Illyrian Type Bronze Helmets with Gold Funerary Masks
These were discovered at the cemetery site of Archontiko in Pella, Greece. Pella was the ancient capital of Macedonia. The helmets and masks date to after 530 BC. These were probably only used as grave goods for a warrior’s burial and not for protection during battle.
GREECE. Athens. November 2016. A masked man stands next to a barricade during clashes with riot police, following a demonstration to commemorate a student uprising that helped bring down a US-backed junta in 1974.
It’s a very Greek idea, and a very profound one. Beauty is terror. Whatever we call beautiful, we quiver before it. And what could be more terrifying and beautiful, to souls like the Greeks or our own, than to lose control completely? To throw off the chains of being for an instant, to shatter the accident of our mortal selves? Euripides speaks of the Maenads: head thrown I back, throat to the stars, “more like deer than human being.” To be absolutely free! One is quite capable, of course, of working out these destructive passions in more vulgar and less efficient ways. But how glorious to release them in a single burst! To sing, to scream, to dance barefoot in the woods in the dead of night, with no more awareness of mortality than an animal! These are powerful mysteries. The bellowing of bulls. Springs of honey bubbling from the ground. If we are strong enough in our souls we can rip away the veil and look that naked, terrible beauty right in the face; let God consume us, devour us, unstring our bones. Then spit us out reborn.
Greek Plastic Terracotta Foot Vase with Lion Mask, c. 4th-3rd Century BC
This vessel, which certainly served for the storage of precious oils or perfumes, would have been filled through the holes that are visible on the upper part: the concave shape would have allowed the collecting of the liquid flowing off. The spout is at the Achilles tendon level and represents the head of a lion, the pierced mouth of which enabled the pouring of the liquid. This element, attested on many small plastic vases or on contemporary askoi, probably refers to the gargoyles of the temples or fountains that represented feline heads in the Greek world.
The complex motion of this dancer is conveyed exclusively through the interaction of the body with several layers of dress. Over an undergarment that falls in deep folds and trails heavily, the figure wears a lightweight mantle, drawn tautly over her head and body by the pressure applied to it by her right arm, left hand, and right leg. Its substance is conveyed by the alternation of the tubular folds pushing through from below and the freely curling softness of the fringe. The woman’s face is covered by the sheerest of veils, discernible at its edge below her hairline and at the cutouts for the eyes. Her extended right foot shows a laced slipper. This dancer has been convincingly identified as one of the professional entertainers, a combination of mime and dancer, for which the cosmopolitan city of Alexandria was famous in antiquity.
I am truly fascinated by the range of emotions that these masks convey! You definitely would have been able to see these faces from all the way in the back of one of the grand theaters. I would love to hear about the way in which masks of peasants, chorus and kings differed.