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Thursday, 30 June 2016

Mummymania Exhibition at the Ian Potter Museum of Art

Mummymania was a recent exhibition at the Ian Potter Museum of Art. I was invited along to the openning night and enjoyed talks given by experts in the fields of Archaeology, Materials Conservation, Curatorship, Film Studies and Literature. Not too mention some nice cheese and wine afterwards. The exhibition showcased a variety of things from the collection and other items on loan related to ancient Egyptian mummies, and the "mummymania" which has swept the popular imagination, especially over the 20th century. I've been back a number of times since, prioer to the exhibition winding up last April.

Some of my highlights were a mummified falcon, a mummified cat, the collection of vintage mummy horror film posters, canopic jars and more. I have to say my personal favourite was seeing the little blue faiance shabtis! I did my first ever Archaeology assesment task on some of the shabtis in the Ian Potter Museum of Art's collection. I even have some replica ones myself.

A shabti/shawabtis/ushabti is a small figurine of a person usually made of faiance or clay. The name derives from the Ancient Egyptian "Ushab" to answer - and thus there name means - the answerer. Shabtis were inscribed with heiroglyphic spells, so that in the safterlife, an Egyptian elite could summon them ("call them" so to speak) and they would come to life and "answer" the call, usually to do work. As the Ancient Egyptian afterlife was thought to be much like the present world, though far more exclusive and a bit nicer, work still needed to be done to cultivate and irriagate. For this reason shabtis usually carried tools, some were even overseer shabtis with flails. Some tombs even had sets of shabtis, with a different one to work each day of the year, so the deceased could relax. Shabtis were usually made of glistening light blue faiance or stone, such as alabaster.

You can see some examples in the promotional picture for the exhibition here:

Rememberance Day 2015

Rememberance Day celebrates the armstice at the end of The Great War, which came to be known as World War I. In Commonwealth nations this is celebrated on the 11/11, and a minute's silence at 11 AM. We were winding up a Claasics and Archaeology Postgrad committee meeting last year when The Last Post sounded from a brass bugle and we listened to the address from the quad building and held our silence. I had bought a red popey pin that morning and wore it pined to my bag strap. I've kept it on there ever since.

The University of Melbourne landscape has a number of reminders of the Fisrt World War all around. For instance, only a small portion of the larhe wrought iron fencing remains on Grattan street. It used to encircle the entire university campus. In the 1888 Building, our graduate building, you can see a list of names and many photos of the students from the university who fought and died in WWI. The University had it's own cadet regiment at thE time.  There is also a patriotic looking stained glass window from the period. There is also an obolisk dedicated to all who fought near South Lawn, surrounded by cuttings of the wild rosemary which grows on the hills of Gallipoli. Seeing as how 2015 marks the centenary of the Gallipoli campaign, a seedling of the Lone Pine was planted near Wilson Hall with a comemorative and military ceremony.

I was fortunate enough to visit the shores and hills of Gallipoli in 2008 as part of the overseas intensive subject, The Greco-Roman City in Antiquity, and it was a very serene place and a humbling, quiet, reflection inducing experience for our group whether international students, or Australian students, whether they had family there or not, it struck a sombreing cord.

I didn't know it at the time, but on ANZAC Day 2015, 25th of April, for all our Australian and New Zealand military people who served in any and all capacities, I found out I had a Hallett relative who died at Gallipoli. We found his death penny in my Great Uncle's old things. Albert Hallett, not my direct ancestor but a relative. This too was an interesting and unexpected discovery to be proud of.

And here is a couplke of photos from campus that day:

The Lone Pine seedling
The Obolisk

Tabletop Catapult

I think everyone should have a tabletop catapult (it's a nifty pencil sharpner too!). Great for fireing peas, beans or corn from one end of a dining table to another. Come Easter, also great for launching boulders of Easter egg foil and come Christmas, a handy way to "share" unwanted bonbon pieces.

The word catapult derives from the Ancient Greek word Katapeltes, from Kata -"against", and pallein - "to hurl", "to throw" thus it is a siege engine "to hurl" [rocks, projectiles etc] "against" [walls, forts etc]. Marvelous how language works sometimes, even if quite literal in description.

Medieval European banquets opten had small catapults capble of casting fruit, vegetables, bread, or small blocks of cheese from one end of the long feasting tables to another.

Ancient Bling for Modern Lives

Museum shops around the world, both instore gift shops and their online counterparts, have a wonderful variety of replica artifacts or artifact-inspired pieces. Nowhere is this more apparent, not to mention glamerous, than in modern jewellry. Sometimes it is quite forward to simply get a jewller to imitate the work of an ancient craftsperson - all be it with modern technology, magnification, electroplating etc - but sometimes it is extremly difficult, even almost impossible to replicate some of those generations of skills devloped to make something incredibly small, intricate and fine, let alone do it as they once would have. Sometimes though, new jewellry can be created, inspired by ancient pieces like a broach based off a larger object or a bangle based off the design of a diadem.

Ancient bling for (your) modern lives!

Here are some pieces I checked out at the Metropolitan Museum of Art store (Melbourne outlet)

Egyptian and Sumerian

Egyptian and Javan

Minoan, Mycenaean and Classical Greek 

Roman, Byzantine and Medieval Persian

Friday, 27 May 2016

'ойся ты ойся' (oysia you osia) or "The Cossack Prayer"

ойся ты ойся
(facebook conversation/answer by me 23/1/2012) My translation and interpretation of a Cossack song.

'ойся ты ойся' is the phrase and is usually translated as Oysia you oysia. The reason you would have had trouble finding stuff on it is because the only actual word in the phrase is ты meaning you (singular), and ойся is an obscure exclamation so you won't find it most Russian dictionaries or literature, but with the sense of 'Oi!' and repeated for emphasis. So the phrase means something with the sense of "Oi (or hey) you oi!!!" Today it is often used to refer to the "mountain dance of the Cossacks", but it refers to a line, one of the most poignent lines, in either a joke or a song. The song, which accompanies the dance is known by a few names, 'Oysia you Oysia'(or 'oh-hsia you oh-hsia') or 'On the mountain there was a Cossack'.../'A Cossack standing on the mountain' after the first line (nameing folk songs after the first line was a common practice, but not a rule or anything). But one of the most common names for the song is the "Cossack Prayer" and I use parentheses (" ") for this because the so-called prayer is slightly humerous in either version. Nobody is sure if either the joke inspired the song or the song inspired the joke. I tend to think it makes sense that it was a real song refering to a real incident, with a dance later composed to the song and with a bit of time and nostelgia perhaps embellished a little, later joke coming up in reference to the song.

 You may or may not know that Cossacks, are not as such an ethnic group. In Ukraine where Cossacks first emerged, it simply means 'soldier' but after rebelling for independence from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, a collection of semi-autonomous militaristic raiding groups sought the protection of the Orthodox church and it's self-apointed guardian the Russian Tsar in exchange for military service, primarily patrolling the open Steppe or in forts along the Russian empire's vast borders. These men (and technicly only men have been Cossacks until recent times) were primarily Russian and Ukrainian Slavs, but there were also Turkic, Tatar, German, Jewish, Polish and even a few Scotish Cossacks depending on how strict the rules of each host were on allowing outsiders to join and intergrating them. Over time various hosts were split, relocated or disbanded depending on various wars and rebellions, and they often intermarried with the local population whereever they went. But essentially it became a primarily Russian military institution that was semi-autonomous and often passed from father to son. The song (and the joke - I'll get to that) are in reference to the Caucasian War I mentioned in some of my earlier posts.

The "Cossack Prayer" song (which is what is being sung in the original video clip you posted) that accompanies the dance goes like this:
On the mountain there was a Cossack...he prayed to God.

For the freedom for the people he bowed low.

Chorus: (x2)

'Oysia! You oysia!
You do not worry.
I will not touch you -
Do not worry.'

And asked Cossack truth for the people.
[So that there]Will be truth on earth - will and freedom.

Cossacks asked for their friends, that they be in a strange land
[Thus] avoiding greed and hubris.

His wife waited, and fathers and children. Those who seek the truth, but his mother the wide world.
For of the people asked the Cossack, yes a blessing,
In order to have bread and salt, in peaceful villages.

To [let] no blood be spilled, the way of the threshold.
To let no falsehood be lived, he prayed to God.

So he prayed that Cossack, for native land,
That by sorrow, nor tears, would it be touched.

 I have added a few words in square brackets to help clarify, but basicly the Cossack is praying on a mountain top (because A he is in the mountanous Caucasus and B to be closer to God) and we get the impression this is humbly on a mountain top until we hit the chorus:

'Oysia! You oysia!
You do not worry. I will not touch you -
Do not worry.'

Brash, yet sincere he yells out to God the memorable line which on its own dosn't mean much, but here has a sense of 'Hey! You hey!!!' and once he has the xtian god's attention, he reassures 'the almighty' that it is okay, he might be as close as he can get but he still cannot touch (or harm) God. This is the humerous (though also intended to be spiritual on another level) part of the song - that a man who is a warrior, but is in the open, vulnerable to an enemy ambush or to the forces of nature (and in doing so is almost challenging them) prays. Not to mention this scene could very well be before a battle. And what he prays about speaks to the very heart of Cossack identity and tradition because he is thinking about friends and family, honour, loyalty, service, faith/truth and peace/security for his village and region - if necessery a peace secured by fighting to the death to defend it. But because he is not just any (assumed xtian) warrior, but a Cossack, 'dashing' and dareing, he is not even concerned to call out to God as if he were some person nearby, without titles or elaborate ritual.

So you can see why Cossacks, or people descended from some today would love this song as an almost unoffical anthem, because to them it is loaded with layers of meaning about what it means to be a Cossack, with a combination of boldness and yet an almost comical simplicity (yelling out to God on a mountain top) presented in a bit of an understatement, which gives it all the more profoundness. You can see though that this also is delibretly romantic/nostalgic rendition though, so it's obviously meant to be very pro Cossack.

The joke (seems) deliberatly designed to take a look at this a bit more irreverantly. The comedy of the joke, sort a poem/short story than can be sung in its own right is more about the stereotypes and contrast rather than any laugh out load funny lines. It starts with the same incidence of the prayer, except that the Cossack is identified as Shamil (which is a Chechen name - so I'm not too sure i that identification is correct - but again it varies with the version) and depending on the version he has been biten on the leg by a donkey, and he adds to his prayer that he would like a sword and will do a dance. And it contrasts the Cossacks (the Christian foreigners in the area, military, on horseback, long-coats, woolen hat etc) with the Chechen youth (Muslim, local, hangs around the markets, naked because he's been swimming). He aproaches a Cossack and tells him he bought a pig to make a stew (which being Muslim is unlikely), and rides away with no pants or boots. Another version of the joke talks about the beauty but danger of the Caucasus, the youth being armed and ends up mentioning a goat on a bridge (ie like a man on a mountain). The Chechen and/or Shamil bits usually come from the joke ones. So they can be harder to interpret because they are a little more vague and abstract in construction.



Forward I go with the blog again...

Been some pretty hectic times of late, but the latest review went well, the latest thesis chapter is looking good and just today I was at the latest Honours Classics and Archaeology mini conference providing questions and feedback on presentations. I have to say, that although I have attended a number of these before, I am always impressed with the diversity and quality of the presentations that come out of ther Honours program here. Well done folks!