I filed the first draft of a big story yesterday, one that took months to work on and weeks to write. I celebrated by wandering through the Greek and Roman collections at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (and making a brief detour into the renovated Oceanic gallery). Among many inspiring things, I saw this bust of a woman:
It was not the most amazing thing I saw all day (I didn’t even take note of the sculpture’s name or date), but it stayed with me into evening. The woman died in childbirth the day before her 28th birthday, and her husband commisioned the sculpture as a tribute to her piety and love. It was exceedingly common for women to die young and in childbirth back then, in large part because we had yet to discover, let alone conquer, the parallel universe of microbial adversaries that still makes headlines today (like, literally today. check the link).
The contrast between our absolute mastery over marble and our complete powerlessness over microbes struck me, probably because I’ve forgotten most of what I learned about antiquity in college. I’m kind of glad I forgot, though. It meant that yesterday I could turn the information over in my head anew: Two thousand years before Robert Koch and his contemporaries arrived at the germ theory of disease, or Joseph Lister taught us to wash our hands (and instruments) before surgery, men were culling marble from mountains, and transporting it far and wide. They were building cities with it, and making art. And the results of those labors would endure for so long, that the well-preserved remnants would be housed in museums, and marveled at by people who carry small bottles of disinfectant in their purses and take antibiotics for granted.
I try not to take too many pictures when I go to the met, mostly because I think the point is to look at the object in front of you and to be present in the same space as it. But also because the met is a sacred place for me. I like to think of it as my church: it fills me with hope and love for humanity. That being said, I always end up snapping a few, of the pieces that most excite me. Here are the ones I couldn’t resist from yesterday: