1. Thanks for sharing these poetic insights into the minds of our predecessors. When you gave me some pieces of steatite with which to experiment, I found the material qualities of the stone quite remarkable and surprising. It is soft enough to easily scratch and carve with a knife, and yet so tough that it is quite difficult to chip or break even with heavy blows from a hammer. And it can be heated red-hot with a blow torch with no risk of cracking. These are very unusual qualities for stone, so it is not surprising to me that ancient craftsmen would consider it perhaps a little magical.

    The green-gray color is also quite interesting. It is a cool and calming color, relaxing to look at. And yet it is not cold and lifeless – rather figures and organic shapes carved into it seem soft and alive.

    One difference between the ancient perception of the stone and how we see it with modern eyes is the matter of imperfections. In ancient times, very few materials were perfectly uniform. Even glass and ceramics were full of bubbles and flaws. So a flawless stone was remarkable. But nowadays, almost everything manufactured has a plastic uniformity. When I have shown people one of your carvings made from a perfect piece of stone, they assume it is a plaster or resin casting, but when they see a piece that has veins and spots, they are much more attracted to it. So our modern context has reversed our perception so that we now see ‘defects’ as ‘organic character’. I don’t think this is a bad thing – one could just as easily write a poem suggesting that the lively veins and colors in a carved icon symbolically connect it to its prototype.

    1. I was wondering if you would pick up on this, I almost included that story you mention in the article to point out exactly what you are saying. Kalavrezou mentions other poems about precious stones in which the stone is praised for its colorful veins and so you are right that we could see it in that manner, especially since the Kenyan stone I have is full of more vivid veins and colors than the stone the Greeks had access to. It is a funny thing though, I often think of the modern world as a “muddy mixture”, but there is also this excessive perfection of homogeneous reproduction which is also “dead” in a different way. In the Bible, there are some interesting places where people have an “excess of purity” and this is something I am hoping to write about at some point. But just as a hint, we see it in the story where Miriam and Aaron criticize Moses for having a foreign (and dark) wife. Their punishment is that their skin becomes white as snow, and so here the “whiteness” is a punishment, almost like a natural consequence of their excess of purity in regards to Moses.

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