The Cup of Nestor
A few years ago, I read an article I read in Archeology Magazine, called When the Ancient Greeks Began to Write; Newly Discovered Inscriptions Help Explain How Literacy Spread.
The Cup of Nestor
The Cup of Nestor was discovered in 1954 at a Greek colony in Italy. The cup was probably formed and fired in 750 BC. Some years later, someone scratched letters on it. It is one of the earliest extant examples of the use of an alphabet.
What is an alphabet?
The thing that makes an alphabet an alphabet is that it has symbols that indicate consonants and vowels, in other words, smaller sound units. These symbols, or letters, can be used to indicate the sound of a word, not just a concept of a word.
This meant that it could be used to write down poetry, names, anything you like.
Before this time, writing was a skill used for very specific purposes, such as rituals or official diplomatic letters. But most of it was used for something that grew in importance as societies became more and more complex: money.
Along came the Greek alphabet.
Exactly how, where and when it was invented is pretty foggy. But what is clear is that it was developed from a writing system used by the Phoenicians, a sea-faring cluster of peoples living along the coast of today’s Lebanon and Syria. Someone took this writing system and developed it so that the sounds of words could be captured.
It took off like a house on fire. Elite men across the Greek world with its far-reaching colonies and cities started to write. Writing became cool.
It became all the rage.
So, the Cup of Nestor with its scratched inscription was a very early example of this. But what also makes even more it fascinating is that it isn’t just any old inscription, it is a joke.
One of the world’s first recorded jokes.
It’s an inside joke about old King Nestor in the Iliad. It reads: “I am the cup of Nestor, a joy to drink from. Whoever drinks this cup empty, straightaway the desire of beautiful-crowned Aphrodite will seize.”
In context, I can almost imagine the scene in which this occurred. This cup is a drinking cup. It would have been used at a symposium.
This brings me to the image I chose to lay behind my rendition of the cup.
The Tomb of the Diver
The Tomb of the Diver is a coffin-sized tomb in what was a Greek colony in southern Italy, probably created around 470 BCE. It’s made up of five limestone slabs, covered with plaster and painted with frescos.
Along the walls of this small tomb the scene of a symposium is depicted. Beautiful men are laid out on their fancy couches, drinking, talking, playing games- and flirting.
But the tradition of same-sex love affairs was strong during that time, as is demonstrated by this beautiful painting. Same-sex love in ancient Greece is a huge subject, fascinating in itself, and very very different from how we conceive of and enact same-sex relationships today. But if you were to look up “symposium” in an article or entry, often this very image is associated with it.
My artwork inspired by The Cup of Nestor blends three elements: the alphabet, a symposium, and being seized by the desire of beautiful-crowned Aphrodite.
I don’t want to completely understand or graphically illustrate this moment in time. I want to express the mystery of it. I do this by borrowing images of what remains and combining them together into an eurhythmic, evocative whole.
A Beautiful Mind
But ADD is also closely associated with having a creative mind. Artistic mind, attention deficit disorder, who knows where one ends and the other begins?
Distracted Mind, Artistic Mind
My mind is not organized. Information comes in the form of so many scraps of paper, fluttering about in the wind. Projects or professions that involve any complexity seems like an insurmountable undertaking.
But, I recently learned something sort of fun about my mind, and how it likes to organize itself.
I was trying to develop some sort of regular, consistent, doable habit in regards to posting on social media about my art. “Everyone” was buzzing about social media.
You know, “Everyone," don’t you? “Everyone” says:
And so on, and so on. All that resulted from this was a panicky sense of dread.
Enter, the Mind Map
Here is all is. I spent hours on this silly thing.
I tried to impress my friends by sharing it with them, but they didn’t even want to LOOK at it, and who could blame them? It seems overly elaborate and faintly ridiculous now, but the one most important thing is also true: now I know.
Now I know. Social media is no longer confusing to me. I may need a reminder of the specifics, but the tiny scraps of paper have settled down into an orderly pattern. Now I understand.
As I just wrote about in my post “Evolve or Die,” I revealed that I am starting on a new body of work, inspired by archeology and deep history. It’s really exciting, and really scary. For the first time in many years, I genuinely have no idea what I am doing. It will be an adventure into the unknown.
I am an avid consumer of archeology media and entertainment. Over the years, I have absently absorbed scraps of information. Over time, these bits of information started to formulate themselves into a loose, fluttery vision of the world.
I became filled with the desire to understand these little scraps in context, in an order, like maybe a mind map… or maybe… a time-line.
Enter, the Time-line
Fueled with this new obsession, I knew that I was not going to be able to commence on my new journey of art-making without tackling this. I took a large roll of paper, rolled it out on my wall and tacked in down.
I decided on a very general form: seven areas of the planet, drawn with seven horizontal lines. The time demarcations will be the vertical axis. But, I am still not sure what time periods I am going to depict, and where they will land. So, I started to write bits of information I find intriguing on bits of rice paper, and started to tape them up at various places. Everything at this point is in flux and movable.
I feel like a mad scientist.
Enter, the Mad Scientist
I have recently learned from The Google that there is a thing called “The Crazy Wall.” It’s a meme, stemming from the media’s dramatic use of an “evidence board” real detectives use to solve crimes. It was used to most dramatic effect in the 2001 movie *“A Beautiful Mind.”
For the first time in a long while, I am creating something that I have no real intention of putting on display or trying to sell. Somehow, I just know I need to do this. I need to capture and contain what I know, but cannot yet use. Something that simply comes out of my beautiful mind.
My beautiful, inefficient, scattered, forgetful, creative, artistic mind.
A video of me about to dive into the time-line.
*Please note that A Beautiful Mind is a movie about schizophrenia, not about a mild case of neurodivergence, like I have. I am using the evidence board in the movie as a symbol for the way I process information, and is not intended to make light of schizophrenia or mental illness and its effects.
Yes, I love archeology and ancient history.
On my last vacation, I brought books to read and some drawing materials. One book in particular grabbed me and wouldn't let go; The Sutton Hoo Story by Martin Carver. I felt moved to produce drawings inspired by what I learned and saw.
I find myself so fascinated by archeology that, at some point, I may create an entirely new body of work. It's all very speculative, but it is very exciting for me, and I wanted to share it with you now.
What is Sutton Hoo?
There is a really great movie based on a novel, both called The Dig that dramatizes the excavation of Mound 1, where some of the most impressive and beautiful artifacts ever found in Britain were discovered.
But while I like jewels and treasures, it is the dirt and bones that really intrigue me.
My first endeavor was a pencil sketch of the remains in burial Mound 17.
Among other things, there were caldrons, weapons, a comb, and the remains of a bridle. In another mound close by, his horse was interred, along with a bucket of oats.
My next sketch was of another, very different type of grave.
After the region had converted to Christianity, this sacred ground, populated with rich burial mounds for esteemed community leaders, was used as a place to execute convicted criminals. A gallows was erected on one of the mounds, and the site is littered with shallow graves of the disgraced and condemned.
It's sad, it's haunting and it's beautiful.
The last piece I produced is a pencil sketch of an idea I have brewing in the back of my brain. My impulse is to layer, somehow, images and inspirations from digs. I would like to create drawings of the finds, and layer them with schematic diagrams and maps, along with my imagined scenarios of the people and objects when they were alive and in use. I may need to learn a new medium, such as encaustic, to gain the effect I want.
This is a rough idea of what I might do. It is a composite image of things from the famous Mound 1. Below the sketch are images from the book that I have woven into the sketch.
Mound 1 was covering a large ship. Within the hull of the ship there was a wooden burial chamber, containing a coffin and body, and many stunningly valuable grave goods. It is one of the most famous archeological finds in history.
I'm really not sure where this is headed. It's very exciting and a little scary.
I will continue with my current series of art based on film noir until it feels right to commence on this new path.
Maybe I never will get to it, or maybe I will start next week.
My Vacation From the "Shoulds"
I'm on vacation, and I'm having a wonderful time. It's a paradise. Beautiful room, white sand beach, gorgeous view.
And yet, I find myself having a difficult time relaxing entirely. I'm relaxing, but not completely relaxed. I find that I am suffering from a case of the "Shoulds".
Here are a list of my "Shoulds":
- I really need to take advantage of my time here!
- I should make a drawing or painting everyday.
- I should keep posting and staying engaged on social media.
- I should NOT post, and disengage completely.
- I should go I to a deep state of contemplation so I can start developing concepts and imagery for my next body of work.
- I should start collecting words and images for my next body of work.
- I should do paintings of the coastline so I can include coastal scenes in my next body of work.
- Furthermore, I should barely eat anything, so I will still feel okay in my bathing suit.
- I should drink less/more.
- I should swim in the ocean.
- I should go for a hike/sample authentic local cuisine/learn to paddleboard...
Get the idea? So much to ponder and worry about.
I heard a while back that the word "should" can be very toxic. It is a good exercise to replace it with the word "want" and see what happens.
Actually, I have done a number of my "Shoulds", because they seemed like fun at the time.
But what have I done mostly?
Mostly, I have gone on a deep dive into some really nerdy books on archeology.
Yes, archeology is my way to relax.
- I have two magazine subscriptions (World Archeology and The American Institute of Archeology Magazine).
- I am a fan of Patrick Wyman's podcast, Tides of History
- I watch archeology themed shows on TV and YouTube incessantly. (My favorite, which is not exactly about archeology, is Mysteries of the Abandoned on Discovery)
So I'm on a geek-fest, learning about how the Proto-Indo-European language, a theoretical language that became extinct around 2500 BCE, was the root from which most of the languages spoken in the world today evolved from.
What can I say? It's what I want to do.
A bibliography of my vacation:
Three Stones Make a Wall, by Eric H. Cline
The Horse, the Wheel, and Language, by David W. Anthony
Tales of Valhalla, by Martin and Hannah Whittock
Beowulf, translation by Seamus Heaney
The Dig, by John Preston
An Inspiring Trip to Greece!
My husband and I took a trip to a place I've wanted to go for a long time- Greece! We visited mainly Napflio and the Peloponnes Peninsula, the island of Hydra, up to Delphi, then Athens.
Some of you may remember that I love ancient history, and that I did a series of art based on The Odyssey. It was sensational to be in and around the place where The Iliad and The Odyssey was conceived, sung, shared, and eventually written down. In fact, we visited the ancient site of Mycenae, which was the palace complex where Agamemnon himself lived and ruled.
Being in Greece lent depth and richness to my understanding of The Odyssey. One experience I had was the realization that my conception of the space and atmosphere was generalized and lacking in sensitivity. It was fanciful, but vague.
Here are the hotsheets with the sordid details, the true confessions, and the inside info on my artistic process. Learn how it all happens right here!
Not seeing what you're looking for? My previous blog on blogspot can be found HERE.