Why are the noses broken?
October 15, 2020 1:29 PM   Subscribe

Somewhat surprisingly, the difference between keeping or losing a head and/or a left arm might be explained by the difference in hairstyle between the two statues. Amunhotep’s long, thick hair, enveloping his neck and extending over the upper part of his shoulders, reinforced his neck and made it more difficult to remove his head. Djehuti’s short hair did not extend around his neck and down his back; iconoclasts therefore had much less work to do to when they removed Djehuti’s head.
Iconoclasm in Egypt: Why Are the Noses Broken on Egyptian Statues?
posted by jenkinsEar (24 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Do you ever have those moments in life when you discover that a word you thought you knew the meaning of, you absolutely did not know the meaning of?


posted by jacquilynne at 1:57 PM on October 15 [9 favorites]

I thought it was to spite the statues faces.
posted by lkc at 2:40 PM on October 15 [9 favorites]

There’s so much amazing imagery that’s survived from ancient Egypt, but I think one of the most striking is the absence of Hatshepsut and her cartouche from this relief in the Temple of Amun-Re at Karnak.

There are lots of depictions of Hatshepsut that weren’t destroyed and her reign is well documented despite Tuthmosis III’s best efforts. Even so, I like to imagine this particular example, in which such extraordinary effort went into erasing her name and every contour of her image with great precision, may have had some kind of reverse effect from what was intended.
posted by theory at 3:07 PM on October 15 [9 favorites]

@theory Like The Streisand Effect set in stone?
posted by macrael at 3:12 PM on October 15 [8 favorites]

There's a lost tomb out there in Egypt somewhere that's just an enormous room full of stone noses.

This room can't be accessed because it's been completely sealed, although it wants to be found, and wants to be a-doored.
posted by GuyZero at 3:23 PM on October 15 [13 favorites]

Get out.
posted by rhizome at 3:25 PM on October 15 [6 favorites]

posted by migurski at 3:47 PM on October 15 [1 favorite]

GuyZero, I understand France went through a prudish stage at some point and there was widespread removal of sculptural male genitalia, so there's probably a room somewhere in France full of stone penises!
posted by unearthed at 3:49 PM on October 15 [2 favorites]

there's probably a room somewhere in France full of stone penises!

something something Love Spreads.

Look, I'm just happy anyone even got a joke about a 31 year-old song.
posted by GuyZero at 3:54 PM on October 15 [1 favorite]

Taliban destroyed Buddha. All new regimes try to erase (dare I say cancel) what came before. It's nothing new, rarely works.


posted by zengargoyle at 3:57 PM on October 15 [2 favorites]

It is interesting that as a new religion tried to supplant an old religion it played by the rules of the old religion, e.g. the early Christian iconoclasm of the statues. The article suggests that it was a message to the believers of the old religion that the new religion was more powerful but it still was done as the old believers did it in the past. The warnings not to look at the statues because of demons etc says that they still believed that the statues had power. It wasn’t the message that your religion is nonsense, it was our religion is more powerful than yours. The old religion had power, but new religion had more.
posted by njohnson23 at 4:00 PM on October 15 [7 favorites]

a room somewhere in France full of stone penises

A photographer friend once told me that he had been shown a collection of drawers in a back room of the British Museum, each containing a stone penis off a statue, but he hadn't been allowed to photograph them. On consideration, I think he was having me on...
posted by Fuchsoid at 5:16 PM on October 15

Do you ever have those moments in life when you discover that a word you thought you knew the meaning of, you absolutely did not know the meaning of?


It's not exactly a dead metaphor but it sure gets used metaphorically a lot more than it gets used literally, these days.
posted by atoxyl at 5:34 PM on October 15

a room somewhere in France full of stone penises

French-American artist Louise Bourgeois on French and American aesthetics:
Bill Beckley: You were born in France, but you have lived a long time in the United States. What is the difference between the aesthetics of the two countries?

Louis Bourgeois: I’ll tell you a story about my mother. When I was a little girl, growing up in France, my mother worked sewing tapestries. Some of the tapestries were exported to America. The only problem was that many of the images on the tapestries were of naked people. My mother’s job was to cut out the, what do you call it?

BB: The genitals?

LB: Yes, the genitals of the men and women, and replace these parts with pictures of flowers so they could be sold to Americans. My mother saved all of the pictures of the genitals over the years, and one day she sewed them all together as a quilt and then she gave the quilt to me. That’s the difference between French and American aesthetics.
(An interview titled, “Sunday Afternoons: A Conversation and a Remark on Beauty” from the book Uncontrollable Beauty)
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:51 PM on October 15 [23 favorites]

A quilt full of severed genitalia seems very on-brand for Louis Bourgeois. (Also check out the border of the Bayeux tapestry sometime, the uncensored version. So many naked people!)

I didn't want to turn this post into a penis fest but I did spend over an hour reading various theories about why so many classical statues are missing penises. The common wisdom is it's "the part that sticks out breaks first". Or else Christian prudery, Pope Clement XIII and Pope Pius IX both get a lot of blame in various folk accounts.

But I didn't see anything that felt really scholarly or correct. I was curious in particular if there was evidence of symbolic emasculation, just like striking the noses or eyes or mouth or hands of statues are various other forms of symbolic violence. Also everything I read was about Christian prudery but that doesn't explain the rest of the world.

You know who really knew how to destroy old religious power? The Meso-Americans. There's lots of archeological evidence of various sites that were destroyed by fire. But not just any normal fire. Intensely hot fire, fueled fire, tended fire. Cleansing fire.
posted by Nelson at 7:00 PM on October 15 [5 favorites]

It's not exactly a dead metaphor but it sure gets used metaphorically a lot more than it gets used literally, these days.

This is what happens with metaphors. T.E. Hulme wrote, “Prose is a museum, where all the old weapons of poetry are kept.” When you are used to seeing something a museum but encounter it out in the real world it can be a bit startling.

When I learned how to sail, I pondered at the term for the aft corner of a triangular sail, the clew. I knew clew only as an archaic spelling for clue. A brief search in a dictionary for any connection only led to seemingly a third definition, that of a ball of yarn or twine. I shrugged an thought, "English... whaddya gonna do?"

Much later I learned that when Geoffrey Chaucer wrote The Legend of Good Women, in the section on Ariadne he mentions Theseus and the Minotaur. Ariadne, of course, gives Theseus a ball of yarn to unwind behind him so he can find his way out. In describing Theseus' escape from the Labyrinth, Chaucer writes as Ariadne speaking about this ball of twine:
Therto have I a remedie in my thoght,
That, by a clewe of twyne, as he hath goon,
The same wey he may returne anoon,
Folwing alwey the threed, as he hath come.
Over the ensuing six hundred years people would have seen the word "clew" shift gradually from being a ball of thread to being the metaphorical small thing that gives you guidance through a larger difficult situation to being an abstract concept meaning something that serves to guide one in solving a problem or mystery. It has shifted from being a very concrete noun to a highly abstract one, all because of Geoffrey Chaucer's choice of words in 1386 or so.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:11 PM on October 15 [21 favorites]

ricochet biscuit, when I was in 4th grade (so 9 or so) we moved and my room was a man-cave with an actual bar that was plastered with picture clips from Playboy. I spent the next week with a can of Olive-Drab model building spray paint covering up tits and crotches. Americans can be so weird that way. Damn Puritans.
posted by zengargoyle at 7:28 PM on October 15 [2 favorites]

This reminds me of an anonymous São Paulo street artist from the 2010s whose work was installing creepy plaster casts of faces on walls. They were all over the neighborhood, and the creepiest instance was this series of faces on a cemetery wall. You can see them get progressively smashed up as the years go by on the Google timeline. Sometimes starting by the nose. I wonder what future archeologists would have to say about that.
posted by Tom-B at 8:21 PM on October 15

There's a lost tomb out there in Egypt somewhere that's just an enormous room full of stone noses.

Considerably less funny tangential note: a nose tomb is actually a thing. (Very gross and possibly a bit triggering and you may not want to click on that, though there are no pictures of actual nose tombs or noses.)
posted by XMLicious at 8:49 PM on October 15

For a more longform treatment, here's a 50 min lecture by the author of the Hyperallergic article on this topic.
posted by sukeban at 10:18 PM on October 15

Ahh! The article in this link includes the obscure Bible verse my Evangelical parents used to justify why we never had a Christmas tree! Good to see you, my weird old friend.
posted by redsparkler at 11:34 PM on October 15 [5 favorites]

I think this is really interesting when also considering our statues and the discussion on whether to remove them. Like people are so worried that George Washington statues will get torn down because he had slaves, but apparently we humans have been doing this for thousands of years as we change our minds.

Like even since antiquity, we erect statues and then destroy them. It's kind of comforting.

plus ça change... right?
posted by LizBoBiz at 1:14 AM on October 16 [5 favorites]

22 comments, several puns, and not a single Asterix reference?

These Mefites are crazy.
posted by basalganglia at 4:53 AM on October 16 [4 favorites]

If the story of Tuthmosis and Hatshepsut interests you (and it absolutely should), they covered this on Puppet History with much hilarity, and singing.
posted by FirstMateKate at 8:15 AM on October 17 [1 favorite]

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