Reviews -- Daidalos and the Origins of Greek Art by Sarah P. Morris

By Hurwit, Jeffrey M. | The Art Bulletin, June 1994 | Go to article overview
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Reviews -- Daidalos and the Origins of Greek Art by Sarah P. Morris


Hurwit, Jeffrey M., The Art Bulletin


SARAH P. MORRIS, Daidalos and the Origins of Greek Art, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1992. Pp. xxx + 411; 62 black-and-white ills. $69.50.

The history of the study of what is usually called "Orientalizing influence" upon Greek art and culture in the 2nd and early 1st millenia B.C. is long and distinguished, marked by the works of such pioneering scholars as F. Poulsen, H. Kantor, R.D. Barnett, W.S. Smith, T.J. Dunbabin, E. Akurgal, and J. Boardman, to name a few.(1) The typical study focuses on Greek-Near Eastern contacts in either the 2nd millenium or the 1st, and it usually proceeds by locating Oriental models or prototypes for certain Aegean or Greek artistic motifs, artifacts, or practices, or by publishing Near Eastern objects found in Greece (or, less often, Greek objects found in the Near East), thereby demonstrating the influence of the older civilizations upon the younger.(2) Past scholarship has focused especially hard on the late 8th and 7th centuries, when such exchanges and borrowings are so visible in the Greek archaeological and artistic record, when Greek art seems so dependent upon foreign models, that the era has long been fixed in the handbooks as "the Orientalizing Period." Such studies are common and valuable still. But underlying most approaches has been the generally unspoken assumption that Greek culture was one thing and Near Eastern culture another, that "influences" had to leap across clear cultural boundaries and spaces, like sparks from one electrically charged pole to another.

In the last several decades, however, the nature of the investigation has dramatically changed. Some scholars have argued for the existence of actual Near Eastern settlements in the Bronze Age Aegean, foreign colonies that inspired such legends as that of Kadmos the Phoenician, who not only founded Mycenaean Thebes but also dropped off a contingent of Phoenicians on the island of Thera along the way.(3) For a few, the immigrant Kadmos is no longer a figure of myth but of history, and the discovery in 1963 of a large cache of Near Eastern lapis lazuli cylinder seals in Thebes demonstrates that Orientals once settled in the city. That particular find proves nothing of the sort (since the seals date from a wide variety of periods, it is more likely that they were gathered second-hand in the East by an agent to be recut by local Mycenaean craftsmen, or formed the collection of a local royal antiquarian, perhaps as a gift from an Assyrian king).(4) Nonetheless, while the evidence remains circumstantial and the number of foreigners hard to gauge, there is no longer much question that there were at least some long-term Eastern residents in Bronze Age Aegean centers of power--diplomats and craftsmen on loan to royal elites, for example--as well as lots of short-term visitors to ports and coastal towns.

Though the violent disruptions at the end of the Bronze Age may have temporarily broken off such contacts, similar patterns of foreign residence in and travel to Greece may have soon emerged in the Iron Age. Indeed, thanks to the work of historians of religion such as W. Burkert and philologists such as M.L. West, it has begun to be appreciated just how deeply Near Eastern cultural influences and practices pervaded virtually every facet of emerging Greek culture. The crafts, the magic, the medicine, the religion, the poetry, and the mythology of early Greece cannot, Burkert has shown, be understood apart from Oriental models and instruction, and as long ago as 1966, West, in his great edition of Hesiod's Theogony, went so far as to say that "Greek literature is a Near Eastern literature."(5) Oriental and Orientalizing objects in post-Mycenaean Greece are now increasingly regarded not simply as evidence for Phoenician-dominated commerce between discrete cultures but for a genuine and permanent Near Eastern presence in the Dark Age Aegean itself: it is widely accepted, for example, that immigrant Eastern metalworkers set up shop at such sites as Knossos, Lefkandi on Euboia, and Athens, and that Phoenicians even built their own shrine at Kommos on the south shore of Crete.

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