Oh, how I love a brisk April day in New York. I am taking a break from posting pictures of beautiful Spain to share an image or two of our sojourn to the Met, where Mr. Me and I spent the day listening to papers about–well, at the time that my ambitious husband signed us up for it, I was in some kind of epic Twitter battle, so I thought he said, “Hey, want to go to a free (muffle muffle) about (muffle) art from (muffle) China?” so I said “Sure!” as I fired off a few more volleys correcting the world’s wrongs. What could be bad? Having gotten that straightened out, I awoke yesterday to find out that I had signed up for a full day of extremely esoteric academic papers for something called Met Speaks: The Age of Empires: Comparisons and Interactions between East and West in Antiquity.
Thank goodness I had caffeinated properly that morning. And also, that we had run into a wonderful old friend of mine, Carol Drisko, one of those consummate New York women who are always running from one cultural event to another because they cannot stuff their curious brains full enough. So if she, 80 plus and sharp as a diamond, could attend to this matter bright and early in the morning, I figured I could, too.
And so, we learned about how the official court religious practices of Rome’s first emperor, Augustus, and China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang, were similar and different, and how their differences revealed special aspects of their cultures (i.e; that Rome was more open and public and China’s rulers gained more authority by being distant and mysterious). We heard a lecture questioning whether the terra cotta warriors buried in Qin Shi Huang’s vast tomb counted as portraits of individual soldiers, considering that they had individualized features (spoiler alert: nope), and asking whether ancient images in general counted as portraits (spoiler alert: it depends). We heard another lecture comparing the Romans and Carthaginians at the Battle of Cannae to the terra cotta warriors. Somehow, it had previously escaped my attention that Chinese warriors of that period used crossbows, which seems pretty kickass, quite honestly. That’s why the terra cotta warriors don’t have that much head armor or that much armor generally–they didn’t do as much hand-to-hand fighting as the Romans. On the other hand, the Chinese were big on chariot fighting, which believe it or not, was a rather antiquated way of fighting that in the west had been used by the Egyptians and Assyrians, but had been abandoned by the time of the Romans in favor of cavalry. Go figure. So I’m not exactly sure who would win in Death Match: Roman Vs. Chinese Warriors. Anyway, Dr. Lillian Lan-ying Tseng, a battle nerd after my own heart (the husband was rolling his eyes watching me get into this), postulated that the terra cotta warriors were all arranged in a very specific formation to fight a heavily defensive battle against a threat from the east (the most likely source of danger at that time) to protect the emperor in the afterlife. Very interesting.
At lunchtime, Miss Carol, the husband and I stumped upstairs to see the Han dynasty exhibit. It was quite captivating. So captivating that we completely lost Carol. Now we are sadly emailing each other and making plans to see each other IRL in some less fraught venue. The Mr. and I tanked up on more caffeine and got tiny plates of salad that cost about $75 apiece (why didn’t we smuggle in a nice salami in the linings of our coats?) then headed back for round two.
Then we heard a nice long talk about whether or not there was any Hellenic influence on the terra cotta warriors. Professor Fiona Kidd presented some visual evidencing suggesting possible links. That was kind of a mind-bending thought to me. Of course there has been a trade route along the silk road from time immemorial. But I have mostly thought of the artistic influences that might have occurred, if any, that early, to have been limited to the decorative arts. The thought that ideas about fine arts such as sculpture could be passed along and transformed in unique cultural ways is electric and inspiring and human. It really is interesting to think of how early some of these exchanges might have taken place–and how the east might have shaped the west as well.
Next we heard a lecture called Some Thoughts on Evidence for Monumental Sculpture in Eastern Iran and Central Asia under the Seleucids, the Early Greco-Bactrians, and the Early Arsacids. It was very interestin–okay, who am I fooling. It was now getting to be about three o’clock in the afternoon. It should have been interesting. Some of it was interesting. It wasn’t poor Dr. Soren with an umlaut or something Stark’s fault that my caffeine wore off and that I didn’t know my Arsacids from my elbow. The husband was whispering something to me like, “Shouldn’t they have sculpture in the round because the Seleucids were post-Macedonian?” and I was like, “My we’re specific today, aren’t we?” I was about ready to fall off my chair.
“Tea time?” he said before I crashed, and out we fled into the Egyptian wing.
We had a lovely hour putting up our feet in the cafeteria having $15.75 cups of tea and coffee and eavesdropping on other people having dramatic New Yorky conversations before I had recovered myself sufficiently to beg the dear man to let me have a little time to draw some sculptures in the Greek and Roman wing, and then we left to meeting our friends for dinner and a night at the theater.
It’s funny, at the time I felt as if I had absorbed nothing, and yet, a day later, I feel as if ideas are still spinning out of my head from what I heard yesterday, and that they’ll keep spinning out for weeks. I could hardly get to sleep last night, my brain felt so overheated. I guess sitting there and tolerating the feeling of being ignorant and uncomfortable and undercaffeinated as long as I could was worth it for the haul of interestingness that I was able to gather for slower hours that lie ahead, when I can unpack these ideas and look at them more slowly.
And thank god for tea.