Thomas Rainer

Alexander’s warhorse turned scribe – a parable of the (non) plus ultra*

In the notebooks of the fictitious Lebanese historian Fadl Fakhouri, presented to the public at Documenta11, we come across the description of an extraordinary custom. Every Sunday during the Lebanese war the country’s most eminent contemporary historians used to assemble at the race track in Beirut. They placed bets. Their stake, though, was not concerned with the winning horse but instead with the distance the latter would be from the finishing line in the photograph. The bet was won by whoever had guessed this distance best.1 How are we to interpret this décalage?

Magically the racetrack of history draws the claqueurs. Great shouting erupts to spur on horse and rider on the home stretch: plus ultra – further, faster, faster, faster!!! But has the fastest horse really reached the finish yet? The photograph may decide on the actual winner but it never precisely shows the ending of a race. The point in time at which the photograph, recording the win, is taken remains undetermined before every race. The horse’s winning conceals a failing too. However fast it may run it always misses the moment at which the proof of victory and the end of the race coincide. It is not the photographer’s fault who may well have done his best to push the release in time. Hidden is the measure that would allow horse and photographer to do their work synchronously. Only in hindsight we may measure, in the photograph, the distance to go before the absolute point of the race’s abolition, its non plus ultra.2

On the race track of world history the sprinter is a tragic figure. However often his victory might have been announced in the stadium he never has seen the end of his race. Furtively he squints at those who have placed their bets on a time beyond victory and defeat. How much he would like to assess with them the distance to go before the finishing line!

In fact, the story of one racehorse has come down to us that changed sides from being an actor to being a spectator. The pre-history of this unusual step is described in a short story by Franz Kafka. It is about Bucephalus, Alexander the Great’s warhorse, which, before setting out for India with its rider, had come first at the horse race in Olympia.3 But let us first listen in on Kafka’s story. It begins with the sober words: “We have a new attorney, Dr. Bucephalus. There is little about his external appearance to remind one of the time when he was still Alexander of Macedonia’s charger. But anyone familiar with such matters can still notice something. Did I not just lately see even a quite simple court attendant stare at the lawyer with the professional eye of a modern racetrack follower as the latter, lifting his legs high, mounted the stairs step by step, with a tread that made the marble ring?

The bar in general approved of Bucephalus’ admission. They tell themselves, with amazing insight, that Bucephalus’ position under our present social system is a difficult one and that therefore – and also because of his world-historical significance – deserves to be met halfway. Today, as no one can deny, there is no Alexander the Great. Many, of course, still know how to murder, nor is there any lack of skill at stabbing your friend over the banquet table with a lance; and for many Macedonia is too narrow, so that they curse Philip, the father – but no one, no one can lead us to India. Even in those days India’s gates were unattainable, but their direction was designated by the royal sword. Today the gates have been shifted elsewhere and higher and farther away; many hold swords but only to flourish them, and the glance that tries to follow them becomes confused.

Therefore it may really be best, perhaps, to do as Bucephalus has done and bury oneself in the law books. Free, his flanks unpressed by the thighs of a rider, under a quiet lamp, far from the din of Alexander‘s battles, he reads and turns the pages of our old books.”4

Studying scripture, with Kafka, appears the best alternative to the perpetual charging, as a way out after all the victories which, even though the goal could be made out, did not offer rest or ever promise release.5 Where, though, we might ask, did the fabulous horse learn how to read and write?

A medieval miniature in a manuscript of the anonymous French world chronicle Histoire ancienne jusqu’à César, probably written in Akko at the end of the thirteenth century, today kept at the Royal Library in Brussels, sheds some light on the matter.6 It shows Alexander on his knees, Bucephalus behind him, “free, his flanks unpressed by the thighs of a rider”. In front of them stands the Jewish high priest Jaddus, holding in his hands a slate bearing Hebrew symbols that Alexander is paying his homage to. Bucephalus’ gaze is directed at the letters. The horse is depicted at the very moment it recognizes scripture. What is the story behind this strange image?

The miniature is part of an iconographical series, reaching back at least to the middle of the thirteenth century in which the same subject, namely Alexander’s arrival in Jerusalem, is depicted in ever slightly varying fashion. The central scene of this arrival is Alexander’s meeting with the high priest Jaddus in front of the gates to the holy city. The first to describe this event was Flavius Josephus. In his Antiquitates Judaicae the great Jewish historian reports that Alexander, because of the city’s lacking support in the conquest of Tyrus in 332, had also turned against Jerusalem. In the night before the arrival of the Macedonian army, the high priest residing at the temple, after having prayed intensively in his deep despair, is visited by God in his dream. Jaddus is told that the following day he, in the vestments of the high priest, with all the other priests in ceremonial attire and the whole population, shall go to meet Alexander while the city’s gates are opened wide. Nothing shall happen this way to the people thus protected by God and to his city. Jaddus does as he was told. To the surprise of the Macedonians Alexander, as soon as he catches sight of the high priest, hastens toward him, kneels before Jaddus and worships the divine name inscribed into the head plate the priest is wearing. Jaddus leads Alexander to the temple where he makes sacrificial offerings. Finally he lays before him the Book of Daniel in which the conquest of the Persian Empire by a Greek is prophesied. Alexander takes the prophecy to refer to himself and leaves Jerusalem without doing any damage. On the contrary, he decrees that the Jews shall live unmolested according to their old laws, not only in Israel but also in Media and Babylonia.7

It is this last passage of the story, the king’s decree “chresthai tois patroois nomois”, they shall live according to their fathers’ laws, an expression reminding us of Kafka’s “old books”, that opens up the way to understanding the entire episode. What is negotiated here is not a negligible incident, a curiosity in Alexander’s crusade, but much rather an event of great significance in the history of the world. As Joseph Mélèze Modrzejewski points out in his book Les Juifs d’Egypte, the meeting between Alexander and the high priest reflects on the relationship between Hellenism and Judaism, the foundation of occidental civilization as a whole.8

Not verifiable as to its historical substance the legend most probably came into being in the 2nd century BC in Ptolemaic Egypt, in the city bearing Alexander’s name to this day.9 It was a token of the struggle of the large Jewish community in Alexandria for recognition of its law, the Torah, the five books of Moses, by the Hellenistic ruler. The Aristeas letter, presumably originating at the same time as the Alexander-Jerusalem legend, and also in the context of the Jewish community of Alexandria, reports on the translation of the Torah into Greek. On the orders of Alexander’s second successor to the Egyptian throne, Ptolemaios II Philadelphos, the high priest Eleazar sent a delegation of 72 scribes from the temple in Jerusalem to Alexandria with the holy books of the Jews in order there to produce their translation, the Greek Bible (later called Septuaginta after the number of the translators). On the arrival of the scholars at the Royal court the scriptures, covered in precious materials, are unrolled in front of the king. The latter honours the Holy Scriptures and prostrates himself seven times before the Torah that, in the following days, he has laid out before him by the scribes in the shape of a Mirror of Princes (Fürstenspiegel).10

Now, when we compare this piece of lore to the Jerusalem-Alexander episode we might argue that there is a significant difference. For in Josephus’ version Alexander does not honour the Torah, Israel’s God-given law, but the name of God engraved in the high priest’s head-plate.

And indeed the miniature before us does not depict Bucephalus and Alexander in front of a scroll but in front of a plate bearing Hebrew letters. The iconography here strictly follows the later perpetuation of the Josephus story in the Christian World Chronicle. Where we are told the high priest had walked toward Alexander with a gilded plate, distinguished by the inscription of the Holy Name in Hebrew.11 Only at closer acquaintance with the symbolism used in Josephus’ historical work the difference, at first so remarkable, loses in significance. On a second level, though, it is this difference that gives away the full meaning of the episode.

For Josephus the vestments of the high priest, which the little plate wearing God’s name is a part of, are an image of the cosmos.12 He abides by an apologia of the Torah as it had developed in Hellenistic Alexandria. For Philo of Alexandria, the most important exponent of such an interpretation, the Torah represents the divine law, revealed to Israel, which rules the entire cosmos. The temple and its ritual objects, the vestments of the high priest, the candlestick, the table with the unleavened bread, and the ark are interpreted as the material expression of this idea. Their design corresponds to the design of the universe itself written down in the Holy Scriptures.13

So when Alexander, in the legend handed down by Josephus, bows down before the divine name in the vestments of the high priest, he basically honours the divine law of creation revealed to Israel in the Torah. That this interpretation of the episode is not at all far-fetched is proven by the later Jewish tradition.

In the interpretations of the Greek Alexander romance by Pseudo-Kallisthenes, designated in the literature on the subject with the letters γ and ε, we come across the following twist in the tale. Alexander converts to the Jewish God whom he acknowledges as the creator of the world. On meeting the high priest he exclaims: “How godlike is your appearance! Tell me, what god do you worship, whose servants present such an appearance? Indeed, in the case of our own gods, I have not seen such good priestly order.” The high priest answers: “We serve one God, Who made heaven and earth and all things visible and invisible. No human being can describe Him.” And Alexander confesses: “Your god shall be my god …” When he moves on to Egypt and founds Alexandria the Jewish God surpasses the wisdom of the Egyptians. Whereupon Alexander, standing on the highest tower of the city – probably an allusion to the Wonder of the World erected by Ptolemaios I, the Lighthouse of Alexandria – remembers the formula by the Prophet Isaiah which the Jewish liturgy, in the form of the Qedusha, retains to the present day: “Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isaiah 6:3). Alexander sets at nought all the gods of the earth and in the sky and sea and proclaims as sole God one who is unknowable, invisible and unsearchable, who rides upon the Seraphim and is glorified by the thrice holy outcry. “O God of gods, creator of the things visible and invisible, be revealed as my helper in all that I shall do.” Thus the conqueror of the world closes his prayer on top of the highest tower in the newly founded metropolis.14

The reference to the Torah is made clear by a wonderful miniature which, like the image from Brussels we already looked at, illustrates Alexander’s meeting with the high priest in a manuscript of the Histoire ancienne jusqu’à César. Today kept at the Bibliothèque municipale in Dijon this miniature – originating in Akko around 1260/70, and being thus only a few years older than the manuscript from Brussels hailing from the same background – allows us, I believe, a glimpse at the Jewish sources of the Jerusalem-Alexander iconography.15 If we compare this miniature with the one from Brussels what immediately strikes us is the great similarity in the overall composition. We recognize Alexander on his knees, behind him the saddled steed Bucephalus, as in Brussels freed from its rider, yet in this case also un-harnessed. Behind Bucephalus a part of the Macedonian army is to be made out. Bucephalus and Alexander stand opposite the high priest and his companion who, in priestly vestments, are stepping out from under an archway. The foreshortened view of the city in the Brussels miniature here has been replaced by the temple. Much more significant, though, is another difference. Instead of the plate with the divine name inscribed the high priest holds up a cylindrical box with a pyramid-shaped tip. This is the realistic depiction of a Sephardic Torah case, the only one in the medieval art of Latin Christianity I know of. In Byzantine iconography there is no immediate analogy either. Yet we are familiar with similar depictions of the covered-up Torah scroll carried against the chest in Jewish art.16 Does that mean the miniaturist of the Christian manuscript copied the scene from a Jewish template? A detail in the depiction of the cylindrical Torah case hints at the source of the picture. The centre of each of the three sides visible is marked with the Latin letter S. Even the very first interpreter of the miniature, Buchthal, succeeded in deciphering the cryptic combination of letters without, of course, grasping the wider context. The S stands for the Latin sanctus, for the “holy, holy, holy” with which Alexander, from the top of the lighthouse in Alexandria, and in analogy to the Jewish liturgy, confesses his faith in the Jewish Creator-God in the above-mentioned version of the Alexander romance.

Now, one may argue that this idea could also have been taken from a Christian illustration of the Alexander romance. Yet the singularity of the iconography, the exact depiction of the Torah case, as well as the fact that the writing in the miniature is from right to left, as in Hebrew, speaks in favour of a Jewish interpretation of the Alexander romance as being the source of the image.17 A closer look at the historical background further strengthens this conclusion. Akko, the geographical origin of the miniature, as determined by Buchthal, in the 13th century had developed into a centre of rabbinic erudition. The Crusader city drew Jewish exiles from all over Europe, mainly from England and France, offering them a comparatively free life. One of them was Rabbi Yehiel, formerly head of the Jewish community in Paris. In 1258, when he disembarked in Akko for good, his lifework was in pieces. In 1240, instigated by Yehiel’s renegade student Donin who had converted to Christianity, the King of France, Saint Louis (Louis IX), had initiated an inquest into the most important Jewish scripture after the Torah, the Talmud. In spite of the brilliant defence by Rabbi Yehiel, and after a lot of intrigue, the verdict of the court, appointed by the king, turned out negative. The Talmud that, as Rabbi Yehiel desperately tried to explain, for the Jews is an indispensable companion to the Torah as an interpretation of the law handed down orally by Moses himself, was condemned as being heretic. On the king’s order all copies the Royal magistrates could get hold of were burned.18

The miniature, painted in Akko only a few years after Yehiel’s death, is connected with these events. It shows an image of the ideal king Alexander acknowledging the holiness of the Jewish law. This is the utopian vision of the scribe become visual image, a moment of pause before the all-powerful law; a moment denied the Jewish community, in reality, by Louis.

Should our assumption be correct, the picture, based on a Jewish source, of Alexander kneeling before the Torah scroll and of the steed Bucephalus recognizing the law, “free, his flanks unpressed by the thighs of a rider”, thus leads us back to the starting point of our investigation. It depicts both the origins and the suspension of the décalage that spoils victory for even the noblest warhorse in the history of the world. With the acknowledgment of a universal law, as the agent of which Alexander will rise to his feet in the miniature, a door is pushed open that would not be closed ever since: the omnipotence of the law fulfilled only by the Messiah to come. By the only one who knows the moment in which victory and the end coincide. World conquerors and crusaders, though, they may go to the end of the globe, there will always be a voice admonishing: “I was here first.” It is the voice of the law that knows no thing on this earth that is not subject to its will.

Alexander, of course, might have seen things differently. In a clever aside Josephus reports Alexander’s reason for prostrating himself before the high priest – his soldiers, looking on, at first believe he must have gone mad: yet to Alexander the image of the high priest was the confirmation of an oracle he had received back in Macedonia. When he contemplated crossing over to Asia selfsame figure, in its resplendent vestments, had appeared to him in a dream. The dream image then had advised him not to hesitate. The high priest himself would walk ahead of his army and secure his dominion over the Persian Empire. And Alexander continues in his explanation: “Since, therefore, I have beheld no one else in such robes, and on seeing him now I am reminded of the vision and the exhortation, I believe that I have made this expedition under divine guidance and that I shall defeat Darius and destroy the power of the Persians and succeed in carrying out all the things which I have in mind.”19

Alexander takes the image of the high priest, in his splendid clothes representing the divine law of the cosmos, for an oracle confirming his own success as conqueror of the world, his own greatness. He ranks meeting the high priest among those omens he gathers on his way east, with all the oracles which, if read correctly, will always promise one’s own victory. The law, though, is not a Gordian knot to be cut in half. Alexander is wrong if he counts the image of the high priest in cosmic regalia among the category of oracles. The Jewish tradition was aware of this fallacy, the greatest of his life. It is politely hinted at, by the high priest, in a Jewish world history of the 10th century, the Se¯fär Jôsippôn. After the friendly meeting between the high priest and Alexander the latter expresses two wishes. On the one hand he would like to erect his statue inside the sanctum; on the other hand he would like to take a look at the oracle stones hidden, according to old lore, in the high priest’s clothes. Both wishes are denied by the high priest. In reference to the Jewish law the latter recommends to Alexander that, instead of donating a statue, he should use the money for alms. The oracle stones, meanwhile, he is told, were hidden away that day. It was impossible to learn about one’s fate that way. Yet a prayer would give confidence.20 Under the rule of the law the oracle is a thing of the past, the future remains hidden until the end of days.

In his study Contra Apionem, in an anecdote borrowed from Hekataios of Abdera, Josephus himself offers up this argument a little more pointedly: The best archer in Alexander’s army was said to be a Jew called Mosollamos. One day, when he was commanded by a seer to stop in his tracks, Mosollamos asked for the reason of this demand. The seer pointed to a bird whose position had told him they had better make a halt. Mosollamos took his bow and shot the bird dead. Exasperated, the seer desired a justification for such disregard to the oracle. Mosollamus simply replied, the dead bird in his hand: “Look, if this bird was so smart and could predict the future, how come he didn’t know I was going to shoot him?”21

Mosollamus’ warning still ringing in our ears we turn toward “today’s social order”. Franz Kafka has described it in his inimitable way. There is no shortage of self-proclaimed world conquerors ever at the ready to top the past in the arena of history. They wave their swords about and point at all kinds of signs promising victory to them. Their gaze is directed ahead of them. But the paths they follow in a straight line peter out into space, into a homogeneous, empty time unknown to any oracle. “We find no vestige of a beginning — no prospect of an end,” the Scottish geologist James Hutton wrote in his Theory of the Earth published in 1788 in which geology transforms into the ever-same course of the hands moved by the eternally ticking clockwork of the laws of nature.22 Alexander’s oracle priests have given way to the preachers of progress. And these promise every imaginable kind of victory, a triumph over illness, age, ignorance, poverty, housework, terrorism, and death, yet without ever believing in the end of time. Walter Benjamin, in a scathing commentary on the secular belief in progress, described the tension between the perception of the heroes of progress as permanent winners and their eternal failure at the gate to paradise untouched by homogeneous time. In the appendix to his famous theses Über den Begriff der Geschichte (On the Concept of History) he confronts the believers in progress with two figures representing a different perception of time. Mosollamus and the bird-watching augur, Alexander and the high priest once again, in hidden roles, appear on the stage of the theory of history.

Benjamin writes: “The soothsayers who found out from time what it had in store certainly did not experience time as either homogeneous or empty. Anyone who keeps this in mind will perhaps get an idea of how past times were experienced in remembrance – namely, in just the same way. We know that the Jews were prohibited from investigating the future. The Torah and the prayers instruct them in remembrance, however. This stripped the future of its magic, to which all those succumb who turn to the soothsayers for enlightenment. This does not imply, however, that for the Jews the future turned into homogeneous, empty time. For every second of time was the strait gate through which Messiah might enter.”23

Who are the soothsayers whose concept of history Benjamin describes? It is the band of augurs accompanying Alexander’s train. Their fate was linked closely to the king’s own. For every oracle there was a victory fulfilling the future. Finally, at the gate to India, the world at his feet, the king recognizes the futility of his endeavour. He himself will resemble the dead bird presented by the archer Mossollamus. In the oracle of sun and moon, at the brink of the world, he is shaken by the following message: Alexander, you will never see the land of your fathers, Macedonia, again.24 Broken is the bond that had tied together fate and destiny. “Today there is no Alexander the Great.” The soothsayer, too, has been honourably retired. Who takes his place in the era of the law that has deposed the king as ruler of the world? Are we to believe Benjamin, it is a false, scene-shifting magician abusing a future without end for a mirroring trick in order to denounce the past.

For rabbinical erudition the world-historical rupture, described by Benjamin, was a locus classicus. In the Seder Olam we read: “Alexander the Great reigned twelve years and then died. Until that time the prophets prophesied by means of the Holy Spirit; from then on, Incline your ear and hear the words of the wise (hakhamim) (Proverbs 22,17).”25 With Alexander’s death and the canonisation of the Torah as the universal law, prophecy has come to an end. Whoever continues to prophesy walks a dangerous line between soothsayer and false prophet. But who are the sages (hakhamim) mentioned above? With the Jews they were those who reflected on the law, the Torah, who, through contemplation, reached the gate through which Messiah may step at the end of time. With Benjamin, who carries on their opinion, it is the historian who, just like the artist, the poet, and the revolutionary, dares the “tiger’s leap into the past”. He who, like a fashion guru with “an eye for what is up-to-date, wherever it moves in the jungle of the past”, is able to arrest the unrelenting course of homogeneous, empty time in a “constellation” of present and past.26

We are presented with the portrait of such an historical scholar in a manuscript originating, only a few years after the Alexander-Jerusalem miniature from Akko, further east in the then known world, in an empire whose concentrated power was about to subjugate the world unto its utmost limits. In his History of the World Conqueror Ata-Malik Juvaini described the fate of this empire and its founder: “[Genghis Khan] sallied forth, a single man, with few troops and no accoutrement, and reduced and subjugated the lords of the horizons from the East unto the West …”; “And indeed, Alexander, who was so addicted to the devising of talismans and the solving of enigmas, had he lived in the age of Genghis Kahn, would have been his pupil in craft and cunning, and of all the talismans for the taking of strongholds he would have found none better than blindly to follow in his footsteps …”27 In 1215 the great Khan of the Mongolians completes the conquest of the north of China. From 1219 to 1225 he captures the empire of the Chwarizmshah, the north of Persia. His sons and grandsons follow in the footsteps of the world conqueror. Ögödei (1185 – 1241) incorporates Korea, Georgia, Armenia, West Asia, and Russia. Kublai Khan (1215 – 1294), the grandson, swallows the whole of China. His brother Hülegü (1255 – 1265) consolidates the dominion over Iran, the old Persian Empire, destroys Alamut, the main stronghold of the Assassins (surrounded by legends because of their suicide attacks and the “Old Man of the Mountains”), in 1258 brings down Baghdad and its last caliph, and in 1260 advances to the gates of Jerusalem.28 A second Alexander?

Together with the historiographer Ata-Malik Juvaini (1226 – 1283), Hülegü, or possibly his grandfather Genghis Khan, is portrayed in the double-sided frontispiece of a manuscript written in 1290, ten years after the historian’s death, which introduces his History of the World Conqueror with a portrait of the author (Illus. 5).29

The historian is seated beneath a pomegranate tree, on his knees the slate across which his stylus is moving. In front of him, separated by a stylised fishpond, the Mongolian ruler stands upright, dressed in Chinese brocade, his right hand raised, the fingers pointing in a refined gesture. The scene is complemented, on the right-hand page, by the image of a light blue horse standing calmly with Royal saddle and a blanket adorned with a lion and the sun. The steed without a rider is held by a footman sitting on the grass. Above the horse’s back a bird of prey chasing a crane, in the sky a few clouds Chinese style. A strangely brittle calm emanates from this frontispiece to the History of the World Conqueror.

As has been remarked by all the interpreters of the miniature the composition of the double-sided title page is characterized by the interaction of heterogeneous elements.30 Whenever ruler and author appear together at the beginning of a book their relationship usually is inscribed in a dedication scenario. The author dedicates his accomplished work to the ruler on the throne, offering it up submissively, kneeling or bowing down. It could not be any different here. Contrary to convention, though, the author is shown immersed in his work, he is sitting down, and the ruler approaches standing up, his hand raised in an expressive gesture. Ettinghausen succeeded in discovering the ancient roots of this pattern. This is a composition frequently used in late antiquity portraying the author, absorbed in his work, visited by a muse, the source of his inspiration.31 In our picture the muse has turned into the world conqueror. What could be behind this transformation? Attempts have been made to interpret the scene as a realistic dictation in which the emperor, while resting during the journey, has his civil servant – Juvaini was appointed governor of Baghdad by Hülegü – write down the account of his deeds.32 This analysis, of course, is off the mark. It neglects the symbolic weight of the scene which manifests itself in a series of everything but conventional additions to author and conqueror: the fish-pond, the pomegranate tree with its Chinese flowers, the hawk chasing the crane, and finally the quietly standing horse with the sun and lion saddlecloth. Concurring with a study by Teresa Fitzherbert I think these elements reveal the miniature to be a pictorial commentary on Juvaini’s historical work. What is being highlighted here are the author’s reflections on the unrelenting, unfathomable passage of time, “on fate, death, the wisdom of silence and the certainty of judgement”.33 What could the author’s relationship to the world conqueror be like in the face of the Mongolian onslaught that had overrun his Persian homeland? Instead of being acclaimed on the title page the conqueror appears as a muse. The compulsion to place one’s bet on the racecourse of history, to assess the chances for victory or defeat, to acclaim the gallop with a loud cheer, or to accept the approaching defeat with a fixed gaze of terror and a last cry for help full of panic, all that has been suspended, wrapped in the calm of historical reflection. History takes its course but nevertheless there is time to contemplate it. The dialogue between historian and world conqueror resembles the background story in the Arabian Nights. In order to put off the conclusion of one story a dialogue unfolds, night after night, between the king and his lover condemned to death, a dialogue that pushes the execution and the end off into the distance. And in between the poetic fabric emerges. Its time corresponds to the world conqueror’s horse waiting on the right-hand side. Let us compare this image to what we started out from, a photograph of the finsh at the racecourse in Beirut pasted into the notebook of the historian Fadel Fakhouri. The comparison is astounding. In both cases what we are looking at is a snapshot, in both instances a distance in time, a race, is the topic. Yet, whereas in the photograph this concerns the horse and its jockey trying to reach the finishing line in a wild gallop, in the right-hand folio of the manuscript the chase is delegated to the hawk and the crane. The horse is standing still with its attendant, undermining the race, the moment stretching into an eternity, into a space opening up in the sky, between hawk and crane, onto the clouds in Chinese style.34

Where does this horse at rest come from, waiting still with its attendant? Richard Ettinghausen and Grace D. Guest, in an iconographic study of the famous “Kashan Luster plate” at the Freer Gallery of Art (No 41.11), dedicated a monographic analysis to it.35 They derived the saddled horse with attendant from the Persian court ceremonial and could fall back for this genealogy on Sassanidic reliefs showing the emperor on the throne and court guards presenting their horses. The thesis may correctly designate the courtly origins of the motif. Yet it does not touch on the actual meaning. Ettinghausen and Guest did not take into account that the Sassanidic reliefs always portrayed the attendant with the horse approaching or standing still. Just as the left-hand side of our manuscript, though, does not depict a dedication scene of the author in front of the ruler on the throne, the right-hand side does not illustrate the horse presented to the king in a court ceremonial by a civil servant standing up. The origins of the horse waiting and the attendant sitting down must lie somewhere else.

Where exactly that might be we are shown in an unusual archaeological find from the far reaches of the Asian steppe kept, since the 18th century, at the Siberian collection of Czar Peter the Great in St. Petersburg; namely in two golden ornamental belt buckle plates both of which are bearing the same scene, only inverted (Illus. 6). A woman sits under a tree, in her lap the head of a reclining rider resting, his bow hanging from a branch. Obstructed by his feet an attendant is seated beside him, holding the reins of two quietly standing saddled horses. The basic set-up of the scene corresponds to the later miniature; almost all the elements are present: the only differences are the woman replacing the writing historian and the resting man replacing the world conqueror pointing. One of the two horses has been dropped; bird of prey and crane supplement the scene. The striking parallel between the miniature and the two ornamental plates takes us back a long way. It seems fairly certain now that the latter derive from the Altai region and from the 5th or 4th century BC, which is a long time before the Mongolians set out to conquer the world from there.36 The plates are evidence of an art whose main themes are the hunt and animal fights. Its iconography developed in close connection with the art of old Persia from where very similar hunting and animal fight motifs have come down to us. There the motifs form the repertoire of the heroic epics in whose courtly environment the old iconography, through many intermediate stages, was handed down to the art of illumination during the Mongolian rule in Iran.37 The motif of the quietly standing horse, held by a sitting-down attendant, belongs in this context. Its original meaning might be guessed at in the ornamental plate depicted here. Even though we are lacking a precise definition of the scene portrayed, it seems obvious, nevertheless, that this is a love theme – as so often told in the verses of the epics about princely warriors out hunting. The interpreters agree when it comes to the bucolic idyll of the scene. Yet they hesitate on whether to take the hero’s reclining posture for paralysis, for an indication of death, or for the rapt calm after the act of love. The renowned Russian historian Rostovtzeff leaves the question open: “Romance and love found early access into the life of the great heroes … not all the heroes jealously kept their chastity like Mithras. Some of them had their love affairs, their wives, their mistresses … the hero is resting (or dead) after his exploits.”38

Rostovtzeff’s thoughts bring us closer to the meaning of the two horses. Their repose correlates with the repose after deeds done. The tautness of the reins has given way to slackness. But what are the two horses waiting for now?

In order to answer this question let us digress and take a look at Giorgio Agamben’s latest book. Starting out from a Walter Benjamin concept, Agamben analyses a picture by Tizian. In “The Nymph and the Sleeper” he perceives represented the musings of the lovers after their amorous play. The heading of the chapter in question, “Dèsœuvrement” – idleness, laziness –, in the best possible way describes our ornamental belt buckle plates.39 The repose of the lovers lifts the resting hero, a “rascal and dawdler of a dreaming, idle Monsieur Sluggard”, to use Robert Walser’s words,40 toward a state comparable to what has been called post-histoire. Agamben comprehends the progression of history as the attempt by us humans to tame our “animalitas”. It is this striving which, in the moment of musing after love fulfilled, is being suspended. The horse is standing still, released from all assignments.

Once it had been tamed for a token that man was able to subjugate nature, the world around him, to its utmost limits. Alexander tames the man-eating steed Bucephalus afraid of its own shadow. Caught in the ignorance of its own being, at the mercy of its own shadow, it does not tolerate any rider. Only when Alexander turns his gaze toward the sun, the fear disappears together with the shadow, and the fateful story of horse and rider, of man on the back of the animal, begins. It resembles a blind chase after the meaning of one’s own being, toward the visible yet unreachable sun. And concealed is the shadow of the horse and yet stays present even though it shall never again cross the field of vision of steed and rider. The aspiration to wipe it out gives birth to world history as we are told in an early oracle of the Alexander legend: “My son, go look for an empire worthy of you, for Macedonia is not big enough for you,” Philip, his father, calls out as he catches sight of Alexander astride Bucephalus.41 This is an oracle and a curse. The man who would like to become the sun fails in his own life. The empire that seems worthy of him, the world, is always before his very eyes and still he will never be able to rule it in its entirety. At all times the horse’s shadow clings to his heels. With every border he crosses he believes to be carving out a territory for himself that will separate him from this shadow. But the markers he puts down are arbitrary, the border between bare life and what it means to be human, the scope of the repressed shadow, remain hidden to him. His world is born out of arbitrariness. In arbitrariness it ends. Alexander dies of the friend’s poison, but the story born with him lives on to this day. Bucephalus, on the other hand, was not granted the fate of an early death.42

Kafka has told us about the old steed. He was tamed a long time ago. There still are plenty of riders but their goals are no less arbitrarily chosen than those of the great Alexander. On the contrary, the direction the Royal sword had still pointed out now is also lost. The “machine anthropologique”, that strives to deliver man and animal from the common shadow of a shared existence in a perpetual chase, is idling.43 Is there no way back from here? Kafka considered the possibility. In a fragment he reports that the advocate Dr. Bucephalus one day unexpectedly is called to a trial held day and night for an indefinite period. The complainant is his own brother, the accused a company bearing the strange name Trollhätta. The latter is a parody of the name Atta Troll. The opponent Bucephalus faces is the dancing bear from Heinrich Heine’s “Atta Troll – A Mid-Summer Night’s Dream”.44 He too was tamed by the hand of man, a capture that forever feels like an unfair shame to him. He takes to his heels back to his cave in the Pyrenees, into a world of nostalgia, only to die of a hunter’s bullet in the longed-for freedom of the never-recovered happy wilderness. He reproaches humans as follows: “… what makes me angry most of all is the exclusive haughtiness of those pompous beings when they write world history. Never one like us is mentioned; hardly do they bring up the name of a horse that carried their kings.”45 Man rides on the back of a horse he prefers not to know. The servant has no name but Servant. To Atta Troll the relationship between animal and man is irreconcilable; the exaltation of the one brings about the extinction of the other.

How can Bucephalus answer that? With a historiography that overcomes the compulsion for progress through the extinction of the animal. And how are we to imagine such a thing? Bucephalus has realized – just like the ape Rotpeter who explains this to the assembled members of the academy – that the way back to a beastly existence offers no more than a bold illusion of freedom.46 Whoever once has carried man on his shoulders can escape his law no more through flight. Even the remotest fugitive, may he have hid in the deepest cave in the Pyrenees, will be caught by the human spell. Where flight offers no way out only repose remains.

To make the character of this repose clear let us return once again to the background story in the Arabian Nights. Its precarious balance is shown in a miniature that transfers the topic of the waiting horse from Persian illumination to the art of the Indian subcontinent. The magnificently saddled steed held by the sitting-down attendant, “free, his flanks unpressed by the thighs of a rider”, appears in the illustrations to the Lalita Ragini, one of the 36 classic melodies of Indian music that frequently, since the 16th century, have been pictured as love scenes. A page from a picture album of a Raga Mala series that originated in the region of Jaipur between 1725 and 1750 depicts the Lalita Ragini “as a handsome hero departing the bedchamber of his beloved at dawn, as the early morning sun, painted with a human face, breaks through misty clouds. Standing before a light green field holding two flower garlands (one now effaced), the hero remembers the passions of the previous night; he glances back at his beloved, who lies asleep on a couch. A maid cools her mistress with a fan, modestly pulling a scarf over her face to avoid the hero’s gaze. A groom, a horse, and a musician wait patiently near the stair-case in the foreground.”47

The glancing back, away from the sun rising, puts off the departure for a moment. It is the moment of decision in which the royal lover in the Arabian Nights grants his mistress Sheherazade an extension until her unfinished story will be finished the following night. But it will remain unfinished once again. As a muse history never runs out. The glance back, inspired by a curiosity forever falling short of complete understanding, arrests the progression of time for a thousand and one nights. It is this subject that the inscription, placed above the miniature, deals with: At the departure of the lover his mistress feigns anger. She swoons. Her handmaid asks the one leaving for help. He asks his beloved: “What is your problem, can you say? She answers not, is silent and hides [her] face – just like a clever composition. Such is a way to entice the beloved.” He stops still. “Not able to move his feet, he gazes passionately at the helpless lady.”48

The horse waiting knows how to make use of the everlasting moment. “Lifting his legs high”, it mounts step by step “…with a tread that made the marble ring.” The doors, they may be further away and higher up today. A strange dichotomy indicates their aperture. The steps, in front of which Bucephalus stands with attendant and musicians in the miniature from Jaipur, in an analogous miniature on the same topic from the Deccan (Illus. 8) are framed by an archway.49 At first glance this archway appears closed off by a shutter. But we are fooled by the perspective. Actually the door is wide open, closed off only by the steps of the stairs the miniaturist has stacked on top of each other without foreshortening. Bucephalus has seen through the deceptive nature of the door that, depending on the type of glance, seems open or closed. His gaze closes and opens the open door for him. The paradox, which with Kafka denies the man from the country admittance to the law, and condemns him to wait for the rest of his life, in the wonderful miniature from the Deccan simply evaporates. Bucephalus steps out of time at the moment when history pauses to reflect on itself. The horse has raised one hoof, ready to climb the stairs to the muse.50

*Stefan Bidner, Thomas Feuerstein (Eds.), Plus ultra. Beyond Modernity?, Frankfurrt/Main 2005, p. 371 - 387, translated by Daniel Ostermann.


1 The photograph of the finish at the Sunday races, permitting the calculation of the distance, in each case was published in the Lebanese daily Al-Nahar. Fadl Fakhouri, respectively his inventor, the Lebanese artist Walid Raad/The Atlas Group, cut out this newspaper photograph, pasted it in a notebook, and then marked the gap between the horse’s nose and the finishing line on it. He also added a precise measurement of the distance, a calculation of the time to go, respectively already past, until the moment the finishing line would be crossed based on the overall race time of the horse, as well as a ranking of the historians betting according to the estimations given before the race. Finally, the entry on every race was supplemented by a short résumé of the victorious historian. See Documenta11_Plattform5: Ausstellung. Catalogue, Kassel 2002, The Atlas Group, p. 183. On Walid Raad’s technique of fictitious historiography see Lee Smith, “Missing in Action. The Art of the Atlas Group/Walid Raad”, in: Artforum International, February 2003 and Janet A. Kaplan, “Flirtations with Evidence”, in: Art in America, October 2004, pp.134–139, 169.

2 The underlying, basic problem of the existence or non-existence of a time that is independent from any observer, continuous, and linear was described first by Zenon of Elea in his famous paradox of the race between Achilles and the turtle. In modern times this question was again taken up by quantum physics.

3 This legendary participation in the horse race at the original Olympic games, whose modern, 19th century motto “citius, altius, fortius” is a variation on the above-mentioned plus ultra, is reported in the Syrian and in a Byzantine version of the Alexander romance; cf. Andrew Runni Anderson, “Bucephalus and his legend”, in: American Journal of Philology, 51, 1, 1930, pp. 1–21, esp. p. 14.

4 Franz Kafka, Drucke zu Lebzeiten, eds. Hans-Gerd Koch, Wolf Kittler and Gerhard Neumann, Frankfurt, 1994, pp. 251–252. The story first appeared in 1920 under the title “Der neue Advokat” in the volume Ein Landarzt. Kleine Erzählungen with Kurt Wolff at the Rowohlt-Verlag. The translation here relies on the publication in Seldon Rodman, One Hundred Modern Poems, New York 1949, pp. 42–43.

5 The work Atopia, 2000 (Print on demand: URL http:/ ) by Thomas Feuerstein may be read as an emblem of the problematic situation, described by Franz Kafka, Dr. Bucephalus finds himself in today. Here the famous portrayal of the Battle of Alexander by Albrecht Altdorfer appears transformed into a panorama of the restless chasing within the “contemporary social order”.

6 Brussels, Bibliothèque Royale 10175, f.216v, cf. C. Gaspar, F. Lyna, Les principaux manuscrits à peinture de la Bibliothèque Royale de Belgique, 1ère partie, Brussels, B.R. Albert 1er, 1984, p. 247; H. Buchthal, Miniature Painting in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, Oxford 1958, pp. 69–70 and 76; as well as Doris Oltrogge, Die Illustrationszyklen zur “Histoire ancienne jusqu’à César” (1250–1400), Frankfurt, Bern, New York 1989, p. 108; and Christiane Raynaud, Alexandre et Jérusalem, in: Mythes, Cultures et Société. XIIIe – XVe siècles, Paris 1995, pp. 297–322. Buchthal estimates that the manuscript was produced in Akko around 1270/1280. Later it turned up in Cyprus. It is autographed by a certain Bernat d’Acre.

7 Flavius Josephus, Antiquitates Judaicae, XI, 8.4–6. 325–339.

8 Joseph Mélèze Modrzejewski, The Jews of Egypt, Princeton University Press 1995 (French original 1992), pp. 47–55.

9 This historical and geographical localisation derives from Arnaldo Momigliano, “Flavius Josephus and Alexander’s Visit to Jerusalem”, in: Athenaeum, 57, 1979, pp. 442–448; cf. more recently Richard Stoneman, “Jewish Traditions on Alexander the Great”, in: Studia Philonica Annual, 6, 1994, pp. 37–53. Cf. on the other hand the differing perspective in Shayle J. D. Cohen, “Alexander the Great and Jaddus the High Priest According to Josephus”, in: AJS Review, 7–8, 1982–83, pp. 41–68 (Palestine, second half 2nd century BC) or Jonathan A. Goldstein, “Alexander and the Jews”, in: American Academy for Jewish Research. Proceedings, 59, 1993, pp. 57–101 (Jerusalem around 200 BC).

10 Modrzjewski 1995, pp. 99–106. See also Oda Wischmeyer, “Das heilige Buch im Judentum des Zweiten Tempels”, in: Zeitschrift für die Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft, 86, 1995, pp. 218–242, esp. 224–225.

11 In the “Histoire ancienne jusqu’à César” we read under the heading “How Alexander kneels before the Name of God”: “When Alexander saw the bishop [meaning the high priest], who was very afraid, coming toward him in white garments ahead of all the others, and when he also saw the Name of our Lord [which we were told is in Hebrew] written on the golden plate held high, he got off his horse and kneeled down before the Name of our Lord and the bishop.”

12 Douglas R.Edwards, “The Social, Religious, and Political Aspects of Costume in Josephus”, in: The World of Roman Costume, eds. Judith Lynnn Sebesta and Larissa Bonfante, University of Wisconsin Press 1994, pp. 153–159, esp. 157.

13 Wanda Wolska, La topographie chrétienne de Cosmas Indicopleustès. Theologie et science au Ve siècle, Paris 1962, pp. 113–118; André Myre, “La loi de la nature et la loi mosaïque selon Philon d’Alexandrie”, in: Science et Esprit, 28, 2, 1976, pp. 163–183; Robert Jan van Pelt, Tempel van de wereld. De kosmische symboliek van de Tempel van Salomo, Utrecht 1984.

14 On the interpretations γ respectively ε of the Alexander romance by Pseudo-Kallisthenes see Gerhard Delling, “Alexander als Bekenner des jüdischen Gottesglauben”, in: Journal of the Study of Judaism, 12, 1, 1981, pp. 1–51, esp. 3–26; Goldstein 1993, pp. 67–70 and Stoneman 1994, pp. 46–48. It is no mere coincidence that the tower designed by Daniel Libeskind for the World Trade Center site, with its height of 1776 ft, refers back to the date of the Declaration of Independence. In the tradition of the Alexander legend the universal law, from which the world empire derives its legitimation, is being proclaimed from the tower of the metropolis. The tower is a constitutional monument.

15 Dijon, Bibliothèque municipale, ms 562, fol. 170 v., cf. Buchthal 1958, pp. 69 and 76, Oltrogge 1989, p. 10 and Raynaud 1995, esp. p. 305.

16 Cf. Raynaud 1995, p. 305. Numerous depictions of Sephardic Torah cases (Hebrew Tik) are to be found in the thesis by Bracha Yaniv, The Torah Case. Its History and Design, Bar-Ilan University Press 1997 (in Hebrew); see above all the illustrations on pp. 54, 128, and 164. On the image, in Jewish art, of the Torah scroll presented and hidden inside the coat’s hemline see Elisabeth Revel-Neher, The Image of the Jew in Byzantine Art, Oxford 1992, illus. 63.

17 Of version γ as well as of version ε of the Greek Alexander romance free translations into Hebrew have come down to us from the Middle Ages. One of them, based on the translation of a Latin manuscript, contains captions; a fact further supporting the assumption that there might have existed illustrated Hebrew manuscripts of the romance. See J.-H. Niggemeyer, “Lemma Alexander d. Gr., XI. Hebräische Literatur”, in: Lexikon des Mittelalters, Vol. 1, col. 365–366.

18 On Rabbi Yehiel, his emigration to Akko, and the burning of the Talmud see the anthology Le brûlement du Talmud à Paris 1242–1244, ed. Gilbert Dahan, Paris 1999, esp. Aryeh Graboïs, “Une conséquence du brûlement du Talmud à Paris: le développement de l’école talmudique d’Acre”, pp. 47–56. For pointing this historical event out to me, and for a number of other, valuable suggestions I am grateful to my brother Michael.

19 Flavius Josephus, Antiquitates Judaicae, XI, 8.5.334–336.

20 Stoneman 1994, pp. 41–42, see there for information on the relevant edition.

21 Flavius Josphus, Contra Apionem, 1, 201ff.; cf. Friedrich Pfister, “Alexander der Große in den Offenbarungen der Griechen, Juden, Mohammedaner und Christen”, originally 1954, re-printed in: Kleine Schriften zum Alexanderroman, Meisenheim a. Glan 1976, pp. 301–347, especially pp. 322–323 and Stoneman 1994, p. 45.

22 James Hutton first presented his “Theory of the earth” in 1785 at the Royal Society of Edinburgh in whose Proceedings the lecture was published three years later. An edition extended to comprise two volumes was published in 1795. Cf. Norman Cohn, Noah’s Flood. The Genesis Story in Western Thought, Yale University Press 1996, p. 102.

23 Walter Benjamin, Gesammelte Schriften, eds. W. Tiedemann and H. Schweppenhäuser, Frankfurt 1991, p.704. English: URL http:/ (translated by Harry Zohn).

24 Cf. Pfister 1976, p. 313 and Christiane Raynaud, “Alexandre et les Dieux”, in: Mythes, Cultures et Société. XIIIe – XVe siècles, Paris 1995, pp. 251–276, esp. pp. 263–265.

25 Chaim Milikowsky, “The End of Prophecy and the Closure of the Bible in Judaism of Late Antiquity”, in: Sidra, 10, 1994 (Hebrew with English abstracts).

26 Cf. Benjamin, Gesammelte Schriften, pp. 701–702. The problem of the wise man in post-prophetic times touches on the survival of the prophetic gift in the modern historian and philosopher as it was exemplified by Aby Warburg in his comparison between Nietzsche and Burckhardt as two differing modern incarnations of the prophet. See also Georges Didi-Huberman, L’image survivante. Histoire de l’art et temps des fantomes selon Aby Warburg, Paris 2002, pp. 126–141, as well as the reflections in Giorgio Agamben, Le temps qui reste, Paris 2000 (orig. It., Il tempo chi resta, Turin 2000), pp. 99–103 (on the difference between prophet and apostle).

27 The two quotes appear back-to-back in Juvainis text, yet in reversed order. See Ata-Malik Juvaini, Genghis Khan. The History of the World-Conqueror, ed. and transl. J.A. Boyle, Manchester University Press 1997, p. 24.

28 The short historical outline relies on Morris Rossabi, “The Mongols and Their Legacy”, in: The Legacy of Genghis Khan. Courtly Art and Culture in Western Asia, 1256–1353, Exhibition Catalogue, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 2002, pp. 13–35.

29 Tarikh-i jahan-gusha (History of the World Conqueror), copied by Rashid al-Khwafi, completed AH 4 Dhu’l-hijja 689/8 December 1290 AD, origin: most probably Iraq (Baghdad), Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Mss.or., Suppl. persan 205, f.1v.–2r. It is undisputed among scholars that the sitting-down figure of the author depicts Juvaini himself. An inscription added at a later date confirms this. As to the ruler standing upright different interpretations have been put forward. This might be either Hülegü or his successor Abakha Khan (1265–1282) in both of whose reigns Juvaini served as civil servant. It should also be taken into consideration, in my opinion, that this might be a portrait of the main hero of Juvaini’s historical work, of Genghis Khan himself.

30 Cf. Richard Ettinghausen, “On Some Mongol Miniatures”, in: Kunst des Orients, 3, 1959, pp. 44–65, esp. 44–52; Marianna S. Simpson, “The Role of Baghdad in the Formation of Persian Painting”, in: Art et société dans le monde iranien, ed. C. Adle, Paris 1982, pp. 91–116, esp. pp. 111–114; Teresa Fitzherbert, “Portrait of a lost leader. Jalal al-Din Khwarazmshah and Juvaini”, in: The Courts of the Il-Khans, eds. J. Raby and T. Fitzherbert, Oxford 1996, pp. 63–75, esp. 69–75; Exhibition Catalogue, Splendeurs persanes. Manuscrits du XIIe au XVIIe siècle, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris 1997, No. 7, p. 41; Exhibition Catalogue, New York 2002, No. 1, p. 244.

31 See e.g. f. 121 r. of the Codex Rossanensis, Rossano Archiepiscopal Library, where the pattern is made use of, in a Christian context, for a portrait of the author in the Gospel according to Marcus. Ettinghausen, 1959, pp. 48–49.

32 On this interpretation suggested by Ettinghausen and Simpson see Fitzherbert 1996, pp. 71–72, where it is being rejected with good reason. On the life story of Juvaini cf. Boyle’s preface to Juvaini 1997, pp. XXVII–XXXVII.

33 Fitzherbert 1996, p. 70. Juvaini’s stance in relation to the Mongolian conquest is made clear in a passage from Ferdausi’s Shahnamah which Juvaini cites in the face of the defeat of his home province Khurasan:

“If a whirlwind springs up from a corner, / and casts an unripe orange to the earth; / Shall we call it tyranny or justice? / Shall we consider it virtue or wickedness?” The answer, in Firdausi’s epic, goes like this: “Should death cinch tight the saddle on its steed, / know this, that it is just, and not unjust. / There’s no disputing justice when it comes. / Destruction knows both youth and age at one, / for nothing that exists will long endure.” In another context, but in the same spirit, Juvaini repeats sura 51 from the Koran: “When the event befalleth, there is no denying that it will befall, Abasing [some], exalting [others].”

34 In her interpretation of hawk and crane Fitzherbert 1996, p. 73 rightly, it seems, refers to a passage from Rashid al-Din’s historical work Jami’al-tawarikh in which the youthful Genghis Khan describes himself as a hawk offering up his prey, the neighbouring peoples characterised as blue-footed cranes, to his father. Among the cloud in Chinese style we also make out “le champignon d’immortalité”, a symbol of immortality (cf. Exhibition Catalogue Paris 1997, p. 41).

35 Grace D. Guest and Richard Ettinghausen, “The iconography of a Kashan Luster Plate”, in: Ars orientalis, 4, 1961, pp. 25–64.

36 The spectacular find of several graves preserved in the permafrost of Pazyryk in the Altai for the first time permitted the archaeologist Rudenko to date more precisely, and to pin down geographically, the objects kept at the Siberian collection of Czar Peter the Great. The comparison with the objects found in Pazyryk done by Rudenko was confirmed through the careful examination of John F. Haskin, “Targhyn – The Hero, Aq-Zhunus – the Beautiful, and Peter’s Siberian Gold”, in: Ars Orientalis, 4, 1961, pp. 153–169 where we also find a summary of the research discussion and a presentation of the records preserved on the history of the collection. The subsequent research adhered to the proposed dating, i.e. the 5th or 4th century BC, and the assignment to the nomadic cultures of the Altai region. See also the latest presentation of the objects in the exhibition catalogue The Golden Deer of Eurasia. Scythian and Sarmatian Treasures from the Russian Steppes. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 2000, Cat.No. 212, pp. 290–292.

37 The manifold and complex ways in which the nomadic peoples of the Asian steppe have borrowed, for their inspiration, from the surrounding sophisticated cultures are documented by Ann Farkas in “Fillikovka and the Art oft the Steppes”, in: Exhibition Catalogue New York 2000 (see footnote 36), pp. 3–17 (on Pazyryk, pp. 13–15). The fragments of carpet found in the graves of Pazyryk, for instance, copy motifs we are familiar with from the palace of Darius in Persepolis. As to the pieces in the collection of Czar Peter the Great Rostovtzeff already has pointed out the connection with Persian art. See M. I. Rostovtzeff, “The great hero-hunter of Middle Asia and his exploits”, in: Artibus Asiae, 4, 2–3, 1930–32, pp. 99–117.

38 Rostovtzeff 1930–32, p. 107. While Rostovtzeff left open the exact definition of the scene his reflections initiated an extensive discussion aiming at more clarity. Griaznov and Rudenko suggested an episode from a Turkish-Mongolian epic, which tells of a fallen hero brought back to life underneath a poplar tree by his lover and his brother, as the template for the scene. Haskin 1961 points in a similar direction with his allusion to the Kazakhian epic of Targhyn and Aq-Zhunus. This school of thought was perpetuated by Helmut Nickel in “The Dawn of Chivalry”, in: From the Lands of the Scythians. Ancient Treasures from the Museums of the U.S.S.R., 3000 B.C.–100 B.C., Exhibition Catalogue, New York, Los Angeles 1975, pp. 150–152. His thoughts, however, just like those of his predecessors, stayed speculative, not least because the epics in question could not be proven to have existed before the Middle Ages. See also the comprehensive critique in Gold der Skythen: Schätze aus der Staatlichen Eremitage St. Petersburg, Exhibition Catalogue, Hamburg 1993, Cat.No. 85, pp. 158–159. Recently the ancient Persian love story of Zariadres and Odatis, once again, was put forward as a possible source, see Exhibition Catalogue New York 2000, p. 292.

39 Giorgio Agamben, L’ouvert. De l’homme et de l’animal, Paris 2002 (orig. It., L’aperto. L’uomo e l’animale, Turin 2002), ch. 19 “Dèsœuvrement”, pp. 127–131.

40 Robert Walser, Das Gesamtwerk. Ed. Jochen Greven, Geneva, Hamburg 1966–1975, Vol. 3, p.149. The “Strick und Tagedieb” (rascal and dawdler) described in the text refers to a figure in a painting by Robert Walser’s brother Karl depicting a man resting on his back underneath a fir tree. Cf. Peter Utz, Tanz auf den Rändern. Robert Walsers Jetztzeitstil, Frankfurt 1998, pp. 122–124, illus. 4.

41 The taming of the horse through his facing the sun, and the oracle by Philip based on Alexander’s success as a horse tamer, were passed down by Plutarch in his biography of Alexander, see Anderson, 1930, pp. 1–3.

42 In the legend the steed dies alongside its master. It is led to the deathbed where Alexander mourns the powerlessness of the warhorse to save him from mortal danger and take him beyond the battlefield. Thereupon Bucephalus kills the murderer and, his head on his master’s pillow, breathes its last with him. Cf. Anderson, 1930, p. 15.

43 Cf. Agamben 2002, ch.17 “Anthropogenèse”, pp. 119–121.

44 Franz Kafka, Beim Bau der chinesischen Mauer und andere Schriften aus dem Nachlass, “Oktavheft B”, Frankfurt 1994, pp. 54–55. On the reference to Atta Troll see Georg Sterzenbach, “Streitross und Bettungeheuer. Zum Advokatenbild Franz Kafkas”, in: Neue juristische Wochenschrift, 50, 17, 1997, pp. 1124–1129.

45 Translated from Heinrich Heine, Historisch-kritische Gesamtausgabe der Werke, Vol. 4, eds. Manfred Windfuhr and Winfried Woesler, Hamburg 1985, “Atta Troll. Ein Sommernachtstraum”, Anhang I, Bruchstücke, C9, p. 218.

46 The ape Rotpeter, held captive on board the ship, chooses to become a man in order to survive. With this option he rejects the freedom that might still have been open to him as an animal. Through the progress in the process of humanisation the way back is made nearly impossible. “Even if my strength and my willpower sufficed to get me back to it,” the opening in the distance linking him to being an ape has grown so small, that “I should have to scrape the very skin from my body to crawl through.” Cf. Rotpeter’s “Bericht für eine Akademie” (Report to an Academy) in: Kafka, Drucke zu Lebzeiten, 1994, p. 300.

47 Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, from whose website the description above is taken. See Joseph M. Dye III, The Arts of India. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Virginia 2001, Cat. No. 118, pp. 303–304.

48 Translation of the text written in Braj from Dye, 2001, p. 303. On the subject of the Lalita Ragini see also Anna Libera Dahmen-Dallapiccola, Ragamala-Miniaturen von 1475 bis 1700, Wiesbaden 1975, pp. 109–119.

49 Raga Mala, around 1750, Pune, B.I.S. Mandal Museum, Inv. No. 895–906.

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