For a while now, since June actually, I slept every night oblivious to the vicinity of priceless artifacts to my abode. Thanks to a joint venture between Auckland Museum and certain ex-pirate organization, many large pieces of authentic Greek artifacts were put on display in New Zealand for the first time in history.
On the last day it is open to the public, I fortunately secured a ticket and brought my camera along.
I do not intend this blog post as a curated walkthrough. This is not only because my exposure to Ancient Greek culture is scarce beyond a general college (mostly from biology) education and Stephen Fry’s Mythos, but also the realization that my visit is already a highly curated experience, and trying to replicate that loses focus, originality, and reader interest.
Eventually all the photos will be cross-matched with museum labels and captions added. This is not yet the case.
For how many things in the Old World they ultimately inspired, from word roots to space missions, Greek mythology is a personal source of amusement and inspiration of mine.
I probably lack the training to comment on the skills of these artisans from a different time other than the trite “it’s really good”.
Many of the imagery and scenes I’ve seen in other forms of interpretation, but nothing really beats depth, the ability to get close and personal with the objects.
Pottery art is also an interesting channel via which history talks in this regard. Many of the pieces stood against centuries of neglect or mistreatment intact, and zooming on to the individual brushstrokes was quite an exciting experience.
Commerce, sports, music, drama, war.
It is hard to keep in mind — unproductive too, admittedly — that time was experienced by those who came before. They felt. They thought. They worked. They lived. (They also had modern-looking dice.)
Of course as a 21st century scientist, any time-travel fantasy would be immediately overwhelmed by an urge to teach any smart-looking abacus cruncher (or, in the case for Greece, a circle drawer) the beauty of Newtonian mechanics and calculus, but I do fantasize about spending a day in their midst, feeling what they felt, knowing what they knew, and expecting what they expected.
This collection covers objects from everyday life, sports and arts alike, from a shampoo bottle, to golden earrings.
I would presume nothing on display some two thousand years later in a place the Greeks never knew existed was intended to end up this way — they were produced for the craftspeople’s contemporaries — customers, friends, idols — and only as regular, maybe even mass production, items. Small or large, simple or lavish, but never precious.
And yet, they survived into the modern world, and hold so much to tell us about the bygone Golden days.
We exist in a time that has grown to care about its past — the past of more cultures than historical average as well. I like humanity like this. But it is up to the most daring speculations how long it will stay this way, and what future we are sending these objects to go through, alongside some scattered coins and shampoo bottles of our own.
I’ve been thinking about time a lot recently. How to locate myself in time, how objects age past their original masters’ lifetimes, and more relevantly than ever, how to leave behind a positive legacy.
Who remembers. Who listens for spoken words that become quotes, who simplifies a list of events that become students’ bullet points, and, ultimately, who calls what, “history”.
I don’t want to become a reverse Witten or anything like that. But dealing with theories where millennia fly by at a blink is indeed a good anchor on this short existence we’ve got, a one-way staring contest.
Ahead of major life crossroads, and against a turbulent landscape peeling back the world’s quiescent glamour, those are not unusual questions to keep in one’s mind.
As I wandered, the thoughts above brewing in my mind, the exhibition hall remained rather quiet. In the air a palpable awe of the hands of time. Of the sheer contrast between two thousand years of persistence, and our brief moment of being having to chance to triumph over that.
I really hope that in the crowd there would be people who think otherwise.
I, perhaps, myself, think otherwise.