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On the rock nr. 50 of the National Park of Naquane (Capodiponte, CCSP relief) two warriors armed with short sword and small shield, adorned with ritual skirt and fringed helmet, dance around (or fight in front of) to another warrior who has his arms up and he is holding a long battle sword and a round shield in his hands  assuming an attitude of jubilation. In Iron Age rock art (VII-IV / III century BC) there are thousands pairs of warriors facing each other in a duel, but only in a limited number of cases between the two warriors, or near them, is represented a further element (anthropomorph, aquatic bird, cup ring or something else) that indicates in figurative terms the cosmological relationship existing between the image and the support that hosts it. The rhythmical and bloodless behavior of the warriors confirms that there is no battle going on, so much so that in the entire Camunian repertoire only a very small number of warriors is reached by sword shots. The rock scene 50 offers interesting hints to ponder. In the first place we find here the confirmation of a general rule: in each phase of the Iron Age the warriors facing each other are without exception portraits in profile. On the contrary, the central character is raised (as if suspended in the air) with respect to the support surface of the dancers and every body detail (head, arms, torso, lower limbs) expresses a frontal view, which inserts this figure into a category of super-human beings. Following an intuition by Silvio Ferri (Ferri, 1972), a few years ago I presented a hypothesis (G. Ragazzi, 1994), according to which the warrior at the center of the scene is the hero killed in the battle attending the funeral ritual held in his honor. We are facing what Berard calls the scene of “Anodos”, the ascent from the inferior world through a “chthonic passage” (C. Bérard, Anodoi, Essai sur l’imagerie des passages chthoniens, 1974) which links the “below “and the” above “.

Naquane. Anthropomorphic with arms facing down, of which only the upper part of the body is visible. Applying Claude Berard’s hypothesis to the Valcamonica’s iconographic repertoire, the anthropomorph of which only the upper part is visible is a spirit of the earth caught in a moment of its vertical movement of ascent on the earth (anodos) or descent into the inferior world (cathodos).

In Prehistory the rock represents a sacred space, a passage connecting the inferior world with the surface of the earth. The rock engravings constitute the formalized corpus of the relative cosmological knowledge. In the case of rock 50, the warrior has not only completed the passage, but is flying in the air. J. David Lewis Williams, a scholar of the Kalahari Bushmen (San People) rock art, also says that we must not understand the surface of the rock, or other types of sacral support, as a silent support that is limited to receiving a form. Rather, as he himself discovered by questioning the last Bushmen artists, the surface of the rock is conceived as a veil, a thin film that separates the human world from the underlying world, home of the spirits of the earth. According to the South African anthropologist, it is not possible to understand the rock paintings of the San people if it is not taken into account that the Bushman artist, translating the conceptions of his people into images, worked in full awareness that the support was a threshold that separates the two worlds. Some snakes, for example, are represented at the turn of the upper and lower reality, with some visible coils, because on this side of the veil, and others not represented because conceived by the artist still inside the rock.

Dos of Mirichì, Valcamonica, medium-late Iron Age (from Anati). Two warriors face each other in a ritual duel, not bloody. They are in fact armed with short swords and small shields (peltès) which, as happens in the Salii rite, were probably clashed against each other to produce sounds or noises. Between the two warriors, there is a small anthropomorph with arms bent at right angles and facing down where the seeds and the dead are deposited.

Some important iconographic studies (particularly Vernant, The death in the eyes, 1985) have remarked how even in the imaginary of ancient Greece the frontality indicates that man is placed face to face with an entity of divine nature, for example the mortal gaze of Medusa, and this makes the radical otherness of death perceptible. In this sense, the frontality expresses in a surprising way this position of transition and perhaps also the tragic ambivalence of the glorious death that takes the warrior away from humanity (Frontisi-Ducroux, 1986). On the basis of these premises the warrior represented in frontal position is the hero killed in battle, represented in the precise moment in which, after rising from the world of the dead, he attends the funeral games organized in his honor.

If the scenes of armed dance engraved on the Camunian rocks are an expression of the deep bond with the earth, this does not depend only on the context of the funeral ritual, as documented by the image engraved on the rock 50 of Naquane. In fact, other Camunian scenes show how the earth is not considered exclusively as a place where the dead are placed, but also that in which the seeds are planted. On a rock engraved by Seradina (Capodiponte) we can see a scene of plowing in which, together with the plow and the plow followed by a group of diggers, two anthropomorphs also participate in the act: a warrior armed with lance and shield which defends the seed just inserted into the earth, and an anthropomorph with the arms turned downwards that addresses a prayer to the earth. Since the two anthropomorphs are represented in a frontal position, we must conclude that their function is completely “metaphysical”.

Seradina, Capodiponte, rock nr. 12: In the plowing scene, in addition to the human figure driving the plow followed by the diggers,  were also represented two symbolic actions: the warrior who exercises his function as defender of the earth from all possible threats and the anthropomorph with his arms pointing to the earth who prays the spirits to protect the future harvest.

Also the dance of the Curetes sword described in the Cretan myth of the birth of Zeus, expresses a link with the earth very similar to that of the ancient Camuni. The myth says that after the birth of Jupiter, the Curetes, the warrior spirits in the service of Rhea, wife of Cronus, staged a sword dance during which the beating of the shields was crucial to cover the cry of Jupiter and save the newborn from the murderous rage of his father. What is striking about this myth is the surprising analogy with the history transmitted by popular tradition, according to which the newborn son of Rhea and Cronus, whose cry is covered by the noise produced by the shields, embodies the spirit of the vegetation in its budding stage that must be protected from the inclemency of natural events.

Sword dance of the Curetes, (Campanian terracotta found in Cerveteri, II-I century BC, British Museum, London). As also in the Camunian representations the shield is almost always opposed to another shield, their beat and the consequent noise could have had the same function of scaring and keeping the spirits away from the cultivated fields.

 

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