Timeless and completely perfect.
It can’t be more, better or more accurately.

SCROLL DOWN FOR MORE

CULTURE

Seal of Pylos. Forgotten Masterpiece

MARCH 25, 2021 | NAVARINO, PELOPONNESE | 11 MIN

It is May 2015. The archaeological site of Nestor's Palace in the southwestern Peloponnese, 15 km from the modern town of Pylos on the shores of the Gulf of Navarino.

The rocky island of Sfakteria and several smaller ones, the site of naval battles one from the Peloponnesian War in the 5th century BC and a second from the time of the Greek Revolutionary War in the early nineteenth century, great Italian influence in the area. Nestor’s Palace a bit inland, discovered in 1939, thanks to the guidelines taken from Homer’s Iliad, because Nestor is a literary character (but it is possible that also real). The palace is one of the classic examples of Mycenaean architecture (15th-12th century BC), currently a tourist attraction open to visitors.

Two American archaeologists – Jack Davis and Sharon Stocker – do not get permission to excavate on the slopes of the Palace, so they decide to explore a bit further. They choose an olive grove, although at first glance it does not promise anything particularly interesting. Three stones arranged quite regularly may point to the Mycenae tomb, but not necessarily. Already one meter below the surface, the pickaxe hits something hard. A characteristic clink of metal, the green color so bronze10 – bingo, we have a discovery! It turns out that it is entirely perfectly preserved, never plundered by robbers, the Mycenaean tomb from around 1450 BC, later called the Tomb of the Griffin Warrior.

And inside among others: 4 gold rings of intricate work, a gold necklace, a chain with pearls, a bronze sword with a handle set with ivory and gold, two daggers, spear points, plaques and six ivory combs, 1000 beads of gold, carnelian, amethyst, agate and jasper and a bronze mirror whose handle was carved from ivory… together over 2,000 artifacts, items of Minoan and Mycenae culture mixed up together! The biggest archaeological discovery in Greece for over half a century, the need to revise our ideas about this distant era, articles in professional and popular press, fame and “discovery of life” for a pair of archaeologists. However, our history has not even started yet…

A year later, a real masterpiece appears to researchers eyes! Something that fades all previously found treasures put together! 

It appears in a literal sense, only then it is cleaned of impurities and leaves the box in which all the less interesting, as it seemed at the beginning, finds were collected – normal  thing for archaeological discoveries. Yet, the jewels made of gold, ivory and semi-precious stones lay next to it.
This something, it’s a small, yellow-brown agate seal, 3.6 x 2 cm in size (!) But a genius of it is not in size, but in what is depicted, or rather how it is depicted. We have a scene of fight ahead. Three characters: a warrior with a sword is dealing a lethal blow to an opponent armed with a large shield, spears and helmet. At their feet a third, already dead unfortunate fighter with unnaturally bent body. Mastery of performance is completely unbelievable. You can see at first glance that we are dealing with a masterpiece. First of all, it is difficult to understand how the author managed to give such small details, since today we can not see them without a magnifying glass? (it was invented in the Middle Ages). Secondly, the quality of the representation of the human body – expression, musculature, perfection of proportions – reaches at least the level of classical Greece, that is, it exceeds its time by 1000 years!

The most important, however, is the absolute mastery of composing this scene and putting it into a rhomboidal shape, capturing a unique moment and the amazing dynamics of the arrangement of three entwined characters. The aggression and bravado of a warrior with a sword are so suggestive that they cause a thrill of terror to anyone who watches this scene. Timeless and completely perfect. It can’t be more, better or more accurately. A finished and closed work of art.

But why does this amaze us?

Are we still rooted in the belief that once man was less developed, perhaps even more primitive, and with time he just learned, developed skills and enriched artistic imagination, producing ever more perfect works of art? But, after all, the works of Phidias are not less perfect than the works of Michelangelo or Rodin. Maybe the question is wrong? Maybe we should be surprised how it happens that we are still delighted with some small seal made 3500 years ago? That the feelings that guided the author are still close to us and we can easily recognize them; especially the most basic feelings: triumph and tragedy, fear and pain, a sense of strength and fame of victory. But also the mastery of artistic workshop, with all its diversity of means of expression. So art as a universal, timeless language?

Pieczęć z Pylos

In narrations of our agate seal, one motif repeats: the need to revise our ideas about the history of culture, Mycenaean and two neighboring, i.e. Minoan and Greek culture in particular. The need to rewrite history.
But is it for sure? Is this really possible and will be done? Will Mycenaean Leonardo really have such power of influence? Although the comparison to the Italian genius is not properly justified. Leonardo had artists related to him, both predecessors and successors. The author of the Griffin Warrior seal has nothing. Apart from this famous item, more than 40 other seals were found in this tomb. None of them contain even the shadow of the agate warrior’s mastery (although they often depict the same scene). The seal of Pylos stands alone as a unique object and extremely difficult to understand in the context of its era (as far we can know it). To say that it is 1000 years ahead of its time is to say nothing. Because why not 3000 years? Michelangelo could make such an object (it contains some related features – accuracy of observation of the human body, some “mannerism” of the fighting poses), but he did not. Personally, I think he would lack some simplicity, strength and brutality. The Seal of the Griffin Warrior is so unique that an attempt to understand and explain it actually offers two possibilities: either it is a fake or a work of aliens! Although, after a brief reflection, these possibilities should also be rejected. For what is this counterfeit if the features of genius are visible at first glance? And how could aliens know the nature of earthly artistic creation and our expectations so well?

It seems, therefore, that the Seal of the Griffin Warrior will remain too unique and too inexplicable to change anything in our perceptions about distant eras. Researchers and archivists have too much evidence that, in general, it was just like in Crete at Knossos, at Nestor’s Palace at Pylos, or in times  of Pericles in Athens. And the Warrior from agate seals will remain proof that true artistic genius can always be revealed, in any era, even without preparation, announcements of predecessors and related currents. And what is most admirable: we still have enough sensitivity to see such real beauty.

YOU MAY ALSO LIKE

The Royal Tombs in darkness

Five weeks of cycling. 1,435 km and over 17,000 meters of elevation. In a sports or tourist sense, it’s not a feat; however, it was not about records, but about …

+ READ MORE

Secret life of cicada

It was in the middle of hot summer, the peak of the holiday season. I stood in front of the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion in Crete, among the crowd of …

+ READ MORE
Peloponnese by bike

Peloponnese by bike

Five weeks of cycling. 1,435 km and over 17,000 meters of elevation. In a sports or tourist sense, it’s not a feat; however, it was not about records, but about …

+ READ MORE

Eternal life of cars on Corfu

An integral part of the Corfu landscape are abandoned cars. Although “abandoned” is actually not the best word. It suggests that someone carelessly left the car in a random place …

+ READ MORE

My 55 Peaks on Olympus

I climbed (partially ran) 55 peaks higher than 2000 m on Olympus. It took exactly 40 hours, including about 5 hours for sleep. The exact parameters of the route are …

+ READ MORE

Blade Runner on Peloponnese

That day I wanted to cross the mountains. Not high. Separating the central part of the Peloponnese from the eastern coast. It was in the second week of my journey …

+ READ MORE