Tuesday, September 14, 2010

iar 222. reading comprehension 2.

1) Hersey's thesis is worthy of consideration. Greek culture being steeped as it was in the worship of gods, it is not hard to imagine that its architecture was built with the subject of religious sacrifice in mind. If the various architectural elements represent components of sacrificial objects and victims, the entire building itself could be seen as a ritual sacrifice to the gods. In his writing, Hersey makes reference to many architectural elements, explaining their significance and the meaning of the Greek words used to describe them. For instance, Hersey explains that the bases of columns represent feet, sometimes "bound" by cavetto molding or toruses, words referring to ropes; hunting, seen by Hersey as a form of sacrifice, involved the binding of the victims' feet with rope. Also, the trachelion and hypotrachelion come from the Greek word for "throat," and the volutes present in Ionic and Corinthian capitals can be thought to resemble hair or horns - principal objects involved in ritual sacrifices. The entablature is seen to represent a table on which offerings were arranged. Although Hersey's arguments are convincing, there is no concrete evidence that he is entirely correct.

2) When viewing buildings and artifacts left behind by other civilizations, it is always important to understand cultural context. The character of Carson in McCaulay's Motel of the Mysteries instinctively ascribes religious connotations to objects that actually had merely secular or practical significance. Everything is assumed to be part of a sacred burial ritual while practical functions are not even considered. Carson misinterprets the objects he encounters because he doesn't know anything about the cultural context of the lost civilization he has stumbled upon. He relies on the objects themselves as his only information source.

Because of the internet, false information can be transmitted quickly and easily. One need not have information inspected for accuracy and approved for publication before disseminating it abroad. When encountering this wealth of information on the internet, many people tend to believe what they read and see without questioning its validity. Assumptions are often made in the absence of familiarity with the context in which people, objects, and situations exist. When using the web as an information source, one should consult other sources as well in order to establish its validity.

3) The pyramids at Giza - constructed for the Egyptian pharaohs Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure - are displays of power, wealth, status, and eternality. Their massiveness and soaring verticality emphasize the pharaoh's dominant position over his subjects, his privileged communication with the gods (as a god-king himself), and his eternal existence in the afterlife. By means of his pyramid, his body and possessions are protected and his soul is directed heavenward. The pyramids appear to be solid, impenetrable masses set apart from the landscape on which they sit. Entrance into them is not advertised or immediately apparent. One stands in awe at their majesty, but is not welcomed inside. They are like sculptures rising from the surface of the ground, appropriate for viewing but not for entering into. In sharp contrast, the funerary temple of Queen Hatshepsut emphasizes horizontality and openness. It has a sense of being integrated into its environment rather than standing out from it. Upon viewing it, one is invited to venture inside, the means of entrance being immediately apparent in the form of a large ramp. Numerous openings along the building's facade lessen the aesthetic heaviness of the building material and invoke a curiosity to peer inside. This building form may reflect Hapshetsut's unique feminine influence. Instead of emphasizing power and dominance, her tomb seems almost submissive in nature. It does not seek to impose its glory but instead extends its welcome, reflecting almost a feminine nurturing quality.

4) In examining Egyptian and Greek architecture for the purpose of comparing and contrasting, it is helpful to choose a building type such as a temple, present in both cultures. Perhaps the most obvious examples would be the Egyptian Temple of Amun-Ra at Karnak and the Greek Parthenon in Athens. Both feature a myriad of columns and emphasize symmetry and axial progression. Both communicate stories through stone carvings. The columns of the Karnak temple's hypostyle hall depict the exploits of the pharaohs, the mighty god-kings; the pediment sculpture of the Parthenon celebrates the goddess Athena. But despite obvious similarities between the two temples, Egyptian and Grecian architectural forms represent differing views concerning life and spirituality. Surviving Egyptian architecture is massive to represent permanence and the importance of the afterlife. Repetition of forms reflects the cyclical nature of life and existence so integral to Egyptian thought. Stylized forms repeated throughout time emphasize the importance of tradition.

Greek architecture, on the other hand, records a striving for perfection in all things. There is a careful and mathematical proportioning of parts to the whole. In the construction of the Parthenon, great care was exercised to correct for naturally occurring optical illusions; that is, the building was made slightly imperfect in order to appear perfect to the human eye. Its sculpture reflects realism and an understanding of the human form.

5) The massiveness and heaviness of Egyptian tomb architecture is meant to convey the idea of permanence and eternality. Just as the soul of the pharaoh will exist for eternity, so his abode must last forever. Egyptian furniture, on the other hand, was built for the practical purpose of providing seating. Often constructed of wood, this furniture doesn't have the quality of permanence that tomb architecture has. As furniture was built for the Egyptians to use in their earthly lives, one could argue that there was no reason for it to last forever. To ancient Egyptians, life on earth was only the beginning of existence and was perhaps quite unimportant in comparison to the afterlife (although it appears that early on the idea of an afterlife only applied to pharaohs). There is a problem, however, in the sense that the surviving examples we have of Egyptian furniture come from royal tombs. Unfortunately, we don't have a clear knowledge of furniture as it existed in the household of the common Egyptian.

6) The two urns depict images of men (rulers or perhaps even gods) in a dominant role over women. On both urns, the male figure is seated on a throne while female figures appear to be attending to him. On the first urn, a woman appears to be handing the male ruler/god his sword and shield. Men, not women, were powerful warriors. On the second urn, the ruler/god holds a cornucopia as he sits, as well as a royal scepter topped with an eagle (the favorite bird of Zeus). The female figures on the urn, particularly the one approaching him from the front, appear to present him with offerings. These images reflect a highly male-dominated society. The urns themselves were almost certainly produced by male artisans. Commenting on ancient Grecian culture, Harwood says, "Males possess independence, wealth, ownership, and education. Women, on the other hand, are their fathers' or husbands' property, being restricted by law, politics, custom, and family relationships. Their main duties are to bear children and tend the family household. Few women artists are known, and nothing by those acknowledged survives" (Harwood, 64).

As a means of understanding Grecian culture, these urns are helpful but not sufficient, as they represent such a small percentage of life and art in ancient Greece.


  1. When making observations such as these having more pictures not only add interest but help facilitate the point that you are trying to make. Good job.

  2. [1]Well written, and good supportive evidence [2]Very Nice [3]Great work [4]Good comparisons [5]Good [6]Wonderful attention to detail...Your responses are very clear and concise...Great Job!