A good example of why the study of art is so crucial when attempting to gain insight into past (and present) cultures.

Shown here is a small wooden dish from ancient Egypt, dated to ca.1390-1352 BC, depicting a bound oryx. On the surface level one might admire the craftsmanship of the work, and enjoy it simply for its visual appeal. It would perhaps be surprising to many how much this small piece reflects the complex belief system and world view of the Egyptians. The Brooklyn Museum elaborates:

The Egyptians’ concept of universal order stressed the difference between the fertile Nile Valley and the barren expanse of desert flanking civilized life. The desert sheltered the hostile forces of chaos, including the god Seth and his malevolent agents, often represented in animal form.

The oryx, a desert antelope, was seen as an incarnation of the evil threatening to destroy Ma’at [truth/ order/ justice, a complex but integral Egyptian concept]. Thus the motif of the bound oryx symbolized the Egyptians’ persistent need to hold the forces of disorder in check.

Artefact courtesy of the brooklynmuseum. Via their online collections49.54.

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