Game of Thrones, ca. 850 BCE: Empire, Religion, & Palace Intrigue in the Neo-Assyrian Reliefs @ WCMA Winter 2022

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Two mysterious stone reliefs at WCMA once decorated Ashurnasirpal II’s palace at ancient Kalhu in the heart of the world’s first empire. They prompted one scholar to remark on their “calculated frightfulness,” yet religion, scholarship, fashion, epic poetry, love, sex, and court intrigue also kept company with the reliefs in their original setting. Using Williams’ own Mesopotamian collection, this multidisciplinary course explores the reliefs in both ancient and modern contexts: the 3rd millennium BCE clay “cones” of Gudea of Lagash, celebrating the construction of a new temple; the missionary movement that led Williams alum D. W. Marsh (class of 1842) to Iraq, friendship with the archaeologist A.H. Layard (who excavated the palace); and Marsh’s donation of the reliefs to Williams. We consider the ethics of museum collection, the artistic heritage of the Iraqi people, the devastation of Nimrud by ISIS, and coming full circle, the 2019 WCMA exhibit in which Iraqi-American artist Michael Rakowitz recreated reliefs that had been lost, stolen or destroyed. The course emphasizes hands-on experience–from reading the “Epic of Gilgamesh” (for literary and cultural clues), studying Ashurnasirpal’s “Banquet Stele” (describing the ancient world’s most lavish party), writing cuneiform on clay, and a celebratory Mesopotamian feast. The course closes with an overnight field trip for a private tour of Yale’s Babylonian Collection, the Yale University Museum of Art, and New Haven pizza. A three-part “Flash Akkadian” course, offered separately and open to the community, teaches students to decipher and completely translate the cuneiform inscription on a Shalmaneser III brick from the palace. HIST 14 meets for 2-hour sessions twice-weekly. Wide-ranging final projects, which may include attending “Flash Akkadian,” will be chosen in consultation with the instructor.
The Class: Format: lecture; afternoons
Limit: 20
Grading: pass/fail only
Requirements/Evaluation: multiple short, written class presentations count toward the final project of a 10-page paper or its equivalent on a subject chosen in consultation with the instructor
Prerequisites: none
Enrollment Preferences: in consultation with the instructor
Unit Notes: Alison Acker Gruseke is a Williams graduate (1982), former book editor, and now holds a PhD from Yale's department of Religious Studies. She specializes in the study of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), including its ancient religious, political, literary, cultural, historical, and geographical contexts. She has taught and lectured in both undergraduate and graduate settings, including at Williams.
Materials/Lab Fee: $420

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