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6— In the Morgue
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In the Morgue

The somewhat misleadingly named Battlefield Palette (Fig. 33) was found with the Hunter's Palette toward the end of the last century (Baumgartel 1960: 96-97), neither having an archaeological provenance (for the fragment fitting into the upper right corner, which was discovered later, see Mueller 1959 and Harris 1960). Compared with the Hunter's Palette, the Battlefield is wider and has a blunter, squared-off bottom edge similar to the shapes seen in later types of routine funerary palettes; it should probably be assigned to the Nagada IIIa/b or Horizon A /B period. In narrative structure and metaphorics it is probably later than—because it seems to assume a viewer's full familiarity with—the Hunter's Palette (Fig. 28) but earlier than the Narmer Palette (Fig. 38), which it probably resembled in having a canopylike decorated top edge making a gentle double curve. Because of its fragmentary state the image is difficult to understand.

Parts and Sides

The missing top edge should perhaps be reconstructed like the top of the Narmer Palette to display "heraldic" animal heads, a "royal"-palace-facade emblem (serekh ), and hieroglyphs giving the ruler's name. But excluding this symbolic border—on the Narmer Palette it is related to, not directly part of, the narrative image—the Battlefield, like the Hunter's Palette, presents four principal groups of figures, each including four agents or actors (Fig. 34).

On the Battlefield Palette, however, the textual positions of the groups are reversed. Rather than appearing at the top and bottom of the image, the two episodes closest to the moment of the blow are brought together into the center



Fig. 33.
Battlefield Palette: carved schist cosmetic palette, late predynastic (Nagada III) or early First
Dynasty. Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (top fragment, photo), and British Museum, London
(bottom fragment, photo). 
Photograph courtesy of British Museum; line-drawing restoration of the palette includes 
fragment from Kofler-Truniger Collection, Lucerne, Switzerland (top right edge).


Fig. 34.
Groups of figures on the Battlefield Palette, obverse.


of the composition. The other elements of the story are pushed to the outside, to the top and bottom of the image. In general, then, in comparison with the Oxford and Hunter's Palettes (Figs. 26, 28) the central area on the Battlefield Palette, including the cosmetic saucer, is given over more directly to the depiction of the ruler's power and danger. This rearrangement can be regarded as a continuation of the process we have been tracing through the entire chain of replications in which the ruler's presence—beginning outside, circling, and at the sides or edges of the depicted scene—is advanced into it.

If the Battlefield Palette presents an encounter with the ruler's blow at the visual and temporal center of the viewing of the image, the blow itself, as on the earlier works, is not depicted. Required in the narrative chronology of events and implied in the arrangement of those events, it is deflected from view in the pictorial text. Although this general device is the fundamental text of late prehistoric representation, its replication on the Battlefield Palette, like every other one examined here, has its own dynamics.

Each of the four groups of figures in the image forms a rough register band, especially by comparison with the groups of figures on the Oxford and, to a lesser extent, the Hunter's Palettes (Figs. 26–29), which occupy irregular fields in the compositions, arrayed in relation to one another more like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle than as a tier of friezes. Despite its adherence to an overall compositional device, however, no register ground lines are actually drawn in; the Battlefield Palette is certainly not a canonical image in this regard.

Whereas the Oxford Palette had its four principal groupings spread on both sides, two on either side, the Battlefield Palette, like the Hunter's, presents all four groupings on only one side. The reverse bears a single, mysterious image that might be no more than a metaphor for the narrative image on the obverse. Moreover, it does not seem to be a separate narrative image in its own right. Thus, whereas the Oxford Palette consists of a single four-part narrative image on two sides and the Hunter's of a single four-part narrative image on one side, the Battlefield may consist of two images, one on each side, one a four-part narrative image and the other perhaps not a narrative at all. In its turn the Narmer Palette (Fig. 38) will replicate and revise this arrangement. It spreads a six-part narrative image on both sides of a two-sided palette, but one zone is


particularly magnified (like the image occupying the entire reverse side of the Battlefield Palette, it is placed in the center of its reverse), as if in addition to being an element of a narrative image, it can be seen as having a specific symbolic status in relation to the whole.

With Arms Bound

The topmost band on the obverse of the Battlefield Palette depicts the legs of two slain enemies of the ruler. While the palette is badly damaged here at the top left, the two figures should probably be restored like the enemy farthest opposite them in the composition—that is, in the bottom right angle of the palette. They have been vanquished, their limbs splaying lifelessly; we are meant to understand them as sprawled on the ground.[1] Next to the sprawling enemies and directly above the cosmetic saucer, the top band might have presented a central motif such as hieroglyphs giving the name of the ruler.

The right side of the topmost band of the image depicts a kneeling enemy prisoner with arms bound. He is mastered by a wild dog or a jackal, creatures familiar to us from the Oxford and Hunter's Palettes and other images and with somewhat similar roles to play in the pictorial metaphorics of those works. Since the top of the creature's head has been lost, we cannot determine what kind of ears it has (rounded for a wild dog, pointed for a jackal); the bushy tall with band markings is consistent with earlier representations of either species. The poses of the two figures suggest that the beast is pulling back the enemy's head, perhaps in preparation for the human ruler to throttle or decapitate him. Alternatively, like the falcon on the reverse of the Narmer Palette (Fig. 38), the beast may be inserting a hook or cord into the enemy's nose.

Behind these figures, over the shoulder of the beast, there remains the bottom portion of what could have been a hieroglyph (Harris 1960: 104). It may represent the base of a stand of papyrus, like the one placed in a similar position on the Narmer Palette (reverse, top right). If so, following a common but somewhat disputable reading of the Narmer glyphs, the sign may have served to label the number of conquered enemies, metaphorically depicted by the bound prisoner being mastered, or to name the locality in which the battle


took place. In making an indication of this kind, however, the image on the Battlefield Palette would be going well beyond notations used to this date in late prehistoric representation—namely, what I call the "cipher keys," or symbolic motifs that represent the act of viewing rather than the content of the scene to be viewed, employed to activate the image. Instead it would be functioning as a hieroglyph proper—a "caption" of an episode or a statement of a more general message. Whatever the case, whether a cipher key, a hieroglyph proper, or something else altogether, the artist was not quite comfortable about including it in the image. Evidently used to working with uninterrupted pictorial narrative text, he squeezed the right side of the composition awkwardly downward, about half the height of a single band, to accommodate it. Many commentators on the Battlefield Palette, not noticing the anomaly introduced by the sign at the edge of the image, have therefore failed to see that it presents four bands of four figures each. They describe a composition more like that of the Oxford and Hunter's Palettes, even though the maker of the latter (Fig. 26), facing a similar formal challenge, had managed to include the "shrine" and "double bull" above the figures of a lion and cub without difficulty. (The same problem is solved differently in a later example: the right-hand group in the top band of the image, presented here as three separate forms [bound prisoner, mastering dog or jackal, and cipher key or hieroglyph] is brought together on the Narmer Palette as a single compact form with a tripartite structure: the rebus" [Fig. 38, reverse, top right] comprises the conquered enemy and the ruler represented in animal form [wild dog/jackal or falcon] plus a notation or symbol for place and/or number.)

Moving down from the top of the palette, three forms representing victorious captors in the second band of the image, apparently figuring the ruler or the ruler's victorious army, enter from the sidelines. The Ibis and Falcon standards, on the left side of the cosmetic saucer, and a robed personage, on the right, each follow three defeated, bound enemies wearing penis sheaths but otherwise naked. Although the robed personage has been called a goddess or a Libyan (see Vandier 1952: 586), the entire narrative and metaphorical structure of the image—in the overall context of the chain of replications—suggests identification as one of the ruler's retainers; each zone of the image on the


Battlefield Palette consistently presents three enemies and three "representatives" of the ruler, while the ruler's presence as such remains outside depiction.[2] With arms bound behind their backs, the enemies are being marched by the victorious captors toward the center of the compositional field—that is, toward the cosmetic saucer or the wild space outside representation—where presumably the ruler is placed.

An indecipherable motif, now mostly missing, appears in front of the enemy on the right, mastered by the robed personage. It might be a weight hanging around the prisoner's neck, or perhaps an independent glyph—for example, the bottom part of a rebus like the one on the reverse of the Narmer Palette (although its ovoid outline does not have the shape of Narmer's stand of papyrus stalks). The fate of the three bound prisoners in this band of the image is not directly depicted; they may be about to be judged and then strangled or decapitated. (Perhaps they are to be choked by a heavy rope noose or decapitated by a blow of the mace like the ten bound prisoners depicted after the decapitating blow on the Narmer Palette [Fig. 38, obverse, top right.] Their death must precede having their broken bodies thrown to scavengers, depicted in the bottom band of the image and possibly in the top band as well; and their death must follow the moment of judgment, in which—as the viewer will discover in unfolding the narrative image—there apparently remains the possibility of being spared by acknowledging the ruler.

Williams and Logan (1987: 253, 271) have interpreted the "return and sacrifice of prisoners"—what seems to be depicted in this band of the image and perhaps an aspect of its theme as a whole—as part of a larger "pharaonic" iconography that they hope to reconstruct in late prehistoric image making: a cycle" depicting the "expected liturgical activities of the ruler"—namely, smiting his enemy (or its representation in ceremonial actions), "possibly hunting," traveling by river in a sacred bark to a paneled palace facade, and officiating at the Sed -festival or jubilee ceremonials. There are numerous later parallels for the capture, display, and execution of prisoners depicted on the Battlefield Palette—including the Narmer Palette and the roughly contemporary rock relief from Gebel Sheikh Suleiman (Fig. 35) showing bound prisoners and slain enemies (Murnane 1987), a door socket from Hierakonpolis (Quibell


Fig. 35
Relief of bound and fallen prisoners, etc., from Gebel Sheikh Suleiman, Upper Egypt, early First
Dynasty (time of Narmer?). 
From Murnane 1987 by permission of the author.


Fig. 36
Incised reliefs of slain enemies from base of limestone statue of Khasekhemuwy 
(see Fig. 51), late Second Dynasty. 
From Quibell and Green 1900–1901

and Green 1900–1901: I, pl. 3; Davis 1989: fig. 6.26) representing a prisoner or slain enemy with arms bound behind his back, and the incised reliefs of slain enemies on the statue bases of King Khasekhemuwy from the end of the Second Dynasty (Figs. 36, 51), as well as other minor examples, especially among the group of early dynastic carved ivories from Hierakonpolis (see the full list of parallels cited by Williams and Logan 1987: 247, 256, 267–71). Deriving from historical contexts somewhat or considerably later than the Battlefield Palette, all these examples are "later" replications, likely to be revisionary in the same way the Battlefield Palette revises the Hunter's and the Hunter's revises the Oxford. It is not feasible here to explore the disjunctive relations between the Battlefield and Narmer Palettes and later images. But at least it is clear that the motif of the bound and slain prisoner was taken up by early dynastic state artists for their own purposes, as a selection from a retrospectively constituted group of possibilities, regardless of its "earlier" significations. In canonical representation it was developed as an individual image of established pharaonic rule worthy of replication in its own right; expressively magnified, it was often combined with other motifs in a complex iconography (see Davis 1989: 64–82; Hall 1989).


Since the Battlefield Palette is one of the earliest unequivocal versions of the theme of sacrificed prisoners bound by ropes, however, it would be anachronistic to read back from the later, canonical images to specify its meaning. Rather, the meaning of later and canonical images must be seen as repeating and revising whatever the Battlefield Palette represents. The act of smiting was depicted in the Decorated Tomb painting from Hierakonpolis (Fig. 5), probably to be dated to the Nagada IIc/d period and thus well before the Battlefield Palette. Immediate preparations for an act of smiting seem to be depicted on an incense burner from Grave L24 at Qustul, Nubia, dated to the Nagada II/III transition (Williams 1986: 158, fig. 56). The Narmer Palette—which I would date after the Battlefield Palette on both typological and structural grounds—has the scene of smiting occupying the central place on the reverse side of the image. Therefore we can assume that the motif of prisoners bound and slain on the Battlefield Palette was associated with an established—but, if replicable, therefore revisable—story about smiting the enemy; we have no independent, nonanachronistic evidence, however, about what that story "meant" for its late prehistoric viewers.

Although in either case the narrative tells a story about a "ruler" and an enemy," it cannot have signified exactly the same thing for the resident of a small-scale ranked polity led by a local ruler, however elaborate his court, as for the subject of the national, authoritarian state—if such is the measure of the social difference between a viewer in the age of the Battlefield Palette and a viewer in the reign of Khasekhemuwy (Figs. 36, 51). For example, the enemy of a late prehistoric polity might have been the leader of a neighboring natural irrigation basin fifteen or twenty kilometers away (see Butzer 1976) or the population of another area of Egypt; by contrast, the enemy of the dynastic state was usually a foreigner, or sometimes a criminal, social revolutionary, or religious reformer (for social and religious controversy at the end of the Second Dynasty, see Edwards 1972: 30–35 and Kemp 1983: 54). The motif of prisoners bound and slain could be replicated to have a meaning in either of these contexts.[3]

We must, then, look carefully at the way the image on the Battlefield Palette actually presents the general narrative—an available if possibly evolving


one—of capturing and killing an enemy. It is not surprising that the text should be related to the existing pictorial texts of animals in rows, carnivore hunting prey, and human beings hunting and otherwise doing battle with wild animals, as on the Ostrich, Oxford, and Hunter's Palettes (Figs. 25–29). Given the formal and structural similarities between these earlier images and the Battlefield and Narmer Palettes, the narrative of capturing and killing human enemies probably depended metaphorically on such earlier narratives and was initially produced as a replicatory revision of them.

In the band below the cosmetic saucer (the third band from the top) on the right, one of the enemies, his arms still bound but his penis sheath absent or removed, lies on the ground. If it is a battlefield, the battle has already taken place and the victors have left the scene; a scavenging raven plucks out this enemy's eyes. Like the "battlefield" scenes above the saucer, which also present an "aftermath," this depiction would be preceded by the forced march of the prisoners toward the saucer (in the second band). Evidently the saucer is the wild unrepresented place containing the ruler's decisive blow—here advanced more literally into the scene than on the Hunter's Palette (Fig. 28)-where the prisoners are slain before their corpses are tossed out on the field.

Indeed the owner actually holding the palette must grasp it at just the left and right edges of the second band where the prisoners are being thrust into the center of the composition. The viewer no longer literally twists the palette around to view the image—as on the Hunter's Palette (Figs. 31, 32), where the narrative is pictured in a way that requires physical reorientation of the image from upright to horizontal and back. Here the same ellipsis does not call for such handling in the process of unfolding the narrative: the image includes in the pictorial text what was earlier physically performed by the viewer on the pictorial text.

The bottom (fourth) band of the image presents a final depiction of the battlefield or, more exactly, of the morgue—the place where the enemies, captured, judged, and executed by the ruler and the ruler's representatives, are thrown to be torn apart by scavengers. Here three enemies, "twins" of the three enemies in the second band about to enter the wild space and encounter the ruler, lie slain on the ground. Unlike their living "twins" above, however, their


arms are no longer bound, and they have been stripped of their penis sheaths; since they are dead, they no longer need to be confined, and in fact they are utterly exposed to the elements.

All three enemies are depicted with their heads completely twisted around—an especially vivid detail that can be fully understood only by reconstructing the narrative events as the image requires that they be constituted. Before the battle the enemies presumably failed to see and acknowledge the power and danger of the ruler; after the battle, as the literal depiction shows, they are rounded up by the ruler's representatives. And after their capture—here the pictorial text drops into ellipsis, in the wild space in the middle of the second band—the enemies must actually see the ruler who comes up directly before them and condemns them to die; the ruler or his representatives then kill them by breaking their necks, and their bodies are tossed onto the battlefield or into the wilderness. The pictorial text takes up again after this ellipsis: in the bottom band is a group of three vultures and three ravens—one of each species for each of the dead enemies—in the act of alighting on the battlefield. The scavenger birds come from the same direction as the ruler's standards and officials—the ruler's "hands"—and the place of the real owner holding the palette itself. Two of the ravens peck at the hands and feet of the left-hand enemy. Moving to attack the right-hand enemy, the third raven, noticing the scene immediately "above" it where a lion mauls an enemy, apparently anticipates being able to make off with the victim's entrails. While two of the vultures have not yet landed, the third, right-band vulture approaches the head of the middle enemy to pluck out his eyes. In sum, having first failed to see the power and danger of the ruler, the prisoners must die with their heads twisted around, as if to be able to see what had come up "behind" them, but with their sight obliterated any such knowledge is gained too late to spare them the ruler's judgment.

Since the viewer literally occupies the ruler's place above the saucer, holding the palette and looking down into the depicted scene, it is the viewer who in constructing the narrative performs the "twisting around" that the image figuratively builds into its composition and narrates as the condition of the enemies' bodies. It is the viewer as well as the ruler who thrusts the captured prisoners


into the morgue. Unseen like the ruler, whose fierce action always remains outside view, the viewer masks the ruler. He or she is like one of the ruler's officials holding a prisoner with arms bound: he or she holds the palette, which is no longer to be moved physically in the hands but rather is held upright, its image folded around itself.

The Ruler's Mask and the Ruler's Enemy

Just below the cosmetic saucer, the third band in the composition depicts a moment immediately after the bound prisoners emerge from the wild place they are shown as entering in the band above. (The blow remains unrepresented in that wild place.) The metaphorical and narrative relation between the third band and the rest of the image is complex and, in view of the missing information once contained in the lost portions of the palette, somewhat uncertain. Presented at noticeably larger scale than any others in the image, implying their preeminent place in the narrative, are two figures flanking a lion disemboweling a fallen enemy. The latter could be a chieftain or, at least, could symbolize an army, territory, or population inimical to the ruler. His arms are unbound, and he has been stripped of his penis sheath; in the literal terms that are operative here, he has been—like his "twins" above and below—captured, condemned, and killed, his broken body thrown onto the battlefield or into the wilderness.

The identity of the lion is more mysterious. It is conceivable that the image should be taken literally at this point—in the same way the Hunter's Palette (Fig. 28) might be interpreted—as depicting a lion actually mangling the abandoned body of one of the executed enemies he encounters in scavenging. But unlike the vultures and ravens, the lion is not naturally a scavenger; rather, he attacks and kills his own prey. Moreover, the structure of the overall image—with two bands already presented, viewing from top to bottom, prior to this group—suggests that the lion has metaphorical connotations. Each of the four bands in the image pairs a metaphorical representation of the ruler, his power, and its preconditions and consequences—the wild dog or jackal in the top band, the standards and official in the second band, and the vultures and ravens in the bottom band—with a group consisting of three enemy figures.


According to this scheme the lion in the third band, paired with a group of three slain enemies, stands in for the ruler. (For a discussion of the lion on the Battlefield Palette as the king, see, for example, Spencer 1980: no. 576.)

An association between the lion and the "ruler" —whether this real identity is a matriarch, a village headman, or a hereditary national monarch—seems to have been current from the late Nagada II/III period (for instance, on the incense burner from Grave L24, Qustul, Nubia [Williams 1986]). In later Egyptian state religion and canonical iconography, the king's identity—like that of some divinities—was continuous with or immanent in other creatures; for example, early dynastic lion sculptures, probably set up in temple grounds, may have had associations with the monarch (Davis 1981b; Adams 1984). On the Narmer Palette (Fig. 38) the figure of King Narmer, depicted in human form in his identity as king of Upper Egypt, is singled out in scale and compositional placement in the same way as the lion on the Battlefield Palette.

We cannot be certain, however, that the later beliefs about the king's nature were held also in late prehistoric society, despite the possibility of some available associations between lions and "rulers." And other representations must have been current as well: here the evidence reviewed in this study is quite direct. As the Oxford and Hunter's Palettes imply, associations between animals and human beings involve something other than direct symbolic equation; rather, they are complex metaphorical patterns of relationship, poorly understood even for later canonical Egyptian art (see Davis 1989: 77–82). For instance, on the Hunter's Palette, ruler and lion are not identical but stand as victor to vanquished, unseen to seen, representer to represented, and so forth.

Whether or not late prehistoric rulers or Egyptian pharaohs (or both) were imagined to have a nature including an animal aspect or appearances, the ruler's human aspect should still be distinguished from his animal, which—unless we happen to believe Egyptian iconography—must be understood as symbolic and so interpreted in the scene of representation. Given that the human person of the ruler wielding the blow against his enemy does not literally appear in the image on the Battlefield Palette, the lion that does appear—either as separate from or as a symbolic aspect of the ruler—masks the ruler's presence.

The lion probably "is" the ruler in a general, extended sense; but this statement is shorthand for a particular relationship of representation we should


not elide if we hope to understand the images under consideration. For example, it is not clear why the lion's tail is curving up between his legs rather than floating over his back, as might be more natural (and as was certainly more usual in late prehistoric and early dynastic depictions of lions in general [see Baumgartel 1960: 100; Davis 1981b; Adams 1984]). Nevertheless, like many apparently insignificant or fortuitous details in these images, this one makes sense in the context of the chain of replications. If the lion on the Battlefield Palette does represent the ruler, the image maker may be specifically concerned to differentiate his lion-ruler, not exposed to an attack from behind, from the earlier lion-enemies —for on the Hunter's Palette, an upraised tail had exposed the lion's anal-genital region to the lead hunter's arrow. Indeed the end of the Battlefield lion's tail stands in quite vividly for the beast's phallus—the bulbous tip emerges like the glans of the penis—and therefore, in the metaphorics of the image as a whole, for the phallus of the ruler.[4] On the Hunter's Palette the anal-genital region is the site of the lion-enemy's defeat, his powerlessness before his human antagonist standing at a distance from him and coming up behind; thus, on the Battlefield Palette, the anal-genital region of the lion-ruler is securely defended and aggrandized. It is almost certain that the maker of the Battlefield Palette had seen the Hunter's Palette, for the two lions have much in common stylistically, except, precisely, for the way each has been inserted into the narrative metaphorics. Clearly the possibility of attack from behind concerns the maker of the Battlefield Palette in that the enemies killed by the ruler or his minions have their heads twisted around. What is behind them, what they see or do not see there, continues to be a subject of representation. In fact the third band of the image is quite straightforward about these relations: it relates or narrates them as its subject. Whereas the left-hand, escaping, fleeing, or freed enemy looks back over his shoulder to see the lion-ruler—protected from behind by his tail—facing away from him and mauling the fallen enemy, the right-hand dead enemy cannot see the lion-ruler; he faces in the other direction, and his eyes are plucked out by a scavenging raven.

An image does not always produce or enable a viewer to render a successful presentation of the narrative it ostensibly intends; in fact, for a variety of reasons, depiction always exceeds narrative statement as such (see the Appendix).


Prior to exploring some striking examples of these difficulties in the Narmer Palette, the central passage of depiction in the third band of the image on the Battlefield Palette—the representaton of the lion-ruler and his enemy—serves as a preliminary case in point.

Because the image maker was attempting to pull together the three axes of the scene—left and right, up and down or above and below, and in and out or back and forward—he had considerable trouble rendering the figure of the fallen enemy. Depicted in profile and with what seems to be a broken back, the enemy looks sightlessly up at the lion who masks the ruler placed "above" the scene (or, from the point of view of the fallen enemy, "behind" his forward representation in the figure of the lion). But we should look carefully at the way the enemy's thighs, arms, and legs appear in relation to the forequarters of the lion. The lion's right forward leg, in front of the other leg, is placed on the enemy's left leg, thrown to the right over his abdomen (the stretched muscle around the iliac crest is carefully rendered); but the lion's left forward leg, "behind" the other, is placed on what seems to be the enemy's right arm, thrown to the left over his midriff, for the enemy's head is actually—just as we would expect—twisted around. The image maker depicted the enemy as totally twisted around himself and bent around the forequarters of the lion in a half-circle on the ground.

All the obliquity and torque in the larger scene of the enemy's defeat—what served on the Oxford Palette (Fig. 26) as the key to the cipher of the image and on the Hunter's Palette (Fig. 28) as the entire mechanism of representation—is advanced into and made literal in the enemy's very body in the scene on the Battlefield Palette. Just as the viewer "twists" and breaks apart the image on the palette to unfold its narrative of the defeat of an enemy, so does the narrative text twist and break apart the image maker's production of the depicted figure of the enemy. As we will see with the Narmer Palette, the blow that falls within the literal depiction also hits the image maker producing that depiction in the scene of representation as a whole.

In the pictorial text the enemy's head, although twisted around, appears to face upward. If the enemy is bent in a half-circle around the lion's forequarters "back" to "front," then the viewer—looking "down" at the image and inter-


preting this figure—reconstructs the enemy as gazing sightlessly not just at the lion "above" him but also out at the viewer . The pictorial text finds a literal means to relate how the viewer figuratively stands behind and looks over the shoulder of the lion beneath whom the enemy gazes back upward in his moment of death. This is to say, in turn, that the human person of the ruler must stand beside and behind the viewer on this side of the depiction. The "twisting around," the mechanism of the scene of representation on the Hunter's Palette, is now embedded as the central node of the intersection of the three axes of literal depiction on the Battlefield Palette—left and right, across the bands of the composition; up and down, between the tiers; and back and forth, in the fictive space that the pictorial text attempts to render. Given that the construction is ambiguous and the image maker was undeniably disconcerted in his efforts at rendition, it is not surprising to find the "twisting around" elsewhere in the scene of representation as well: the image maker, as viewer, goes through contortions in attempting to render the body of the enemy twisted around by the ruler; the enemy's body is deformed in a wild space where the ruler, as we have seen, stands not only before his enemy but also behind the viewer. The image maker's own narrative—or, more exactly, his "voice" as the image's narrator—thus expresses the positions of both ruler and enemy, positions that can never be reconciled.

Losing Sight, Being Upright

To reiterate, on the right side of the central pair of lion-ruler and fallen enemy a prisoner lies on the ground, stripped of his penis sheath, his arms bound and his eyes being plucked out by a scavenging raven. This victim is matched on the left side of the central pair by the figure of another enemy—one who is able to see—standing upright, with arms unbound. The only enemy figure not directly confined, attacked, or approached by one of the ruler's representatives, he apparently escapes death, perhaps freed by the ruler. As he seems to edge or "tiptoe" to the sidelines or outside the scene—toward the mastered ground, beyond the literal depiction, whence the representatives of the ruler had ad-


vanced and where the ruler himself is placed—the upright enemy looks over his shoulder to witness the lion's victory over the fallen enemy. The lion does not see him, for he faces in the other direction, but nonetheless the escaping enemy acknowledges what he sees—namely, the defeat of his comrade—and lifts his hand in recognition.[5]

In sum the third band of the image—escaping enemy, lion-ruler and fallen enemy, dead enemy—depicts the ruler's position and the victim's alternatives in relation to it, like differently constructed groups on the Hunter's Palette (Figs. 28–30). The victim may be allowed the three axes of "life" —left/right, up/down, back/forward—or may lose them, precisely according to what the ruler gives or withholds in a decisive blow establishing the order of the depicted scene.

Complicated to describe in prose, the ingenious narrative format of the image, once identified, is quite straightforward. In the context of existing images like the ones we have already considered, it must have been readily legible to contemporary viewers. Although we have examined how the viewer gradually unfolds the narrative in the process of viewing, working back and forth among many passages of pictorial text, it is useful to organize our results in a brief review of the entire narrative in uninterrupted sequence. (Notice, however, that this review is not a summary of the narrative experience; a viewer does not obtain the entire narrative all at once or uninterruptedly but rather generates it through repetitions and recollections of pictorial text and interpretations of ellipsis and ambiguity. Rather, the summary states what a viewer, in looking back retrospectively over his or her viewing of the Battlefield Palette, presumably knows he or she has obtained precisely as the narrative coherence of that viewing. It is also a partial statement of what a viewer, having constructed the narrative of the Battlefield Palette, might then take to the viewing of other, "later" images in the chain of replications, such as the Narmer Palette [Fig. 38]; once encountered, these later images require the viewer's retrospective experience with the earlier one.)

The image is divided into four zones, each depicting an episode in a narrative of the ruler's victory in capturing, judging, killing, and disposing of the bodies of three enemies. The story begins on the left side of the top band with


a vivid depiction of the battlefield with strewn enemy corpses. While the missing material precludes a definitive interpretation, the scene probably depicts the immediate aftermath of the battle. If this is so the top left group of enemies represents those killed in battle, and the following bands represent the capture of surviving enemies who will be judged (top right band and second band), then killed by the ruler or his representatives (third band) and tossed onto the field (fourth band). Whereas the top band would thus be the logical beginning of the narrative, it could also depict enemies to be killed after being judged by the ruler or his representatives; the wild dog or jackal is apparently binding a surviving enemy, a group that resembles the enemies with standards on the left and the enemy and robed personage on the right in the band below. This scene—perhaps it is confined to the right side of the top band—would be a later episode in the entire narrative of the ruler's contest against his enemies. The two possibilities are not mutually exclusive and seem to be separated as the left and right portions, the "first" and the "next," of the "beginning" of the narrative. Especially if the top band included a cipher key or "hieroglyphic" symbol in the upper right corner, then it would be an announcement of the general theme as well as an instruction for viewing. Certainly as narrative material the top band is a preliminary run-through of the principal events of battle and capture, setting up a frame of reference for the more detailed representation of the theme in succeeding bands. In other words it has the narrative status both of beginning the story and of providing a textual image of the entire sequence.

The story proceeds in the second band to present three captured enemies being prepared for actual or ritual slaughter by the ruler's representatives. It implies that the captives are being brought before the ruler for judgment—they are being marched "toward" some goal or fate—although his person does not directly appear. The ellipsis is filled in by the following, bottom two bands, which show the dead enemies (one with arms still bound) as well as one living, freed or fleeing enemy. Because the third band contains the figure of the lion best construed as representing the ruler and what can then be interpreted as the victim's alternatives, the viewer is able retrospectively to construe the center of


the second band, the cosmetic saucer, as the wild place where the ruler actually confronts his enemies, condemns them to death, and carries out the execution.

The third band dramatizes the ruler's decision and explicitly states the fortunes of, and the alternatives facing, the enemies—with special focus on a principal enemy, presumably the enemy leader, represented as the special target of the ruler's leonine power, his ferocity and implacability "as a lion," inviolable "from behind" whereas the enemies are in danger there. Although one enemy on the left side of the band manages to escape or has been freed—he seems to acknowledge or accept the ruler—another enemy on the right side and the enemy leader himself have been executed and left to the scavengers on the field.

As a kind of "fade-out," and echoing the first band, the bottom band concludes the story with another view of the battlefield, a more literal presentation of material covered indirectly in the zone above it. The splayed corpses of the enemies who did not recognize the ruler are left to rot as scavenger birds pick apart their eyes and limbs.

This review indicates that it is possible to follow the story—as a sequence of four bands viewed top to bottom, with passages of depiction arranged from left to right—as obeying chronological and causal logic, with some foreshadowing and flashback introduced to construct the prinicpal ellipsis, the presence and place of the ruler's blow. But another construction is equally possible, shifting the specific metaphorical and narrative valence of individual motifs. As episodes of the story the four bands can also be understood to thread together two strands running parallel simultaneously—namely, the scenes of death and destruction on the battlefield (top left, third, and fourth bands) and the scenes of capture, judgment, and killing by the ruler (top right, second, and third bands). In an image that relates the ruler capturing, judging, and killing his enemies in the process of doing battle with them, it is easier to construe the third band as part of the story of death on the battlefield if the lion in the third band is taken literally as a scavenging animal rather than metaphorically as a representation of the ruler. But these two strands of story material cannot be separated absolutely, and either construction of a story line with its appropriate pictorial text is possible. Indeed, it is significant that the image maker appears


not to have cared which particular interpretation of the image a viewer adopted. As well as producing a tightly constructed ellipsis, the text permits narrative ambiguity, multiple unfoldings of the narrative logic in different elliptical sequences realized by the pictorial text, and hence a substantial metaphorical play with what would otherwise be the discrete, specific "meaning" of motifs.

The Symbolic Side of the Narrative

While it is possible to understand most elements of the image on the obverse of the Battlefield Palette, despite its missing segments, the relation of the other side to the narrative remains obscure. The reverse presents a single group of four figures—equivalent, it would seem, to one band on the obverse. It shows two gerenuk or giraffes—from their hooves to the tips of their ears, spanning the full height of the four bands on the obverse—searching for dates in the fronds of a palm tree, the central vertical axis of the scene. From the surviving fragment we can reconstruct the tree as having ten fronds on each side and two bunches of dates above. The bottom edge of the object serves as the baseline for the animals; it is straight except for slightly curving tips at the bottom angles of the palette. Two plump birds of unidentified species, sometimes said to be guinea fowl, flank the gerenuk on right and left. Apparently the top of this side of the palette was decorated with a form, now unreadable, echoing the shape of the bottom edge. It is possible that it should be reconstructed as a canopy, plain on the bottom but ornamented—as on the Narmer Palette (Fig. 38)—with bucrania (perhaps heads of the cow goddess), royal palace facade (serekh ), and ruler's name. (I cannot follow Williams and Logan [1987: 264] in taking the form as the king's sacred bark, for this object—for example, on the obverse top right of the Narmer Palette—has a distinctively different outline.)

It may be that whereas the obverse of the Battlefield Palette depicts a state of war (Asselberghs 1961: 285—or, as I describe it, a complex narrative of the ruler's blow), the reverse depicts peace, stability, or mutuality. Expressing the metaphor of animals quietly browsing for food, it could come before or after (or both) the image on the obverse, as the order disturbed by and returning after war. In this case, as on the Oxford Palette (Figs. 26, 27), the viewer can


take the scene as a chapter of the narrative belonging somewhere in the story related by the two sides of the palette. That the reverse of the Battlefield Palette presents only a single motif, however, rather than the band or zone format of the obverse and all other narrative images we have considered, suggests a difference from the other scenes in the story and hints at additional functions.

Perhaps, then, we should see the reverse as the key to the cipher of the overall narrative, like the running ostrich and twisted gazelle on the Oxford Palette or the "shrine" and "double bull" on the Hunter's Palette (Fig. 28). The gerenuk on the right is depicted lifting up a frond to peer within, searching for dates (the missing gerenuk on the left is probably doing likewise) somewhat as the viewer moves down through the bands of depiction on the obverse. After scanning from top to bottom and interpreting the narrative of enemies' capture and death, the viewer could flip to the reverse for both a completion of the story—filling in the initial and the final states of the narrative in a metaphorical presentation of peace—and a confirmation of the way to produce the narrative. While it is puzzling to find the principal key to the cipher of the narrative on the reverse of the image, at the "end" of the text, rather than on the obverse top at its "beginning," as had been done on the Oxford and Hunter's Palettes, keys to the cipher of late prehistoric narrative images are inserted where they are required; the twisted gazelle appears at the bottom of the obverse of the Oxford Palette, its narrative status unfolding "late" in the viewing, while on the Hunter's Palette flying ostrich and leaping hare function when the central passage of depiction is viewed with the long axis of the object in horizontal orientation. Furthermore, as is clear from the same contexts, the function of being a passage of depiction set within the narrative as a story episode and that of being a symbol guiding narrativization itself, a literal or metaphorical representation of the act of viewing, are not mutually exclusive. If the reverse of the Battlefield Palette begins or ends the narrative with a depiction of the peace the motif is believed to connote, then it can simultaneously represent the interpretation of that narrative in its specific details.

Yet another possibility is that the image on the reverse of the palette should not be integrated into the narrative on the obverse in any sense. It could be an independent, even non-narrative image somehow related to the narrative as a


metaphor for its themes or perhaps as an entirely unrelated symbol for something else. For example, if the decorated palette had a "magical" function (with the magical efficacy deriving in turn from the power of the representation), then the reverse of the palette, physically "behind" and protecting the "rear" of the cosmetic saucer and the image around it, could have been meant (as a magical prophylactic or apotropaic sign) to protect the object and the potency of its image by warding off harmful influences. The protection of the lion-ruler from behind—in the context of the chain of replications—is thus observed not only within the depicted scene but also outside it, on the other side of the image. There are possible parallels for this setup: for example, the "smiting" image on the reverse of the Narmer Palette (Fig. 38) is placed "behind," both masking and protecting, the cosmetic saucer that, as on the Battlefield Palette, is the place of the ruler's blow. (On the Narmer Palette, however, whatever their further functional implications, the passages of depiction on both sides of the object are connected as units of a single narrative image.) It remains to be seen, however, what defines the narrative and/or metaphorical relation between the depictions on the two sides of the Battlefield Palette: why should gerenuk grazing in palm trees "magically" protect the palette?

Natural and Unnatural

A certain proportion of the metaphorics of the Oxford and Hunter's Palettes is retained on the obverse of the Battlefield Palette; the general structure of the narrative image replicates as it revises the earlier images. There are, however, some striking disjunctions between them. In the earlier works the lion was a natural force quite different from man (Oxford Palette) or even an antagonistic force to be mastered by man (Hunter's Palette). By contrast, on the Battlefield Palette the lion's natural properties—for example, his ferocity, size, and strength—are assimilated to the ruler's identity, previously rendered as the unnatural force of the human hunter masked as, and by, nature. On the Battlefield Palette, then, the ruler has gained the ground approached from the sidelines on the Oxford Palette and vigorously contested on the Hunter's Palette. It is now his ground; its natural inhabitants are aspects of his being; no longer outside


him and his natural antagonist in nature, the lion represents an aspect of his own being, for the ruler is now nature. Whereas the lion-enemy of the Hunter's Palette was exposed to a fatal attack from behind, the lion-ruler of the Battlefield Palette is fully protected: his tail is tucked up over and around his analgenital region; the enemy in back of him flees instead of attacking him there. In general, rather than masked hunter representing nature in order to master nature, nature now represents the ruler in order to master the human world. As a consequence, on the Battlefield Palette the ruler as a natural, leonine force defeats his human enemies, who are, so the pictorial metaphorics has it, unnatural among men—that is, failing, like the nature mastered on the Oxford and Hunter's Palettes, to see the power and danger of the hunter. From a central, well-grounded place within or as the heart of nature, the ruler wrenches his unseeing enemies from their baselines, topples them from their axes, obliterates their sight, and casts them out into a nature that consumes them. The vultures and ravens picking apart the limbs and gouging out the eyes of the fallen enemies are the latest replications of the carnivores-and-prey formula; they are the natural antagonists for the ruler's enemies, human beings unnatural among men.

Represented by his leonine double and identified with the properties attributed to it by the pictorial text, like carnivores and prey in the established formula the lion-ruler must still confront directly those human agents who would resist his dominion. Thus the image maker showed the lion's claw biting deeply into the flesh of the fallen enemy, just as on the Hunter's Palette the image maker had taken special interest in the beast's ravening jaws. (On another palette fragment [Fig. 37], the king-as-bull tramples an enemy as his standards lasso another enemy figure. Too little of this striking work, the Bull Palette, has been preserved to enable us to construct the narrative image; it may relate closely to the Battlefield Palette.) No longer advancing from the outside of society to the inside of nature, as on the Oxford Palette, but coming from the inside of the natural order of society to the outside, to what is unnatural to it, the ones who represent the natural and the unnatural in society meet in the face-to-face confrontation of the lion-ruler and his enemy. But no gap has really been closed. What is truly unnatural—the human person of the ruler himself,


Fig. 37.
Bull Palette: carved schist cosmetic palette, early First Dynasty. 
Courtesy Musée du Louvre, Paris.

merely represented by his natural doubles—does not appear in the scene. For the identities within the depicted scene, the ruler is outside it, still fully in the wild. No one in the scene of representation, including the viewer beside or behind whom he stands, sees him directly. His presence is immanent in the twisting around, the oblique progress, that insinuates his power into the scene, bringing the scene within his striking range.


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