Dancers from the distant past


If you’ve ever been to the British Museum, you may have come across these guys in amongst the various odds and ends of ancient Greece and Egypt. Actually, off the top of my head I can’t remember if these are Greek or Egyptian, but I love them all the same.

They’re just little terracotta figurines, nothing terribly fancy or pretentious. They’re the little knickknacks and decorations of ancient days, and they make them more tangible and accessible, because it shows how humans from thousands of years ago really aren’t that different from us. They may have spoken a different language and lived very different lifestyles, but they liked little bits and pieces too. But it’s the fact that they’re all doing something that I like the most. The horned fellow at the back is doing his best impersonation of John Travolta from Saturday Night Fever, as far as I can see.

I know a lot of this is down to how the curators have positioned them. I’m probably exporting an interpretation onto the horned guy; he could be angry and warding off evil or just a funny face for all I know. Overall, they have been posed into a pseudo-scene, but then again judging but the figurines on my bookshelves arranging these little guys into a dance act isn’t outside the realm of impossibility. It’s what they could have looked like while on somebody’s shelf in ancient Sparta, rather than necessarily what they did look like.

That in itself is an interesting question regarding the study of history. Generations of historians have been driven by the ideal that one should tell people how it was back then – but what if you only have scattered pieces? What is you want to show the modern world what their ancestors would have lived through? Where do you draw the line? Where would you draw the line?


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