CJ Online Review: Budin, Images of Woman and Child from the Bronze Age

posted with permission:

Stephanie Lynn Budin, Images of Woman and Child From the Bronze Age: Reconsidering Fertility, Maternity, and Gender in the Ancient World. New York and Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011. Pp. x + 384. Hardcover, $95.00/£60.00. ISBN 978-0-521-19304-7.

Reviewed by Molly Jones-Lewis, College of Charleston

In this ambitious re-assessment of adult-child pairings (kourotrophic or “child-nurturing” images) in Bronze Age Eastern Mediterranean artwork, Budin provides a compelling and refreshing argument away from the traditional interpretations of such images as representations of mothers with children or fertility goddesses. Instead, she offers explanations of the varied and culturally specific meanings such images might have had in the diverse cultures of the Mediterranean basin. She organizes her work moving from Egypt counter-clockwise to the Aegean. The prose is well written and on occasion pleasantly wry; it mostly succeeds at accessibility towards an audience outside Bronze Age archeology and art history.

The first section is a methodological overview. Specifically, it discusses how modern gender norms have led to regular misinterpretations of images in which a woman’s body interacts with a child’s. For instance, in cultures employing wet nurses, lactation did not necessarily equal fertility or maternity, and fertility was not necessarily identified in all cultures as a feminine force, and the nude female body is not always meant to attract the erotic attention of the male gaze. So, a naked woman breastfeeding a child is not necessarily fertile, the child’s mother, or meant to arouse a male viewer. For these reasons (and many others), all art must be assessed within its cultural context with an awareness of that culture’s specific attitude toward gender, and sexuality, as well as the object’s iconography, use, social analysis, and the time and place that produced it. It is this holistic approach that Budin uses to re-assess images from the ground up (rather than from image to context), producing a kaleidoscopic range of varied meanings for the seemingly “simple” depiction of an adult with a child.

The second section is by far the strongest due in large part to the subject matter, covering as it does Egyptian iconography. Here the author has at her disposal the greatest range of literary and graphic evidence, and she makes the most of it. She arranges her Egyptian material by sub-categories (Egyptian Decorum, Divine Wet Nurse, Parents and Nurses and Tutors, Potency Figurines, Ostraca and Wall paintings, Flasks, Male Kourotrophoi), and sub-categories by chronology. This works quite well to trace the development of these at times wildly different categories of kourotrophic images, though it does perhaps have the drawback of obscuring parallel movements in similar categories. However, this is by far the strongest section.

The third section covers the Levant and Anatolia and it is here where the source material discrepancies between Egypt and the other sections begins to become an issue. Organization here is, of necessity, by site rather than by category due to the scarcity of material, but Budin still manages to argue convincingly for the diverse interpretations needed for the various kourotrophic images discussed. Mesopotamia and Iran prove more fertile sources of images in the fourth section, organized by period and category. Increased literary sources and seal stone images provide interesting context. Most interesting are the intersections between medical-magical texts and the Ninhursag plaques.

The book’s greatest weakness becomes an issue in the fifth and sixth sections of the book (Cyprus and the Aegean); many of the artifacts discussed lack images to accompany the text. This makes the argument difficult to follow, particularly to those unfamiliar with Bronze Age art in the Aegean and Cyprus. As soon as images are provided, the difficulty resolves itself, but there are entire sections left without anything to go on save the author’s description of items that might not be accessible to the reader. It is a jarring contrast to the readability of what came before and can be very frustrating. Given Budin’s comments on the difficulties of getting image permissions in the introductory section, one suspects that the author too was frustrated by this.

With that being said, the fifth and sixth sections do cover very interesting ground. The discussion of Cypriot pottery is organized by chronology and includes a particularly nuanced discussion of the various possible interpretations of the plank figurines. The sixth section is divided into two sections: Minoan Crete and Mycenaean Greece. Minoan Crete, a region otherwise fond of Egyptian influences and representations of non-breastfeeding children, largely rejected kourotrophic imagery. Budin suggests that this was due to differing attitudes toward the relationship of individuals to the family unit. Conversely, there is a relative prevalence of kourotrophoi in Mycenaean art (but few children). This leads to a fascinating discussion of the impact that the large numbers of working mothers represented in linear B tablets might have had on the relative prevalence of kourotrophic imagery.

Taken as a whole, Budin offers up the kourotrophos in the Bronze Age as an example of how we might rethink the way we view the representation of gendered images as a whole, from a Virgin Mary nightlight to Michelangelo’s Pietà. No one image of a woman (or man) can be read outside of its context; it is a lesson we all know but often forget to remember when looking at the deceptively simple image of a female holding an infant. Budin shows us just how rewarding a culturally sensitive approach to gendered imagery can be.

Bryn Mawr Classical Reviews

  • 2012.05.33:  Mark L. Lawall, John Lund, Pottery in the Archaeological Record: Greece and Beyond. Acts of the international colloquium held at the Danish and Canadian Institutes in Athens, June 20-22, 2008. Gösta Enbom monographs, 1.
  • 2012.05.32:  David Pritchard, War, Democracy and Culture in Classical Athens. C
  • 2012.05.31:  Melissa Lane, Eco-Republic: What the Ancients can Teach us about Ethics, Virtue, and Sustainable Living.
  • 2012.05.30:  Joann Freed, Bringing Carthage Home: the Excavations of Nathan Davis, 1856-1859. University of British Columbia studies in the ancient world, 2.
  • 2012.05.29:  Francesco Aronadio, I fondamenti della riflessione di Platone sul linguaggio: il Cratilo. Pleiadi, 14.
  • 2012.05.28:  Ingo Gildenhard, Cicero, Against Verres, 2.1.53-86: Latin Text with Introduction, Study Questions, Commentary and English Translation.
  • 2012.05.27:  Daniela Manetti, Anonymus Londiniensis. De medicina. Bibliotheca scriptorum Graecorum et Romanorum Teubneriana, 2003.
  • 2012.05.26:  Concetta Luna, Alain-Philippe Segonds, Proclus. Commentaire sur le Parménide de Platon, Tome III (2 vols.). Collection des universités de France. Série grecque.

CONF: “Panhellenes at Methone: graphê in Late Geometric and Protoarchaic Methone, Macedonia (ca 700 BCE)”

Seen on various lists:

Centre for the Greek Language International Conference:

"Panhellenes at Methone: graphê in Late Geometric and Protoarchaic Methone, Macedonia (ca 700 BCE)"

Thessaloniki, June 8-10, 2012

Pavlos Zannas Hall, Olympion Theatre, 10 Aristotelous Square

Organizing Committee:
Jenny Strauss Clay, University of Virginia
Antonios Rengakos, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki
Yannis Tzifopoulos, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki

Recent excavations, ongoing since 2003-04, have begun to bring to light ancient Methone in the southern tip of the Haliacmon River Delta, immediately north of modern-day Agathoupolis, ca 35 kilometers south of Thessaloniki. Methone was established, according to the ancient sources, by colonists from Eretria in Euboea during the second colonization (800-500 BCE) and is the oldest colony of the southern Greeks on the northern shores of the Aegean. By the end of the 8th century, with the safest harbor in the Thermaic Gulf, Methone became a chief commercial and industrial centre.

Methone occupies two hills, which were located by the sea before sedimentations of the rivers Axios, Loudias, and especially nearby Haliacmon pushed the coastline ca 500 meters away from the site. On the eastern, lower hill habitation starts already by the late Neolithic (5200 BCE) and continues throughout the Bronze Age (3000-1050 BCE), while a Late Bronze Age (1400-1050 BCE) cemetery has been located on the western, higher hill. During the Early Iron Age (1050-700 BCE) habitation extends on both hills, and the finds from the eastern hill confirm that colonists from Eretria settled in Methone around 733 BCE.

Unique and so far unprecedented for Macedonia are the pots and potsherds unearthed from a rectangular pit of 3.50×4.50 meters in plan and 10.50 meters in depth, apparently used as an apothetes. The greatest majority of these sherds dates to ca 700 BCE, and 191 of them, recently pieced together, bear inscriptions, graffiti, and (trade)marks inscribed, incised, scratched and rarely painted, which are published by Matthaios Bessios, Yannis Tzifopoulos, and Antonis Kotsonas (http://ancdialects.greeklanguage.gr). The Conference will be devoted to the significance of these finds for archaeology, ancient history, literature, and the study of the Greek dialects.

For further information please contact: Yannis Tzifopoulos (tzif AT lit.auth.gr); Maria Chriti (glossologia AT komvos.edu.gr).


Friday, June 8

9.30-10.00 Registration
10.00-11.00 Welcome, John Kazazis, Jenny Strauss Clay, Antonios Rengakos, Yannis Tzifopoulos

Morning session Chair Michalis Tiverios & Nota Kourou

11.00-11.20 Alan Johnston, “Amphoras have mouths; do they speak?”

11.20-12.00 break

12.00-12.20 E. Kiriatzi, X. Charalambidou, M. Roumpou, A. Kotsonas, “Inscribed transport amporae at Methoni: provenance and content”

12.20-12.40 A. Mazarakis-Ainian, Kefala at Skiathos: en route to the Thermaic Gulf

12.40-13.40 Discussion

Afternoon session Chair Anna Panagiotou & Miltiadis Hatzopoulos

17.00-17.20 R. D. Woodard, “Alphabet and Dialect at Methone”

17.20-17.40 Francesca dell’Oro, “Alphabets and Dialects in the Euboean Colonies of Sicily and Magna Graecia”

17.40-18.30 Discussion

18.30-19.00 break

19.00-19.20 Niki Oikonomaki, “Local ‘Literacies’ in the making”

19.20-19.40 Christina Skelton, “Thoughts on the initial aspiration of ΑΚΕΣΑΝΔΡΟ”

19.40-20.30 Discussion

Saturday, June 9

Morning session Chair Alan Johnston & Irene Lemos

10.00-10.20 Nota Kourou, “The earliest graffiti from Methoni and their archaeological/epigraphical context: sources, questions and prospects”

10.20-10.40 Samuel Verdan, “Counting on Pots: a few thoughts about numerical notation systems”

10.40-11.10 break

11.10-11.30 John Papadopoulos, “To Write and to Paint: More Early Iron Age Potters Marks in the Aegean”

11.30-11.50 Alexandra Pappas, “Form Follows Function? Toward an Aesthetics of Early Greek Inscriptions at Methone”

11.50-13.30 Discussion

Afternoon session Chair Jenny Strauss Clay & Richard Hunter

17.00-17.20 Węcowski Marek, “Hakesandros, Tataie, and the "Cup of Nestor". Sympotic workings of some early first-person poetic vase-inscriptions”

17.20-17.40 Richard Janko, “From Gordion and Gabii to Eretria and Methone: the rise of the Greek alphabet”

17.40-18.30 Discussion

18.40-19.00 break

19.00-20.30 Conclusion


Matthaios (Manthos) Bessios, 27th Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities
Ewen Bowie, University of Oxford, Corpus Christi College
Albio Cesare Cassio, University of Rome “La Sapienza”
Jenny Strauss Clay, University of Virginia
Georg Danek, University of Vienna
François de Polignac, École Pratique des Hautes Études, Paris
Francesca dell’Oro, University of Zurich
Julián-Victor Mendez Dosuna, University of Salamanca
Miltiadis Hatzopoulos, Institute of Greek and Roman Antiquity, Hellenic Research Foundation
Richard Hunter, University of Cambridge
Richard Janko, University of Michigan
Alan Johnston, University College London, Institute of Archaeology
John Kazazis, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and Centre for the Greek Language
Anne Kenzelmann Pfyffer, Swiss School of Archaeology in Greece
Evangelia Kiriatzi, University of Crete and British School at Athens
Antonis Kotsonas, University of Amsterdam
Nota Kourou, University of Athens
Barbara Kowalzig, New York University
Irene Lemos, University of Oxford
Irad Malkin, Tel Aviv University
Węcowski Marek,University of Warsaw
Angelos Matthaiou, Greek Epigraphic Society
Alexandros Mazarakis Ainian, University of Thessaly
Franco Montanari, University of Genova
Niki Oikonomaki, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki
Anna Panagiotou, University of Cyprus
John Papadopoulos, University of California at Los Angeles
Alexandra Pappas, Center for Hellenic Studies and University of Arkansas
Antonios Rengakos, Academy of Athens and Aristotle University of Thessaloniki
Katerina Rhomiopoulou, Ministry of Culture
Maria Roumpou, University of Reading
Suzanne Said, Columbia University
Christina Skelton, University of California at Los Angeles and Center for Hellenic Studies
Nikolas Stampolidis, University of Crete
Petros Themelis, Society of Messenian Archaeological Studies
Thierry Theurillat, Swiss School of Archaeology in Greece
Rosalind Thomas, Oxford University
Michalis Tiverios, Academy of Athens and Aristotle University of Thessaloniki
Kyriakos Tsantsanoglou, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki
Yannis Tzifopoulos, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki
Samuel Verdan, Swiss School of Archaeology in Greece
Manolis Voutiras, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki
Rudolph Wachter, University of Basel and Lausanne
Roger Woodard, The State University of New York at Buffalo