23 Mar 2011
A great testimony to how extensive and elaborate trading networks were in the ancient world is the presence of wildly foreign objects like elephant tusks and ostrich eggs in ancient Crete. This might seem astonishing on the surface but it gives us a clue that the Minoans had an appetite for these items to the far south and the Egyptians were in a position to take advantage of this commerce.
The use of the ostrich egg as a drinking cup or rhyton is an interesting subject elaborated on in The Fashioning of Ostrich-Egg Rhyta in the Creto-Mycenaean Aegean at the Thera Foundation website. It provides many details about their adornment and repurposing into vessels. It can be easily concluded that the prized eggs must have ultimately come from Sudan since the geographic distribution of ostriches are limited. Obtaining them through Egyptian trade seems like the most efficient path of acquisition.
One thing that I notice the article doesn't go into is the significance of the eggs to the Minoan. We must ask why they needed such eggs in the first place since they could surely fashion vessels in many other more efficient ways not involving long-distance trade. The egg however is a symbol of the cosmos and creation, present even later in Greek symbolism, and stemming from Egyptian beliefs. The 'adorning' of the egg is interesting because in Greek, at least, κόσμος 'natural order, cosmos' also meant more fundamentally 'adornment'. The adorning of the egg is as if the artist is adorning the cosmos. It's the imitation of the godly act, it seems to me.
The picture above, by the way, is from Stelios now has a blog... where the author shares his criticisms of some Greek museums and the way they showcase their material to the general public, with little to no helpful explanations. I have to agree that more passion is needed. History's awesome, people! :o)