Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Constant palette

As the Rosetta comet mission drifts silently out of the news, Tom reminds me of when I took him, as a little kid, to see the Rosetta Stone in London's British Museum. He claims "vivid memories", which is more than I can muster. And now he sends me the above images of the Narmer Palette, another inscribed Egyptian stone that strikes his fancy (click to enlarge).

If I ever saw a photograph of the Narmer Palette before, I don't recall it. I can see why Tom is fascinated; this is a remarkable object in the delicacy and complexity of its imagery.

Palette? Stones such as this were used for grinding pigments for cosmetics or painting, although his one, two-feet tall, would have been large and heavy for that purpose. Possibly it was a votive offering for a temple. It is about 5000 years old, and in nearly perfect condition. One scholar has called it "the first historical document in the world." The inscriptions are thought to commemorate a victory of King Narmer of Upper Egypt over his enemies.

As I said, I have no memory of the Palette, but the image of Narmer about to bash in the head of a kneeling prisoner rings a bell. Could it be from those wonderful old National Geographic paintings of "Everyday Life in Ancient Times", from issues of the 1940s. A little hustle around the college library and -- Yes! And, as a matter of fact, I've written about this before. Funny how some things linger in memory and others do not.

As I study the Narmer Palette, my eye keeps coming back to the ten decapitated corpses, bound about the chest, severed heads between their feet. Clearly the recent decapitations by ISIS are on my mind. Religion, superstition, tyrants, bloodlust, war: Some things have remained constant for 5000 years.