Egypt, Israel, and the Ancient Mediterranean World: Studies in Honor of Donald B. Redford

By Gary N. Knoppers; Antoine Hirsch | Go to book overview

THE TOPSY-TURVY WORLD

Diane Flores

The following is a perfect example of how “the picture tells the story,” and how many pictures when viewed en masse may tell if not the whole story at least tip the balance toward one side of a debate. This contribution is offered in honor of Professor D.B. Redford's interest in folktales and the oral tradition of ancient Egypt, in thanks for providing one of the brightest spots in my academic career.


Introduction

Ostraca, ceramic sherds or fragments of limestone that were used by the ancient Egyptians as “scratch paper” in lieu of more precious papyrus, have been found inscribed with texts, used as practice pieces for relief carving, or inked and painted with drawings. Among examples of this last use, several categories of intent have been identified. Some were quite clearly trial sketches intended as studies for works in other media. Others are thought to be copies from other works of art. In this vein, some have been identified as practice pieces used in the education of the upcoming generation of draughtsmen. Finally, a large number have been interpreted as sketched solely for the amusement of the artist and his friends (Davies 1917:235; Capart 1957:174; Peck 1978:31–32; Boston 1987:50).

Many of the latter are humorous images that appear to parody genre scenes from the official art by replacing the human actors with animals. Walking upright, the animals are depicted performing their roles equipped with the tools of their trade. We see laborers at their chores from culinary to agricultural, shepherds with their flocks, soldiers in their chariots, priests in processions, and the upper class at their leisure, pampered by their servants or entertained by musicians. Many of these images have been viewed as an expression of satirical social commentary.

When one thinks how the days of the draughtsman were spent in record-
ing the pious aspirations and braggart boasts of men whose life-course he
knew to have no resemblance to their memorials … one cannot wonder

-233-

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