Spirits in the Material World

Hour 1: When I think of power represented through material culture, the picture of extremely tall corporate buildings pop into my head; hotels decked with 20+ stories and luxurious penthouses; mansions with more rooms than I have fingers and only 2–3 people taking residence. Large, ostentatious displays of wealth often equate to power, even beyond commercial success. The leader of the Free World (typically) resides in an 132 room house, decked with 3 elevators and 35 bathrooms. Most power is legitimized through public displays of influence — how can you say you have power when no one knows who you are, what your brand is or how much you’re worth? It’s like Trump supporters who looked at his multitude of “businesses” — golden tower hotels, a university, and other obnoxious displays of “success” — and determined that seeing was believing; ineptitude can easily be overshadowed by how many buildings behold your name.

Hour 2: In the composition, there is a great army looming behind a man on a horse facing a lone man who seems to be afraid. The army is viciously attacking, throwing spears and charging forward. I think Alexander the Great is the man in front of the army, draped in gold; Darius could be the man cowering from the crowd of soldiers. I can tell who the victor is by the scenery surrounding Alexander; my eyes are automatically drawn to the center of the piece, where the golds of the armor and shields are inescapable. Surprisingly, the look on Alexander’s face isn’t the one I expected. It seems more sorrowful than what a great leader in battle should look like; the only reason I can give for the expression is that the artist was trying to show humility within Alexander? Maybe he didn’t want to have to kill Darius? I think the image would provoke feelings of strength when hanging in someone’s home, though it isn’t the first picture I would think to place and show off.

Hour 3: I feel like Pollitt describes the transition of Classical Greek period to Hellenistic as one towards more a gaudy, foreign fashion; he describes Alexander’s casket as one shaped like a sarcophagus, “unknown to Greece” at the time. Alexander’s reign brought a fusion of cultures, as he seemed to be the conquerer of the world at the time. There was still traditional Greek imagery included — the Nike figurines — a precursor to the survival of traditional, ancient Greece despite the changing culture.

Alexander chose only Lysippos to sculpt his portrait because Lysippos was not only able to convey Alexander’s strength through his beauty, pose and eyes; it was also to create an official image. Before Apelles turned his image into more divine than human, Lysippos’ imagery depicted a superior sense of leadership —more so his arete, “what society could be expected to admire”. The marble conveys, beyond the obvious “melting eyes” and tilt of the neck, a King — an Emperor of the highest regards.

Imagery, especially when highly circulated, can have a more lasting impression than text. It creates less room for variation and misrepresentation (at times) of what is trying to be conveyed. Alexander the Great’s image was not only carefully crafted to be uniform and bold, but also good for making a strong impression. It can also transcend language and culture barriers, much like Alexander’s image was accepted in all of his regions including the East. Sculptures, coins, gems and paintings could be found throughout the world, so making sure that your face and symbolized rule could be seen meant putting your portrait on these objects. Coins were dispersed throughout society, sculptures were grand and emitted power and importance through the marble, and paintings could easily be hung up in people’s homes. The iconography, from Alexander’s neck tilt, stare and large, strong features were important in establishing a visual representation of his leadership skills; it allowed people to connect with the King, despite never having met him — much like how the pictures I have of President Obama make me feel like we’re practically family.

I think Alexander’s successors copied this style of royal iconography because it worked. Alexander was idolized long after his death, even today — but with this idolization of what he did, is also that of what he looked like. His image has lasted as long as his legacy because his image was so strong and distinct. In Apelles divination of Alexander (giving him certain attributes of Zeus), Alexander was seen as a “Patron deity” as the text describes, even after he died. He became a hero like many in Greek mythology — his feats a result of his divine interaction and skill.

Hour 4: Augustus presents himself very distinctly; in the first image in Ara Pacis, Augustus’ features are clearly defined — his eyes large and unyielding, his brows in stately lines (neither furrowed in frustration or scrunched in happiness); his nose straight, prominent; his mouth in a sharp line, but not unfriendly. The next image shows Augustus’ chest piece though it does not take away from his face. It seems to add a heroic tint to it, especially with his arm raised as if making an order. The third image is softer, as Augustus’s head is draped with fabric — his face serious, but less stern; not reverent, but definitely more gentle. Then the full body version of images one and two arise. Augustus stance is strong, his chest plate large but not overwhelming. His facial features still stand out, and he is definitely in the stance to make an order — as predicted before. The last image is confusing, as not only his body missing, but the stoutness of his facial features is missing, instead the lower half covered by either fabric or a crack in the stone.

Compared to the images of Alexander, Augustus seems younger, smaller, and less fierce. The symbolism of fertility, nature and religion were extremely important in ancient Roman culture; it hailed from the worship of their gods, as most of their attributes were placed among nature. Many prayed to the gods daily, giving praise to them for the sky, grass, etc in efforts to please the deities. The portrayal of Augustus draped in fabric like a saint is important in connecting his role of leadership to role of divine hero-leader, well connected to the same divine spirits ruling the greater world.

Hour 5: Trajan is not as nice to look at as Alexander the Great is. He’s older, his features less prominent due to a sense of power rather just genes.

Alexander the Great, king of Macedonia (left) and Trajan, Roman Emperor (right)

Trajan is older, less striking and more stern in facial expression. The differences between the two rulers is so stark, I feel no need to explicitly mark them down (as there are many). I feel like the significance in the differing looks comes from how the rulers want to be portrayed. I feel like Alexander was easily given attributes of gods due to his obvious beauty — the flowing hair, strong jaw, well proportioned mouth, nose and eyes; he is stunning, his face extremely pleasant to gaze upon but still exuding power. Trajan’s face has more of a militaristic feel— less focused on beauty, but on facial expression. His obvious lines of age, the furrowed brow and tightness of lips exudes order and calculation. If a picture is worth a thousand words, these busts are worth a million. What’s interesting is the similar tilt of the neck — a signature mark of Alexander’s sculptures. If you look closely at Trajan’s bust, his face and neck are slightly leaning opposite, the head tilt inescapable. Much of a statue’s power comes from the deliberate body language of the power — a duplicated mark of iconology on the part of the Roman Empire?

Hour 6: Is Frederick a good leader for meeting with DeVos?

I am caught at a crossroads. My activism and my critical understanding of Frederick’s position are not meshing well. As President of a University almost completely dependent on federal funds, meeting with the US head of Education is important — no matter her ties to a fascist tyrant. But then I look at how the situation was handled — with zero transparency to the general student body, the exclusion of even the HUSA president’s attendance and the event executed as a publicity stunt as a photo of Frederick and DeVos was quietly released on twitter.

Then I look at the where exactly our funds are going to as whispers of a new, high tech dormitory are going around — as I sit in annex, anxiously waiting for the 2nd floor rat infestation to reach my suite; remembering the time I had to forgo dinner because there were roaches casually chilling on the kitchen counter; there’s pipes bursting in quad, flooding floors and stairwells; the shutdown of Slowe as it is in such disrepair; the fact that half of Towers is closed because renovations still aren’t complete. Then there’s the school buildings — part of the ceiling collapsed in Locke recently; Not to mention the quality of Sodexo and the lack of consistent wifi. The list just goes on and on. While Howard is beautiful school, it’s littered with issues that seem to be obvious but aren’t being fixed — so where’s this 220 million dollars going? (Yes, I know there’s obvious allocations to the Schools and Major programs).

But let’s say that all the funds are being perfectly spread around campus, serious issues are being focused on and it will soon be perfect. There’s then the issue of the school’s affiliation with the Trump presidency. This visit with DeVos is not the first incident regarding Trump and his administration; there was the letter emailed to the school regarding the election results. It was a thinly veiled call to accept the results, though Trump is a quasi-dictator whose entire campaign surrounded despising the existence of minority groups and women. Our campus is full of students that both Trump and his supporters would gladly see cease to exist in an effort to “Make America Great Again”. My political affiliation is clear and less objective than I’m sure President Frederick feels his own should be. But the values of our school’s founding protest what Trump’s presidency stands for; and I am forced to ask, is this good leadership on Frederick’s part? In my eyes, heck no! But in the eyes of a strategist (if this is planned very well), then yes. Maybe one day, I’ll be able to say I understand, but at this point all I can say is that I can see what’s happening, and I have no answers or alternatives.

Hour 7:

How is the display of leadership through material culture effective?

I think the display of leadership through material culture is effective because it is in your face and almost inescapable. Like Alexander the Great’s reign was (and continues to be) remembered years after his death through his statues and coins, the history of American leaders can easily be called out today — especially living in DC surrounded by the monuments and memorials.

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