Monday, September 03, 2007

Assessing the Wounds of an Ancient Assyrian Ruler
Archaeologists are all abuzz about some enormous, newly reinstalled ninth-century B.C. Assyrian sculptures at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art in Brunswick, Me. They say they can’t wait until it reopens on Oct. 14, after a two-year, $20 million renovation and expansion, to see what curators discovered when they remounted five ancient bas reliefs from a royal compound at Nimrud in northern Iraq.

One in particular has elicited attention. Beautifully carved in gypsum and nearly six feet tall, it depicts in profile a regal figure walking to the viewer’s right. He can be identified as a king because he wears a tall, conical hat, a symbol of power and prestige. He wears a long embroidered cape, an elaborate earring, a necklace and a bracelet with a large rosette, and carries a dagger and whetstone. He raises his right arm in a gesture of acknowledgment or greeting. His left hand holds a bow, the symbol of his patroness, the goddess of war and love.

But something is very wrong here. The king has been disfigured. His bow is broken in the middle. His right wrist and his Achilles tendons have been brutally slashed. His nose and ears are damaged, and one eye has been chipped out. The bottom of his beard has been hacked away.

Dang it. I thought it was going to be showing actual injuries, that is, representations of injuries to the actual person. Although it would be interesting if the defacements were done to simulate actual injuries.