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Friday, November 17, 2006

Art Of The Ancients

Images from ancient Egypt - the pyramids and the sphinxes, the mummies, headdresses and loin cloths, the sacred scarabs and priestly cats - are plentiful in popular culture, but they are almost cartoon-like in their superficiality.

Our familiarity with them is misleading. The mind-set of these mysterious people is far less transparent to us than that of the ancient Greeks, whose classical civilization flared comparatively briefly towards the end of the 3000-year reign of the pharaohs.

To walk from the Egyptian rooms in the Louvre in Paris, one of the great repositories of this material, into those of the Greeks next door is to leave the seemingly modern - large-scaled, brightly colored and smoothly textured, dominated by text and brand-like pictograms - for the rough-hewn simplicity of a much more distant world.

Yet the Greeks gave us the foundations of our intellectual life: philosophy, science, literature. The everyday metaphysics of the Egyptians - mind-bending notions such as the interchangeability of the real and the symbolic, or belief in the coexistence of the living and the dead in the material and the immaterial worlds - strains the imagination. Plato spent time in Egypt and is said to have taken from there his metaphor of life being like shadows flickering on the walls of a cave. Shifting back from the mental world of the Greeks to that of the Egyptians, however, is a leap for us.

"You could say the Egyptians created the virtual world," says Marc Etienne, curator of the department of Egyptian antiquities at the Louvre." Full Story

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