sovay: (I Claudius)
sovay ([personal profile] sovay) wrote2015-11-06 04:35 pm

A bird's head, formed from a streaming mosaic of scales

Everybody remembers Tanith Lee's The Book of the Beast (1988)? The second of the Secret Books of Paradys, with the rapacious scaled bird-headed demon carried from the Near East to the fort of Par Dis in Roman days? It possessed a centurion, then his son, devouring him into its deadly avatar; then their line was extinguished, except it wasn't? Out of Assyria, an utuk, having as its own form the body of a man, the head of a bird, but a bird of the beginnings, scaled not feathered, from the fifth day of the earth . . .


Okay, technically that is a Romanized image of Horus from the first or second century CE, currently on display at the British Museum as part of a really interesting-sounding exhibit. In keeping with the traditions of Roman portraiture, it's an impressively realistic attempt to represent a man with a falcon's head, with partial results of modern-day nightmare fuel; the inclusion of human hair and ears is striking, as is the way the feathers of the throat transition into the scale-mail of the imperial lorica plumata. The head looks flattened because it is missing the crown it should have supported. It was acquired by the museum in 1912 and I would love to know if Lee ever saw it. The answer may well be nope. Writers have imaginations, after all. But I know what it looked like accidental fan art for when I saw it.

(Given the Assyrian origins, I always figured Lee's utuk looked like a bird-headed apkallu, which if so is unfair to some benevolent guardian spirits. The combination of feathers, scales, and bird-headed human figure just really got my attention here. I am now trying to avoid spinning off into actual fan art, because the last time it took forever.)
davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)

[personal profile] davidgillon 2015-11-07 01:29 am (UTC)(link)
Oh, that's rather gorgeous, and I'm impressed how sharp the detail is given it's limestone.
davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)

[personal profile] davidgillon 2015-11-08 06:29 pm (UTC)(link)
I keep flipping between 'Oh, I'd prefer Bast' and 'But Sekhmet!'

(When I'm not thinking of Herne the Hunter).
genarti: Knees-down view of woman on tiptoe next to bookshelves (Default)

[personal profile] genarti 2015-11-10 01:52 pm (UTC)(link)
I would seriously love to see Set rendered in this style, too. Can you imagine?
thistleingrey: (Default)

[personal profile] thistleingrey 2015-11-07 01:40 am (UTC)(link)
Wow, very cool.

...I feel as though there ought to be more to say, but that's where I am, this Friday evening. I like how the head is flat and wide, in particular, without knowing why.
lilysea: Serious (Default)

[personal profile] lilysea 2015-11-07 06:36 am (UTC)(link)
That is so cool! Thank you for this post! ^_^
genarti: Knees-down view of woman on tiptoe next to bookshelves (Default)

[personal profile] genarti 2015-11-10 01:50 pm (UTC)(link)
Oh, wow. This is a seriously fascinating Horus.

[identity profile] 2015-11-06 10:54 pm (UTC)(link)
That is stunning. It makes my hackles rise.


[identity profile] 2015-11-07 01:21 am (UTC)(link)
Your apkallu link is the one I always think of as "Tash with a handbag."

[identity profile] 2015-11-07 10:22 pm (UTC)(link)
Baynes was really good at Orientalism, which is part of the problem as well as part of the delight.

[identity profile] 2015-11-08 12:01 am (UTC)(link)
He is a glorious demon

[identity profile] 2015-11-07 03:06 am (UTC)(link)
nightmare fuel

(I think it's, in large part at least, that the Romans here were perversely WORSE at making the head look like it actually belonged to a hawk, as opposed to some sort of freaky nightmare beast: something like this actually looks like a raptor.)

[identity profile] 2015-11-07 10:15 pm (UTC)(link)
And ears in the wrong place, at that. If they were further back, it would just look like a person in a hawk mask.

I note that people with "hawk-like faces" do not, in fact, look very much at all like hawks, at least not in their actual lineaments. It is much more of a metaphorical likeness.

[identity profile] 2015-11-08 12:02 am (UTC)(link)
The eyes are something else.

love this

[identity profile] 2015-11-12 05:19 am (UTC)(link)
are you a professor of anthropology? or simply a connoisseur of mythology?

either way, i love your play.

it makes me think of the falcon headed sun gods of egypt

Edited 2015-11-12 05:20 (UTC)