|Mask of Agamemnon|
Isn't this an amazing image? A golden mask, life-sized, flattened, with eyes which are at the same time open and closed. Beard, eyebrows, ears, hammered and chased into fine detail - simultaneously naive and strangely sophisticated.
This mask was discovered in 1876 by Heinrich Schliemann, a C19th German businessman who became a famous treasure hunter/archaeologist, and is now in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens. Schliemann had previously excavated the remains of Troy, where, as told in Homer's Iliad, an epic ten year war was fought between the Greeks and the Trojans. The leader of the united Greek armies was Agamemnon, the king of the Mycenaeans, whose brother's wife, Helen, had been abducted by the Trojan prince, Paris.
When Agamemnon returned from the war, the legend is that he was killed by his own wife's lover, Aegisthus, or perhaps even by his wife Clytemnestra herself. This mask was found in a royal grave at Mycenae, and Schliemann was convinced that it was the death mask of Agamemnon himself, although some have claimed it to be a fake, and some archaeologists now believe it pre-dates the Trojan War by several hundred years. It is made of beaten gold, with the fine details chased out using a sharp tool. It is an amazing artefact. I saw it in Athens nearly thirty years ago when backpacking around Europe and it remains an iconic memory for me.
Today's prompt is to take this mask as a starting point for a poem. There are so many directions in which it could take you! You could just think about masks in any or all of their forms; you could concentrate on Agamemnon and his story; you could think about Schliemann; you could explore ideas of real and fake. You could even link back to what is often considered the first piece of ekphrastic writing: the description of The Shield of Achilles' in Book 18 of The Iliad.
If you are interested in some background, there's an interesting discussion here, and an article about the authenticity question here.
If you fancy reading or rereading The Iliad the translation by Richmond Lattimore is the one to go for.
And here's what Google has to say about the word 'mask':
Image Credit: "MaskOfAgamemnon" by Xuan Che - Self-photographed (Flickr), 20 December 2010.
Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons.
Definition Credit: Google