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Mesopotamian Early Dyanstic Bull-Lyres
Renate Marian van Dijk.
XIV Jornadas Interescuelas/Departamentos de Historia. Departamento de Historia de la Facultad de Filosofía y Letras. Universidad Nacional de Cuyo, Mendoza, 2013.
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Amongst the most famous artefacts of Early Dynastic Mesopotamia are the lyres excavated in the Royal Tombs at Ur. These were made to resemble bulls, with the sound box of the instrument forming the abstract body and with an attached protome in the form of a bull’s head which was rendered in a more realistic style. Only four such lyres have been reconstructed, but more bull’s head protomes were excavated at the site. Additionally, although no other lyres with bulls’ heads have been excavated anywhere in Mesopotamia, bull’s head protomes have been found at several sites, indicating that their existence and use was not restricted to Ur. Depictions of furniture from this period are known with bulls’ feet, but never with attached decorative bulls’ heads - this form of decoration appears to have occurred first in Mesopotamia during the Neo-Assyrian period. Also, representations of bull-lyres are known from the iconography of the period, depicted on cylinder seals as well as in other media. This suggests that the other bulls’ head protomes were also originally attached to musical instruments. Examples of simple, unadorned lyres exit, both in the archaeological record and in iconography. This suggests that the more elaborate bull-lyres were of some social or ritual significance. The sound lyres produced was compared to a bull’s lowing, which was considered to be a beautiful sound (De Schaunsee 2002:76), but this does not explain why some lyres were made to represent the bull but others weren’t. The bull was a symbol of strength, power and virility across the ancient Near East from the earliest periods, and was also associated with certain gods (van Dijk 2011), but what significance do the bull-lyres have? The known examples of bull-lyres - both archaeological and iconographic - will be studied in an attempt to ascertain any deeper meaning. The archaeological context of the excavated bull-lyres and bull’s head protomes can give insight into the social significance of the bull-lyres. The iconographic context in which the bull-lyres are found in pictorial representations can aid in identifying both a social and ritual aspect to their use. Textual references will be used to elucidate and support conclusions drawn from the archaeological and iconographic evidence.
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