What I learned from an ancient priestess

As a side note, she had great taste in jewelry

lf-josiesydnor-e-klein

Josie Sydnor is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. 

Emma Klein | Cavalier Daily

While sitting in class a few weeks ago, I noticed a girl with earrings almost identical to mine. I normally wouldn’t have found this strange — my earrings weren’t very unique, and I had seen many other girls wearing similar hoops. However, this girl in particular was about 3,600 years old.  

The image of the priestess shown in my Greek art class was painted on a wall in ancient Thera, now Santorini, Greece. I didn’t relate to the ancient priestess, but seeing her jewelry caused me to reconsider what we could have in common. The familiar earrings made the priestess not a forgotten painting on an old wall, but a reminder of how art connects modern and ancient life.

My sister always groaned whenever our family toured a museum because she knew I’d spend hours dragging my feet through each exhibit. I realized I fell in love with art when I kept returning to the same pieces dozens of times and then decided art history was a field I should pursue. 

While visiting museums, I’d find paintings or sculptures I connected with and stood there long after others moved on, taking in every detail. I’d get as close to them as the security guard allowed, trying to find the individual brushstrokes and small blobs of color carving out the scene.  

I’ve only set off the alarm once! If you ever want to steal a masterpiece, know that if the flooring changes in front of the painting, it holds sensors that will blare when stepped on. Unfortunately, I didn’t know this.

Art is the illustration of history, and an education about the past is incomplete without it. Until time travel is invented, art is the closest I’ll get to seeing the past with my own eyes. Every piece was formed by the artist’s vision of the world — paintings, sculptures and pottery are windows to the past.

Art is not just a beautiful object hung on the wall, but the painstaking labor of someone who wished to give an accurate reflection of their world for years to come. The beauty comes from not only the technique of the work but how valuable it is to see the history through the lens of someone who lived it.

The preservation of one’s art is a path to immortality on Earth because an artist’s work is enjoyed for thousands of years, even if no one remembers them anymore. Looking at masterpieces gives me a feeling that I’m gazing at wisdom right out of reach, and I can sense it but cannot grasp it. Maybe that’s why I try to pick out the details in the work — if I get close enough, I might comprehend it. 

The priestess’ earrings reminded me of humanity’s continuity throughout history. It’s easy to imagine that people who lived that long ago lived lives unfamiliar to us, but the threads of similarity caused me to rethink how much our modernity separates us.  

Studying art reveals people caring for one another, appreciating nature’s beauty and attempting to capture and understand wisdom. However, it also shows the continuity of war, injustice and other societal flaws. Although we believe we have progressed over thousands of years, we repeat the same mistakes of the past driven by greed, fear, materialism and selfishness.

Not only are these patterns documented in history books, but they are also preserved in underground treasuries and lavish portraits. While many people may never study the breadth of history, walking through an art museum can give them insight into the events of the past within a few hours and allow them to make connections to present day.  

Art is a reminder of the hope that perseveres throughout history. Even magnificent work was created during times labeled as the “Dark Ages.” Through art you see the strength of the people who endured before us —  a reminder that humanity can conquer those struggles once again.

Josie Sydnor is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at life@cavalierdaily.com

related stories