Modern cartoons, ancient ideas

11 August 2011

Martin Rowson is a British cartoonist. You can find his work in The Guardian, like this one, which connects the Tottenham Riots with the financial crises that continue to plague the western world:

I think it’s brilliant, but that’s not why I am writing this. The same comparison – politicians doing nothing while the world is burning – is made in the next cartoon, which appeared on 28 October 1912 in the German satirical journal Simplicissimus. It illustrates the outbreak of the First Balkan War: “Unfortunately,” the caption says, “the united European fire brigade was unable to stop te fire”.

The fact that two cartoonists make the same comparison, illustrates the power of the metaphor. The idea that the world can be set ablaze, is a very old one. I believe that it stems from Stoic ideas about ekpyrosis and Christian and Jewish apocalypticism. Both are, in turn, inspired by Zoroastrian ideas about the end of the world.


Wall stones from Amsterdam

2 August 2011

Wall stone - one of about eight hundred

This is a blog about ancient history, but I take the liberty for a small digression. The stone to the right is a gevelsteen from Amsterdam. The translation “wall stone” is not really accurate, but is the best we have. Gevelstenen are small pieces of sculpture that decorate houses. In this way, houses could be identified. The person who ordered the gevelsteen to the right to be made, called his house “In Emmaus”.

The oldest I know (this one; the girl is typically Dutch) dates back to the sixteenth century, but the tradition still exists, even though houses now have addresses.

Almost every stone tells a story. This refers to the Dutch version of the story of Polycrates’ ring, this is an old coin and this is a new one, this is of course a pharmacist, here is Saint Luke as a painter, here‘s a dentist, our beloved patron saint is here and a war hero can be seen here, children smile at this one, this one‘s for a confused person, here is Julius Civilis, someone detested Frederic III of Prussia, and this one reminds us of the commercial foundations of Amsterdam’s prosperity, although some people just look tired. They are all works of art, like this Saturn, but you will never see them in art books, which show only old masters.

Before I forget: take a look at that Emmaus again. The painter really did his best to make the landscape look authentic. He even added… a mosque!

The whole story is here; and here‘s a map with some 250 markers. The overall number is 800.


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