The face of Paris -- and Cleopatra
The next bit of graffiti we have been chasing is the rather rough and ready image of Paris at the head of this post. It is scratched on a column in one of the main halls of the Egyptian Temple at Luxor. It is headed "Paris", though you can only just see a trace of this at the very top. And, so far as we can tell,it shows a statue (at least it's on a base) of the Trojan (anti-)hero, holding an apple in one hand and a quiver in the other.
We were looking for this in the temple (though -- fair dues -- it was the son who actually found it). One idea, according to some article I read, is that this is a Greco-Roman graffiti, which represents the famous lost statue of Paris by Euphranor. But, more than that, so the same article claims, it is also a reflection of the idea, made famous in Euripides' play Helen, that Helen of Troy did not actually go to Troy at all, but only an image of her (an eidolon).
How come? Well, this graffito has been scratched right next to a statue of Nefertari. So here, the
argument goes, the Roman scratcher has seen an image which he has interpreted as the eidolon of Helen and depicted Paris next to it.
It was the husband who pointed out that this doesn't quite add up. But something quite close to it does.
For starters, on the Euripidean version it was Helen who went to Egypt and the eidolon that went to Troy -- so logically this statue of Nefertari can't have been re-interpreted as the eidolon (it's the wrong place). The husband must be right to say that the graffiti artist saw the Egyptian statue (naked) as an image of Aphrodite.. which is why, as in the judgement of Paris, the graffiti figure is holding an apple in his hand, all ready to award it to the Goddess of Love. Still, it is a nice Roman re-interpretation of an Egyptian image, but probably no connection with Euripides.
Next stop after Luxor has been the Temple of Denderah, where you can find wonderful images of Roman emperors all represented as if they were pharaohs from hundreds of years before (whether this is Roman imperialism trying to cash in on the prestige of pharaonic power, or the Egyptian priests trying to incorporate the emperors into their own version of the world, is anyone's guess). But round the back ofthe temple is one of the most 'authentic' images of Cleopatra VII to have survived ... as an Egyptian queen, plus her little boy Caesarion (not in this picture). In the Roman version of history this child was the son of Julius Caesar (or maybe he wasn't.. but Cleopatra claimed him as such); at Denderah he too appears as a little pharaoh.
Whatever complexity underlies all this, it is salutary to remember that some of the best bits of "Egyptian" art are actually creations of the Ptolemaic and Roman periods (just as much of what you see of ancient Greece is actually Roman in date).
As a postscript, we have just visited the Temple of Edfu -- another of these Ptolemaic/Roman constructions. There we saw some of the clearest artistic interfaces between traditional Egyptian and Greco-Roman art, but in the other way direction. It's not a good picture I'm afraid, but hese carriers of the sacred bark (?) seem at first sight much like all the other Egyptian images of this scene -- but a closer look at the way they are depicted, at the modeling of the faces and the flesh suggests that this was either a Ptolemaic trained sculptor, or someone who had studied Ptolemaic work.