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The Eyes Have It: Votive Statuary, Gilgamesh'S Axe, And Cathected Viewing In The Ancient Near East

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Chapter Summary

The enlarged, staring eyes of Mesopotamian votive statues have often been remarked upon as a characteristic stylistic feature. Sometimes, particularly in poetic literature, we are given a glimpse of visual experience through direct speech. In an early second-millennium B.C.E. fragment of the Gilgamesh epic dated to the Old Babylonian period, for example, one able to step outside of the official corpus of often-formulaic royal inscriptions. Using the literary device of direct speech, Gilgamesh relates a dream to his mother, describing his vision of an artifact, an axe of unusual appearance. The relationship between being on view and appreciative visual assessment is well established with respect to persons and imputed to deities in the literature. The chapter cites a Babylonian text in which people once having seen god's lofty image, paid attention to him-that is, they focused upon the god himself, as well as cathecting to the image.

Keywords: cathected viewing; Gilgamesh's axe; Mesopotamian votive statues; staring eyes



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