perspective of an Archic Greek dedicating two statues — a kouros as a grave marker for a dead male relative, and a kore as an more generic dedication to the gods on behalf of your family

For this first narrative, you’re writing from the perspective of an Archic Greek dedicating two statues — a kouros as a grave marker for a dead male relative, and a kore as an more generic dedication to the gods on behalf of your family. In the course of describing the sculpture ‘you’ have chosen for these purposes, give a clear sense of you ancient family’s attitudes on class status, specifically as revealed in the sources we reviewed in class (lesson 8: AW:R 5.2.1, 5.2.3, 6.2, 6.3) and are reading in advance of lesson 9 (Hesiod’s Works and Days). I’m looking for a painstaking description of the statues, then a patient effort to read plausibly ancient attitudes on class status into the physical attributes of the kouros and kore. In doing so, you’ll capture what an Archaic Greek family wanted to say about itself as they invested in expensive monuments. And now step-by-step…

1) Visit the archaic Greek sculpture collection on flickr. Look through the images to get a sense of how kouroi/korai represented the human body. Pick a couple that you’d choose as the sculptures your fictional ancient Greek family is dedicating — one kouros (male) as a funerary monument and one kore (female) as a(n anonymous) family dedication to a sanctuary. Write a detailed description of the sculptures you select…focus on the treatment of the body, how individual/generic they look, facial expressions, stance, and so on. Describe the statues as if you’re doing so for someone who can’t see them — the idea is to get close enough that you can see past the sort of immediate ‘I know what this is’ assumptions that can obscure ancient meanings.

2) Fold that description into a first-person (Archaic Greek) narrative explaining the choices ‘you’ made in commissioning and dedicating these statues. In doing so, comment on what the sculptures communicate about how your ancient family defines its class status…pride, anxieties, resentment of others, and so on. Tailor these comments to each statue: the kouros expressed family status by memorializing a dead male relative, while the kore stood as a testament to the honor a family wanted to bestow on the god/goddess worshiped at a given sanctuary…at the same time affording an opportunity to advertise the family’s prestige, not subtly but in a classy locale. As you determine how these statues echo what you read in the primary soruces, make up a family history — established aristocracy? ‘new wealth?’ — and imagine the sort of statement a family could make with the monuments they commissioned. How conscious were they of developing aristocratic ideologies? Could a merchant family re-purpose those ideologies for their own use?

Start from the source we’ve read (Tyrtaios, Theognis, and Anacreon (AW:R 5.2.1, 5.2.3, 6.2, 6.3) and Hesiod’s Works and Days) and consider how specific traits of archaic sculpture expressed the aristocratic response to the threat to inherited prestige that the merchant class represented. From within that mindset, consider the following questions (among others). Why are the kouroi nude? Why is the human anatomy so important to the sculptors, even for some of the korai? Why are the faces so generic? What does all of this mean in terms of what we talked about in class…the creation of identity in cities where the old warrior ideology didn’t work as well? How is the new modest/simple life ideology of Hesiod reflected in this style of sculpture? How does this farmer-first ideology square with the heroic/warrior ideal that is still very much current in the Archaic period? Why were there male funerary figures but (generally) not women?

In answering these questions in an ancient voice, don’t stop at statements like ‘nudity was heroic,’ for example. It’s only in this period that nudity is associated with heroism — you’ll remember that the Homeric heroes were very richly clothed/armored — so you need to explain why the naked male body was made heroic at this point. Likewise, recall the beauty attached to youth in Tyrtaios, but explain why youth is so important to the aristocratic definition of the agathos. And don’t stop at ‘the kouros shows power/strength/whatever’ — what sort of power and strength did Athenian aristocrats value? As we’ve discussed, our celebration of ‘hard work at the gym’ is pretty much exactly the opposite of aristocratic Greek values.

On the korai side, Why would a family dedicate a woman statue at all in a male-dominated society? Why are korai clothed (and it’s not just about standards of modesty)? Think not so much about what clothing covers as what it said in a more positive sense. What do the elaborately decorated outfits communicate about the family, if these sculptures represent not individual women but the family in general? Keep in mind that ‘dressing’ a statue in fancy clothing didn’t really cost extra, so anyone could commission such attire — so the clothing is clearly communicating more than ‘we’re wealthy.’ Why were women chosen to represent the family at a sanctuary, and not men? What physical attributes do the korai show that express what a family wanted to say about itself? How different (or similar) are the depictions of men and women?

I’m looking for 5 typed pages…if you spend time on a very careful description of the sculptures, that shouldn’t present a problem. Please do not do any outside research — the ancient texts we’ve reviewed and our discussions in class are more than enough. Demonstrate your grasp of this material in a first-person voice — don’t parrot some scholar’s opinion.


Might help:

1) (Re-)read the sources we covered for the in-class exercise, including those you didn’t read yourself — 5.2.1, 5.2.3, 6.2, 6.3. Take notes, since you’ll want to make reference to what these authors have to say about nobility, wealth, and social class. (We’ll touch on Hesiod, mentioned in the instructions, on Tuesday.)

2) Choose one kouros and one kore (see the instructions) and start on writing up fine-grained descriptions of each. As I noted in class, I’m looking for objective, non-interpretive analysis at this level — describe each statue as if you’re doing so for someone who hasn’t (or can’t) see it. Make sure you don’t jump to any conclusions about meaning, look without expectation and with fresh eyes not clouded by our own cultural perspectives. If you complete these descriptions with precision and care, the rest of the narrative will fall into place easily enough after lecture on Tuesday.


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