinrich Wolfflin, Alois Riegel, as well as Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, who in 1941 in his book The Buildings of England, astutely calculated that, ‘Every phase in history has its style permeating all its productions, whether of fashion or finance, agriculture or architecture. . . [everything].”
The primary reason(s) justifying our pressing need for another grand-tour of Western art is found in the December 2012 issue of RAGAZINE, which furnished an illuminating article delineating rare art historical insights into the bold, inspired religio-artistic endeavors that marked the Hiberno-Saxon (“Celtic”) Renovatio of the 7th Century that nurtured The Frankish Carolingian Renaissance of the 8th Century. In that article (titled “The Gift of Art History”), RAGAZINE readers were treated to a grand-tour traversing Christendom from the British Isles to Rome and back again, visiting key locations, monuments, and artifacts directly associated with Western Europe’s triumph over the murky and barbaric forces of The Dark Ages, http://old.ragazine.cc/2012/12/a-gift-of-art-history/ . This winter 2012-2013 article was designed to reassure readers that civilization has often valiantly confronted chaotic and barbaric epochs (as in the first decade of this century), and by means of art, ingenuity, resilience and hard work, an unexpected revitalization and path forward miraculously emerged. Beat Poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti in 1958 described this “happening” in his prophetic poem “I Am Waiting” (from A Coney Island of the Mind), as “a rebirth of wonder”:
“… I am awaiting
perpetually and forever
a renaissance of wonder … ”
No place on earth is more closely identified with an historical rebirth of wonder than the Classical Mediterranean world of Greece and Rome, commencing with the Cycladic Islands: Milos, Delos, Naxos, Paros, Santorini (Thera) and Amorgos, each of which divulges archaeological evidence of an ancient matriarchy via scores of abstract sculptures of lithe and slender triangular-headed women.
These Cycladic marble female funerary figurines are among the most abstract and startling images in western art, suggesting a possible primordial matriarchal culture that flourished throughout the Aegean Islands, between 2500 -1100 BCE. These statues of gaunt women, ranging in size from a few inches to three feet, are always found in burial sites, in which women (“priestess-queens”) were buried. Please note that male burials are rare, as are male Cycladic images, (although a few marble male musician figurines have been unearthed). The fact that men were not deemed worthy of burial implies a different societal structure. All of this is in accord with Robert Graves’s assessments (in The Greek Myths), which were based on his interpretation of ancient Greek texts and legends. Graves concluded that, with the exception of Crete and its colonies, powerful women ruled the Islands of the Aegean (both the Sporadic Islands and Cycladic Islands) around the third millennium BCE, before the arrival of the Bronze Age. Hence, with both Graves and Homer as guides, a trip to the Peloponnese to visit Mycenae is essential, followed by an “odyssey” to Crete.
Ordinarily, ancient Greek texts allude to Greek Bronze Age cultural events and personalities. These ancient authors convey historical information, which has valuable archaeological portent as proven by Heinrich Schliemann’s use of Homer’s epics to unearth Troy and Mycenae, in the 1870s and 1880s. In fact, a similar close reading of ancient epics and plays led to Christos Stamatakis’s discovery in 1878 of the Treasury of Atreus (1300 – 1200 BCE) just a few yards beyond Mycenea’s cyclopean walls. This marvelous find was the so-called “Tomb of Atreus,” which is very similar architecturally to the 3000 BCE Newgrange mound at Meath, Ireland. Both are early attempts at dome-making. Yet, Stamatakis’s Mycenaean royal tomb was probably not that of King Atreus, because the carbon-dates fall short of Atreus’s chronology. A significant text on this type of archaeological scholarship is Emily Vermeule’s Myth and Tradition from Mycenae to Homer, Studies in the History of Art # 32 (1991), 98 – 121.
But close-reading of old epics and mythological legends are not the only useful methods for attaining clues about ancient art history. For example, specific ceramic styles have been used in Aegean art history to determine precise time periods. Usually, these clay objects derive from cemeteries, which help determine exact dates. Among the finest examples are Kamares Ware from the Middle Minoan II Period, e,g., the famous “Old Palace” bird-beaked clay jug, decorated with abstract images of aquatic fauna and open-shell crustaceans (1850 – 1700 BCE), using blackish red-brown and yellowish-gold pigments. Its unique blackish-red button-like eye distinguishes this piece, which is almost a foot high.
The swelling shape of the jug’s form animates its bird-like features. Minoan vessels of this type are found in great number in and around the “old palaces” of Phaestos and Knossos. But, chiefly such ornate water-jugs are found far away from the Mediterranean Sea, on Mount Ida in the exact center of Crete, within the Kamaras Grotto, which was used for the sacred burial of Minoan royalty. Thus, the pots were used as part of Minoan funerary practices and rituals. Ida was the highest point on the island, and was deemed a divine mountain: the realm of the early Cretan gods. Fearing drowning even after death, the Minoans favored “on-land” burial, accounting for their selection of Mount Ida’s high-ground for royal-interment.
More than any other ancient imagery with the exception of Indian art, Minoan art always displays energetic vigor and vitality. By way of illustration, consider the famous Toreador Fresco c. 1500 BCE, from the Palace of Knossos, Crete, which despite its small size 24 ½ inches in height exudes enthusiastic élan. Even though, the work was undoubtedly retouched by the heavy-hand of Sir Arthur Evans in the early 20th Century, there is still something of zestful liveliness in its “animation.” The scene depicts the central court of Knossos, where acrobatic taurokathapsia (“bull-jumping”) is taking place. This event functioned as a coming of age ritual in which youthful aristocratic debutantes (bull leapers) of both sexes danced almost naked with precarious Cretan bulls, before a vast Cretan audience, including the leaper’s proud parents and friends, who anxiously watched the daring spectacle.
After the Dorian invasion as well as the chaos of the Sea Peoples’ marauding, the dismal Doric Dark Age of the 9th and 8th Century produce peculiar and eerie primitive abstract Geometric Art. Luckily, for Greece, a luxuriant Orientalizing Phase arrived with the influx of the adroit and imaginative Ionian (“Aryan”) invaders who soon developed two significant proto-Classical styles: the Archaic, which by 500 BCE evolved into the Severe Style — the true artistic forerunner of the Classical.
During the Archaic period from c.800-500 BCE, rigid free-standing stone sculptures appear depicting specific male personages, who, by means of these (approximately six-foot-tall) austere stone-sculptures were being venerated and memorialized. The nude male sculpture is known as a kourus or plural kouroi (meaning “youths”) and female sculptures are called kore or plural korai (meaning “maidens). These statues are directly influenced by Egyptian Old Kingdom standing sculptures. Within Attican graveyards (i.e., Keratea, Anavysos, Dipylon, etc.), both male and female statues were placed on pedestals. Nude male sculptures had one-foot striding forward in the Egyptian manner. These works were used to commemorate as well as mark the location of a deceased person’s exact burial spot, which the statue obliquely, mystically, personified. Archaic sculpted women are always fully dressed in a peplos and inert, not striding, but also identify burial locations of specific women, or were used inside temples devoted to a specific goddess as representations of that particular deity. Some statues indicated the entrance to a temple or a tomb. Most importantly, Archaic sculptures’ facial features have many characteristics that evolve into typical Classical visages of human beauty, including the famous thought-provoking Archaic smile, almond shaped eyes, bridgeless “Apollonian” noses, high cheekbones, and other marks of alluring and exceptional Classic facial beauty. Also, the stone sculptures were brightly polychromed; but, over time, rain and weather erased the color. Hence, at night under moonlight and starlight, these stiff cold statues standing silent in cemeteries looked like ghosts.
The High Classical style is best exemplified by the Parthenon on the Acropolis, Athens, which stands as one of the greatest monuments of Greek art. Built using marble from nearby Mount Pentelicus under the careful supervision of the sculptor Pheidias, as well as the architect Iktinos of Elis and the engineer Kallikrates. It was constructed during the Golden Age of Pericles in 448-432 BCE. However, Pheidias did not use Pentelic marble on the sculptures; because (with the exception of the enormous gold and ivory cult statue of the goddess Athena), he and his workshop’s extensive sculptural decorations were carved using Parinian marble from the Cycladic Island of Paros. After the structure was complete, the sculptures were placed on the building; and then, each sculpture was realistically painted. This polychroming include the figures on both pediments, the metope reliefs, the Ionic inner frieze, and most importantly (also hued in tempera) the gigantic gold and ivory cult statue of the Virgin Goddess Athena (Goddess of Wisdom), from which the building gets its name: “parthenos,” meaning “virgin.”
Oddly enough, the building was not a “temple,” because it lacked an altar and priestesses. Rather, it was intended as a unique quasi-religious warehouse. The building was designed to function as a treasure house (bank). It contained vast assortments of precious objects; each item was inventoried on marble steles that identified wealthy individuals, who kept their treasures in ornamented crate-like deposit boxes, within and behind the large cult statue and along the walls of the inner cella. The cult statue, covered in sheets of gold and ivory with inlaid precious stones as ornaments, itself was the most valuable object in the “temple.” But, it was not the most sacred venerated object on the Acropolis. That honor fell to the ancient wooden statue of Athena that had fallen from heaven, and the ancient sacred tree. These two highly esteemed objects were maintained by priests of the nearby Erechtheion Temple, which was designed by the architect Mnesikles (430 – 405 BCE).
ANCIENT AEGEAN ART
The Parthenon does not have a single straight line; from every angle it either curves or tapers. These unusual linear adjustments were designed throughout the building by Iktinos in order to fool the eye of on-lookers, into seeing the building from a distance as something perfectly squared — at exact right angles. He did these calculated distortions of perception, because he desired something idealized; Iktinos did not trust the false illusion of ocular perspective. In this, he was like the classical sculptors, who attempted anatomical idealization. In certain ways, regarding the falsity of perception, Iktinos is similar to Plato. For example, in Book 3 and Book 10 of The Republic, Plato was generally suspicious of all forms of mimetic art, distrusting human sensory empiricism, believing that mathematics afforded greater awareness of “pure (ideal) forms,” which alone, for him, were categorically “truly” real in his mind’s eye. But, despite Iktinos’s tricks, Plato would have questioned the reality of anything that was merely physical, including an architectural structure like the Parthenon.
The theme of most of the decorations is either, 1) the struggle between Poseidon and Athena over the control of the Acropolis, or 2) zealous pro-Pericles propaganda. This war between the gods is illustrated in the west pediment and in the “Battle between Lapiths and Centaurs” on the metopes. The other key theme is the “Greater Panathenea Festival,” (although it was an ancient rite), in the 5th Century BCE it took on a new meaning, celebrating the 479 BCE victory of Athens over the Persians, at Salamis. The Athenians claimed divine intervention as the cause of their victory and offered homage, in the form of a ritual processions to dress the wooden cult statue of Athena in the Erechtheion Temple with a new peplos (every four years). This quadrennial parade is depicted on the Ionic frieze, within the Parthenon’s portico. While the east pediment’s “Birth of Athena,” correlates to the fact that the festival was held on her birthday (July 28), occurring precisely one month after the summer solstice (June 28). Significantly, July 28 was the original date of the Attic “New Year” as well as the date of Athena’s birth — when she popped-out, fully armored, from her father Zeus’s head, after it was cracked open by her stepbrother Hephaistos’s hammer.
The giant cult statue also played a role during the 28 day mid-summer thanksgiving festivities (a divine birthday party), when precious gifts were given to the colossal effigy of the goddess. Pericles added musical contests in 446 BCE in the Odeum theater, that he built for these Panatheneaic concerts. Sporting events also were a traditional part of the extensive celebrations. The 2nd Century Greek author of tour-guides for Roman tourists, Pausanius provides the best descriptions of ancient Greek architectural sights and monuments, since he visited them before their ruin. The Parthenon was destroyed in the 17th Century CE, during a Venetian bombardment of the then Turkish controlled Acropolis. During the earlier Byzantine Period, the cult statue had been taken to Constantinople, where it accidentally perished in a fire.
The Greek artistic ideals were not restricted merely to architecture; sculpture also was a vehicle for ingenuity and integrity. The sublime 4th Century BCE sculptures of Praxiteles set a high standard for ideal beauty in art. His greatest masterpiece, Hermes and the Infant Dionysus was found in 1875 amidst the collapsed rubble of the Temple of Hera, Olympia. In this dazzling work, Hermes, the messenger of Zeus, carries the newly born god Dionysus (God of Lust, Concupiscence, Orgies, Fertility, Wine, Chaos, Drugs, Beer, etc.) to his aunt and adopted mother Demeter (Goddess of Nature, and sister of Zeus). Hermes is conveying the baby to her, because Demeter has been asked by Zeus to raise his new son Dionysus. The child had recently popped out of Zeus’s inner thigh. This immaculate birth (i.e., similar to the birth of the goddess Athena) is actually a reincarnation as a god of Dionysus’s human mother Semele.According to Graves, the myth goes something like this: Semele, a mortal princess, had fallen in love with Zeus while he was disguised as a mere mortal (in order to seduce her). Recklessly, Semele desired to love him fully and completely. But, his spouse, the divine Hera (“Olympia”) discovered their adulterous love and was determined to end it. Therefore, Semele was cleverly fooled by Zeus’s jealous wife/sister Hera (Queen of Heaven) into asking Zeus to reveal his full divinity when next they made love.
Knowing this would kill the mortal Semele, the divine Hera convinced the foolish girl to request Zeus’s unqualified omnipotence at their next tryst. Thus, through Hera’s bad council, Semele was obliterated, eliminating her as a rival for Zeus’s affections. Semele, having been incinerated during this sexual encounter with the supreme god Zeus, managed to impregnate the god; when in grief, he had torn open his flesh at the thigh with a golden knife and placed her ashes within as his tears fell on them, then sewing the wound shut with golden thread. Nine months later, a baby was born. In order to protect the child from Hera, Hermes was asked to wisp the infant away to live with his Aunt Demeter.
Another version (in myths, there are always several versions) claims that Semele’s human daughter Ino was the indentured recipient of child Dionysus. In this reading, this older sister of Dionysus raised the baby until she died. Then Hermes again was sent by Zeus to transport the child to be nurtured by nymphs on Mount Nysa, who taught him to prefer exaggerated extremes and chaos. In another versions of the myth, the child was given to the Hyades of Dodoma (the goddesses of rain and moisture), who brought up the child hidden in a cave for fear of Hera, whose vindictive jealousy was insatiable. It is interesting (and ironic) to think that this stunning sculpture about Semele’s divine son was found buried beneath the Temple of Hera, which was demolished by an earthquake that sadly devastated Olympia, Greece.
On a cosmic-scale, Dionysus, as well as other related Olympians (Demeter, Persephone, and Apollo) served the religious needs of ancient Greek society, by revealing life’s perpetual struggles between contrary forces: good/evil, life/death, joy/suffering, etc. Through their conspicuous roles in highly anticipated calendar feasts, Dionysus and other gods and goddesses offered ancient Greeks constant divine fortitude for solving intricate cosmic conflicts. By their supernatural actions and use of certain hallucinogens, foods, fruits and drinks, Dionysus, Demeter, Persephone and Apollo and others supported and maintained human sustenance, political and religious order, as well as a host of essential requirements throughout the universe. For the Greeks, the gods realized their cosmic responsibilities by differentiating their duties, e.g., cultivating Demeter, spring-bringing Persephone, brilliant Apollo, as well as chaotic Dionysus. And this same designation of cosmic tasks can be applied to other Olympian gods and goddesses. Greek cultures established specific ritual events that required the sacramental use of certain libations and foods, such as, the use of ambrosial drugs within Dionysian festivals at Delphi and at Athens, as well as their relationship to mysterious and enigmatic mysteries and rituals of Eleusis, associated with the goddess Demeter.
As the divine embodiment of certain hallucinogens, foods, and drinks, Dionysus played either a small ‘indirect’ role or a major ‘direct’ role within several Ancient Greek calendar celebrations. He is central to the autumnal New Year “Ambrosia” at Delphi and he appears in the ‘mystery’ festivals of at Eleusis (a sacred observance of ‘preparations for spring’ conducted in September), and in Athens, he is paramount in the spring “Greater Dionysia” (Whitney 14). At places like Delphi, ancient Greeks revitalized and preserved life through drug-based rituals that were fundamental to Dionysian worship (Schultes and Hofmann 88), which required the use of certain hallucinogens, foods, and drinks, which helped to spark an awakening awareness of crucial psycho-binaries or psychic-dualism(s), as well as nurturing other sublime or deep insights about the nature of existence, which permeated Greek life, as well as their art (particularly music and theatre).
PRE-CLASSICAL & CLASSICAL ART
The first clue into the nature of post-Ionian Archaic Greek cultural aspirations (according to Robert Graves) is revealed in the frenzied sexuality of the maenads, wood nymphs, satyrs, centaurs, and other followers of Dionysus, who consistently used various Mediterranean magic mushrooms, as well as psychoactive plants like belladonna, and aphrodisiacal mandrake root, as well as fermented libations (wine, beer, ivy-ale, etc.) (Schultes and Hofmann 86 – 89). The maenads within the orgiastic cult of Dionysus, who ran wild through Delphic and Attic forests with dilated flashing eyes flinging themselves upon men, animals, children, plants and trees in order to ravish them, tearing them apart and then eating them. The maenads were under the influence of wine adulterated by belladonna juice (deadly nightshade) (88). In Euripides’s The Bacchae (or The Bacchants), the 5th Century BCE dramatist examines in detail this bizarre and berserk maenadical rampage as something not out of the ordinary as a Dionysian inspired bucolic female phenomena in post-Ionian Greece. This play inspired Friedrich Nietzsche to dig deeper hunting for the roots of Western art. However, the validity of Nietzsche’s numerous Pre-Classical suppositions and assumptions are often dismissed or questioned by 21st Century academics, who “thoughtlessly” favor facts over imagination.
Nevertheless, in the Birth of Tragedy (1888), Nietzsche draws our attention to unique binary phenomena, which he calls the “Dionysian” and the “Apollonian” (20). Nietzsche offers that in the persona of the great god Dionysus (god of drugs, mushrooms, wine, beer, ivy, and other intoxicants), ancient Greeks devised a “wild” supernatural agent that they relied upon to enhance the quality and energy of their lives, needs, and desires. Dionysus along with his drugs, and other edibles played the ‘resurrected-god’ role at Delphi in autumn, performing prominent ‘spring-duties’ in Athens, as well as being associated with autumnal regenerative spring-rites at Eluesis.
From its archaic inception c. 600 BCE, Greek theatre derived from rural comic satyr plays, a form of proto-theater, which consisted of repetitious parodies of feral interactions between satyrs and maenads (Hamilton 57) mimicking their wine-induced as well as drug-induced sexual pursuits, romps, and games. These proto-plays were acted-out, cavorted, or executed as dithyrambic choral-dances were performed around a thumele (an altar) of Dionysus in the center of an orchestra (“a place for dancing”) (Nietzsche 62). Young male actors played the gambol-roles of both the maenads and satyrs.
Since this dance commemorating Dionysus took place around an altar upon which a goat was sacrificed, correspondingly the chorus was called the goat-singers (“tragos khoros”), and their ritualistic song was called the goatsong (τραγούδι) tragudi. Hence, the Greek word “goat” tragos is the source of the word “tragedy” (Shanker 298), as kṓmē (meaning rural-village) is the source of the word “comedy.” In ancient Greek, the term tragedy originally meant “he-goat song.” Usually, this “he-goat concert” was performed before an audience that sat on an accommodating graduated slope of a hill (a theatron – “a seeing-place”), overlooking the assembled narcissistic, histrionic, and exhibitionistic romping of ritual-revelers chanting and dancing in the orchestra (Sir Paul Harvey The Oxford Companion to Classical Literature, 1946 – 422). In The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche suggests that repetitive dithyrambic choral-dances emulated the sounds of natural phenomena (62) and were used to excite the spectators into states of frenzied rapture just before the hero Dionysus would abruptly enter the swelling scene (66) to usher in the feverishly exciting komos: the wild, hysterical orgiastic “carousing” and “reveling” that culminated the goat-play’s final “orgasmic” climactic moment.
An important part of this euphoric and divine komos “earthly” cosmology is the Ionian Aryan religio-cultural connection between two indistinguishable “god-men:” Dionysus and the Hindu divinity Krishna. The links between Dionysus and Krishna are essential to understanding the Greek world, the Roman world, and Western Civilization. In his book Ploughing the Clouds, Peter Lamborn Wilson discovers similarities between secret ritualized European “Soma” ceremonies and those described in the ancient Rig Veda (1500 BC), demonstrating how Greek Ionian Indo-Europeans represent a continuation of Hindu-Aryan psychedelic (or “entheogenic”) shamanic practices.
Satyrs were uniquely identified with the worship of Dionysus, which demanded ecstatic sexual revelry, accompanied by wine, beer, ivy-ale, leaves of the atropa-belladonna plant (“deadly-nightshade”), henbane seeds, and the mildly hallucinogenic dung-mushroom (panaolus papilionaceus) as well as a powerful hallucinogen — the Mediterranean magic-mushroom (amanita muscaria) (Graves Greek Myths volume 1, 9). Graves includes amanita muscaria in the recipe for Delphic ambrosia in the essay “What Food the Centaurs Ate?” (Graves Steps. 319-343).
“This mushroom, named amanita muscaria – popularly ‘fly agaric’ – has now been proven by Gordon Wasson’s detailed examination of the Vedic hymns (written in Sanskrit about the time of the Trojan War), to have been the Food of the Gods. It is there named ‘Soma’. That it is also ‘Ambrosia’ and ‘Nectar’ (both these words mean “immortal”) which were famous as the food and drink of the Greek Olympian gods.” (Graves. Difficult Questions 96)
Yet, Nietzsche argues that the frenzied ultra-natural frolicking of satyrs and maenads was artistically systematized and stylized in comens (rural areas) into nascent forms of proto-theater, which in time evolved into ‘Tragedy’ (Walter Kaufmann’s Introduction to Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy 11-17). These satyr-rituals also developed into theological and liturgical komos (orgies) that marked the autumnal new year (the “Ambrosia Festival”) at Delphi, and then later shepherded in spring in Athens during the “Greater Dionysia” (Campbell 183-184). So great was Dionysus’s identification with spring that at Eleusis, he was associated via his aunt Demeter and half-sister/cousin Persephone with the Eleusinian Mysteries (Graves 105). Since, drops of his sacred blood generated pomegranate fruits, which were sacramentally used in the early-September duo harvest festivals and ‘hope-for-spring’ ceremonies known as the Eleusinian Mysteries. (Campbell 58-59). Of course, the deepest insights into these rituals were provided by Károly Kerényi in his seminal book on the subject: Eleusis: Archetypal Image of Mother and Daughter (1962).
ETRUSCAN & ROMAN ART
In harmony with Nietzsche’s ideas on the emergence of archaic theatre, as an inherent part of Ionian Pantheistic religion, ancient Greeks preserved the dichotomous nature of their gods and their myths: proffering key binaries: life/death, day/night, light/dark/ order/chaos, good/evil, etc., which identified dual spiritual predisposition(s) within Grecian theology, society, art and culture. For example, the cosmic juxtaposition at Delphi and Athens of the calm, logical, and perfect Apollo (god of Beauty, Poetry, Divine Inspiration (Illumination), Radiance and the Sun) and his half-brother, the inebriated, illogical, and chaotic Dionysus (god of Lustful Sex, Drugs, Wine, Beer, Orgies and Folly) (Campbell 183-184).
Nowhere is this duality between Dionysian madness and Apollonian sanity more evident than at Delphi, where both Apollo and Dionysus were worshiped (Easterling and Muir 135), for Dionysus’ tomb was allegedly beneath Apollo’s adyton inside the Great Temple of Apollo at Delphi (135). In the Golden Bough, Sir James Frazer describes that, “ The body of Dionysus was buried at Delphi beside the golden statue of Apollo and his tomb bore the inscription, ‘Here lies Dionysus dead, the son of Semele’”(Frazer 274). Hence, both gods were closely associated with each other. For example, each fall near the sacred precinct of Apollo at Delphi on Mount Parnassus’s plateau of Mamaria (95), thousands of pilgrim-worshipers marked the ancient Greek new year’s celebration (“Ambrosia Festival”) of Dionysus, during the months when Apollo abandoned Delphi (each October and November) either pushed out by Dionysus, or voluntarily leaving to visit the Hyperborean Titans. Overcome by the excitement of the fall new year festival, even the Oracle of Delphi temporarily switched her allegiance, during this Delphic celebration commemorating Dionysus’s death by dismemberment at the hands of the Titans (under Hera’s orders).
Dionysus died shedding his blood for mankind, which sprouted into the first pomegranate fruits (Graves Greek Myths. Volume 1 103-4). Then Dionysus was revitalized/rejoined through the intersession of his grandmother Rhea, who once again hid him with his aunt Demeter and cousin Persephone, making them Dionysus’s protectors from the wrath of Hera. Because he had been gravely weakened by his death, suffering from amnesia, Demeter and Persephone re-taught him agriculture and (as a tribute to his courage in relearning all that he had lost) the goddesses adopted the pomegranate as their sacred symbolic-fruit.
After regaining his agricultural skills, Dionysus used his re-acquired abilities to create plants and mushrooms that provided greater awareness. Wine-production and beer-making are rural activities, which were first taught by Dionysus to Greek satyr-totem peoples and centaur-totem people according to Robert Graves (Greek Myths 9). In gratitude, the rural (comen) cultures invented performances to entertain their divine benefactor. Dionysus then enhanced their rural primitive efforts, perfecting the satyr plays by expanding the farmer’s awareness through drugs and other inebriants. Soon this primal theatrical invention of comedy turned into drama; and then when it reached the great urban centers, it slowly grew as an art form, eventually becoming a high art. Nowhere was this elevated level of artistic excellence more glorious than in Athens, particularly during the Greater Dionysia.
The Greater Dionysia was an urban festival held in Athens for a week during the ancient Greek month of Elaphebolion (late March to early April). It included a parade and contests for the best theatrical performances. Along with Athenian citizens crowding the parade route and the theatres, this religious festival attracted countless pilgrims from both Attica and other Hellenic regions who gathered to watch the Dionysiac parade from Lenaeon to the Acropolis. The city of Athens would be splendidly festooned using decorations of Ionion white and gold. This festival was used to mark the advent of spring, where Dionysus the god of fertility, wine, beer, lust, drugs (the amanita muscaria mushroom) and chaos would be worshipped as the liberator of life from the bondage of winter.
Only the priest and priestesses were permitted to savor ambrosia. Revelers including priests, priestesses and other devotees of the Dionysian mysteries disguised themselves as his pastoral entourage playing the roles of salacious maenads, satyrs, and other inebriated woodland folk as they marched in a celebratory procession carrying a wooden polychrome statue of the god Dionysus from his official temple within the Athenian suburb of Lenaeon to his small temple-shrine on the Athenian Acropolis. During the procession and especially in the performances, males took on the guise of both satyrs and maenads, as well as performing both male-roles and female-roles in plays.
All along the parade route garlands of spring flowers would be thrown before the god’s statue, while spectators and revelers (primarily priests and priestesses of his cult) would imbibe liberal amounts of wine, ivy ale, beer, and ambrosia (containing ground amanita muscaria and other ingredients). Various choruses of young boys marched singing dithyrambs, while musical bands played joyful tunes. The procession ended at the small shrine of Dionysus on the Acropolis where the statue would be temporarily enshrined for six days.
After the annual ritual consecration of the statue, the glory of the festival would begin on the southern slopes of the Acropolis both at the Odeum Theatre and the Dionysian Theatre (Whitney 13-17). The new tragedies, comedies, and satyr plays would take place with lavish expenditure, on three consecutive days. At the end of the event, a board of judges would award prizes for the best plays in their respective categories as well as government officials awarding public honors to deserving politicians and citizens who had done great service to the state (14). These public awards were done at this time in order to take advantage of the enormous crowds who had gathered to see the plays. At the end of the festival, a torchlight parade returned the wooden cult-statue to its home in the Temple of Lenaeon (Campbell 241 and 324).
Before the festival, play rehearsals, theatrical set buildings for the plays and other preparations for both processions and all theatrical events, filled Athens with the energy of spring (Michael Cacoyannis introduction to Euripides’ The Bacchae vii – ix). But, the fact that merely small handful of plays by great playwrights survived antiquity – (i.e., Aeschylus (525-456 BC), Sophocles (c. 497-405 BC), Euripides (c. 485-406 BC), and Aristophanes (c. 448-385 BC) – nevertheless, what has survived (for the most part) results from “The Greater Dionysia,” which makes this “racy” feast worthy of recognition today by anyone who has ever been touched by any comedy or tragedy. Thus, we owe a great debt of gratitude to this wild Athenian festival: “The Greater Dionysia.”
Demeter raised her nephew Dionysus, and twice trained him in the arts of agriculture (first as a child and again after his Titanic assassination. As the goddess of grains (e.g., millet, wheat, rye and corn, etc.), Demeter knew that the ergot-fungus that fed as a parasite on grains was capable of engendering potent hallucinations. In this light, David Stuart claims that these nascent forms of ergot-based LSD were provided during secret sacramental Eleusinian communions invoking the Goddess (187). Dionysus also participated at the autumnal harvest-festival/”hope-of-spring” rites at Eluesis, since drops of his sacrificial blood generated the red pomegranate fruit. It is significant that the enigmatic secret nature of Eleusinian mysteries in ancient Greece also derived from the fact that “red-colored” foods were generally considered taboo (Frazer 205-207). Greek laws forbade public consumption of all red-juicy foods. Red foods were associated with divine sanctions against drinking human blood and other forms of cannibalism, which had purportedly dominated primeval Greece, especially throughout ancient matriarchal island-cultures on the Sporades and Cyclades archipelagos, although long after the Dorian invasion, King Tantalus, the maenads, the Minotaur, and others continued to consume human flesh.
Beyond their Dionysian origins, throughout the ancient Mediterranean, pomegranates are identified as sacred feminine symbols, which are associated with several goddesses of agriculture, from the pomegranate’s namesake Pomona (Roman Goddess of Fruits and Fruit Trees) (Bulfinch 77) to Demeter (Greek Goddess of Nature, Vegetation, and Fecundity) (Mikalson 118 119). As a preparation for ‘Spring’ in ‘Fall,’ Demeter’s nocturnal Eleusinian Mysteries provided two enigmatic mystic September festivals, involving an annual cyclical Chthonic “capture” and Earthly “release” of Demeter’s, beloved daughter Persephone. (Baring and Cashford 69-76). These rituals were performed in late summer and early-fall as harvest-home ceremonies guaranteeing the eventual return of spring (in seven months), as well as ensuring next-year’s plentiful harvest. These mysteries secured nature’s future bounty and abundance (Mikalson 195 – 196).
During these two ‘dark’ Eleusinian ceremonies, pomegranates, cherries, and water were used as religious symbols, connoting Persephone’s winter rape, as well as her Chthonic subjugation by her uncle Hades and then her joyous spring reunion with her mother Demeter, who arranged Persephone’s ‘liberty’ (Baring and Cashford 374-385). Since, Persephone was fathered by Zeus (the supreme Olympian god) (42-43), Demeter was able to negotiate with Zeus for their daughter’s annual temporary (spring-to-fall) freedom from the Underworld, by convincing Zeus to restrict Hades’s sexual access to their daughter, confining her only in the Underworld in winter (Mikalson 192-193). In this light, pomegranates and cherries conceivably symbolize Persephone’s maidenhead and are emblematic of her tragic demise into cosmic sexual-bondage, resulting from her loss of sublime innocence and freedom.
Dame Edith Hamilton describes how poor “inculpable” Uncle Hades was unwittingly provoked to rape his niece by the bloom and scent of the narcissus plant, which innocent Persephone had just picked (Hamilton 50). Hades was entranced by the aroma. Due to that seductive flower’s aphrodisiac enticements, the narcissus caused Hades to sexually crave intercourse with his niece (50). Along with various fruits and grains (50), the narcissus was also used sacramentally (as an aphrodisiac) in the Eleusinian Mysteries. The Romans wisely renamed the Greek goddess Persephone: “Kora” as well as “Libera” (Liberty). The Roman goddess Ceres (Goddess of Existence and Subsistence), represented the Latin version of “Demeter.” Hence, the Greek “Demeter” is the Roman “Ceres.”
In fall, Romans participated in mother-daughter ceremonies celebrating Ceres and Libera/Kora, a Latin version of the Greek Eleusinian Mysteries, occasionally substituting cherries (cerezas) for pomegranates. Nevertheless, in Homer’s Hymn of Demeter, the pomegranate is the very fruit by which Persephone is naively tempted, because she was forced by Hades to eat seven pomegranate seeds, which binds her to him for 1/3 of the year: late-fall and winter. Beyond its obvious bright red color, the real significance of the pomegranate is its affinity with Dionysus’s sacrificial blood and his Delphic new year resurrection from death, which serves as a perfect metaphor within the symbol of the pomegranate for spring’s resurgence.
Also, important is the pomegranate’s shape and internal structure, furnishing a unique ‘unity in diversity,’ reconciling a multitude of diverse elements within an apparent unity. Thus, the bitter-sweetness that ensues from Persephone’s Eve-like bite, which seals creation’s cosmic eternal dualities (e.g., Death/Life; Winter/Spring, or Stagnation/Renewal (“rebirth:” primavera), which is apparent in the barren/abundant seasonal cycles that brings about a sense of balance and atonement between the mother figure (Demeter) and incestual rapist/victim lover-figure(s): Hades and Persephone. Via the Dionysian as well as the Hadean chthonic connections associated with the pomegranate as a symbol of “death” / “resurrection” / “life,” Persephone exists in extreme juxtapositions between this world and the next (Chthonia: “the underworld”), which generally make Persephone’s use of red-juicy fruits a precious permanent staple of artistic expression, poetic allegories, and ancient transcultural Mediterranean religious rituals. The eating of pomegranates (as well as cherries) represents profoundly beatific experiences, divulging the godlike sweetness of nature’s sensory world. Yet, even these sensations are theologically and socially tied to the Greek insistence on duality; especially when you consider that in ancient Greece all red juicy fruits were suspect, poor etiquette, or illegal (Frazer 205-210); despite their divine derivations or because of them. For Greeks, even food incorporated stark binary implications.
This need for strong contrasts in Greek socio-religious life is also manifested in their art, where Nietzsche observed a psychological need for strong contrasts and conflicts, manifesting sublime dualities and primordial binaries. For example, with its dichotomous roots in the Delphic “Ambrosial Feast” and Athens’s “Greater Dionysia” celebration, in the Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche presents two contrasting psychological tendencies that affect art and perhaps human nature: the “Apollonian” and the “Dionysian.” In relationship to his analysis of Richard Wagner’s operas, Nietzsche contrasts these two archaic qualities in the following manner: the Apollonian conjures a dream state wherein art provides clarity, boundaries, conformity, an exterior façade and reflection.
In every way, Apollonian art relies on rationality, restraint, excellence of form, purity, perfection, completion/finish and design (Nietzsche 17-20). Contrarily, Dionysian artistic expression arises from extreme exhilaration, excessive passion, instinctual natural awareness, as well as innate perception(s). Dionysian art derives simultaneously from irrational conflicting contradictory experiences that bind opposites, e.g., great joy and great sorrow. Dionysian art fosters unexpected emotive juxtapositions, which allows art to be both odd and extraordinary, providing an absurd unity in diversity of all things. In this aspect, Dionysian art is anti-egotistical, because it disposes all boundaries and rules. Like Lorca’s duende, the Dionysian impulse is not concerned with form but with the marrow of form, representing art as itself (merging a human-artist fully with his/her work) – “creation made act” (Lorca Search of Duende 23). [Also, research this URL: http://duende-art.com/page1.html ]. Additionally, the orgiastic Dionysian spirit in art utilizes destruction as an aspect of creativity (Nietzsche 20).
At places like Delphi, Eleusis, and Athens, wherever Dionysus and his (drugs, food, and drink) revelries played either a small ‘indirect’ role or a major ‘direct’ role within ancient Ionian Greek calendar-celebrations (e.g., the new year or the advent of spring), Greeks preserved through his worship an awareness of the psychic-dualism that surround life, as well as art. Hence, Nietzsche was right to draw our attention to artistic Dionysian/Apollonian binary phenomena. As is evident above in the case of Dionysus, ancient Greeks used their gods, divine rituals (replete with an array of drugs, foods, and drinks) as supernatural agents that enhanced the quality and energy of human life, by answering basic needs, and desires. As the ancient playwright Euripedes described these longings in The Bacchae, stating:
We feel you near,
Stirring like molten lava
Under the ravaged earth,
Flowing like red sap
From the wounds of your trees . . . (81)
On a cosmic-scale, Olympic divinities served the religious necessities of ancient Greece by revealing life’s perpetual struggles between good/evil, life/death, joy/suffering, etc., and through the divine resolution of these cosmic conflicts, the gods supported and maintained human sustenance, political and religious order, the universe and all existence. For the Greeks, the gods realized their cosmic responsibilities by differentiating their specific elemental duties, e.g., nurturing Demeter, liberated Persephone, rational Apollo, as well as irrational Dionysus; and this departmentalization of divine duties and attributes can equally be noticed among all the other Olympian gods and goddesses.
Among the most elegant ceramics of ancient Greece are the Attic white-ground lekythoi jugs that were used for libations during funerals. These objects were often inhumed with the dead. A lekythos is a wine or oil vase with cylindrical body and long neck. It usually contained consecrated oils to anoint the dead.
The greatest lethythos painter of the 5th Century was the so-called “Achilles Painter,” who is known for his gracious linear virtuosity and subtle tempera colors. One of his finest works is the 14 ½” white-ground lekythos from the Attic tomb of a young girl, depicting a solitary Muse presumably Calliope (singing), playing a kithara on Mount Helicon (445 BCE). The bird at her feet is symbolic of the departed soul of the dead, who she is serenading; although, there is a strong chance that the divine Muse is actually accompanying the bird as it sings or they are in concert, singing a melodious and melancholic duet. To quote John Keats’ “Ode to a Grecian Urn,”
Patterns of stylized geometric-volutes cross the shoulder of the lekythos. One of the most fascinating aspects of the piece is an odd and extremely enigmatic inscription from an alleged lover, which is written above the Muse’s head, stating, “Axiopeithes, son of Alkimachos, is beautiful.” Why would this expression of vanity be on this exquisite vase within a young girl’s tomb, why would her lover express his own beauty and not hers? Yet, art history, refers to this odd quote as the “lover’s inscription.” It is true that Greek 5th Century BCE burial ceramics had inscriptions from loved ones that were clearly intended for the deceased. Perhaps, the quote is not a “lovers inscription,” but the actual signature of the unknown “Achilles Painter,” implying that, “I, Axiopeithes, son of Alkimachos is capable of making things of beauty, like this lekythos” Thus, in this ingenious interpretation, this would be one of the earliest examples of an artist signing his work. Wouldn’t it be great, if we finally knew the real name of the “Achilles Painter?”
Roman art and culture have left indelible marks on human civilization. In fact, nothing insinuates a sense of long lasting “permanence” as the word “Roman.” And yet, nothing is as indicative of unanticipated “origin” or “end” as Roman Civilization. In many ways Roman values persist today in the guise of nations like the United States of America, with its Senate, its forums, “Pax Americana,” and its emphasis on world trade, civilization, engineering, violence, Stoicism and respect for the rule of law. In a way, “Rome” continues to exist in the guise of the Roman Catholic Church, with its pontiff, its Vatican in Rome, dioceses, and desire for universal accord and faith. Or, it is disguised within other religious institutions, e.g., the Greek Orthodox Religion, etc. These facts make the date of Rome’s historic collapse 410 CE seem meaningless. Yet, it is harder to fix an exact date for its slowly evolving origin, around 500 BCE. Prior to that, Etruscan (700 -509 BCE) Civilization set the stage for all that Rome would eventually become and achieve.
Among the earliest examples of Etruscan art are the fresco-murals on the back wall of the Tomb of the Lionesses, Tarquinia, which are preeminent examples of Ionian-Etruscan Archaic art (c. 700 – 475 BCE). Especially impressive in this work is the dance scene, with its ecstatic movements. The male figure energetically dances, holding a large ocher jug. His skin is a dark robust reddish brown, while his curly locks are blond. The female dancer is a brunette with pale white complexion and a flimsy transparent dress, her unique hand gesture, is reminiscent of the Mediterranean sign for the bull’s horns, implying adulterous cuckoldry, which means that the artist was being humorously irreverent at the expense of the dead. A beautiful still life of an urn is in the corner by a trompe l’oeil painted column, (which pretends to support the actual roof of the tomb). Funeral dances were part of Etruscan death rituals. This Tarquinian work is an example of the finest Etruscan art, at its highest point. Its vitality is suggestive of earlier Cretan Minoan art.
The Etruscan joyful approach to funerary art is also evident in the large terra-cotta sculpted sarcophagi that were used for burial in the 6th Century BCE. One of the finest examples is the almost seven foot-long coffin from Cerveteri, it was made in 520 BCE, depicting a husband and wife reclining on a couch, eating. The work functions like a double portrait, which captures the happy pair in mid-conversation. They almost seem to be getting up, awakening. Of course, wealthy Romans, as well as earlier Etruscans often ate formal and informal meals in comparable reclining position(s), while conversing with invited guest or relatives. The hand gestures imply eating. Unlike the Romans and especially the Greeks, notice that the image clearly indicates that women are treated as equal partners in Etruscan marriages.
Roman painting traditions began during the time of the Republic; and it is art historically marked by four main stylistic phases, which are referred to as the “Pompeiian Styles (I, II, III, and IV).” In general, examples of Classical painting from Greece and Rome are rare, fortunately, the eruption of Vesuvius (79 CE) preserved fine examples of all four Roman Pre-Silver Age styles. These paintings are considered among the highest achievements in that art form, in fact the 20th Century painter and educator, Josef Albers told his Yale students to go to Pompeii, if they wanted to learn “everything” about painting. Albers especially liked the geometric patterns that were evident in the 2nd Pompeiian Style.
A small amusing imaginary Roman portrait of the Muse Calliope, holding her tablet and pointed stylus was painted in fresco within a 1st Century tondo, on the wall of a Pompeiian home. The image is remarkable for its cool-tonalities and painterliness, with soft modulations of color. It is an example of a transitional work from the Third Style to the Fourth. Art Historians are fascinated by the young woman’s personality, as she is caught absentmindedly daydreaming, holding her beriboned teraptychon tablet (comprised of waxed-coated ivory pages, allowing for her easy editing of whatever she writes). Perhaps, she is not a Muse, but a young matron, bringing her husband’s accounts up to date, or she is the imagined portrait of the Lesbian poet Sappho. Her curled hair and hairnet suggest that she was painted during the Claudian or Flavian periods, when hair was worn in that fashion.
Another striking image done in fresco derives its subject-matter from Homer’s Odyssey, showing Ulysses in the Land of the Lestrygonians. It was painted on the wall of a patrician’s home (50 -40 BCE) in the “grand manner style,” which was invented by Apelles of Colophon in the 4th Century BCE. Apelles was a court painter to Alexander the Great, noted for painting many figures in dramatic narrative scenes. This is to this day, one of the most difficult achievements in painting. Therefore, Apelles is often called “the greatest painter, who ever lived,” although his art no longer exists. Yet, we know of his works, through Roman accounts by Pliny, Lucian and other authors. The “grand manner” concept also exists in sculpture. A wonderful example of this tendency is the dramatic marble relief frieze from the Ara Pacis in Rome (13 – 9 BCE).
Deep in the mountains about forty minutes northeast of Naples and an hour away from Pompeii lies the fascinating city of Benevento, formerly known as “Maleventum” (meaning “the site of bad events,” or some scholars suppose “evil air (or ‘wind’)”). However, following a Roman military victory over King Pyrrhus of Epirus (Greece) in 275 BCE; the site’s name was changed to ‘Beneventum’ (meaning “place of good fortune”). King Pyrrhus is the ancient source of the well-known term “Pyrrhic-victory,” defining a type of “victory” that is actually a “defeat.” Recently, your author (Dr. José Rodeiro) visited with the acclaimed artist Christie Devereaux, who lives part of the year near this quaint, but culturally sophisticated and exceedingly historic city. Devereaux took Rodeiro on a walking tour of the city to see the triumphal Arch of Trajan which was erected by the Senate and people of Rome in 114 CE to mark the forking-point where the Via Appia (Appian Way) splits in two, which locals distinguish as being the “old” road leading to the heel of Italy and the other the “new” road, leading to the toe. Because of its pivotal importance on the Appian Way, during Roman-times, famous men, and many emperors such as, Nero, Trajan, Septimus Severus, and others made numerous visits to Benevento. Proceeding down the Via Appia, La Taverna di Orazio rests; where once the poet “Orazio” (aka Horace) stayed during the early-years of the Roman Empire. Devereaux ended her tour at Benevento’s Roman Theater; a magnificent structure which has endured both wars and earthquakes. The edifice is still used today; moreover, as in Roman days, spectators must come with a cushion in order to comfortably enjoy performances.
The Ara Pacis was originally built in the year 9 BCE as a rectangular enclosure around an altar, glorifying Augustus’s divinity as well as his role in Rome’s dominance of the Mediterranean world, (which was viewed as “peace” by the Romans: “Pax Romana”). Thus the title “Altar of Peace.” It was aligned with a pilfered Egyptian obelisk, which served as a sundial. During the fall equinox, on the exact day that Augustus had been conceived inside his mother’s womb, the obelisk pointed directly at the open door of the altar. This clock-like effect, not only indicated that August controlled both temporal “time” and distant lands (Egypt), it was also ripe with obvious sexual implications. The Ara Pacis was constructed in Rome on the banks of the Tiber River on the Campus Martius. Hence, this unique shrine to world peace was conspicuously placed on ground devoted and consecrated to Mars (the Roman god of War), implying that Augustus’s bold establishment of world peace defies Mars’ impetus for war. The sculptured reliefs that decorate the outer marble walls set the standard for all future Roman art. The main artistic influence on the carvings were clearly aesthetically stolen (excogitated) directly from the Athenian Parthenon’s Ionic frieze. Countless iconological interpretations by various art historians are associated with the Ara Pacis friezes, e.g., John Elsner and Barbara Kellum’s research into the altar’s narrative. Elsner’s text is titled “Cult and Sculpture: The Ara Pacis Augustae,” The Journal of Roman Studies, # 81(1991), 50 -61, while Kellum’s interesting title says a great deal, “What You See and What We Don’t See: Narrative Structures and the Ara Pacis Augustae,” Art History, # 17 (1994), 26 – 45.
Filled with “neo-classical” optimism in anticipation of a possible “new” Renaissance within all the arts; a veritable “rebirth of wonder,” overflowing with hope for a brighter future for human-civilization, our artistic grand tour of the ancient Mediterranean world ends upon this late-1st Century BCE Augustan “Golden Age” monumental altar devoted to the possibility of world peace (“Pax Romana” or “Pax Americana”), which is a worthy (yet extremely intangible) aspiration that has sadly and adroitly eluded mankind to this very day.
About the author:
Ragazine.CC art editor Dr. Jose Rodeiro is professor of art history at New Jersey City University. You can read more about him in About Us.
Work CitedBaring, Anne and Jules Cashford. The Myth of the Goddess. New York: Viking Press, 1991. Bulfinch, Thomas. The Age of Fables. New York: Heritage Press, 1942. Campbell, Joseph. The Mask of the Gods: Occidental Mythologies. New York: Viking Press, 1969. Easterling, P. E., and J. V. Muir. Greek Religion & Society. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992. Euridides. The Bacchae: Divine Vegeance. New York: Meridian Books, 1987. Frazer, James. The Golden Bough. New York: Mentor Books, 1974. Graves, Robert. The Greek Myths. Volume 1. London: Penguin Books, 1960. – – – . Difficult Questions, Easy Answers. New York: Doubleday & Co., 1973. – – – . “What Food the Centaurs Ate?” Steps. London: Cassell & Co., 1958 Hamilton, Edith. Mythology. New York: Mentor Books, 1958. Harvey, Paul The Oxford Companion to Classical Literature, London: Oxford University Press, 1946. Mikalson, J. D. Ancient Greek Religion. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing, 2005. Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner. New York: Vintage Books, 1967. Schultes, Richard and Albert Hofmann The Plants of the Gods. Rochester, Vermont: Healing Arts Press, 1992. Shanker, Harry H. Stage and School. New York: McGraw Hill, 2005. Stuart, David. Dangerous Garden. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2004. Whitney, Frank The Theatre. New York: Harper & Row, 1961.
April 27, 2013 Comments Off on Art of the Mediterranean/Jose Rodeiro
Empire State Building, 1 WTC, Chrysler Building
At Ground Zero,
a convergence of the arts
by Dr. José Rodeiro
Contributing Art Editor
I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work.
— Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, 1855
On April 30, 2012, a rare convergence of the arts occurred in and around Ground Zero, as 1 WTC surpassed the Empire State Building as New York City’s tallest building. This architectural triumph garnered worldwide attention for the building itself, those who built it, and the project’s primary consulting architect, David M. Childs of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, LLP. Taking place simultaneously was a poetry reading organized by Meriam Lobel, curator at Tribute World Trade Center’s Visitor Center (TWTC-VC), and involving among others, poets Alan Britt and Peter Messana, student Emma Kuby-Vasta, photographer Charles Hayes and students from William McKinley Intermediate School 259, Brooklyn, N.Y., and Elysian Charter School, Hoboken, N.J. Art exhibits and more – all in memory and honor of the victims and heroes of 9/11.
But an additional historical take on that day makes 2012 something special, as 2:00 p.m., April 30, took it’s place in New York’s architectural foot-race. This was not the first time the Empire State Building contended to be NYC’s tallest building. During the Great Depression, art was – amidst deep economic fears and afflictions – generally regarded as unessential – perhaps, a bit like today’s post-2007 Great Recession. Then, as now, several gargantuan architectural projects materialized. In 1930, the Empire State Building withstood a height challenge by the Chrysler Building’s planners, especially its principal owner, Walter P. Chrysler. As 1930 unfolded, both Art Deco edifices went head to head striving to become New York City’s Tallest Building. In the end, the Empire State Building won by adding a lightning rod at its peak, to reach a height of 1,454 feet, while the Chrysler Building topped out at a mere 1,046 feet.
In 1972, until its demise in 2001, Minoru Yamasaki’s original World Trade Center twin-towers challenged and surpassed the Empire State Building, to take the title of New York’s tallest buildings. In light of this spirited history, completed 1WTC will reach 1,776 feet, honoring the year of the signing of America’s Declaration of Independence, and earning it the nickname Freedom Tower.
Alan Britt and audience at Tribute Center poetry reading.
So, while construction workers added steel according to blueprints, in order to guide architectural ideas to fruition, the force of human imagination revealed itself in poetry, art and song. In A Defence of Poetry, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley argues that civilization owes its genesis to art. As Canadian-born, Los Angeles-based architect Frank Gehry said, “In the end, the character of a civilization is encased in its structures.” With this in mind, Lobel wisely encourages young people from area schools to utilize The Tribute WTC Visitor Center as a place to experience human creativity, especially the resurgence of art and life after 9/11.
About the author:
Ragazine.CC’s contributing art editor, Dr. José Rodeiro, is Coordinator of Art History, Art Dept., New Jersey City University, Jersey City, New Jersey. You can read more about him in “About Us.” His painting is the cover illustration for Britt’s book of poems about 9/11, Alone with the Terrible Universe, reviewed elsewhere in this issue of Ragazine.CC by poet and author, Paul Sohar.
August 25, 2012 Comments Off on Art and Poetry at Ground Zero
The House As A Metaphor
(A series of conceptual art sculptures)
By Michael Jantzen
The House As A Metaphor, is a series of conceptual-art sculptures that incorporate a simple symbolic shape of a house in each of the pieces. In some cases the title of the piece is very directly related to its finale form, and in others, the title and the form are more abstractly connected. In every case, the intention was to play with the image of the house, and have some fun with it.
House With One Rotating Piece
House Of The Lord
House In The Clouds
House With Orbiting Doorway
Heads Of The House
House With Four Exiting Piglets
About the designer:
August 25, 2012 Comments Off on Michael Jantzen / Art & Architecture
The Sounds of the Sun Pavilion, Concept by Michael Jantzen
Building Art into Architecture
The products of architecture often are limited by what materials are available to the architect. Pushing those limits is what makes architecture art, and the architect an artist. For centuries, man has combined mind and materials to achieve artistry of the highest kind in seeking to arrive at various ends: tombs, as in the Great Pyramids of Giza; palaces, as in the Taj Mahal; places of worship, as in the temples of Angkor Wat and the Vatican. But those things have all been done. We are at a stage now where the evolution and development of materials and methods allow contemporary architects the freedom and flexibility to meet today’s social, environmental, geological and geographical challenges in ways never seen before. Michael Jantzen is one of those people whose imagination seeks not only to meet the architectural challenges of today, but also the human needs of tomorrow.
Michael Jantzen/The Sounds of the Sun Pavilion
Michael Jantzen/The Sounds of the Sun Pavilion
View larger photos from the gallery please enter the FS button.
The Sounds of the Sun Pavilion is a conceptual proposal for a large structure made of many small, pre-fabricated, square, curved, steel tube components. These components are joined together to form thirteen large interwoven curved elements. One side of each of the large curved square elements is covered with flexible solar cells. The ends of each of the curved elements are formed into large funnel shapes. The solar cells generate electrical power and monitor the random distribution of light as it strikes different surfaces of the pavilion. The excess electricity generated by the solar cells is used to help power the community in which the pavilion is placed.
Some of the electrical energy produced by the solar cells is used to generate electronic sounds based on the random movement of light over the surface of the structure. These random electronic sounds are heard by visitors through speakers, which are mounted inside of the funnel shaped ends of the large interwoven curved elements. These funnel shaped sections are also fitted with electric lights that are illuminated at night, and are also powerd by the solar cells. At night or when the light levels are too low or unvaried, the sounds emitted from the structure are low and constant. When the light levels increase and begin to be monitored by the solar cells, the sounds vary widely in their pattern and volume and are never exactly the same from day to day.
The design of the shape of the pavilion comes from a desire to create a structure with a great deal of complex surface area, relative to the ever changing position of the sun, as it’s light moves over the pavilion through the dayu The curved elements refer to exaggerated versions of the arcs of the sun, as it moves across the sky.
Michael Jantzen/Super Symmetry
Michael Jantzen/Super Symmetry
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More of his work can be seen on his web site: http://www.michaeljantzen.com
February 19, 2011 1 Comment