The Tragic Ballad of Amateur Restoration

Artifacts are what form out connection to the ancient world.  Suits of armor belonging to kings, famous generals’ swords, viking warships, samurai helmets, even basic things like pots and cups, all those things form the most basic and clearly appreciated link to the human past.  In the world of artifacts, one object ends up being head and shoulders above the rest, King Tut’s burial mask.  The boy-king’s burial mask is loosely considered to be the most famous object ever found in the realm of Egyptology, and possibly the most recognizable archaeological treasure in history.

Since King Tut died when still very young, he would not have had an actual beard.  Egyptians Pharaohs would wear fake ones for appearance’s sake, likely because of the images of Osiris and his pointed beard in the Book of the Dead.  Female Pharaoh Hatshepsut was generally depicted with a similar beard.

Not too long ago, curators at Egypt’s main museum in Cairo were cleaning King Tut’s mask.  Somebody accidentally smacked the beard on something hard and knocked the gilded blue barb clean off the mask.  As would be expected of a curator, they freaked out and tried to do a repair on the mask.  This is where the issues began, according to news reports the curators quickly gathered some Epoxy (permanent glue) and slapped the beard back on the young lad’s face.  As professional restorers are now stating, Epoxy is designed to hold industrial products together, not to seamlessly patch a multiple millennium old object together.  Sadly, some glue got on the cheek of the mask during the repair process, and in the spirit of professionalism, the curators tried to pry it off with a spatula (causing more irreparable damage).

This isn’t the first time that restorations have gone exceptionally haywire.  In 2012, an 80 year old woman in Spain took it upon herself to fix the slowly disappearing fresco “Ecce Homo”.  Undeterred by her total lack of professional restoration training, Cecilia Gimenez “repaired” the 200 year old masterpiece fresco in 2 hours.  Leaving behind what some news articles have called “a hairy monkey in a baggy velvet suit sporting a rolled up carpet for an arm.”  The repair was so godawful that professional restoration efforts have the backup plan of simply hanging an photograph of the original piece over the space it once occupied.

Ecce Homo, by Elias Garcia Martinez; original through Potato-Jesus state.

The interesting nature of restoration and proper care of ancient artifacts is that it has become a political issue in the past.  In Germany, several of the museums are loaded with spoils of war, temples from Greece that were loaded on trains during Nazi occupation in the 1940s, portions of Roman arches, Arabian city gates, even a massive piece from the Ishtar Gate from Babylon.  There is no denying, the German museums take impressive steps to keep the artifacts in good condition, but the question has been raised: Is it right to keep a cultural artifact looted from another country simply because you have more money to take care of it?  One side of the argument says that the artifacts are a piece of human history and should be kept documented and protected for as long as we possibly can.  The other side argues that it is wrong to take culture from another land and that the claim of being able to better restore or contain the artifacts is an Imperialist and “first world” approach at museology that favors the developed and wealthy world over nations who are not as rich; allowing the strongest economy to ride roughshod over the cultures of less powerful ones.


Angels and Demons

Movies, television shows, anime, books, video games, the imagery of angels and demons is commonplace, finding a root in any Abrahamic religion.  In the last ten years, Archangel Michael has shown up in over a half dozen movies (in nearly every one he’s some sort of guardian who gets in a sword fight with a villain) and Christopher Walken portrayed the Archangel Gabriel starting up a second war for the firmament.  Who are the winged seraphim and shadowy devils who have inundated so many pop culture references?  Be aware, this one is going to be highly religiously focused; if I don’t do credit to the names or the writings, my bad.

The dude on the right is an actor portraying Mephistopholes from Gothe’s Faust


So this one is an interesting case: originally an archangel on par with the others, Lucifer and a squadron of angels fought a war with God (spoiler alert, they lost in the end).  The word Lucifer loosely finds a linguistic link back to the phrase “morning star”, or “bringer of morning light”.  Etymologically, that’s essentially the best review one can get on Yelp.  Depending on where in Scriptures you look, Lucifer is described as the Prince of Earth as well as the betrayer.  Through a bit of theological gymnastics, the final decision on where Lucifer (good name) became Satan (bad name).  Upon the fall from Heaven, Lucifer lost his title and became Satan (basically translates to “Obstacle”).  From there on, his role became to screw with everything good and grand in the world.  According to Milton’s Paradise Lost, Satan and his army of fallen angels made the best of their fall and established a kingdom in the prison they were exiled to, beginning the classical devil’s “reign over the circles of Hell”.

These are technically the same dude.  On the top is Milton’s from Paradise Lost, in the center is Dante’s from Inferno, on the bottom: Will Ferell as the Devil.

Michael, Archangel of Mercy:

When the first iconography of him began to appear in the 4th century, Michael was an angel of healing.  Over time however, the angel began to be more commonly associated with being the warrior prince of heaven.  The guardian of the faith (patron saint protector of Judaism and military, to boot) and the one who defeated the Pearly gates from the onslaught of Lucifer, described as “defeating the dragon” (Satan is synonymous with the dragon btw).  The name Michael loosely translates to “he who is like God”.

He’s also the Guardian Saint of Ukraine

Uriel, Archangel of Repentance/Salvation

Uriel is generally considered the fourth most famous of the Archangels.  In order, the angels will usually be described: Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, and then Uriel.  The first four angels are typically meant to represent the cardinal directions, with Michael representing the East, Gabriel the North, Raphael the West, and Uriel representing the South  The name loosely translates to “light of God”, and he is classically represented as a stoic young man holding a flaming sword in one hand and a geyser of fire in the other.  In the scriptures, he is described as the one who guards the gates of Eden and the one who checked the doors in Egypt for lambs blood during Moses’ final plague (those doors that didn’t have it lost their firstborn son).

His other title is “He who watches over Thunder and Terror”

Mephistopholes, Gothe’s Demon.

Mephistopholes is one of the more recognized demons in pop culture, yet nobody knows the name.  He comes from the German story The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus, which chronicles the life of a brilliant scholar named Johann Faust, who becomes dissatisfied with his life.  A demon appears before him (Mephistopholes) and offers him a life of pleasure and knowledge in trade for his soul (to his credit, Mephisto did warn Faust that it was a bad deal a couple times before offering).  When Faust strikes the bargain with him, he begins his new life of debauchery and learning, with Mephistopholes periodically appearing and re-upping Faust’s subscription whenever he wavers on his choice (at one point, when Faust begins to feel like he made a bad choice, Mephistopholes shows up and summons Helena of Troy from the depths, convincing Faust that he made a good choice.  Faust fathers a kid with her).  In the end, Faust ends up losing his soul to the devil/escaping his grasp to reach salvation depending on the story that is followed.  In actuality, Faust was a real person, an apt scholar, and an alchemist.  His death was likely from an alchemical explosion that mutilated his corpse enough that people thought a demon took what it was due from him.  After his death, he became a figure in German literature; culminating in the play by Gothe (Faust’s story was second in popularity and controversy only to Shakespeare.  There are accounts of devils actually appearing on stage during the productions and that actors and theater attendees would go insane from watching it).

This is where the oddly red colored devil came from.  Faust.