Striding Horned Wild Man (Ancient Art Podcast 64)


Hello fellow explorers! Welcome back to the
Ancient Art Podcast. I’m your intrepid host, Lucas Livingston. This video is just a short
primer to the whole story. If you want the big picture, visit ancientartpodcast.org/64.
If you’re wondering why we jumped from episode 62 to 64, it’s because the past two episodes
were released exclusively as illustrated blog posts at ancientartpodcast.org. And if you
haven’t yet done so, I hope you’ll check out episodes 62 and 63 — parts two and three
in my three-parter on dogs in antiquity. The trilogy explores the hairless dogs of ancient
Mexico and Peru, dogs in ancient China, and our canine companions in Greco-Roman antiquity. Here’s a cool cat strutting his stuff down
easy street. With his arms a-swinging and legs a-striding, this little guy in the Art
Institute of Chicago is on the go. That glorious green skin might have you thinking of the
purity of Chinese jade, but this dude’s made of copper. One solid cast piece. He’s also
one of the oldest pieces in the Art Institute, being around 5,000 years old. He’s dated to
about 3,100 BC from the Proto-Elamite culture. Yeah, I know. Proto-Elamite is one of the
earlier cultures around that hotbed of civilization we call the ancient Near East. Frankly with
the litany of different cultures and civilizations from Mesopotamia and its environs, if you
don’t know your Assyria from your Ubaid, you’re in fairly good company. The clenched fists, thick-banded cap, wide
belt, and artificial-looking beard suggest the royal iconography of Sumer, the emerging
Mesopotamian superpower contemporary to our figurine. How about those horns, though!?
The great curling horns of the ibex crowning his head evoke the mountainous spirit of the
western highlands of Elam. His cap’s pointy ears further accentuate his beastly side as
does the vulture wrapped about his torso like some sort of superhero’s cape. In fact, when
I was recently looking at this figure in the gallery, one of the museum security officers
asked me, “So, was this like an action figure?” Precisely! Maybe not a kid’s toy with kung
fu action grip, but “action figure” certainly captures the heroic, mythological, and spiritual
power embodied in a mere 7 inch figure. But wait, there’s more. Act now and you’ll get
two for the price of one! That’s right, there are two ancient horned action figures! One
belongs to a private collection and has been on loan to the Art Institute of Chicago; the
other is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. So, who is he? Is he a god-king shrouded in
animalistic associations? Is he a mythological hero; some sort of Proto-Elamite Hercules?
We remember that Hercules wrapped himself in the pelt of a lion, while our hero here
sports the raptor cloak (another carnivorous predator). Both figures embody a sort of “wild
man,” an ancient figural type capturing our struggle to grasp our nature as a civilized
creature living in a world of beasts, and ultimately derived from the wilds. It’s worth
pointing out, though, that the distance in time between our friend here and the earliest
mentions of Hercules is about the same as the distance between the earliest mentions
of Hercules and us today. Translation, about 2,500 years. A little closer to home, though,
our action hero might remind us of Enkidu from the ancient Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh,
the wild man and eventual sidekick to the eponymous hero, Gilgamesh. While Enkidu first
emerges from the wilds, raised by animals and ignorant of human civilization, he gradually
tames throughout the story. We might draw a parallel here to the Proto-Elamite culture
living between two worlds: the animistic, shamanistic, tribal society of the highlands
and the urbanized, theistic, bureaucratic monarchy of Sumer. We’ve seen here through various associations
and affiliations the many different interpretations that the striding figure may evoke. The Metropolitan
calls their figure a “striding horned demon,” but I comfort myself in speculating that they’re
using “demon” in the original Greek context of a divine entity, nature spirit, or deified
hero. But I’ll tell you one thing in my own personal
opinion. We have before us an ethically nebulous minion. With those curly elf boots and big bushy beard, Horns soaring atop his cute pointy ears, When I say this indeed you’ll surely feign
sick, But he may be a prototype for jolly Saint
Nick! What? Santa, you say? Well, you’re clearly
insane. But I’m speaking of course of the less popular
vein, Of the horned wicked Santa of unfashionable
lore, Like the Nordic Julbocken, surely related
to Thor. Knecht Ruprecht and Perchta, Belsnickel, Zwarte
Piet Are but some of the sidekicks Santa brings
on his beat. But the one most inspired for a good Christmas
fright Is none other than Krampus … an Austrian
Elamite? Two years ago as I previously warned you, There’s an honored tradition that the Church
cannot undo. Search in my archives for the great Christmas
Devil. Since the dawn of the ages in the Wild Man
we revel. For a topic befitting the learned on campus Click on ancientartpodcast.org/krampus Remember, this was just a short primer. If
you want the whole story, visit ancientartpodcast.org/64. Thanks so much for tuning in to the Ancient
Art Podcast and for all the support over the years. If you dig this shot of educational
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2 thoughts on “Striding Horned Wild Man (Ancient Art Podcast 64)”

  1. Sumerians borrowed proto-elamite art.  Syllabic writing appears to have originated in Susa, with proto-elamites, as well.

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