|tombs with the burial. And “both male and female figurines are interred with many valuable grave goods or none at all. [But] they are not equally common in all islands.” 35
The spatial distributions, chronologies, and typologies of the early white marble figurines are complicated and controversial.36 We will thus find it useful here to narrow our focus to one distinctive type only of the in fact quite various Cycladic white marble female figurines. This type is the more anatomically detailed, so-called “Folded-Arm Figurines” which replace the still earlier schematic figurines. In particular, we will focus on the slender, Folded-Arm Figurines,vii standing “on tiptoe with the head tilted back and the arms folded over the stomach” of the Spedos variety.37
Perhaps one of the most important of these figurines is the female figurine, one of the so-called “canonical” figurines attributed to a supposedly distinctive styleviii of “the Goulandris Master,” 38 on view in the N. P. Goulandris Foundation Collection in the Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens.ix
15.3 A Description of a Canonical Folded-Arm Figurine
Here is the catalogue description of this piece.
“214. Female figurine
“White marble. Chipped on the shoulders and head.
Provenance unknown [possibly southern Naxos].
Coll. no. 281.”
“Lyre-shaped head with large conical nose and pointed chin. Markedly sloping shoulders. The arms and small breasts are rendered in relief. Slightly concave incisions demarcate the neck and the limbs from the trunk and emphasize the joints of the knees and ankles. Incisions indicate the fingers and shallow grooves the toes. The limbs are distinguished by a shallow cleft and flex slightly at the knees. Traces of pigment preserved on the chest and the back of the head, where it evidently coated the coiffure: a curved band runs down from the right shoulder to the right forearm, two diagonal bands down the head and neck at the base of which they separate and terminate in two curls, each reaching low down on the back.”
“Canonical type, [late?] Spedos variety. The largest known intact work attributed to the ‘Goulandris Master.’” 39
15.4 Another Folded-Arm Figurine
For comparison and contrast here is another catalogue description of a similar figurine.
“178. Female figurine
White marble. Badly eroded on the face and right thigh. Pale incrustation in places. H. 47.2. Provenance unknown. Coll. no. 311. Lyre-shaped head with forehead tilted backwards. The arms and breasts are in low relief. The modeling of the top of the thighs also defines the pubes. The legs are flexed at the knees and the calves separated, while the fingers and toes are incised. The figure is distinguished by its relative slenderness, its curvaceous profiles and the rounded modeling mainly on the arms and abdomen.
Canonical type, one of the large-scale works of the early Spedos variety.” 40
§16. Cultural Meanings
With these general contexts in mind and with these catalogue descriptions if not the actual figurines before us, we may take up the question of the cultural meaningfulness of such figurines.
16.1 Cultural Meanings
We have already discussed briefly in the previous seminars some of the general definitional problems concerning the very idea of culture and cultural meanings. There are, moreover, a host of related interpretive issues that cluster around the cultural meanings of symbolic, ritual artworks in particular.41 Here, however, we need only recall that ancient historians and archeologists approach such artifacts almost invariably with a particular set of interests and concerns.
Thus, with respect to the early Cycladic figurines in particular, “scholars have searched for interpretations based on certain criteria, and then they [have] questioned whether the archeological record preserves any clue to help uncover the meaning figurines had for their makers and owners.” 42
But, while not uninformative, the results have unfortunately been meager. Indeed, so far are specialists today from reaching any consensus about the cultural meanings of these enigmatic figurines, that even after years of excavation and study the best known of these specialists and one of the world’s greatest living archeologists has declared: “We do not know, and we shall probably never know, quite why they were made.” 43
Even if, as here, we restrict ourselves very greatly just to Female Folded-Arm Figurines of the canonical types of “The Goulandris Master” of the late Spedos variety in the Syros Phase towards the end of the Early Cycladic II Period (2800-2300 BCE), we still must ask many questions.
Were these figurines made “simply and solely to be ‘good to look at’” as Renfrew himself has suggested? 44 Was there an important functional difference between the figurines made of clay and those made of white marble? Or were they ritual objects to be used at sanctuaries? Or were they funerary artifacts to be buried with the deceased? Or were they elite household luxury items? Or, since some were found near tomb burials of children, were they just made as educational objects, or even as toys?
Or did their functions vary, and not just from one site to another but from one time period to another? Or even within a particular setting, were their functional transformations the same during their use lives, as in the case of many much later Minoan and Mycenaean figurines? Why are some figurines apparently unique pieces and others figurines in a stylistic series?
Or were they made as religious representations? Were they meant as votive offerings? Or were they household shrine objects? Were they primarily individual or community possessions? And why were some buried respectfully and others discarded in trash deposits?
Unlike the meaningfulness then of figures like the Palaikastro Kouros, the cultural meanings of at least figurines like those of “The Goulandris Master” that we have focused on here were apparently much more various.45
The archeological contexts in which archeologists have unearthed these figurines and the assemblages in which they have been found are indeed many and varied. That remains the case even when we restrict our considerations to those archeological contexts in the Cyclades only, specifically during the Syros Phase,46 and leave out of account the Early Helladic mainland sites, the Early Minoan sites, and the still later Bronze Age Aegean sites where similar figurines with apparently different functions have been found.
None of the Cycladic sites, however, whether taken alone or together, allow of any definitive assignments of the functions of even this very narrowly selected subgroup of figurines to any one particular sphere of human activity. Their cultural meanings would seem to be almost as various and multiple as the sites in which they have been found so far. And even such sites where still further discoveries are being made, as in the Dhaskalio Kavos site on Keros where excavations are still continuing,47 have yet to provide sufficient materials to answer these questions satisfactorily.
16.2 Religious Contexts
Still, even our quite limited probings in the vast literature disclose roughly four main approaches to the cultural meaningfulness of the finest of these pieces. Thus, the majority of specialists in Aegean archeology today are willing to grant that the great number of religious contexts in which they have been unearthed does not exhaust the cultural meaningfulness of the Cycladic figurines. Nonetheless, they seem to hold that the religious accounts for most of the cultural meanings of such figurines.48
Others, however, have noted that the religious contexts often provide much information not just about cult practices and sanctuary arcana. These religious contexts also provide information about the groups of people who were the actual users of these figurines. Accordingly, this second group of archeologists, the minority, believes that the major cultural meanings here are to be understood more as a function of mainly ethnic identities rather than of mainly religious importance.
Other archeologists have called fresh attention in particular to the archeological contexts in which these figurines have been found. “The find contexts,” one specialist has written recently, “show that figurines had a varied existence. They were not religious artifacts for all people at all times. Some considered them religious if or when they had been made efficacious through ritual. Others recycled, reused, or threw them in the trash.” 49
And still another group of archeologists has called attention to the presence of what they call “a priori assumptions” that lie behind the almost exclusively religious or almost exclusively ethnic interpretive approaches. To avoid such methodological pitfalls, these archeologists hold that less problematic interpretive approaches should start from the idea that other alternatives must be sought out.
“To be able to produce these,” perhaps their most important advocate writes, “we need to record the location and number of found figurines, the other objects they are found with, their depositional histories, how they were made and later [often deliberately] broken, the history of their existence, and their use life from the moment they were formed, through their many uses and reuses, to their recycling and eventual discard. We can then infer the lifestyle of figurine owners.” 50
16.3 Meanings: The Philosophical versus the Cultural?
Some have pursued this critical approach further. “Inevitably,” one archeologist writes, “archeological interpretation consists of facts, but it also depends on the imagination and speculation of the archeologist. The multiple interpretations produced for figurines demonstrate that. Figurines are enigmatic and will continue to puzzle us. They have their own idiosyncratic characteristics since they are creations of landscapes, times, and people that no longer exist. We attempt to revive their worldview, thoughts, and perceptions as they portrayed them in these objects.”51
When such an approach is adopted, what then is the outcome? The basic outcome, the claim here runs, is that figurines are to be understood as properly supporting no one interpretation; rather, figurines are to be understood as supporting multiple interpretations.
Two reasons are adduced for this outcome. First, multiple interpretations are to be sought rather than any one interpretation because the cultural meaningfulness of these figurines is “fluid and variable.” 52 And, second, multiple interpretations are to be sought because, necessarily, archeologists read into the socio-cultural environments that these figurines create by themselves producing “meanings according to their own perceptions and interests.” 53
The result is that there must be many cultural meanings of Early Cycladic figurines. How so? Because “their meaning or meaningfulness is “fluid and variable and because archeologists construct those interpretations, which reflect their readings of the sociocultural environment that created the figurines. Archeologists produce meanings according to their own perceptions and interests.” 54
One of the most recent of these interpretive approaches that would seem to espouse such multiplicity while notably taking many pains to anchor any particular interpretation strongly on evident empirical evidence runs as follows.
“. . . one reasonable hypothesis would suggest that Cycladic figurines could represent both real people, as nodes of social interaction, and divine forces as nodes of society’s ritual interaction. In the absence of a system of genuinely large communities acting as a focus for individual islands, or as centers for a much larger scale of sociability between several islands, we may be seeing instead an exaggerated emphasis on chains of smaller-scale interactions: these would revolve around communal meals, voyages, marriages, burials, festivals, and acts of group worship. . . .” 55
With these remarks in place on the varied cultural meaningfulness of such figurines as the Goulandris Master piece and on their apparently necessary multiple interpretations, we now need to draw a last series of interim conclusions about sovereignties, this time about the nature of individual sovereignties. These interim conclusions, when added to the previous two sets, will then set us the task in our final section on “Re-Orientations” to make several direct connections with renewed discussion of different kinds of sovereignty today in the EU.
We will find that in addition to our concerns with the political values of order and eventually the rule of law arising from reflections on several salient artworks of the Mycenaean origins of European civilization, and the social values of rankings and eventually of pluralisms arising from reflections on several artworks of the Minoan origins of European civilization, something further needs consideration.
For an historically representative preamble to any eventual EU constitution would also do well to make room for incorporating the moral and political individual values of proportions and eventually dignity. And these values may be seen as arising from reflections on several salient features of the Cycladic origins of European civilization today.
§17. Philosophical Significance (TBA)
Discussion of Seminar Three §17 and Concluding Remarks
§18. A Third Set of Interim Conclusions III:
Once again a short case study of the archeological findings of the canonical Cycladic figurines from the zenith of the Early Cycladic period when the Cycladic Culture had spread throughout the archipelago at the beginnings of European civilization in the Aegean Bronze Age suggests for critical discussion three major points about the nature of individual sovereignties.
18.1 Individual sovereignties are limited with respect to other individual sovereignties that exist within the same political and social realm.
18.2 Individual sovereignties are also limited with respect to individual sovereignties that exist beyond their own political and social realm in other, quite different political and social realms.
18.3 Individual sovereignties are limited still more with respect to their subordination to the norms, values, and ideals of religious and spiritual realms.
After our investigations then of the limited nature at the outset of European civilization of both political sovereignties at the apogee of Mycenaean culture, social sovereignties at a highpoint of Minoan culture, and individual sovereignties at the zenith of Cycladic culture, we need now to bring our historical inquiries to a conclusion by turning to the philosophical significance of these disparate but related cultural meanings.
Again with simplifications and adaptations, and as above in Chapter One for the Mycenaean Civilization and in Chapter Five for the Minoan Civilization, I use here for the Cyclades Bintliff’s 2012, p. 46 calibrated Carbon 14 dated chronologies and abbreviations as follows (dates give the approximate beginnings of the BCE periods):
7000: Pre-Ceramic Greek Neolithic
6500: EN, or early phase of Neolithic with generalized uses of ceramics
5800: MN, or middle phase of Neolithic
5300: E-LN, or early-late phase of Neolithic
4800: L-LN, or later-late phase of Neolithic