Lipson, Carol “Recovering the Multimedia History of Writing in the Public Texts of Ancient Egypt”

In ancient Egypt, all writing and art was composed by the elite and commissioned and created by members of the state bureaucracy.  Public monuments were epideictic in that they convey cultural and ideological values.  Here, Lipson applies an analytical framework developed by Robert Horn to analyze Eyptian Narmer Palettes, whose utilitarian purpose of serving as a cosmetic palette is often overshadowed by its monumental and ceremonial functions.  According to Horn, spatial relations are “telling points of syntactic and semantic meaning,” which he employs to develop a visual language syntax.  Proximity, similarity, common region, connectedness, directional continuity, and closure are principles that reveal meaning in symbolic, visual structures.  By employing Horn’s analytical framework to the stone Narmer Palette’s, Lipson illustrates that the palletes not only reflect Egyptian systems of belief concerning kingship but also reflect Egyptian theories about the relationship between kingship, order, and ritual.  Simultaneously, Lipson claims the palettes design “a model spectator, who too is devoted to ritual and to order” (95). 


Lipson also analyzes funerary stelae, which are stone monuments set in niches of memorial temples where the public would come to perform an offering ritual.  Analyzing the King Scorpian Stela, Lipson reveals how the stela also is epideictic, “conveying the primacy of the eternal realm of the gods and of the king as its representative and embodiment” (101).  More so, the stela conveys guidelines for how to live one’s life, how to understand one’s status and role in the kingdom, and also emphasizes a social/political order needed to keep order in society.  Analyzing the Iykernofret’s Stela, Lipson illustrates how this stela suggests a “careerist ideology:  Serve your king well, and you will do well” (103).  Moreso, similar to the King Scorpian Stela, this stela emphasizes what role the king plays in keeping order on earth.  After all, as with most other ancient cultures, for ancient Egyptians, keeping order was of primary concern.  “The propensity to use repeated lines or patterns, even to divide a surface into an ordered arrangement of rectangular units, reinforces and reflects the value placed on order” (106). 


Lipson also demonstrates how although most image-texts of ancient Egypt conveyed cultural values belonging to the elite, some image-texts exist which tell a different story, which demonstrates that different forms of communication were created for different audiences.  Nonetheless, Lipson claims “Egyptian multimodal rhetoric is a rhetoric of accommodation to the ideal,” even if it does contain contradictions (110).  Overall, “the image-text involve a weaving of authoritative voices and ideal cultural topoi; they name and interpret reality in culturally sanctioned ways” (110).   More so, “both graphic and written texts are ideologically based, presenting and reinforcing the ideals and values of the elite cultures” (111).


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