Pithecusan Shipwreck: Some Thoughts on Being in the All in All.

Shipwreck Scene  and Poem:

Pithecusan-shipwreckThis image is a reproduction of the scene on an ancient Greek drinking vessel of a shipwreck. The fragments of the “crater” where found on what was the ancient Greek colony of Pithekoussai, an island in the Bay of Naples, Italy, now known as Ischia. The crater has been dated as late Geometric, 8th century B.C. You can read Giorgio Buchner’s account in “Expedition” Vol. 8, issue 4, July 1966. My purpose in posting it here is that it follows up on my recent videos about our alienation from Gaia.

The image of the shipwreck here shows a truly extraordinary sense of involvement and union with the natural world: the event happens in a space/time that has no obvious boundaries. In its “geometric” primitiveness it is pre-perspectival and yet goes beyond what a child might draw to show the artist’s consciousness of  inclusive oneness with the natural world; as I have been trying to suggest in the last video was part of the hunter-gather’s world view.

It is sad that so much of the Geometric period’s art is not really understood in this way. Consider the following:

“All these representations are drawn in the geometric style that characterizes the sculptural works of this time. They are schematized renderings, effective as patterns, but with little relation to nature.”

(Page 296, “A handbook of Greek Art” Gisela Richter: Phaidon, London: 1959, Seventh Edition, 1974.)

The phrase:  “but with little relation to nature” just illustrates how myopic a view this is. Far from showing “no relation” this scene shows clearly how that relationship was so much more intense and experienced than we might otherwise think. I was going to expand on this but then the following poem came to me and I shall let that speak for it

On a Shipwreck Scene Painted on a Greek Drinking Vessel

Found on Pithekoussai, a Greek colony now Ischia, Geometric period, late 8th Century B.C.E.

The ship’s keel uppermost,
emptied of sailors,
all tipped out
by a sea we do not see
are unaware of as if subliminal
because it’s all there is to see
we see what’s in it
the spilled out men
the black geometric forms
that yet show muscled arm and thigh
and fight fight drowning.

Six of them with genitals and curly hair
one like Jonah being swallowed whole
another swims below the boat
while others float to bob about
like flotsam on the surface
so far out of sight.

Fish striped or ribbed
some as big as men
swim between a limb or separate
a lithe body from its mate
and all among a swirl
of star-fished swastikas
denoting some sacredness
some mystery there is in death.

There’s no Odysseus lashing mast to keel
and yet this Pithecusan potter’s wise
shows us how we enter other worlds
where our black forms swim
cosmic all in all
no land no sea
no perspectival guise.

the colony gone
we piece together shards
so we may imagine
this painted krater
of kiln-fired earth
being lifted to an extinct lip
asking with us where we are
and what survives us
when we’re emptied out.

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