3. Gelb and Gell in the Aegean: Thoughts on the Relations between 'Writing' and 'Art'
John Bennet [+]
University of Sheffield
It is widely held in Aegean archaeology that the Minoan and Mycenaean polities of the second millennium BC possessed no ruler iconography and that monumental representational art appears relatively late (around the Middle/Late Bronze Age transition) in the form of wall-paintings. Equally, we tend to accept that the use of writing (and therefore literacy) was restricted. Moreover, writing is never used to ‘anchor’ or ‘caption’ seemingly specific visual scenes to particular contexts, narrative or otherwise, as happens in other societies earlier, contemporary, and later. The author outlines the development of writing in the Aegean (hence Gelb), but does so alongside the development of representational art (hence Gell) with a view to demonstrating that both ‘art’ and ‘writing’ form complementary, not overlapping, aspects of a broader high-status cultural literacy that also encompasses archaeologically intangible practices of performance. Viewed in this way, the author suggests that the absence of captioned images, particularly of rulers, and of life-size or larger three-dimensional representations becomes explicable. Further, with the loss in the years around 1200 BC of the frames within which such performances took place, the continuity of practice that is ultimately embodied in (written versions of) oral poetry from ca. 700 BC appears more comprehensible. Similarly, the deployment of writing in the recently adapted alphabet to give specificity to visual representations reveals a radically different social context for literacy that comes to characterize the Greco-Roman world.