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With this week’s discussion, the point that I was most concerned with was the title of Mehmet Ali Ataç’s book; mythology of kingship, could be explored better.
In a chronological journey through the study of mythologies, Morford and Leonardon (2007: 1-135) start off with Malinowski and end up with feminist frameworks. In this survey, they highlight that mythologies were first viewed from their ties to the social as well as practical aspects of life. Later on, their ritual characteristics were taken under scrutiny. Their links to natural elements, and their use to offer explanations for natural phenomena were taken up next. With Freud, they became important gateways into the common subconscious of the society within which they were shaped and told. With Strauss and Burkert, they were seen as constructions with certain structural elements that would make them more legible and comparable. Lastly, with the feminist critique, they were scrutinized for the gender dynamics.
I think this is a partial and essentialist list for viewing research into mythology in a uni-linear way, but it still offers a starting framework. Looking through all of these different research agendas, I think it will be fair to criticize Mehmet Ali Ataç for steering so much into the structural networks and not being as meticulous in the other aspects. I think that this is partially dictated by the deliberate art historical method he is using while working on the Neo-Assyrian reliefs. However, Neo-Assyrian reliefs have the potential to be dissected from all the viewpoints that are mentioned above. To be able to do this, I think, Ataç should have incorporated a textual corpus into his research as well.
The interplay of visual material and texts would enable Ataç to force beyond an art historical gaze and to consider mythologies in terms of the different agendas briefly outlined above. Although at the beginning of Part II he explicitly states that he is relying explicitly on visual material, I think this makes his discussion less reliable in the following aspects; a) the concept of a ‘mythology’ necessitates a consideration of the written material as well as the visual material b) Neo-Assyrian reliefs have the peculiar feature of having texts with visual quality. These cuneiform texts sometimes even run over the animal figures that Ataç is mainly looking at in Part I. The juxtaposition between this visual and textual narrative has the potential for further research c) as discussed by Machinist (1993), texts and visual art are important representations of imperial ideology. Assyrian royal inscriptions paint an important picture by their uses and definitions of the terms ‘Assyria’, ‘Assyrian’, foreign geographical units, foreign peoples and the world d) texts and visual narratives have the common problem of rendering their actual writers (scribes) invisible, while situating the king as the ultimate author of them both. As mentioned by Tadmor (1997), this has been a common debate for texts; while it could be a fruitful trajectory of discussion in Ataç as well.
While I believe that texts and visual material can be treated separately in certain works since they are different genre, I think a critical review and incorporation of royal texts in the specific context of Ataç’s book would enable him to unfold the potential of the term mythology even better.
Ataç, Mehmet-Ali; 2010. Mythology of Kingship in Neo-Assyrian Art. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Machinist, Peter; 1993. "Assyrians on Assyria in the First Millennium B.C." in Anfänge politischen Denkens in der Antike. K. Raaflaub (ed). Oldenbourg Wissenschaftsverlag, 77-104.
Morford, Mark P. and Robert J. Leonardon. Classical Mythology (6th Edition). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Tadmor, Hayim; 1997. “Propaganda, literature, historiography: Cracking the code of the Assyrian royal inscriptions,” in Assyria 1995. Proceedings of the 10th Anniversary Symposium of the Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project. Simo Parpola & R.M. Whiting (eds.). Helsinki: The Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project, 325-338.